Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Their Trailing Skies for Vestment
by Joseph Green
and Shelby Vick

by Nathaniel Heely

Mapping in the Darkness
by Siobhan Gallagher

Hard Passage
by Holly Schofield

by Linda A.B. Davis

In Therapy With an Alien Cabdriver
by John Skylar

Dancing in the Black Blizzard
by Devin Miller

by Michael McGlade

Don't Think Twice
by Jack Ryan

Two in the Hand
by Jeff Samson


A Force of Gravity
by J. Richard Jacobs

Gravitational Waves
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Shorter Stories

Fleeing the Praxis With Cameron

By Collin Simonsen

I DIDN’T REALIZE HOW CREEPY IT would be. Running through the empty ship with its red blinking lights, the acrid smell of melting wire-lining and the disturbing creaking and groaning of the stricken Praxis.

There’s no one left, I thought, not sure if I was reassuring myself or terrorizing myself as I ran.

Rounding a corner, I came to the life-pod access bay. The first station was empty, its air-lock hatch closed. Jettisoned, I thought. I’d expected this. The second and third hatch were also shut.

I began running. I suppressed the thought that maybe they were all gone and I was left to be blown up, sucked into space, choked by fumes, or incinerated. But even worse than dying, would be staying alive on this empty ship, waiting to die, starving, and wondering if a rescue might, against all odds, be coming. I ran faster and I realized that none of the doors within sight were open, their pods had been jettisoned. My hands shook and I felt sick to my stomach.

I couldn’t bring myself to look at the last door as I came near. My hands trembled as I approached it. I couldn’t open my eyes. A shuttering explosion on the ship frightened my eyes open. I sort of gasped, or sobbed or laughed. The last door still hadn’t closed. I put my hands together in a prayer of thanks.

Then I went in and groaned.

It was him. Cameron the “smurf.”

“Oh, hi Leslie. This is lucky ...” said Cameron as I stepped in.

“Lucky? That the ship is falling apart?” I said. “What are you still doing here, anyway?”

“Oh, um ... I guess I was just waiting ...”

“For what?”

Cameron looked at his feet.

We both knew what he had been waiting for. I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes.

I pushed the button that closed the airlock door. A digital voice said, “Launch in ten ...” I sat down on the seat farthest from him and held onto the safety bar.

Cameron pushed his thick glasses up his nose in that way that made me think of the little blue smurf with the glasses who always told everyone how smart he was.

“Make sure to buckle your safety harness,” Cameron began, “because if you don’t ...” He didn’t get to finish because the life-pod ejected and Cameron, who had not buckled his own harness or held onto the safety bar, flew hard into the door.

I tried to cover my smile with the back of my hand.

“You okay?” I said, hoping it didn’t sound like I was laughing.

“I’m fine,” he said, as he sat back down and arranged his harness. He did not look fine, especially after he wiped some blood from his nose. His glasses were missing.

“Cameron ... thank you for waiting,” I said, sincerely.

He looked up at me and I gave him a smile. He cheered up a bit.

“This’ll be fun, just you and me,” he said.

My smile faded. “Cameron, give me a break. We don’t know how many people were hurt or even killed back there. Seriously, you’re kind of thoughtless sometimes.”

It stung him. I meant it to. I was about to go on, but Cameron was looking just too hurt. His nose was bleeding some more and his eyes were red. His lower lip looked droopy. I felt guilty, especially when I considered that he may have saved my life. I sighed then looked for my handkerchief. When I found it, I stood, floating a little bit and handed him the hanky.

“Here you go,” I said sounding a little too motherly.

“Thanks,” he said as he wiped nose and a tear. He laughed a little and then I laughed too. I’m not sure why.

“I think I’m in love with you, Leslie,” Cameron said quietly, looking at his feet again.

So awkward.

“I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear that,” I said, going back to my seat. I noticed Cameron’s glasses floating in the corner, so I snatched them and sent them in Cameron’s direction. I was surprised when he deftly caught them.

“Why were you the last person off the ship?” Cameron asked as I pushed myself back to my seat.

“Why were you waiting for me?” I countered.

“I think I’ve made that obvious.”

“Painfully. But you could have been killed.”

“I know.” Our eyes locked. Silence.

I didn’t know what to say to that so I sat back down in my seat and buckled in. Then I looked out the window at the stricken Praxis, as it listed aimlessly.

“Doesn’t look like it’s falling apart just yet,” Cameron said, following my gaze.

“I may have saved it,” I said quietly. I looked at him. I expected him to mock me.

“What’s that look for?” he said. “I believe you.”

“Yeah, right.”

“I do. I’m just not sure if you saved us,” he said, looking out the window on the opposite side of the airlock.

“There is no us,” I said, scoffing.

“That’s not what I meant,” he said, pointing out the back window. I looked out at the green-blue planet that was looming below us.

“Our descent is too fast, isn’t it?” I asked.

Cameron didn’t answer. He just looked at me with his sad face again and then held out his arms like he wanted a hug. A voice in my mind screamed no! but a moment later I was in his arms with my head on his shoulder. I guess I wasn’t thinking rationally.

“This is just as friends,” I said, belatedly. His hand was on the way to stroking my hair, when it paused and dropped to his side.

The life-pod began to shake, ever so slightly. Cameron said that we’d entered the atmosphere. I began to sweat as it heated up.

“Cameron?” I said.

“Yes, Honey?”

“Don’t call me that.”


I paused. “Do you have any secrets? You know, things that nobody knows?”

Cameron was silent for a moment. “Yes, I guess there’s one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I have a pet rooster named Lucky.”

I looked up at him and smiled.


“Yeah. I just always wanted a chicken and then my mom gave me a little chick last year.”

“Why a chicken?”

“I don’t know. They’re just kinda cute and not bothered by anything. Just always in the present looking at the world with cute, stupid eyes.”

Kind of like you, I thought.

“Where is Lucky now?” I asked. We both looked out the back window and saw the ship, now high above us tremble with a small explosion. We both laughed. I think I also sobbed at the same moment, somehow.

“I guess I’ll change his name to Super Lucky, if he survives.” Cameron said. “What about you, Leslie? Any secrets?”

I hesitated ... But hey, what did it matter now?

I raised my index finger, grasped it with my other hand and twisted. The tip of it popped off exposing a digital access connector.

“This is how I was able to save the Praxis.” I said. “I was able to directly link with the main computer and manipulate some things.”

“You’re a cyborg?” Cameron said his eyes wide.

I blushed and felt some tears coming to my eyes. This is stupid, I thought, hating my weird, weird self. And now I’m going to die with someone who is creeped out by me. What a way to spend your last few minutes, huh?

Then he said, “I didn’t think I could actually be more in love with you than I was before.”

“What? You like it?”

“Are you kidding? That’s so hot,” he said with a boyish enthusiasm. Suffice it to say, I had not expected this reaction.

“Kay, don’t get weird about it,” I said.

“No, seriously, I have no problem with you being a cyborg.”

I looked at him slyly, frowning. I had some very weird conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, I felt validated and relieved. Like I had just stopped holding my breath. On the other hand, I wondered what kind of creep would be attracted to a cy?

Just then, the shaking intensified and it started getting really hot.

“Is there really nothing we can do about this?” I asked.

“Not that I know of.”

I looked around wondering if there was some kind of jet propulsion device or heat-shield deployment. Anything that could help us avoid what was looking like our impending termination.

“Well, what is that button over there by the door?” I asked.

“The red one? I’ll go check.” Cameron squirmed out of his harness went to the door to examine the button. He read: “Manual reentry parachute deployment.”

“Should I push it?” he asked.

“Yes, for godsakes!” I shouted. He pushed it and a minor explosion ejected three parachutes out the back. They caught the wind and the life-pod quickly slowed. Cameron flew back and knocked his head on the forward window. Instead of laughing this time, I grabbed his shirt and pulled him too me. I took his head in my hands.

“Are you okay?” I said, sounding motherly again, dammit.

He looked up at me, his eyes unfocused. “I’ll be fine. Just as long as you keep touching my face, I’ll be okay.” He smiled and then fell unconscious in my lap.

“Cameron, don’t you ever stop being weird,” I said as we floated through the clouds.

“Ever.” END

Collin Simonsen is an attorney in Salt Lake City. When he isn’t practicing law, he writes science fiction. He recently sold a story to the British e-zine, “Serendipity.”



Marvin, the Bringer of War

By James E. Guin

MARVIN SWERVED HIS CAR OUT OF THE endless line of vehicles into the entrance of the strip mall.

“What do you think you’re doing? We’re going to die and you have to go inside Harry’s Heavenly Hot Dogs to pee!” his wife screamed.

Dodging stranded vehicles and the unpredictable movements of looters, he drove to the center of the parking lot, slammed on the brake pedal, shoved the gearshift into park, and stared out the front windshield.

Next to the entrance, the left wing of a smoking military jet clipped the head off of the Harry’s Heavenly Hot Dogs sign. The jet crashed into the front of the fast food restaurant. As playground equipment launched into the air, Harry’s head landed on a man dragging a cart of boxes out the back of the fast food restaurant. White steam rising in the air, hot dog wieners rolled around on the pavement.

Like machine gunfire, countless fragments of plastic, foam, bouncy balls, and glass from Harry’s Heavenly Hot Dogs sprayed Marvin’s windshield. A child’s jungle gym tunnel landed a few meters in front of his car then bounced across the parking lot.

Her teeth chattering, his wife slid down the passenger seat into the floor board. Marvin reached down the left side of his seat and pulled the trunk lever.

Opening the car door, he said, “No, I do have to pee a little, but if I’m going to die, I’m going to die fulfilling my dream.”

He turned and placed both feet on the pavement.

“Don’t leave me!” his wife screamed from the floorboard, but he sprung to his feet and was already at the trunk by the time she finished shouting.

Marvin stood with his hands on the open trunk and looked into a light blue sky with sparsely scattered fluffy white clouds. Cylinder shaped alien ships blast bright yellow lasers at military planes and helicopters.

Sticking his upper body into the trunk, Marvin moved around shirts, pants, ties, belts, empty oil bottles, a hand gun, and porn magazines. Through the back seat wall, he heard his wife sobbing and screaming. Pulling himself out of the trunk, he stood erect holding a clear plastic case, a conductor’s baton in the center of it.

A laser beam hit a military plane sending it flying over his head and crashing into the woods behind the strip mall.

As if it were a double edged razor sharp sword, the baton was cautiously unsheathed. Gripping the light-brown cork handle between his thumb and index finger, he held the icy-white, meager ten inch fiberglass shaft in the air. A laser shot above his head and hit a car a few meters behind him. The car exploded into flames.

Tossing the clear plastic case back into the trunk, he bolted to the open car door, and stuck the upper half of his body over the front seat. Crouched down on the floorboard under the passenger dashboard, his wife glared at him through tangled hair.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she yelled.

Marvin reached over her and opened the glove compartment which made a hollow pop when it hit her on the back of the head. Before she could slam it shut on his hand, he took out a CD of Gustav Holst’s, “The Planets.” He opened the case, dropped it on the driver’s seat, and inserted the CD in the CD player. “Mars, the Bringer of War” displayed on the screen. In one swirl, he turned the volume dial to max.

As the orchestra played a low rumble, he walked a few meters away from his car and spread his legs for a firm stance. Stiffly hammering out the five beat tempo, he felt nervous. He had stood in front of a full orchestra only once in college.

Through the orchestra’s long swelling intro, his wife screamed, “You’re crazy!”

A military plane scraped the end of the strip mall and crashed into the edge of the woods. Their arms wrapped around flat screen TVs, laptops, and clothes, looters ran out of the mall stores. As if to cue the full orchestra to bring home its driving staccato rhythms, Marvin turned his torso in their direction and pointed his baton at the group of opportunists.

Gunfire bouncing off of the alien ships matched the percussive rhythms of the orchestra. The metallic sounds of a helicopter crashing into the endless line of vehicles on the highway reached his ears as the orchestra pounded out its two main themes. Waving his baton in the air, Marvin felt a sense of purpose and destiny.

“If Director Jones could see me now!” he shouted.

“If Director Jones could see you now, he would tell you what a psychotic loser you are!” his wife yelled.

She had slithered from floor board and now hovered over the gear shift with her knees on the passenger’s seat and her upper body supported by her hands on the driver’s seat.

She pressed the FM/AM button on the radio console: “... an alien invasion. All branches of the military and the National Guard are fighting against these bizarre wiener shaped craft ...”

“Stop it!” Marvin yelled and ran back to the car.

“All you’ve ever cared about is your music!” his wife screamed, her face turning red as the car behind them burned.

“... the aliens’ advanced technology is obvious ...” the radio continued.

“Leave me alone!” he said and pressed the CD button.

At the explosion of the entire orchestra’s piercing cadence, his wife covered her ears with both hands and fell face down onto the driver’s seat. The low strings and percussion emerged from the wall of sound and lilted back and forth like the battered military jets and helicopters that were falling from the sky. While Marvin marched back to his imaginary conductor’s podium, stray laser beams and gunfire pounded the pavement around him.

The sound of the orchestra gradually rose with a long crescendo until interrupted by overpowering staccato burst.

The music stopped.

Marvin turned and looked at his car. His wife threw the car keys and hit him in the head. Disappointed, his arms fell limp to his sides. The conductor’s baton slipped from his thumb and index finger. His chin dropped and rested on his chest. It was so white against the parking lot’s dark pavement.

Crawling from the driver’s seat to the ground, she screamed, “You pathetic excuse for a man! You’re supposed to protect me! I never should have—”

A laser beam zapped Marvin’s car and it erupted into flames.

He lifted his head from the grim sight of his fallen baton to see his car and his wife consumed by flames. People from the highway were running across the parking lot to take shelter in the strip mall or in the woods. Raising his head, he looked at the battle in the sky.

“Mars, The Bringer of War” played in his head at the exact spot where his wife had ripped the key out of the ignition. Marvin retrieved his baton. As the parking lot and the strip mall were blown to bits, he waved his baton in the air.

Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra.

Rest. Rest.

Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra.


Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra. Orchestra.

Rest. Rest.

Orchestra. Orchestra.

Rest. Rest.

Orchestra. Orchestra.


Instruments pounded and collided into each other. Laser beams, gunfire, cars, concrete, jets, and helicopters crashed and smashed around him.

Final rest. END

James E. Guin’s fiction has appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Dark Edifice Online Literary Magazine #4,” “Vampires Suck Anthology,” and “Every Day Fiction.”



Peanut Butter and Pork

By Carl Grafe

“HEY, STU! CAN YOU GO GRAB ME another can of peanut butter?”

Stuart ignored the voice, and kept reading his paperback novel. He was sitting on a stool in what they had decided must be the starship’s kitchen. After three weeks of travel, he was hardly fazed by the dull groaning of the ship as it propelled itself through space. It was just background noise. Kind of like Patrice. She was in the kitchen making a sandwich from the cardboard-flavored crackers the ship was overstocked with. The aliens didn’t appear to have a very good understanding of human taste buds. Maybe they didn’t have tongues?

Stuart and Patrice had been hitchhiking through southern Utah when they discovered the empty ship. Stuart had immediately recognized it for what it was—it could have easily found a home on half a dozen science fiction TV shows. The only thing unusual about the ship was the sign prominently posted over the entry hatch:

Free vacation to the stars! One time only—must leave now!

They had expected it to be a scam, but hadn’t had anything better to do. So they pressed the red button onboard and were now hurtling through space on their way to ... somewhere.

“Stuart! Peanut butter!”

Stuart clenched his jaw, finished his paragraph, and set the book aside. Couldn’t she see that he was busy? Of course she could. She just didn’t care. He stomped his feet, overtly displaying his irritation as he made his way to the pantry. He opened the polished metal door and removed one of the unlabeled buckets from the teetering pile. There was enough peanut butter to feed them for a year. But surely the trip wouldn’t take that long. The real problem was that there wasn’t any other food on board. There were other food storage compartments, but they were all empty. Who eats nothing but peanut butter and crackers? What kind of a diet is that?

He stomped back to the dining area where Patrice was lounging and thrust the peanut butter at her, glaring deliberately, which she of course didn’t notice. She reached up and distractedly fumbled the canister away from him, never taking her eyes off of the beauty magazine she had been absorbing.


Stuart stewed as he stormed back to the kitchen. Why did she even bother saying it? It wasn’t so much thanks as it was acknowledgment that he had completed his task and could return to awaiting her next command. To her he was nothing but a pack mule, a work horse, an errand ... donkey? Anyway, he felt picked on. They had been married for seven and a half years and he felt more and more like she took him for granted.

He climbed onto the stool with a sigh and flipped his book open. He was just starting to get back into the story when a flash of movement caught his eye. He glanced up above the book—and jolted so hard he fell off the stool.

He clambered to his feet, then slipped and stumbled his way back to the dining room.

“Patrice! There’s—I saw—I think, I ...”

“Well, spit it out, Stuey!”

“I saw someone! In the kitchen! I was reading my book, and I looked up, and—”

“What do you mean, you saw someone? Like, here? In the ship?”

He nodded vigorously.

“Well, who was it?”

“I don’t know! It was a woman; she had blond hair—”

“A woman?” Patrice’s hands were on her hips now. “I don’t know what kind of weird jealousy game you’re trying to play, but it’s dumb. Don’t be stupid, Stuart. You chose me, and you’re stuck with me, so you might as well enjoy—”

Patrice screamed, whipping her hand to her mouth as she backed away from Stuart, her eyes riveted above his head.

Stuart froze. “She’s behind me, isn’t she?”

Patrice nodded, her mouth still open.

Stuart whirled around and stared at the holograms above his head. There were two of them, both women, clothed in white gowns. The one on the left was a brunette, and the one on the right was the blond he had seen earlier. The semi-transparent pair stared down, their expressions bland, dispassionate. Creepy.

Stuart slowly turned around again, gave Patrice a look, and then the two fled like spooked rabbits. They spent the next hour huddled under the dining room table, rigid with fear, knowing that it was pointless, that they were perfectly helpless no matter where they went or what they did—but what else could they do?

Stuart finally looked over at Patrice. “Well?”

She stared at him earnestly. “You should probably confront them.”


“Yes, you! What kind of man are you? Just go do it!”

Stuart scowled bitterly and climbed out from under the table. Of course it had to be him. He was the dispensable one. He crept slowly down the hall and back into the kitchen. The two holograms still hovered there, waiting.

“What are you doing here?” Stuart demanded. “What do you want?”

Their lips didn’t move, but Stuart could hear what he somehow knew to be the blond’s voice in his mind.

To warn you.

“Warn me about what?”

The blond’s placid expression did not change, but he could sense something new behind it. Disbelief? Or maybe pity?

Don’t you know what the freezers are for?

Stuart thought of the cold empty cabinets in the kitchen. Human-sized cabinets. He thought about the past few weeks of binging on peanut butter and crackers.

“They’re going to eat us, aren’t they?”

The holograms nodded.

“So ... what should we do?”

We cannot intervene, only warn.

Stuart scoffed, incredulous. “Great. That’s a big help. Thank you.”

The holograms turned away and started to dissolve through the ship’s hull.

“Hey, wait! Can’t you at least give us some suggestions?”

The blond hesitated, then turned her head back over her shoulder.

Make the most of the time you have left.

She gave Stuart a last inexpressive look and faded out the rest of the way through the wall. He rushed over and peered through the porthole. They were gone. Of course they were gone. They were holograms.

Patrice’s head suddenly appeared from around the corner.

“What happened? What did they say? What did you say?”

Stuart’s first impulse was to tell her the frightening truth, but he contemplated for a moment and fought it down. She would blame him. He’d never hear the end of it. So he made a decision.

“They said they were reps from the alien vacation company. They were recommending cruise lines. I told them we wouldn’t worry about it until we got there.”

Better that she not know. Maybe they really could make the most of their remaining time together. Maybe they could rekindle their—

“You dolt! You should have called me in! At least then we’d have had some pamphlets or something to look at during the rest of the trip. Did you even ask how much longer it would be?”

He gave her an awkward smile and shrugged. She groaned and re-opened her magazine. She started to re-open the peanut butter too, but then groaned again and pushed the can away.

“This peanut butter’s making me feel all porky. Did you ask what kinds of food they’ll have to eat?” END

Carl Grafe lives with his family in the Salt Lake Valley, which he enjoys on days when it’s not snowing. He recently published a short story in “Mad Scientist Journal.”



Business Meeting

By Betsy Streeter

THE HEELS OF MARTHA MAYBERRY’S black, sensible pumps lift slightly off the floor as she crouches and shoves an electrical plug into the outlet in the north wall of a perfectly rectangular conference room atop a perfectly square high rise building at the corner of First and Mission streets.

The plug sends some electricity into the cord, across the floor, up onto the table and into the butt end of a projector sitting at one end of an enormous glass conference table. The projector whines and casts a blob of light onto the perfectly white wall.

Martha straightens and faces the room, a compact young woman in a dark, serious suit. This morning she pulled her wiry, red-brown hair back into a tight ponytail to keep it out of her face. A worn black briefcase lies on the end of the table, closed.

“Good morning everyone,” she says. “Thank you for being here.”

The vast table shines like a mirror, upside down reflections of faces showing through amongst the coffee cups and phones and devices scattered on its surface. A small, square white box protrudes from the ceiling at the exact center of the room.

Martha takes a quick inventory: three comb-overs, two sets of thin nervous lips, several regrettable fashions including misuse of argyle and shirts clearly purchased back before the gut had expanded to its current size, and one unpleasant scowl. Out of about twenty people at the table, perhaps half fail to look up from their email, and one is already asleep.

She looks down and cracks open a laptop computer, then slides the projector around until the image on the wall takes on a semi-rectangular shape. A chart of numbers snaps into focus.

The substantial black leather seat at the opposite end of the table sits empty.

“Shall we wait?” asks Martha pleasantly.

Heads turn, people shrug. Chairs squeak.

No need for an answer, as a shape appears in the doorway. A few people stiffen as their leader hefts himself into the room and onto his seat. Nobody speaks. Nobody looks at the Boss.

Except Martha. She looks straight at him. Alright, let’s do this.

Slide one. Sales figures. Martha steps over to the wall, points out pertinent details.

Slide two. Pie chart. Market share.

Slide three. Trends. Arrows going up and down over time. Come on, he’s got to be getting hungry by now.

Next, competitive analysis. Loads of facts and figures. And dollar amounts. Come on ...

And then, just what she needs. A hand raises at the far corner of the table. A question about foreign sales, or some such, from a mousy young lady in a cardigan. Martha pops off an answer to Cardigan’s query. About half the people in the room hear. Unfortunate Argyle and Ill-Fitting Shirt One mutter to each other.

Martha turns her back, points to something on the chart ... and, her first hit.

She hears the slurping sound, a blue line of light sweeps the length of the room accompanied by a low hum. There goes one.

She turns back and Cardigan’s spot at the table is now occupied only by an empty chair.

Must not let the Boss know that she can see it.

Next slide: Bar chart this time. Got to show lots of different charts, keep things interesting.

Another hit. Slurp, blue light, low hum. Another empty chair. One comb-over is gone. Oh, he’s hungry alright.

Next to go is Unfortunate Argyle, in mid sentence. Leaning over again to converse with his neighbor. But no matter, once he’s gone, the blue light sweeps across the room and no one remembers. And the meeting goes on.

The sun shifts in the sky, and Martha can now make out a reflection of the room in the window if she turns the right direction. She moves across, still talking, throwing out facts and figures. Got to keep going. Keep offering up snacks.

Slurp, hum, there goes another. One side of the table now sits vacant, just a row of black office chairs. The people on the other side of the table, though, they don’t remember. The blue light takes care of that. They stare at email, or the square of light on the wall, never at the Boss.

The Boss expands. His chair creaks under his bulk. He licks his lips.

The table clears off also, devices, notes, ideas, thoughts all consumed. Added to the collection. The Company.

Almost time, thinks Martha Mayberry. Just a couple more ...

Slurp, blue light. Hum.

“Thanks everyone, that’s it. Any questions?”

There’s no one to ask questions. Just one slowly swiveling chair, its occupant having been sucked out of it just a second before.

Martha turns away, reaches down and pulls a pair of goggles from her pocket. Showtime.

She turns to face the Boss, who lifts his bulk out of his chair and lumbers toward the door.

“I’m not finished,” says Martha.

“Yes you are,” grumbles the Boss, dismissing her with a wave of a fat hand. The blue line sweeps across the walls and floor and ceiling, the low hum again, memory wiper.

Martha clips the goggles to the bridge of her nose, and the light passes over her harmlessly. Next she points her remote straight out at the ceiling, aims, and blows the white box to bits. No more blue light. Tiny shards of white plastic fall like snow on the conference table.

“Not so fast, boss-man.”

The Boss heaves around and opens his mouth, splitting his head practically in half. His tongue shoots across the length of the room, straight at Martha, who ducks to the side. The tongue slams into the wall behind her, yanking off a chunk of plaster and shooting back into the Boss’ mouth.

“A little sluggish there after your meal, I think,” says Martha. She grabs the projector, cords and all, and hurls it at him. The Boss eats that too.

“Young lady, time for you to go. We’re done here.”

“You mean you’re done, fat man,” says Martha, pointing her finger straight out at him. “Got what you need eh? For your company? I have to say, watching you, now that is disgusting. Good thing you wipe people’s memories or they’d all puke.”

Now the Boss is irritated. His wide mouth turns downward and his yellow eyes narrow.

“Look, girl, you are in the way. So take your special little goggles there, and get out of my building.”

But Martha doesn’t get out of the building. The tongue shoots out again, Martha cartwheels to the side and the table snaps in half. She grabs a chair and blocks the next shot, the force knocking her backward into the wall.

“Get out of my building!” roars the Boss, spittle flecking the glass walls. “It’s mine! My company! My people! You all work for me! None of you would be anything without me, you’re all nothing! You hear me? Nothing!” The walls rattle.

Outside the conference room, heads appear one by one over the edges of the perfectly grey cubicle walls. No blue light, now. They will remember this. Two shapes squaring off, the big creature shooting out its deadly tongue, the smaller one dodging desperately to avoid getting consumed. A predator hunting its prey in a huge glass terrarium.

Martha drops to the floor and pulls the briefcase down with her, its contents scattering in all directions as it pops open. She rummages desperately, hands flailing on the carpet, the Boss bearing down on her, ready to strike.

A final blow, straight at her. Martha squeezes her eyes shut, puts her hands up, ducks ...

The tongue smashes through the window, taking Martha with it. Her head snaps forward, the force yanking her back like a rag doll in a business suit.

For a second Martha free-falls through nothing but the sound of wind and distant traffic. But the Boss reels her back in, dragging her through the broken glass and over the floor. Martha flails her arms, grabbing at the carpet, extending her fingers to reach for something, anything, cutting her hands on the shards.

The Boss pauses a moment before gulping her down, letting her dig her heels into the carpet as he pulls her closer, now within just a foot or two ...

“Aghhh hlllllb ygggg hppppgh wfffff ygghh,” he says.

“What?” says Martha.

“Aghhhh hlllbbbb ...”

“Never mind,” says Martha, producing a small canister and spraying the Boss square in the eyes.

“Aughhhhhh!” yells the Boss, flailing his arms. Confused, he releases his grip on Martha. She falls backward, but regains herself and lunges out to grab that stupid tongue and jam it into the Boss’ abdomen. She lets the first canister fall to the floor and pulls out a small device resembling a staple gun. In a fraction of a second she has nailed the tongue in place. There it will stay.

The watering yellow eyes widen, staring into hers. Martha steps back and wipes the blood from her hands onto the skirt of her serious, dark suit.

“One thing, before I go,” says Martha, “Don’t call me girl.”

She leaps backward as the Boss’ tongue pulls taut, almost to breaking, and then with a horrible creaking, snapping noise, the Boss sucks himself into his own gaping mouth, shrinking and compacting until all that remains is a tiny speck on the carpet ...


Martha sprints out through the hole in the glass wall, into the cubicle maze, throwing herself to the floor. She looks up. A young woman, reddish brown hair like Martha’s, stares down at her in wide-eyed surprise from her computer terminal.

“Duck,” says Martha.

The concussive explosion sends humans and computers and chunks of cubicle wall flying. Martha keeps her head down for a few moments to let the papers and pieces of ceiling settle. Then she stands. There will only be one blast.

She emerges from the cubicle fortress to find about twenty people, sitting and lying on the floor of the conference room. Cardigan, the comb-overs, argyle, all accounted for. All wearing dazed expressions, but in one piece.

Martha walks back in and retrieves her briefcase. She collects what is left of her equipment from the floor and packs it neatly inside.

Glass bits crunch beneath Martha Mayberry’s sensible black pumps as she returns to the shiny elevators. The doors slide shut, leaving a roomful of faces staring at their own reflections. END

Betsy Streeter is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.” She is a writer and a noted cartoonist whose work has appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers.