Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


19th In Love
by Gerard Mulligan

Nelay and the Blunt
by Clint Spivey

Fletcher’s Mountains
by Michael Hodges

Robert and Sarah, Across the Multiverse
by Matthew S. Dent

Boccaccio in Outer Space
by Chet Gottfried

Invoking Fire
by Guy Stewart

Seven Seconds
by Charles Payseur

by Simon Kewin

Coming of AGE
by Bob Sojka

A Journey Through the Wormhole
by Brian Biswas


A Taste for Physics
by John McCormick

Scale of the Problem by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Fletcher’s Mountains

By Michael Hodges

THE RULES DON’T APPLY UP HERE. Not the city rules anyway—the ones about credit, finances, and stature. You know. All that irrelevant baloney that doesn’t matter a hill of beans once we die. The only thing we take with us is what we’ve seen. At least that’s what I think. Maybe that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans either. But Fletcher, my eyes have spent a lifetime in the Divinities. And that makes me the richest S.O.B on earth. —Arnold P. Enders, last seen in the Divinity Mountain country.

The snow froze his feet. The boots he’d gotten from the local sporting goods outfit worked as well as a screen door on a submarine. He chuckled. His old man used to tell him that joke a long time ago—back before The Event. It took the old man just like it took most humans. What was left of them had scattered, most going to the cities. Foolish.

The socks were no good either. Package said they were wool. No way. More like double-layered athletic socks. Oh well, they were free. The store was empty, like most stores now. And the highways too. Except for the dead SUVs, nothing more than tombstones, their mass blocking the roads at former population centers like plaque near the human heart.

Fletcher trudged in the drifts, leaving posthole tracks. Clumps of snow dumped from spruce branches as he brushed against them. His breath was cold when it reached his lips. The stillness of winter entered his soul, pushing on it. Perhaps it was the thing squeezing out his breath.

He’d seen deer tracks. They were confident, not sloppy like his. Man wasn’t meant for snow in these parts. But he had to come. Enders was up here, holed up in a cabin, riding out the icy winds. Hell, riding out the world. And for the last ninety miles something had been riding his tail—a shadowy figure two hundred yards back, disappearing from sightlines when he turned. Fun and games in this new era, an unpleasant surprise at every corner. He’d tried to evade the thing behind him, doubling back, side-cutting, even crossing creeks and crawling through drainage pipes. This was the world, now. Chase or be chased.

Gas prices had hit ten dollars a gallon and hell erupted. It started with fights at service stations, robberies, and exasperated news anchors. It ended at seventy dollars a gallon and World War III.

Fletcher spit into the snow, the yellow blob contrasting with the pure white.

Of course the war drove up fuel prices even more, and well, that was that as they say.

People went insane. Fletcher knew they always had it in them. You could see it in the highways at night, the meanness. When someone was driving with one headlight and their brights on to cover up for it, they’d get flashed back by oncoming drivers. That ain’t a kind country. More like an I got mine country. There were other things, too. Lost pets with ID tags scratching at neighbor’s doors, the neighbors refusing to answer. This was the kind of meanness. Not something people paid attention to every day. But he saw it, just under the skin like a virus, waiting for weakness. And boy did they show weakness. When people could no longer afford to buy gas, they began to kill each other for possessions.

Fletcher stopped, the stillness penetrated by rough breathing. Closer now, beyond the young spruce, obscured.

A dark form.

Fur. Slice of pink tongue. Steamy breath.

A wolf. A big damn wolf. Lush, pepper coat. Amber eyes, head nodding as huge paws reached forth in the drifts. It bounded behind the spruce, cutting the stillness as snow sifted off its fur. It panted and pawed, heading east. Fletcher wasn’t worried. You had a better chance of winning the lottery than being attacked by a wolf. Man had killed most of ’em, even though they were running non-native cattle and sheep in wolf habitat. The remaining wolves were pushed into the mountains and bogs. Funny how life works. What was left of humanity now mirrored the wolves. The sprawl made for poor farming, and most of the wildlife down low had been poached. The water was no good in the Midwest thanks to pesticides, so those with an understanding of ecology headed to pristine watersheds in the Appalachians, Rockies, and Sierras. Those who had no clue headed to the cities. That’s where most went.

People are pack animals. So are wolves. This one was likely chased out. A loner, just like him. True, he was alone, but he did have friends.

Enders was a friend, and he knew he’d be here, up in the Divinity Mountains. Enders was no goof. He’d talked about Doomsday, even built himself a bunker under his cabin stocked with food and weapons. Fletcher used to roll his eyes at him, thought maybe he was getting paranoid. Enders was twenty years his senior after all.

The woods fell silent once more, the panting wolf long gone.

Fletcher checked behind him, and thought he saw the bipedal figure lurch back into a clump of pines. Maybe a cannibal looking for a meal. Maybe.

Enders had shown him the ways of the mountains once, back when he took a summer job building tourist cabins in the valley. He’d run into Enders at Peckin’s General Store and struck a conversation. He’d offered to buy Enders a drink next door, but Enders told him drinking was for fools, and we best be on our toes for the Big Day.

Fletcher sunk into a drift up to his armpits, holding his rifle above his head. He grunted, doubling his frosty breath.

The rifle was the weapon of choice for open country. You could see an enemy coming a mile away. In this situation, you needed a combination of accuracy and distance. The shotgun was essential for close quarters—an urban weapon. Fletcher thought about the people in the city who didn’t have shotguns. They didn’t last long. Pistols were no good. People were too damn riled up to aim them properly, and a missed shot meant that kitchen knife was going into your neck. Or a golf club to the head. Better odds. He kept a sawed-off he’d made at Ace Hardware in Chicago in his backpack and the rifle in his hands. You needed a one-two punch. When people started killing each other for food, he got the hell out. He’d swapped cars down the interstate. Hop in one with a bit of gas, drive it for a few miles, walk a dozen, find another, goose it for a few. Traveling the interstate during the winter was a bitch, but he had no choice. It was safer there. The people thinned out. Ranchland didn’t hold much use to folks once the cattle were all consumed. Once he saw a girl on the North Dakota Interstate, limping. She’d held a crossbow and a hunk of meat hung off a bloody backpack. Her face was pale, confused. When he checked the rearview he realized the meat was a human leg.

He didn’t stop.

Billings was where he’d gotten the boots and socks. Returning to Montana felt like returning home. The first glimpse of the Divinity Mountains stole his breath, the pale winter light glinting off the glaciers and the granite purity. They loomed over the prairie, the first mountains coming from the east. It had been ten years. That was the last time he saw Enders, too. He’d had dinner with him up at his cabin in the Divinity Mountains, not too far as the crow flies from Billings, but very far as the road goes.

The hip-deep snow made for slow travel. Each step—pulling out of the fresh hole, and sinking down again—felt like it burned a thousand calories. It wasn’t easy to find food, but Billings was much easier than bigger cities. Your odds increased at smaller, rural population centers due to folks fleeing them for the cities and well, less people in general raiding the stores. You had to know where to look. Office parks were the best. Snack machines, old bags of chips. Most people went to the grocery stores. Big mistake. Grocery stores had become ambush spots—where the hungry were eaten by the hungrier. Sometimes people turned on each other when they came up zero in the empty aisles.


He wondered if Enders was dead. It had been a long time. A tear dripped off his face and onto the fresh snow, the warm fluid eating into it like acid and steaming. He wished he’d never left Montana. Enders was a damn good friend. Straight up. Taught him how to fish, how to hunt if need be. Taught him the ways of the woods. Taught him how to be a man, to avoid the bottle and drugs, to live pure and wild.

Each step through the snow was a reunion. Each pine, boulder, and tree-studded ridge was a joy in a world that had been sucked of it. He was home. Fletcher wiped a tear away from his face. The cold mitten scraped his cheek.

There was no road to Enders’ cabin. He’d planned it. He’d said something about the bad guys not finding you as long as you don’t point the way. Fletcher grinned.

Honeymoon Creek whispered to his left, the trickle muted by marshmallow puffs with boulder cores. A gray jay chittered on a snag next to the river. Fletcher thought it was saying hello.

The air was sweet, pure. The contrast between rock, sky, and trees was remarkable. He’d forgotten about these things, of how vibrant it was above four thousand feet. And he wasn’t about to let his stalker take that from him.

He tried to smell, but it was too cold to smell. At least for humans. He turned to his follower, and watched the figure lope back into the trees, out of sight.

Fletcher stopped, took off a mitt and reached deep into his layered jacket. His fingers grasped a cold piece of brass, and he pulled it out. It still worked. Enders had given him the old brass watch as a parting gift, telling him he didn’t need it no more seeing as he’d gone to the mountains for good. The watch was an unusual piece, with Charlemagne font and a healthy mule deer buck in the center. It ticked a little too loudly—so much so that he’d put it at the bottom of his sock drawer so he could sleep at night. Sometimes he’d wake up before dawn, hearing the faint ticks. They reminded him of sitting on the cabin porch with Enders, counting the stars, and the hikes through the trailless portions of the mountains, each tick bringing a scene in vivid detail. But now he realized the ticks were also a countdown to The Event and his trip back to Montana. He put the watch around his neck, the inside of the glass fogging, the brass contrasting with his dark jacket.

Fletcher looked to the sky. Just a reflex. No need to do that anymore. Planes needed fuel. When the oil started to disappear, Third World countries were carpet-bombed for their fossil fuels.

Fletcher sunk into another drift. This one was a real bitch. If he dropped the rifle, he’d lose it; maybe have to wait until spring to find it.

Layers of cold white.

Fine, crystalline powder. He led with his hips. They cut into the snow, making room for his legs to kick. Hip left, hip right, kick left, kick right, tick, tock, tick.

A dagger icicle dropped from a ponderosa pine, disappearing into the snow as if it never existed. Didn’t even make a sound.

As he gained altitude, cliffs began to close in on him, providing narrow passage and the possibility of a mountain lion watching from a position which was unfavorable to those who caught a glimpse. He dug a foot into the rocks and climbed over a notch, leading to a mini-valley of old growth ponderosa pine, aspen, and steep inclines in three directions. The forest was darker here, the light having to work. In the middle of the bowl sat Enders’ log cabin. Each log was chinked to perfection, the roof low-gloss, green aluminum—no maintenance needed. The front of the cabin displayed four windows, a cedar door, and a porch. Since the cabin was built on an incline, a lower level with a stone wall and wooden door was visible below the porch—but only half of it. An aluminum chimney painted to match the roof rose into the trees.

His chest tightened as he observed the yard. No tracks. No way in hell Enders was here.

Tick tock tick.

Fletcher trudged through the snow to the rock wall. He counted four stones to the left of the door and grasped a hunk of slate. Damn thing was frozen. Two hands now, and the rock separated from the wall, revealing a key in the depression. He put the stone back and opened the creaking door, letting light into the room.

“Enders?” Fletcher asked.



Tick tock tick.

The room was as it had always been—nothing more than industrial metal shelving holding tools and a workbench. Many of the tools were missing. Fletcher closed the door behind him and bolted it. He walked over the rug and trap door which led to the bunker. No reason for Enders to be holed up in there, but he should check anyway. He pulled back the Santa Fe rug and lifted the trap door.



He took the camping headlamp from his jacket and shone it into the darkness, revealing stacks of canned goods, mattresses, books, packages of batteries, and other necessities. No Enders.

Fletcher thought about him often in the last ten years, of how Enders told him he needed to stay in Montana, that he was a mountain man, and a mountain man is a homeless man in Chicago, roof or not. He’d thought about the incident in front of the Waterloo, when he and Enders had left Peckin’s General Store and encountered a few drunks Enders had known. They’d accused him of freeing coyotes and wolves from their traps and then took a swing at him. Enders had swept under the big drunk’s legs and slammed him into a car, sending his head through the passenger window. The crunch of glass and the screams made the others stop in their tracks. The drunk’s face was all bloody and bruised. Looked like hell had spit him out. They’d run off. He’d swore Enders looked like a wolverine; his teeth clenched and his face all scrunched up. He’d kept his distance from him on the way back to the cabin.

Upstairs was like it always was. A cast iron stove, stacks of wood in the corner, a wheeled countertop, plastic tubs for dish and clothes washing, shelves filled with books, matches, lanterns, and lamp oil. The plaid couch was still there, uncomfortable as ever. A ladder led to a loft which held a bed and dresser. Several paintings of animals with mountain backdrops adorned the log walls, made by Shelly Two-Heart; a beautiful artist in the valley Enders always had a thing for, although he’d never admit it.

No guns, though. And that drove a spike into Fletcher’s heart. Enders was gone. For whatever reason, he’d left his mountain fortress. Fletcher gripped his shotgun and checked the window that overlooked his snow trail.

Tick tock tick.

Maybe they’d gotten him, eaten him. A few people knew about his cabin, but there were no signs of struggle. No blood, nothing out of place.

He opened the door to the cast iron stove and placed wadded toilet paper from his pack and four quarter-cut aspen logs inside, the crisp bark smooth on his hands. The logs had been inside for a while. Must have been cut in the fall.

He struck a Diamondhead match and lit the jumble, placing his hands near the flames. Sulfur filled his nose. He kneeled, worshiping the fire like humans had done for many years. Fire had a way of rejuvenating his spirit. As he thawed, something shiny on the shelf reflected the flames. He stood and took the metal picture frame. It showed him and Enders up on Feather Ridge, after they’d scaled the cliff. They were eating sack lunches and smiling. Enders didn’t much care for cameras, but Fletcher couldn’t remember taking the photo. A folded section of paper emanated from the top of the frame. He pulled the photo away and unfolded the paper:

Fletcher—I had a feeling you’d make it out here. Like I said, you’re best suited for the mountains. Took you awhile to realize it though, eh? No worries, I’m the same way—thick in the head. If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering where the hell I am. I went higher, and that’s all I care to say. If I don’t die, I’ll be back in the spring.

Do not kill those with fangs, my friend. They are your allies in a world gone mad. Kill only what you can eat, and pay your respects. I knew you’d come back. What’s mine is yours. Be comfortable. Stay clean. Live the life of a wildman in your heart. The Divinities are yours as they are mine.

Enders didn’t leave the date. That was his way.

Fletcher had seen wolf packs disappear between robust trunks of aspen and pine. He’d seen rare grizzly bears amble into bogs. He once watched Enders climb a ridge as if assisted by wings. He’d vanished over the crest like it was nothing.

The watch stopped.

Fletcher looked up from the stove, gazing upon the forest. So still. Much of the world is now, too. Winter has a way of making you see right. The icy crust under the snow squeezes the earth clean. We’ve needed that for a long time now, he supposed.

Enders always knew that. infinity

Michael Hodges resides in Chicagoland, but often dreams of the Northern Rockies. He's a member of Codex, SFWA, and represented by FinePrint Literary. You can find out more about him at his website, Michael Hodges Fiction.