Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Water for Antiques
by Robert N. Stephenson

by Sierra July

Skipper Jeremiah Dudd
by Mark Ayling

If You Could Choose One Day
by Simon Kewin

It’s the Martian Way
by Bob Sojka

Know, Oh Emperor
by L. Joseph Shosty

Abernathy’s Snowflake
by Aaron Polson

Lost and First Men
by David Barber

by Mark Bilsborough

These Undiminished
by Conor Powers-Smith

by George Sandison


Inside Death Valley
by Eric M. Jones

Is Global Warming Good?
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Abernathy’s Snowflake

By Aaron Polson

RICHARD Q. ABERNATHY WOKE from a nightmare of bullets and snow to the very real terror of suffocation and drowning. Thick fluid covered him as he lay on his back. The cold, wet sensation seeped into every crevasse of his body, cradling his testicles and sliding between his buttocks. His eyes stung with it, clouding his vision. He saw the certainty of death and opened his mouth to scream, and the liquid slid between his lips. His hands shot up and pounded against an invisible ceiling inches from his face. He tried to force the liquid from his mouth with a cough. More of the foul stuff poured it, tasting salty and stale. A second assault with his fists, and the ceiling gave ground. Panic fueled a third and final battering, and the invisible ceiling rose. Abernathy clasped the side of his would-be coffin, and tumbled onto the floor with gallons of gel-like goo.

He sputtered, gasping for air. His lungs burned with the effort, stinging as though he’d sucked in a mouthful of hot pins. The floor—grated with tiny metal squares—bit into his knees. It chilled him. The air was cold, too. Blinking the sting from his eyes, Abernathy glanced down and beheld his naked body, slick and wet.

As his shaking subsided, Abernathy’s groggy brain began clicking. There had been snow, trees, the steady whump of German guns, and the buzz of bullets through frozen air. He remembered a single snowflake, a stolen moment during which his brain marveled at its uniqueness just before it touched his hand, and then ... He couldn’t be dead—heaven wouldn’t be so uncomfortable or hell so cold. If death was the end of everything, how could he feel the chill of drying skin, the pinch from the grated floor on his knees, or the pain spreading in his weary chest? He shivered.

The fog had been thick that morning. Thick enough to cut with a bayonet, as some of the grunts said. Abernathy remembered the fog. He remembered the popping of rifle fire in the distance. The rumble of Sherman’s struggling against the icy forest floor. The roar of 88 shells smashing great craters in the ground. The angry blue-black of frostbitten toes. His eyes dropped to his feet.

No frostbite.

He looked at his hands, searching for the scar he’d received on Omaha Beach when he grasped a coil of razor-wire by mistake. The scar stared back, a broken zig-zag of white skin well-healed across his palm. How long had he been under?

His eyes swept his surroundings—a small room. A hospital, maybe. A few bright lights glared from a panel on one wall, but the rest of the area lay in near complete darkness. He felt with his hands, touching the clear lid which had held him prisoner in that coffin. That’s what it looked like, anyway. A coffin. He’d expected the cover to be made of glass, but it had a different feel under his fingertips. Smooth like glass, but warm. Inside, the remnants of the fluid, cloudy and thicker than water, half-filled the tube. One finger reached out and touched the goo.

A medical ship. He had to be on some sort of boat. Maybe he’d been wounded outside Bastogne. Maybe he was going home. Home meant Minnie and Kansas wildflowers in spring—two sights he wasn’t sure he’d see again.

Thick clusters of wires draped away from one end of the metal coffin. He’d never seen so many—not on the troop ship over from New Jersey. Not anywhere in the States or England before the trip across the channel. Not among the blood and the dead and the screaming on Omaha Beach. And the panel—the lights—they were different, too. Foreign. Was he a prisoner? Abernathy beat his palms against his arms.

He’d need clothing, no matter where he was.

Clothing, and food.


The hunger lingered when they were at the front. Abernathy felt it in his bones, that hunger. Never enough food. Never enough clothing. Never enough rest. The snow and ice fought through the German lines and found the hollow, ravenous places in his bones and amplified the hunger. Sleep existed as little more than a rumor, a dream shared by all the grunts.

Even in his foxhole with the nearby snapping of rifle reports, Abernathy’s thoughts lingered on food. He remembered the bread Minnie baked every day—fresh whole grains kneaded with care while he tinkered at the shop. Lunchtime brought the promise of a sandwich made with yesterday’s leftovers, a hint of the fresh loaf at dinner that night. Home smelled of bread, fresh from the oven, and the floral allusion in Minnie’s hair. He spent the hours lost with those scents, lost until a nearby shell knocked him into the present. Bits of shrapnel sprayed the snow-covered forest floor like solid rain.

“Jee-zus, Abernathy! They’re coming.” An anonymous helmet bobbed next to him—could have been anyone, a mirror of himself. “Look alive.”

Snapped from his waking dream, Abernathy remembered the stabbing cold in his boots, and the painful tingle which crawled from his toes to his spine. Minnie would bake fresh bread when he made it home. She’d bake fresh bread and let him lay with her on the bed, smelling her soft hair and forgetting the cold and the hunger. It would be warm under the quilts ... his feet would be warm.


The grated floor pained his naked feet as he searched the room. Besides the liquid drenched tube, the strange clear cover, the cables and blinking panel, he found nothing he could recognize. The door—large and square and unlike any ship’s door he’d seen to date—popped with a slight hiss of depressurization when Abernathy pulled the lever, opening into a dark corridor. At the far end, writing stood out in tall, clean letters against the dark wall.

It was his name, followed by what appeared to be the date: 1944 CE. His brow furrowed at CE. The corridor breathed in and out in slow rhythm, and Abernathy pressed a hand to a grille in the wall above his head. The air brushed by, slightly pulling at his skin. He shivered again, pushed the door shut, and hurried forward. He needed to find clothes and food. He needed to stay alive and go home to Minnie. As he came to the end of the corridor, he read the entire sign:

Richard Q. Abernathy
1944 CE
(World War II, European Theater, Normandy Invasion to Battle of the Bulge)

One hand reached out, fingers extended, and traced a few of the white letters. His name. Next to the large print, an arrow led to the left of the t-intersection labeled with the words “Incubation” and “Nursery.” To the right, another arrow, this one accompanied by “Clothier,” “Programming,” and “Exit to Concourse Level A5 and Classrooms.” The word “nursery” indicated a hospital of some sort. His eyes swung around to the long corridor, taking in the door which led to the room with his strange, tubular coffin.

Clothing—he needed clothing. Then the exit.

The hallway swept in a curve as he turned right, leading to an unmarked door. Abernathy pressed his hand against the cool handle, but paused. Footsteps rattled against the metal flooring. The bend of the hall amplified the sound and distorted its origin. He pushed against the door, and an invisible mechanism responded, opening with ease. The footfalls echoed closer. Abernathy forced his naked back against the door and pushed it closed.

He found himself in a closet—what looked like a closet. To his left, rows of olive drab fatigues, neatly folded on labeled shelves. To his right, a gun rack cradling a dozen unmarred M-1s. Abernathy pressed his fingertips against the smooth stock of one of the guns, amazed at its pristine condition. He hadn’t held one so clean since England. Since before the invasion. Gooseflesh quickly turned his attention back to the clothes.

The shelves indicated unit, but not size. He grabbed a pair of trousers, pulled them on, and marveled how well they fit. After slipping into an undershirt, he found a fatigue jacket and held it in front of him.

“ABERNATHY” was stitched above the left breast pocket in capital letters. He checked a few others, all labeled “ABERNATHY.”

“What the hell ...” he muttered, surprised at his own voice. “What kind of god-damn nut house of a hospital am I in?” A ball of ice rolled into his stomach, a queer sensation chilling through his bones.

He quickly finished dressing with a pair of socks and brand new boots—the only size on the rack was his. He grabbed a rifle, located cartridges in the drawers beneath the gun rack, and loaded it. With ear pressed to the door, he listened for the sound of footsteps—anything or anyone who might be in the corridor. When he was convinced he was alone, Abernathy slipped through the door. The weight of an M-1 in his grip took him back.


Just before dawn, the woods were still dark and mostly silent. His hands held a rifle. His eyes searched the zebra-striped horizon for movement. Anything. The boredom and cold killed just as well as a bullet. He was too tired to fight his weary brain—to fight its wandering into distraction.

The call came from somewhere behind him. “Alright, Abernathy. Move out.”

He marched to the tick of a daydream. Where had he met Minnie? His addled brain, too hungry and frozen, couldn’t put together the memory. The guns were silent as they moved through the woods. A few birds, the brazen few which lingered in a war zone, sang tiny, mournful tunes. His boots crunched against the new layer of snow. Abernathy knew he was marching through the Ardennes, he knew the weight of his rifle in his hands, but the part of Richard Q. Abernathy of Broughton’s Hollow, Kansas that was really awake—really alive—was fighting the humidity and sweat of a summer barn dance.

Two girls moved toward him: one swaying boldly in a flower print sundress, the smaller of the two with tiny, controlled steps and simple navy fabric. She almost hid behind the other. He nearly dropped the cold bottle of Coca-Cola in his hand.

“What’s your name?” Sundress asked.

“Richard ... well, you can call me Rick. Rick Abernathy.” He pressed the bottle to his lips and took a tiny sip to tame his tangled tongue. It was the navy blue dress which really captured his eye—her quiet, dark gaze and shoulder-length tumbles of walnut brown.

“You suppose you could help a girl find her way around the dance floor?” Sundress pressed closer to him.

Abernathy looked past her. “I don’t know your name,” he said to the girl in the navy dress.


Sundress coughed.

“Dance, Minnie?” Abernathy asked, ignoring Sundress.

Minnie’s eyes flitted to her friend and back to Abernathy. “Sure ... you don’t mind, do you Anne?”

Anne crossed her arms. “Why would I, cousin?” Her red lips pouted the truth.

Abernathy was lost to that dance when a German shell uprooted a tree, sending splinters and bits of ice across his face. He dove into the slush at his feet, suddenly mindful of nothing save survival. Shouts sounded behind and to his left. Soldiers began to advance, olive drab brothers, dressed the same, running with similar motions, carrying the same burdens. Dying the same way, cold and alone and far from home.


They were all the same.

Abernathy couldn’t shake the thought as he peered through a window slit into the Nursery. Rows of rectangular cribs filled the room, each of them made of thin, clear material like that of his coffin lid. Every child had same pink skin, the same smashed features, and the same pinched eyes. These children were more than brothers. They were the same baby—maybe a trick done with mirrors or distortion of the light through the window.

He’d kept his ears ready for the returning sound of footsteps; the corridor had returned nothing but the quiet breathing of ventilation. Abernathy was alone again, alone with his thoughts and memories and hunger. He needed food now that the immediacy of clothing had been sated, but the cooing, squirming blobs of flesh captured his attention longer than he’d planned.

He doubled back to check the door to the first chamber, verifying his absence was as yet undetected. The door remained in place; the room as he left it. It seemed his hosts—be they Germans or even the Allies—were not aware of his foray, and he planned on keeping them in the dark.

Prying his attention from the strange array of infants, he crept around the looping hallway to another intersection and followed a large arrow labeled “Exit Abernathy.” Brighter lights and a white-tiled floor demarked the new corridor—a hall which reminded him more of a hospital then the dimly lit metal tunnels he’d left. In fact, the new hallway conjured memories of a trip he’d made with Minnie to see Anne at St. Francis in Topeka after her wreck. The place reeked of sterility, just as St. Francis had. He’d have no place to hide under those lights, out in the open, but his unease led him, rifle first, through the door. He’d have to find food. Have to survive, get back to Minnie.

As he crept forward, motion drew his attention to the end of the long passage. People. From a distance, he couldn’t be sure who. Abernathy hugged the wall and slipped into a recess in the wall. There, he found a door. Footsteps prated against the marble tile, coming closer. He twisted the handle, and the door gave under pressure.

He listened first, surprised to hear familiar voices, and peered inside before entering. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he made out rows of men and women with their backs turned to the door. Rows just like a classroom at Spring County Rural High School, but here a movie screen hung on the wall in the front, at least Abernathy took it for a movie screen. He’d only been to the matinee once as a boy to see a Tom Mix Western in black and white. Now, on the screen in front of the classroom, a familiar scene unfolded: trees, snow, and a body on the ground, all in vibrant color. He recognized the rumbling voice ... Billy Cullen, from Brooklyn. Billy, from Company D, 1st Battalion ...

Color exploded, washing the room in red and orange and then black. Abernathy shielded his eyes, his heart began throbbing. He should be there…in the Ardennes. He’d been there before. His grip tightened on the rifle.

“What the hell is going on?” he asked.

Two dozen faces spun to meet his. The screen went blank, and the room warmed with light. Abernathy squinted. A man stepped in front of the dead screen. Abernathy shielded his eyes with his free arm and raised the rifle like an overgrown pistol with the other.

“You’re in the wrong room, Mr. Abernathy.” The voice came from the front of the room.

A warning alarm sounded, a blaring Klaxon.

His brain shouted run, and Abernathy did. He spun on the spot, and leaned his full weight into the door, nearly bowling over two men clad in dark tunics in the hallway. He swung the butt of his rifle into one’s midsection, and brushed the other aside with his left hand. More men came into view at the end of the hallway, and they carried guns—what looked like guns from a distance.

Abernathy raised his M-1 and squeezed a shot. The corridor rang with rifle crack. One of the men tumbled to the ground. The others paused, shouting to one another.

He didn’t have much time. He heard the mumbled voices of the other two behind him. A murmuring crowd spilled from the classroom door. A hand snatched his arm. Abernathy pulled away and ran. He fired another round toward the end of the corridor, turned at a junction, found a doorway in another niche, and forced himself into the darkness behind a door labeled “Abernathy Ready Room.”

Hands clutched him. Supported him. Pushed him upright. Dozens of hands.

Abernathy blinked, and the hands wrenched his gun from him. Faces bent toward him like a house of mirrors. He remembered the sensation from his childhood. A traveling carnival had brought the mirrors and constructed the maze in a field south of Broughton’s Hollow. He hadn’t wanted to go in, but his brother had insisted. Too many faces leered at him, and they were all his. They were all dressed the same, wearing the fatigues from the closet, ABERNATHY in black letters on each chest.

“Get off,” he said, pushing back. “Where’s my gun ... where’s my god-damned gun?”

The faces twisted in confusion. A bell sounded, and the crowd of his carnival twins stood at attention. Abernathy spun in time to see the guards at the door. One raised a hand. A flash. Minnie’s face blinked in his memory as the shock lanced through his body, and he dropped to the floor.


Motion. Richard Q. Abernathy was moving, flat on his back. Lights blinked overhead and voices muttered something indistinct. His vision blurred, but started to come back into focus. With it, pain.

He opened his mouth. “Where ... where ...”

“He’s coming around, Doctor.”

Abernathy’s ride jerked and slid to a stop. A face half-covered with a surgical mask leaned over his. The eyes were dark and feathered at the edges by wrinkles. Someone pulled off his boots; he felt them go, but couldn’t wiggle his toes. Tightness pulled at his wrists, and he struggled to move his arms.


“Abernathy, Richard Q. 563 ...” Abernathy’s tongue felt like a lump of rubber as he spoke.

“That’s fine. Yes. We know who you are.” The dark-eyed face looked away. “Where was he again?”

“Outside one of the classrooms, Doctor. They caught him in the ready room.”

“I see.”

“World War II. The students were running their Abernathy clones today.”

“Oh ... yes ... my son took that course a few years ago. His Abernathy didn’t make it past the beach in France.”

“I remember the class. My Abernathy was shot by a sniper during the breakout. Damn shame, too. We had a pool going for whose would last longest. I took second.”

Abernathy continued muttering his name and serial number. “Abernathy, Richard Q. 56318 ...” A needle stabbed him in the arm.

“So we have a rogue, then?” The Doctor’s voice asked.

“Seems like it.”

“Bring me the saw and organ kit.”

Abernathy strained against the bands at his wrists. Fog began to creep into the edges of his consciousness. “For God’s sake,” he said. “I’m Richard Abernathy ... I’m Richard Abernathy ...”

The Doctor’s face tilted toward his again. “Of course you are. You all are.”

“I’m the real Richard Abernathy ...” His voice was almost a sob. The lights began to fade. Minnie’s face melted in his memory; her dark curls bled into the blackness at the edge of everything.

“I’m afraid not. Mr. Abernathy went missing in action four hundred years ago in the Ardennes forest region of France during what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge during the Second World War. His body held in stasis after being time-grabbed for educational purposes.”

Sleep was coming, Abernathy could feel it. “Real ... real ... Abernathy ...”

“I hate wasting a good clone, Doctor.”

“Agreed. These god-damned rogues make tuition so expensive. At least they’re good for organ harvest.”

“Doctor ... where do you think he got that scar?”

Abernathy barely felt the pressure on his hand.

“Don’t know. Let’s get this done. I have a golf sim later.”


Richard Q. Abernathy’s eyes caught a single, falling snowflake, unique among all the others clogging the forest. The distant whump of artillery, pop of rifles, and wasp-buzz of bullets disappeared as the crystal tumbled, slowly, and melted to a minute drop of water against his palm. END

Aaron Polson is a high school guidance counselor and former English teacher. His stories have appeared in “Every Day Fiction,” “Lovecraft eZine,” “Shimmer,” “Kaleidotrope,” and many more. He is an Affiliate Member of the HWA.




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