Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Science Editor

Carol Kean
Associate Editor


Blood and Bone
by Joseph Green

by Evonne M. Biggins

Captive Skin
by Eric Del Carlo

Terra Forms
by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks and Justin Adams

On the Snark Watch
by Karl Dandenell

Pitching a Bug
by Chet Gottfried

Fly, Robin,Fly
by C.E.Gee


Tesla's Death Ray Wall
by Eric M. Jones

Alien Argument
by J. Richard Jacobs



Comic Strips




by Evonne M. Biggins

SHE PLUNKS HER LATEST treasure onto my antique, oak table. Her whispered, “Aliens are hiding inside it,” whistles through a front-tooth gap.

“You caught migrants from across the border?” I ask this as though I didn’t know why, earlier, she’d slipped out my back door and clutched the stiff-from-grunge burlap sack that had belonged to her momma—gone since this one was an infant.

She flashes her seven-year-old version of an adult’s waning tolerance. Her, “Grandpap, you know I wanted to catch aliens from outer space,” rides on morning breath.

“Aha, those kinds of aliens,” I say. The newfangled toy brings to mind my daddy’s dome portable radio, buried in the basement under pile of yesteryears. This gadget likely vacuums floors, babysits toddlers, and bakes pies. My gnarled knuckles thum-thump the smooth, seamless, and solid metal. I nod. Good quality. Some fool wasted big bucks on it.

On plastic chairs, we inspect her latest find. She kneels on young knees and I roost on old butt. During the last sub-zero freeze, I’d dismantled my ancient oak skeletons-–six seats, twenty-four legs, and six backrests. The short burst of warmth from my wood stove hadn’t justified the rare antiques’ fate.

I mumble, “Great discovery,” Up this close, her auburn tresses sweep my liver-spotted hand. And, my naked eyes—naked because I can’t find my damn glasses again—see that her freckles have multiplied faster than she’d grown in inches.

Without glasses, I can still sum up our spent years. Her seven compared to my sixty-seven. Thankful that we can’t tally future time, I concentrate on here-and-now with my only grandchild. “You sure it’s not a toy that flew from a kid’s yard?” My question tastes of denture-goop. Stuff I don’t bother with the rest of the year. When alone.

“It’s for sure from outer space, Grandpap.” Her eyes, the bright blue that remind me of extinct summer skies, search mine for reassurance. “Extra-ter-ez-three-allz rode in it.” 

I camouflage my chuckle inside a fake, fist-cough. “Ever hear any E.T. stories?”
She shakes a tiny finger as though to scold. “Those are pretend. These,” she taps the toy with pink, dirt-caked fingernails, “are real.” Sand from the parched lakebed slides from her treasure and settles on my table. “One of them said they came from outer space.” 

I nod. “Aha, speaking aliens from beyond our galaxy.”

She brushes sand from the table, but I say, “Leave it ‘cause what good is this old table if my granddaughter can’t plunk her alien ship on it, huh?”

She flashes her momma’s smile.

For centuries, our healthy forests had provided wood for whatever mankind wanted or needed. Humans’ thoughtless waste nudged the domino effect that killed trees and much more. So, if the table croaks, plastic will be my oak. Plastic—only one cause of our ruin—will outlast mankind and bacteria. “Were you scared to catch these aliens?” I ask.

She shakes her head; auburn curls bounce. “They let me catch them ‘cause they wanted to tell me a secret.” She points at a dimple on the dome. “A pokey thing was here but it’s gone.” She looks up at me, eyes worried. “Did I break it?”
Probably, I decide, she lost the antenna to the toy’s remote, still with the owner. “My daddy used a piece of clothes hanger for an antenna on our old radio.” Sorry I’d mentioned it, I hope she won’t ask me to totter down steep basement stairs and find the radio antenna.

She glances at my cane propped against the wall. “Were you scared when you had to use Great Grandpap’s just-in-case cane?”
Saddened that a child, bombarded with adult realities, searches for imagined aliens for help, I say, “More like resigned.”

“What’s re-zined?”

“When you jumped off your bunk bed and broke your ankle, and you had to wear the pink cast all summer, you were resigned that you couldn’t do some fun things for a long time. I’m resigned that I have to keep the cane near.” I don’t add: Until my bitter end.

She taps the dome. “The alien said he would save me if I kept this with me, so I got re-zined and asked if he would save Daddy and Grandpap, and he said, “Only you, child.”
My gut-laugh, a rare occurrence, bursts from me. “Someday you might be a famous storyteller.” And then I recall: Soon there will be no days. No nights. No stories. For anyone.

Her expression reflects her innocence, intelligence, curiosity. “When you were little, did spaceships fly from their yard to your yard?”

“Didn’t see any. Heard rumors, though. They’re supposedly little like you but have gray, wrinkly skin.” I tap her forehead. “And just one purple eye.”

She peers at my face—probably imagines a purple eye nestled between bushy, gray brows. “What did you do for fun way back when you were little?”

“In my way back, my momma and daddy and I lived in this house. As you know, it’s far from town, so I entertained myself. I climbed our apple tree, perched on fat limbs amongst green leaves, and I munched firm, juicy apples. I daydreamed that spaceships zoomed from the black side of the moon. Pretended to fly their crafts to exciting adventures.”

I don’t mention that the tree slowly died from lack of nutrition-water-sunlight. I don’t admit that the largest limbs thumped like broken appendages onto the barren ground to become fuel for warmth and for cooking.
In her sing-song little-girl tone, she lists friend’s names, dress colors, and favorite toys...

My memory drifts: I grew, finished high school, and my parents passed away. To earn a decent living, I provided handyman work for neighboring ranchers. I married my soul mate, and our baby girl also grew and married and had a child.
Eventually, the rumor of mankind’s fate exploded into cold hard fact. Dark panic slithered across our planet. The promise of death distracted some humans from killing each other. Some.
Our daughter passed; Black Lung Disease produces what it suggests.

To block my grief and the news of our pending doom, I’d lugged televisions, radios, and telephones to the basement. Had to keep the damn mandatory government-issue I-tablet, donated to each household… To Inform Citizens of Approaching Doom.
To ward off fear, I tried to carve bird shapes from wood scraps. I chose robins because they were vanishing, as were many species.

With every swift pass of my sharp blade, paper-thin layers drifted like fossilized feathers around my feet. With each slice, I wished that something or someone would save my family and then me. Never confessed my useless hope that still burns inside my foolish old heart.
My soul mate fueled our wood-burning stove with my carved feathers. Eventually, each of my attempts—clunky, misshapen, and crude—soared into the fire.
We kept one pair, attached at the wing-tips. My soul mate painted red on the breasts, browns at the wings and tails, and tan at the beaks. She glued beads for eyes, and announced, “They are us.”

I’d drilled tiny holes at the bottoms of the robins and snipped and inserted wires to resemble legs and talons. At some point, the female’s legs and one male leg fell out. The Us birds perched lopsided but inseparable on the kitchen windowsill.

Our toddling granddaughter wanted to play with the birds.
“They must perch up high to guard you.” I’d said…

…Her young hand pats my old hand. Brings me back to our futureless present. “Can a grandpap climb a tree?”
“Maybe with help from my tiny, freckled granddaughter.”

I imagine her straining to shove me upward into what is left of my tree. And because I think that she imagines the same, smiles spread. One across falsies. One over babies.

I tap the dome. “Did you see these aliens?”

She presses an ear against it. Auburn waves drape it. “They’re scared to come out. I bet they look like us but are little, like dolls.” Her grin tugs. “With two, not-purple eyes.”

This one is a hunter like her beloved grandma. Most mornings, I’d hid in our house and ignored our fate. She’d toddled beside Grandma and tracked imagined space beings. Grandma sought mankind’s salvation. Two futile quests.

Daily, my wife and I told our granddaughter that she was our Whole Wide World. Laughter filled our home until her daddy took her to the city’s best education and himself to a better job. A sorrowful silence filled every crevice, every space, and every one of the two left behind; and then there was one.

Sandwiched between the snail-crawl months when she’s with her father and I’m alone, she grows and I shrink; we age. Our annual reunion of almost two full days separated by one night, where I sit and watch her sleep, flashes in warp-speed.

I peer at the blurry toy, mentally curse my absent glasses, and I ask, “Where’d you find it?”
“On the dead lake that was called Clear Waters.” Her gap-tooth smile spreads. “The alien inside told me to keep it near me, so I stuffed it in my alien-catcher and dragged it here.”
We glance at the dirt-encrusted burlap sack, dumped on her mud-caked sneakers beside the back door.

“Good thing there’s no water in the lake, huh?” I ask.

“If water was in the lake, I would’ve saved the aliens ‘cause I took swimming lessons at the anti-gravity pool.”

Swimming pools nowadays can’t compare to the outside pools that smelled of chlorine. Back then, joyful sounds of watersplashes and children’s laughter rang through clean air. Now, a newfangled anti-gravity tank replaces the whole works. But, because she’s proud of her swimming skills, I say, “Grandma would have loved to see you swim.”

Her frown forms between once-upon-a-time sky-blue eyes. “Is Grandma gone ‘cause water’s gone?”
“After our lake dried up, Grandma wore out, I guess.”

Amassed sorrows had overcome my mate’s heart and soul. Many dark nights and dim days since, I’ve envied her final choice.
I slide the craft closer. It’s heavier than I expected. Nowadays, everything is heavy, blurred, or gone. My familiar but pointless yearning surges; I wish I could blanket my granddaughter with a pure light of salvation. Why hadn’t we protected our young when we had the chance? If we’d vaguely envisioned the horrific results of our thoughtless waste and polluting, could we have saved ourselves? Insight, ignored. Hindsight, too late.

Her fingertips brush the toy’s symbols, gibberish to my naked eyes. “Are these alien words?”
I peer at the minute markings; I fake it. “It’s the name of their planet but I can’t pronounce it.” No need to admit that Grandpap’s eyesight, along with the rest of his useless self, are almost spent. How much longer, I wonder, will Almost last?

Nighttime surrounds the old house. We eat her favorite: cheesy macaroni and hot tea. Mine, bitter-black. Hers with two sugar cubes and a splash of cream. She offers a cupcake and giggles as I hold palms up, form a terrified expression, and shudder as though to ward off sweet grossness. Yesterday, I’d traveled thirty miles to buy—for outrageous prices—the cream, the sugar, and two chocolate cupcakes—my secret favorite—one for each day. “Only the best for my Whole Wide World,” I say.

She licks chocolate frosting from tiny fingers; ecstasy, or a sugar high, shines in her eyes.
Settled in my plastic rocker which faces the front window, she snuggles on my lap. Her warmth seeps into my cold bones. I re-tell the happy-ever-after folktales that my mother had told and read to me. As always, she says, “Tell me about Superman!”

“Superman, I say, “is the man of steel who is stronger than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, and can soar, up-up and away! And superman always saves our whole wide world.”
Centuries ago, mankind had invented drawings and symbols with which to express and to communicate. Eventually, words and illustrations formed stories. Yet, we’ve ignored most spoken and written warnings. Fairytale books became fuel. Now, happy-ever-after endings will never dwell in children’s memories.

At bedtime, I offer the princess towel—once her mother’s—and my allotted shower time. Through the closed door, above the shower spray, and past her sing-voice—an impossibly high, little-girl pitch—I call out the warning attached to monthly statements: “Do not drink the filtered, recycled spray!”
Donned in flowery pajamas and fuzzy pink slippers, she emerges with damp hair and rosy cheeks.
I offer the feather-light sleep-bag, guaranteed to protect from our sudden and extreme high or low temperatures.
She grips toy and bag and slipper-shuffles outside—our secret that her father will never allow in the city where pollution and crime kill.
Settled in my rocker, I hold the carved robins. I pull the sharp talon from the male and tuck it into my shirt pocket. My fingers trace the small shapes. They are not feather-smooth. Tiny hearts do not flutter inside soft, warm bodies because these birds lived only in my soulmate’s imagination. I’ll dust them, and tomorrow afternoon, before her daddy comes to take her away, I’ll give them to her. The birds will forever nest side by side, wingtip-to-wingtip. They will no longer teeter.
My tears will well when I tell her that the robins are symbols of springtime and of Grandpap’s and Grandma’s love for her. I’ll tell her that, no matter what, she and I will forever be inseparable.

She’ll wrap her little arms around me in a fierce hug. For the last time?
From my window, I see her small shape, huddled in the sleep-bag and surrounded by a twilight that’s uncertain if being born anew or dying out. Under my apple tree’s skeleton—-which I’ve refused to burn because she needs the memory of sleeping-under-a-tree no matter how wretched the damn thing—-she aims the flashlight beam toward pollution-shrouded stars in search of a real Superman to save her because Grandma tried but failed and Grandpap didn’t even try.
I’ll eventually guide her inside. She’ll sleep-mumble of aliens, princesses, and Superman while I ask her to never forget me when I’m gone. She’ll say I’ll never be gone and kiss my cheek. I’ll pull in her precious scent of life.

Once she’s settled in her mother’s childhood bed, the air-purifier’s hum will lull her back to slumber. I’ll return to plastic and re-live every second of her visit. I can sleep after she leaves or after I die. Whichever hits first.
Tomorrow night, I’ll sit alone and peer through my ghostly window-reflection; I will find only thickening black air.

I swipe at the tears that ride zigzag wrinkle crevices and tickle my tissue-thin cheeks. In the midst of my gloomy thoughts, something bright flickers. One of those flashes related to the old-age shadow-spots floating on my eyes? There’s another damn flash. And another! “What the hell?”
Outside, a faint glow flickers from the toy which sits on dead ground that once smelled of rich soil, deep roots, and lush grass. Of fresh promise.

“Good,” I mutter to the old house that has heard only my grumpy voice for the past twelve months. “The battery holds a spark of life or the owner’s frantically punching the remote button.” I pull in and let loose a shaky sigh. “Before her dad takes her to the city, we’ll attempt to fly it.”

A high-pitched Hummm worms through my musings. Has my tinnitus kicked up a notch? I tug earlobes. What’s worse, forever hearing dead silence or constantly enduring head-hums? I peer at the faint glow behind the air crud. Am I seeing the moon? During the daytime, our sun’s rays struggle to filter through filthy air. At night, the moon’s shrouded glow looks anemic. Must be the moon.

Pain slashes. Not the familiar physical joint-ache. More a soul-ripping despair. “What will happen to my little one with the eyes that bring back memories of summer skies?” My, question gets clogged with tears. “What of the tiny but brave alien-hunter with the morning breath, the missing baby tooth, and the scattered freckles?” I call toward the ceiling, “What about all innocent young who’ve never climbed a living tree, breathed clear air, or jumped into healthy water? Is our planet punishing the offspring of those who’d steadily murdered it?”

Beside me, something beep-beeps. I glance at the I-Tablet on the floor. I’d ignored it for how many months or years? The screen is faint as though steadily expiring like the rest of us. I lean down and knuckle-thump it; the government announcement, even without my eyeglasses, glares up at me.

The screen beeps, shrinks, blackens.

My heart races. My fingers tremble. My questions burst: “What Save Our World’s Children Committee? What alien allies? What sister planet? Have I disregarded my world for too long? Am I an ignorant, opinionated old fool?” A sound from outside overwhelms my rants. “And, what the hell is that damn hum?”
I struggle to my feet and grip the sill with one hand while the other cradles the robins. Outside, the toy hovers beside the sleeping child.
My thoughts collide. What if the craft is not a toy? She said a voice from inside the dome told her to keep it near her so they could save her. Was that a recording or a scam? If the antenna is missing, will the drone not be able to make contact with the mother ship? Will the extraterrestrials leave her trapped, here, on our dying Earth? Am I insane?

Adrenalin rushes through my gnarled veins and pushes my ancient body and my stubborn mind into action. I turn to totter down basement steps to find the old radio but glance back, to where the small craft wobbles, as though to fall useless to the ground. No time to struggle down the stairs and to search through mounds of junk for the radio’s antenna. No time left on this Earth for me to manage the knee-killing, upward climb. I must not hide! I must save my granddaughter!

With carved birds gripped in one fist, I grab my just-in-case cane, and I shuffle to the back door. “Kick into gear, old man,” I say as the screen door creaks open and slaps behind me.

The small craft wobbles beside my granddaughter, who sleeps in the bag and dreams that her treasure and Superman are saving her playmates and her dresses and her dolls and ...
My shaky fingers run across the smooth dome. On the third try, I find the indentation that had held the antenna before a little girl had stuffed it into a grungy bag, dragged it through dirt, thumped it up porch steps, pulled across the kitchen floor, and plunked it onto Grandpap’s oak table. I pull the wire from my pocket and shove it into the dome’s dimple.

I release the craft; it slow-motion sinks down and nestles onto fuzzy pink slippers. A dome-shaped balloon out of air. Out of time. The bird’s leg and claw aim upward as though to grasp something beyond reach.

On wobbly legs, I stand beside her and wait. Do I dare dream that hope is near? Is it too late? Will the ship leave her behind? Was the wire an old man’s pathetic, last-minute, futile attempt? Should I have searched inside the alien-catcher sack for the antenna? Have I failed her? Again? 

I tuck the carved robins between tiny, freckled hands. I pull in a shaky lungful of tired air and push out, “The robins will keep guard over you, and Grandpap will love you forever.”
My whispered plea, as I back away from my only grandchild, “Please take her, please take her, please take her,” rides on gasping breaths.

My heart pounds as I shuffle into the house. Settled on plastic, I glare out at the toy that sits silent, dark, and useless on pink fuzzy slippers.

“Damn you…” Before I finish my curse that rides on spittle and whistles past falsies, the small craft darts upward toward a sudden flash of brilliance that I’d never imagined. My heart, unaccustomed to sprinting, stumbles.
What I’d thought to be a useless toy, enters a hovering ship with a diameter too humongous to tally.

“E.T’s from outer space?” My voice echoes the wonderment of my youth. “For sure real aliens?” Has my childhood wish come true or is this the unveiling of an old man’s brain-rot? Or, is this the beginning of everyone’s end?

Why did I assume, because she is young and I am old, that she is wrong and I am right? Why did I think, because I gave up the fight, that all mankind had given up? And, why hadn’t I helped?

The brilliant, blinding light dims to a soft glow which brings to mind a healthy sunrise. It highlights the mother-ship’s engravings. I see without glasses, what I couldn’t see with them: I see hope in the form of: EARTH-TWO CHILD RESCUE.

From inside the ship’s many portals, young faces smile out at me. Young faces only.

“The important part of my wish comes true.” My whisper, like my earlier rants, gets caught in tears; these tears are not born from sadness or fear or desperation. These are tears of relief. An emotion I thought would never again surge.
I nod and agree to what is offered: through memories, my granddaughter and I will be forever inseparable. I press my palm against the window pane; my final goodbye.

A pure light of salvation blankets my yard, my tree, my house, and my sleeping 
The light, stronger than a locomotive, darts faster than a speeding bullet and soars up, up and away to save Earth’s children.
Below the pathetic skeleton of my apple tree, pink fuzzy slippers wait beside the feather-light sleep-bag—guaranteed to protect from our sudden and extreme high or low temperatures. The bag, empty of wooden robins and living child, looks deflated.

Resigned, I rock on hard plastic, and my smile, the rare one that has hidden for too long, spreads over falsies. I hum Momma’s lullaby, the one that I forgot to sing to my granddaughter when I had the chance. So many wasted chances.
I stare through my ghostly window reflection, I peer beyond Earth One’s dark air, and I search for Earth-Two and my Whole Wide World. END



Evonne M. Biggins writes from Rupert, Idaho. Thirty-three of her thirty-seven entries in the Idaho Writer's League and the Idaho Writer's Guild conference contests have placed from honorable mention to first.