The Effects of Multitasking

(I wrote this 600-word short story as an exercise. It had to be about “the effects of multitasking.”)

Professor Kirkpatrick sat at his computer desk, eagerly awaiting the moment when his hijacked CIA satellite would be positioned exactly above Dublin. In another few minutes, he would be able to dispatch his psychoactive message of peace directly into a million minds, obliterating their violent instincts and leaving them docile and ready to be commanded.

Kirkpatrick had carefully planned this assault for a Thursday evening because Thursday was cross-stitch night, the only time in the week when his wife would be away from home for more than an hour or two. So far, everything had gone smoothly.

Kirkpatrick set the microphone to activate automatically when the satellite reached its final position above the city’s center. Although the message was mostly subliminal, the verbal command had to be delivered at the right moment and in the right inflection based on the atmospheric conditions. He was forced to speak it manually to ensure it would be properly received by the citizens’ brains.

As Kirkpatrick began to test the microphone’s sensitivity, his daughter Angie entered without knocking, as usual. She was rubbing her eyes and dragging her favorite stuffed bunny along the carpet behind her.

“Mr. Bunnifer can’t sleep!” she said, forgetting to use her inside voice.

Kirkpatrick turned toward Angie with a start, accidentally setting his microphone’s sensitivity to its maximum.

“Daddy can’t put Mr. Bunnifer to sleep right now,” he said. “I’m preparing to conquer the capital of Ireland.”

“He needs to be tucked in right.” she said, resolute. “Mommy does it right.”

Kirkpatrick checked his watch. “Sweetie, if I hit Limerick instead of Dublin, it’s not going to have as much of an impact on world politics.” He gave his daughter a stern look. “Mr. Bunnifer can wait fifteen minutes to get tucked in.”

Angie looked back at her father with a doe-eyed face and held up the stuffed animal. “If you don’t hug him, he won’t sleep ever again. I know it.”

Kirkpatrick’s expression softened as he looked into her innocent little eyes. His daughter was the reason he had started this project in the first place, and she deserved all the love and comfort he could provide. After all, how could he command an army of mindless servants if it meant neglecting his own daughter?

Kirkpatrick picked up his daughter and bunny in his arms and hugged them both tightly. He felt his daughter sigh as he set her back down on the carpet.

“Mr. Bunnifer can sleep now,” she said.

“Good. You can go to back to bed, then.” Kirkpatrick knelt down and patted the stuffed animal on its head. “Be a good bunny,” he said.

Angie plodded out of his office with her bunny behind her. Kirkpatrick turned back to the microphone and prepared to deliver his command to the people of Dublin, but froze when he saw that the satellite had already moved past the center of the city.

“Oh, no,” he mumbled, trying to figure out message what he might have broadcast. “I just told them to sleep, right? It’s not ideal, but it’s still a good test.”

Kirkpatrick cut to the live feed from his surveillance cameras in Dublin hoping to see a city of narcoleptics, but the reality was much worse.

All the citizens were crouched on all fours, wiggling their cheeks and looking around furtively. Occasionally, they would leap forward a few feet and land awkwardly. The parks were now full of men and women gnawing on the grass, bushes, and trash. The citizens were certainly docile enough, but they would be useless servants now. At least they would breed quickly.

Leap into the Sky

(For the last official story on the Acidic Fiction website, I decided to publish a story of my own entitled “Leap into the Sky.” Acidic Fiction is now gone, so I’m reposting it here.)

I’m getting ready to jump up to heaven, but my legs aren’t strong enough yet. For the past several weeks, I’ve been practicing a variety of leg exercises, which should strengthen my calves and thighs so I can make the leap. I wanted to buy an all-purpose weight machine, but the boardinghouse where I live won’t let residents install exercise equipment, so I made do with some bungee cords and a couple of cinder blocks.

I read online that you should eat plenty of protein when you want to build muscle, so I went to the grocery store and bought a crate of ribeye steaks from the butcher. He gave me a great deal because the mad cow outbreak has scared everyone away from eating beef and the ribeyes were on the verge of going bad. He couldn’t sell them to anybody else, but I don’t mind sour meat as long as it’s cooked, and I’ll be in heaven long before mad cow disease can affect me.

I’m trying to eat between four and six steaks a day, depending on how much exercise I’m able to get in. I quit my job at the sandwich shop, but I still do odd jobs around the boardinghouse for Mrs. Potter, the landlady. Sometimes she calls me the “superintendent,” but she really just needs somebody to tape and glue things together after they break so she won’t have to replace anything or hire a real repairman. In exchange, my rent is only half of what the other residents pay, so the work is worth the trouble.

Apart from doing chores around the building, I spend most of my time training my legs. The only other time I leave my apartment is at breakfast.

According to the lease, Mrs. Potter is supposed to provide all the residents a hot breakfast each morning. Right now, there are only two other residents besides me: Ms. Breyer, who never leaves her room on the top floor, and Marie, a college girl with a balance disorder. Both of them pay for their apartments with their government-issued disability checks. Mrs. Potter lives in her own house across the street.

For breakfast, Mrs. Potter always delivers a stock pot full of farina and a dozen beef sausages wrapped in tinfoil. Even though she brings us breakfast every day, she always seems to put it off until the last minute, so I usually end up eating around 10:30 in the morning.

Mrs. Potter also expects me to take breakfast up to Ms. Breyer, because her live-in nurse is only around from noon to nine. Ms. Breyer usually eats six sausages and two bowls of farina. Fortunately, she can feed herself without any help, so I don’t have to watch.

Marie eats a bowl of farina every once in a while, but she never eats meat, so I always eat the other six sausages. I throw away the remaining farina, which could probably feed another six or seven people.

I once asked Mrs. Potter why she makes so much. She told me that she cooks one entire box of farina a day so she doesn’t have to measure any ingredients. Then she boils the sausages for exactly ten minutes, wraps them in foil, and brings them over.


After I’d been training for exactly three weeks, I ate breakfast in the dining room with Marie. She normally brings a textbook to study, but this time she was just staring off into space. I sat down across from her and waited for her to say something while I ate my sausages.

Marie takes all her college classes online because she can’t walk more than 50 feet at a time without falling over and puking. It has something to do with her ear bones; they make her dizzy all the time. When she walks, she shuffles along the ground like a centipede.

Marie finished her entire bowl of farina without saying anything, then sat back and looked at me.

“How can you stand eating beef?” she asked. “There’s a huge mad cow epidemic right now. You’re taking your life into your hands when you eat that stuff. Plus it’s greasy.”

“I don’t think it’s greasy,” I said. “And I don’t have to worry about mad cow disease. I’m not going to be around much longer, anyway.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

“Of course not. It’s just that I’m going to jump up to heaven soon.”

Marie snorted. “And here I thought you might be crazy.”

“It’s not crazy, it’s a matter of faith,” I said, “and strength. I’ve been training my legs for three weeks to build up enough strength to jump into heaven.”

Marie peeked under the table. “Those ham hocks?”

I think Marie is only rude because she has no real-life friends, just online buddies. I’d be her friend except I have to train for my jump, and I’d hate for her to get too attached to me before I leave, anyway.

“Yes, my legs have a lot of muscle,” I said.” It’s a result of extensive training and proper protein consumption.”

“Well, I don’t think you’ll get very high up, even with those thunder thighs. Are you going to fly the rest of the way?”

“Of course not.” I sighed. “I know people can’t fly, Marie. I’m only trying to jump. Everybody can jump, right?”

“The lady upstairs can’t. You know, the invalid. I heard she weighs 400 pounds; she can hardly stand up.”

“You know what I meant. Most people can jump, at least a little. After I jump high enough, the momentum will carry me the rest of the way.”

Marie gave me a funny look. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Of course. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this.”

She looked around. “Look, I’m taking a test today, but you should come by my apartment tomorrow afternoon and we can discuss this more. I’m a pre-med major, so I might be able to help you out from a scientific perspective.”

“I thought you were just a freshman.”

“Yeah, a freshman pre-med major.”

I shrugged. “Okay. I have to take a 30-minute cool-down between my afternoon sets, but I can still walk up stairs during that time. I’ll come by around three.”

“Good. I’ll be waiting.”


The next day, I had to glue several chunks of plaster back into Ms. Breyer’s wall where she had collapsed on her way to the bathroom. She seemed fine, but the wall looked much the worse for wear. I knew Mrs. Potter would pronounce it acceptable rather than pay for any plaster or drywall, though.

I was still able to get in my first set of afternoon exercises, but I arrived at Marie’s apartment an hour later than I expected. She was still there when I arrived, of course. Shut-ins rarely venture too far outside, especially when they get vertigo so easily.

“How are you today?” she asked as I walked into her living room.

“I can’t complain. I only have 16 minutes before I have to start my next set, though.”

“I think we’ll have enough time. I just wanted to ask you some questions about your plan to jump into heaven.” She rolled her desk chair into the living room and sat down. “Go ahead and sit in the recliner.”

“Sure.” I sat down. “What is it you want to know? Is it about my training regimen? I borrowed most of my regular exercises from a bodybuilding website, and I improvised a couple of—”

“Actually, I wanted to ask about your motivation and reasoning behind this … project, I guess.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I can on Earth, so I’d like to just go to heaven now. I’m not doing much with my life, and I think it will be a better place to spend my time.”

“And you’re planning to get to heaven by jumping, right?”

“Yes. As soon as my legs are strong enough, I am going to jump from the top of the old radio tower and ascend into heaven.”

“You realize that your plan sounds like suicide, don’t you?”

I shook my head. “It’s not suicide if you don’t fall. Besides, people who kill themselves can’t go to heaven. Everybody knows that.”

Marie leaned back in her chair, causing the wheels to creak slightly. “Why don’t you tell me about your regimen?”

“Well, like I said, I’m doing bodyweight exercises I learned from the Internet, and I’m using cinder blocks for weight training. To get enough protein, I eat two ribeye steaks at each meal, in addition to the breakfast sausages.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re eating six steaks a day?”

“Yes. The butcher has been selling them to me at a discount because of the mad cow outbreak. I’m on my third crate of ribeyes now. I’m a little tired of the flavor, but the level of protein is sufficient. Just look at the results.” I gestured downward and flexed my legs.

“Yeah, I can tell.” Marie leaned forward and looked me in the eye. “Have you ever considered that mad cow disease might actually be affecting your mind?”

“I’m not worried about mad cow—”

“You should be! Jumping to heaven is not something that normal people think about, you know. It makes no sense!” She sighed. “I think you should consider the possibility that you’ve become infected with the mad cow prion. It’s a misfolded protein that causes other proteins to become misfolded as well. In humans, it’s actually called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.”

“It’s just protein, Marie. It builds muscle.” I flexed again.

“Listen: when the proteins in your brain start folding incorrectly, they shrink into super-dense blobs, like cotton candy when it gets wet. When that happens, your brain starts to look like a sponge, full of tiny protein blobs and empty space. It causes a ton of mental problems, including confusion, dementia, and personality shifts. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, prions form super-dense brain blobs.” I looked down at my legs. “Do they build super-dense muscles, too?”

Marie winced. “I’m trying to tell you that you might be suffering from a neurological disorder, and that you should see a doctor instead of pumping cinder blocks.”

I stared at her for a moment, trying to figure out what she was trying to tell me. Then my cell phone started to vibrate. I stood up.

“That’s my alarm,” I said. “I need to get back to exercising right away.”

Marie struggled to get out of her office chair. “Well, I tried. I hope your brain doesn’t turn into a sponge before you get a chance to jump.”

“Yeah, me too.”

As soon as I walked out her front door, she shouted after me: “People can’t jump into heaven! What the hell is wrong with you?”

She slammed the door, hard.

“Everybody can jump,” I mumbled.


I haven’t seen Marie since then, but I’ve made some major gains in the meantime. When I last weighed my legs on the bathroom scale, it said they weighed 180 pounds. Oddly enough, I only weigh 200 pounds total. When I tried to think about how much my upper body must weigh, I got confused and stopped.

I had to stop doing chores around the building, too. I kept dropping all my tools, and when I tried to glue things, they wouldn’t stay glued because I couldn’t push the pieces together hard enough.

Because my hands were getting so weak, I learned to use my legs to do most things, but they’re starting to get in the way when I try to sit on the floor. I have to do my exercises from a folding chair now.

Mrs. Potter told me that I would be paying full rent next month unless I start working again, but I don’t have the rent money anyway. I’m spent all my remaining money last week on my fourth crate of steaks. They’re almost all gone, which means I’ll have to make the jump soon. There’s no more protein left to build up my legs. I think they’re almost big enough.


Today is the day. I woke up at 9:00, ate my last two steaks, and headed downstairs. Mrs. Potter left breakfast in the kitchen, so I ate my sausages, too. I would have taken the rest to Ms. Breyer except my arms were too weak to carry her food. Besides, the last time I went upstairs, she started laughing hysterically as soon as she saw me. I’m not sure what was so funny, but I’ve tried to avoid her ever since.

After I finished eating, I stretched and headed outside. Now all I needed to do was find my way to the radio tower. I stopped and thought about where to go, but my head was in a fog. I couldn’t even remember how far away it was or how I was supposed to get there. I wanted to sit and think, but there were no benches nearby. I just stood still and tried to focus.

As I was standing there, I saw Marie shuffling ever so slowly along the sidewalk toward the mailbox. Her eyes widened when she saw me.

“What the hell happened to you?” she said.

I tried to explain, but I could only speak in fragments. “I can’t remember … where the radio tower …”

Marie shook her head and took out her phone. “I’m calling 911.”

“No!” I ran over and knocked the phone out of her hand. “To the tower … yellow car …”

“You want me to call a taxi?”

I nodded.

“I can’t just let you kill yourself like this,” she said, looking down at my legs. “You need medical help.”

“Jump!” I shouted. “Heaven.”

Marie looked me in the eyes and sighed. “Okay.”

She picked up her phone off the sidewalk and called the taxi company. We stood in silence until the taxi arrived. When it reached the curb, Marie opened the door and helped me inside. She started to get in next to me.

“Sick,” I said.

“I know you’re sick, but it’s not contagious,” she said, speaking partly to me and partly to the driver.

I shook my head. “Sick.” I pointed at her.

“Oh, that. Ménière’s disease is a disorder, not a sickness. Anyway, I’m fine in cars.” She buckled up and slammed the door. “Take us out to the old radio station.”

The driver nodded and started driving. He chatted with Marie about his family, but I ignored him. I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying anyway.

After 20 minutes, we arrived at the radio station. The driver told us how much the ride cost, and I looked at Marie stupidly. Marie sighed yet again and handed the driver some cash.

She had to help me get out of the taxi because I couldn’t pull the door handle open. I slid out of the seat and landed on her, almost knocking her down. Against all odds, she stabilized herself and helped me stand.

“Oof,” she said. “How did you do this to yourself, anyway?”

I blurted out a noise that sounded almost like “protein.”

“I guess so. It’s not like there’s a cure for you, anyway. I just wish you’d listened to me when I warned you last month.” She turned toward the tower. “It’s not very high.”

I tried to say, “It doesn’t matter,” but I couldn’t even form the sounds anymore.

The taxi drove away into the distance as we approached the radio tower.

“I can’t help you climb, you know,” she said. “Are you going to be able to make it to the top?”

I nodded and started climbing the ladder. I was able to make progress by leaning forward and pushing myself upward whenever I stepped off of one rung and onto the next. On a few occasions, I had to use my teeth to grab onto a rung and prevent myself from sliding off.

Eventually, I made it to a small ledge where I could stand up. It was only as high as the roof of our building, but I felt like I had demonstrated more faith by climbing the tower.

I turned to face the sun, which was slowly approaching the center of the sky. I looked down at Marie, who was looking up but shielding her eyes from the light.

I knew she expected me to hit the ground like a stone, cracking my body against the grass-covered concrete and spilling my guts on the ground. She was already imagining the sirens of an ambulance that would gather up my mangled corpse and find nothing left in my skull but a sponge of brain matter, shrunken like wet cotton candy. Someday, Dr. Marie would tell her patients about the mad cow man and his suicidal quest to jump to heaven, and they would laugh together.

But the joke was on her, because I would be in heaven in seconds, leaving her behind for greater things, for peace and love and rest and bliss. It was now or never.

I tensed my massive legs, crouched low, and took a deep breath, gathering all my faith and strength. When I was ready, I pushed my feet against the tower as hard as I could and leapt into the sky.


A Fine Art Heist

(I wrote this story at ConQuesT 46 in Kansas City. I had to write it in less than one hour and include a velvet painting (again!), a time traveler, a log cabin, joining a pirate crew, and the first line, “He watched the ship as it hovered, then landed no more than five feet in front of him.” It won best sci-fi story in the pro division! That makes two years running!)

He watched the ship as it hovered, then landed no more than five feet in front of him. The space pirates were right on time, as always. Then again, they were able to control time, so punctuality was expected. Thomas would finally be able to join their ranks, just as soon as he gave them his prize.

The entry hatch popped open and the metal stairway extended out. The captain stood at the top, waiting for Thomas to ascend. She was radiant, as always. The again, she could control time, so her beauty was unchanged by her centuries of service in the Space Pirate Brotherhood. Eternal life was one of the many perks that pirates enjoyed after joining the crew.

Thomas entered the ship, carrying the large paper-wrapped rectangle in front of him like a shield. The captain gave him a rare smile as he walked past her and into the cargo bay.

“This is it?” she asked, looking it over with her piercing gaze.

“You bet,” Thomas replied. “The most valuable painting the 21st century has to offer: Girl with a Pearl Earring. After I stole it, I burned the museum to the ground. History will say it turned to ash with the rest of the artwork.”

“But we know better,” she said. “How did you escape detection? Did anyone spot you stealing this?”

“Not a soul. After I wrapped up the painting, I hid out in the abandoned log cabin where you picked me up. It’s been three months and no one has found a single trace of my existence.”


The captain led Thomas to the bridge, where they could begin their return to the 24th century. The painting was considered the perfect example of fine art, a beautiful oil painting that would sell to the highest bidder for an exorbitant amount.

“Return us to the future,” she told the pilot. “One second per year should be quick enough.”

The ship took off and began speeding through the years, safe from the passage of time and its damaging effects. As they shifted silently through time, the captain tore away the paper wrapping and exposed the painting within. Her faint smile vanished immediately, replaced by a stern, incredulous expression.

“Dogs?” she said. “Playing … poker?” She touched the surface. “This isn’t even canvas; it’s some kind of nasty velvet!”

Thomas began stuttering a response. “Th-the guard! He-he must’ve switch paintings on me! B-but he swore he was trustworthy!”

The captain turned her gaze on him, her otherworldly beauty shining through her furious face.

“You lost the artifact and you fraternized with the natives? You know what that means, don’t you?”

He did. The Space Pirate Brotherhood punished all infractions with premature aging. Unless he became a member, he would never be able to reverse the process.

“You’ll be aged another 99 years,” she said, “and you’re blacklisted. Fortunately, the hospice center will be able to keep you alive for quite a while, but you won’t be able to move. I imagine you’ll be in endless pain.”

Thomas began feeling the effects immediately, his body aging as quickly as the ship moved through time. In minutes, he became a living shriveled husk.

The captain smiled as she tapped him with her foot, her gorgeous grin brightening the entire bridge.

“I might hang this up in my ready room,” she said. “I never really cared for fine art, anyway.”


(This is a moderately violent poem featuring time travel. Even though it’s bleak, rest assured that I am doing fine. I’m a trained professional.)

One day, a man from the future appeared
and carved a message into my chest.
He smeared black ashes into the wound
to remain beneath my skin for life.

As he worked, he told me to be strong,
but ignored my innocent cries of pain.
He finished and told me to do the right thing,
then vanished as quickly as he had arrived.

The message bore only one word: “SCISSORS.”
I was too young to know what it meant.
When I learned how to read, I knew what to do,
and I carried my scissors wherever I went.

One day, my father tied himself up
to the ceiling. I found him there,
gurgling and growling and gnashing his teeth.
I took my scissors in hand and cut him free.

After my triumph, an ambulance drove him away
to the hospital, where a kind doctor explained
there just hadn’t been enough air in his brain,
but the damage was minor. His outlook was good.

As the months went by, it became quite clear
that the father who dropped from the ceiling
was not the same one who attached himself there.
The new one was angry, abusive, and cruel.

One day, my father discovered an ice pick
was the best way to get his point across,
in various places to various depths,
whenever things didn’t quite work out his way.

The dots ached for days and darkened to black,
but never had time to vanish completely
before more red dots joined them all over
my flesh. I still clutched my scissors.

My furious father struck a nerve at one point
in my forearm. My stinging, tingling fingers
grasped my scissors more tightly than ever,
drove them into his eyeball, and twisted.

One day, I looked in the mirror and saw
my attacker. His face was directly above
the hideous scar from the wound he had carved
among hundreds of pale white circular dots.

He was a man who once rescued his father
and killed him, whose numb hand still holds on
to a brand new pair of extremely sharp scissors.
All his mistakes can be fixed with one effort.

I’m always trying to find my way back
with a much better message: “KILL.”
When I deliver it, I’ll be strong,
and I’m going to carve it very deep.

Space Doctor

(I wrote this 500-word short story as an exercise. It had to be about a space doctor delivering news (good or bad) to a patient.)

The space doctor emerged from the backroom laboratory and entered the brightly lit examination room with a gloomy expression on his face.

“Well, give me the bad news, space doctor,” I said.

“I’m not a space doctor,” he answered. “I’m a janitor.”

I laughed. “If you’re not a space doctor, then what are you doing with that medical apparatus?”

He glanced at the instrument in his hand. “The mop? I was cleaning the floor in the women’s restroom.”

“I see. So if that’s the women’s restroom, then where is the medical laboratory?”

He seemed confused. “We don’t have any laboratories here.”

“Are you trying to tell me we’re not in an intergalactic hospital?”

“No. This is a grocery store.”

I looked around and realized the space doctor was right. In fact, we appeared to be in the freezer section of my local Value For Less, a grocery outlet that offered tremendous savings on a wide variety of everyday merchandise. Concerned about this distressing development, I turned back to the doctor.

“Listen, doc, I desperately need to be treated for a serious case of space syphilis. You’re the only one who can help me.”

He deposited his so-called mop in a large yellow canister nearby. “Look, if you have syphilis, you should see a real doctor at a real hospital.”

“It’s not syphilis, though; it’s space syphilis. I contracted it during sexual intercourse in space.”

“I seriously doubt you’ve ever been to space.”

I was about to laugh at his incredulity, but I paused for a moment. Had I been to space? Once I thought about it, I couldn’t remember ever having left the planet Earth.

“So maybe I’ve never been to space, but I still need to be treated for my syphilis.”

“There’s really nothing I can do for you,” the space doctor replied. “If you’re sick, see a doctor.”

“I don’t feel sick, though. Syphilis has no symptoms.”

“Yeah, it does.” He gave me a funny look. “So there’s nothing wrong with you, but you’re still convinced you have a sexually transmitted disease?”

“Actually, if I’ve never been to space, I’ve probably never had sex.”

“You’ve never had sex?”

“Not with another person, no.”

“If you’ve never had sex and you don’t feel sick, I don’t think you can possibly have any kind of syphilis. Honestly, you look fine.”

I sighed with relief. “So you think I’ll be okay?”

“Absolutely. Anyway, I need to get back to mopping the bathroom or my supervisor will write me up.”

“Thank you so much, doc.” I shook his hand.

The space doctor collected his cleaning equipment and returned to the women’s restroom.

I retrieved my shopping cart from the nearest aisle and continued shopping for frozen goods. As I picked out a selection of ice cream treats to celebrate my clean bill of health, I muttered aloud to myself, “Space can be a strange and confusing place.”

The Chatters

(I wrote this story at ConQuesT 45 in Kansas City. I had to write it in less than one hour and include a velvet painting, a trapped ghost, an alien planet, hiding from an unseen danger, and the first line, “He could feel the water rushing into his lungs.” It won best sci-fi story in the pro division!)

He could feel the water rushing into his lungs. Dr. Gladwell had told him the planet was completely devoid of water, so either something had filled the craters with it or Dr. Gladwell had been wrong yet again.

“The surface of the planet is like a velvet painting,” she had said. “There is a fine layer of hairlike follicles on the surface, but it appears to be perfectly smooth. Over the centuries, meteors have left vast craters in the ground, but the follicles eventually covered their floors.”

He asked if the planet was like a giant hairball.

“Of course not. These follicles, despite their ever-changing nature, couldn’t possibly be the byproduct of a living organism,” she replied.

As it turned out, his theory had been more accurate than the doctor’s. The fuzz, as he liked to call it, was most definitely alive. It was the sole source of sustenance for the Chatters, an alien race whose existence Gladwell had also failed to anticipate.

The Chatters took no interest in his landing pod or his meaty flesh, but they did crave one thing: idle conversation.

The planet lacked anything remotely akin to weather, but the Chatters discussed it anyway. They had no family structures, but they still complained about relatives. They knew no hunger or thirst thanks to the fuzz and their underground water supply, but they still talked about planning meals and their worries about “the harvest.”

There was no harvest.

He started to lose his temper after three days of hearing about the nonexistent sports the Chatters never played. He tried plugging his ears, but the Chatters were telepathic.

The rescue craft was not due for another six months, but after a week, he finally lost it. He tried to run and hide during a lull in the dull conversation about traffic jams. (The Chatters had no vehicles).

He rushed to the underground river, which was accessible through a tunnel in one of the craters. He was able to hide and survive on fuzz and river water.

After a week, he felt the Chatters’ psychic energy probing the tunnel, looking for his brain waves. They wanted to tell him about their stressful jobs, even though none of them worked. He had no choice but to swim downriver.

The current swept him away too quickly, and he ended up in the largest domed crater on the planet with almost no air left. He struck a patch of fuzz on the crater floor then tried to swim away. He couldn’t. The fuzz was less like a velvet painting and more like a sheet of hairy fly paper. Movement was impossible. He cursed Gladwell’s name as the water filled his lungs and he drowned.

His ghost floated to the surface and up to the dome, where it stopped moving. The dome was composed of transparent dolomite, an incorporeally impermeable mineral. He had nowhere to go; his ghostly form wouldn’t let him sink and the dome wouldn’t let him rise.

The Chatters rushed into the lake, and then they climbed out of the water and onto the rocky shore. Their telepathic voices began speaking in unison, directly into his soul’s thoughts.

The Chatters wanted to talk about politics. They had no government, but they definitely had a lot to say.


(I entered this short story in a competition for DemiCon 25 and it won second place! The other entries are available here.)

Greg was buffing the lobby floor when the new volunteer showed up, 20 minutes early. The volunteer was a small, slight man wearing a 3-piece suit and matching overcoat. He walked with an air of confidence that betrayed his unimposing appearance.

Greg turned off the floor buffer and went to greet him.

“Hello there! My name is Greg; I’m the lead Patient Care Assistant in the long-term care wing.”

“An orderly?”

“Something like that. You must be Mr. Maclaren.”

“Dr. Maclaren. You can call me Paul.”

“Oh, you’re a doctor. What kind?”

“Internal medicine.”

“I see. Well, this is a purely non-medical position, Paul. You’ll just be interacting with the patients on a personal level, one-on-one. The director mentioned that you’re interested in dealing with one resident in particular?”

“Yes, the anonymous patient.”

Greg perked up. “Oh? That’s excellent. He never gets any visitors.” He looked around to see if anyone was watching, even though the lobby was completely empty. “But we’ll have to talk about it first. Let’s go to my office.”

“Lead the way.”

Paul followed Greg into a cramped side office that doubled as a utility closet. Greg shut the door behind them and sat down on the metal folding chair next to the card table that functioned as a desk. Paul sat stiffly on one of the two metal chairs on the opposite side.

Greg cleared his throat and spoke. “The patient you want to work with isn’t actually anonymous. In fact, we know exactly who he is.” He looked around again. When he was satisfied that no one was hiding between the mop and a rack of industrial chemicals, he continued. “It’s Magna Man.”

“The superhero?”

“Yeah. He ended up here after a traumatic brain injury.”

Paul raised an eyebrow. “I thought Magna Man was supposed to be invincible.”

“So did he, until he hit the pavement going Mach 10. Headfirst. After that, his thoughts got a little jumbled.”

“I see.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a long story. It all started with that accident. He landed in the middle of Times Square during a routine battle with some fusion-powered robotic weapon crafted by Professor Whatshisface. You know, the bad guy.”

“Dr. Megalo.”

“Right. Despite his head injury, Magna Man managed to destroy the weapon and fly away.”

“They said on the news that he had finally decided to leave the planet for good.”

“That was a cover-up. A couple of hours after he flew off, some teenagers found him at a nature park in Albany. He was stumbling around and knocking over trees, so they called the police. The army dispatched a helicopter and flew him out to Fort Drum.”

“Did they find out what was wrong with him?”

“No, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The doctors didn’t have any way to take tissue samples and none of the medical scans could penetrate his skull. X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasound were all totally useless. No one had any idea what was going on inside his head. The doctors didn’t know what oral medications would work, if any, so they just tried to keep him comfortable and well-fed. Once his condition deteriorated even more, they announced that he had left the planet. Then, after a few more days, he stabilized and began to recover. I guess they don’t call him superhuman for nothing.”

“I take it there were repercussions from the injury?”

“Big time. When he woke up, he was extremely confused and couldn’t even speak. He had lost a lot of his motor coordination and didn’t seem to understand people when they talked to him. No one was sure what to do, and things had gotten dangerous.”

“Because of his super strength?”

“Right. They didn’t have to worry about it when he was unconscious, but once he could move around, he started breaking things and hurting people.”

Greg backtracked when he saw the look on Paul’s face. “I mean, it wasn’t intentional, and none of the injuries were too serious.” He sighed. “Well, one of the nurses became paraplegic, and one of the doctors lost his right arm past the elbow.” He shrugged. “The army knew they needed help, so they tried to calm him down and brought him here in a heavily armored van. We’re used to dealing with traumatic brain injuries, so we made some progress with him. After a few rough weeks, he started to relax and get along. He’s been here for about six months now.”

“How bad is he? Will he ever get back to fighting crime?”

“I doubt it. He’s functioning at a very basic level, but we haven’t seen much evidence of higher brain activity. He still can’t speak. The good news is, he’s fairly docile, and he gets along with the staff and other residents. He also seems to be more aware of his strength, so there haven’t been as many accidents lately.”

“I see. Is he mostly self-sufficient? Can he take care of himself?”

“For the most part. He feeds himself and he’s toilet trained.”

“That’s good to know. I was afraid he might be wearing a diaper or something.”

Greg looked sheepish. “He does wear special undergarments, just in case.” He cleared his throat. “It’s not usually a problem, though.”

“Right. So what does he do with his time?”

“The staff conducts several activities with the residents: arts and crafts, stories, group meals, and special events. He watches a lot of TV.”

“I can imagine.”

“Anyway, I’m really glad you’re here. All the other patients have friends and families who visit, but obviously, Joe doesn’t. We only call him ‘Joe’ because it’s one syllable and he responds to it. We’re not sure who he really was. After all, his identity was a secret, and nobody ever came looking for him.”

“That doesn’t give you many options for eventually releasing him.”

“Yeah. As far as we know, we’re taking care of him indefinitely. The army decided to pay him a monthly stipend for services rendered, and we put that towards his expenses. We write off the rest as a charitable donation.” Greg stood up. “I guess that’s everything you need to know. Are you still willing to work with him?”

Paul got up and nodded. “I think it will be an eye-opening experience.”

“Good! I’ll introduce you. You can take this chance to get to know one another, and if you’re willing to keep working with him, we can arrange for regular visits.”

Greg led the way out of the office closet and walked down to an open door at the end of the hall. He knocked on the door frame and went in. Paul followed him inside.

Joe’s room was spacious but spartan. He had a small bed, a coffee table, two easy chairs, and a wide-screen plasma television. The other walls were adorned with a few poorly colored drawing pages and several large holes in the drywall.

Joe was sitting in one of the chairs. The media always said Magna Man was 6’5” and weighed more than 300 pounds, but in person, he seemed even bigger. Despite his size, he wasn’t at all intimidating, in part due to his vacant smile and the plaid flannel pajamas he wore.

Greg turned off the TV and said, “Good afternoon, Joe,” speaking slowly and distinctly.

Joe looked at him and smiled.

“This is Paul,” Greg continued. “He’s going to be coming by once in a while to hang out with you.” He turned to Paul. “I don’t want him to get too overwhelmed, so I’m going to leave you two alone for a bit. Are you comfortable with that?”

“I’ll be fine,” Paul said.

As Greg walked out, he said, “I promise that you’ll be perfectly safe, but I’ll be waiting in the lobby if you need me.”

Paul made sure he was gone, then sat on the easy chair across from Joe.

“Hey there, Max,” he said. “I suppose I should call you Joe, since that’s what they’re doing. You probably don’t remember me, but my name is Dr. Megalo.” He looked around. “I’ve known you were in here for a couple of months now.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to think when I found out. When I first heard you had left the planet, I considered it a victory. Humans would be free to act however we liked without you pushing your morality on us.” He sighed. “The problem was, it didn’t fit the profile. You’d never abandoned anything before, especially not after such a minor scuffle. I had to be sure, so I looked into it. Once I realized the military was involved, I started searching their records. Oddly enough, it was a so-called ‘accounting error’ that led me to this facility. And here you are.”

Joe had stopped trying to listen and started staring off toward the door.

Paul stood up and looked back to make sure no one was there, then took a flashlight out of his coat. “You know, I never understood how you wore a costume without any pockets,” he said. “Now, let’s have a look at you.”

He walked over and shined the light into each of Joe’s eyes. “Irregular pupillary response,” he said. “Unequal pupil size.” He snapped his fingers on either side of Joe’s head. “Left ear less responsive. Could be tinnitus.” He held up his index finger. “Can you touch my finger?” Joe reached for his finger and missed, then tried again and touched it. “Good. Can you touch your nose?” Joe managed to touch his nose on the third try. “Good. I certainly don’t want to test your strength or reflexes, but your muscle tone looks good.”

Paul sat back down. “Well, a human with your symptoms would likely have suffered from severe cerebral hypoxia or a cerebral hemorrhage, probably both.” He shook his head. “Even though you look completely human, your physiology still baffles me.”

Joe nodded politely, but clearly didn’t understand.

“You might be surprised to find out that I collected samples of all your bodily fluids last year. Saliva, mucus, tears, urine, feces, earwax. Even semen.” He chuckled. “That was an interesting mission.”

Joe smiled at the laughter.

“I thought those tissue samples would help me understand you, but they were useless. Your DNA is completely alien. I had nothing to compare it with. I could have asked for help, but it would have taken a team of scientists years to figure it all out, and I had to work alone, for obvious reasons. Everyone thought you were invincible, but it turns out an indestructible brain can be damaged by bouncing around in an indestructible skull. I wish I could take credit, but it was a complete accident.”

Paul stood up and took a few more items out of his pockets, including an oxygen mask, a plastic hose, and a small gas canister. Joe watched, transfixed.

“No, my plan was a bit more sophisticated,” Paul said. “It hit me after I thought about all the times I saw you catching your breath after one of my machines struck you. You might have been impossible to hurt, but you gasped for air just like any human would. I was still trying to figure out the details when you had your little accident.”

Paul attached the plastic hose to the mask and the gas canister.

“This is argon gas, Joe. It’s completely odorless and tasteless, but it’s heavier than air, so it will sink into whatever your body uses for breathing and displace all the oxygen. You won’t notice anything; you’ll just fall unconscious and asphyxiate. You probably would have objected to this in the old days, but now I doubt you’ll have anything to say. Besides, it’ll put you out of your misery.”

He finished securing the hose and took a second oxygen mask out of his coat.

“If you’re nervous about the mask, I brought an extra one for me. It won’t have any argon, but at least you won’t be alone.”

He put on his own mask first, then Joe’s. Joe smiled at the game they seemed to be playing. Paul reached for the canister of argon, but before he could pick it up, Joe took a tiny silver robot out of his shirt pocket and handed it over. Paul looked at the toy and froze.

“This is the Violator Mark II.” He looked at Joe, who was still smiling beneath the mask. “They make toys based on my machines?”

He sat back down and took his mask off. Joe mirrored his actions, taking off his own mask.

“They think it’s just a game,” Paul said. “They must think I’m some kind of cartoon character.” He held up the robot. “This machine took nine months to construct. The original version took six months.” He shook his head. “You destroyed it in 25 seconds.” He sighed. “This one was just supposed to subdue you. I only decided to kill you after you threw a school bus at it. There were kids in that bus, Max.”

Paul dropped the toy on the ground. Joe frowned.

“I suppose if the toy companies knew what I looked like, they’d make a little version of me, wearing a cape, rubbing my hands, and twirling a handlebar mustache.” Paul stood up and started putting the equipment back in his coat pockets. “I don’t need to kill you, Joe. I already put you in here.”

He started to walk out, but Joe picked up the toy and stumbled across the room after him. Paul turned back. Joe handed him the toy with a concerned look on his face. Paul sighed and put the toy in his coat pocket. Joe smiled broadly and grabbed him in a bear hug, managing not to use too much of his superhuman strength. After he let go, he walked over to the TV, turned it on, and sat down. He waved goodbye as Paul left.

Paul tried to get out of the lobby as quickly as possible, but Greg noticed him anyway. He stopped buffing the floors and walked over.

“What did you think?” Greg said. “Are you going to come back?”

Paul looked at him. “I think so,” he said, “but I’m not ready just yet.”

“I understand. Call us again if you change your mind.”

Paul nodded and walked out. Greg turned on the floor buffer yet again and whistled Magna Man’s theme song as he worked.


(I entered this poem in a competition at WillyCon 2014 and it won second place! The other entries are listed here.)



At approximately 7:20 PM

January 7, 2014,

my wife’s uterus unleashed

a monstrous abomination.


The creature made a sound

like a caged orangutan

and refused to stop,

even when I severed its lifeline.


It had become self-sufficient,

but still couldn’t position

its absurdly large head

without assistance.


Against my better judgement,

I allowed it into my home,

where it continues to plague

my entire existence.


At erratic intervals it craves

an alarming viscous fluid

that secretes from my wife’s breasts

throughout the day.


Its feces accumulate

in a bag around its waist

and must be discarded

or it never stops wailing.


Unless I manage to find

an appropriate means of escape,

I may be in real danger.

It keeps getting bigger.

Sisyphus and Tantalus

(I wrote these short stories as an assignment for a Classical Mythology course. We were supposed to write our own versions of two Greek myths.)


I know. You want to ask the obvious question. “Why does that huge rock have to be at the top of the hill?” I understand it. It’s a significant question. I’m a bit tired of thinking about it. It doesn’t really matter. I want it up there. I don’t think about whys and wherefores.

It starts in my gut. Almost like a hook, pulling me forward. I have a primal desire to push it. I want the rock at the top of the hill more than anything else. You could offer me anything and I’d turn it down so I could push the rock. As a matter of experiment, I did try once to fight that urge. It goes from the stomach to the heart and the head. It even becomes sexual in a way. All of my being wants to work, to push the rock. There is nothing else in all of existence. I don’t look around anyway. Just at the rock. And the god damned hill.

So I start pushing. It should feel good, fulfilling that desire. The primal need to push. I always think it might just feel good. Just a bit. It never does. It starts to hurt almost immediately. Right in the gut, just like that urge. Strain. Stress. Difficulty. Push, push, push. It does start moving up the hill. Breaking the inertia is the most important step. Of course, it doesn’t get any easier, just more kinetic.

Once I’m on a roll, I can really get started. I can satisfy my fundamental need to work hard. I have to take pride in something, after all. I sweat the whole time, dripping. All over my arms, torso, legs, the ground. Everywhere. Push, push, push. I think the hill is set up just to keep me from gaining any momentum. I get it going, but I can never let up. If I do, it might end up at the bottom of the hill. Far from where I want it to be. I need it at the top.

It goes and goes, up the hill. I work and work, up the hill. I don’t really know how far it is. It takes a while, though. A long time. I keep pushing.

I do get close to the top. I mean, I work at it. I take it seriously. It gets close. Really close. I don’t know why it can’t go any farther. I mean, there’s some reason, I’m sure. Just like me being here. There’s a reason. I don’t really think about it, though.

I was a king once. I still have a crown. On my head, I mean. I had everything. Wealth, a beautiful wife, banquets, children. Occasionally I had famous, wealthy, powerful guests. I killed them. It was never out in the open. I made it look like an accident. I was very clever. The cleverest. Now I don’t think much. Just in bursts. It’s a push. Just like everything. Like the rock. The rock. The rock.

I’m getting close now. Pushing. It’s so close I can smell it. Imagine. A rock on top of a great hill. A pillar of strength. A testament to hard work. A rock. On a hill. It’s so close.

I remember killing my father. It was just a push, really. Off of a tall tower. Mine. I had many high places in my palace. This was the highest. He was very old. Useless, really. I talked him in to going up there. It was supposed to be a serious talk. A heart-to-heart. I didn’t say much before I killed him. I sat him down. Said whatever he needed to hear. Got close. Pushed. He went right over.

The rock starts to slip. My strength is failing. It always does at this point. Right at the top, I mean. Close. Not close enough. I fall over. Collapse on the hill, panting and gasping for air. The rock starts to roll. I know better than to try and stop it. It moves too fast. I can see it rolling. I’m crushed. My goal, gone. My satisfaction, gone. I never get it there. I want to so badly.

It hurts just like the first time. I see it rolling, rolling. I don’t get any rest, though. I try to relax, but I have to watch. I can’t look away. As soon as it gets to the bottom, it stops. On a dime. I look for just a second. Then I’m there. With the rock. I try to take a deep breath, if I can. I usually can’t. Then I feel something in my gut. And I look at the rock. And I start pushing.


I never really liked root beer. Now I think about it all the time. The glass mug in front of me is a perfect example of the root beer ideal. It has never stopped bubbling in all the years I have seen it. It has a perfect head of foam and looks perfectly chilled. The glass has white frost all over it.

Like I said, I really don’t care for root beer that much. I mean, I drank it from time to time, but I never made a big deal out of it. I don’t know who chose root beer for me. It sits on a table at eye level. I really don’t look at the table very often, though.

I’m tied up, of course. Chains. They’re pretty strong, but I don’t notice them most of the time. A small blessing. It’s just to keep me from moving. I gave up on that a long time ago, anyway. See, if the chains don’t loosen and the chair doesn’t even scrape along the ground, why should I even try except for my own amusement?

Root beer, mug, table, chains, a chair, and me. Everything else is just white. I mean, there’s nothing to look at. My head is pointed right at the mug and there’s really no moving it. Closing my eyes does nothing; I still see exactly the same thing. Just root beer. Still bubbling.

If anyone ever tells you there’s a limit to how thirsty you can get, he’s lying. I thought for years that I would plateau, that my need for some kind of food or drink would just taper off. How long can you go without, anyway?

My throat just gets worse and worse. I cough up blood every now and then, but it doesn’t really affect me much after I get it out. Between pain, thirst, hunger, and no sleep, I can see why they call this torment.

Of course, the best food I ever ate was from the king’s banquet. I only dined there a few times, but it was wonderful. I think. I really can’t remember anymore. I wanted to take something for my daughter. I knew she never got to eat anything special. I know it was a chocolate treat of some kind…I can’t remember what it looked like. I really can’t remember any of it.

But I wasn’t supposed to do that. The king was very upset with me. He knew exactly what to do, I suppose. He’s done a lot of things like this before. A lot. I can’t even remember if Sasha got the treat I stole for her. I really hope so. Otherwise, why am I here? Why did it matter so much? Who cares so much about food and drink? I don’t care at all about them anymore.

But I would love to drink some root beer.


(This is a 440-word short story I wrote as an exercise. It had to be about a woman who rents a house and finds something in the closet.)

Mark was unpacking bedsheets when Debbie emerged from the bedroom closet with a puzzled look on her face.

“You’ll never guess what I found in there,” she said.

“You’re right, I won’t,” he said. “What did you find?”

“Come see for yourself.”

He stood up and followed her into the closet. She pointed to a steel plate that had been bolted into the drywall behind a clothes rack. There were two solid steel chains hanging from the plate. At the end of each chain was a steel wrist shackle.

“Did you notice these when we toured the house?” she said.

“No. You really can’t see them from outside the closet. I guess we didn’t spend much time looking around in here.”

He examined the shackles up close. They were sturdy and well-maintained. The entire construction was solid and all the metal had been polished to a mirror shine. The whole thing could easily have held 500 pounds without budging.

“Do you think someone actually used these things?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, casually tugging on one of the chains. “This is a lot of work to put into something you aren’t going to use.”

“So it must have been a kink, right? Like, a sex thing?”

“I doubt it. These shackles are solid steel. They would be extremely uncomfortable, and besides, you wouldn’t need something this strong just for kinky sex.” He shook his head. “No, I think someone was locked up in here.”

She stared at him. “You think someone was stuck in this closet against their will?”

He shrugged. “I can’t imagine any other reason to have shackles like these.”

“Wow.” She looked back at the shackles. “You know, we don’t know anything about the guy who lived here before us. Who knows how long he could have had someone trapped in here?”

“It might not even have been him. There are plenty of sick people out there, and dozens of residents lived here before he did. These shackles could have been here for years. Maybe everyone just ignored them.”

“It’s possible,” she said. “Anyway, I’m going to go call the landlord. I’m not comfortable living in this place, and there’s no telling what else we might find around here. After that, we should call the police. This might help them with an ongoing investigation.”

Before Debbie could leave the closet, Mark grabbed her in a stranglehold and lifted her off the ground. She struggled for a few seconds, then fell unconscious. He dragged her back inside and sat her against the wall.

“This is awesome,” he muttered to himself. “Now I don’t have to buy any shackles.”