Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


You’ll Always Have the Burden With You
by Ken Liu

by Aliya Whiteley

Adventures of Doria Quinn
by Joe Occhipinti

by Nathaniel Williams

My Soul to Keep
by Eric Del Carlo

Voices of { }
by Sean Eret

Foggy Planet Breakdown
by Peter Wood

Subcasting the Pain
by Erin Lale

Expansion of Space
by Brian Biswas

by Simon Kewin


Journey to the Bottom of Nothing
by Eric M. Jones

Giving the Gift of Science
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Expansion of Space

By Brian Biswas

IT IS A PHYSICAL LAW THAT NO object can travel through space faster than the speed of light. However, space itself can and often does. This presents the celestial traveler with a conundrum. For if the space he inhabits is expanding faster than the speed of light, then the proportion of space he occupies—compared to the entire cosmos—lessens. In other words, he will shrink.

Now I am not certain, but I believe that may explain what has happened to me and my beloved. Let me elucidate.

I met Alice five years ago at a sidewalk cafe in New York City. It was a tranquil Sunday in early October, around noon. The air was crisp and cool; cumulus clouds dotted the sky. Alice was eating alone. She held a steaming beverage in her left hand and on a small white plate I spied a chocolate-covered donut.

I noticed she was not wearing a wedding band and I asked if I could join her. She smiled.

We made our introductions. Alice looked to be in her mid-twenties. She had long, straight black hair, lovely pale-green eyes. She was wearing a yellow blouse, cashmere cardigan with bold red buttons, a bright-red wraparound skirt, black sandals. She told me she taught astrophysics at Columbia University. I was impressed.

“That’s some accomplishment for one so young,” I said. It was probably obvious that I was awe-struck. “How old are you, anyway?”

She blushed. “Twenty-six.”

I told her I was twenty-four, a former graduate student at Columbia who’d been majoring in linguistics, but dropped out when it became apparent I was making little progress.

“Don’t give up,” she said. “You never know what’s around the corner.”

“It wasn’t the field for me.”

“When I was younger I wanted to be a ballerina, but my feet couldn’t stand the strain. Astrophysics is the same thing only on a larger scale. Why, now I can pirouette amongst the stars!”

I laughed.

“Tell me what you think of that book,” she continued, pointing at the hardback I held in my right hand. On the Origins of the Universe was my current reading material.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “It’s fascinating, to say the least. But there’s much I find confusing.”

“Such as?”

“The big questions. How did the universe arise? How will it end? After it ends, what will be where it was? Just thinking about it makes me dizzy. If there’s one thing that really bothers me, though, it’s when the author talks about the expansion of space. What is it expanding into?”

Alice laughed. “Nothing, silly. Space is all there is.”

“That’s another thing I don’t understand.”

“Think of it this way. Space is everywhere. As it expands, it’s not anywhere it wasn’t already.” She paused, undoubtedly noticing my discomfort. “And it’s not really expanding, anyway. It’s stretching.”

I frowned. “What’s the difference?”

“Expanding implies movement from here to there, which, as I said, isn’t what happens. Stretching is an increase in distance between two points. After a suitable period of time, the distance between A and B isn’t C, it’s two times C.”

We talked for over an hour. I learned she was unmarried, had taught at Columbia for a year, had a brother named Zeke and a sister, Cindy. She’d graduated with a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Stanford only the year before. Her specialty, she said, was the physics of black holes.

“I have one, as a matter of fact,” she dead-panned. “In my apartment on West 145th Street.”


As we climbed the stairs to her fourth-floor apartment, Alice talked about her family. Her parents lived in Ely, Minnesota, where she was born and raised. They were owners of Slatkin’s Canoe Outfitters, a rental agency that had served northern Minnesota for thirty years. Her eyes glazed over as she spoke of midnight paddles across Great Bear lake, the stars twinkling against the jet-black background of space. It was then, she said, that she fell in love with the heavens, learned how to navigate via the stars, and decided to devote her life to astronomy.

I was mesmerized by her iridescent, black hair, hour-glass figure, hips that gently swayed as she mounted the stairs, and my heart was thumping wildly when she slowly opened the door to apartment 403.

She flicked on the light in the foyer.

I saw a black leather couch along one wall. An end table next to the couch. A dark-brown ottoman occupying the middle of the room. But it was the aquarium nestled up against one of the side walls that captured my attention. It must have been at least fifty gallons and was filled with fish, exotic plants, and aquatic sculptures.

“My pride and joy,” Alice said when she noticed me gazing at the tank. I counted a half-dozen fish, brilliant orange, with translucent black fins, bright red eyes, and light-blue lines that crisscrossed their bellies. I knew something about fish, yet I’d never encountered this species.

“What kind of fish are these?” I asked.

“Speculated Wild African Goldfish,” she said, a species I’d never heard of. Then she asked if I’d like something to drink.

“Iced tea, if you have any.”

She disappeared into the kitchen. I heard the sound of a refrigerator door opening and drinks being poured.

The walls of the living room were painted dark-blue. The floors were carpeted, a thick, ultra-soft material. A bay window behind the couch overlooked a park across the street.

I turned my attention back to the fish tank. The goldfish had disappeared and I found myself staring into the languid, gold eyes of a Mexican axolotl. The creature was ghostly-looking: white with red gills, two short, fat front legs with four digits each and two thin, long rear legs with five. Its pupiless, unlidded eyes stared at me uncomprehendingly.

“Admiring my salamander?” Alice said as she strode back into the room, drinks in hand. “I acquired it about a month ago. It’s charming, wouldn’t you say?”

That wasn’t the word I would have used to describe the creature, but I nodded in agreement.

“It will grow to be about three feet long, but I’ll donate it to the New York Aquarium before then. They have a salamander exhibit that’s second to none.”

“I’ve been there,” I said. “But it was long ago.”

“Then we must go sometime!”

She had that way of talking, straight and to the point, but always from an unexpected direction.

“Alice, I was wondering ...”


“It’s like the expansion of space. The enormity of it all. I mean, I know we just met, but ah, eh ...” I hemmed and I hawed. I felt so embarrassed. Here I was, a former linguistics major, and I couldn’t string proper sentences together!

She smiled. “You’re thinking about the enormity of the cosmos, aren’t you? Well, the universe is vast. Did you know scientists believe we can only detect five percent of the content of our universe? The other ninety-five percent has disappeared over the time horizon, the point at which objects are so far away that light emitted by them will never reach us. In other words, not only is most everything unknown, most everything is unknowable. The only difference between us and him”—she pointed at the axolotl—“is that we’re swimming in a different aquarium.”

She paused, then said, “Shall I show you what you came here for?”

I gulped. “Yes.”

“It’s in the bedroom.”

It seemed to take an eternity to make our way down the red- carpeted hallway that led to Alice’s sleeping chamber. She kept talking all the while, but I can’t remember a word of what she said, other than it had something to do with the structure of space.

When we reached the room she ushered me inside with a wave of her hand. “After you.”

The room was pitch black. Instead of turning on the lights, she lit a half-dozen candles on a dresser that rested against the far wall. They flared up like little supernovas, casting wandering shadows on the walls. I sighed when I saw her queen-sized bed in one corner, the lace sheets warm and inviting.

But that was not all that I saw.

The ceiling was covered with glow-in-the-dark stars. They’d been arranged to form a replica of the winter night sky. Aldebaran was a shining red jewel in the constellation Taurus. Orion the Hunter contained the bright stars Rigel and Betelgeuse and the three smaller stars that formed the magnificent belt. Directly overhead, in the constellation Andromeda, was a prominent oval patch which, I assumed, represented the Andromeda galaxy. The closet galaxy to our own, it was barely visible to the naked eye; here it was brighter than anything else on the ceiling. Alice had taken great pains to ensure the correctness of her overhead mural and this deviation seemed odd.

I was conscious of strange gurgling sounds coming from the back of the room. Looking down, I saw a filtration device, perhaps three feet wide by two feet tall. It was wedged in one corner next to a casement window whose shades were tightly drawn. A simple canister filter, it worked by suctioning liquid into a canister through an entry pipe and pumping the liquid out through a return pipe. Both pipes were visible wrapping around the room and disappearing into a bedroom closet.

When Alice saw me gazing at the filter, she said, “A hobby of mine. I put this one together with parts from a local surplus store.”

What she didn’t tell me was what the filter was doing in her bedroom.

Just then I heard her sigh. She had removed her cardigan and sandals. Her green eyes sparkled in the flickering candlelight and the smile that played on her lips could only have meant one thing.

I was wondering if the time had come for me to kiss her when she went over to the bedroom closet and pulled open the door.

“In here.”

As I peered into the closet I saw an inky black void.

“It’s in the corner,” she whispered.

And that was when I saw it: underneath the bottommost shelf, a pinpoint of light. It was only a point, no wider than the end of a pencil, but it was so bright, so intense, that it seemed much larger. “Yes,” I said. “I see it now. Amazing!”

I paused. “But I’m confused. You said you were going to show me your black hole. This is something else.”

“No,” she replied. “This is what I mentioned.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look closely,” she said, “and tell me what you see.”

Trembling, I entered the closet and got down on my hands and knees to examine the entity, but the angle wasn’t right.

“It’s easiest to view if you lie on your back and look up,” she said.

Thus positioned, I gazed upon the radiant jewel’s infinite expanse. I saw everything that ever was, I saw everything that ever would be. Everything was clearly visible in the depths of the black hole. I saw my birth in a hospital in Athens, Ohio. I witnessed my recovery from the childhood illness that nearly killed me. I saw my baptism, I saw my high-school graduation. The look of pride on my parents’ faces when I was admitted to Columbia on full scholarship. I witnessed the car accident which claimed my brother’s life when I was in my freshman year. The agonizing aftermath. The long and lonely evenings drinking in bars around Manhattan wondering what any of it meant. I saw myself meeting Alice in a restaurant on Forty-Third Street. And I watched in wonder when the circle became complete as she took me to her apartment and showed me the black hole.

“Why doesn’t it consume what lies around it?” I asked. “You, me, this room, everything.”

“They don’t work that way,” she replied. “At least not the little ones.”

I told Alice I felt like I was in a tale by Jorge Louis Borges. “The Aleph.” One of my favorites. She smiled. “The Argentinian’s aleph was a figment of his imagination. Mine exists.”

I asked her what was inside the black hole, that is, what was on the other side of the black hole.

“Another world, much like ours.”

“How do you know?”

“Perhaps I’ve been there?” She laughed. Her green eyes sparkled and I found myself gazing longingly at her pearly white throat. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starved,” she continued. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Without waiting for a reply, she ushered me into the dining room. She apologized for leftovers, but assured me Indian food tasted better after the spices had time to meld.

As we consumed a delicious meal of tandoori chicken, vegetable biryani, and garlic nan, we continued to discuss the nature of the universe.

“It says in here,” I began, holding up my copy of On the Origins of the Universe, “that the cosmos is actually the inside of a monstrous black hole, a black hole which will expand forever, or until it fades from existence.”

Alice laughed. “I know what the book says, but it’s wrong.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I don’t understand the details of the author’s argument. The mathematics involved. But he seems to make his case.”

“It’s hogwash.”

“He sets forth a reductio ad absurdum that—”

“—that is itself absurd.”

“So what are they? Black holes. You said you study them. The author of my book calls them portals to the past. Are they that or something else?”

“It’s been mathematically proven that you can’t revisit the past,” she said, “but you can change the rate at which you go into the future.”

“You mean black holes are portals to other worlds?”

“I mean no such thing,” she said. Too quickly, I thought; there was something behind her words. She rose from the table and began clearing the dishes. “They’re permanent fixtures of our universe, nothing more. Scientific curiosities. Leading nowhere.”

“That reminds me of a question I had earlier,” I said. “The black hole in your closet is a point of light. I didn’t think they emitted light.”

Alice smiled. “You’re correct. The gravitational attraction of a black hole is so strong not even light can escape, that is, once light rays have crossed the event horizon they’re gone forever. What you may not realize is that to you, as an observer, the light approaching a black hole never crosses inside. You observe it get closer and closer, witness an ever-increasing halo of light that seems to surround the hole, a blinding white light that has, in reality, long-since vanished.”

“The black hole becomes a white one?”

“To the observer, yes. It’s a consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics: the amount of disorder in a closed system must remain constant. Since information is a measure of the disorder of a system, the amount of information in a closed system remains constant. The universe is a closed system. A black hole removes information from the universe. If the light a black hole captured disappeared from the observer’s sight, the information content of the universe would decrease, violating the law.”

“Doesn’t that imply that the black hole is effectively a second universe, or possibly a portal to such a place?”

Alice smiled. “It’s late and I’m tired,” she said. “We can talk more about this later.” She drew me to her and kissed me. “Wait,” I said, attempting to remove her arms that encircled my waist. “Since the universe is expanding, at some point the light from a distant section of the cosmos will no longer be able to reach us. In other words, the object which emitted the light will disappear from the universe, reducing its disorder in violation of the second law. And that means we’re living inside a black hole.”

In response, Alice pulled me to her and kissed me once again, passionately this time. And, this time, I did not resist.

When I awoke the next morning, Alice was nowhere to be seen. I dressed and went downstairs to the kitchen. No Alice.

I looked at the clock on the wall: 9:15 a.m. I remembered Alice telling me she had an eight o’clock class that morning. The topic: exoplanets. She’d beamed when she told me she’d assembled half-a-dozen film clips to illustrate the topic. Shot in lavish detail—she laughed when she told me she’d filmed on location—they were sure to be a hit with her students.

Just then I spied a note on the counter. She’d written that she wouldn’t return until six, that I was to make myself at home, and not to worry about dinner for she’d be bringing home Chinese. It certainly seemed an invitation to stay.

Which I did.


A week later I moved in. Alice made it clear it was her apartment and she was allowing me to stay only on a trial basis. She would be up at the crack of dawn and wouldn’t return until evening so it would be my responsibility to have dinner prepared. Further, I was to do the grocery shopping and the laundry once a week. I wasn’t working, so I had nothing against this arrangement. She laughed when she added she was lucky to have found me. But she always had a mischievous look about her and I never knew whether to take her seriously.

During the day I spent my time reading and taking care of the apartment as Alice had instructed. I also enjoyed watching the fish tank for long periods of time. Another unusual fish soon joined the speculated goldfish and the salamander-like creature. This creature was eel-like, long and slender, with wide dorsal fins and green-and-blue pectoral fins. It was covered with downy-white cilia which undulated as it moved across the tank. I’d never seen anything like it. When I asked Alice about it she told me she’d acquired it on one of her recent travels and that its mate would be arriving soon. She didn’t tell me the name of the species nor where the purchase had been made and I didn’t ask. I had a hunch as to what was going on and to tell the truth I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. The importation of exotic specimens was illegal in this day and age.

Most evenings our discussions extended late into the night. They usually involved astronomical topics, and her knowledge about that subject seemed limitless. But she had questions as well. For all her scientific knowledge, she seemed ignorant about human history and was constantly peppering me with questions about culture and politics. Questions I often found amusing.

One conversation in particular sticks in my mind. It was a Friday evening in early December. The wind was howling, the naked branches of the elm trees grating against the windows. We’d just finished dinner, when I popped the question that had been bothering me for weeks:

“The universe is expanding,” I said. “That I know and understand. But doesn’t that imply that we are expanding as well?”

“What ever do you mean?”

“Space is expanding, correct?”


“The atoms which make us up are part of space—exist in space, do they not?”

“Of course.”

“Then the distance between the atoms must be expanding, that is, we ourselves are expanding.”

She laughed—how I loved her childish laugh—“First you say we’re shrinking because the cosmos is expanding, now you say we’re expanding because the cosmos is expanding. Which do you mean?”

“I guess I really don’t know,” I said, gazing at her quizzically. “I’m thoroughly confused!”

“I’ll tell you how it is,” she said, “though I don’t think my explanation will satisfy you.”

She took my hand and led me to the couch in her living room. I heard the tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the hall. The timepiece was encased in a cabinet made from stained cherry that had been etched with an intricate design depicting the planets and the stars.

“From the point of view of the universe we are expanding,” she explained. “From our point of view, we’re contracting. In other words, we’re both expanding and contracting and at the same rate. The effects cancel each other out, but they are happening.”

“Wouldn’t that mean we’d be dizzy all the time?” I meant it in jest, but she didn’t laugh.

“We aren’t. And that’s because we don’t notice what’s happening. The effect is rather small.”

I frowned. “What you say might be true,” I said. “Nevertheless, I don’t like it.”

“I didn’t think you would.” She smiled. The candlelight danced across her pretty green eyes.

I looked over at the fish tank and saw that the axolotl seemed to be watching us, or me. Alice continued, “Have you considered the possibility that it’s not the universe you’re preoccupied with, it’s something else, something within this universe and around which you revolve?”


“Me, perhaps?”

I felt my cheeks redden.

“My dear,” she said with a sigh. “It’s rather obvious, isn’t it? You’re falling in love with me!”

I sighed. Alice could be so disarming.

“But this discussion will have to wait for another time. Tomorrow I’m off to the Twelfth International Conference on Astrophysics. I’ll be gone a week.”

I looked around the room. I’d only moved my things the month before and wasn’t sure how she’d feel about my being here alone.

“You can stay, of course,” she said. Only one thing I insist on: don’t open the closet. With me being gone for days, the temptation might become too great.”

“Why not?” I asked. “I’d love nothing more than to study the black hole.”

“I’m sure you would,” she said. “But without me to guide you—well, the thing is rather dangerous. If you were to get too close ...”

“I promise I’ll be careful.”

“I insist,” she said. “I’d never forgive myself if something were to happen to you.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

One week turned into two, two into three, three into four—and I grew concerned. I called her cell phone several times, but she never answered. I rang up the physics department and inquired as to her whereabouts. I was told she’d attended a conference in northern Chile, but that they weren’t aware of her plans afterwards. Her classes were finished for the semester so they weren’t concerned. I was about to call the police to report Alice missing when I wandered into the living room one morning after breakfast and found her sitting on the sofa thumbing through a magazine, her suitcase on the floor.

“When did you get back?” I stammered. “I was worried sick.”

“The conference went on longer that I expected,” she replied. “Sorry about that.”

And that’s the way life went—for the next several months. There were more conferences and what she said were critically important observing sessions at Palomar and Lick. I asked for details on the latter, but they were not forthcoming. “Boring, scientific measurements,” she said with a shrug. How she equated critical observing sessions with boring measurements was beyond me.

I spent hours reading up on linguistic theory in Alice’s apartment (she’d managed to convince me to apply for re-admittance to graduate school) as well as my astronomical readings (I’d finished On the Origins of the Universe and now was engrossed in Black Holes, Quasars, and Other Astronomical Oddities by the same author). That and a part-time job shelving books at Columbia’s health sciences library consumed all my time.

Our six-month anniversary arrived but Alice was gone. I can’t remember the name of the conference, but I recall her telling me she had an important paper to deliver. Alice must have been to a half-dozen conferences in the past six months, yet I’d never seen registration materials or even conference proceedings. She’d never asked me to take a look at one of her papers nor had she practiced any of her talks in my presence. True, I was a layman and probably wouldn’t have understood much; still, I was a former linguistics major and could have offered advice on sentence construction and even critiqued her manner of presentation. I had no reason to question her activities, but I began to wonder: just what was my scientific partner up to?

That evening I called her cell phone, but she didn’t answer. I was slouched on the couch in the living room in front of a roaring fire. Already on my third drink, I was mildly inebriated. It occurred to me that Alice rarely answered when I called. I couldn’t forgive her this time: today was a special occasion!

I went see Dr. Ned Whistle, a clinical psychologist who had expertise in marital conundrums.

“The black hole is the key,” he said, stroking his dark goatee. “Her life seems to revolve around it. It would be wise to confront the issue.”

“She made me promise not to look at it,” I said.

Dr. Whistle sighed. “Has it occurred to you that she said that because she wants you to do precisely the opposite?”

“I took her at her word,” I said. “I’ve never had reason to doubt her.”

“You’ve much to learn about women,” he replied. “My advice is to open the closet door when you get home. I think you’ll see what it is she wants you to see.” He paused, then added, “But if you want my opinion the only thing you’ll see is a sixty-watt bulb.”

It was then I realized the man had been amusing himself at my expense. I left the room in a huff, shooting his secretary an angry look as I exited the lobby.

When I got back to the empty apartment, I fixed dinner and headed up to bed. It had been an exhausting day. The only conclusion I’d come to was that I needed to come to a conclusion—and soon. The stress of our relationship was tearing me apart.

When I opened the bedroom door, I was shocked to find Alice inside. She was standing in front of the closet, unpacking her suitcase. When she saw me, she smiled.



“When did you get back?”

“Just now.”

I frowned. “I’ve been downstairs. I didn’t see you come in.”

“Then it must have been a while ago. It’s been an exhausting trip. I’ve lost all track of time!”

I paused. She looked white. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.” It was a subtle movement: a backward flick of a right heel. To shut the closet door.

Alice told me the visit to Palomar had gone well. Her group’s research into galactic superclusters was yielding results none of them had anticipated. They’d asked her to stay an extra week and she could hardly say no. Caught up in the excitement, she’d forgotten to call and let me know she’d be late.

All well and good, except that Alice had told me she’d be delivering a paper at the Third Annual Conference on Galactic Superstructures at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, not doing research at Palomar Observatory in sunny California.

She smiled. “Forgiven?”

Before I had a chance to reply, I heard squeaking noises coming from the closet. Short, staccato bursts. “What’s that?” I asked.

She didn’t miss a beat. “It was a surprise, but ...” She opened the door and pulled out a metal cage. Inside was the oddest-looking rodent I’d ever seen. It was about the size of an opossum, with a sleek coat of jet-black fur, enormous pink ears, and a long fluffy-white tail. “A South American spiny rat,” she said. “One of my collaborators presented it to me at the conference. Evidently, they’re quite valuable.”

“I’m sure they are,” I said.

Moments later she was in my arms, showering me with kisses. I’d never been able to resist her and, after two weeks alone, was unable to now.


“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” I said to Alice the next evening, as we snuggled on the sofa. “What’s with the elaborate setup in the bedroom? The canister filter, the pipes that vanish into the closet?”

She brought a finger to her lips. “Later.”

“And what’s up with the aquarium in your living room? That bizarre salamander. It’s a Mexican axolotl, isn’t it? A government-protected species. What’s it doing here?”

“It’s not an axolotl.”

“Just what is it?”

“It’s similar, of course, to the salamander, but—” I didn’t like the way she was looking at me.

“Stop,” I said. “I don’t think I want to hear any more.”

“Oh, honey,” she said, drawing me close and nestling her head against my chest. “One day there will be no secrets ...”

It was a night to remember. Alice’s talent as an astrophysicist was eclipsed only by her talent in bed. She left me exhausted, so exhausted, in fact, that—combined with the stresses of the day—I didn’t awake until noon the next day.

And, of course, she was gone.

I sighed, rose from the bed, and dressed. It was Wednesday, the tenth of April. She’d told me she’d be attending an all-day seminar that included several well-known astrophysicists from abroad. There was to be a banquet at six. She wouldn’t be home until nine.

I looked at the closet door. The opportunity was there for the taking. Perhaps it was as Dr. Whistle had indicated, perhaps Alice wanted me to look inside. I had my hand on the knob and had given it a quarter turn when I changed my mind. I couldn’t go through with it! I’d made a promise to her and it was a promise I would keep.

Back in the kitchen, I turned on a gas burner. I cracked an egg into a bowl and heated up the frying pan. I took a slice of bread, cut a hole in the middle, and plopped the yolk inside. It sizzled.

My eyes glazed over as I watched the egg cook. My mind must have been playing tricks on me, for I could have sworn I was looking at the Andromeda Galaxy. The yolk resembled the central core, the albumen the spiral arms. The bread represented the fabric of space. And the steam rising from the frying pan was nothing less than cosmic energy.

It was then I noticed the note next to the phone on the kitchen counter. “Dearest,” it began. “Have to leave in a hurry. Palomar called. Something big has come up. Love, Alice.”

On a whim, I picked up the phone and dialed the airport. Alice always used Delta. The woman on the other end of the line told me there was one daily flight to Los Angeles and that it left at 11 P.M.

That was ten hours from now.

And that was when it hit me.

Alice told me more than once that I wasn’t the brightest star in the sky, and though I’d always laughed, I realize now that she wasn’t kidding. I’d been duped, to put it bluntly, though what she wanted from me I could only guess (I could think of one—disturbing—possibility, but quickly put it out of my mind.) The oversized image of the Andromeda galaxy on her bedroom ceiling, her frequent absences where she was mysteriously out of touch, her sudden and unexplained reappearances. And that elusive black hole, around which her life seemed to revolve. No, she wasn’t smuggling endangered species, but she was acquiring them. And the reason why was terrifying. “Andromeda is her home!” I cried, to no one but myself, for I was alone in my bedroom. It was an exclamation of triumph, I suppose, for I had finally reasoned it out. I rushed up the stairs, charged across the bedroom—nearly tripping in my haste—and threw open the closet door.

What had my mind imagined I would see? A portal to another world? Another space? Or to another time? What I saw was something quite different. Something so strange and horrifying I shudder even as I write these words. Astrophysics be damned!

It was pitch-black, just as I’d remembered, an endless, yawning abyss. The light from the bedroom reached the threshold and then abruptly vanished. It was as if the closet was walled off from the rest of the room by an unseen, unknown, or unknowable force.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, a moan escaped my lips. There was a blinding point of light within the closet. The black hole. Nothing alarming there. It was what surrounded the hole that held me hostage and quaking like a child. Wrapped around the hole was the image of my beloved Alice, her body stretched to the point of absurdity.

I backed away, sobbing hysterically, and slammed the closet door. And then I fled the apartment in terror, without bothering to collect my things. I hailed a cab, which, as luck would have it, was just passing by. “Get me out of here!” I cried to the bewildered cabby. “Anyplace at all. Just go!” Looking back, I’m surprised he threw open the door to let a wild man enter, much less drive him to a place of safety.


Addendum. The details of the subsequent years are not important. Suffice it to say that I was eventually able to collect my wits, re-enroll at Columbia, and obtain my linguistics degree. Unfortunately, no job offers were forthcoming and I found myself back home with my parents. I returned to school for an MBA at the urging of my father who was a banker on Wall Street. Six months after I graduated, I found employment as a commodities broker in London. I worked in the smoky city a number of years and acquired a reputation as a man who was both honest and fair. As luck would have it, I found myself in New York City one day negotiating an important deal. On a whim I looked up Alice’s apartment. I expected the dilapidated building to have been razed long ago and was surprised to find it still standing. Our old room was even available. I rang up the landlord and pretended to have an interest in renting the place. He showed me the apartment the following afternoon, leading me through dusty rooms I knew all too well. I talked of financial deals in London and other places, trying to maintain a calm demeanor. When we entered the bedroom, I could restrain myself no longer. I rushed across the musty floor and yanked open the closet door. Alas, the closet was empty; I spied only a bare bulb hanging loosely from the ceiling.

“Must take care of that,” the landlord muttered as we withdrew.

I left town the next day, returning to London where I reside in Notting Hill. I’ve always retained an interest in astronomy and have recently thrown myself into the study of relativity. The laws governing the relative motion of one object with respect to another. I learned that time and space are subject to the same laws. And I nodded knowingly when I read that inside a black hole our physical laws no longer apply, but others do.

So what did happen to Alice? Has she returned to Earth? If not, will she ever? I sigh, realizing that even if she were to return one day, and emerge from the black hole like a golden phoenix with the knowledge of the ages, it will be far too late for me.

My mind is porous, I struggle not to forget. Even as I write these words the passage of time distorts, and will ultimately displace, the memory of the subtle features that once composed my beloved’s face. END

Brian Biswas is listed in the Speculative Fiction Database. His story, “A Betrayal,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has appeared in “Aoife’s Kiss” and “Bewildering Stories.” His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JUN-2013 update.




peter saga