Thursday, July 28, 2011

Friday Fiction for July 29, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted right here this week. Visit the Linky list at the end of this post to add your link, and to visit the other great stories posted for your summer reading pleasure.

This week’s story is an excerpt from “Merrowsong,” and features one of the Hyland twins. The location is near the train station in San Diego, on the harbor in Coronado Bay. We’ve been there many times, and I enjoyed setting this story in the real world locations.


Rachel sat on a bench overlooking the bay, near a metal sculpture of a mermaid. The Harbor Cruise boats were preparing for the lunch excursions, and soon would be joined by the whale watching vessels when the season picked up in earnest in another week. Sketching the large boats was a new challenge for her, and the partially cloudy skies offered interesting shadows and contrasts for her to duplicate. It helped take her mind off the fact that Leah still hadn’t told her what the whole trip to Catalina had been about. She had suspicions, but neither her sister nor Marcel had been forthcoming with confirmations or confessions.

A homeless woman shuffled by, pushing an old cart loaded with the sum total of her worldly goods, and before she had quite moved out of sight a fast drawing of her occupied another page in the book. In another few minutes, a noisy seagull had been transposed into a vacant corner of the page, and Rachel paused to sharpen her pencil. She needed to track down the art supply store in town; her last 2B pencil was getting short, and she hated using standard department store #2 pencils.

Applying the freshly sharpened stub to a new sheet, she began drawing a young woman who stood waiting nearby. Her gauzy skirt flowed with the mid-day breeze, teasing any onlooker with the chance for a peek at what the woman might – or might not – be wearing beneath it. When the woman didn’t move on right away, Rachel filled in details and worked the sketch towards an actual portrait. The candid moment caught from an unaware model was, to her at least, always the best. Such drawings looked natural because the subject was acting natural, not posing artificially.

A shadow fell over her book, and for a moment she felt a panic that Will stood behind her.

“That’s my wife you’re drawing,” an unfamiliar voice said.

“I’m sorry,” she said, glancing up into the face of a lean young man. He sported a bushy mustache and the kind of pale blue eyes that were popular on leading men in the movies. His build, however, was more of the secondary “geek” character.

“Would you be interested in selling that drawing?”


“Amy is kind of camera shy, if you know what I mean. I have a very hard time getting any kind of photos of her, and had I suggested she sit for a portrait, she would have gone the other way entirely. I’d love to have your drawing to hang in my office.”

“It’ll need a fixative applied to it so it doesn’t smear,” she said.

“Can I do that, or is it something you need to do and I can pick up the piece later?”

“Any art supply store will have fixative. Just tell them you have a pencil sketch that needs it, and they’ll show you the right stuff. Go easy, though; two or three very light coats is better than one heavy one.”

“How much do you want for it?”

She shrugged. “I was just drawing for the practice of drawing, and she happened to stand still long enough for me to spend a bit more time on. I don’t know what I’d ask for it.”

He pulled out his wallet and extracted a hundred dollar bill. “Is this too little?”

“More like too much,” she stammered.

“Then I take it you would not feel cheated to sell your drawing for that price?”

“I’d feel like I was cheating you.”

He laughed. “It’s hardly cheating if this is what I am willing to open my offer with. I would have gone more if you asked; that’s how difficult it is for me to get something like this of Amy.”

She carefully separated the drawing from the sketch book along the micro-perforation, and then removed two additional clean sheets of paper. With a few pieces of tape, she fashioned a make-shift envelope to protect the drawing. She started to place it between the two clean sheets when he stopped her.

“Aren’t you going to sign it? It would be a shame if someday you’re a famous artist, and I had an original by you and it wasn’t signed. At the very least, it’s always nice to be able to tell people who the artist was when they admire it.”

“Oh; yeah. I almost never sign the stuff in my sketch book, so it slipped my mind.” She put her name and the date in the corner, and then enclosed it.

Handing her the bill, he took the drawing and smiled. “Thank you, Miss - ?”

“Hyland; Rachel Hyland.”

“Thank you, Miss Rachel Hyland. I hope someday to see more of your works in a gallery.”

“Thank you.” She sat in shock, watching the man rejoin his wife with a tender kiss. Amy pointed to the drawing, and he pointed back towards her and then kept it playfully away from her. She didn’t seem as thrilled with having been drawn as he was with the drawing.

The pedicab rolled up next to her. “Hey, Rachel. How’s it going today?”

“I just sold my first piece of artwork,” she said, her voice trailing off absently.

“For real? How much?”

“A hundred.”

“Cool. What say we go celebrate with lunch? I just had a big tipper, so it’s my treat.”

She started packing away her supplies. “I must be a real artist now, Joe.”

“I could have told you that when I looked at your drawings the other night. Why would you only think so now?”

“Well, now I not only have a doofus fan-boy; I’ve also been paid for my drawing.”

“You’ve got a hungry doofus fan-boy. Hop in, and let’s go get a sandwich.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Friday Fiction for July 22, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted by the gracious and talented Vonnie, over at My Back Door. Head on over, make yourself comfortable, and spend some time reading terrific stories until all your troubles are forgotten on the back porch.

This week marked two occasions in space exploration. First was the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, and second was the final flight and landing of the American Space Shuttle program. In the last fifty years, excursions into space have become almost routine, but we Sci-Fi writers envision a time when they are as common as commuter air travel is today. This week’s excerpt is from Chapter 5 of “Eridanus Comes,” as a shuttle chartered by the Eridani Embassy returns to Earth from a trade conference in the Lunar city, Earthrise. Just as with air travel today, there will always be those less than comfortable with the process, even when it’s an everyday occurrence.


According to the time and the system, they were well past Midpoint, and it wouldn’t be much longer before they started decelerating in preparation for entry-orbit. The last thing he remembered before waking up had been many hours earlier, and he felt a certain satisfaction at having slept through most of the journey.

The pilot announced the imminent rotation maneuver in preparation for deceleration, and one of the cabin attendants floated down the aisle to visually ascertain that each passenger was fastened into their seats and safe. Another collected or secured all loose objects that could become projectiles in either the flipping move or when the engines fired for braking, while the third attendant followed along looking for anything the previous two might have overlooked.

With the checks complete, the pilot announced the move one more time, and then the shuttle performed a flat spin to present the main engines to the direction of travel. A moment later, the vibrations of the engines produced a low hum inside the cabin, and David sank into the back of his seat as the shuttle began to slow.

Closing his eyes, he concentrated on working puzzles and riddles in his mind – anything to keep from thinking about just how fast they were traveling towards the cluttered space around Earth. The shuttle companies trivialized the risks, pointing out the number of remotes that orbited the world sweeping up stray debris before it could drift into one of the traffic paths, but that didn’t do much for his confidence. One repair crew in space losing a tool could create a greater hazard to a shuttle than a dedicated weapon would be. It was not a good train of thought to pursue with nothing but airless death waiting outside followed by an unceremonious cremation as the corpse entered the atmosphere.

Were there atheists on shuttle approaches? They were hurtling towards a huge ball of rock, and their survival depended on a vessel made by humans.

The same kind of folks that made much of his farm equipment, which he needed to repair on a regular basis.

The puzzles didn’t work; the more he tried to not think about his situation, the more his mind went right back to it. He prayed instead, preferring to think about God having the shuttle in His hands rather than trusting the pilot and maintenance crew for his long-term outlook.

The deceleration went on for far too long, in his estimation. It hadn’t taken that long to slow for landing on the commercial shuttle’s approach to Earthrise, and he half-expected if he opened his eyes to see that they were accelerating back towards the Moon, rather than preparing for atmospheric entry and landing at Portland.

The engines throttled back, relieving the pressure that held him pinned in the seat. Was that planned, or was that a problem?

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot said over the address system. “We will be reorienting our shuttle in just a few minutes for aerodynamic flight. Those in window seats will be able to enjoy some spectacular views of the Earth as we orbit into position for our descent and approach into the Portland Terminal. We remind you that your restraint releases will remain locked out until we are once again on the ground in Portland. Please just relax and enjoy the remainder of the flight, and we’ll have you to your destination in no time.”

Great, he thought. They were about to start falling towards Earth, and he was a prisoner in his seat. There was a reason he didn’t travel much, and so far he’d found no reason to change his mind.

The pilot commented about Europe being visible out the left side of the shuttle, while the Mediterranean Sea and the north coast of Africa could be seen to the right. David took a quick look out the window, and then shut his eyes again. It might be a beautiful view to some, but to him it was just a stark reminder of how high up they really were. The crew sounded confident and assuring, but they were well over one hundred kilometers above the surface, upside down and flying backwards. It didn’t feel like a good position at all.

He was pressed back in his seat again as the main engines built up thrust. They were slowing down some more? The deceleration went for some two to three minutes, and then the shuttle’s nose pitched up. Torn between keeping his eyes shut and seeing what was going on, he looked out the window to see the distant horizon of the planet flipping around until it stopped at an odd angle. The shuttle was right-side up, flying forward, but with the nose angled high.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now descending into Earth’s atmosphere. Very shortly, your window views will be blocked by the insulating shades which will activate to protect you from both the light and the heat of this phase of our approach. Once we have achieved standard aerodynamic flight, the shades will retract allowing you a view of the landscape as we pass over the Pacific Ocean and the northwest rainforests on our path to Portland.”

The pilot might as well have been driving an old-fashioned tour bus through Manhattan for all the concern his voice carried. The windows darkened, and before long a slight sound penetrated the cabin, growing in volume the longer they fell. The outside atmosphere rushed around the shuttle, generating enough heat as it did to consume rock and metal. How did folks like the rover handle it? How could they get aboard a shuttle time and again like it was just a routine trip into town? He’d seen the red streaks of shuttles returning high overhead in the nighttime; it always seemed incredible that anything could survive the process, much less do so over and over again.

The ride got bumpy, adding to his trepidation. He knew that only meant the air outside was becoming denser and soon would support the shuttle in standard flight. That didn’t dispel the feeling that something was going wrong, though, and he again prayed to take his mind off the barrage of worries assaulting his thoughts.

Feeling some relief when the nose pitched down and the shuttle transitioned into normal flight, he took some deep breaths and made a conscious effort to relax. The remainder of the trip was little more than a flight aboard an ordinary transport, and it wasn’t long before the pilot announced their imminent touchdown on the Portland tarmac. In view through the window were the buildings of the terminal, surrounded by various transports and a couple of other shuttles. They settled to the ground and eased into one of the boarding tunnels, and it was over.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Friday Fiction for July 15, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Karlene on her blog, Dancin’ In the Rain… splashin’ in His Love. Take a break from the summer weather (or the winter, if you’re on the other side of the Equator), and enjoy splashin’ in some refreshing reading.

I’ve been in kind of a Twilight Zone mode the last couple of weeks. This week’s story is along the lines of the short zinger fiction stories I’ve enjoyed in such anthologies as Asimov’s “Earth Is Room Enough,” and others. While I don’t claim to approach the skill of such a master of Science Fiction, I hope you enjoy this little tale in that kind of vein. Rod Serling not included…

The Fossil Dig

By Rick Higginson

The horrified screams echoed across the dig site. Such screams were not that unusual in the remote location. From time to time, a student up from the University would happen upon the object of their phobia, be it one of the large spiders that prowled the area, or perhaps any of the numerous species of snake indigenous to the region, and their panicked cries would offer a welcome break to the quiet monotony of the paleontology dig.

Such events were doubly looked forward to, as once the phobia was discovered, the other students would take great delight in trying to set off another reaction, or at the very least, teasing the sufferer of the phobia relentlessly until the novelty finally wore off.

What set this particular screaming event apart from any other in the memory of all the scientists on site, was that it was Dr. Guttormson who was issuing the outcry. The normally stoic doctor was known to barely take notice of a tarantula crawling across his hand, and to be cooler than the snakes he would fling out of the way with the end of his cane.

Everyone, therefore, ran without delay to the edge of the pit where Dr. Guttormson had been painstakingly picking away the sedimentary rock from one of the largest Allosaurus skeletons ever found.

The old Paleontologist was crouching in the corner of the pit, now whimpering and covering his head with his arms. Nothing else moved in the excavation, and the muttered question passed between onlookers as to what could possibly have such an effect on a man that – for all appearances – was afraid of nothing.

Several of the senior scientists and a few students made their way down the ladder into the pit, and approached the cowering man. “Myron,” one of his long-time associates said, touching him gently on the shoulder. “What is wrong?”

He continued to whimper, now visibly trembling.

One of the students knelt in front of him. “Dr. Guttormson, it’s okay. We’re here. What is it?”

He pulled his hands away and raised his face to hers. “Sk-sk-sk-skull,” he stammered.

“The allosaurus skull? What about it?” she asked.

“No, no, no,” he said. Gesturing towards the exposed ribs, he repeated, “Skull.”

As a group, they gathered around the fossilized cage and peered where the tools had been dropped. Mouths gaped to see the newly exposed fossil within the fossil. Scrapes were evident in the cracked bones, corresponding well to the teeth of the extinct predator, but the shape of the bone was not reptilian.

“That can’t be what I think it is,” Guttormson’s associate said.

“What else could it be?” one of the students replied. “It’s definitely human.”

The scientist leaned in for a closer look, moving aside a dropped brush, and suddenly, he, too, began to scream. Backpedaling away from the skeleton, he pointed and gestured.

All eyes turned to look. All eyes, that is, except the remarkably preserved glass eye that stared back from the fossil skull.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Friday Fiction for July 8, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Lynn Squire, the gifted author of “Joab’s Fire” (an excellent story, by the way), at Faith, Fiction, Fun, and Fanciful. Be sure to visit and enjoy some great writing.

This week is a short, stand-alone story that has been circulating in my mind for a while. It’s a bit different than my normal fare, but I hope you enjoy.

Der Tod

(The Death)

By Rick Higginson

His family sat close by, waiting for the end that was imminent. He held no illusions of recovery; at his age, most people were amazed that he hadn’t died years ago. Though his body was rapidly failing, his mind was still fully aware, and he smiled inside. He had won. For all the years, no one had ever discovered his secret. Not his wife, nor his children, nor any of his neighbors or business associates. He would take the secret to his grave, and that would be the end of it.

A tube fed oxygen to his nose, helping his feeble lungs as he strained to keep breathing. His pulse was weak, and though he thought of it frequently, his arms lacked the strength to even pull the tube from his nose.

He felt pressure on one hand, and cut his eyes to that side. His eldest granddaughter was squeezing his hand and speaking, though without his hearing aid, he could only tell by the movement of her lips. She was just one of his progeny, queuing by his bed to express their love and to say farewell to their patriarch. Her face began to fade, as if the room was filling with mist, and he lost all sensation in his extremities. With an almost cold analysis, he recognized the moment of death, before all awareness left him.


It was cold, and voices were shouting all around him. Confused, he opened his eyes to dull, gray skies and patches of snow on the ground. He held his hands in front of his face, and saw pale skin hanging from gaunt arms. Hands lifted him from either side.

“Get up,” a voice hissed from his right. “You do not want them to shoot you right here, do you?”

He looked to his right. The man wore a dirty uniform over his emaciated frame, and his sunken eyes held a blank, hopeless expression.

“What?” he muttered. “Where are we?”

“You do not remember?” the man replied. “How do you forget being in hell?”

Hell? Was there truly a hell, after all? “I don’t understand,” he said.

“I do not blame you. If I could forget this place, I would.” They plodded along in the line of men. “I do not think Birkenau will be our home much longer, though. Those who walk this way, do not come back.”

Birkenau? Is this some trick of the dying mind? I cannot be back at Birkenau, and especially not as a prisoner.

“The faster you move along, the sooner you will escape from this cold,” a strong, confident voice called to the throng of men. He stared at the face of the young officer with a sick sense of recognition.

That cannot be – this must be some form of dying dream. It will end. It will have to end, when my brain finally dies.

“What are you staring at, pig?” the officer yelled at him, and then gestured to a nearby corporal. “Hurry him along. He thinks he has time for sight-seeing.”

The corporal responded by rushing over and slamming the butt of the Mauser into his back, nearly knocking him back to the ground.

How can the pain be real? I cannot feel my real back, so how can I feel a dream? Still, he could not take his eyes off the officer.

“Since he is so interested in me, bring him here,” the officer ordered.

The corporal grabbed him roughly by the arm, and dragged him out of the line. He was thrown to the ground at the officer’s feet, and stared up into the merciless eyes.

Did I really look like that, all those years ago? He already knew what was coming.

“Since you like the look of my face so much, pig,” his younger self said, drawing the Luger from his holster. “It can be the last sight you see.”

He stared up the barrel of the pistol, remembering how the Jewish man had not flinched away, even as he had pulled the trigger. He had wondered if the man had seen the flash of the shot, before the bullet punched through his brain, and it struck him as bizarre that he should remember that as the finger pulled the trigger.


He sat up with a start, still feeling that final moment of being shot in the head. He was in a dimly-lit room, with bare masonry walls. A tall figure stood in front of him, though it was as if he couldn’t see the person if he looked directly at him.

“That was one,” the figure said. “And this will be the only time I will visit you, lieutenant.”

“Who are you?” he asked.

“You can call me whatever you wish – the Angel of Death, a Minister of Judgment, or the Devil himself. It does not matter. I am just a messenger, and now that you have experienced the judgment, you will believe me when I deliver the message. The courts of Earth could only have executed you once for the murders you committed, but the courts of Eternity are not so limited. You will relive the deaths you caused, as the victims, until you have completed them all. You will experience the suffering you inflicted, and when you have finally accomplished them all, you will find an eternity that will make you wish you could start over.”

“This cannot be happening,” he said.

“Tell yourself that all you wish,” the messenger said. “It will change nothing. I am finished here, and your next death will begin shortly.” The figure vanished, leaving him alone in the room.

He glanced down at the thread-bare shift covering him, and the slender, feminine legs extending from beneath it.

A door opened, and the officer stepped into the cell. “Yes, you are a pretty thing,” he said, leering down. “We shall have an enjoyable time, you and I.”

“Please, no,” he said, the voice that of a frightened girl. It was going to be a very long, and very horrible, night.