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



Their Trailing Skies for Vestment

By Joseph Green and Shelby Vick

“Bow down! I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-colored suns
Of secret worlds incredible, and take
Their trailing skies for vestment when I soar,
Throned on the mounting zenith, and illume
The spaceward-flown horizons infinite.”
—“The Hashish Eater,” by Clark Ashton Smith

“WILL, IT NECESSARY WE ENGAGE in conversation.”

The odd, stilted way of speaking did not sound at all like Cindy. William Ackerman turned away from the television to stare at his wife of nineteen years. Cindy reached across the space separating their chairs, took the remote from his hand, and turned off the TV. The network commercial following the evening news faded into silence.

“What’s so urgent? Something happen with Emily?” In August their daughter, just turned eighteen, had moved a hundred miles away to Tallahassee, starting her first year at Florida State.

“Emily has encountered no recent problems communicated to this memory.”

Cindy’s voice seemed the same as always, low and deep but very feminine, a voice Will had loved since the day they met as teenagers. But that odd way of speaking ... after a moment it came to him. Sometimes he read computer translated articles, if they were referred to in some item on the Internet that had caught his interest. Cindy suddenly sounded like one of those, her speech an automated, uncorrected interpretation of some foreign language.

In the shaded glow from the dimmed light on the corner table, which they kept on while watching TV, he saw Cindy intently studying his face, as if trying to gauge his ability to accept difficult news.

“Will, this speaker is not Cynthia Ackerman. I am—an entity of pure energy, a pattern of intelligence, without physical form. I—arrived, and occupied this body, early afternoon. My kind—no need for personal cognomens, identify ourselves by—means beyond your comprehension. Because personal identification important in way your species communicates, will accept name Entity while here.”

Even in the dim light Will could see that Cindy seemed perfectly serious. The large brown eyes were looking directly into his. Then she blinked several times, and her expression changed. She looked first puzzled, then angry; followed immediately by sadness, and concern.

Cindy turned her upper body toward Will, and reached for his near hand. She took it in both her own. “My God, Will, I’m so sorry! This creature, Entity—no emotions of its own, doesn’t understand what it just did to you. But it did realize you weren’t accepting what it said, so it retreated and let me come to the front. It’s still here, though, seeing and hearing everything. And it can take over again anytime it wants.”

Cindy held his hand and waited, as if understanding it was all too much; insane and unbelievable. Will’s first, obvious thought, that this was some kind of weird joke, faded as he looked into Cindy’s face. She actually believed some strange being, a visitor to Earth from some other space or dimension, had occupied her body.

They had both read a lot of science fiction in their teens, and as young adults. Cindy still did, though usually too busy to read anything but short stories. Now that their only child had left for college, and they had more time for themselves, she had started reading novels again.

Will had different plans for their new free time. Making love on Saturday mornings before getting out of bed, or replacing Sunday golf with afternoon delights, figured prominently among them. He was thirty-eight now, Cindy thirty-seven. Much too young to let familiarity dull their appetite for each other, or settle into the comfortable once-weekly routine of the middle aged.

But this ...

Cindy smiled, and said, “Yeah, I know. The girl’s gone bananas. She needs help. If you told me something like this, that’s what I’d think.”

Will looked into the familiar face; a few lines now in the eye corners, the black hair streaked with several strands of gray. He felt confused, unable to concentrate. Then one thought slowly emerged, and pushed its way forward. If Cindy had developed some sort of multiple personality problem—he had recently watched a program on two famous cases, and knew they now called it dissociative identity disorder—this new personality had appeared from nowhere, with no prior symptoms.

“Cindy, I think we need to get you to a doctor. We have to start with our GP, but you know he’s just going to refer you on to a psychiatrist.” Cindy worked as a clerk in the personnel department at the small local Navy base, entitling her to Federal Civil Service insurance. She carried Will as a family member.

Cindy released his hand. “We’ll go if you insist, Sweetie, but it’s a waste of time. And we don’t have that much left.”

“Don’t have ... what do you mean, time left?”

“It’s complicated, Will. I think I’ll let Entity explain.”

And very abruptly, Cindy was gone. Will felt, and could actually see, the transition. One instant, she was there. The next, some other being looked out of her eyes.

Cindy released Will’s hand. “When one of—my kind—occupies physical brain, billions new synaptic connections needed. In simple terms, requires rewiring and reutilizing large portions of brain segments forming higher thought centers. When finished with experience, estimated three days, will remove self. Body continues to function—basic metabolism never affected—but changes irreversible. Permanent synaptic patterns and memory accumulations forming personality Cynthia Ackerman left too broken and separated to resume independent function.”

Cindy too broken and separated to function? Will felt a surge of panic. But after a moment, he got his emotions under control. This was the other Cindy speaking, the new personality that seemed lost in some science fictional nightmare. There had been no physical changes in Cindy’s brain. To believe that meant accepting Entity as real, and what it said as true.

It also meant the woman he loved would soon be effectively dead, even though her body lived on for a time.

Still looking closely at Cindy, Will saw the transition between personalities again, the change easily visible even in the dim light. It was clearly the real Cindy speaking when she said, “Will, I hear and see everything, even when I can’t talk or act. Entity plans to occupy me only long enough to enjoy all the physical and emotional experiences it wants. But for now it will just ride along, while I go through my usual routines. It doesn’t have to be at the front to feel my emotions and physical sensations.”

Will watched in stunned silence as Cindy pointed the remote at the TV and turned it back on, as if everything had been settled.

Cindy consulted the “TV Guide” on her little side table, then called up the DVR and set their recordings for the evening. Several of their favorite shows had returned in September, and more were appearing now in early October. They routinely recorded programs with commercials, then fast-forwarded to avoid them during the playback.

Instead of going to their list of recorded programs, Cindy picked up the Netflix control from her table and brought up the main menu. She moved down through the categories, stopping at drama. Will read with her as she went through several descriptions, finally returning to one that seemed to offer a soap-opera level of raw passion, pain and personal conflict. Cindy started to press the play button, then paused and looked at Will.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Sweetie. I know you’d rather see something else. But Entity wants to experience my emotions as I watch. The Entities lost something when they evolved. Without glands and hormones, they can’t have emotions of their own, or feel physical passions.”

Cindy pressed play, and the opening title appeared.

“I need to lose myself in this, to feel it as strongly as I can,” said Cindy. “I’d love it if you’d stay with me. But no talking; Entity wants me to react, not think.”

Will had a habit of commenting on events occurring in movies, or the TV series they regularly watched. He agreed to keep quiet and stayed, his thoughts in turmoil. Cindy appeared to have accepted this Entity personality as a part of herself. That made it seem even less likely Entity was anything but another, formerly hidden personality of Cynthia Young Ackerman.

Will gave part of his attention to the movie, a strong tearjerker, but mostly watched Cindy as she empathized with the heartbreak and tragedy on the screen. Eventually actual tears were wetting her cheeks.

When the movie finally dragged to its interminable end, Cindy dried her eyes with a tissue and turned to Will. “That was a very satisfying experience of emotions. Now Entity would like to enjoy some physical sensations, the strongest pleasurable ones possible. Would you like to go to bed a little early and have sex?”

In nineteen years of marriage, Cindy had never directly asked for sex. On the occasions when she made the first overture, it was always wordless. A touch of the hand accompanied by a smile, a turning over in bed to snuggle against him, a kiss during which she opened her mouth ... Will had been the one asking, and Cindy almost always readily agreeing.

Cindy waited, wide-eyed, as though suddenly realizing she was behaving out of character. And she only nodded when Will said he didn’t think he could actually get it up for Entity right now, and rose to his feet.

“I’m going to bed and read. Don’t stay up too late.” He needed to call their doctor in the morning and get the required referral for Cindy to see a psychiatrist. Then Will remembered their doctor’s office closed on Fridays. It would have to wait till Monday. By then, Cindy would be irreparably brain-damaged.

That is, if you believed what this alternate personality had told him.

Cindy nodded. “One more short movie, and I’m to bed.”

Will detoured by the large old bookcase against the east wall, where he found Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” In bed he reread parts of the great old novel. Clarke’s first really successful early book had been a serious attempt to follow possible human evolution to the state of pure energy claimed by Entity.

The similarities only went so far, though. Clarke speculated that all of humanity would evolve into what seemed to be a joint existence, one capable of being absorbed into some galaxy-wide overmind. There, as best Will could tell, people ceased to exist as individuals. But Entity claimed to be an independent being, traveling alone, and had mentioned there were others of his kind; apparently many such. Said kind, if you accepted Entity as real, had the ability to skip blithely around the galaxy, without regard to time and distance. Even so, their powers seemed to have limits. They couldn’t undo the physical changes made inside a brain, before they left and went on to the next experience. And since they apparently had no conscience, they didn’t care. Which brought up a good question, one that had never occurred to Will. Was the human conscience, usually a major factor when making important decisions, as much a creation of glands and emotions as of thought?

Will had gotten into an area where no amount of speculation would yield any firm answers. But none of that mattered, unless you accepted Entity as real.

And Will did not.


Loud music from the golden oldies rock station pulled Will out of a deep slumber. He threw off the covers, reached for the radio on his nightstand, and turned it off. Cindy lay beside him, ”Childhood’s End” on the coverlet by her hand. She opened her eyes and forced herself to sit up in bed, looking a little groggy from not enough sleep.

Their morning routines of breakfast and dressing for work passed almost unnoticed by Will. Cindy seemed her normal cheerful self. Will left first as usual, but as he headed for the door she stopped him for a quick kiss, and said, “You and me. Tonight. OK?”

Will returned the kiss, but left without speaking or agreeing.

Will drove four miles north to the machine and welding shop, just outside the city limits, where he worked as a welder. The owner had recently won a small business set-a-side contract from the Navy base, enough work to keep the six-person crew busy for a year. Will said hello to the two men already there, got the leather jacket, helmet and gloves out of his locker, and went to his place on the temporary assembly line they had created for the repetitive work. He locked the next two precut pieces of angle iron securely in their places in the holding jig, verified the edges were shiny clean, and started his welder. Once under the helmet, the intensely bright arc sputtering as he worked the first bead across the butt joint, he was free to think again.

One quality of his job Will liked was that the repetitive motions of welding, chipping and wire-brushing off the scale, laying on the second bead, required only part of his attention. He could think about last night, and that weird conversation. As he tried to sort through the tangled welter of startling and emotional memories, needing to somehow make sense of the unbelievable, a minor part slowly emerged and moved center stage. He again saw the sadness on Cindy’s face, the concern, the first time she had apparently regained control from that alternate personality that called itself Entity.

In a flash of revelation, Will understood why Cindy had been so concerned for him, and sad. She truly believed this Entity personality to be a separate being, with god-like powers. That its departure would leave behind only a helpless, mindless body, the person that had been Cynthia Ackerman irretrievably gone.

And she intended to ask her husband to kill her when that happened.

Will thought he knew why Cindy believed she could ask that of him. He had made the mistake of telling her about the most horrific experience of his life, when he had been a part of Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War. The coalition troops had chased the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and Will’s unit was just over the border into Iraq. The resistance had intensified at that point, and an artillery shell hit the Humvee carrying himself and four other soldiers head on, plowing into the engine at a sharp angle. The effect was as if they had hit a slanted brick wall, at forty miles an hour. The heavy vehicle overturned, rolled twice, and came to a stop again upright, flames breaking out in the shattered engine compartment.

No one but the driver had been wearing a seatbelt. The other four were tossed out as the doors jarred open and were ripped off when the vehicle rolled. One man landed on his head, suffered a broken neck, and died quickly. Two others broke one or both legs. Only Will survived hitting the hard desert sand with no injuries other than severe bruising.

In his mind Will again heard the shrill scream of fear and pain from the burning Humvee. He ran to the vehicle, the top crushed down a foot or more, all four doors gone. The engine had come through the firewall and lodged against the front seat, pressing both broken legs of the driver hard into the bent steel frame.

And the fire had already crawled over the engine and was lapping at the imprisoned feet and lower legs of the driver, Jim Cox.

Will had not known Jim Cox before volunteering for the army, immediately out of high school. They had become close friends when undergoing boot camp together, then been assigned to the same unit for deployment. This was the first actual battle for both of them.

Jim screamed again, the flames burning into his boots and legs, where oil had spattered on the camo pants up to his knees.

Somehow Will had kept a grip on his M16 when tossed from the vehicle. When Jim, screaming at the top of his lungs in unendurable agony, pointed at the weapon, no words were needed. Will took careful aim, and shot his friend in the middle of the forehead.

Will would never forget the look of relief, almost serenity, on Jim Cox’s face as the body slumped in the seat and relaxed in death.

The Humvee’s gas tank hadn’t broken in the rollover, but the rapidly spreading flames would reach it in minutes. Will hurried to the closest living soldier and dragged him to a safe distance, despite his yells of pain from a broken leg. The second man suffered such severe pain from broken femurs in both legs that he fainted as Will dragged him to lie beside the first one. When the Humvee exploded minutes later, Will felt the blast of heat flow over him where he crouched beside his comrades; but no flames reached them.

The medics arrived, and took the two injured men and Will to the nearest field hospital. The dead would be retrieved after the flames burned themselves out. Private William Ackerman rejoined his unit after six days, but the fighting had ended. He received a purple heart, was soon rotated back home, and offered an early discharge, which he accepted.

The horror of his only combat action had burned its way into Will’s memory as deeply as the flames into the flesh of Jim Cox. He wanted out. Only later did he learn that leaving early made him ineligible for some G.I. benefits, including education. Will wanted to marry Cynthia Youngblood, and start a life with her, much more than he wanted to try working his way through college with no scholarships. He ended up taking a job as a welder’s helper in a local machine shop, passed his electric arc test after three years, and moved to a larger shop as a welder. The work suited him, and he had been there now for sixteen years.

Will finished the first piece, left it in the jig to prevent warping while it cooled, and clamped two new pieces into a second jig. He settled into a quiet, peaceful routine, half his mind occupied with work, the other half free to think. But when he hurried home at the end of the day, he still had no better idea of what to do about Cindy than to get her to a psychiatrist as quickly as the medical bureaucracy permitted.

On Friday nights the Ackermans ate at the food court in the local mall if they were out, or sent for pizza or Chinese takeout. Will, home first as usual, took a shower and ordered pizza; they had eaten Chinese last week. The food arrived just ahead of Cindy. They ate, then she took her shower as Will watched the evening news. The world had survived another day of trouble and strife with no noticeable damage.

When Cindy settled into the chair beside his in the living room, she reached across the space between and took his hand. “Remember what I said this morning?”

“Yeah ... and last night, too.”

Cindy picked up the remote and pressed the mute button. When “Jeopardy” went silent, she said, “This is me, Will. I want you to understand something. I need to cram all the living I can into the next two days, because that’s all I’ve got. Entity will just ride along. He—it—doesn’t have to be up front to experience my emotions and physical sensations. Now turn off that stupid TV, take me to bed, and make love to me the way you did during our first year, when we couldn’t get enough of each other. Just forget Entity; you’re doing this for me, OK?”

Will surprised himself by discovering that he could in fact forget another personality was riding along in Cynthia Ackerman’s body. But Cindy had changed, or at least had somehow finally overcome a few inhibitions that kept their sexual activities within a fairly narrow range. When he finally drifted off to sleep for the third time, well into Saturday morning and thoroughly exhausted, Will’s last thought was that perhaps he had just learned the real, underlying reason a new personality had arrived in Cynthia Ackerman’s brain.


“Wake up, Will. Entity wants to go fishing.”

Will awoke to a hand shaking his shoulder, and opened blurry eyes to see Cindy standing by his side of the bed, already dressed in shirt and jeans. The angle of sunlight on the bedroom curtains indicated it was still early in the morning.

“Wha—what happened to sleeping in on Saturday?”

“Oh, you can sleep later. Entity wants to experience some type of blood sport, and fishing is easiest for us. Now haul your butt out of bed and get the boat ready, while I fix us some breakfast. Bacon and eggs OK? And I’ll make some sandwiches and pack the beer cooler for lunch on the water.”

Will struggled out of bed and into the bathroom, where he washed the sleepiness off his face with cold water and did his morning gargling routine; he didn’t bother to shave. Fishing for snapper, redfish or grouper in West Bay, an enclosed but salt water extension of the Gulf, was a favorite weekend activity, when the restrictive Florida regulations allowed. But Will usually went with one or two other men. Cindy, and the other wives in their circle of friends, seldom accompanied them, nor were most willing to clean the fish.

Two hours later Will carefully checked the alignment of the three landmarks he used to verify his position, killed the motor, and threw out a light anchor. Some of his friends with larger boats had GPS and other electronic gear to help them return to favorite fishing spots, but Will hadn’t wanted to spend the money. The old ways still worked.

After more than a dozen casts with his favorite snapper lure, the diving wounded mullet, Will finally got a bite. He set the hook, then carefully worked the fish to the side of the boat, where Cindy deftly netted and lifted it out of the water. Will held the three or four pound red snapper in one gloved hand, still in the landing net, and used pliers to free the hook. But instead of releasing the fish into the live well, Cindy turned the net over, dropped it on the decking, and knelt beside it.

Cindy looked up, to see Will staring at her. “Entity wants to experience the taking of a life,” she said apologetically. She reached for the fish knife, in a sheath attached to the well, held the flopping fish firmly on its side with a gloved left hand, and placed the point of the knife an inch behind the visible bulging eye.

Will, his gaze focused on Cindy’s face, again saw the very obvious transition between personalities. As he watched, Entity firmly pressed the blade inward, penetrating the brain. The tail of the snapper flopped twice as it died.

Entity remained still for a long moment, then lifted the dead fish off the deck and dropped it in the live well. Will saw a little blood seep into the water.

“I have visited your world several times previously, Will,” said Entity, replacing the knife in its sheath and getting to her feet. “We can inhabit physical brains of only certain types and sizes, but the number of suitable species and individuals here is unusually large. In addition to present-day humans, you have chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas on land, and orcas and the larger dolphins in the water. The first time I came here, over one million of your years ago, I inhabited a female dolphin about to give birth. A very unique and satisfying experience. On a later visit I looked for and found a human female in the same situation. That one proved much less pleasing; pain at too high a level, and the process took many hours.”

Will noticed that Entity’s speech had improved; still noticeably different from Cindy’s, but sounding less foreign.

Will clearly saw Entity withdraw, and Cindy emerge again. She smiled at Will. “We can go in now, if you want. That’s enough fish for just us tonight, and Entity has what it wanted.”

Will pulled up and stowed the anchor, started the motor, and headed for shore.


Will cleaned the single snapper, and Cindy cooked it. After dinner she said Entity wanted to experience feelings of strong excitement, and went on Netflix to find a movie she remembered that provided thrills from beginning to end. Will had no desire to sit through it again. He had been struggling for an hour with a vague memory, and now it finally surfaced. He went to their bookcase and pulled out an old collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s poems.

Will no longer read poetry—in fact preferred a good movie or TV show over books—but once in his twenties had gone on a poetry binge. His preference had been for the great romantics who loved and wrote fantasy poetry, and Smith had quickly emerged as one of the last and probably best of these.

Will retreated to their bedroom to avoid the noise of the TV, sat in the single chair by the reading lamp, and turned to the contents page. He found “The Hashish Eater.” After reading for a few minutes, he put the book down and sat staring at the bedroom wall. Apparently Cindy, who didn’t read poetry, had for some reason dug out and read the very long old poem. The powers and abilities she claimed for Entity were too close a match to the beings Smith described, in his colorful and flowery language, to be just coincidence. But neither were they a perfect fit.

Perhaps Entity was real as claimed. In which case, it or one of its colleagues must have visited Earth almost a hundred years ago, and occupied Smith. No, that would have left him with a ruined mind, and Smith had gone on to write much more fiction and poetry. But if an entity had occupied a friend of Smith’s and talked with him, as Cindy was speaking for this one ...

Had Clarke, too, been told by some occupied friend of the existence of these super-powerful creatures? If so, he had modified what he learned to create a more acceptable story, then passed it off as fiction.

Will wondered if Smith and Clarke had both had friends who suddenly went insane; no way to know. But large numbers of people losing their minds without known cause would have been noticed, in today’s world; probably gotten a name of its own in the psychiatric literature. Which indicated that Entity and his fellows did not visit Earth all that often.

That line of thinking led to accepting as fact that an alien being had occupied Cindy’s brain. And if it had, then she would effectively die when it left her. And there was no doubt at all in Will’s mind that Cindy planned to ask him to put the mindless husk left behind out of its misery when that happened.

Which brought up another question. If this was just some strange psychosis, appearing out of nowhere and trapping Cynthia Ackerman in this web of delusion, was it strong enough to bring on the affect she had described? Delusions couldn’t change the physical structure of the brain. But could they cause her to act as if that had actually happened?

Tired from a long day and short night’s sleep Friday, Will went to bed at ten. He awoke at two, when Cindy came to bed. She saw that he was awake and looking at her, but only turned off the bedside lamp and closed her eyes. She was asleep before slumber again claimed him.


Sunday passed in a quiet blur of routine housekeeping and clothes washing for Cindy—she said that was what Entity wanted to experience today—and yard work and some minor maintenance chores for Will. He finished by one, and after lunch managed to lose himself for a time in a Sunday afternoon football game. When the first one ended he started a second, but could no longer focus on the action.

Cindy came into the living room and sat in her TV chair. She muted the sound, over Will’s half-hearted protest. “Listen, sweetheart, I’ve been thinking. You know what I was going to ask you to do, and that was really selfish of me. It would ruin your life; and Emily’s too, if you went to prison. I talked to Entity about this, and we have a plan. I’ll write a suicide note, in my own handwriting so there’s no doubt about it. Entity will wait to leave until I start to pull the trigger. You need to be gone somewhere. You come back, see what happened, and call nine-one-one. You don’t touch the body, because I’m obviously dead. Life may be hard for you and Emily for a while, but in two or three years you’ll find somebody new, and marry again. And Emily will get over it; she’s young and strong. That’s the best I can manage for us, Will.”

Cindy was looking directly at Will. He saw nothing but sincerity in her face, and no indication that she understood the madness of what she had just said.

Cindy rose and returned to the kitchen. Will turned the sound back on and let the voices of the commentators wash over him in a soothing wave, of which he heard not a word.

“Honey, we’re out of milk and low on bread. Will you do a run to the Swifty-Quicky?”

Will realized that over an hour had slid inexorably by, and the game had reached halftime. He got to his feet, said something inane to Cindy, and went out the side door into the garage. Backing out into the quiet street, the mile drive to the nearest convenience store, the purchases and home again—the events of routine daily living passed in a blur, before eyes barely conscious of what they saw.

Will walked from the garage to the kitchen, put the milk in the fridge and the bread on the counter; he did not see Cindy.

“Will? ...”

He followed the voice into the short hall and the open bathroom door. Unlike the bathroom off the master bedroom, which had only a shower stall, this one had a tub. Cindy sat upright in the dry space, fully clothed, with the .32 revolver he kept in a lockbox in his bedside stand pressed against her head above the right ear.

“I ... I can’t seem to do it, Will. I already tried, twice. Entity wants to go, and is giving me this chance, but I ... Will, I’m so sorry, can you ...”

Will’s body seemed frozen in place. He stared at the pistol in her hand, forefinger on the trigger. He moved his gaze to her face, and again saw an abrupt, obvious change in personalities. But this time it was not Entity replacing Cindy. Her face went slack, eyes dull, mouth open and audibly gasping for air. In an instant, the woman he had known and loved for most of his life vanished. In her place he saw only vacancy, the living husk of a body Entity had described, the mind irretrievably gone.

Cindy’s gaze shifted past Will, to the open door. He saw the hand holding the pistol start to shake, as if fatigued from holding it in place. The barrel moved back an inch from her head.

Will took two quick steps into the small room, put his left hand over the one holding the pistol to force the barrel against her head again, and his right to her finger on the trigger. He pressed it firmly inward.

The gun fired, a sharp, loud crack! in the confined space. Cindy’s head jerked violently to the other side, before she slumped down in the tub. The recoil kicked the pistol out of her hand, and past his; it landed on the foot towel by the side of the tub.

Will straightened up and backed away, without taking his eyes off Cindy’s face. The curious emptiness had vanished. She looked almost like her normal self, the soft pink lips slightly parted, as if ready to take in air again. But the eyes had changed, noticeably bulging outward from the pressure caused by the bullet into her brain. The slug hadn’t emerged from the other side of the skull, and the trail of blood from where it had entered stopped below the ear.

Will stood in the bathroom door, unable to stop staring at Cindy, or move away. For the first time he noticed the sheet of paper lying on top of the bathroom cabinet; one short paragraph in Cindy’s handwriting, followed by her distinctive large, looping signature. He did not pick it up; no need.

Until he took those two steps into the bathroom, Will had not consciously realized that he had come to accept Entity as real. Beings with incredible powers did visit Earth, regularly if infrequently. And that meant Cindy had not gone insane, or psycho. Yielding to the inevitable, she had tried her best to spare husband and daughter from years of caring for a mindless body by committing suicide.

Suicide ... Will hurried to their bedroom, stripped off his shirt and pants, and quickly but thoroughly showered, shampooing his hair and scrubbing hard at both face and hands. He changed into a clean pair of the golf shirts and jeans he liked to wear around the house, then put the ones almost certainly spattered with gunpowder residue in the laundry hamper, halfway down the pile.

Cindy had tried her best to end her life in a way that would do the least harm to her husband and daughter. That care and love would be wasted if he was arrested and convicted of murder.

Will walked to the living room, lifted the landline phone off its little table, and dialed 911. When the operator answered, he asked for the police and an ambulance.

When he heard the shrill scream of a siren, winding down to a mournful wail as it neared the house, Will walked to the front door, opened it, and stood there waiting. END

Joseph Green is a charter member of SFWA. He has published five science fiction novels and more than 70 shorter works in “Analog,” “F&SF,” and several original anthologies. Shelby Vick is the author of “Bluewater,” and “Out of the Dark.”


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