Tuesday, August 29, 2023

“Answers Beyond Garden and Sky” • by Jenna Hanchey

How shall we answer the princess’s question?
A thousand butterflies launch in our chest as we hear it, taking flight at her curiosity, gently lifting. But soon, the fluttering spreads too far, pushing against the confines of our flesh. The pressure of a thousand wings, slightly off-kilter from one another, frantically beating, verging on hysterical. It is difficult to breathe.

We tug at the tight ring of lace about our neck, sitting straighter as if the building tension might exhaust itself through an expansion of vertebrae.

“Mother, did you hear? Why is the sky purple?”

“We heard, darling.”

It would be simple to answer, “It is as the Father decreed.”

We try, once, but the words stick in our throat.

We rise, now, expending energy in walking. Moving away from the popular parts of the Garden where all might hear toward the wooded shadows near the curving wall, where the plants grow wilder.

She follows, with some servants at a distance.

We turn to them. “Go to prepare supper in our chambers.”

All leave except for Sadie, who has been with us since the beginning. Without whom we would never have survived the Melt. Without whom we simply would not survive. We exchange a glance with her, and she shakes her head slightly, warning us, even as the warmth of her gaze fills our heart. We breathe deeply, restraining ourself.

We pause by the lone rosebush, blooming dainty and pink. While the princess inhales each individual blossom, we examine the thorns.

She knows the story, could tell it as well as we could. Better, even, since she has grown up knowing nothing else.

In the Beginning, the Father created Sky and Garden. And the Garden was dark and dank. Nothing grew there until the Father declared, “Let there be light.” And the Father saw that the light was good. And the Garden began to produce, and the vegetables to multiply. And the Father saw that the Garden was good. And the Father made the Sky purple to signify His promise to his people: that they would never encounter the Melt again, because he would protect them.

Because before the Beginning was the Melt, when the heathens who walked outside scorned the fruits of the Earth, and the Earth so burned with anger that it melted all the ice in the world, flooding the ground and drowning the blasphemous.

But whosoever believed in Father was saved, because Father was the creator of the Garden, where Earth’s final children might live safely indoors, free to eat and drink and multiply under the generator-produced light. And Father took three Queens to represent the three tenets of the Garden: the Queen of Obedience, the Queen of Order, and the Queen of Growth.

So it was written. By Father, of course. So it was told: obeyed, repeated, and planted in the minds of the children.

The butterflies now rage inside us, as if the remembrance of a past where they were solid and real is enough to work their spectral form into a frenzy.

We glance up at the purple of the grow lights lining the ceiling, and then look again at Sadie, our love. She knows how we will answer the princess’s question, and we know she is terribly afraid, but she makes no motion to stop us. We pour our feelings into the barest smile, the most the Queen of Obedience can dare to show.  

Kneeling, I make sure the princess sees my eyes and the weight of the implications they hold as I finally answer her.

“That, my darling, is not the sky.”



Jenna Hanchey has been called a “badass fairy” and she attempts to live up to the title. A professor of critical/cultural studies at Arizona State University, her research looks at how speculative fiction can imagine decolonization and bring it into being. Her own writing tries to support this project of creating better futures for us all. Her stories have appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Little Blue Marble, and of course, Stupefying Stories, among other venues. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @jennahanchey or at www.jennahanchey.com.

“Answers Beyond Garden and Sky” was first published in Tree & Stone Magazine, June 2022.

Monday, August 28, 2023

“Patient Diplomacy” • by Rick Danforth


Ben came to interspecies diplomacy by virtue of his skillsets. He had the complex emotional needs of a houseplant and moved less than the average gargoyle. Which meant he was the perfect candidate to sit quietly and meet the new species on the block for inter-species biological compatibility.

Their official term was Species-X42, but already they had been nicknamed Krakens. One joined Ben now, resembling the offspring of a monkey and an octopus. It felt oddly fitting within the three-roomed space-station that had the stylistic interior decoration of a sardine can.

Ben had been told the Kraken’s name, but it was only pronounceable to mouths designed for filtering krill. Ben knew nothing about this Kraken, not even if they were male or female, or neither or both. With nothing else to go on, Ben named them Nemo. Mentally, it would probably cause an incident if anyone knew.

For this one-week experiment, Ben had been taught enough basic Kraken body language to understand yes or no. Ben had no idea if Nemo could understand him at all, although talking wouldn’t aid the mission anyway.

Ben was sweating, despite the climate-controlled perfection of the plain white room. Nemo was bundled in thick layers which Ben couldn’t tell if they were body or clothing. Either way, they were never removed. Ben was provided with multiple bottles of breathable air, which he used to help mask a smell that could only be described as past its prime seafood.  The two species’ atmospheres were just different enough so that they could share air for small periods, but mostly he would be breathing through the mask for additional oxygen.  The room wouldn’t kill Ben, but it couldn’t sustain him for long. That had been the best concession possible to share the space.

They didn’t touch. Not yet anyway. After the first week, there would be limited physical contact to see what happened. But for now, sharing air would suffice.

They both had their own bedrooms and bathrooms, adjacent to the communal area. It was like living in student accommodation again; if you wanted to socialise you sat in the living room, otherwise you relaxed alone in your bedroom. Nemo spent most of their time perusing a tentacle-friendly digital device that resembled a chrome ice cream cone.

For now, all they did was sit and wait.


Ben had shelves full of books that he had always intended to read, but found himself rereading the same trashy crime series as he always did. This was his eighth mission, and he had survived all of them to start with this very book. Nemo seemed to be peering at it, so Ben held it out for the Kraken to examine with one rubbery tentacle. It was hard to tell with a face like a sushi platter, but Ben thought Nemo was amused by it.


Ben brought out a pack of cards on day two and played patience. He had access to all the media in the world, but there was something more satisfying and distracting about the physical action of handling cards.

Nemo was curious enough to sit next to him and stare for an hour. Ben tried to teach them with a second pair of cards, but it was hard without a language. Eventually, Nemo went back to their device. Ben had a strong feeling Nemo felt uncomfortable about something, but knew better than presuming aliens matched human body language.


On day three, Nemo cowered in a corner whimpering for hours, then retreated to their bedroom. From there came new noises that sounded like a bagpipe caught in a blender. Ben used his noise-cancelling headphones and cried himself to sleep under the blanket. He knew what was happening, had half-expected this to happen, but no simulation could prepare for the impact of having a person die next to you while you could do nothing to help.


By day five, Nemo was dead. This was Ben’s first death in several missions. Ben entered Nemo’s room and saw Nemo’s skin colour was already fading to grey, along with what was left of Ben’s hope and cheer. He would have loved to move the body into a hopefully respectful position, but he resisted. Protocol said otherwise.

All Ben could do was sit there and hope that their incompatible microbes only went one way. Spreading disease to aliens was awful, but it was less awful than receiving alien diseases.


Ben had another two days in the habitat with the corpse decaying in the next room.

For the first time, Ben was glad to be breathing through an air bottle, as the decaying smell worsened by the minute. It already smelled like the time Ben forgot about an old prawn masala in the fridge, and it felt unlikely to improve.

This was not the first compatibility test. Minor exposures had been performed on both sides. Apparently, early signs were promising. All care was taken, and there was nothing else that anyone could have done. Yet Ben still felt responsible. It didn’t matter that he understood that inter-species biology was complex and caused unexpected reactions. It was still his body which killed Nemo.

But the objective was met. Humans and Krakens were not compatible. Unlike the other species Ben had met, they would never visit Earth or its colonies, and humans would never step foot on a Kraken planet. All exchanges would be digital, for the Kraken’s own safety.  

After the week was up, Ben was sent to new isolation quarters for another month. Apparently, Nemo’s body would be cremated and spread in space.

The new chambers had plenty of food, better air, and a large window where Ben could entertain the theoretical concept of visitors.

Highlights of the brief experiment became prime viewing on both planets. Ben’s heart ached as watched the news to find playing cards were now the best-selling item on the Kraken home world. He wondered what friendship they could have had, and wept.

Rick Danforth resides in Yorkshire, England, where he works as a Systems Architect to fund his writing habit. He’s had several short stories published in a variety of venues, including Hexagon and Translunar Traveler's Lounge. His story “Seller’s Remorse” was shortlisted for the 2022 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award for Short Fiction.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

“Floating Toward the Sun” • by Jason P. Burnham


I feel the pressure drop of multiverse connection, but I don’t turn to greet the traveler; I already know who it is—me.

“Where are we, Paul?” asks my doppelgänger.

“Isn’t the sun beautiful?” I say, tearing my gaze away from the picture of Paz, the wife I had to leave behind without telling her I was never coming back, lest she try and stop me. I stare at the ship’s sun-shaded viewscreens. Yellow, orange, and red variegations obliterate the blackness of space; tendrils of solar flares beckon.

“Why aren’t we on Earth?” asks alt-Paul. There’s a surprising paucity of emotion in his tone, though I suppose you’d have to be rather heartless to hunt down every multiverse version of yourself to achieve immortality.

“I knew you were coming.” I turn to face myself. I look pissed. And covered in red-brown sludge.

“How?” He narrows his eyes.

“Colony collapse disorder,” I say.

Alt-Paul spits. “Bees gave me away?”

I nod. “In this timeline, I’m a mellitologist. My life’s work was colony collapse disorder. I started having visions of you, trying to break into this timeline, inching ever closer.” I pause, remembering the horrid nightmares, the sticky muck that was dreamscape multiverse afterbirth. “I pinned the timing on your traversals—you were altering their buzzing frequencies somehow. That part I never figured out, but I knew you’d be coming. And I knew it wasn’t for a social visit.”

I watch him carefully. He stalks the bridge, eyes searching intently for something, but he doesn’t speak. The crimson red of his face suggests he does still have emotion left in his heart and that that emotion is fury. 

“If it’s navigational controls you seek, you won’t find any.”

He sneers at me, some of the red draining from his face. What an awful countenance. Is that really what I look like? Can it be that my hair is so scraggly and gray, my beard so moth-eaten?

“What do you mean there’s no controls? Who’s piloting this thing?” asks alt-Paul, spittle accumulating at the corners of his lips.

I touch my hand to my face. Surely those anger lines, bags under the eyes are his, not mine.

“Answer me!” he shouts, stomping closer.

I shudder to think that this is what others have faced when I raised my voice. I tried to be a good person.

“It’s on autopilot,” I say, flipping my hands palm up and shrugging.

“Turn. It. Off.”

Alt-Paul is within striking distance, though I have no desire to fight him. Not that his killing me would matter; our course can’t be altered.

I swallow the consternation. “It’s impossible. The trajectory was set when I left. There’s no comm array, no way to communicate with Earth to turn us around. This is a one-way trip.”

He charges me and I hesitate for a moment, wondering if I really want to give him the satisfaction of killing me. I’d so much rather the sun do it.

My hesitation is just long enough that I can’t sidestep him and alt-Paul tackles me to the floor.

I knee him in the groin and knock the wind out of him. He rolls on the white metal floor, holding his testicles, and struggling to get air, occasional croaks escaping from his throat.

I hustle across the bridge. I’m not going to hide, but with who knows how many alternate timeline Paul’s subsumed within him, I don’t want to test his strength.

He leaps from the ground into a fighting stance.

“That was dirty.” He spits onto the floor.

A thought strikes me, but I’d rather not voice it directly. “Am I the last one?” That’s the sense I got from the nightmare visions. That would explain why he doesn’t just traverse to another timeline right now.

He sneers again. “It doesn’t matter. Now if you’ll kindly come here, I need to get to absorbing you into my being. It might help me survive this trip you’ve got us on.”

I scoff at his hubris. The bridge warms by the second. The viewscreen is completely filled by the sun—we’re so close it resembles a honeycomb. I smile at the apian view and the picture next to the viewscreen—Paz’s beautiful face. I hope she forgives me. I wish I could have said goodbye. There was no other way. She wouldn’t have let me go and if I had stayed, alt-Paul would have ruined the planet.

“What are you grinning at?” alt-Paul asks.

In the encroaching heat, I sit and pat the seat next to me. “Come. Enjoy the view. We’re going to get real hot soon.”

“You’d sacrifice yourself?” other Paul asks.

The walls warp in the heat. A honeycomb pattern of imminent red-orange hull breaches ripples down around us.

“For Paz, I’d fly myself into the sun.”


Jason P. Burnham loves to spend time with his wife, children, and dog. Find him on Twitter at @AndGalen.

If you’d like to read more of Jason’s stories, we have lots more on this site, all at this link.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

“War in Reverse” • by Rhys Hughes



The planet known as Epsilon Eridani Five is an extreme example of an economy that fails to adequately service the infatuations of its inhabitants, and among the spacefarers of that sector of the galaxy it is famous for this reason alone. But at the same time, it provides us with an interesting lesson in how a simple solution can sometimes solve a complex problem.

I refer to the fact that the planet was dedicated to war as a science, an art, a game, and every inhabitant lived only for battle. The sides had been chosen long ago, in the dim recesses of previous centuries, when the planet was first settled, and every individual had no doubts about which clan they belonged to, and total warfare had continued incessantly since.

But the planet was low on natural resources. It had few ores for smelting, a shortage of crystals, a lack of useful chemicals. Although the technology of war kept improving, the lack of practical methods for producing superior armaments meant that potentially ground-breaking weapons never saw action. Factories fell into disrepair, the warriors into dejection.

The inhabitants of that world had one advantage over those who reside on most other planets. They had a sense of honour that was impervious to sabotage. A meeting was arranged between representatives of all the clans. They agreed to a scheme that would save the situation and they parted knowing that none would violate the oath by paying lip service to it while working to secure a sly victory. All were utterly bound by the accord.

The pact also promised to protect the surface of Epsilon Eridani Five from further devastation. It was already a blasted doomscape of melted rocks, glassy plains and radioactive lakes. The clan leaders had pledged to halt progress, turn around, and begin the long journey back down to basics, a reverse escalation of military technology. Instead of improving their weapons year after year, the idea was to diminish their sophistication.

The scheme was implemented very gradually, in order that warriors would not feel deprived. The power of lasers was reduced by tiny degrees, the force of explosives was attenuated by a few joules, the range of missiles lessened by one or two kilometres per annum. War continued as happily as before but there was a release of pressure on the economy.

Generations passed and the warriors themselves changed in order to be in closer symbiosis with their weapons. Blasters were heavier than lasers and thus the fighters became larger in the arms, and when blasters were replaced by old-fashioned artillery pieces, the warriors developed ear flaps that could shut and protect their hearing from noise damage.

Nothing interrupted the games, but strategy and tactics altered to take into account the new (or old) circumstances of battle. With less powerful weapons it is tempting to speculate on whether there were fewer civilian casualties, but on Epsilon Eridani Five there are no civilians. Everyone fights and does so for pure joy, whether or not they are aware of the greater significance of what they do in historical terms. Tribal loyalty is supreme.

This remains the only planet in the inhabited galaxy where war is fought in reverse. Centuries have passed and still the technology is being reversed. Offers by commercial spacefarers to provide them with imports of metals, crystals and chemicals so that they might return to improving their weapons have been met with a stubborn refusal. The oath is kept.

And now it is no longer even possible to communicate with them by radio link. They have apparently regressed to a point before the invention of wireless transmission. They must be fighting each other with muzzle-loading rifles and gunpowder-packed cannons. Where will it end? It is intriguing to speculate on answers to this question. War is one of the fundamentals of life. Those who live on Epsilon Eridani Five are voyaging backwards to the very origins of war. It is a fascinating sociological experiment.

One day, enterprising spacefarers will carry tourists to the surface of that world so that they may delight in the edifying spectacle of robots hitting each other with clubs. The planet may no longer present a blasted appearance. When those clubs are discarded in favour of claws and fangs, it will be clear that the final destination has been reached. The end.

How Epsilon Eridani Five came to be inhabited only by robots is another tale for another time. How those advanced robots devolved into beasts is more interesting to me at the present time. I close my eyes and see the victor standing over the twisted remains of his opponent and he is pounding on his chest with his fists, his metal hands on his metal torso producing drum notes that will echo dramatically around the shattered valley.



Rhys Hughes was born in Wales but has lived in many different countries and currently lives in India. He began writing at an early age and his first book, Worming the Harpy, was published in 1995. Since that time he has published more than fifty other books and his work has been translated into ten languages. He recently completed an ambitious project that involved writing exactly 1000 linked short stories. He is currently working on a novel and several new collections of prose and verse.

Friday, August 25, 2023

“Of Myths, Legends, and Parenthood” • by Carol Scheina


The Bunyan children all talked about breaking out of the realm of myth and fables, but then Joel Bunyan went and did it.

“M-o-o-o-m!” Mabel called. Of the five, she was always the first child to tattle. “Joel’s gone through the barrier!”

“Oh, for the love of pancakes!” Lucette Bunyan’s shout shook the walls as she walked out the kitchen door. “Just because your father is a big-shot tall tale hero… How many times do I have to say it: Earth is off limits!”

The kids shuffled their feet. It was tough being Paul Bunyan’s kids.

“Now, when and where on Earth did Joel go?”


“No one saw where he was going? He could pop up at any point in Earth’s history. What if he messes up a tall tale or a myth?” Lucette’s voice rose.

No response.

Lucette rubbed her temples. “Looks like I’m going to have to go see the Fates.” She waved her children off. “Go! And don’t do anything to test me!”

Her words were punctuated with a foot stomp that rattled the foundations of nearby homes and sent Humpty Dumpty rolling a bit closer to the edge of his wall. “Hey!” the egg shouted.

“Sorry!” Lucette cringed.

She could see the old woman inside her shoe-house next door had obviously been listening to every word with a gleeful smile. Lucette’s face flushed as she walked down the streets.

In this part of town, the tall tales and nursery rhymes dwelled between evenly mowed green lawns and straight white sidewalks. Johnny Appleseed made sure every yard had at least one apple tree growing strong in the sunlight. (More than one god watched over the sun. It was a rather powerful light as a result.)

The mythological side of town was her destination, specifically Bacchus’s bar, where Lucette spotted the three Greek Fates in a smoky corner.

“Lucette,” Lachesis said without looking. Clotho giggled. Atropos inhaled from a long, thin cigarette and exhaled toward the wall.

“Somebody’s lost a baby,” Clotho said in a sing-song voice.

Framing a smile on her face, Lucette dragged up a chair, her knees pushing against her chest as she sat. There were downsides to being so tall. “You know I need your help. Where’s my son?”

Lachesis shrugged. “It was his fate to escape. He will have his part to play.”

Clotho sang, “Part to play! Play to part! Someone’s lost a piece of her heart!”

Lucette kept the smile frozen on her face. “And my part is to get him back before trouble’s made.”

Trouble like the last time one of the kids got out. Lucette still remembered how upset Paul was when he accidentally cut a huge gash in the American Midwest. He was just trying to use his axe to move a rock, trying to find little Mikey. Luckily, Anansi the spider-god had a flair for weaving new stories out of thin air. Paul Bunyan went from being the pancake guy to being the guy who carved the Grand Canyon.

In the silence, Atropos blew more smoke and finally spoke. “Death will come to us all. It is inevitable. All we can ask for is a good death, a powerful, true end that shows a man’s character is strong, and that he will be sung of for millennia to come.”

No one replied. It was well known that Atropos had an on-off thing going with Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. During the off times, Atropos exhaled death proverbs along with her smoke, which drifted about her hunched form in a depressed mist.

Lucette shifted away from the heavy air and brought out the bribes. “We’ll give you unlimited pancakes.” Always pancakes. Frankly, she was starting to tire of the smell, but they were the family specialty.

Lachesis grinned at her sisters. “Told you we’d get them. Look in Bluff Creek, California, October 20, 1967.”

Lucette nodded and unfolded her large body from the chair.

“His fate will be fulfilled. And you’ll use extra maple syrup.”

“Fate, fate, fate,” Clotho sang.

Lucette rolled her eyes.


Back home, she calmed her mind and focused on Bluff Creek, California, 1967. Then she opened the barrier between the story realm and Earth, pulling back an invisible layer of air as easily as one peels a banana. Where her hands moved, a new scene appeared with mountainous terrain far different from the orderly suburban world behind her.

She spotted Joel trying to sneak between the trees. Though young, he took after his parents in height. There weren’t many places such a tall boy could hide.

“Joel Bunyan! You get in here right now!”

The boy flinched as he scurried through the barrier, his brown knit sweater poked over with sticks and burrs. “I’m sorry, Mama, I couldn’t get back through the barrier, and—”

“Did anyone see you?”


Sigh. Lucette pinched the barrier shut then peeled open a new, smaller door overlooking a newspaper stand. On the cover of a November 1967 paper was a blurry picture that Lucette recognized as her son. She pulled it through the barrier.

“It says they got you on videotape?”


“Oh, blue bull balls. Joel Bunyan is not supposed to appear in any stories. If I ever hear about you breaking out and going to Earth again…” Her voice trailed off threateningly.

Yet how could she stay mad at him? Especially now that he was back safe and sound. Lucette looked at the hunched shoulders of her youngest son. “Go join your brothers and sisters. I’ve got to go see Anansi and clean up this mess.” She rubbed her forehead.

By the next day, word had spread of Joel’s adventure, and how Anansi’s quick-thinking had created a new legend that would begin to circulate the Earth-realm from 1967 on. The Bunyan kids already knew about it.

“Bigfoot, Bigfoot, Joel is a Bigfoot.”

“M-o-o-o-m! They’re calling Joel names!” Mabel yelled.

“Oh, for the love of pancakes.”


Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author whose stories appeared in publications such as Diabolical Plots, Flash Fiction Online, Escape Pod, and more, including of course Stupefying Stories. You can find more of her work at carolscheina.wordpress.com, or most recently in STUPEFYING STORIES 24.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

“Salt is Life, Sand is Eternal” • by Kai Delmas

I never wanted this day to come but as you said, “nothing lasts forever, except for sand.”

I remember your wrinkled fingers trailing my rough jaw. You explained how sand is the oldest and strongest material in the world. It has weathered millennia and will weather whatever is thrown in its path. Sand is eternal.

I smiled and wished you had thought about that before you made me. But now I understand. Now that you are gone, I wish for nothing more than to have you back.

You told me how you did it so long ago and even though I have doubts, I cannot imagine my life without you.

I poured sand from our spot at the beach into the bathtub. Followed by saltwater from the sea. I shaped your body like clay. Not the old and frail body that you had become but a younger version. The way I remember you from when I first opened my eyes.

I left a hole in your new body’s chest and filled it with your old body’s ashes. The old within the new.

Finally, I filled the tub with salt—covering your new body completely—all the way to the top. Because salt is life. Salt is in our blood, in our seawater, flowing through our veins. It’s in our tears and in our hearts. We are nothing without salt.

Now I wait.

I wait for you to rise from the salt and fall into my arms forever. We are sand. We are eternal.


Kai Delmas loves creating worlds and magic systems and is a slush reader for Apex Magazine. He is a winner of the monthly Apex Microfiction Contest, his fiction is forthcoming in Zooscape, and can be found in Martian, Etherea, Tree And Stone, Wyldblood, and several Shacklebound anthologies. Find him on Twitter @KaiDelmas.


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Pete Wood Challenge • “Desert”

The Pete Wood Challenge
is an informal ad hoc story-writing competition. Once a month (or so) Pete Wood spots writers the idea for a story, usually in the form of a phrase or a few key words, along with some restrictions on what can be submitted, usually in terms of length. Pete then collects the resulting entries, determines who has best met the challenge, and sends the winners over to Bruce Bethke, who arranges for them to be published on the Stupefying Stories web site.

You can find all the previous winners of the Pete Wood Challenge at this link.

This time the challenge was to write a microfiction fiction piece keying off the word, “desert,” whatever the writer might interpret that to mean. As usual, the results have ranged from amusing to disturbing. Without further ado, then, the winners are…

First Place:  “Internal Combustion” • by Gustavo Bondoni

Second Place: “Rain Dancer” • by Sylvia Heike

Third Place: “No Justice for Deserters” • by Pauline Barmby

Honorable Mention:

“Treasure Hunting in the Old City” • by Christopher Degni

“Egg Disputes Beneath the Desert’s Quietest Erg” • by Jason P. Burnham

Thanks to everyone who gave this challenge a try, and we look forward to seeing what you can do next month with the next Pete Wood Challenge!

Pete’s Picks: Best Desert Movies

  1. The Flight of the Phoenix. (1965) Jimmy Stewart and four other Oscar-winners crash-land in the Sahara and have to fight to survive. If you think Stewart is just a stammering likable every-man, think again. His flawed pilot is a leader and an asshole. Based on the novel by Elleston Trevor.

  2. Lawrence of Arabia. (1962) The desert has never been so beautiful. Based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, a real-life Indiana Jones and probably the one man most responsible for the mess the Middle East is today. For more info read With Lawrence in Arabia by Lowell Thomas.

  3. The Road Warrior. (1981) Best prolonged action/chase scene ever. Starring a souped-up Jensen Interceptor and some forgettable Australian actor you’ve never seen before—Mel somebody.

  4. Sahara. (1943) Humphrey Bogart and his M3 Lee tank and crew take on and beat the Nazis. Filmed using an M3 because by the time this film was made the M3 was surplus, having been replaced in front-line service by the far superior M4 Sherman.

  5. The Lost Patrol. (1934) Early John Ford film. A British cavalry patrol in Mesopotamia (Iraq) loses its C.O. to a sniper and the sergeant has to step up and take command of the mission, with no clear idea of where they are or what exactly the mission was. Featuring Boris Karloff not in monster makeup and Alan Hale Senior, father of the Alan Hale Junior we all know and love from Gilligan’s Island. Based on the novel Patrol by Philip MacDonald, and notable now mostly for all the ideas swiped from it and reused in later films, including the above-mentioned Sahara.   

If you like the stories we’re publishing, join our crowd-funding campaign today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than do so with pledge breaks or foundation grants, we’d rather have broad-based and ongoing support. If just 100 people commit to donating just $5 monthly, we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we raise more, we will pay our authors more.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

“Invasion of the Family Snatchers” • by Jonathan Worlde

Jason was beginning to suspect his family had been replaced by aliens.

He was working on a project in Baltimore when a giant starburst lit up the eastern night sky, rattling homes like an earthquake, breaking windows and cracking sidewalks, baffling eyewitnesses and scientists alike.

When Jason returned home a week later he immediately began noticing something was out of whack about his family. His wife Jeanine’s usually infectious smile seemed somehow forced. Similarly, his two teens, Justin the track star and Andrea the violinist, were both slightly off. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but when speaking to them his kids avoided sustained eye contact, and his family had always been close.

Then he started seeing messages on Facebook by other people who were having similar unexplainable doubts about family members, some even claiming their loved ones had been replaced by creepy copies and calling the copies “Familysnatchers.” When Facebook crashed and stayed down, his natural suspicions were replaced with fear. What if aliens were behind the lengthy social media disruption?

Jason couldn’t detect any overt physical differences in his wife or either of the children, but he just knew something was wrong. But they couldn’t be replacement copies, could they? They were too perfect. He decided to see if he could trip up any of them in normal conversation, starting with Jeanine.

“Honey, we haven’t had your mother come to visit for some time. Don’t you think we should ask how she’s doing, maybe invite her down for the weekend?”

She shook her head and her voice bore an edge of frustration. “Jason, we’ve been over this. Every time she comes you get upset with her disapproval of how we furnish the house and the fact we only have a single bathroom.”

That was true, and there was no way a faker could have known about that and his underlying hostility toward Jeanine’s mother.

After school he was waiting for Justin in the front yard holding a football, with a fool proof test in mind. “Justin, before going inside to start your homework, why don’t you humor your old man and take off for a long pass?” He tossed the ball up and down while fixing Justin with a stare.

Justin was baffled. “Dad, you know the doctor said you’ll throw out your shoulder if you ever try a pass again. The last time we did that you were in pain and on OxyContin for a week.”

Now how could any imposter have known about that?

He had a similarly ingenious idea to test Andrea’s authenticity. He called her just when she would be leaving school, using her childhood nickname: “Boopsie, I had an idea, you wanna stop by your favorite seafood place on the way home and pick up some lobster rolls?”

Her irate tone sure sounded like his real daughter. “Dad, are you getting early onset Alzheimer’s? You know I’ve been allergic to lobster ever since I turned twelve! What, you want to kill me?”

The flippant, insensitive response was exactly what he’d expect from his teenager, and again left him questioning his own sanity. How crazy was it to think your family has been replaced by aliens? Was he losing his grip on reality? None of his family had presented themselves as a threat to him—yet. Was it only a matter of time until he was also replaced while sleeping?

Jason saw no reason to doubt Rosy, the family’s energetic black Labrador. At just two years old she was still practically a puppy. When he took the frayed tennis ball out to the field to play with her, she was the same old Rosy, dashing after the ball and then running circles around him while he feigned cutting off her path to catch her. She switched directions on a dime, keeping her eye on him just as always, then dropping the ball in the grass to gaze quizzically upon him, awaiting his next move. At least there was nothing in her behavior to raise any doubts.

He followed Rosy back up the sloping drive to the house and into the open garage where her food bowl and water were kept. She was breathing heavily from the exertion, with her usual look of anticipation for the coming meal.

But when he poured the dry, dusty, foul-smelling food into the bowl, she suddenly lashed out, speaking with something like an Australian accent, “What the hell’s wrong with you? I’ve been telling you all along I prefer a bloody steak!” Her enlarged canines gushed saliva, her angry red eyes holding his frightened gaze.




Jonathan Worlde’s Latino-noir nystery, Latex Monkey with Banana, was winner of the Hollywood Discovery Award with a $1000 prize. His speculative fiction has been published in numerous magazines including Stupefying Stories and most recently Daily SF.

He is also a country blues performer, stage name Paul the Resonator, with CD Soul of a Man.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Six Questions for… Fred Coppersmith


Fred Coppersmith’s fiction has appeared occasionally in places like Bourbon Penn, Etherea Magazine, and previously in Stupefying Stories, among others. He lives and writes in New York, where he also edits and publishes the quarterly online SFF magazine Kaleidotrope. You can find him online, if you're so inclined, at unreality.net.

Watch for Fred’s next story, “If We Shadows,” coming September 1st in STUPEFYING STORIES 25.


Q: What is the first SF/F book or story you remember reading?

A: Do Choose Your Own Adventure books count? Or maybe E.B. White? I was definitely a fan of both. I remember being a big reader as a kid, but I don’t think I properly discovered science fiction (and fantasy and horror) books until around middle school. Before that, as a child of the ‘80s, my genre intake was more film, television, and computer games.

Q: Who was your most significant influence?

A: Writing-wise? I’d like to flatter myself and say it’s a mix of Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury, even if I’m not sure you’d necessarily find that influence in my writing, beyond a propensity for jokes and the (at least occasional) attempt at poetic language. I’m not exactly sure when I first discovered either of them, but it was in my formative years, and their books definitely had a profound and lasting impact on me.

Q: When you write a new story, are you a plotter or a pantser?

A: I’m probably too slow and methodical to truly call myself a pantser, but I have almost no idea where I’m going with a story when I start, beyond whatever spark of an idea set it off, and I have never once been able to work from an outline. I can usually see farther ahead than an individual sentence or scene, even sometimes envision an ending well before I get there, but the idea of knowing what’s going to happen in a story before you start to write it seems like such an alien (if often enviable) concept to me.

Q: Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what kinds of music or which artists?

A: I listen to music a lot during the day, and like to also when I’m writing, but I too often find myself distracted by anything with lyrics. A favorite go-to of mine is Zoë Keating, but I’ll often put on an instrumental playlist (or even just a single song) to try and set a mood and un-distract my brain.

Q: As regards “If We Shadows,” is there anything special you’re hoping readers will notice or appreciate in it?

A: I just hope readers enjoy it. Like a lot of my stories, it started with a prompt from my regular writing group and then spiralled off in all sorts of unexpected directions. 

Q: If you could change one thing about the way you write, what would it be?

A: I would finish more stories more often, or more quickly.


Coming 09/01/2023: STUPEFYING STORIES 25

Status: Currently in production and on-schedule. SS#25 should be available on 09/01/2023 in trade paperback and on Kindle, with Nook, Kobo, iPad, and other e-book versions to roll out over the course of the next week or so. Pre-order availability to be announced.

» “If We Shadows,” by Fred Coppersmith
» “The Demolition Job,” by Neva Bryan
» “Tin Lizzi,” by J. L. Royce
» “A Limited View,” by Gary Kloster
» “Two-Tone,” by Elise Stephens
» “Cloudbreaker Above,” by Brandon Nolta
» “Caliban’s Cameras,” by Allan Dyen-Shapiro
» “There Is Another Sky,” by Bo Balder
» “Something Came Through,” by Michael D. Burnside
» “The Wawa Stick,” by Karl El-Koura

“To Be Sung to the Tune of Silence” • by Mark Vandersluis

We got lucky. We heard the aliens’ signals pretty much as soon as they had started their first broadcasts. They came from a world around 100 light years away, a world which circled a star very similar to our own. It was clear this was not a deliberate attempt to communicate directly with us, but simply their local transmissions leaking out into space. As we listened over the following years, a cacophony of different, competing voices grew, from across their planet.

It wasn’t long before video broadcasts began, showing us how they looked and how they lived. Like us, they were bipedal and carbon-based, but they differed enough for us to know that they were truly alien. And just like us, they were riven by disagreement, factionalism, war, and even atomic warfare. Everyone recognises the distinctive cloud patterns which grow when a nuclear weapon is detonated, and it was a chilling moment when we first saw that shape forming in their news broadcasts.

But like us, they survived, and rapidly developed other sophisticated technologies—some for good, some not—including (finally!) spacecraft. We watched as they started to explore their neighbouring planets and moons, and over the following decades we monitored their progress with increasing excitement and optimism. Now it was time to reach out to them!

We had already devised a protocol for communications. Firstly, we announced that we were here and that we had heard them, and then we offered the hand of friendship across the stars. We communicated with them in the universal language of maths and science and then built on that to tell them about ourselves, our histories and our cultures. We hoped they would note the similarities between our races, our hopes and aspirations, rather than focus on our physical and other differences.

We knew we would have to wait over 200 years for a round trip response to our messages, and while we waited patiently, we continued to listen.


But over the course of the following decades we observed their transmissions starting to dwindle, slowly at first, but with accelerating speed, until they abruptly stopped without warning. We had no clear understanding why this was; maybe they had experienced an Armageddon event, or maybe they had simply switched communication technologies.

We sent further messages and we continued to listen, but nothing more was heard. We knew then that the only way we could find the answers we sought would be to travel there, to send a fleet of automated spacecraft and resolve what had happened.


It took us 800 long years to design, test and build our vast armada, ready for departure. And then we launched them all in a spectacular coordinated event watched by our whole world.


During the long journey to the aliens’ home system, some 10 percent of our probes were lost, but that still meant most of our craft arrived there safely, some 1,500 years later. They deployed according to plans we had revised and updated countless times during the long voyage. We had identified cold, dark rocks in the furthest reaches of their solar system where we could land, manufacture specialised equipment, and then observe for a while before deciding on our next steps. It was clear as we watched and listened that there was only silence, so we moved onwards again towards their home planet.

And when we finally arrived at their home world, we found… nothing. A ravaged, lifeless, dusty world, devoid of the oceans we knew had once existed there. Nothing and nobody now lived on this world, apart from some primitive forms of plant and animal life. Aside from a few remaining ruined buildings, some orbiting satellites and defunct spacecraft, it was as though this race had never existed.


We still don’t understand how their civilisation crashed and burned so quickly and completely, but looking back, maybe the signs were there all along? Their transmissions showed an increasing sense of fear and despair as resources dwindled and wars were fought over what remained—as their whole world sickened and died in front of them. There must have been a rapid decline into anarchy, chaos and destruction. And now all that remains of them are a handful of artefacts, along with our archive of their broadcasts, describing snippets of their history, their lives. Nothing else.

It could so easily have been, or could still be for that matter, our fate too. But for now we survive, and try to learn the lessons from the alternative future laid out so starkly before us. We don’t want our end to mirror that of the aliens we will never meet.


Since then, our search for other alien races has continued, but for all our listening, there is nothing to hear except random noise: the Great Silence, the song of an empty Universe.

Maybe there is no other life in this Galaxy. Maybe we are utterly alone in the whole Universe—a bleak thought indeed—too bleak to bear.

And so we broadcast our story to the Galaxy, continuing our explorations, while increasing the power and range of our transmissions as we become a more powerful, star-spanning race.

We have just one question, and one request.

Is anybody else out there? Please respond to our signal, to this message, to our story. Show us we are not alone!





Mark Vandersluis lives in Nottingham, England and works as a Managing IT Architect . From an early age, his home was the Science Fiction section of the local library. After a lifetime reading science fiction, he recently started writing his own. As well as previously appearing in Stupefying Stories, Mark has had stories published in Nature Futures, and Diabolical Plots. Mark blogs (very) occasionally at markvsf.design.blog and you can follow him on Twitter at @markvsf.


Sunday, August 20, 2023

Six Questions for… Karin Terebessy

[Editor’s note: “Six Questions for…” is a new feature we’re going to be giving a test run for the next few weeks. The idea is to go beyond the usual tiny author’s bio and give readers a better sense of who our authors are. If you think of a question you’d like us to ask, feel free to put it in the comments. We can’t guarantee the author will answer, but we’ll put it on the list of questions to ask in future profiles.]

Six Questions for… Karin Terebessy

Karin Terebessy likes to write speculative flash fiction stories. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Sci-Phi Journal, and other ‘zines. She is currently attempting to write a novel based on her short story “Mood Skin” which appeared in Stupefying Stories in 2016. You can follow Karin on TikTok @karinbendsreality or find her on Instagram at karinterebessy.

Her previous appearances in our pages include “The Memory of Worms,” in the now out-of-print Stupefying Stories 16, as well as SHOWCASE stories: “Robin’s Egg,” “Not Quite Ready for Armageddon,” “The Finder of Lost Things,” “Mood Skin,” and “The Real Reason Why Mrs. Sprague Came by Her House So Cheaply”

[Another Editor’s Note:Though we’ve been publishing Karin’s stories for years, this profile is actually the first time we’ve ever seen her. Karin writes: 

“I don’t usually include photos with any of my stuff (mainly because I’m a mom so there are exactly three and a half photos of me in existence from the past fifteen years) but this is one of the more recent ones and I’d like to include it.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is me reacting to the size of the pastrami-corned beef combo sandwich I got at Juniors in Brooklyn.  The fact that I couldn’t decide on pastrami OR corned beef and went with the waiter's suggestion of just having both says a lot about me too, I think. That I totally I finished it and then got dessert probably speaks volumes…”]

Q: What feels like your best natural length for a story?
A: Flash fiction, under a thousand words, because it is a true partnership between a writer and a reader. Readers of this very short form are some of the most intelligent folks around. They fill in all the narrative gaps with their own knowledge, creativity, intellect, and sense of wonder. Even more, readers of flash pick up subtle cues and intuit subtext, extrapolate what comes next, and deduce what came before. There is no other literary form that asks as much of a reader. In this way, flash fiction is the closest we come to true literary collaboration, and that creates a genuine connection between people. I love that.
Q: Who do you consider to be your most important influence?
A: Every person I meet. I absolutely adore meeting and talking with people and I always come away from a conversation with a sense of awe. We all operate within, and manipulate, the same finite set of existence variables, and yet every single person has a unique story. I never re-tell the stories entrusted to me. There’s a human code I would never violate. But when I sit down to write, all that humanness inspires me. 

Q: Is there an author whose work you think has been unfairly overlooked or forgotten?
A: Wolfgang Borchert! I know he isn't strictly sci-fi or spec but his short stories have a surreal feel— “The Sad Geraniums,” “The Kitchen Clock,” “The Bread” and my heart be still, “The Dandelion,” —he was a tortured man, who died very young, and wrote heart-wrenching stories that leave you with major feels.

I’m also a big fan of Etgar Keret. He’s not hurting for followers, but his books are hard to find, and I don’t hear many writers discussing him. He is the most gifted flash fiction slipstream author I have ever read.
Q: What is the first SF/F book or story you remember reading?
A: I imagine like most of us, I grew up obsessively watching anything evenly remotely science fiction-esque (Star Trek, Amazing Stories, Twilight Zone, Star Wars, Dune) Yet somehow I still held this notion that I didn’t like to read science fiction as a genre. Then one day when I was about eleven, I stumbled across the short story, “The Dragon,” by Ray Bradbury. (Spoiler alert!) In this story, two medieval knights on a quest to kill a dragon, sit around an evening campfire discussing the failure of previous knights to kill this horrendous beast. Eventually, our knights get killed by the dragon which actually turns out to be… a locomotive from the twentieth century? In classic Bradbury fashion, this story hinges on folding space-time until two epochs overlap. My pre-adolescent brain just kind of went, “Hold the phone! I didn’t know you could do that in science fiction!” Pretty big game-changer for me. Yeah, I was hooked after that.
Q: How do you balance writing and a personal life?
A: I don't. My children have always and will always come first.
Q: What's next for you? What are you working on now?
A: I am adapting my short story “Mood Skin” (Stupefying Stories April 2016) into a YA/Adult crossover sci-fi novel. You can follow my progress on TikTok @karinbendsreality or find me on Instagram at karinterebessy. Here’s the book blurb:
“Mood Skin promised to usher the next generation into a compassionate phase of humanity. Administered in utero, babies emerged expressing their feelings in a hue of colors allowing adults to equip children with emotional self-awareness. The Mood Skin generation grew up in a world that nearly eradicated school shootings, teen suicide, depression and anxiety. Guaranteed to fade by age seven, Mood Skin was a success. Of course, in a small percentage of cases there were side effects like albinism, hyperpigmentation, or scars. In the rarest cases, some children never outgrew their mood skin at all.

“Now, twenty years later, Bell Academy boasts the largest percentage of Affected students of any high school in the country. Colin, Simon, and Bai Li all live with albinism. Along with their friends Jethro, who lives with hypopigmentation, and Sarah, scarred with mood skin, this tight knit group of teens navigate friendship, romance, activism, bullies, and a society that doesn’t know what to do with them. When the charming and talkative Colin meets the new girl Ari, a Kinetic Moodie who can not speak but communicates through her colorful skin, it just might be love. But every teen’s life has its struggles. In a society constantly striving to do better, what happens to the “collateral damage” of previous attempts? Will love and friendship be enough to survive the bullying, attacks, and reports of Affected teens dying?”

“Robin’s Egg” • by Karin Terebessy

The headline at the top of the newsfeed quoted Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”
Seven eyewitnesses claimed to have seen two mourning doves swoop down over the playscape in Recreation Park in upstate New York, land on the wood chips with a plaintive coo, then take to the sky. Just the day before, a farmer in the Midwest found a squiggle of bird poo on the edge of his decorative well. These were the first sightings of birds in the wild since the Avian pandemic decimated the bird population forty years prior. Photos of that grayish-white poo went viral.

Robin sat on the little metal and red vinyl chair she’d had since childhood, the one with the steps that tuck underneath and pull out with a satisfying rise and fall. Even though she was much bigger now and she spilled over the sides of the little seat, it was her favorite and she sat in the front room looking out the window and holding onto a plastic Easter egg.

Outside, the air moved and hummed with millions of insects. The rapid beating of their iridescent wings created a fluttering veil of shadows and sunlight, through which Robin watched the modest street.

Her older brother Jim sat in his lounge chair in the dark living room, watching TV. He took care of her now.

Robin’s soft, cloudy eyes were fixated on a tiny blue speckled thing on the porch. It was a cheerful shade of blue with freckles and shaped like an itty-bitty cup with a rounded bottom and jagged rim. It teetered on a seam between two warped wooden porch planks. Insects swirled around it, and the little empty cup wobbled with the breeze from their wings.

The lounge chair groaned as Jim rocked his old body forward to stand.

“Commercial break,” he announced, “you hungry, Robin?”

He steadied himself, gave his hip a pointless rub, then shuffled to the kitchen.

…this Thanksgiving, show your family you love them by serving premium synthetic turkey…”

Robin was distracted from the blue object when the roadkill cleanup truck made its methodical way up the block. On the side of the truck was a painting of a bird. Robin couldn’t read but Jim had told her it was a vulture. He said, long ago, vultures cleaned up the dead animals. They were the cleaning guys in the skies.

Robin saw the mechanical arm of the truck scrape up a dead raccoon, sending dozens of rats scurrying away. Then the mechanical arm plopped the dead animal in the bed of the truck and the truck moved down the street. Robin returned to peering at the pretty quiet blue thing on the porch.

In the kitchen, the microwave oven beeped and Jim appeared with two small plates.

“Here’s your cricket burger, Robin.”

“Lots of ketchup?”

“Just how you like it,” he smiled and kissed the top of her head.

“Robin’s egg,” she said.

“Hm?” He looked at the plastic Easter egg in her hand. “Yes honey, that’s Robin’s egg.”

She pointed at the window. “Robin outside?” She asked.

“No honey, not today, the insect index is too high. But we’re supposed to have a good rain in the next few days and that oughta lower the numbers some. Then we’ll put on our galoshes and go worm-squishing, what d’you say?”

He gave her thin hair a tender ruffle and made his slow way back to his lounge chair, sinking into the seat cushion, concave with time and weight, and picked up the TV remote.

…the official death toll from malaria this year has already surpassed the estimated five million…”

Robin munched thoughtfully on her cricket burger with lots of ketchup, her eyes trained on the little blue thing on the porch.

“Robin’s egg,” she said through a thick mouth of food.

“Robin’s egg,” Jim parroted back kindly.

He remembered robins. When they were children, in this very house, a robin had built a nest in the bush out front. He held his sister’s hand, gingerly parted the fronds of the bush, and let her peek at the babies who popped their blind and naked heads up at the sound and movement, mouths wide open and hopeful for food.

Jim wasn’t a particularly wistful man, but he found himself wiping his eyes at the memory. He wondered vaguely if Robin remembered that day.

Through the curtain of insects, something bigger swooped down. It hopped onto the porch steps, skittery and twittery. It jerked its head and blinked its black eyes at Robin. A small spasm twitched and fluttered its feathers. Then it quickly snatched a cricket and lifted off the ground and took to the sky.

Robin lunged forward from her chair, her plate toppled from her lap, and her cricket burger fell with a wet ketchupy plop. She smashed her cheek against the window glass, gazing skyward, watching this thing fly away.

“What…?” Jim said, then “Oh.”

Robin’s cheek was still pressed against the glass when Jim finally made his way back to her.

With a supportive hand on the windowsill he lowered himself to the floor and began cleaning up the fallen burger. When he stood again, he could see quiet tears slipping down her doughy cheeks.

“No need to cry honey,” he said sweetly, slopping the mess of the burger on the plate. “There’s no mess we can’t clean up. We can fix anything,” he added as he moved towards the kitchen. “Just takes a little time and effort. Little patience too.”

His voice disappeared around the corner. Robin kept her gentle gaze on the sky, through the thick flickering curtain of insects.

Maybe the thing would come back. She was a patient girl. She could wait.



Karin Terebessy likes to write speculative flash fiction stories. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Sci-Phi Journal, and other ‘zines. She is currently attempting to write a novel based on her short story “Mood Skin” which appeared in Stupefying Stories in 2016. You can follow Karin on TikTok @karinbendsreality or find her on Instagram at karinterebessy.