Ten Books to Give for All Hallow's Read

By Lesley Conner
on October 06, 2014
1 comment

October is here and with it comes all things fall. The leaves are painting the skyline orange, yellow, and red, pumpkins are creeping into everything from coffee to Oreos, and horror movies and novels are finding their way to the top of to-watch and to-read piles.

Another cool thing that’s going on is All Hallow’s Read. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, go here. Neil Gaiman does a wonderful job explaining it. I can wait.

Back? Okay. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever? A new holiday tradition where we give our family and friends scary books. The horror geek and book nerd in me are squealing with joy! But then of course, the question becomes what to give. To help you make the best decisions of which scary titles to share with your friends, I’ve scanned my bookshelves and the internet for suggestions.

Ten Books to Give for All Hallow’s Read.

  1. October Dreams (AKA October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween) edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish – Suggested by Maurice Broaddus, author of Orgy of Souls and I Can Transform You and editor of Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations.
  2. Survivor by J. F. Gonzalez – Suggested by my bookcase. Honestly, anything by J. F. Gonzalez would be a good pick, but this book scared the crap out of me when I read it, and he’s currently working on two novellas that tie into the storyline from this novel.
  3. Alabaster Pale Horse by Caitlin R. Kiernan – Suggested on Twitter by @djerfisherite.
  4. The Night Country by Stuart O’Nan – Suggested by Douglas F. Warrick, author of Plow the Bones.
  5. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill – Suggested on Twitter by @ElioSchmie.
  6. The Mist by Stephen King – Suggested by, well, I want to say my bookcase, but as I’m scanning my Stephen King titles, I realize I don’t own Skeleton Crew, which is where I first read The Mist as a young girl. Recently a friend and I were talking about how frightening this novella is - we both read it around the age of 13 - which is why it made this list. And now I must buy myself an All Hallow’s Read gift to fill the hole in my Stephen King library.
  7. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – Suggested by Jerry Gordon, editor of Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations.
  8. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson – Suggested on Twitter by @Stephenspower.
  9. Urban Gothic by Brian Keene – Suggested by my bookcase. As with J.F. Gonzalez, you could basically give any Brian Keene title for All Hallow’s Read and be good, but I picked Urban Gothic because it’s my favorite of his novels. The entire book reads like a 80s horror movie, with teenagers who end up places they shouldn’t, wild chases, violence, and death, and as a girl who grew up loving those movies, this book was a blast to read.
  10. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – Suggested by Elizabeth Massie, author of Desper Hollow.
And that's it. Ten scary reads to give to your family and friends for All Hallow's Read. What books would you suggest people give? Leave a comment to let us know.

An excerpt from Midnight by Mari Adkins

By Lesley Conner
on October 02, 2014
1 comment
1985
September

 

 

Running away without a plan sucked.

Running away without any direction also sucked.

At least Sami knew how to get into Harlan County. Beyond that, she didn’t know much else and kept an eye out for road signs, anything that might spark her memory.

Ahead, the sign for Loyall stood at a slight angle beside the main highway, and she turned the car onto the smaller road. Her chest constricted. Her Steve. They had never dated, but she had always considered him 'her Steve'. Maybe he could help her, give her sanctuary for a few days. She hoped to find a gas station attendant or anyone who could help her find him since she had only a post office box number.

She grimaced as she took a double track railroad crossing too fast, which bounced the car and jostled the cat awake in the carrier on the passenger seat.

Ahead on the corner, at the only stoplight in town, a large red and white sign glared in the darkness. The convenience store, The Market, listed that day's specials—gallon of milk $1.50, all candy bars 2 for 75¢—on the marquee below the sign.

Morrígan help me.

After driving three hours, she pulled her car into a parking space and shuffled, yawning, into the store. At the counter, her hands trembled as she dug through her purse for her wallet and what little information she had about Steve—scribbled in haste on the back of some miscellaneous business card two years ago. Fighting tears, she asked the clerk, whose nametag announced her as Angela, “Do you have a phone book?”

“Sure.” Angela brought a slim, yellow-covered volume from beneath the counter.

“I can’t find the listing for Loyall,” she said, unable to focus well on the tiny print inside the directory.

“Oh, Harlan and Loyall are together,” Angela said. “I guess you’re not from around here.”

Sami’s teeth rattled together as she spoke. “I need to find Stephen Young—”

“Steve? Steve Young?” Angela's eyes grew round with surprise. “Steve owns this place.”

The news sucked the air from Sami’s lungs. Her fingers curled around the lip of the counter, her knuckles white from the force exerted to hold her upright. He owns a store now? Steve’s never owned anything in his life. Is this why he never came back to the university?

Angela came around the counter and guided her into a booth in the dining area off to the right side of the store. “I’ll call him for you.”

Her throat constricted to fight sobs, but she had no way to stop the tears from pouring down her cheeks. She heard Angela make the call back at the counter and describe her as 'a small, blonde lady who's really upset'; she almost laughed through her tears.

“He'll be right here,” Angela said, standing a bottle of cold water on the table. “You just sit here and rest a minute.”

A nod conveyed her gratitude. Too restless to remain inside, she left the booth to sit on the back bumper of her car. She could hear the Cumberland River rush around the town on its eventual way to the Ohio River. In other circumstances, the sound of the shallow water flowing over rocks and boulders might have soothed her. Now, she sat with her elbows in her palms, tears continuing to stream down her face, desperate to focus her racing mind on what she would tell Steve. She had never once considered she would find herself in such a position, and having to admit to Steve that she should have listened to him in the first place tore at her.

Headlights shined on the pavement.

Steve.

“Oh my god. Samantha?” he said over the roof of his car when he got out.

She couldn’t stop staring at him. Her Steve had changed. Had he gotten taller? She wasn’t sure. But his brown hair had grown long, a small, single silver circle hung from his left ear, and he had grown a mustache.

They met halfway.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Gods,” he said, “you look...” He drew the pads of his thumbs along the dark hollows beneath her eyes.

Wincing as his fingertips brushed the bruises on her face, she grasped his forearms as if that alone would allay the pain.

“What happened to you?”

She looked into his eyes and begged him to read her mind so she wouldn’t have to relive the abuse. But she knew this was impossible. She would have to tell him everything. “You were right about Adam,” she said.

Anger flushed Steve’s face, dark light flooded his eyes, and his fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. “I’ll kill him—”

“No, you won’t. It’s over. I got away.”

Steve asked, “Do you need to stay with me?”

Tears filled her eyes again. “I don’t have anybody else.”

“Fine.” He helped her into the passenger seat of his car and fastened the seatbelt around her. “I need your keys,” he said.

“My keys?”

“It’s not safe to leave your car here overnight. I’ll have Angela bring it to the house after she closes the store.”

“Why not?” Sami asked, not understanding.

“Someone could steal it or strip it,” he explained. “Harlan County just isn’t safe, Sami.”

She fished her keys from her purse and handed them to him and watched him go into the store and converse with the clerk for several minutes. His lack of questions gave her comfort, although she knew more than enough would come later. When he returned, she said, “Sugar—”

“You brought your cat?”

“Our things are in my car.”

“They'll be okay. Angela won’t be long. You got here just before closing.” He got them under way, back the way she had come to a little clapboard house on the other side of the railroad tracks. There, he helped her from the car, and they sat together on the porch swing, not speaking but holding hands, Sami leaned against him, until Angela arrived. “Do you want to ride back with us?”

“No.” Tired from her escape from Richmond and the most nerve-wracking drive of her life, she waited where she sat alone on the porch swing until he returned.

Without words, they carried her things into the house, him taking charge of the heavier items.

He set up the cat's things in the back before he stomped across the living room to throw open a door and flip on the overhead light, three bare bulbs, their glass globes long gone or perhaps never installed. “This was my parents' room,” he said, his voice hard.

She came to the doorway to peer around his bulk. Unable to remember when or if she had ever had a bedroom with new furniture, she moved around Steve to slide her fingertips over the top of the dresser near the door, leaving a trail in the layer of dust there. Then she stooped to try one of the drawers. It glided out with ease, filling her nostrils with the scent of wood and glue. Shaking her head, she slid open the closet door to peer inside. Empty, void of even a single clothes hanger. In pieces, propped against the front wall and windows, the bed wasn’t made, the mattress and box spring still wrapped in their shipping plastic. Mini-blinds alone, no curtains, hung in the windows. A highboy stood beside the bedroom door.

“I meant to clean it up. You know, rip everything out, paint, and put in new carpet. I only got as far as clearing out their things and buying new furniture.”

Had his parents died? Had that taken him out of her life? Why hadn’t he told her? She lay a hand on his bicep. “Thank you.”

“Thank me later,” he said, “after you’ve been here for a while.” He rubbed the back of his head, mussing his hair, same as he had before they lost touch. “So this can be your room if that’s okay with you.” Although the sun had set some time ago, Steve pulled open one of the front mini-blinds. “It has a spectacular view of the railroad track, rooftops, and the ridge on the other side of the valley.” With a nod, he indicated the smaller side window. “You won’t see anything but the house next door and the ridgetop that way.” He took them back to the living room. “Since the bed isn’t together, you can sleep here tonight.” He moved the coffee table and removed the cushions from one of the couches to reveal a fold-out bed. “It’s not the best—”

“It'll do.” Sami didn’t care where she slept, as long as she got to. Soon.

He stooped to kiss the top of her head.

“Steve—”

“We’ll talk tomorrow after I get home from work. Right now, you need rest...Come to the store when you wake up if you want to, okay? I’m there until twelve on Saturdays.”

But she couldn’t sleep. Steve had comforted her, yes, but her body ached, her mind raced, and the unfamiliar surroundings gave her no respite. The pure darkness inside the house unsettled her further when she left the couch-bed to look for the cat. She eventually gave up on both sleep and finding Sugar and crept through the house to Steve’s bedroom. Without knocking on the door, she pushed into the room. “Steve?” she whispered.

“I’m right here.”

Her dating someone else when they met had been the only thing that had kept them from sexual intimacy. She didn’t seek such intimacy now but the reassurance of familiarity. Unable to see, she made her way to the bed with careful steps and her sense of touch. The mattress jiggled as Steve moved over to make room for her. The warmth of his body and his energy guided her into his waiting arms. There, she cried herself to sleep.

 

“We’ve got to talk about us,” Sami said the next afternoon when Steve came in from work. She sat on one of the two couches in his living room, her hands folded palms up on her lap.

Steve cleared his throat, a lazy smile playing on his face. “Yes,” he said.

She glanced away. “I love you,” she said. “I always have. But I need time. Adam...” She needed a best friend, and she needed Steve to fill that void.

“I know. Adam Rollins fucked you up.” He touched her cheek with his fingertips. “I know you’re hurting.”

She hadn’t lied; she had always loved Steve from the time they had met—when she was twenty, he eighteen. Before he had been called home. Not caring about dating, they had focused more on building a friendship. With him, she had been part of something. She had belonged. Over the short time they had together, she had told him many of her secrets, things she had never told anyone else. After he had met Adam, Steve had told her he had a bad feeling about him and had begged her not to allow him to move into her apartment. While Steve had only ever seen one of the physical injuries Adam had inflicted, he had held her enough as she cried—before he had moved back to Loyall.

He placed his fingertips on her lips. “I’m seeing someone.”

The news shouldn’t have shocked her; his words emphasized how out of touch they had become. Even more to her surprise, a pang of jealousy tightened her chest. She had no right to be jealous over anything in his life and would never deny him any relationship. “Have you told her I’m here?”

“Not yet,” he admitted. “I’m going to tell her later today. But you and I have to decide how long you’re going to be here.”

Sami shook her head. “I don’t have a plan.” Indeed not. She had grabbed up what she needed immediately before running out of Richmond the night before. Until she had reached Corbin, she hadn’t given a thought about where she was going, just that she had to get far away from Adam as fast as she could. She hadn’t consciously realized she had been coming to Harlan County to find Steve until she had gotten to Pineville.

“Then you need to come up with one.”

She clasped her hands together on her lap and bit her lip.

“Hey, don’t worry. You can stay here as long as you want.” He lit a cigarette and watched the smoke curl off the end, the cigarette pinched between thumb and forefinger so that the ash dropped into his palm. “You’ve got to figure out what you need to do while you’re here and what you’re going to do about the things you left in Richmond.”

He included Adam in that, she knew. “I don’t have much—”

“I know that, but what you do have, you can’t let that bastard destroy. Make me a list, and I’ll have it brought down here.”

“Brought down?” Confusion wrinkled her face.

He jabbed the air with a finger. “You are not setting foot in that apartment again.”

She could manage only a small, “Yes, sir.”

“I don’t want to see you hurt any more than you already have been.”

“I’ll pay—”

“You won’t pay me a dime for anything. I said you could stay here. I didn’t say anything about rent or about anything else. Stay here, rest, heal. And do what you need to do.”

She loved him; she did, even though she found him different now, but she had difficulty justifying those changes..

More had changed.

His beautiful, strange eyes contained a dark drowning gravity that threatened to draw her into their bottomless whirlpools. Something murky but unthreatening hung around him, almost as if he hadn’t properly metaphysically cleansed himself for a time. No, this was different, deeper. Something that made him distant, kept him from her. Something she filed in the back of her mind to figure out later.

She knew she had changed.

Adam's countless acts of abuse had closed many doors and had left major scars on her psyche. She couldn’t comprehend how Adam could have been so cold, how he could have treated her as badly as he had.

Tears welled in her eyes. “Steve.”

He put down the cigarette and opened his arms to her.

She went to him but cried out when he held her too tight. The bruises on her body would take some time to heal.

“Are you okay?”

“No,” she said. “No, I’m not.”

He held her with more care.

 

Later in the day, Sami moved through and around the house to get her bearings.

She would never forget her first good daylight, outside view of the house.

Wild rosebushes choked the chain link fence across the front and along the far side of the square yard. Two apple trees framed the front of the yard, with a maple midway between them and the small house. More rosebushes grew along the front of the house-wide porch.

Back inside.

The living room, with its two mismatched couches, armchair, sturdy square coffee table, a television on a wooden storage stand, and one large window in front with two smaller ones on the side. A bar separated the living room from the kitchen, a counter along the outside wall, one lone window above the sink, a pie safe and large appliances in the rear, a frame without a door to the enclosed back porch with a washing machine and a dryer, and an oblong table in the middle of the room.

Her bedroom. My space. My space. She hadn’t had her own space since Adam had moved into her apartment in Richmond a little over a year after she rented it. It had been the home she had created for herself with much care and planning.

Chills pricked her skin at the unbidden thought of 'home', and she rubbed her arms. Corbin. Growing up with her grandparents. She hadn’t ever belonged there, hadn’t ever been wanted. And those around her had reminded her often of this and of the 'burden' she had been to her grandmother after her grandfather had died. After graduation, she had started college early during the Summer session and had gotten a job in the university library. She had gone back to Corbin only once, one year later, and then to retrieve all of her belongings, including Sugar. Over the three years since, she had done her best not to think about any of it, about any of her blood family. Doing so caused her to fall into depression even though she never could quite pinpoint what she had lost in leaving them all behind.

Until she had met Steve, she had never belonged anywhere, had never been truly important to anyone.

Now, turning to leave the bedroom, she caught her reflection in the large, ornate mirror hanging above the dresser. Even from this distance, she could see the midnight purple contusions on her face and knew the others on her arms, torso, and legs were as bad if not worse. Tears welled in her eyes. Without thinking, she gave her head a sharp, fierce shake to thwart the deluge and cried out in pain, her hands flying to her face and the back of her neck.

The tears fell.

 

The next morning late, Steve woke Sami to ask if she might like to help him open the store and perhaps drive to Middlesborough for lunch afterward. She protested because of the bruises on her face but gave in at his insistence.

“Before we go, I need your list and your apartment keys.” At The Market, he told her what needed to be done and took her to the storeroom. “But I think you might enjoy closing the store more than opening it,” he said. “If you need me, just yell. I’ll be able to hear you.”

While she worked to ready the coffee makers and the fast-food cappuccino machine, and to fill the soda fountain with ice, gratitude filled Sami. If she hadn’t had these tasks to accomplish, she knew she would still be on the couch-bed at Steve’s, either sleeping or crying. He had given her something to focus her mind upon other than the events of the last handful of days. A smile came. She winced in pain and, with a sigh, bit her lip.

His arms full with two tills, Steve came into the dining room to find her sitting in a booth filling a dispenser with napkins. “Are you doing okay?” he asked.

“I’m just fine.”

“Angela will be here in a bit. She has keys, so you don’t have to worry about letting her in.” He went into the main part of the store, around the counter, and busied himself with the cash registers.

Sami watched him work.

He went about his duties as though they were second nature.

Now and again, he would grin at her, and she would grin in return.

 

In Middlesborough, they took a tour of the mall after lunch at the J Milton's steakhouse.

Though Steve offered to buy Sami anything she might want or need, hesitancy and embarrassment held her back. She had to learn to help herself again, and she couldn’t do that by holding on to other people. Getting back to Richmond and starting her life over in the place where she had made her home was her priority. To do this, she told herself she would get a job and put the money she didn’t need for everyday essentials into savings. With what she already had saved and still hidden away, she would be able to give herself a nice, fresh start.

Two months before she left Richmond, she started keeping anything important in the trunk of her car. With some of the money she had saved over the last three years and managed to keep hidden from Adam, she bought a suitcase and an overnight bag and filled them with new clothes and personal supplies and put them in the trunk with everything else. Two days before she left, she closed her savings account and hid the cash in a sock inside the suitcase.

She planned, after she started working here, to open a new savings account and pad it with the money she had brought with her. For now, the cash remained in its sock, tucked safely away in the back of a dresser drawer.

There wasn’t anything she much needed from any shop in the mall. Even so, at the Soap Factory, she allowed Steve to buy her a couple of shower gels, shampoos, lotions, and bars of soap.

After this, Sami slept on the forty-five minute drive back to Loyall.

At the house, he woke her and helped her from the car. “I have one more surprise for you,” he said.

“Steve, please.”

Strange light twinkled in his eyes. “You’ll like this one. I promise.”

Wary, she went inside the house. “Oh,” she said, her hands covering her mouth. The houseplants she had left in Richmond stood on the coffee table, the bar, and the kitchen table. Others had been hung from hooks in the ceilings of both rooms. The cat slept in a pot filled with soil beside the kitchen sink. “But—”

Steve placed a finger on her lips. “That’s not all. Close your eyes.” He turned her around, placed his hands over her eyes, and guided her into her bedroom.

“I feel ridiculous.”

“Keep your eyes shut.” He sat her upon an armchair. “Okay,” he said.

Familiar things, her personal things, filled the room. And someone had hung brand new curtains over the windows and had made the bed with a matching sheet and comforter set. She picked at the chair arm—her more-comfortable-than-ugly chair—with a fingernail as she saw her desk and chair, her bookcase and books, her cedar blanket chest, and other things. “How did you do this?” Then she wondered what magic had been wrought to fit it all into the small room.

Steve smiled. “Friends of mine.”

“I should thank them—”

“No,” he said. “You can’t do that. It’s not necessary, anyway.” He drew his fingers through his hair. “Now, do you need help putting your things away?”

After they unpacked everything, they stuck glow-in-the-dark stars he had bought her on the ceiling and hung her pictures and framed snapshots on the walls. Then she went outside to sit on the porch swing, something she found herself doing with some regularity thereafter.

The beauty here in the county captured the eye; the atmosphere exuded rest; but she found it a bit too restful, that something in this peaceful-on-the-surface county was, instead, only the opposite.

 

On Monday, Steve came in from work early and showered and put on everyday clothes. He left his long hair loose instead of pulled back in the neat ponytail he wore for work.

“Do you have a date?” Sami asked when he emerged from his bedroom.

His full mouth pressed a thin line across his face. “No,” he said. “It’s more of a business meeting.”

It must be for The Market. “Can I go?” It would give her something to do, and she could learn more about Steve and his life in the process. “Please?”

“This isn’t for the store. So, no. Have you been out to the mall?”

Sami was supposed to be looking for a job, but with the bruises on her face, she was reluctant to go out in public alone. It had been hard enough to go out with Steve the day before. “No, but I will soon.”

“Make sure you go to Belk's first.”

A tattoo of knocks rapped across the front door.

“That’s Jeremy.”

“Jeremy?”

Steve opened the door instead of offering an explanation. “Hey, come on in.”

“Oh hey,” Jeremy said upon seeing Sami in the living room. He introduced himself with an extended hand. “I’m Jeremy.”

“Hello.” Sami shook his hand and couldn’t help but notice that he and Steve shared the same energies, that strange something she couldn’t quite put her finger on and had never encountered before.

“And we're going to be late if we don’t get going,” Steve said. “It might be late when we get back,” he told Sami. “So you’re on your own for supper.”

“I’ll be just fine.” She watched them pile into Steve’s car and back out of the driveway.

Jeremy had parked in the divot beside the road to keep from blocking anyone in. He drove a three year old Lincoln Mark VI, and Sami wondered if he had left his keys in the ignition. Probably not, given as stealing-what-isn’t-nailed-down seemed to be all too common here. Still, she wanted to drive it. It looked like it had a mean engine that ran smooth as glass. She shut and locked the door and went into her bedroom to examine her face in the mirror. Her bruises hadn’t faded in the least yet, and she wondered what this Jeremy had thought of them and if he were discussing her with Steve.

Sugar, meowing, twined around Sami’s ankles.

Sami bent to pick her up and buried her face in the thick, long hair on the cat's soft belly.

 

Steve insisted Sami meet his girlfriend Beth and arranged for the three of them to have supper together one evening later in the week.

At the front door, Sami watched the pair exit Steve’s car laden with packages of food from the deli at The Market. A restless energy around the small red-headed girl put Sami on guard. Something obscure in Beth’s aura, even from this distance, made Sami feel she couldn’t trust her, and she wondered why Steve chose to be with someone with such repellent energy. The energies twisted Sami’s stomach inside out. She bit her lip hard enough to hurt because she couldn’t judge Steve when she had stayed with Adam against all of Steve’s protestations.

Due to the dearth of counter space in the kitchen, Steve and Beth had to place the bags on the stove. Steve opened containers and set them on the table with serving utensils.

Nervous and uncertain of what she should be doing or saying, Sami sat and began to eat.

Beth’s lack of table manners did nothing to improve Sami’s opinion. Not only did she speak and drink with food in her mouth, she failed to acknowledge that a napkin had been placed beside her plate. “So, Beth,” Sami asked to fill the silence, “where do you work?”

“Rick's Music Store at the mall,” Beth said around a mouthful of chicken. “I work every day after school for a couple of hours.” She also talked so incessantly once she got started that neither Steve nor Sami could comment on anything or steer the conversation, as it were, in different directions.

At the point Beth asked Sami a question, she missed it, and Steve kicked her ankle beneath the table. “I’m sorry,” Sami said. “What?”

Beth shrugged, her lipstick-plum lips pursed. “I was wondering why somebody would move to this place. Most people I know are trying to get out of here.”

Sami forced a smile. “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

This seemed to confuse Beth even more than Sami moving into the county. Her brow knitted and her mouth turned downward. “How can you not have anywhere to go?” She tossed her bottle-red hair over one shoulder.

“It’s complicated.” Sami’s plastic smile hurt her face. The longer they sat, the more she questioned Steve’s choice in girlfriends. She also pondered how isolated someone's life could be that he couldn’t imagine someone else not having a family.

Steve said, “Sami grew up in Corbin with her grandparents.”

“Oh,” Beth replied as if that explained everything.

After supper, Steve and Sami cleaned up the kitchen while Beth remained at her place at the table. She continued to speak nonstop, chain smoked, and didn’t once offer to help with anything. Sami didn’t know if her refusal to help stemmed from the mountain custom of it being rude for guests to help in the kitchen or from a plain lack of giving a damn on Beth’s part. Given the way things had gone so far, Sami settled on the latter.

Steve left to take Beth home, and Sami sat at the table with her fingers wrapped around a cup of fresh coffee. Supper hadn’t gone well, but it hadn’t been pleasant either. The coffee refused to tell her anything about the present or the future, so she sipped at it until Steve returned.

He joined her at the table. “Well?”

Unable to stop herself, Sami asked, “Do you want the truth or would you rather I lied?”

His deep frown drew his entire face downward. Even his mustache drooped more than usual. “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

“I’m trying to understand is all.”

“I hope you'd be honest with me, like always.”

Sami heaved a deep sigh. “Could you please explain to me why and how you can be with someone like Beth?”

“What do you mean?” Steve stood to take down a coffee cup from a cabinet, then bent to retrieve a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon from beneath the sink. This he poured a generous helping of into the cup before topping it off with coffee. Back at the table, he took a hefty drink.

“Beth’s, what, sixteen?”

“She has been all year.”

Sami knew he tried to make a joke, but this wasn’t the time. “She’s rude, Steve. I’ve seen better manners in feral dogs.”

The words hit Steve like a slap in the face. “I’m not apologizing for her behavior.”

“If she behaved properly, you wouldn’t need to. Is she like this in public, too?” Something inside her wanted to ask what his parents would think; she restrained it to keep from hurting him.

Steve downed the last of his coffee. “Would it make any difference if I said I was lonely, and Beth happened to arrive at the right time to fill a void?”

How could men get away with this behavior? If women thought of such a thing, they faced ridicule. “Surely there were other options?”

“It’s not like going to the grocery store, Sami,” he bit.

She knew. Still, that didn’t answer her original question or make her feel any better. “How did you meet Jeremy?”

“What do you mean? He lives right over there,” he said with a dismissive wave toward Loyall.

 

Want to read more? Buy Midnight by Mari Adkins! Available in print and eBook editions in the Apex Store.

An Apology

By Jason Sizemore
on October 01, 2014

Earlier today I was alerted to this post on Ali Trotta's blog that refers to me (just not by name):

http://alwayscoffee.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/please-dont-boil-that-bunny-some-thoughts-on-an-online-creeper/

Ali cites several instances where she feels that I bullied and threatened her. I sincerely apologize for any and all comments/interactions I made that caused Ali to feel that way.

It upsets me to know that I made her feel bullied and that I might have unwittingly contributed to the toxic and disrespectful landscape women often face online. This was never my intention. From this point forward, I will be more conscious of how I conduct myself in personal correspondences and of how what I say can affect those around me.

Sincerely,

 

Jason S.

Last chance to get The Changed by BJ Burrow

By Lesley Conner
on September 30, 2014

Today is the last day you'll be able to purchase a copy of The Changed by BJ Burrow, because tomorrow it goes out of print. To make sure everyone has the chance to grab a copy of this novel about zombie political ambition, we're offering a 40% off discount code on both the trade paperback and eBook editions. To take advantage of these savings simply enter discount code VOTEZOMBIE at checkout.

Synopsis:

When the dead stop dying and become The Changed, the new zombies enter politics to fight for undead rights.

It’s not the end of the world—it’s just zombies.

Chris is an ordinary guy with a boring job, a perfect fiancé, and plans for a happy, if predictable, future. But when the dead stop dying and become, instead, simply “changed,” ordinary isn’t so comforting anymore. Wandering stray animals suddenly develop a taste for flesh and brains, and while most of the human zombies might be harmless, can anyone really be sure?

With the help of a morning show shock-jock who has recently turned into a zombie and the burnt-out walking remains of a businessman, Chris becomes the backbone of a fight for undead rights among the fear, prejudice, and uncertainty dividing the living and the not quite dead.

FREE FICTION: Paying It Forward by Michael A. Burstein

By Jason Sizemore
on September 22, 2014
1 comment

For more from Michael A. Burstein, but a copy of his collection I Remember the Future.

I’M DYING.

No one knows it yet. Having never married, I have no family to mourn my passing. I do have my fans, who would probably turn out in droves to say farewell if I had chosen to let them know in advance. But in the twilight of my time, I want to face this final passage alone.

Of course, I’m not completely alone. I still have my mentor, Carl Lambclear. I’ll email him tonight, and he’ll email me back, and just remembering how much he helped me will keep me going until the very end. We’ll exchange our latest story ideas, and share more turns of phrase that we both find appealing. Carl Lambclear is the one person I could open up to about my condition, and I’m glad that I did.

It’s the ultimate irony, I suppose, that once more I find myself having something in common with Lambclear. He, too, is familiar with the emotional gamut that accompanies an inoperable brain tumor; after all, many years ago, he died of the same thing.

* * *

It started long ago, at the beginning of the century. I think it’s almost impossible for anyone who didn’t live through it to fully appreciate the swinging moods that the world experienced. For the months before and after New Year’s Eve 2000, everyone all over the world seemed to harbor a quiet expectation that things would become new and different. The twenty-first century, a century of imagination and great wonders, was arriving, and optimism was the order of the day.

Of course, most of us sobered up after the economy tanked and September 11 happened and the other events of the ohs came to pass. With each tragedy, small or large, it was as if a curtain had plummeted down over another hope that was now irrevocably gone.

For me, the curtain came down when Carl Lambclear died.

I was in my early twenties, a recent college graduate dealing with one of the worst economic downturns to follow a time of great economic growth. Despite a double honors degree in Chemistry and Physics, I couldn’t find a job, and I didn’t really know what I would do with one if I had one.

Because what I really wanted to do was write science fiction.

My parents had waited until their later years to have their only child; and, as an unfortunate consequence, they both died of old age while I was still in college. But fortunately, they had also left me enough of an estate to take care of myself during that difficult time. And that meant I had a chance to explore what I wanted to do with my life, rather than having to take the first job that came in my direction just to support myself.

I had grown up reading the great works of science fiction, pressed upon me by my father. Although in his later years his tastes had turned to mystery novels, he still understood the ability of science fiction to unleash the imagination of a teenage outcast. And I had been so captivated by the works of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and all the rest, that I simply could not imagine doing anything else with my life but trying to bring that sense of the fantastic to others.

And so I had been trying to establish myself as a writer of science fiction. I’d published a few stories in small markets while in college, but to no great acclaim. While pursuing my formal degrees, I had studied writing informally by reading book after book on technique, plot, character, setting, and whatever else seemed useful. But one book I had devoured above all others: Writing Short Science Fiction by Carl Lambclear.

It wasn’t just that I enjoyed Lambclear’s novels. I also enjoyed his ability to teach, to explain how he created the worlds that he did in a way to make them fascinating. Lambclear had a lot of advice on how to draw the reader in, and the advice was just as fun to read as his fiction.

On the day he died, I visited his webpage, and read about all the new books he was planning. It’s a strange phenomenon, I suppose, the dead leaving traces of themselves scattered around cyberspace as if they were still alive. Of course, I imagine people might have felt that way from the time the first person died who had a portrait painted. I remember reading mainstream mystery stories involving messages from beyond the grave, but not ghost stories and the like. There was nothing new about the idea of someone leaving a suicide note, or a clue to their murderer, but as technology progressed, the fictional and nonfictional deceased would leave answering machine messages, videotaped wills, and even emails set to go if a code word wasn’t entered into a computer on a daily basis.

But for me, the spookiest of such messages from the dead were the web pages.

A personal webpage—even a professional webpage, come to think of it—was a vivid statement in the ether, saying to one and all that this person exists. To visit a webpage knowing that the subject of it is dead is like talking to a ghost, and hearing about all the tasks that the dead one left undone.

So, when I heard that Lambclear had died, it spurred me to visit his webpage. I had never done so before; odd, I suppose, given how much I liked his stuff, but it had honestly never occurred to me to do so.

So I pointed my browser (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on an iMac, connected via a 56K internal modem, if anyone still remembers those things) at his webpage and waited for it to download. The long amount of time it took surprised me. Most writers maintained web pages that were light on the graphics and easy on the text, which made downloading them rather fast, even over a simple phone line. But Lambclear’s page displayed elaborate graphics, and so I sat at my desk, staring at my computer screen and sighing as I waited for the bytelock to clear.

Finally, just when I thought my computer had frozen up completely, the browser bar filled all the way from the left to the right, indicating that the download was done. The picture on my screen made it evident why it had taken so long. Lambclear’s webpage displayed a simulation of the control panel of a spaceship, with digital displays and blinking lights. As I stared at it, dumbfounded, my speakers started playing beeps and whooshes to go along with the effect. Windows on the control panel flashed funny messages, warning of strange anomalies, asteroids, black holes, and wormholes, and requesting that I make course corrections so I wouldn’t hit anything.

I smiled. Although I doubted that Lambclear had designed the graphics himself, they did fit his style quite well. Lambclear wrote a lot of hard science fiction set on spaceships, rollicking adventure stories set against a rock-solid background of real physics.

Something else fit his style as well. The graphics were intense on the eyes, but they didn’t make the webpage confusing to navigate. When I moused over all the graphics, nothing happened. Lambclear had placed a list of links to the other pages on the site over on the left of his main page, away from the graphic of the spaceship control panel. And each link was a simple word, such as “Home,” “News,” “Biography,” “Novels,” and “Bibliography.” The link right under “Home” was to a site map, so I knew that despite the fancy setup, he wanted his information to be as accessible as possible to any visitors.

And on the bottom of the page sat a link that read, very simply, “Send me email.”

I stared at it for a long time with regret. I had never emailed Lambclear, and clearly he had been interested in receiving feedback from his fans. If only I had thought of it before, I could have emailed him, let him know how much his work meant to me, and how much I wanted to emulate him.

But it was too late. Lambclear didn’t even have a family to whom I could send my sympathies; he had remained a solitary bachelor until his last day. There was no one to whom I could properly express my appreciation for his work and my sorrow for his passing.

No one except…

I moused over the “Send me email” link and watched it blink back and forth between white and red. Finally, I clicked on it, bringing up my email program with the “To:” field already addressed to Lambclear’s America Online account (again, does anyone still remember them?). For a brief moment, I felt silly—but only for a moment. I stared at the screen, looked out my window at the autumn leaves just beginning to turn on the trees, and then I composed this message:

 

Subject: Hello

Dear Mr. Lambclear,

I’m sorry I never got in touch with you before. I’m a big fan of your works, from the Ethereal Web stories to the Five Universes novels. I even have a copy of your first short story collection, The Universe Off to the Side, which my father gave to me as a birthday present when it first came out.

I doubt you’ve ever heard of me, though, and I hope you won’t think it forward of me to write. (Your webpage did seem to invite email.) I’ve been trying to write science fiction myself, with no real success. I have to admit that I’ve been emulating you, with the hope that one day you might read my stuff and realize that we were kindred spirits—at least, as far as our tastes in writing.

I’m sorry that will never happen now. I do wish I had written to you sooner. Although I knew you were something of a recluse, the afterword in Writing Short Science Fiction seemed to indicate that you were willing to hear from your fans. But I just never had the inclination to write to you. In the back of my mind, I think I was waiting until I had published enough stories myself so I could approach you as a fellow colleague. But I guess, as I said, that can never happen now.

I hope you can forgive me for waiting. Thank you for all your stories. You will be missed.

 

I clicked the SEND button on my computer screen, and the email went off to its destination. I felt better. Even though I knew that Lambclear could never know of my appreciation of him and his work, at least I knew about it, and that made a difference.

I went to bed that night feeling a little less sad about his passing.

A reader of this file, if anyone finds it, could probably guess what happened next. But as I write this, I still choose to approach the event slowly, like I did that long-ago morning.

My alarm clock went off at 7 AM, blaring its grating tone as usual. I could have slept later, I know, but my parents had instilled in me a fear of sleeping away the days of my life. I pulled myself out of bed, walked to the kitchen, and brewed a cup of fresh-ground Colombian coffee to help me wake up. Still in my blue chamois pajamas, I sipped from my father’s old porcelain mug, sat down at my computer, and downloaded my email.

And among the voluminous spam and occasional email from friends, I found a reply from the account of Carl Lambclear.

At first I was confused, and I almost choked on my hot beverage. Lambclear was dead; how could he have replied to my note? Perhaps a friend was cleaning out his mailbox. Or maybe Lambclear had set his computer to send out automatic replies, acknowledging receipt of email. Whatever the reason, I knew an obvious way to find out. Just open the email and read it.

I hesitated, as unwilling to resolve my situation as the familiar quantum cat. So long as I left the email closed, I could imagine that Lambclear lived; but the moment I opened it, I would come face to face again with the bald fact of his death.

I shook my head, sighed at my own silliness, opened the email, and read it. And when I came to the end of the email, I leaned forward and read it again and again.

 

Subject: Re: Hello

Dear fellow traveler,

It was an absolute delight to receive your missive from yesterday. As a matter of fact, I have heard of you. I keep up with all the magazines, even the semipro ones, and I fondly recall one of your stories. If my memory does not fail me, yours is the story about the young girl who runs off to join an interstellar circus. Good stuff, even if the writing is a bit awkward in places, and the plot a little thin. But writing weakly is a phase we all must pass through, and within your story I do espy the seeds of better work.

However, the point of my reply is not to criticize your work, as I would hesitate to do so without a formal invitation. Rather, I am writing to tell you of my gratitude in knowing how much my work has meant to you. It may surprise you to hear this, but in point of fact I do not hear from many of my fans, even those who would aspire to join me in my calling. I presume most people are put off by my reputation of reclusiveness, and are therefore hesitant to intrude upon my privacy, no matter how delicately they might.

But I must admit, now being in the autumn of my life, I find myself more willing to be an active participant in the world than I have been before. And since your letter arrived at this propitious moment, I feel that perhaps I owe you a little bit of the assistance that was offered to me at the beginning of my career. I would like to offer you the same help, giving you advice on your own stories in the hopes that you will grow to be the best writer that you possibly can.

In other words, if you are willing, I would be more than happy to begin a correspondence.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Lambclear

 

After reading the message three times, I leaned back slightly in my chair, sipped my coffee some more, and pondered. The email was impossible. Lambclear was dead; notices of his death had appeared on all the usual places, including the Locus and SFWA web pages. Lambclear could not have replied to me; therefore, by simple logic, someone else must have done so, pretending to be Lambclear.

But who would have done that? For a moment, I had the fleeting thought that perhaps Lambclear actually did have a family. Was there a secret wife who replied to my message? Or maybe a secret child? But I dismissed that notion as quickly as I came up with it. It simply didn’t make any sense, given the tenor of the reply.

Still, someone must have been reading his email, and whoever it was seemed intent on playing a joke on me. Rather than fall into the trap, and be made a laughingstock, I carefully composed my next email to dissuade the prankster. It went like this:

 

Subject: Re: Hello

Dear “Mr. Lambclear”:

Whoever you are, this joke is in poor taste. Both you and I know that there is no way in the world Carl Lambclear could have responded to me. All I meant to do was express my appreciation of his work, and you poked fun at me for doing so.

Leave me alone.

 

I sent it out within the hour, and then spent the rest of my day writing. I managed to get my thousand words done, not bad for the day’s work. And, as was my habit, I refused to check my email while working. I knew too many aspiring writers who had fallen into that trap and never written a word.

Furthermore, that night I had no time to read my email after I finished my thousand words, as I went out on an unsuccessful blind date. The date was disastrous enough that I still recall it today; still, the less said about it, the better. So the next morning, when I once again was drinking coffee in front of my computer, I found another ostensible reply from the account of Carl Lambclear.

I sighed, thinking that this was absolutely ridiculous. I had already told off the anonymous person who had emailed me the first time; I didn’t really want to have to go through this again. I highlighted the email and prepared to delete it. And then a random piece of advice flitted into my head and stayed my hand. Some writer once said that any experience, no matter how bad, was fodder for the typewriter. Perhaps this message might lead to a story idea. At any rate, it couldn’t really harm me just to read it.

So I clicked on the email, opening it. And read the following:

 

Subject: Re: Hello

Dear fellow traveler,

I must admit being somewhat perplexed as to both the tone and the content of your last message. Here I am offering you a chance for personal feedback from me, and you react with hostility. From what you said in your first note, I was under the impression that you found my work enjoyable. Was I mistaken? Should I have not written back with the gratitude that I did?

Please rest assured that it was indeed I who responded to you, that no one was poking fun at you, and that I am in fact Carl Lambclear.

However, if I do not hear from you again, I will assume that you wish me to leave you alone, as you so explicitly indicated in your last sentence.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Lambclear

 

It was only after I read the email that I noticed the attachment accompanying the message. Normally, I would approach an attachment from a strange email address with wariness, but curiosity took over. Besides, people never usually wrote computer viruses for Macintosh computers, so I figured the file would yield no problem.

I opened the file and began reading it. After a moment, I choked. Lambclear, if it really was he, had written a critique of “Alien Circus,” my story about the young girl who runs off to join an interstellar circus.

At first, I felt insulted. How dare this person, pretending to be Lambclear, take it upon himself to criticize my work without invitation?

Then I began to read the critique.

The writer, whoever he was, had made some very cogent points about the flaws in my story. As I continued reading, I felt my anger melt away. The writer’s gentle phrasing and spot-on analysis rendered me more grateful than upset. Lambclear clearly knew what he was talking about—he showed great insight in his comments—

I shook my head. When had I decided to think of this person as Lambclear?

I reached the middle of the document and stopped reading in order to ponder its existence. If I had written to Lambclear but a year or two ago, and gotten this email in reply, I wouldn’t have questioned its veracity in the slightest.

And yet, how could Lambclear have sent me this email today, given the incontrovertible fact that he had died? Could he possibly still be alive? He wouldn’t perpetrate a death hoax, would he?

A thought occurred to me, prompting me to open the first message I had sent Lambclear. I noticed something interesting; I had never mentioned in my note that Lambclear was dead. It didn’t seem important at the time, but now I wondered. Could whoever it was had taken my email as an invitation to give me the mentoring I so desperately wanted?

And the funny thing, the two emails did sound like him. I went back to his book on writing and some of his essays, and the style felt very similar. I considered hiring someone to do a textual analysis of the two emails and the critique to prove that Lambclear was really composing them, but it didn’t seem worth it. Kind of like killing a fly with an atomic bomb.

Still pondering and puzzled, I returned to the critique to see what else he had said about my story. My thoughts flipped back and forth over the question of whether or not Lambclear himself could have written this document.

And then, when I finished his critique of my story, I saw something that clinched my belief that my correspondent might in fact be Lambclear. I pulled Writing Short Science Fiction off my shelf again, and riffled through the pages, until I came to the page I remembered.

In this book on writing, Lambclear had given the subconscious mind a name. He called it “George,” and frequently noted that George would tell him to do this, or George would tell him to do that. Well, in the critique of my story, he ended with this piece of advice? “I suggest you get in touch with your inner George.” Now, the possibility existed that some other close fan of Lambclear’s work had written that final sentence. But it seemed unlikely, especially when taken together with all the other evidence I had that Lambclear himself had written back to me.

And yet…rationality said otherwise. How could I reconcile the fact that Lambclear was dead with the fact that he was writing to me? I had grown up a rationalist, an agnostic, a skeptic in the face of superstition. How could I believe that I was now corresponding with the dead?

I wrestled with what to do for few hours, finding myself too distracted to write fiction. Finally, I wrote another email:

 

Subject: Truth

Dear Mr. Lambclear (?),

Thank you very much for your critique of “Alien Circus,” and for your willingness to reply. I only wish I had had the opportunity to run the story by you before it saw publication! Still, some of your comments suggest to me the possibility of a sequel, which I feel would have a higher quality than the original story. And so it goes, I guess.

You must have noticed that although I removed the quotation marks from around your name, I’ve added a question mark in parentheses afterward. Please do not take that as an insult, only as a representation of my confused state. You see, after reading your critique, I am convinced of a few things. I am convinced that you understand the art of writing very well, and that you also have great skill as a teacher. I am also convinced that you have a deep understanding of the field of science fiction, and what makes a story evoke that sense of wonder we all strive for.

And yet, for reasons I do not want to mention explicitly, I find it extremely difficult to believe that you really are Carl Lambclear. Not to be insulting, but there are compelling reasons for me to believe otherwise. I hope you will understand what I mean, and still be willing to continue this correspondence that I may have inadvertently started. But I further hope that perhaps you can tell me something to clear up my confusion.

 

The email sent into the ether, I returned to my daily quota of words. I recall how sometimes the critiques I received in writing workshops would make me freeze up for days on end, unable to write anything. It pleased me to discover that Lambclear’s critique had the opposite effect. I zipped through my thousand-word quota, and even doubled it before I declared my working day over.

And the next morning, when I checked my email, I found another message from “Carl Lambclear.”

I noticed he had changed the subject line.

 

Subject: What is truth?

Dear fellow traveler,

I am delighted to see that you have come around somewhat, and are willing to accept the fact that I am who I say I am. (I remind you once again that you were the one who initiated our correspondence, not I.)

I must admit, I haven’t received too many emails recently; or at least, not emails of any major interest. I suspect that most people doubt I would bother replying, for those same “compelling reasons” to which you obliquely referred. But you, my young friend, chose to write to me anyway, and for that, I hope to repay you.

Essentially, I plan to share with you seeds of story ideas that might blossom under your tutelage. My wish is that you grow enough in your talent to be able to take these story ideas and make them uniquely yours. But let me begin with an idea that is uniquely mine, and which is also one that might make you feel better about corresponding with me.

Let us posit the following scenario.

Suppose a writer knew he was dying. An older writer, but not one who has yet reached what most would consider the twilight of one’s life, but rather just the autumn. Such a writer might feel many things: desperation, anger, and fear are the obvious ones, although one cannot omit the possibility of feeling peace or a sense of completion. A psychologist could discount that, however, and suggest that the writer might even go through the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

But the writer might do something else instead. Suppose that writer was also a Ph.D. physicist and an expert computer programmer, and he wanted to make sure that he would be remembered. What might he do? How does a person with a technical background and a ceaseless imagination deal with the inevitable conclusion of his existence?

I know that such a scenario must be light-years away from your own mind, but that makes this all the more interesting a challenge. If you can figure out my idea, you might have the makings of an excellent spinner of tales of science fiction.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Lambclear

 

I didn’t know it then, but this was only the beginning of the meat of my emails with Lambclear. Lambclear called it “Campbelling” a story, named after the most influential editor in the field of science fiction. John Campbell would give story ideas to his writers, and ask them to write the stories. They would take his ideas and run with them; for example, Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall,” which was once voted the best science fiction story ever written, was based on an idea given to him by John Campbell. Lambclear loved to throw ideas in my direction, and over the years, many of my most well-regarded stories had their roots in Lambclear’s suggestions. I suppose I could come clean now, and point out which stories of mine came from Lambclear’s suggestions and which didn’t, but I think it is best if I do not. I have to leave something for the scholars to argue about, after all. (Ah, a writer’s ego rears its ugly head once again; why should I assume that future scholars will have any level of interest in my scribblings?)

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because on that long-ago night when Lambclear first sent me a story idea, I had no idea where this would all lead. Picture me as a young, confused writer, who still had no idea what Lambclear was getting at. I suppose I could have terminated our correspondence right there and then, or just emailed him back innocuously. But the idea had created some deep feelings within me, and I decided to make my distress evident.

 

Subject: Re: What is truth?

Dear Mr. Lambclear,

I’m afraid I’m totally at a loss as to how to develop that idea you’re suggesting. In fact, I’m not quite sure why you’re even suggesting it to me in the first place. After all, if it’s just a story idea, why not write the story yourself? And if it’s more than a story idea, why hint at it in such an odd way?

I actually have more experience with death than you may expect or realize. You see, although I’m just out of college, both of my parents have passed on. I was there for each of them, and I helped my mother and my father go through their struggles before dying.

Furthermore, Dad was a scientist, much like yourself, and Mom a computer programmer. So to suggest, as you did, a story idea in which someone with technical expertise finds himself dying—well, it hit me a little too close to home. Literally.

My guess, though, is that you didn’t know. Otherwise you wouldn’t even have suggested that idea. But maybe this is why I’m having trouble spinning fiction out of your idea.

Or maybe I’m once again having trouble dealing with the question of who you really are.

Please stop playing games with me. Just be up front and let me know what’s going on.

 

Subject: Re: What is truth?

Dear fellow traveler,

My first reaction to your latest note was to sigh, as I felt heavy with guilt of unintended actions. I truly did not mean to bring up any unpleasant memories. As you ascertained, I knew nothing of your family background, and had no idea that your parents were deceased. Please allow me to offer my sympathies, belated though they may be.

That said, I do feel obliged to point out to you what you must have already learned if you have truly read my book on writing. The best stories come from deep within a writer’s soul. The death of your parents may hurt you deeply, so deeply that you choose to withhold your emotions; but if, instead, you were to tap that resource, you would probably find a rich vein of story ideas that would never be depleted.

In any event, I reread “Alien Circus” and it reminded me again that you do have a talent I could nurture, even if it is still in its most rudimentary form. (Please do not take that as an insult; even well-established writers need constant nurturing, and the more mature and comfortable writers are with their level of talent, the more they understand and accept this.)

So let me help you with the development of the story idea I suggested. Again, the question I posed is: suppose a writer with a strong background in Physics and Computer Science discovered he was dying? What might he do?

To my way of thinking, the obvious answer is that he might try to find a way to stave off the grim reaper. Our field has plenty of examples of stories of immortals, or near-immortals; and yet surely, our field could support many more. So I played on this idea for a while, and came up with my own conclusions.

The first thing that such a person might do is attempt to download his personality into a computer, so that he could continue living. Of course, as a few philosophers have been quick to point out, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the writer himself would continue to feel alive. Instead, others who interact with the computer program would swear that the person was alive and intelligent, so his influence would live on in an explicit way even if he himself did not.

But, sadly, current technology doesn’t yet allow for an actual uploading of a mind; our brains are still far too complicated for us to understand that completely. However, if our imaginary writer had the skill, he might write a computer program that could simulate himself as a rudimentary form of artificial intelligence. Perhaps even as an AI which could pass the infamous Turing test.

(As a side note, it seems to me that the writer, relying only upon his own judgment, would program the computer with only his best qualities, and leave out the worst. After all, we all imagine ourselves to be nobler than we really are.)

Doesn’t that strike you as a fascinating idea to play with?

Ah, but I hear you ask? what else? What other ideas come to mind?

Well, try this one. Suppose this writer, having a background in Physics, figured out a way to connect his computer to another universe via a wormhole. Perhaps travel between universes is not possible, but communication is. If so, it might take the imagination of a science fiction writer to make it work. Could that writer arrange for all his incoming email to fall through that wormhole and end up in the mailbox of another version of himself? And might that version then pick up his communications where the original one was forced to leave off?

Think on it, my young friend.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Lambclear

 

Subject: Re: What is truth?

Dear whoever,

Are you saying you’re a Carl Lambclear from another universe? Are you saying that you’re a computer simulation of the Carl Lambclear who just died? WHO ARE YOU?

 

Subject: I am that I am

Dear fellow traveler,

I believe the standard reply on the Internet is ROTFL, for the phrase “Rolling On The Floor, Laughing.” Nowhere in my email do I mean to imply that what I wrote is the truth! My idle thoughts were merely an exercise in speculation, nothing more. I’m not saying anything about the real world. I’m just doing what we science fiction writers always do, positing scenarios and generating story ideas.

Of course, you may choose to believe what you wish, but remember the curse that falls upon the heretic. I dare say that if you took these bizarre insinuations to anyone but myself, they would look at you askance and inquire as to what weed you were smoking. Those who would hang on your every word are probably also those with whom you would be most reluctant to share these ideas.

I will finish this email with the following offer, reiterated. I find myself with much time now, and can think of no better way to use my time than to help you along. If you would have me as your mentor, I would have you as my pupil. I only ask that you no longer question me on how and why, but accept this for being just what it is.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Lambclear

 

I took Carl up on his offer, and with his help, my writing blossomed. I managed to crack a few minor markets at first, semiprozines and webzines, until finally I figured out how to make a story work for a larger audience. And then, by the purest luck, I managed to catch the wave of the science fiction renaissance, the so-called Second Golden Age.

My stories were some of the first to appear in Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, Absolute Magnitude, and Artemis when the kids who had grown up on the fantasies of J.K. Rowling and Tamora Pierce suddenly turned to science fiction to satiate their appetites for that undefinable sense of wonder. Of course, these things do come and go in waves. Eventually, the wonders seemed pedestrian again, and the circulation and sales dropped as they had many times before. But they will grow again at some point in the future; of this I am sure. As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

After having cut my teeth on short stories, I finally began publishing novels. My novels sold well enough for me to make a living, and garnered me some minor critical acclaim, even an award or two. And so the years passed. I need not recount them here in any sort of excruciating detail; anyone interested can refer to The Scenes of Life, the autobiography I uplinked just ten years ago in 2060. My estate will surely find the royalties useful for settling old debts. Instead, I turn now to the end of the tale, the last few emails I shared with my mentor.

The emails in which I finally unearthed the strength within my soul to tell Carl Lambclear the truth.

 

Subject: Cancer

Dear Mr. Lambclear,

I’m dying.

I didn’t want to tell you this news. I know how much we’ve avoided talking about death, ever since the beginning of our emailing back and forth. I suspect I know why, and I’m sure you do too.

It’s particularly disheartening, because the reason I’m dying is that I have an inoperable brain tumor. There is an irony in all this, I suppose, but again, I wouldn’t feel right pointing it out to you. Not after all these years of your help and guidance.

I know I have very little time left; unfortunately, I have no way of knowing exactly how much. I must admit that part of me feels the need to ask you how you managed, after—well, you know what I mean. But the other part would hesitate to dispel the magic, and so I refuse to ask for a peek at the man behind the curtain.

 

The email sent I went back to my bedroom to try to get some sleep. The pain came and went, but by popping THC and plugging my head shunt into the wall, I managed to doze off and even have a few pleasant dreams of old friends.

* * *

My EC chirped, waking me up, and called out the time in a flat monotone. “Eleven twenty-two PM,” it said. The middle of the night. I gently creaked out of my bed, pulled my tattered blue robe around me for warmth, and glided into my living room. The wall screens remained dim, due to the lateness of the hour.

“Messages,” I called out. Perhaps it was old-fashioned of me, but I never wanted the whole house connected, just this one room, which was why I had to leave my bed for the alert.

“You have twenty-seven messages,” the room said.

“Delete all spam.”

“You have one message,” the room said. As I had expected.

“Display,” I said.

And the screen on the walls turned bright with Carl Lambclear’s final message.

 

Subject: Re: Cancer

Dear fellow traveler,

So it has come down to this. In the end, we really are fellow travelers.

I am truly sorry to hear your news. I still remember my first reaction when I found out about my own terminal condition. You may recall how I refused to let anyone know about my cancer until I had finally passed on. My agent was good at keeping secrets, and she handled the announcement and the estate matters very well, or so I have always felt since.

Because we are fellow travelers, my young friend (and may I still call you young?), I understand your feelings. We strive for immortality, all of us, in our myriad ways. Some of us run for public office, in the hopes that we will change the course of the world. Some of us teach, in hopes that out of the thousands of students we encounter, one will blossom. Some of us get married and have children, so that a little bit of us will survive in a fellow human being’s DNA. And some of us create, whether it be art, music, poetry, or stories, in hopes of communicating to the future that once we were here, and that once we mattered.

In the end, however, from dust we sprang, and to dust we shall return. Even I was not immune to that, however much it may seem otherwise from our years-long correspondence. You know that I died, or at least a version of me did; and that is something you were never able to shake, no matter what.

But, as I said, I feel greatly for you. And so, at some expense to myself, I have decided the time is ripe to provide you with my solution. I have sent you an attachment to this email. I assure you that it is not a virus, nor anything of a malicious sort.

For reasons that will soon become clear to you, I am afraid that I will be unable to continue our correspondence for much longer. And so, having taken note of your salutation lo these many years, I would like to offer you one final hand of friendship. After all, we are no longer mentor and student, if we ever were. We have long passed into the roles of colleagues, equals in our field. And so, we should address each other as such.

Feel free to call me Carl.

Sincerely yours,

Carl

 

I read Lambclear’s—I mean Carl’s—note with tears welling up in my eyes, until I could no longer see. I removed my glasses and wiped them on my robe, and then the house brought me a tissue and I blew my nose.

Eventually, I managed to regain my composure, and I took a look at the attachment Carl had sent me.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a computer programmer of any sort. Even today, when one programs the more complex computers by simply telling the less complex computers what you want them to accomplish, I still would have no idea what I’d be doing.

Nor am I a physicist, despite my degrees. My education is so far in the past, in any event, that I can barely understand the mathematics of the cutting-edge theories proposed today.

But I am a science fiction writer of many years, and I can comprehend certain concepts far better than the ordinary person. And as a science fiction writer, I am now prepared to accept even the most outlandish ideas that others might dismiss out of sheer mundanity.

Carl’s attachment was a computer program. He had sent me the same program he had created shortly before he died, the program that allowed him to communicate with me. I tried to decipher it at first, but the coding was far too obscure for me to grasp.

Fortunately, Carl’s program was filled with comment lines, laying out every step of what it did. The comments made it trivial to command my system to execute the program. And as an added bonus, I now know just with whom I was communicating all these many years, and I no longer have to guess if Carl’s emails came from an artificial intelligence, from another universe, or from something or somewhere else that no one could ever guess. Because in the comment lines, Carl explained how he had managed to apply the Tegmark Hypothesis.

Max Tegmark, a physicist who did much of his work at the turn of the millennium, when I was just out of college, had proposed an interesting take on the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Many-Worlds, proposed by Hugh Everett in 1957, explained away the paradoxes of quantum uncertainty by postulating that every time a decision has to be made, the universe splits into two, yielding an infinite multitude of realities, sometimes referred to as the multiverse. Well, Tegmark looked at this bizarre concept and proposed an even more bizarre idea of his own, which came to be known by his name.

The Tegmark Hypothesis can be summarized as follows: The only realities you continue to be aware of are those in which you survive.

In other words, suppose you do an experiment where you ask an assistant to push a button which will randomly cause a machine gun to either fire or not fire. You position yourself exactly in front of the gun, so that if the gun fires, you have no chance of surviving.

Here’s where quantum mechanics comes into play. It is certainly possible for your assistant and for the rest of us to observe the experiment and recoil in shock at the sudden explosion of a bullet into your chest. But because there are an infinite number of tracks upon which the universe can run, you yourself will never feel the bullet. For you to be a valid observer, your consciousness must follow a track along which it will never—can never—be snuffed out. Because the alternate way to phrase the Tegmark Hypothesis is this: You can never have any awareness of realities in which you are dead.

Carl’s program opens a connection to computers in other universes, and seeks out the universe in which “I” continue to live, forever and ever. The program will reach that version of me, and explain to that version exactly what is happening to me, in my universe—which is, of course, the only universe which matters to me. The program will bring a message about my life to my other self, and propose that my other self keep the memory of my existence alive in this particular world, doing exactly what Carl started doing those many years ago.

And so now I know what I must do. Web pages are years in the past, of course. We no longer surf websites on the World Wide Web; rather, we visit Holosites in the Universal Database. But email, in whatever form one calls it, is still the same.

Carl’s program was easy to download into my own machines. I do not have to wonder if it scans my files and reproduces an artificially intelligent copy of myself, for I now know that it does not. Nor do I have to concern myself with the entropic problems of creating a gateway into another universe, for that gateway is only for computers to navigate. And because I know what will happen, it no longer matters to me that Carl’s program cannot keep my “me-ness” intact. Within a week or a month, I know I shall be gone, and in the meantime, I must keep my shunt plugged into my system. Although it may be immodest of me, I imagine that on the day I die, some young fan who aspires to write will visit my site and will see the recently installed link that encourages fans to email. I imagine that the fan will hesitate, just as I did so many years ago, and then decide to send one more email into the ether, as a tribute to the author of that fan’s admiration.

And when that happens, my system will be ready. Carl’s program is set, and the young fan will receive “my” reply. With luck, my encouragement will spur my correspondent into a full-fledged calling as a writer. Another, immortal, version of myself will help that fan, in the same way Carl helped me and generations of writers beforehand helped him. All of our influence will be felt throughout the centuries. And none of us will be forgotten.

It pays to pay it forward.


Afterword
 
“Paying It Forward”
* * *

A few people who have read my stories have come to notice a theme I tend to revisit again and again—the question of how we will be remembered in the future. Nowhere is that more evident than in this story, which was inspired by the passing of writer Charles Sheffield.

In 2002, Charles Sheffield died of a brain tumor. A decade before, I would have acknowledged his passing somewhat more remotely, as I wasn’t personally acquainted with him or any other science fiction writers. But Charles I knew, and not just as a remote writer I admired, or as a writer I met through a workshop. I had met Charles on the convention circuit, and he had befriended me like he befriended so many others.

His death hit me in a different way from Isaac Asimov’s, or even Damon Knight’s earlier that year. I suspect it was partly because Charles died exactly twelve years after my father had, to the day. I found myself thinking about Charles a lot, and while I was thinking about him I decided to visit his webpage, which I had never done when he was alive.

What I found I already described in the story as Carl Lambclear’s webpage. And like the unnamed protagonist, I moused over the email link, and contemplated what might happen if I sent Charles a final email. And at that moment, in a flash, the entirety of the story “Paying It Forward” came to me. I outlined it immediately and began to write.

Settling on the title of this story was difficult for me. The title “Paying It Forward” popped into my head from the very beginning, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. But a movie called Pay It Forward, based on a book of the same name, had recently been in theaters, and I knew that titling my story “Paying It Forward” could lead to slight confusion. Still, I wanted to evoke Robert A. Heinlein’s statement about how in the field of science fiction, we don’t pay it back, we pay it forward, and there was no other title that seemed to fit.

Charles Sheffield died in November 2002. I finished the story in January 2003, and Stan bought it for Analog without requesting a single change (thanks once again to Nomi for fixing it before I sent it to him). The story came in second for the Hugo Award. I have to admit that I’ve always been surprised that the story didn’t make it from the preliminary to the final Nebula ballot, since many writers have told me how much this story has meant to them. But in the end, the awards and award nominations are just another way for folks to express their appreciation for one’s work, and with this collection I finally have a chance to reciprocate.

Major Editorial Changes for Apex Magazine

By Jason Sizemore
on September 18, 2014

Dear Apex Magazine Readers,

Within a few months, I will be making an occupational transition that will allow me to focus more on Apex Books and Apex Magazine. This is a huge opportunity, one I’ve been working toward for quite awhile. As part of this transition, I will be stepping in as Apex Magazine‘s editor-in-chief. Sigrid Ellis, by any measure, has done a fantastic job during her tenure as editor-in-chief. She’s a joy to work with, and I have no doubt she will have many great opportunities ahead of her.

Apex will publish the issues as planned and purchased through December 2014. Beginning now, I will be selecting our 2015 magazine content. I will be looking for the same kind of diverse, groundbreaking content that Apex Magazine has become known for publishing.

Apex will honor its commitment to publish the short stories that Sigrid has placed in our inventory for 2015, where and when to be announced soon.

Additionally, Bianca Spriggs will be taking over as our poetry editor. Elise Matthesen has done a wonderful job, and I thank her for giving us her time and talents over the past year.

I hope to keep Sigrid and Elise in the Apex family. In fact, Sigrid and I are discussing various project ideas, and hopefully we’ll have something to announce on that front soon.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at jason@apexbookcompany.com.

Thank you for supporting Apex Magazine in the past, the present, and the future!

Sincerely,
Jason Sizemore

FREE FICTION: Kaddish for the Last Survivor by Michael A. Burstein

By Lesley Conner
on September 16, 2014
1 comment

For more from Michael A. Burstein, buy his short story collection I Remember the Future.

“The deniers’ window of opportunity will be enhanced in years to come. The public, particularly the uneducated public, will be increasingly susceptible to Holocaust denial as survivors die… Future generations will not hear the story from people who can say ‘this is what happened to me. This is my story.’ For them it will be part of the distant past and, consequently, more susceptible to revision and denial.”

—Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust, (1994)

 

SARAH JACOBSON’S HANDS SHOOK AS she parked her clunky Volkswagen across the street from the old suburban house in which she had grown up. She sat there, breathing in the gas fumes from the idling engine as she watched the reporters swarm all over the front lawn.

Her boyfriend, Tom Holloway, sat next to her in the passenger seat. He stared at her for a moment, then asked, “Ready?”

Sarah nodded. As she turned off the car’s engine, Tom jumped out of the front seat, dashed around the front of the car, and opened the driver’s side door for her. For once, she was grateful for the old-fashioned Southern charm. To think, when she’d first met him, she’d resented it.

Well, she didn’t resent it now. Tom was positioning himself to fend off the horde of reporters, and she was grateful for that, too. Fortunately, no one had noticed, or else they had not yet connected Sarah to the biggest news story of the week. Tom gave Sarah his hand, and she allowed him to help her out.

She stretched as she got out of the car, feeling the warmth of the spring sunlight on her back. How strange that she could enjoy it, on this morning of all mornings. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, listening to a bird singing in the distance.

Tom’s voice intruded upon her brief peace. “Shall we?”

She gave him a small smile. “I guess so.”

“Okay.” Tom looked around, concentrating his gaze on the sea of reporters. “Lot of excitement for a small town on Long Island,” he said. Sarah noticed that he was making no effort to suppress his Southern accent; he knew how endearing she found it. “Hard to believe your grandfather’s attracting all this attention.”

“Yeah,” Sarah replied. “I know.” She cocked an ear toward the reporters. “Listen.”

One radio reporter, close enough to be heard, was speaking into her thumbnail recorder, taping commentary for her story. “This is Paula Dietrich, reporting from Lawrence, Long Island, where Joshua Cohen is dying. Born in Warsaw in the 1920s, Cohen—”

Tom whistled. “He’s become a celebrity. Finally got his fifteen minutes of fame.”

Sarah shrugged. They’d both studied Warhol. After all, they had both graduated from Harvard with honors. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s just my grandfather.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tom said softly. “Sorry. You sure you’re ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess. If I can survive this, I can survive anything.” Sarah grabbed Tom’s hand. They walked off the sidewalk onto the path leading up to the front door. She braced herself for the barrage.

One of the reporters glanced in their direction and recognized Sarah. “It’s the granddaughter!” he yelled and began running toward them. In seconds, all of the shouting, sweating journalists had descended upon Sarah and Tom. The way they jostled at each other, trying to get better positions for recording their images, reminded Sarah of a plague of locusts come to feed.

“We’d like to ask you—”

“May I ask you—”

“I have a question—”

“How do you feel?”

“Did you ever think—”

Tom shouted above the Babel of voices. “Please, everyone! Sarah just wants to get inside.”

Obviously that was not good enough for the reporters. Instead, they used Tom’s interruption to create some semblance of order to their questioning. One reporter took the lead, and the others fell silent.

“Ms. Jacobson, Trevor Hunt, USNA Online. Could you tell us what you’re going through at the moment?”

Sarah glanced at Tom and shrugged. It would be easier to answer a few of their questions first, she decided, and then go inside. She looked directly into Hunt’s right eye, which glowed red with the lens of an implanted camera. “What anyone would go through when her grandfather is dying, I guess.”

“But, Ms. Jacobson!” interjected the radio correspondent they had been listening to earlier. “The circumstances of your grandfather’s position—”

Sarah interrupted her. “Listen. I know what my grandfather is to the world, but to me, he’s just my grandfather. Now let me go say goodbye to him in peace. I promise I’ll talk to you—all of you—later.”

Apparently chastened, the reporters parted in front of Sarah and Tom, clearing the path to the front door. As they walked up the path, a background murmuring began, like cats growling at each other over their food. The reporters chatted with their colleagues or recorded views for their broadcasts. Tom whispered to Sarah, “I’m really surprised. They’re being more courteous than I would have guessed.”

No sooner had Tom said that when a small man stepped right in front of them, blocking their way. He brushed back his sandy blond hair and asked, “Ms. Jacobson, why does your family continue to perpetrate this hoax?”

The growling noises of conversation cut off, leaving nothing but the sounds of the cameras and recorders.

At first Sarah thought he was a private citizen, not a member of the media, as he carried no recording devices and his eyes appeared normal. But a second glance exposed something far more sinister. This man wore a memory recorder implant behind his right ear. His audience, whoever they were, would be able to directly interface with his memories of confronting Sarah, over and over again.

As calmly as she could, Sarah said, “Excuse me?”

The man smiled. “I asked, given the fact that your grandfather, who lived a long and healthy life, is now on his deathbed, why does your family feel the need to perpetuate the hoax of the Holocaust?”

Tom stepped forward, shouting, “Now, listen here, you—”

Sarah gently reached out and grabbed Tom’s shoulder. “Tom, stop.” She turned to the man. “Excuse me, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“Sorry. Maxwell Schwab, from the Institute for Historical Revision. I’m doing an article for our academic journal.” He waved his hand at the other reporters. “We’d like to know why your family has gone to the trouble of inviting the mass media here, pretending to the world that the Holocaust actually happened and that your grandfather was a victim of this fictional event.”

Tom pulled at her arm. “Come on, Sarah, we don’t need to listen to this shi—this crap.”

Sarah resisted. “No, wait.” She pivoted her body to face the reporter. “Mr. Schwab?”

“Yes?”

Sarah slapped him on the face, hard, glad she’d studied self-defense. He staggered back and fell onto his backside. Sarah hoped it was painful enough to keep people from playing this memory.

Schwab sat there, unmoving, just staring at Sarah. No one bothered to pick him up.

She turned to Tom. “Now, let’s go inside.”

No one else stopped them.

* * *

The first thing that hit Sarah as she entered the house was the smell. The odor of stewing meat and potatoes from the kitchen mixed with the old, musty smell that had always been about the house whenever Sarah had returned from college. The living room seemed dark, and it took her a moment to realize that all the shades were drawn, probably to keep the reporters from looking in.

She called out to her parents. “Hello? Dad? Mother?”

Her father called back, “In the kitchen, honey, be right out.”

Sarah turned to Tom. “Are you going to be okay?”

Tom smiled, shrugged, and took Sarah’s hand briefly. “Yeah, I’ve dealt with her before. It’s not too bad.”

“She’s not your mother, though.”

The door to the kitchen swung open. Sarah’s parents, Paul and Anna Jacobson, entered the living room. Her father looked calm, cool, and collected, the way he always looked. He wore a jacket and tie, in stark contrast to the polo shirts and jeans that Tom and she were wearing. Sarah couldn’t remember a time when her father wasn’t dressed so impeccably. Her mother, on the other hand, wore a sweatshirt and sweatpants, as if dressing well was currently her last priority. She appeared frazzled, with her hair all askew.

Tom greeted them with a simple hello. Sarah’s father smiled at Tom, but her mother barely glanced in Tom’s direction.

There was a moment of silence, which her father broke. “Come, Tom, I need your help in the kitchen. You can tell me how your family’s doing back in Durham. And how about those Mets?”

The two men went through the slow swinging door, which creaked loudly until it finally shut, muffling their awkward conversation about baseball. Sarah and her mother watched the door for a few seconds after it had closed, and then Sarah turned to look at her mother. “I guess,” Sarah said, “I ought to go upstairs and see Grampa.”

Her mother sniffed. “Sure, go ahead. Do you want to bring your goyische boyfriend upstairs too?”

Damn, Sarah thought, she isn’t going to be reasonable. Surprise, surprise. “Mother, please—”

“And now you’re living with him.”

Shocked, Sarah took a deep breath. “I never told you that! How did you find out?”

Her mother grinned. “Just now, Sarah. You may be my smart Harvard daughter, but you’re not smarter than me.”

Sarah felt furious, but more with herself than with her mother. Anna Jacobson had done it again, pretending to know something so as to trick the information out of Sarah. Damn! How could she have been so stupid? Well, as long as Mother had figured it out, Sarah might as well get everything out in the open.

“I was going to tell you anyway, Mother. Today, in fact. Tom and I are living together. We have been for a while now.”

Her mother glared at her and Sarah said, “I don’t care how you feel about it. And anyway, things are different now.”

“Such defiance,” her mother said, making clucking sounds with her tongue. “And things being different isn’t an excuse.”

“You’re right, Mother,” Sarah said as sarcastically as she could. “An economic depression is no excuse for being unable to afford my own apartment.”

“Now Sarah—”

“‘Now Sarah,’ what?” Sarah slammed the doorframe with her palm. “It’s not like you have the money to help out; you still live here, in the oldest house in the neighborhood. You can’t even afford automatic doors. Well, I can’t afford to live by myself. No one right out of school can, not with our loans. And as it is—” She paused for a moment, then took the plunge. “As it is, Tom and I will probably be getting married soon anyway.”

There. The big secret was out. Sarah studied her mother’s face carefully; it seemed completely shut down. Her mother just stared at her, stonily, not reacting. Finally, Sarah couldn’t take the silence any longer. “Well?” she asked. “Aren’t you going to say something?”

Her mother sighed. “Sarah, it isn’t Tom. He’s a nice boy, and I do like him. But I—and your father—would prefer that you marry someone Jewish.”

“Why?”

“Why? What do you mean, why?”

“Exactly what I said, Mother.” She spoke crisply, trying to imitate the Cambridge accent of some of her professors. “Why?”

Her mother looked over Sarah’s shoulder. Was it possible she had never really considered this question before? After a few seconds, Sarah’s impatience got the better of her again. “Is it because of Grampa? Because he’s the last one?”

Her mother immediately replied, “No! It’s because you’re Jewish. And it surprises me you’d even think of marrying someone who isn’t.”

Sarah shook her head and sighed. “You know, Mother, you shouldn’t be so surprised. You never raised me as Jewish.”

Her mother’s eyes, filled with shame and fear, locked onto Sarah’s. “That’s not true,” she said softly.

Sarah nodded and went back to being sarcastic. “Yeah, Mother. Matzoh ball soup on Passover, and Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. Should have been enough for me, right? That didn’t make me Jewish; it just made me a different type of American. And that’s how you and Dad raised me, as an American.”

Her mother stood still for a moment, then sank onto one of the cushioned chairs. It sighed, sending dust into the air. “I can’t believe it,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m doing what I said I never would.”

Confused, Sarah asked, “What are you talking about?”

Her mother seemed to go through an internal struggle, and when she spoke next, her words were chosen with care. “Sarah, I guess you were right, in a way. It is because of Grampa that I want you to marry someone Jewish, but it’s also because of Grampa that I never really made that clear. Because…because I wanted to protect you.”

“Protect me?” Sarah felt surprised; the only things her mother had ever tried to protect her from were strangers and bad grades.

“Yes, Sarah, protect you. I mean, just look outside at that mob of reporters. You don’t know what it’s like growing up as the only child of a survivor. I had to grow up listening to all these stories over and over, all this pressure on me from your grandfather. Because of the Holocaust. All that pressure you’re feeling from me—I felt it from him. He’s dying now, and I still feel it.” Her voice trembled, but she clamped her mouth shut.

“Because of the Holocaust? Mother, Grampa was never very religious; you told me that yourself. And I don’t see how the Holocaust is a reason to marry someone Jewish.”

“Why not?” she asked softly.

Sarah considered the question. “I know something of our religion,” she said without conviction. Somehow, that was the one thing she had never gotten around to studying while at Harvard. “The Holocaust is not exactly a…a defining event in Judaism.”

Her mother shook her head. “Oh, yes it is. After all, Sarah, by intermarrying, aren’t you denying what it is about you that made the Nazis try to wipe us out? Some would say that you’re letting Hitler win. After all these years.”

Sarah didn’t know what to say to that; it made her angry and upset, and choked her up. But her mother continued. “Sarah, these were all the things I had to grow up with from your grandfather. I don’t know what it was like firsthand to be in the camps, thank God, and God forbid that anyone ever will again. But to your grandfather, his experience there was always more real than the rest of his life. More real than the people in his life.”

Her mother paused for a moment, then said, “It was even more real to him than I was.”

“Oh,” Sarah finally managed to say.

“Your grandfather felt that every minute of life had to be devoted to reminding the world. Except instead of bothering the world, he bothered your grandmother and me. When you were born, I promised myself that I wouldn’t let him warp your life the way he warped mine.”

“But your life isn’t—” Sarah cut herself off.

Her mother chuckled bitterly. “It isn’t warped? Sarah, compare your life to mine; you’ve always had more choices than I did. In my day, there was still so much women couldn’t do, or wouldn’t be allowed to do. Things were good for a while, but then when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it was like the clock turned backwards for all women. And for a Jewish woman, the only daughter of a survivor—” She stopped.

“Yes, Mother?”

“Let’s just say that your father was not the first man I wanted to marry. But your grandfather, well…”

There was nothing Sarah could think of in reply, and her mother gave her a sad smile. “Now, maybe, you understand,” she whispered.

“And maybe you do too,” Sarah whispered back, a question and a statement at the same time.

Mother and daughter regarded each other for a moment, and then Sarah spoke. “I’m going upstairs to see Grampa, Mother. It’s my last chance.”

Her mother sighed. “Go. I’ve already made my peace with him. We’ll talk more later, after—when there isn’t so little time.”

* * *

Grampa looked so weak lying in the hospital bed that U.S. Hospice had provided. Where was the strong man of Sarah’s childhood, the Grampa who had carried her on his shoulders at the playground, who had comforted her on her first frightening day of school, who had attended her high school graduation just five years ago? This old, frail shell of a man, lying in bed with blankets around his thin body and snoring weakly—Sarah couldn’t reconcile him with her memories of her grandfather.

Then, tattooed upon his left arm, she saw the number: 110290. It had always been there. She remembered that first time she had asked Grampa about it. She’d been six years old. He had taken her to the playground near the house, on a hot summer day. Grampa took off the raincoat he always wore, sat on a bench with other old people, and let Sarah run off and play while he “snoozed and schmoozed,” as he liked to call it. She never understood how he could sleep with all the noise from all the children playing, but Grampa seemed able to sleep anywhere. It might have scared her, but he always woke up when she called him.

When she returned, she was shocked to see that Grampa had rolled up his sleeves because of the heat. Grampa never rolled up his sleeves.

“Grampa,” Sarah had asked, “what’s that?” Her little fingers reached out to touch the number.

He woke instantly. “What is what?”

“That number. What is it?”

Grampa saw what she was looking at and quickly rolled down his sleeve. “Better you shouldn’t ask,” he said, and glared at her. Then his face softened. “Saraleh, how old are you again?”

She laughed. “Six, silly!”

“Six.” He looked into the distance for a moment. “I had a sister who was six, once. She never got to be seven.”

Grampa had had a sister? Sarah had never heard of this before. “What was her name?”

“Sarah. You were named for her.” He looked at his left arm and rolled the sleeve back up, displaying the tattoo. “I was sixteen; that was when I got the number. Sarah, forget what I said before. It is better that you ask. You must ask. And remember.”

He had told her of the horrors of the camp. Of how his own grandfather had disappeared one night. Of how he, his parents, and his little sister were taken away in cattle cars from their home to a place called Auschwitz, where they were separated, and how he never saw them again. Of how he had very little to eat, all of it bad. Of how he had to endure the beatings of the guards. Of how he got sick with typhus and thought that he would be sent to the gas chambers and turned into smoke and ash. Of how they marched him to Buchenwald, and how he almost collapsed and died along the way. Of how he was barely able to move when the Americans came to liberate them, and how two righteous gentiles whose names had sounded Jewish, Sergeant Rosenthal and Corporal Glaub, had attended to him and nursed him back to health.

His stories had seemed so incongruous in the bright, sunny playground filled with the laughter of little children, and at first Sarah thought he was making them up. But as the stories continued and got more horrible, Sarah became mesmerized. When he finished, Grampa had tears in his eyes. She hugged him, and he trembled just like Sarah did when she woke up from a nightmare.

That night, so many years ago, the rain had pounded on Sarah’s bedroom window like gunshots. It was a hot, humid night, and as Sarah drifted off to sleep she thought of all her grandfather had told her. She dreamed of being stuffed into a gas chamber, the stink and sweat of human flesh pressing on her from all sides, Nazi stormtroopers shooting people outside, human flesh burning, going up in sweet-smelling smoke—

And she awoke, screaming and crying. Her mother had come in and held her for a long time. When she found out about Sarah’s dreams, she promised Sarah that she would never have such dreams again. From that day on, Grampa never took Sarah to the playground alone. And the nightmares had faded away and disappeared, except for the memory of the number on Grampa’s arm: 110290.

Sarah shook her head, clearing away the memories of that long ago night, and looked at the bed. The frail old man wrapped in blankets had that same number, 110290, tattooed on his arm. There was no question in Sarah’s mind now that this man was her grandfather, lying in his bed.

And dying.

I shouldn’t disturb him, Sarah thought, and had turned around to leave the room when she heard his voice. “Who’s there?” Even when he was dying, he woke to the sound of her.

She turned back; her grandfather’s eyes were open. “It’s Sarah, Grampa.”

He smiled. “Saraleh, it’s good to see you.” He struggled to sit up in bed, and coughed. “Here, come sit next to me, on the bed. We’ll have one last chance to snooze and schmooze before I go.”

“Grampa! Don’t talk like that.” She moved his blankets over and sat down.

“Sarah, Sarah. Years ago, it would have been tempting the evil eye to say such things, but now…now I am dying. And I am looking forward to peace. I have not had a peaceful life, mameleh.”

“I know.”

“So nu. Tell me, how are things? What are you doing with yourself?”

Sarah shifted around. “Well, I’m living in New York City now, you know. I’m working for a web publisher. Editing.”

“And are you enjoying it?”

“I suppose, although what I’d really like to do is write.”

“Eh. And are you seeing anyone? I want great-grandchildren, you know.”

He laughed, and Sarah joined in. “You remember Tom, don’t you? We’re living—I mean, he’s now at NYU, in law school.”

Grampa fixed Sarah with a long gaze. “So, you’re living together?”

Sarah blushed. “Yes. Um, I tried to keep it a secret. I’m sorry.”

“What is there to be sorry about?”

“Well, it’s just…”

“It’s okay, Saraleh. I understand your generation. It is not that much different from mine.”

“But you don’t approve of Tom, do you?”

Grampa sighed. “Tom’s a good boy, a fine young man. I would have preferred if you had met someone Jewish, but I can’t fault you for your choice. He will make a good husband.”

Sarah thought for a moment. “Grampa, can I ask you something?”

“Anything, mameleh. But you’d better hurry.” They both smiled at that. Sarah blinked hard to stop the tears.

“Why is it so important to you that I marry someone Jewish? It’s not like you were ever religious or observant.”

Grampa closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “You ask such a difficult question, like the simple child’s question about the Passover seder. It’s true, I never was observant, not before the camp or after. But, Sarah, because of where I was—Auschwitz—your children have to remember, they have to know what they are and understand where they came from. I need them to be Jewish, and not just because you are. They have to know that they are Jewish.”

“But why?”

He sighed. “Because if they do not realize who they are, they will be the first to go to the gas chambers the next time there is a Holocaust.”

Sarah was shocked. “Grampa, you can’t seriously believe that it could happen again. The Holocaust is a distant memory from the last century. Even if it did happen—”

“If it happens…when it happens, God forbid, again, the first Jews to die will be the ones who don’t realize they are Jewish. The German Jews saw what Hitler was doing. They were Germans, they said, not Jews. What Hitler is doing doesn’t apply to us. They never believed it would…until it was too late.”

“But it couldn’t happen again. Could it?”

Grampa was silent for a moment. “Sarah, your generation grew up in a world that felt much safer than mine. We made it that way. Maybe it really wasn’t so safe, maybe we weren’t so bright, but your parents and I certainly tried to protect you from the world outside. Maybe we succeeded too well.

“It is because you feel so safe, and because the Holocaust is so distant, that your generation is in danger. People are forgetting. The Holocaust Museum in Washington lost its funding and is gone now, after only thirty years, because no one thought it was important anymore. Auschwitz—Auschwitz is now a side attraction for people going to the VR mall across the way.” Straining, he bent his head over and spit on the floor. “There are even people who claim the Holocaust never happened in the first place, people who are being taken far too seriously.”

“I know what you mean. Just outside—” Sarah bit her lip.

But it was too late. “What? What happened outside?”

Sarah shrugged. “A reporter. He—he accused us of making it all up.”

Grampa frowned, his voice bitter. “Always,” he said. “Always the big lie. Well, they wouldn’t let me live in peace. Why should I expect then to let me die in peace?”

“It was only one, Grampa,” Sarah said dismissively. “The other reporters are—I mean, they know it’s for real.”

“Even one person denying the truth is one person too many.” He sighed. “The deniers are everywhere, Sarah. They started when I was just out of the camps, telling me that the horrible things I had seen with my own eyes never existed. Telling me I was crazy. But there were always enough of us around, to educate, to lecture, to write, to bear witness for the world. But now—”

He coughed, loud, long, and hard. Sarah stood up. “Grampa, you must rest. You’re letting yourself get all worked up. I’ll go get you some water.”

He shook his head and waved for her to sit back down again. “Please, Sarah, wait. I don’t have much time, and this is far too important.”

She sat down again. “Yes, Grampa, what is it?”

“Sarah, you must promise me. After I am gone, there will be no one to bear witness. I am the last of the survivors. You must bear witness for me—for all of us, the six million who died and those who survived to tell the world.” He took her left hand in a grip that was surprisingly strong.

Now the tears welled up in her eyes, past her strength to hold them back. She began to weep. “Yes, Grampa, I will.”

Tears blurred her sight, and Sarah wiped them away. As her vision cleared, she noticed Grampa staring directly into her eyes.

“Sarah, listen carefully. I want you to open that drawer over there.” With his right hand, Grampa pointed to the top drawer of the bureau. Sarah let go of his left hand, dutifully walked over to the bureau, and pulled the drawer open. It contained only one item, a small, shiny metal box with the logo MEMVOX printed across the side. She pulled it out and turned it around, studying it.

“My God, Grampa,” she said. “Is this what I think it is?”

He nodded. “A memory recorder. The chip is inside.”

Sarah hesitated before asking her next question. She feared she already knew the answer. “Grampa…what’s on it?”

He coughed. “Me. When I am gone, I want you to play it.”

Sarah now understood what Grampa had meant about her bearing witness. She shook her head. “I can’t do this, Grampa.”

“You will do the right thing, I am sure of it. Sarah, you must. You’re young, you’re strong, you can handle it. When you play that chip, you will be the last survivor.” He coughed. “Zachor. Remember. Bear witness, from generation to generation.” He turned away from her and began to recite the Jewish affirmation in the existence of God, “Sh’ma Yisroel…” His voice trailed off. His breath faded. Then it ceased entirely.

Sarah wiped the tears from her eyes. She stood up, then covered her grandfather’s face with the blanket. She finished reciting the Sh’ma for her grandfather in English; she hadn’t realized that she remembered: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One. She turned off the light and left, closing the door silently behind her.

* * *

That night, Sarah sat alone in the bedroom of the two-room Manhattan apartment she shared with Tom. She had asked Tom for some privacy, and he had readily agreed; so he was in their living room, watching TV or logged onto the Internet, Sarah wasn’t sure. Tom had assumed that the stress of the quick late afternoon funeral and burial was what had prompted Sarah to ask for some time to herself, and she had chosen not to correct him. She was glad that Jewish tradition held that a funeral and burial should take place as soon as possible after death; she had a lot to think about and didn’t want to have to worry about seeing her mother again so soon after Grampa’s death.

On the small night table in front of her sat the memory recorder and the chip. She picked up the chip and turned it over and over in her hands. Grampa had labeled it in black ink with his name and date of birth. Sarah had written in today’s date at the bottom of the label, in blue ink, but that was all she had done so far. Tom had given her the privacy she requested over half an hour ago and Sarah still wasn’t sure what to do.

A wastebasket sat next to their second-hand full-size bed. Sarah could just drop the chip into it and never think of it again. Or she could take it to a recycling center and get some small amount of money for it. As for the memory recorder, although used, it was valuable, and could easily pay the rent for the next few months.

But that would almost be like desecrating her grandfather’s grave. Grampa had given her the recorder and the chip for a reason. He wanted her to play it, to share those experiences with her. She thought about those experiences, the stories he had told her about the Holocaust when she was six years old, and she realized that she would never want to live through it herself, even vicariously through someone else’s memories. She held the chip above the wastebasket, ready to let it fall—

—And then she remembered the reporter from that morning.

She had to fulfill her promise; her grandfather had depended on it. Quickly, so she would not be tempted into changing her mind again, she inserted the chip into the recorder, attached the wires to her head, and hit PLAY.

An hour later, when the chip had finished playing, she slowly removed the wires. She shuddered and began to cry, but softly, so as not to alert Tom. She removed the chip from the recorder and stored it safely away. The memories from her grandfather’s Holocaust experiences precipitated in her a decision, a choice; she just hoped that Tom would understand. She knew that she would have to find someone knowledgeable about computers and recorders, someone sympathetic to her position who could hack the Internet and force Grampa’s memory records to be played by anyone plugging in, at least for a short while. Sarah would come forward and take responsibility, once she was assured that no one would ever take the revisionists seriously again. But…if she went forward with this plan, to bear witness for her grandfather, there was one other step she needed to take first.

* * *

Sarah walked into the tiny store, a remnant of the old Times Square, struggling against the gentrification of the past thirty years. Most places of this sort had moved to the outer boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, but this one was still there. The sign above the glass bore the one word, ADULT, in large black letters, and hanging in the window Sarah could see signs promising things like fake ID chips and real tobacco cigarettes.

She strode in purposefully, ignored the grime of the floor and shelves, and walked through to the room in the back, where the guy she was looking for worked. The room was small, empty at the moment except for the artist, who was reading a newstape as she entered. His appearance repulsed her, as he had rings through his nose, ears, and eyebrows, and he also sported tattoos on his arms and face. She would never see a person like this socially, but she was here for something else. The guy looked up at her inquisitively as she approached.

“Hello,” she said. “I’d—I’d like to get a tattoo. Can you tattoo a number?”

“Sure,” he said, putting down the newstape. “I can do anything.”

“Good.” Sarah sat on the long chair meant for his clients and rolled up the sleeve of her left arm. “I want you to tattoo the number 110290 right here.”

The man looked askance at her. “Like a Holocaust victim?”

Sarah nodded, pleased that the guy recognized what she wanted. She would still go through with her plan, but for the first time since her grandfather had died, she thought that perhaps there was still hope for the world to remember its history after all. “Yes,” she said. “Exactly like that.”


Afterword
“Kaddish for the Last Survivor”
* * *

Before I discuss “Kaddish for the Last Survivor,” let me begin by welcoming you to this collection of stories.

If you’re reading the afterwords, then you’re a reader after my own heart. I love the short form in science fiction more than the novel. And I’m fascinated by how writers create their short stories. Throughout my life, whenever I picked up a short story collection by a favorite writer, I hoped that the collection would contain notes on the stories, and usually I was not disappointed.

If you’re a reader like me, then I hope you enjoy the afterwords as a window into how I created these particular stories. And, if you’re an aspiring writer who hopes to learn a little bit about my creative process in order to aid your own, the journey continues online at my website and blog.

Now, about “Kaddish for the Last Survivor”: This is probably my most well-known story. It was inspired by the quotation with which the story opens, from Deborah E. Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust, in which she cautions us about the transience of memory and history.

Ever since first coming across her words in 1994, I became obsessed with what would happen when the last Holocaust survivor finally died. My generation knows of the Holocaust from eyewitness testimony, and I have met survivors. But in a world where history is continuously in danger of being rewritten, revised, and reworked for the benefit of the powers that be, the Holocaust itself seems particularly susceptible to the demons of doubt and uncertainty.

After the story was published in Analog, I had the chance to meet Deborah Lipstadt and to hear her speak at Northeastern University. I’d like to thank her for allowing me to quote from her important book at the beginning of my story.

Interestingly enough, the way I put together the story is illustrative of what writers have to do. Like many of my stories, this one began with an image, in this case of a young woman whose survivor grandfather lies dying. As he dies, the concentration camp number tattooed onto his arm fades away, and with the pain of six million needles, it magically reappears on her own. I wrote that ending first, and then I wrote the entire rest of the story to lead up to that ending.

Obviously, if you’ve read the story, you know that the story doesn’t end that way. Instead, after her grandfather dies, Sarah makes the conscious decision to have her grandfather’s number tattooed on her own arm. Before the story was published, I had shown it to a few friends, and a few suggested that the original ending made Sarah out to be a passive character. I realized that they were correct, so I altered the ending. I introduced the concept of the memory recorder and allowed Sarah to choose for herself to take on the tattoo. And yes, I am aware that halacha (Jewish law) is against tattoos, but Sarah is not observant and is unaware of the restriction.

But despite making the changes, I still miss the original ending. I fully understand Arthur Quiller-Couch’s advice that sometimes you have to “murder your darlings” when writing, but I continue to harbor a sentimental love for the magical realism of the original ending. And thanks to Apex Publications, I can now share with my readers the first words I actually wrote for this story.

So, for the first time in print, the original ending to “Kaddish for the Last Survivor.”

* * *

Tears blurred her sight, and Sarah wiped them away. As her vision cleared, she noticed something strange. She watched the number 110290, tattooed on his arm ever since he was a child, slowly fade away until his withered, age-splotched arm was left smooth and pink. At the same time, her arm tingled with the pain of six million sharp needles, but Sarah refused to let go. The number 110290 slowly appeared on her arm, in the exact same position as it had been on her grandfather’s.

“My God,” Sarah said. “Grampa, is this—does this mean—?”

“Yes. You are the last survivor now, Sarah,” he whispered. “Zachor. Remember. Bear witness, from generation to generation.” He turned away from her began to recite the Jewish affirmation of the existence of God, “Sh’ma Yisroel…” His voice trailed off. His breath faded. Then it ceased entirely.

Sarah wiped the tears from her eyes. She stood up, then covered her grandfather’s face with the blanket. She finished reciting the Sh’ma for her grandfather in English; she hadn’t realized that she remembered: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One. It was time to fulfill her promise. She stood up, turned off the light, and left, closing the door silently behind her. As she walked slowly down the stairs, she knew that she would have to talk to her parents and to the reporters about her new role. And then she paused on the middle stair, a lump in her throat. What would she tell Tom? Marrying him was out of the question for her now. But Tom was a righteous gentile, the kind of person who had saved Jews during the Holocaust; he would understand.

She just hoped the world would understand as well.

 


Accessing the Future: An Interview with Editors Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad

By Lesley Conner
on September 15, 2014

There's less than 48 hours to go in Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad's IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for their anthology project titled Accessing the Future. I did an interview with them back at the beginning of the campaign. Today I'm reposting it, hoping to shed some light on this ambitious project.

Lesley Conner: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how the idea of Accessing the Future came about? What do you envision when you think of the final product?

Kathryn Allan: I’m an academic copyeditor and dissertation coach by day, and an independent scholar of science fiction and disability studies… also by day. I’ve wanted to edit an anthology of disability-themed SF ever since I completed my PhD (in English Lit—I studied feminist post-cyberpunk and the vulnerable body) back in 2010. I really want to see more SF stories that address disability or include people with disabilities in realistic, three-dimensional ways. As I became part of the SFF community, I met Djibril through a #feministSF chat on Twitter and I think we quickly identified each other as like-minded. After being involved with The Future Fire (as a Reader and Associate Editor) and knowing their excellent track record with Outlaw Bodies and We See a Different Frontier, I knew I wanted to pitch my anthology idea to Djibril.

Djibril al-Ayad: I’ve been editing The Future Fire magazine of social-political SF for nearly ten years, and recently co-edited two anthologies of intersectional (feminist, queer, postcolonial, etc.) short stories, as Kathryn mentioned. I see Accessing the Future as a continuation of the themes that we, as a small press, are interested in, and as part of our ongoing conversation with underrepresented voices and social-political themes.

LC: In one sense, an anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction seems to have a very broad theme. There are many types of disabilities, those that are physical, mental, and emotional, and they can take many forms. At the same time it is an intensely personal subject. How do you plan to approach the subject matter? Do you have any fears or hesitations about broaching the subject?

KA: In our pitch, we write that: “Disability is a social construct, and all bodies do not fit into or navigate the material environment in the same way(s). Personal and institutional bias against disability marginalizes and makes ‘deviant’ people with certain differences, but it doesn't have to be that way.” We intentionally leave the category of disability broad so that we can engage with the many complex ways society creates disability (through medical practices, laws, language, social customs, etc.). Disability is an intensely personal subject matter (which I know from experience) but it’s also a cultural one and people need to know how to talk about it, and not just at the level of the individual. For example, “lame” is a word that people use without thinking about its ableist connotations—some people might just think, “oh, it’s just a word. I didn’t mean anything by it” but the truth is that pejorative slang words for people with disabilities have a long history of standing in for negative acts and opinions. One disparaging word replaces another when it goes out of vogue or awareness of its harm is successfully raised, but the root of the problem–the prejudice against people with disabilities—remains. I have no fear in calling this stuff out when I encounter it, and I want Accessing the Future to be one part of the larger on-going conversation about disability.

As is the case with other identifications, the people who are most uncomfortable talking about disability tend to be those with little experience with it. This needs to change. We need to openly discuss disability and create stories that reflect people with disabilities as they are (and not as “problems” to be “cured,” as “inspirations” for the able-bodied to patronize, or one of the many other negative and harmful stereotypes attached to disability identity). People with disabilities make up an incredibly diverse community, and there needs to be a plurality of voices speaking about or, in this case, writing about our collective human future.

LC: You’re going to open submissions to Accessing the Future at the end of your fundraising campaign. For writers who are considering submitting, is there anything in particular that you’re going to be looking for? Anything you don’t want to see? Any suggestions of what writers should be considering before they start to write?

DaA: We would suggest authors keep in mind that most of the stories we’ve published in the previous anthologies and the magazine in recent years, have (1) been informed by deep and sympathetic understanding of the themes and issues, and (2) not been one-issue stories. We’ve found that the authors who are sensitive to gender and sexuality themes, for example, have also inevitably and gracefully addressed race, class, disability, and a whole range of other axes of privilege in the process. So we don’t want to see stories that feature “cures” for disability, or “magical people with disabilities” who have special powers to compensate for their “handicap,” or who are “inspirational” by their fortitude and strong will in adversity. And we certainly don’t want to see stories that get all of the disability and mental health politics right but then are misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic or heteronormative, or fall into any other discriminatory portrayal or assumptions.

Obviously, we want stories that are good science fiction, that tell a cracking story, are well-written, and neither shoe-horn plot around a disability issue nor drop a tokenistic character into a cookie-cutter scenario. Think about the world in which your story will be set: to what extent does society’s attitude toward disability condition the difficulties faced by disabled people? What other vectors of prejudice, oppression, and marginalization do people in this world encounter, and how do they intersect with the privileges of ableism? For example: Who has access to technological resources and wealth? How does gender impact disability? How does one’s job status inform their identity and social position? We want writers to tell an engaging, rounded story. Make it as beautiful as it is meaningful; confound the reader’s commodified expectations of how science fiction addresses disability.

LC: Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about Accessing the Future?

DaA: Only that we’re super excited about this anthology, and we’re blown away by the amount of support we’ve already received. Our ultimate goal is to raise at least $7000, so please keep spreading the word about Accessing the Future and contribute to our Indiegogo campaign.

 


Since this interview originally ran, the project has raised more than their goal of $7000. They have a few hours left to raise even more money to make Accessing the Future the best it can possibly be.

Check out their IndieGogo page for more information or to donate.

FREE FICTION: I Remember the Future by Michael A. Burstein

By Lesley Conner
on September 11, 2014

I REMEMBER THE FUTURE.

The future was glorious once. It was filled with sleek silver spaceships, lunar colonies, and galactic empires. The horizon seemed within reach; we could almost grasp the stars if we would but try.

I helped to create that future once. We created it out of our blood, sweat, and tears for a penny a word. We churned that future out onto reams of wood pulp paper, only to see the bitter acids of the decades eat it away. I can still smell the freshness of that world, amidst the stale odors left in the libraries, real ink on real paper.

But I despair that no one else does.

* * *

Smith turned to Angela, whose face was obscured by the glass plate of her helmet. Despite the higher gravity and the bulkiness of his environmental suit, he felt like jumping a hundred feet into the vacuum.

“Angela, look!”

“What is it?” she asked. She reached over with her gloved hands to take the object from him.

“Gently,” he said as he handed over the sheet. “It’s paper. Real paper.”

Angela took it and handled it almost reverently. Once again, she looked around the large cavern at the many inscribed marble columns, flashing her light into every dark corner.

“Paper? That dead wood stuff you told me about? Made from trees?”

Smith nodded. “It’s true. We’ve found the ancient lost library of New Earth. And maybe, just maybe, in these volumes we’ll find the final clue that will lead us to the location of the original human home world.”

—Abraham Beard,

The Searchers (1950)

* * *

The day after my diagnosis, Emma comes to visit me at home. When she rings the bell, I get up from my seat in the living room, where I’ve been watching Forbidden Planet on DVD for the past hour, and I shuffle over to the front door at the end of the hall.

A cold wind blasts me as I creak open the door. I shiver momentarily as Emma strides past me.

As I shut the door, she opens the hall closet and lets her hands dance upon the hangers. She ignores the empty wooden ones and selects a blue plastic one.

“It’s the middle of the day and you’re still in your bathrobe?” she asks me as she slips off her overcoat.

“I’m retired and it’s the weekend,” I say. “Why should I get dressed up?”

“Because your only daughter is coming to visit? Oh, never mind.” She hangs up her coat.

“Where’s Frank and the kids?” I ask her.

She sniffs. “They decided to stay at home.”

The kids decided to stay at home. My grandchildren, Zachary and Kenneth. Or Zach and Ken, as Emma told me they prefer to be called. I haven’t seen them in months. “They didn’t feel like schlepping out to Queens?”

“It’s too cold.”

“So why the visit?”

Emma purses her lips and glances at the floor. “I thought it would be nice to see you.”

I know there must be more to it than that, but I don’t press it. Emma will tell me in her own sweet time. “Are you hungry?” I ask as we walk to the living room. “Do you want something to eat?”

She smiles. “What are you going to offer this time? A red pepper? A clementine?”

As it so happens, the refrigerator crisper holds many peppers and clementines, but I refuse to give Emma the satisfaction. “I thought you might want some ice cream.”

“Ice cream?” she asks with bemusement. “Sure, I’d love some ice cream. Where is it?”

“It’s in the freezer,” I tell her, although it should be obvious. Where else does one keep ice cream?

* * *

The first thing Larry noticed was the cold. It filled the core of his being, then slowly began to recede as tendrils of warmth entered his body.

Then he noticed a faint white light, blinking in the distance. Either the light became larger or it moved closer, and it continued to pulsate in a regular rhythm.

And finally he heard a hiss, the sound of air leaking quickly across a barrier. He tried to breathe and felt as if his lungs were filled with liquid. He tried again—

—when suddenly a door swung open, and Larry realized that he was floating vertically in a round glass chamber. The gelatinous liquid surrounding him quickly drained, and Larry fell into the arms of two men in silver jumpsuits.

“Easy now,” the taller one said. “Your muscles need time to adjust.”

Larry shook off their support. “I’m fine,” he croaked. He coughed up some fluid and spoke again. “I don’t need any help.”

“If you say so,” the taller man said.

“I do, indeed,” Larry answered. He stretched out of his stoop, and although his legs felt like they would give way, he refused to give these strangers the satisfaction of seeing him fall.

“Where am I? What’s going on?” he asked.

“All in due time,” the shorter man said in a thin, reedy voice.

Larry turned to stare at him. “I am Larry Garner, the richest man on Earth, and I demand you tell me what’s going on, now!”

The two men looked at each other, and the shorter one shrugged. “Usually, we give people more time to adjust, but if you insist—”

“I do!”

“You’re in the future,” the man said. “It’s two thousand years since you died.”

Larry fainted.

—Abraham Beard,

The Unfrozen (1955)

* * *

“Earth to Dad? Hello? Are you there?”

Emma is waving a hand in front of my face.

“Sorry,” I say. “I was just thinking. My mind—”

“Was elsewhen. Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”

I realize that we are sitting in the dining room and that Emma has scooped two bowls of ice cream, one for each of us. I pick up my spoon and take a bite. It’s butter pecan.

I hate butter pecan, but I bought some for when Zach and Ken were last here.

The ice cream is very badly freezer-burned. It’s so cold against my tongue that it hurts. I put the spoon down into the bowl and watch Emma eat her ice cream.

“You can take the rest of it when you leave,” I say. “The kids might enjoy it.”

Emma gives me a half-smile. “Even with the cold outside, it’ll probably still melt before I get it home.”

“Oh,” I say.

We sit in silence for a few moments, the only sound the tick of the analog clock in the other room, the clock my wife, Sheila, bought when we got married, the clock that hangs above the flatscreen television set that Emma and Frank gave me for my last birthday.

“So, how are things?”

“Things are good.”

“The kids doing well at school?”

“Yeah.” Emma smiles. “Zach did a PowerPoint presentation on blogging for one of his teachers.”

I nod and try to keep my face neutral, but Emma sees right through me. “You disapprove?”

“It’s not that,” I say. “It’s just—”

“I know what it is. Rant number twenty-three.”

“I’m not that predictable.”

She crosses her arms. “Fine. Then what were you thinking?”

I pause for a moment, but she doesn’t sound sarcastic so I say, “When I was growing up, the future seemed so full of possibilities.”

“We have possibilities, Dad.”

I shake my head. “We’ve turned inward. All of us have. We used to dream of a world as big as the sky. Now we’re all hunched over our tiny screens.”

Emma rolls her eyes. “Like I said, rant number twenty-three. Within three sentences, you’re going from the Internet to the lack of a manned space program again.”

“You don’t think it’s a problem?”

“It’s just that I’ve heard it before.”

“The more true something is, the more it bears repeating.”

“Nothing bears repeating if you can’t do anything about it.” She sighs. “I mean, seriously, what did you ever expect me to do at the age of twelve when you first warned me about the eventual heat death of the universe?”

* * *

The starship HaTikvah had finally made it to the edge of the universe. A hopeful mood filled the souls of the fifty thousand humans and aliens who occupied the ship, each the last of their kind.

On the bridge, Captain Sandra McAllister spoke into her intercom. “Fellow sentients,” she said, “this is the proverbial ‘it.’ The universe is ending, the embers of the stars are fading into nothing, and in a moment we’ll tap into the power of Black Hole Omega. If all goes according to plan, we’ll break out of our dying universe and into a new one, one that’s young and vibrant. Our own personal lives will continue, but more importantly, we will continue to exist in order to be able to remember all of those who came before us.”

McAllister turned to her first officer and said, “Any time you’re ready, Jacob. Push the button.”

Jacob nodded and reached out with his spindly fingers to the Doorway Device. But just as he was about to depress the red button, a blast rocked the ship.

“What was that?” he cried out.

Virilion, the ship’s robotic helmsman, replied in a croak, “It’s the Nichashim! They’ve come to stop us!”

McAllister narrowed her eyes. “Like hell they will,” she said. “Virilion, fire at will! Blast them out of our sky!”

—Abraham Beard,

Fire and Ice (1980)

* * *

“Dad? Dad?”

“You don’t need to shout.”

“You were gone again,” she says.

“Perhaps,” I say, “I’m turning inward because I’m getting old.”

For the first time since she came into the house today, Emma looks worried. “You’re not that old, Dad.”

I smile at Emma to keep her from noticing the wetness I feel in my eyes. “That’s nice of you to say, but it’s not true. I am old.”

“You’re only as old as you feel. You told me that once.”

I shake my head. “It’s hard to feel young when so many of my colleagues are gone.” First Robert, then Isaac, now Arthur, I think, although I don’t say it aloud. I know Emma too well; she might laugh at me for placing myself among such giants.

Instead, she doesn’t seem to know what to say in response. She fidgets for a few seconds, eats some more ice cream, and then changes the subject.

“Listen, Dad, I’m here because I have news.”

“Funny, so do I. You go first.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. What is it?” I ask.

She takes a deep breath and looks me in the eye. “We’re moving to California.”

* * *

Jackie looked at the gleaming silver spaceship with portholes running all up and down its sides. She felt more excited than she ever had before in her six years of life. Soon, her family would leave behind this polluted, depressing planet for a new world filled with cool green fields, rich with possibilities.

Jackie’s mother and father held tightly onto her hands as the three of them walked in the line out onto the launching pad. The hoverlift floated next to them, carrying their luggage, while Jackie’s robot dog kept running ahead and back toward Jackie, matching her excitement.

Finally, after what seemed like hours but Jackie knew was only minutes according to her chronometer, Jackie and her parents made it to the open hatch of the spaceship. A stewardess, her hair dyed platinum blonde, stood at the doorway greeting the immigrants with a big smile. She took their tickets and welcomed them aboard.

“Is this really it, Dad?” Jackie asked

Her father removed the pipe from his mouth and smiled. “It is indeed,” he said. “Goodbye, Earth! Next stop, Mars!”

—Abraham Beard,

The Burns Family on Mars (1960)

* * *

“Dad? You’re gone again.”

“No, I’m not,” I say.

“So.” Emma says. “We’re moving to California.”

“Why?”

She takes a deep breath. “Frank’s got a new job. UCLA is offering him a tenured position. Full professor.”

“UCLA. Hm. California.” I try to sound as noncommittal as possible, although Emma must know how much this news hurts me.

“Yes, California.”

“From what I hear, California is a nice place.”

She frowns and looks puzzled. “Aren’t you going to object?”

“Are you asking me to?”

“Don’t you even want to know why we’re moving?”

“You told me—Frank’s got a job offer.” I pause. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“I don’t think you’ll be able to keep working at the New-York Historical Society if you’re living in L.A. Have you found a job at a museum there?”

Now she pauses before speaking. “I’m not planning to get another job, at least not right away.”

“Oh?”

“I want to be there full time for the kids.”

I stare into her eyes, seeing the six-year-old girl who wanted nothing more than to be the first astronaut to walk on Jupiter. “Is that really what you want?”

She glares at me. “I think at least one parent should be devoted full time to raising the kids.”

I feel the sting of her words. I consider once again telling her what I’ve told her before: that times were tough, that money was tight, and that Sheila and I both had to work to support Emma properly. But then I recall the many times I shut the door of my home office on Emma to meet a deadline, and I realize that the chance for apologies and explanations has passed far into the mists of time.

* * *

Allen Davidoff walked around the floating cube of mist, careful not to let any of the tendrils touch him. There was nothing else on this planet for miles around.

The Keeper, still covered entirely in her white garment, walked three paces behind him until he finally came to a stop.

He turned to face her. “Impressive,” he said. “An atmospheric phenomenon?”

She laughed and her hazel eyes twinkled. “You are pretending to be the fool,” she said. “You know better than that.

Allen nodded; she was right. He did know better, but he had previously allowed his hopes to be raised during his quixotic quest only to have them dashed time and time again.

“Then I’ve really found it?” he asked.

She nodded. “You have indeed.”

Allen looked back into the white mist. “It’s the Gateway of Time,” he said. “I can go anywhen into the time stream I want.”

“It’s the Gateway of Time,” the Keeper echoed. “You can go to any time period and any location in the universe you want. But there is one problem.”

Allen waited. The Keeper remained silent as his watch ticked off the seconds, and so finally he asked, “What’s the problem?”

The Keeper grinned evilly. “The only problem is, once you’ve made your choice and entered the past, you can never return. The trip is one way and final.”

“So—”

“So choose wisely.”

—Abraham Beard,

Amidst the Mists (1991)

* * *

“I hope it works out for you,” I say. “You know that I only want what’s best for you and the kids.”

If she notices that I don’t mention Frank, she doesn’t say anything about it. Instead, she nods and says, “You said before that you had news as well.”

I open my mouth to tell her about my diagnosis, as I had planned to do when she first called to tell me that she and the family wanted to see me, but then I hold back. I’m not dying yet, but I am old. My doctors say that my mind is not as sharp as it once was and my years are drawing to a close. If I tell her, maybe she and Frank will postpone the move, or at least stay closer to New York City, so I can keep seeing them in my dwindling, final days.

* * *

The last man on Earth said farewell to the spaceship carrying the rest of humanity to the stars. As the ship became a tiny dot in the sky, he took a deep breath of the fresh air and smiled. Someone had to watch over the planet as it was dying, and it was only right, he felt, that it should be he, and only he.

—Abraham Beard,

The Final Days of Planet Earth (1970)

* * *

I decide not to tell Emma about the diagnosis. It wouldn’t be fair to her or the kids to add that factor into the equation. But she’s waiting for me to tell her my news, and I only have one other piece of news to share. It’s extremely private, and possibly just the first symptom of my oncoming dementia, but I’ve felt the need to tell someone. And Emma is here, and Sheila is no longer here.

“Emma, may I confide in you?”

She tilts her head. “You never have before.”

I open my mouth to object, and then realize that she has a point.

“Well, I want to confide in you now. You know all those stories, all those novels that I wrote?”

“Yes,” she says flatly. “What about them?”

“My entire life, I never felt like I was coming up with anything on my own.” I stare over her shoulder. “Sometimes, when I was lying awake at two or three in the morning, I would get the feeling that the images in my mind weren’t just things I was making up myself. I felt as if I was a conduit, as if I had lifted an antenna into some sort of cosmic fog and that I was receiving messages, real messages, from the future in my dreams.”

Emma sits stoically as I tell her this. I don’t know what reaction I am hoping for, but Emma rolling her eyes is definitely not it. Still, it’s what she gives me.

“So what’s the news?”

“I’m not really sure,” I say. “You know how I haven’t written anything new for five years now? That’s because the messages stopped. Except…”

“Except what?”

“The dreams have started up again. I’ve been waking up again in the middle of most nights, feeling as if the future is trying to reach me one more time. But as soon as I wake up, the images the future is trying to send me recede into the distance.”

She sighs and stands up; I can’t tell if she’s angry or just frustrated. “You’re bouncing story ideas off of me again, aren’t you?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “No, I’m not. This is really happening to me.”

Emma’s expression is pitiful. “So that’s your excuse,” she says softly. “The future was really trying to contact you, and that’s why you always had your head lost in the clouds.”

I try to protest, but, ironically, I have no words. Emma picks up the bowls and used spoons and takes them into the kitchen. I hear her wash them quickly and leave them on the drainer while I sit at the table, unsure of what to say to her to make it all better.

She emerges from the kitchen and dashes through to the hall closet. I hear her put on her coat, and then she is back in the dining room, standing over me.

“Dad, you were always so busy living in the future that you never enjoyed your present. And now you don’t even live in the future anymore. You’re living in the past.”

With that, she walks out of the room and out of the house.

* * *

Over the next few days, Emma uses my spare set of keys to let herself into the house. She barely nods hello to me as she climbs to the attic and sifts through the boxes, packing away those few remnants that she wants from her childhood.

I want Emma to leave the photographs, but I’ve come to realize that she’s going to have to take them with her anyway if I want my grandsons to continue to remember what their grandfather and grandmother looked like. Emma tells me that she will scan the photos into her computer and send me back the originals, and I just nod.

The days pass far too quickly. Finally, the last morning arrives in which Emma will be coming over to take the last few boxes of possessions. What she doesn’t know as she is driving over is that this morning is also the morning of my final moments on this Earth. And in my final moments on this Earth, I am redeemed.

* * *

I am lying in my bed, wearing my favorite blue pajamas and peering through my glasses at the small print of a digest magazine. A half-eaten orange on a plate sits on my end table; I can still taste the juice on my tongue and feel a strand of pulp between two right molars.

And then it begins.

A slight breeze wafts toward me from the foot of my bed. I move my magazine aside and look, but I see nothing there but the wall and the closed bathroom door.

As I begin to read again, another breeze flutters my pages. Then the breeze builds, until a gust of wind flows past.

A tiny crack appears in midair, hovering about six and a half feet above the red-carpeted floor. The crack expands into a circular hole. White light emanates from the hole, which gets wider and wider, until it becomes a sphere about six feet in diameter, crackling softly with electricity. A human figure in a silver spacesuit, its face obscured by a helmet, emerges from the sphere with a loud popping sound.

I know this is no illusion, that whatever is happening in front of me is real. I manage to keep my composure and ask, “Who are you?”

The figure grabs hold of its helmet, breaks the seals, and pulls it off.

The astronaut is a woman. She shakes her long blonde hair out of her face and smiles. “You know who I am, Abe. Take a good look.”

I do, and I feel a chill. “It can’t be.”

She nods. “It is.”

“You’re Sandra McAllister. But you’re fictional. You don’t exist. I made you up.”

“Yes, you did make me up. But I do exist.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We figured you might not, but we don’t have a lot of time, so listen carefully. As far as our scientists have been able to determine, every time you wrote a story, you created a parallel universe, a place where the people you thought of really existed. Apparently, your brain has some connection on a quantum level with the zero-point energy field that exists in the multiverse. You’ve managed to bend reality, our reality, so that we ended up existing for real.”

“That’s not possible,” I say.

“You’re a rational man, Abe, I understand that. So explain my presence some other way.”

I know in my heart and soul that I am not hallucinating. And with the impossible eliminated, I am left with the improbable.

“So you’re real?”

“Not just me,” Sandra says.

I start thinking of all the characters I created throughout my career. “Jackson Smith and Angela Jones? Larry Garner? Jackie Burns? Allen Davidoff? They’re all real?”

Sandra nods after I recite each name. “They’re all real. We’re all real.”

“Even if so, how did you break through the barrier between universes? It’s not possible.”

“It is if you harness the energy of a black hole using the Doorway Device.”

I am puzzled for just a moment, and then light dawns. I recall the details of the story cycle from which Sandra comes. “The spaceship HaTikva,” I say.

“And the Nichashim,” she adds.

I goggle. “You’re mortal enemies,” I say. “I wrote you that way. How can you be working together?”

“The Nichashim understand that you created them too. We’ve got the two ships tethered together in orbit around New Black Hole Omega.”

I can’t help it; I flip the sheet off of my frail body and swing my legs around so I can stand up and face Sandra. “That’s far too dangerous, Sandra. You could lose both ships in a blink.”

“Which is why you must hurry.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Why do you think I came here?”

“Um, to say hello? To let me know that I didn’t live my life in vain?”

She rolls her eyes. “To rescue you. To cure you of your oncoming sickness, and to impart to you the same immortality you generously granted to all of us.”

“Rescue me? You’re using all that energy just to rescue me?”

She shrugged. “You’re our father. Why wouldn’t we?”

I feel tears starting in my eyes, and I move forward and hug Sandra as tightly as I can. She holds me as I cry.

“It’s all right, Father,” she says. “We’ve come for you. Welcome home.”

* * *

The last bit I can only guess at, as I was already gone by then. But the way I see it, as Emma was turning her keys in the lock, the house rumbled, and she heard a loud pop and whoosh coming from upstairs.

“Dad? Dad?” she called out, but I wasn’t there to answer her.

She dashed up the stairs and turned right, toward her father’s bedroom. She pushed the door open to discover her father already gone, amidst a trace of ozone.

I remembered the future.

And in turn, the future remembered me.


Afterword
 
“I Remember the Future”
* * *

When Apex Publications decided to publish this collection, I asked the readers of my LiveJournal if they could come up with an appropriate title. A high school friend, Andrew Marc Greene, came up with I Remember the Future. I decided to go with that title for the book, and that meant writing a new story with that name as well.

As my publisher knows too well, it took me a while to figure out what this story would be about. I kept running the phrase “I Remember the Future” over and over in my head, but no story idea came to mind.

And then on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 18, 2008, we heard the news that Arthur C. Clarke had died. (Oddly, because Clarke lived in an earlier time zone, he died on Wednesday, March 19, but those of us living in the West heard the news on Tuesday. It’s almost like time travel.)

Late that night, as I stared into a mirror and thought about how the last of the Big Three was gone, I suddenly realized what this story had to be about. I quickly shared the idea with my wife, Nomi, and then jotted down a bunch of notes so I wouldn’t forget it. I also called Janna Silverstein, since I needed to tell another science fiction and fantasy writer about the epiphany I just had and it was too late to call anyone on the east coast.

If you’re reading these stories in order, I suspect you’ll discover very quickly why I grouped these last three together the way I did. I’ll have more to say about that in the afterword to “Paying It Forward.”

“I Remember the Future” is dedicated to Arthur C. Clarke.

 

Buy a copy of I Remember the Future by Michael A. Burstein direct from Apex or from one of our online retailers.

An Update for Apex Magazine's Steal the Spotlight Contest

By Lesley Conner
on September 04, 2014

The response to our Steal the Spotlight micro fiction contest has been amazing! A big thank you to everyone who has tweeted or posted the link to the submissions guidelines. Without you, it would be hard to get the word out.

Submissions are starting to roll in, and I've read some truly clever pieces of micro fiction. 250 words go by quickly, and as a writer you have to make every word count.

One thing that I have noticed while reading through submissions (have to stay on top of them or it'll be a case of editor death by slush pile!) is that two of our categories are way more popular than the others. I've read more demon and sea monster stories, than I have banshee, black dog/Hellhound, or science experiment gone wrong stories combined. Now I'm loving the demon and sea monster stories. You guys are truly creative and it is wonderful, so please, keep sending them in. But I'd really like to see more stories featuring banshees, black dog/Hellhounds, and science experiments gone wrong and running amok.

I know the stories are out there! So write them and send them in!

For full details on the Apex Magazine Steal the Spotlight Micro Fiction Contest, read our original post. Winners will be announced October 31st!

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