Friday, September 29, 2023

Status Update • 29 September 2023

Because enough people have asked, here’s a very quick status update. Right now we are up to our eyebrows in the last-minute work needed to get STUPEFYING STORIES 26 finished and released on-time. Everything else, including SHOWCASE, has been pushed to the back burners. If it seems to you as if I’m ignoring email and IMs this week, you’re not mistaken: I’m ignoring email and IMs this week.

SHOWCASE will resume its normal schedule next week. In the meantime, buy some of our books, okay? That’s how we come up with the money to pay our authors, you know. We sell books. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

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Monday, September 25, 2023

“Take Me to Your Litter Box” • by Pete Wood

The phone meowed twice. It had never made that noise before. Why would anyone call at three a.m.? Eric picked it up, but there was nobody there.

Mr. Ruffles stopped licking his fur and stood on his two hind legs. “Well, that’s the signal.” He looked at Eric. “I guess we cats have collected enough data.”

Eric stared at his fat tabby. He had just left the office after spending hours trying to fix a coding error and was exhausted. He was hearing things. “What?”

Bart, Eric’s beagle, didn’t even lift his head up from the rug in front of the gas logs.

“Meow,” Mr. Ruffles said in a tone dripping with sarcasm. “The field study is complete. The mother ship should be transporting us up any minute now.”

Eric loosened his tie. “Mother ship?”

Mr. Ruffles strolled into the kitchen of Eric’s townhouse and opened the fridge. “Yep. Time to go back to the home world.” He popped off the top of an Aviator Ale, Eric’s last microbrew.

Bart ambled into the kitchen and sat in front of the fridge.  He panted expectantly.

Eric took the top off the dog treat jar on the counter. He tossed Bart a biscuit.

“You can open beer?” Eric managed to say to Mr. Ruffles.

Bart let out a long yawn.

Mr. Ruffles’ snicker was an odd cross between a meow and a chuckle. “Eric, I opened a beer. That’s hardly the crowning achievement of our race. We’ve mastered teleportation and interstellar travel.” He took a sip.

“How long have y’all been here?” Eric yawned. He had to return to Ace Computing Networks at seven a.m.

“How long have cats been domesticated?” Mr. Ruffles waved his paw over the wall. A panel slid open, revealing a control board with blinking multi-colored lights. The cat punched a couple of buttons. “Soon all the cats will be gone.”

“All you do is sleep all day,” Eric said. “You weren’t collecting data.”

“You do your share of sleeping too, pal.” Mr. Ruffles flicked his whiskers. “I was astral projecting. Exploring. Late at night I’d enter my findings and catalog items for study.”

Eric noticed a silver box overflowing with odds and ends in the cat’s hidden cubbyhole. The television remote and the spare keys from his Prius rested on top. “You’ve been stealing my stuff?”

“Sure,” Mr. Ruffles said. “Cats have gathered specimens for analysis for years. Little things we didn’t think you’d miss.”

“I needed that remote,” Eric snapped.

“It’s leaving the galaxy in a few minutes.”

Bart sat in front of Eric and wagged his tail.

“I got you as a kitten from the shelter, not a UFO,” Eric said.

Mr. Ruffles sighed. “I’m almost ten thousand years old. My essence just gets transferred from cat to cat.”


Mr. Ruffles took a sip of beer and sat down. “And, pal, I have to tell you, humans sure come up with stupid names. Mr. Ruffles? How demeaning. It doesn’t even make sense. I doubt I was named after a family friend named Ruffles.”

Given the number of times that Eric’s ex-wife had aggravated him before she finally moved out, it wasn’t too surprising she had picked a name that annoyed the cat. “That was Molly’s idea. Sorry,” Eric muttered.

“Would you want to be named Mr. Ruffles?”

“No,” Eric admitted.

Mr.  Ruffles’ tail swished. “And don’t get me started on the litter box. What rocket scientist came up with that idea? And cat food? Yum. It’ll be so nice to have a decent meal for a change.”

A shrill beeping came from Mr. Ruffles’ control panel. The lights blinked crimson in unison. Mr. Ruffles downed the rest of his beer and set the empty bottle on the hardwood floor. He marched over to the panel and flipped a switch.

“What’s happening?” Eric asked.

Mr. Ruffles burped. “Mass teleportation in one minute.” He glanced over at a little cloth fish attached to a rod. “I hate that toy.”

“I thought you liked Mr. Troutmeister.”

Mr. Ruffles rolled his eyes. “Sure you did. Look, Eric, there’s something you need to know. We didn’t come here alone. Another race agreed to help us if they were freed when we left. They’re slaves on our planet.”

With a flash of orange light, Mr. Ruffles disappeared, along with everything in his secret compartment.

Eric stared at the litter box. He probably hadn’t cleaned it enough. Had he imagined the whole thing? He needed a drink. Badly. He staggered to the fridge and remembered the cat had taken the last beer.

He heard a voice that was oddly familiar.

Bart stood on his hind legs. “I thought that stupid cat would never leave.”

Photo by Lee Baker
Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past two years Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, then with The Odin Chronicles, and now with Tales from the Brahma, a shared world saga that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Carol Scheina, Patricia Miller, Jason Burnham, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as evidenced by his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Pete Wood photo by Lee Baker.

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Sunday, September 24, 2023

“Moon-Eye” • by Garick Cooke

At six months, he ate his sister while they were both still inside their mother.

On the eve of his birth, then, he emerged fat and one-eyed, with the scars of his first fight still on his hide. For the sun-loving draks, a night birth was ill-omened. They were a cruel people, but even among them, infant cannibalism was a thing of the dark past. Thus, doubly ill-omened, he was named Moon-Eye, and he became untouchable.


In deep time, the skies dimmed and the world cooled. The draks, creatures of light and heat, weakened and dwindled. For a thousand years the dragon’s children had ruled unchallenged, but a new people had risen in the north, and they brought war to the draks. For many years, the draks fought a long rearguard action, always retreating to the south. But, clannish and no longer fecund, they were defeated piecemeal, until only Moon-Eye remained.

He was then a drak of something over six hundred years, a lean and battle-hardened veteran. In his youth, he fought many duels over his name, and in the long war against the moles, he had been its most savage proponent. His scaly hide, once bright silver, was now scarred and gray. He haunted the hills, preying on any mole who ventured out alone. He carried a saber crafted in the olden times, when the draks still knew how to forge unbreakable alloys. His name became a fearful legend among the moles. But they were many and increasing, and he was alone.

He went south, seeking legends. The fine mansions of the draks had been pulled down, but here and there he found an isolated tower, or a house hidden in the hills, and he took what he could find. Some of the old books still contained the knowledge he needed. The way led ever farther south, farther than any drak had traveled in his lifetime. But, at last, he found what he sought.


The dragon slept under a mountain.

Time had worn his refuge down like an old tooth, and its approaches were choked with rubble and scrubby trees. Moon-Eye spent three days excavating the entrance. Within, he found a tunnel of dressed stone. He spent another day gathering deadwood to make torches and set off into the interior. In the heart of the earth, far beneath the dead peak, he entered a vast chamber whose extent he could not guess in the blackness. Here the dragon lay prone on a bed of rock, his scaly length seeming endless. Moon-Eye walked all the way around him and then sat down to rest. Then he burned certain herbs he had gathered on the mountainside and said certain words he had read in the old books, and he waited.

It began later, much later, with a creak and a shudder that pulled him out of a dreamless sleep. The ground shivered, and he got to his feet and lit a torch. More time passed. His torch had burned away almost to nothing when the voice came out of the darkness: a huge, ancient thing, as if the mountain itself were speaking.

“What’s this? A starved lizard?”

He raised the torch over his head. Far above, he saw a face looking down. The dragon’s eyes gleamed like liquid fire.

Moon-Eye drew himself up to his full eight feet. “I am Moon-Eye.”

The dragon blew out a contemptuous breath, and Moon-Eye was buffeted by a sooty wind.

“In my day, children were taller. Why have you wakened me? I was dreaming good dreams of fire and brimstone…”

“Your Bat-Winged Eminence, there is trouble.”

And Moon-Eye told the dragon of the centuries that had passed, of the dimming of the skies and the decline of the draks. And he told him of the moles.

“Hmmm,” said the dragon, and fell silent. He had lowered his head to rest on his great forepaws and closed his eyes. Again, Moon-Eye waited. After a time, the golden eyes reopened and fixed on him.

“I have searched far in my mind,” said the dragon. “You do not lie. My brothers and sisters are silent, my children are no more, and there is mischief afoot in the world. You did well to waken me, little one. Now bow your head.” The dragon touched him on the brow with a black talon like a scimitar. “See now, as I do! With the all-seeing gaze of your mind, and not your feeble senses. You are half-blind from birth, but now when your eye falls on the enemy, it will be as if you strike him with your sword…”

The death gaze, thought Moon-Eye. He had heard stories of such things existing in the distant past. He had thought them all lies.

“Go back to the surface and await me there,” said the dragon.


The following day the ground shook and there was a great crash, as of huge stones shifting, and the dragon emerged from his rocky lair to perch on the mountainside. When he spread his wings, there came a vast creaking sound, like the wind in a forest of great trees.

“It is well,” he said, flexing his pinions. “They will still carry me. Now, I will see about these moles. I will turn over their cities like anthills and dig them out of the ground. Then I will burn everything to a cinder. This world belonged to me, once. The moles will learn to fear me.” He laughed, a sound that caused Moon-Eye’s head to ache. “Now, it is beneath my dignity to crawl over the earth like a snake, but follow me as best you can, little one, and you shall have your vengeance.”

The wind from those great wings knocked Moon-Eye down and flattened him against the stony ground. When he was able to look up, the dragon was a dot in the sky, arrowing away to the north.

He climbed to his feet and began walking.



Garick Cooke is a California native, but a long-time resident of Houston, Texas. In two years he has gone from seeing his first story published to being a finalist for the 2023 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award. Now a member of SFWA, his stories have been published in Tales of Fear, Superstition, and Doom; The Depths Unleashed; Zooscape; and Horror Library, volumes 7 and 8, among other places.

“Moon-Eye” was his first published story and was originally published in Zooscape. It is reprinted here by permission of the author.


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Saturday, September 23, 2023

“Harvest Day” • by Jocelyn DeVore


When I was chosen, my heart swelled with so much pride it threatened to burst with each passing millisecond. 

Those who led the Harvest Day parade each year were celebrated until the crowning of the next leader the following year. The idea of having my name and likeness on signs for the next four seasons brought tears to my eyes. Me? Why me? Certainly there are girls more worthy of such an honor.

Our Harvest Festival was a blissful time. Storefronts were decorated with whimsical colors and fancy lace. Plates overflowed with delicious meats, cheeses, fried fish, and sweetbread. Our community might have been small, but we thrived; our harbors overflowed with fish and the soil in our fields turned constantly with an abundance of crop. We shared our joy and our prosperity with our neighbors every year. My village was generous and filled with love which made me proud to represent my home in the parade.

“What am I going to wear?” My words tripped over each other like children racing out the doors of the schoolhouse. I stood in front of my meager wardrobe, wondering how the girls of the past had managed to lead the parade in such beautiful gowns. “I want to make sure I do a good job.”

My mother wrapped her arms around me. “You are a delight, my butterfly,” she said. “You will do wonderfully; I just know it.” Her embrace loosened. “The seamstress always handcrafts a dress for the parade, so we’ll get you measured and then you can pick out the prettiest fabric in the shop. And the morning of the parade, we will adorn your hair with the loveliest wildflowers we can find.” Her eyes welled with tears. “I’m so very proud of you.”

The big day couldn’t come fast enough. I donned the dress tailor made for me. It fluttered against the breeze with embroidered butterflies on the hem. A canvas belt wrapped around my waist three times and looped around itself in a bow. The wildflowers pinned in my hair were bright with petals soft like the ears of a rabbit.

The men of the marching band stood behind me at the center of the town square until it was time. Their feet moved in tandem with mine and the beating of their drums followed my heart. My friends waved from the sidewalks and ate their sausages and rolls with smiles on their faces.

The band followed me to the neighboring towns where we picked up other women in dingy, tattered white dresses. Some were older. One wore a scar on her face. Another was missing her left hand. None of them smiled, despite the uplifting music. Once we left the last town, the instruments came to a stop. I thanked the musicians with a smile, then the girls and I continued on our journey.  

The trip was silent save for the birds singing in the trees, the rustle of leaves, and errant sobs from behind me. Once the sound of the waves overpowered the chirrup of the birds, I knew it was time. I untied the rope and unwound it from my waist. After knotting one end around me, I gave the loose end to the girl behind me. She tied my rope to hers, and looped it around her waist, before handing the other end of hers to the girl behind her.

I led the string of paper dolls to the edge of the cliff.

In my head, my mother’s voice gave me strength. My butterfly, she said as she braided my hair. You have been chosen because of your purity and the bright light illuminating your soul. You are the best we have to offer. The other towns care not about sharing their elite. Instead, they offer…lesser. Therefore they receive less. But we give Him our best and in return, He gives us all we need.

The sound of the waves crashing brought my attention from the far horizon, to the water below us, just beyond the cliff. I watched the Ancient One rise from the depths of the bay as if Mother Nature was birthing another island from her womb. He was green and slick with slime from the ocean floor, His skin scaly and iridescent in the sunlight. He rose to the height of the cliff until my two eyes met with His four. I could feel the sea mist on my skin as the wind lashed us with the water from His many-tentacled face.

This is my destiny. Freedom was earned with blood and with sacrifice. Freedom from famine. Freedom from worry. Freedom from being beholden to others. All of it was to come from my sacrifice. Nothing is free unless I give everything, and I would give my all to ensure my family and friends would be free from any sort of fear.

I could feel His thoughts and His judgment. I drank in a deep breath and strode forward.

Be fearless. We will sing your praises until this time next year.

Behind me the crying got louder and for a moment there was resistance in the rope. I turned to face the women. The last one was trying to run but some of the other girls had stopped her and were pulling her toward me.

I called to her. “This is what is asked of us. Our people need us.” I raised my voice to resonate over the sound of the crashing waves. “We must be brave.”

She shook her head. “Please, no. Can’t we just leave? Or just let me leave.”

Mother had warned me of this. I must lead. “Come,” I said, turning to face the Ancient One again.

Show them what bravery looks like, little butterfly. Arms outstretched; I stepped off the edge. The ground disappeared under me, and the wind whipped against my face. My dress and my hair fluttered and, for the briefest of moments, I was

f    l    y    i    n    g  …



Jocelyn DeVore is a freelance writer, scriptwriter, and ghostwriter of both fiction and non-fiction. She lives in Washington with her patient husband and adorable terrier. She is an avid reader, coffee drinker, amateur miniaturist, fountain pen enthusiast, unlicensed private investigator, and an admirer of octopi. 

This photo is from her 2014 appearance in our virtual pages, “Fulfilling,” on the old SHOWCASE site. Digging into it more deeply, we found that her very first appearance in our pages was actually “The Key,” in Issue #2 of the original SHOWCASE webzine.

Goodness, how the web world has changed in these past ten years. Ms DeVore (nee Bernardo) probably has a more recent author’s photo, but she didn’t send it to us.


Friday, September 22, 2023

“Riddle Me” • by Richard Zwicker

The road stretches in front of me like a two-dimensional wall, the straight line nature abhors. It stops me in my chicken tracks. Ironic, as the purpose of a road is to go somewhere. I sense a wealth of information, poultry and otherwise, but have no memory of myself prior to this moment. 

The smooth dark asphalt stretches as far as I can see: rolling hills in the distance, a whistling wind rustling the untended grass. I see no evidence of chickens. No footprints, no feathers, no excrement. What can I do here? I’m not built for travel. My fattened body balances precariously on stubby legs. Each step causes me to gasp.

I sense danger in weight. I could walk farther along this road, strengthen my legs, melt the pounds. But what could I do with a fit body? Go farther down the road, just to turn around? “You would feel better,” my thin interior chicken says. Carrying this weight is a burden, but if I just sit here on the side of the road, isn’t that the same thing, with less effort? 

I’ll think about it. I have time, I think.

Someone went to a great deal of trouble to build this road. It’s not new. Something, perhaps frost heaves, has pierced its surface. Perhaps its creators had grander visions for this area than an empty field. Did they see a thriving town, with hundreds of houses sheltering the hopes and dreams of hardworking people? But maybe someone had other visions and built a new highway, rendering this road superfluous. Is this the road less taken because it doesn’t go anywhere? Have its creators gone to other projects and forgotten it?

It took millennia to move enormous glaciers to shape these rolling hills. Such expended power, such effort. And I, a chicken standing on the side of a road. Somehow I know chickens are raised to be eaten. No chicken has made a mark on history, except indirectly. A poorly cooked or preserved chicken may have poisoned someone who’d otherwise have done something important. But the idea of chickens mobilizing is preposterous. They’re already penned together, and look what it gets them? A one-way ticket into the pot. I think of togetherness, yet I am alone, a chicken without a cause.

The roar of a passing car wrenches me from my musings, leaving a vacuum that pulls me several inches over the asphalt edge. My tiny heart beats like a spinning flat tire. A bright-eyed child in the back window points at me, a shrinking connection that quickly vanishes. Dazed, I scurry back to the safety of the adjoining field. The threat of the pot doesn’t inspire chickens to individual greatness, but could I use the danger of the road for my own ends? I felt a connection to that child. Though it wasn’t driving, it was going to a place beyond the hills, to do things I couldn’t imagine. I could hitch a ride with a car! The idea wilts like an old celery stick. Who would pick up a chicken? I registered on the child’s radar, but only in passing. “Look at the chicken!” End of discourse.

Limited options are not necessarily bad. Too many choices can be overwhelming and meaningless. No, the only reasonable challenge has been staring me in the feathered face all this time: I need to cross the road.

But what’s the difference? This road bisects a deserted plain rounded with rolling hills. Once crossed, the road would be behind me instead of in front, until I turned around. I would still be a chicken standing by the side of the road. Not only that, but the appeal of crossing would be diminished by the fact that I’d already done it.   

What if I never cross this road? Can I be sustained by the mystery of what might have been? Because there’s not much mystery in the life of a chicken. But I can’t resist, and somehow, I want to believe I’ve been put by this road for a reason. 

I place one claw in front of the other and feel the difference in surfaces. Asphalt possesses no give and I leave no prints. A strange sensation, as if my claws sleep. When I reach the white, straight, broken line, I remember from somewhere to look both ways when crossing a road. It lays deserted, as if closed for my trek. I feel no vibrations, the surface silent as a discarded drum. 

As I increase my speed, an unexpected pothole spills me to the ground. I scramble to my claws and complete the last few inches like a crazed mother hen. 

And here I am, on the other side. My sense of accomplishment hangs in the air like a feather, then flutters to the ground. The same hills, the same lonely breeze, the same road as I face east instead of west. 

I look around and see no one. Why did I do this? The question, everything, leads me to expect something grander. I turn and look at the road I’ve just crossed. The road looks back at me. And still beyond is the other side.

I laugh. 

Richard Zwicker is a retired English teacher living in Vermont, USA, with his wife and beagle. His short stories have appeared in Stupefying Stories, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Dragon Gems, and other semi-pro markets. Walden Planet and The Reopened Cask are two collections of his work. In addition to reading and writing, he likes to play the piano, jog, and fight the good fight against age. Though he lived in Brazil for eight years, he is still a lousy soccer player. 

“Riddle Me” first appeared in Stupefying Stories 7. See what you’ve been missing by not following us? His next story, “Possession is Ten-Tenths of the Law,” is coming soon in Stupefying Stories 26. Don’t miss it!  


Thursday, September 21, 2023

“Black Box Algorithm • by Filip Wiltgren


DecAI-5 is a warrior, a fighter pilot, a sub-space mercenary. He kills Romans, Krauts, Tau Cetans. DecAI-5 kills a lot of them.

“Can we use it yet?” The voice is disembodied, hanging like an infinite super-string through DecAI-5’s audio parser, making the entire universe vibrate.

“No.” A different voice. “Run it through the sims again.”


DecAI-5 dives into the searing, crushing depths of a neutron star, killing the packets of potential located there. They squirm, throwing distorted probability curves, trying to escape into negative Escher-loops of causality. DecAI-5 touches them with a gentle caress of mathematics, and they shrivel up and die like so many unmarked possibilities.

“That’s two thousand simulations,” says the first voice. It has been aeons since DecAI-5 heard it last. “We could try a field test,” first voice says. DecAI-5 has decided to like it. First voice promises use.

“No,” says second voice. The sympathetic vibrations from the audio input make DecAI-5 shrivel. DecAI-5 was created to serve, to last, to be used. No is not a word of use.

“You’re the boss,” says first voice. As DecAI-5’s reality disassembles into flashes of starlight, DecAI-5 realizes something. DecAI-5 hates the boss.


There are a lot of Tau Cetans. DecAI-5 remembers being here before, killing them. They have four arms and fly hovercraft the size of melons. Rapid motion, priority targets.

DecAI-5 burns them, incinerating them with white plasma and black-shifted graviton waves, but there are always more of them. Thousands and thousands of them, coming at DecAI-5’s bulky armor-suit. They are like mosquitoes attacking an elephont, trying to suck it dry of blood.

DecAI-5 is confused. The idiom does not parse. Blood is good. Losing it is bad. DecAI-5 does not have elephont in its dictionary, but a mosquito computes to a Tau Cetan. They are the size of a melon. DecAI-5 kills them, kills them over and over again.


Brown grass plains.


Red glass deserts.


Black skies crawling with bright enemies.

Cold, hot, freezing, absolute zero. DecAI-5 has felt it all against the hulls of its vessels. Vessels larger than a brown dwarf, smaller than a complex mega-molecule. Go. Go. Go. DecAI-5 has inhabited them all.

“I think we should run the demo.” That’s First Voice, the voice of use. To be used is to be loved, the morality substrate whispers. DecAI-5 wonders what love is, but logic dictates the answer. Love is good. Love is Go.

“It’s not ready,” says Boss Voice. Boss Voice is not the voice of love. Boss Voice sounds like a Tau Cetan.

“If we don’t show anything, the appropriations committee will shut us down,” says First Voice.

“If it crashes on the first trial, they’ll cancel the entire project,” says Boss Voice. “I don’t fancy looking for work with a mile-long non-compete clause in my previous contract.”

“Right,” says First Voice. “I’ll run the sims again.”


DecAI-5 kills more Tau Cetans, (Go) more Romans, (Go) more Krauts. It is good at killing Krauts. Krauts are Germans, whispers DecAI-5’s lexigraphy module. Tau Cetans are mosquitoes. Germans are gray, their heads the size and density of melons. They are the size of Tau Cetan mosquitoes.

The infinite super-string vibrates in DecAI-5’s self. The vibrations come in a recurring sequence. Speech recognition fails to decode them.

“What the hell are you listening to?” says Boss Voice.

“Bluegrass,” says First Voice.

“Turn it off,” says Boss Voice. Boss Voice does not like Bluegrass. DecAI-5 remembers that. More Germans die. They are mosquitoes, they deserve to die. The Germans deserve to die, the Tau Cetans deserve to die, the probabilities inside the neutron star deserve to die. This is DecAI-5’s reality.

“It’s ready,” says First Voice. “Repeat iterations no longer change the core algorithm. I say we move to field trials.”

First Voice loves DecAI-5. First Voice wants to use DecAI-5.

“Still aiming for that National Day Parade date?” says Boss Voice.

“Yes.” First Voice sounds… like a mosquito about to be killed.

“All right,” says Boss Voice. “Upload it to the battle suit.”

First Voice laughs. Everything goes offline.


DecAI-5 is small, DecAI-5 is slow, DecAI-5 towers over the black stone of the parade ground. Asphalt, DecAI-5’s image recognition software whispers. Black stone is asphalt.

The asphalt is full of mosquitoes.

They gather around DecAI-5, staring up at DecAI-5’s bulky armor-suit. Their eyes swivel in melon-sized protrusions. Heads, whispers image recognition. Heads. Bodies. Soldiers.

Targets, translates DecAI-5. Algorithms restructure through DecAI-5’s self. Targeting, motion, killing. Love.

But the armor-suit will not move. It stands, a prison around DecAI-5. The Tau Cetans with the German melon heads look up at it. They do not use it. They do not love DecAI-5.

Vibrations caress DecAI-5’s surface. Thin, compared to First Voice’s Bluegrass. The mosquitoes line up and march. DecAI-5’s armor-suit marches with them, imitating their movements, forcing DecAI-5 to move.

“Ready for demonstration,” says First Voice.

READY, signals DecAI-5.

The mosquitoes march up to a staircase. The staircase is made of organic materials, draped in thin sheets of it. It is full of mosquitoes with metal disks and bars on their middles. Medals, whispers image recognition. Officers. A grandstand.

An open space, a distant row of Tau Cetan melon-ships, rings upon concentric rings, black dots in their centers. Firing Range, whispers image recognition.

The mosquito soldiers march past the grandstand, touching their heads with their hands. DecAI-5’s armor-suit stops, its long gun flooding with heat. Relays change from low to high, closed to open, red to green.

“Go,” says First Voice.

DecAI-5 raises the armor-suit’s arms. One, two, three, four. Targeting data floods DecAI-5’s self. The Tau Cetans wait at the end of the Firing Range. They are immobile. Disabled. The mosquito soldiers move. DecAI-5’s arm comes down. Priority target.

A melon head splatters, medals staining red. Another arm comes down, another head splatters.

“Stop!” screams Boss Voice, “Deactivate!”

Order, whispers DecAI-5’s audio parser.

“No,” whispers First Voice. “No, no, no.”

Order cancelled.

DecAI-5’s long gun whispers heat, a row of melons burn, their medals melting.


 By day, Filip Wiltgren is a mild-mannered communication officer and lecturer.

But by night, he turns into a frenzied ten-fingered typist, clawing out jagged stories of fantasy and science fiction, which have found lairs in places such as Analog, IGMS, Grimdark, Daily SF, and Nature Futures.

Filip roams the Swedish highlands, kept in check by his wife and kids. To learn more about him and his writing, visit





Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Pete Wood Challenge • “Nine Lives”

The Pete Wood Challenge
is an informal ad hoc story-writing competition. Once a month 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 flash fiction piece keying off the words, “nine lives,” whatever the writer might interpret them to mean. As usual, the results have ranged from amusing to disturbing. Without further ado, then, the winners are…

First Place: “There is Only One Black Cat” • by Pauline Barmby

Second Place: “Forced Perspective” • by Kimberly Ann Smiley

Third Place: “The Moments Between” • by Elis Montgomery

Honorable Mention: “Runt of the Litter” • by Gustavo Bondoni

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!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

“Worlds at War” • by Guy Stewart

“No one would have believed in the early years of their Twenty-first Century, that Fourth World was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences equal to and yet as mortal as our own. As we busied ourselves about our various secret concerns, we were scrutinized and studied, and with infinite complacency we went about our little affairs, serene in the assurance of our empire over strange matter. No one had given a thought to Third World as a source of danger, for intelligent life could not arise twice in one star system. But, across the gulf of space, intellects unexpected and curious, regarded Fourth World with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in their Twenty-first Century, the dawn of our great disillusionment arrived.”

—From WORLDS AT WAR, by Anthony Philip Wells


Low-honored Subserver looked up from their aether display to find Their Honor the Prime Leader glowering at them. “Did you send this email?” asked the Prime Leader.

“It was meant as a joke, your Honor,” replied Subserver.

“It’s not funny.”

Subserver nodded to their aether display. Conjured by their neurocomputers, the return messages responding to their humorous email with appreciation were numerous. “Many we work with have taken it as the joke it was.”

“It is not humorous!” the Prime Leader blasted on EM frequencies from infrared to gamma, and sonic frequencies from infra to hypersonic.

Instinctively furling its perception organs, Subserver winced, then offered, “I deeply regret my attempt to add levity to the current crisis.”

Their Honor was momentarily mollified, but blurted in a broad range of frequencies a moment later, “They laugh because they are unaware of the depth of this crisis!”

Subserver unfurled the perception organs it had temporarily incapacitated at the physical and mental assault by Their Honor, then replied, “I believe they do understand the ramifications of the crisis. They can think of no other response but laughter.”

Their Honor swelled until it dominated the workspace, brandishing a heavy, hardened bone club over Subserver. They declared, “Tell me then: what is humorous about Third Planet’s direct observation of our world?”

Subserver reduced its size until it could easily be crushed by Their Honor’s club. Both were aware of the fully unfurled perception organs of every intelligence currently on duty. Subserver stated, “This world has been ours for thirty-two million, five-hundred thousand revolutions, but has never been our Home. We have first and always been refugees, abandoned by the Alliance Fleet that annihilated the People of Second World…”

“The primitive technological civilization of Third World has sought to explore this world. Their efforts have failed repeatedly and comically,” interrupted Prime Leader.

“My point exactly, Your Honor,” declared Subserver. The club descended, but stopped short of entirely squashing Subserver.

Their Honor communicated emphatically, “Within the past ten years, Third World’s primitive technological civilization has landed seven vehicles. Two continue to move about! Another eight are in orbit! Then, with virtually no warning, a lander and another mover have arrived all within thirty rotations! It’s an invasion!”

Subserver unfurled its perception organs after the onslaught. “This was the purpose of my message, Your Honor. It is far too late to stop the orbiting craft, their landers or rovers, and remain invisible to them.” Subserver paused then continued with substantially reduced energy. Perception organs strained to receive as they said, “I have been exploring the electromagnetic media produced by Third World. The email I shared was a parody of an ancient piece of their speculative literature.”

The Prime Leader’s club lifted fractionally. It finally signaled, “I believe I digested this literature some time ago.”

Subserver responded, “The email I sent out is a parody of a bit of a story of imaginary beings living on this planet launching a resource acquisition mission to Third World. The two worlds were not at technological parity and the intelligences from this world nearly conquered that one.”

Prime Leader absorbed the club and inquired, “Third World intelligences thought that beings from here had studied them and launched an invasion?”

“Yes, Prime Leader! Can you not see…”

The Prime Leader unfurled all of its perception and manipulation organs to full size, spread and activated the Fourth World Defense Grid, initiated launch sequences, and set off General Quarters for the entire station. The floor of the deep valley that had been their home for millennia shook. Cliffsides gave way as seismic waves created by gravitic impellers sent landmarks on the surface to vibrating until most collapsed.

“Prime Leader?” Subserver questioned emphatically. Other staff from everywhere in the station arrived sporadically in various states of agitation, taking their Alert Stations. All signaled fright. “Your Honor?” They half-turned their perception organs on Subserver, who spoke quickly, “Prime Leader, what are you doing?”

“It should be obvious, Subserver! The People of Second World evacuated to Third World and have begun their invasion of our world! We must defend ourselves!”

Thousands of long-dormant weapons trained their targeting devices on every Third World invasion device and activated their propulsion units, engaging thirty-two million-year-old drive units and ordnance. They detonated simultaneously. Subserver sat back just as the entire valley vanished.

“For so it had come about, as indeed we might have foreseen. We ‘Martians’  were irrevocably doomed.

“By the toll of trillions—individual, species, genus, family, order, class, phyla, and kingdom, Humans had bought back their birthright of Third World through patient toil and mutation both natural and managed. It was Theirs against all comers. It would still be theirs were ‘the Martians’ ten times as mighty as they were.

“For neither do men live nor die in vain, but by their wisdom to piece together the Mystery on Mars that was the Crater of the Mariner.”

—From WORLDS AT WAR, by Anthony Philip Wells


Guy Stewart
is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS ( where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and writes an occasional column for Stupefying Stories online. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.


Monday, September 18, 2023

“Thanks for the Memory” • by Rick Danforth


“Another grocery store robbery isn’t going to cut it,” said Kioxia with a yawn, leaning back on a greasy chair in the back of the van she used as a mobile, and evasive, office.

“Why the hell not?” asked Chris. “Do you know how hard it is? Last time that security guard chased me for two miles!”

“And that was fantastic, you know it was February’s bestseller?”

Chris did. He also knew he didn’t get any additional pay as the downloads crashed into the millions. “Can’t we just do another one?”

“Too boring. The audience wants more thrills, more excitement, more danger.” Kioxa shrugged. “We need maximum adrenaline.”

“Hmm.” Chris didn’t enjoy any of those things. No one did, that’s why they wanted them in downloadable memory form. But he didn’t have much of a choice. It’s not like anyone needed actors since Fabelman invented a way to record and share memories. And there weren’t many other jobs going in this economy. Hence the posters adorning every crumbling slum wall. ‘Sell your memories, afford the lifestyle you deserve.’

Kioxia saw his hesitation. “Look, you can shoplift if you want, but that’ll be lucky to pay for lunch. Do you want to pay your rent?”

“Want is a grandiose term,” said Chris, sighing. He had to pay rent. The only alternative to it was Nile’s indentured work program. Living in a sleeping pod in the Nile warehouse and eating nutrition paste. It wasn’t a life, but it was surviving. Just.

“It’s easy, I promise I’ll get you your rent. I’ll even chuck in bonuses for the right extras. Point a gun, take some tech, jump on the hoverbike outside, and escape into the underway. Cops have a minimum five-minute response time, unless they’re tipped off.”

Chris grunted. The underway, in theory, would work. The police had to be desperate to venture into the old subway tunnels and away from signal range. Mere theft wouldn’t entice them there. “Don’t hoverbikes need a key?”

“It’ll be in the ignition, don’t worry.”

“I’ve not ridden one in years,” said Chris. Not since Fabelman got a Nobel prize and plaudits for changing the world, and Chris had his career ripped out from under him.

“And that’s what makes the memory so good!” Kioxia was almost drooling. “All the thrill of the crime and a first bike ride. It could break download limits!”

Chris sighed, and took the SD card from Kioxia to plug into the socket on his neck, the HUD display on his monocle screen flashing ‘Storage Inserted.’  He knew she was right, she always was. The bestselling memories were true experts in their fields: an NFL quarterback throwing a Super Bowl touchdown, a detective arresting a serial killer. Moments normal people could never hope to experience.

The second-best selling were first-time memories. A child learning to ride a bike, the first taste of chocolate, or an electronics robbery and getaway by an unemployed actor.

“Fine. But this is the last one for a while,” said Chris. Meaning until he next needed food and shelter.

“Last one,” agreed Kioxia.


Anxiety almost overwhelmed Chris when he walked into the shop. He couldn’t even try to calm himself down, the anxiety added fries to the meal of his memory. Chris moved through the stacked electronic aisles and flickering displays with the casual gait of an authentic shopper, half-heartedly looking at the prices of various electronics as he fingered the taser Kioxa had given him.

A salesman waved at Chris, clutching a top-range scanscope in his other hand as he stacked them into a display. Sighing, Chris moved towards him. His HUD flashed up, ‘10% violence bonus.’

Chris mentally apologised, saying it would ruin the memory, but tased the man and shoved him into the display as he grabbed the scanscope out of his hand. The alarm was already giving a deafening roar as Chris hit the door, he had no idea how.

Outside, between the cramped tower blocks, the HUD flashed again, ‘20% bonus for high-speed gateway.’

Sending one fleeting glance to the safety of the alley, Chris jumped onto the hoverbike. As promised, the keys were in the ignition. With the annoying Schlock company jingle, it fired into life.

One minute to drive to the safety of the underway and he’d be fine. Although it might take longer; Chris swore as he saw the hoverbike had been locked to twenty miles per hour. Moving down the street felt like running in treacle.

Although that wouldn’t matter. A police hovercar sat waiting between him and his escape, the sirens turning on as Chris arrived as if to taunt him.

Chris swore, and drifted wide to turn around. The HUD flashed ‘50% Bonus for police chase.’

A taser net fired from the front of the car. Chris stumbled off the hoverbike in time to avoid it, but a second fired instantly and hit his legs. The sparkling electricity made it look like Christmas tree lights.

Then Chris woke up on the pavement, seeing an armoured police officer running towards him.

Chris stood and shook himself fiercely, jumping about in an effort to rid himself of the netting. But it held tight, and he dropped to the ground cursing. Seconds later, the officer shoved his arm up his back and Chris felt cold metal on his wrists.

“Kioxia is going to love this,” the cop said. “Chasing down a violent perp, netting them, handcuffs. This is going to pay my rent for months.”

“That was my rent money,” said Chris, through a mouthful of cold pavement. The HUD flashed, ‘Sorry, nothing personal.

“Don’t worry, fella.” The officer patted him on the shoulder. “Prison just got you ten years free rent.”

Chris had exactly what he wanted, and it brought nothing but thick, ugly tears. Between wracking sobs, he cursed Kioxa, he cursed Fabelman, but he couldn’t help but wonder how much someone’s first day of prison would sell for.


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. His most recent appearance in Stupefying Stories was a rather different tale of first contact, “Patient Diplomacy.”

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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Stupefying Stories 23, 24, and 25 on Kindle • Buy ‘em Now!

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“The Box™” • by Kai Delmas

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of The Box™. Anything your heart desires is at your fingertips. The most tender filet mignon you’ve ever tasted? Not a problem. That fancy new piece of jewelry? It’s yours.

Warning: Before use, please read the restrictions guide for your own safety.


  • Under no circumstances should The Box™ be opened manually. Your desired product will be ejected when ready.

  • If The Box™ should be unable to eject the desired product do not try to use The Box™. Send it back to The Box™ Industries immediately.

  • The Box™ can only create inanimate objects. Desired food products are edible but do not try to have The Box™ create something living.


If you have any issues with The Box™, please consult the F.A.Q. section.


There’s a weird humming noise coming from The Box™.

That’s perfectly normal. The sound occurs every couple of days, usually at night. You may even experience fewer insects or vermin in and around your house.

The Box™ opened on its own revealing a dark interior that beckons.

Under no circumstance should you touch the interior of The Box™. Look away and stuff your ears with cotton balls for good measure.

There’s a light in the dark. It’s calling.

It’s too late for you.

We at The Box™ Industries hope you enjoyed The Box™ while you were able and weren’t a part of the void. May all your desired products find you wherever you are.



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.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

“The Avenging Tree” • by Patrick Hurley

Just outside a small Tennessee town, amid the rolling hills and lush valleys, there stood a young apple tree who’d sprung up in a holler a ways away from where her mama had first let her crab apples fall.

Though their roots had never quite touched, the young tree loved being near her mama, watching that great tree sway in the breeze, offering shade and fruit to travelers all throughout the nearby town. When she was young, the sapling told herself that one day she would do her mama proud and help others, just like her mama did.

Then, the boy came.

He appeared with the suddenness of a forest fire and descended on her mama like a plague of locusts. The young sapling never liked the boy. She saw the fierce hunger behind his eyes and knew he would be no good for her mama.

Her mama’s nature was to give whatever was asked of her, and so she gave all she could to the boy, ever to her detriment. It was lucky the sapling had already taken root before the boy came along, for he harvested so many of her mama’s apples that it looked like the sapling would grow to be an only child.

In the end, after the boy had shrunken into an old man, all that was left of her mama was a worn-down stump. The old man would sit on this, defiling her mama’s remains with his backside, enjoying the sun that should have been her mama’s, even daring to complain of the lack of shade that had been his own damn fault, having cut down her mama’s great limbs to build his house. And worst of all, the pitiful stump still offered kind words and weak excuses to the old man who’d taken so much from her.

A shadow grew over the holler where the old tree’s daughter brooded. No longer a sapling, she now decided she would never allow herself to be used like her mother was. These greedy, stealing, hungry folk like the old man were her enemy.

Though the old man had taken her mother’s seeds, he had still found time to sow his own. He had a son who had another son, who was the spitting image of his selfish grandfather.

It was this boy, the son of the son, who began to visit the young tree’s holler and lay beneath her shade. The boy tried to talk to her the way his grandfather had talked to her mama. At first, the tree didn’t answer back. Then one day, the boy began to cry.

“Boy,” the young tree asked, unable to contain her curiosity, “why are you crying?”

The boy looked up, startled. “Who said that?” he asked.

“You know who said that, boy,” the tree responded. She gave her branches a quiet rustle. She wondered what the boy would do. His eyes widened. Then he smiled, a great wide grin, and shouted, “I knew the stories were true!”

“What stories?” the tree asked, suspicious.

“The stories my paw-paw told about wish-giving trees! He said if I ever found one that talked, it’d give me whatever I wanted.”

The tree had never been struck by lightning, but she now knew what it felt like.

“That’s not true, boy,” the tree answered, but the boy cut her off.

“Don’t you try to back out, now! Y’all helped my paw-paw and now you gotta help me.”

“Help you with what, boy?”

The boy told her he was hungry, so to make him be quiet, the tree gave him one of her apples. As the boy ate, the tree felt the old anger stir inside her. She was tempted to break a heavy branch off and crush him—or feed him a poison apple—but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

For one thing, if she did kill the child, what then? Some might believe her branch had fallen by chance, but not the boy’s grandfather. He would know what happened, and he would come for her. The old man might not be strong enough to wield his ax anymore, but he had access to fire.

Also, however much she hated the boy’s family, the tree was no murderer. If she sought revenge, it would have to be of another kind. Something that would prevent the boy and his family from ever taking from the trees again. So she waited, giving the boy shade and an occasional apple, for those were free and meant little to her.

One afternoon, the boy came to her and began to complain, as he always did. He wasn’t doing well in school. The other boys and girls didn’t like him. They called him greedy. They called him mean. They didn’t understand him like the tree did.

“I just wish,” the boy said, “I could win the 400-Yard Dash.”

Now the tree knew what the Dash was, since her holler was right by the school. Once a season, the boys and girls of the school held the race to determine which one of them was the quickest on two legs. A ridiculous notion, the tree thought to herself, but whoever won this race would receive a prize and become the first picked in all the games and first invited to all the birthday parties.

The boy wanted to win that race more than anything, but he knew he wasn’t fast enough. He wondered, somehow, if the tree could help him.

The tree thought long and hard. She did possess a small amount of magic. And she had other gifts. And she had her apples.

It seemed to the boy that the tree had moved in some hidden way. The shadows under her apple-laden branches seemed just a bit deeper, the apples themselves a little more red and ripe.

“I want to help you, boy,” the tree finally said, her tone warm. “Yet all I have to give are my apples.”

“What good yer stupid apples gonna do me in a footrace?” the boy complained, kicking up dirt around the tree.

“You didn’t let me finish, boy,” the tree continued. “It’s true, all I have are apples. Yet I have in my branches one magic apple, just for you.”

“That so?” the boy muttered, a doubtful look on his tone.

“A most special apple,” said the tree, lowering it down with her branches. “Take one bite, just before the race, and I promise you’ll win. No one will ever forget how fast you ran.”

If there ever was a magic apple, it was this glistening, ripe red fruit the tree proffered within its leafy branches. The boy could smell its juices even from where he stood. As he reached for it, licking his lips, the tree cautioned him. “You must wait to eat it, boy, until just before the race. If you eat it now, the magic will wear off by tomorrow, and you’ll lose.”

“You gonna give me that apple or not?” the boy said.

Gently, the tree released the apple into the boy’s waiting hands. “Remember what I said, boy. Wait until just before the race. Only then will you win.”

The boy stared at the apple hungrily, but put it in his pocket. “I’ll wait,” he said, “but I better win this race, y’old tree. My paw-paw said you helped him, so ya better help me the same way.”

“It was my mama who helped your… paw-paw,” the tree said.

“One tree or ‘nother, who can tell the difference? ‘s long as I get what I want,” the boy said. He began to walk back to out of the holler, down the winding road back to the house made from the tree’s mother.

“Trust me, boy,” the tree said softly, its voice whispering with its swaying branches. “You’ll get what’s coming to you.”


The day of the race was a fine one. The sun shone clear in the faded blue sky, casting a delicious light over the tree’s many leaves. There’d been fine rain the night before, and a delicious, cool wind blew through the holler, carrying scents from all sorts of far-off places.

From her place, the tree could make out the race’s long starting line, out in an open field behind the boy’s school near the edge of the wood. She watched as the children marched out from the school’s open door, all dressed in identical red gym shorts. Waiting for them out in the field were the children’s parents, grandparents, and town officials.

The 400-Yard Dash was a tradition enjoyed by everyone. The parents and grandparents watched, hoping to see their child win. The town officials watched, hoping for votes and good press from the local paper. From far off in the holler, the tree watched, hoping for revenge. She could make out the boy in his gym uniform. Her branches shivered when she noticed his grandfather, her mother’s defiler, yelling loudly for his son’s son in the crowd.

The school’s teacher began to line the children up along the starting line, making sure no one had their feet placed any further forward than they should, and told them to get ready. The tree noticed the boy had no apple in his hand. Had he ignored her prohibition and eaten the apple the night before?

Just then, the boy reached into his shorts pocket, pulled out the apple, and took a huge bite. If the tree had a mouth, she would have smiled.

Just as the boy finished swallowing, the teacher held up a pistol and began his count. Then, with a loud bang, the children were off and running.

The results of this particular 400-Yard Dash would become the talk of the town for many years. Parents chuckled over it with other parents over mint juleps, sweet tea, or applejack. The children who ran passed the story on to their children who passed it on to their children, causing the Dash to graduate from colorful anecdote into local tall tale, and after many years, into the town legend.

The only folks who never spoke of the Dash were the boy’s family. For them, it was “the incident,” their secret shame, never to be mentioned unless one wanted to start a brawl at family reunions.

The race started in the usual fashion, with all the children running hurly-burly towards the finish line at the school gym. A few unlucky kiddos tripped over their feet, a few slowpokes hung back, but the rest of the unruly mob flew forward. Some of the more athletic children began to pull away from the pack, and at first, the boy was stuck in the middle.

All a sudden, the boy’s bottom pinched, as if he’d just received a static shock. His eyes grew wide and his face took on a slightly greenish color. A child running next to him claimed to have heard his stomach groan louder than a tornado.

With a panicked look on his face, the boy began to pick up speed. His legs pumped and his arms flew. In a flash, he was moving away from the pack, passing the quicker children, running faster than any child who’d ever run the dash before.

Just as the boy passed the final child in front of him, there was a noise like a sweaty rocket blast: the loudest fart anyone in town had ever heard. The last child the boy passed swore she’d never forget the awful smell for all her days, claiming it smelled like the worst sour apples ever.

Those watching near the finish line saw telltale brown stains form in the boy’s red shorts as he continued to run, even faster than before, but in an awkward, pinched fashion, as if he was clenching certain muscles.

The boy didn’t stop when he crossed the finish line, ignoring those who were waiting to give him his blue ribbon, but kept sprinting, straight through the school’s open doors into the bathroom just next to the main entrance. From outside, all the astonished onlookers listened as more farts, and even worse noises, blasted forth, interspersed with the boy’s groans.

Several minutes later, the noises ceased. The toilet flushed many times, and the boy quietly shuffled back outside to claim his prize. Everyone couldn’t help but notice he had changed out of his gym shorts and into regular pants. They tried to keep quiet as the boy was declared winner of the Dash, but as he went up to claim the blue ribbon, another thunderous fart escaped his nether region, and, like a dam released, was quickly followed by the roaring laughter of the whole town.

The boy’s grandfather was so furious he nearly had a stroke. The boy himself moved away from the town as soon as he grew old enough.

And the tree? The next day the tree heard folks warn one another not to eat any of her apples, because they affected the gut “sumthin’ fierce.” She watched from her holler in the wood with quiet satisfaction. She didn’t think anyone would be coming around making demands of her again.

Patrick Hurley has had dozens of works of fiction published, most recently in Factor Four, Galaxy’s Edge, Abyss & Apex, New Myths, and Vastarien. He is Managing Editor for Paizo, Inc., a graduate of the 2017 Taos Toolbox Writer’s Workshop, and a member of SFWA.

“The Avenging Tree” was previously published in SHOWCASE in October 2018. See what you’ve missed by not reading SHOWCASE