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July 28, 2018
Mystery Stories Roger Ley

The Wheel Fiddle

The melody drifted across the garden as she was picking fruit to make a summer pudding. She put down her basket, wiped the sweat from her forehead and walked around to the front of the cottage. The man stood waiting at her garden gate, he raised his cap. He…
July 28, 2018
Flash Fiction Rekha Viswanathan

Pills and Capsules

I wake up to a crisp, clear and sunny morning. The fresh coffee smell beside my bed tempts me. One long sip of the coffee and my senses kick in! I have a long day ahead. At least that's what the papers at the foot of my bed say. Glancing at the paper I see…
July 28, 2018
Crime Stories Stephen A Murray

Russia,Russia,Russia.

There existed in Russia a small group of intelligence operatives left over from the KGB. They are known as Sputniks. From Wikipedia: "Sputnik was the first artificial Earth satellite. The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on October…
July 28, 2018
General Stories Paul Anobile

A Portrait of Slam Bang City

I was hired to paint the portrait of a billionaire who founded a small city twenty years ago in a ghost town he purchased in Arizona. Danny O’Keefe, professional wrestling promoter and executive, convinced a number of investors to build a fourteen-thousand…
July 28, 2018
Science Fiction Stories Majoki

The Deadest Generation

Sergeant Taylor always checked us thoroughly before sending us in: regulation uniform, backpacks, anti-ballistic helmets, Kevlar vests, and, of course, your gun. You couldn’t go anywhere in this place and be safe without your gun. Sergeant Taylor was strict…
July 28, 2018
General Stories J.B.Stevens

Dead Camel

The improvised explosive popped off to the convoy’s left. The armored black Suburban Neil drove muffled the sound to a dull thud. The blast seemed smaller than normal. “Anyone hurt?” the medic, Luiz, called across the radio. The team members, in four matching…
July 28, 2018
Romance Stories Jerry Hogan

He'll Ask Me To Dance Again

Jay I’m Jay, and I have never been to the My Time Dance Studio before tonight. As I entered, the interior projected a garish 1930s Art Deco motif. Greenish, glow-in-the-dark, semilucent plastic tubing wrapped around the hand railings separating one sitting…
July 28, 2018
General Stories Jim Bartlett

The Comebacker

Cornstalk stretches forward, the look almost as if he’s about to fall headfirst off the mound, saved only by the slapping of his left hand to his knee. He locks eyes with his catcher, then lets his gaze wander down just below his glove for the sign. Uncle…
July 28, 2018
Crime Stories Susan C. Nigra

Never Kill The Author

Oh My God! What’s happening? This has never happened before. I am cornered, trapped, boxed in with no safe way out. There has always been a way out before, miraculous last minute saves. I think back to how I got here and I remember I was assigned this case as…
July 28, 2018
Crime Stories Thomas Schmidt

The Streets of Camden

Saturday night was cold and wet. Mike Joseph walked cautiously down Norris Street on his way to the Whitman Park Field, a large green space inside the depressed neighborhood. Propositioned twice by street walkers, he kept moving while shifting his head from…
July 13, 2018
Mystery Stories Rekha Viswanathan

The Enchanted Woods

The boys are on a trip. A trip into the woods. Accompanied by their family they trudge along a narrow path, a route that had obviously been traced by human footsteps, a trail that had been trodden many a time. They walk cautiously, startled by the snap of a…
July 13, 2018
Flash Fiction Carl Perrin

What Could go Wrong

If you plan every detail carefully, nothing can go wrong. I believed that when I was a teenager. Like the time Billy Long and I decided to make our own beer. Once in a while we used to steal a couple of Billy’s father’s beers, but we were always afraid we…

 

 

Descendants ascendance - Editor

One True Faith

by Tracie McBride

Alia shivered at the side of the pool despite the humid heat.  The raspy monotone voice of the Shostark irritated her.  The planet’s emanations had wreaked havoc on his genes; his hairless and earless head, scaly purple-hued skin, and distorted vocal cords suggested that he was one of a handful of humans who were fourth generation Vermanian.  She felt faintly ill at the prospect of her descendants looking like that.  Not that she intended to have any Vermanian descendants, or any descendants at all, for that matter.  Even if she had wanted to, the birth rate on Vermania was so low, even the birth of a mutant like the Shostark was greeted with joy.  She switched her attention to the distant sound of the sandstorm battering the surface of the planet somewhere overhead.  Seven more months, and she’d turn eighteen.  Then she’d be on the next shuttle off this Godforsaken planet and away from these creepy heretics.

The Shostark took a ladle, dipped it into a polished obsidian bowl, and cast its contents over the waters.  A coarse grey ash settled on the surface.  He murmured a final incantation, and then motioned to the mourners.  Aunt Celia and Uncle George, Xavier’s parents, were first.  They entered the pool hand in hand, briefly submerged themselves, and then climbed out the other side. Their white robes clung unflatteringly to their bodies and ash stuck in clumps to their face and hair like a virulent skin disease.  Aunt Celia stumbled as she stepped away from the pool.  Her face contorted with grief as she accepted the Shostark’s steadying touch at her elbow.

Alia hung back until she was the last person left to enter the pool.  Trembling, she clenched her fists at her sides.  Not for the first time, she silently cursed her family’s prosperity.  If her aunt and uncle hadn’t made a fortune mining on Vermania, her parents would not have purchased one of the few remaining licenses and moved here to join them.  They wouldn’t have been forced to forsake their Earthly religion.  Aunt Celia and Uncle George wouldn’t have been able to afford the full funeral rites for their son, and right now she would be receiving a ceremonial daubing on her forehead instead of having to bathe in her dead cousin Xavier’s ashes.

The water looked muddy from the passage of the mourners before her.  Swallowing her revulsion, she descended into the pool and completed the ritual as quickly as she dared.  Her skin felt gritty from the remnants of ash coating her.  Her wet mourning robes outlined every curve of her body, and she felt a surge of triumph as she noticed several of the male mourners looking at her with unguarded lust.

Xavier used to look at her like that.  She had wielded her vow of chastity like a weapon, revelling in his pain as he had reached out to her again and again, only to be rejected every time.  She’d even heard whispers that it was her treatment of him that had destroyed his fragile hold on sanity and sent him walking on the surface unprotected in a sandstorm.  Her face flushed with anger at the thought, and she ducked her head, tipping her long blonde hair over her face to hide her flaming cheeks.  She glanced sideways from behind the curtain of hair to check the Shostark’s reaction.  He was looking at her too, but his expression was unreadable.  She looked away and followed the other female mourners into an antechamber to get dressed.

#

Someone is in her room, standing over her bed.  Her mouth works as she tries to call for help, but she cannot make a sound.  The intruder leans close to her.  It is Xavier.  He reaches his hands out to her and takes hold of her shoulders.  His skin changes on contact with hers, large purple scales forming and spreading up his bare arms like a stain.  He flings the bedclothes aside and tears her nightgown from neck to hem.  She opens her mouth again to scream, and it suddenly fills with sand.  She is coughing and choking on it, trying to clear it from her throat.  It spills onto the floor with a sound like a whisper.   Xavier lowers his weight onto her naked body as she fights in vain to draw a breath…

#

“Are you feeling alright?” her father said at dinner one night.  “You look terrible.  And this is the third night in a row that you haven’t touched your dinner.  You should see a Shostark.”

Privately, she had to admit that she felt terrible.  After Xavier’s funeral, she had defied the ritual proscription against bathing and had washed off the remnants of Xavier’s ashes as soon as she had got home, but it felt as if the grit had seeped through her pores and settled under her skin.  The nightmares had unsettled her to the point where she was afraid to go to sleep.  She felt constantly restless and irritable, and couldn’t concentrate on even the simplest task.

“No, thanks.  I’d rather go to a real doctor.  Oh, except, I forgot,” she said sarcastically, “the Shostarks won’t let any real doctors step foot on Vermania, much less set up practice.  Instead we have to put up with their mumbo jumbo.”

Her younger brother Samuel guffawed.  “You’re so hot for the One True Faith back on Earth,” he said, waving his fork at her, “but that’s the biggest pack of mumbo jumbo I’ve ever heard.  ‘Thou Shalt Not’ this and ‘Thou Shalt Not’ that—and who was the genius who came up with the whole ‘burning in hell’ idea?  I’d take the Shostarks over those lunatics any day.”

“You’ve been on Vermania too long,” she said.  “The Shostarks have brainwashed you.”

“And you have been here too long too,” said her mother, “if you have forgotten what it was like on Earth.  Poverty, disease, degradation—we’re lucky to have escaped it, and we’ve got the Shostarks to thank for our good fortune.”

“The people on Earth suffer because they sin,” said Alia.  “I won’t suffer because I keep myself pure.  As soon as I turn eighteen, I’m going back to Earth to train to be a High Priestess, and you can’t stop me.”

“You’re right,” her mother said calmly.  “I can’t stop you once you’re eighteen.  But right now, you are my responsibility.   You will consult a Shostarktomorrow, and that is final.”

#

The Shostark that attended Alia was so mutated, she couldn’t even tell its gender, if it even had one.  Its eyelids opened and closed vertically, and its fingers were partially fused together with flexible fleshy webbing which was the only visible part of its body that wasn’t covered in dark purple scales.

“Describe your symptoms, please,” it said in a flat atonal voice.

She crossed her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair.  “If you Shostarks think you’re so good, you should be able to tell just by looking at me,” she sneered.

It blinked several times before answering. “Under our care, nobody dies on Vermania except from old age or serious accident.  And yet, you don’t trust us.”  It cocked its head to one side.  “Why is that?”

Alia snorted.  “We’ve got this stinking planet to thank for that, not you.    Nothing can survive here, except for us – if you can call this living.  It’s like Vermania is hermetically sealed.”

The Shostark twisted its scaled face into a smile.  “What a perceptive child you are,” it said.  “Open your mouth, please.”

Alia defied its request for several seconds, and then sullenly complied.  The Shostark leaned forward and scraped a forefinger around the inside of Alia’s mouth before she had time to protest.  It sat still and silent, staring unwaveringly at its forefinger for a full minute.  Alia squirmed in her chair.

Finally it broke from its trance.  It slowly lowered its finger and met Alia’s gaze.

“Ah,” it said.

Even although she professed a lack of faith in Shostark medicine, its air of solemnity unnerved her.  “What?  What is it?  What’s wrong with me?”

“There is nothing wrong with you,” said the Shostark.  The hair on Alia’s neck prickled at the stress it placed on the word ‘wrong’.  “When was the last time you had sexual intercourse?”

“How dare you!” Alia spat.  “I am a devotee of the One True Faith.  I’m only going along with all this Shostark bullshit because my family makes me.  I am keeping myself pure so I can become a High Priestess when I return to Earth.”

The Shostark smiled again, wider than before, and swayed slightly towards her in a way that reminded her uncomfortably of a cobra about to strike.  “I regret to tell you,” it said in a tone that suggested anything but regret, “that your path lies elsewhere.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You attended a funeral recently, did you not?”

“Yes, but…”

“Your cousin’s funeral.  Your young, male cousin’s funeral.”

The crawling sensation under Alia’s skin had intensified.  Eddies of nausea began to swirl in the pit of her stomach, and she felt the first pulses of a headache that promised to incapacitate her before the afternoon was out.  She rose on shaky legs and backed away from the Shostark, her chair clattering to the floor.  A small paring knife lay on a side table next to a bowl of fruit, and she snatched it up, unsure of what she would do with it but needing the spurious security it gave her to hold something between herself and the Shostark.  “Tell me what is going on,” she said, “or so help me…”

“You’re pregnant,” it said.

The knife slid from her limp fingers.  “Impossible,” she whispered.

The Shostark shook its head.  “The energy of the Universe strikes a delicate balance on Vermania—few die, few are born.  But this exquisite balance allows that energy to vibrate strongly.  Our most fervent wishes are often granted, and in ways that some might indeed call ‘impossible’.  Your family craved wealth, and now they have it.  Your cousin Xavier’s deepest yearning was to join with you, and now he has achieved a more intimate union than he could ever have imagined.  And you…you want to be worshipped.”

It slid from its seat and knelt at Alia’s feet.  “And now you carry in your womb the first fully mutated human Vermanian.  We cannot tell how far the mutation will go, but we know it will be magnificent.  Our wishes, too, have been granted.”  The Shostark’s eyes glittered as it bowed and touched its forehead to Alia’s sandaled feet.  It rose, and then bowed again, repeating the obeisance over and over, Alia’s howls of anguish all but drowning out the accompanying chant.

“Mother…”

©2009

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