Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crowd Control
by Gareth D. Jones et al.

Blank Space
by David Wright

Robot of Dorian Graham
by Richard Zwicker

Seven Styles of Mortality
by Cathy Douglas

Lightning Strikes
by Sean Monaghan

2038: A Mars Odyssey
by Brian Biswas

Innovation Stopped
by William R. Eakin

Midnight in Absheron
by Edward Ashton

Full Fathom Five on Chemical Freedom
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by Aaron Rasmusson

Shimmer and Fade
by Daniel Nathan Horn


UFOs: the Truth is Not Out There
by Eric M. Jones

Off on a Comet
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips





Before the Age of Bubbles

THIS MONTH, I CELEBRATE MY SIXTY-EIGHTH birthday. I haven’t had a birthday cake in many years, but I sometimes think about one festooned with sixty-eight candles. I wonder if such a thing is possible anymore. Do they still sell birthday cake candles? Or have the child protection authorities, like with so many other things, decided that encouraging a youngster to get close to an open flame is tantamount to endangerment of a minor and, therefore, criminal. There aren’t enough burn units in the entire country to handle the foreseen epidemic of third-degree casualties.

By this line of thinking, I should be dead.

I blew out the candles on many a cake when I was a child; I helped my brothers blow out their candles, too. All my friends had yearly cakes adorned with dancing flames. I don’t recall one incident of a kid being rushed to the hospital as a result. We also wrote our names in the night sky with sparklers on the Fourth of July. We played with matches. Not so much using the matches as toys, but we needed them to ignite our celebratory pyrotechnics.

We played with cap guns that didn’t have an identifiable orange marking on the front of the barrel. Back then, we were smart enough to realize that it wasn’t a good idea to threaten policemen with our toy weapons. But it was fun to ignite an entire roll of paper caps at once; again, nobody required emergency care from this admittedly dumb but gratifying stunt.

Nobody wore helmets when riding bicycles. That wasn’t even a consideration. You might as well have asked us to wear bath towels or boxing gloves.

I lived at the top of a steep street. But the cross street at the corner was even steeper. We’d laboriously peddle our way, sans any protective gear whatsoever, to the top of that street, then peddle and coast our way down as fast as we could possibly achieve. The ride was thrilling. I don’t recall any of my friends winding up in intensive care. Perhaps we were all more athletic back then?

Once in a while we’d receive an abrasion or two for our efforts which we would promptly ignore until much later when we returned home and, under protest, our mothers would tend to. The most I ever got from my mother was a tongue-in-cheek admonishment that “one day you’re going to kill yourself.” Obviously, I never did. It seems to me, also, that back then parents realized that one of the duties of childhood was to get scrapes and get into scrapes.

In winter—where I grew up we had plenty of that—I would spend all day with the other kids racing down the local snow-packed hill on our Flexible Flyers. These wooden, steerable sleds had steel runners. We’d take sandpaper to the blades, making them smoother, sharper, faster. I don’t know if this worked, but that’s what we thought, anyway. We were kids.

We’d find an old garbage can, lay it sideways at the bottom of the hill, and cover it with hard-packed snow. This made for quite an effective ski jump. At the top of the hill, we’d take off running for momentum, throw ourselves and our sleds onto the slope, aim for the jump, and actually get a few exciting seconds of air time before we hit the ground hard. Nobody broke any bones or suffered any concussions. I cut my lip once.

I don’t remember what we did with that old hill when there wasn’t snow. Ignored it, I guess. There were better opportunities for getting into mischief during the warmer months. Like wading around in this old lot that always filled up with water whenever we got a good rainstorm. I might have been around ten or eleven-years-old. The water was up to my knees. Do the math. I’d come out of the water with wormlike creatures stuck to my legs. Leeches? Is it possible for leeches to remain dormant in, for all intents and purposes, a meadow, stirring to feed a couple of times each year when the meadow flooded? I’m skeptical. It was decades ago, and back then I believed in a lot of foolish things.

Spring and summer were also good seasons to play with dart guns. Screw Nerf! The toy dart guns of yesterday had relatively powerful spring firing mechanisms. They had to be in order to give the darts, which had rubber suction heads, enough velocity to stick to surfaces. Probably unknown to the manufacturers was that the rubber suction heads could be easily removed and the plastic stubs filed down to sharp points. Then the darts really stuck to things.

Indoors, I’d occupy myself with my Erector Set. Now that was truly a toy to teach a kid responsibility, along with basic construction concepts. Erector sets consisted of a couple hundred miniature tin blades, each about the size and shape of a tongue depressor, punched with a number of holes. There were also a coupleeditorial hundred tiny nuts and bolts. The more advanced Erector Sets included a small electric motor, some bearings, pulleys, and gears. The blades were sharp; the nuts and bolts could be swallowed. Attempting surgery with the blades, or garnishing a salad with the nuts and bolts was never at the top of my to-do list. Instead, I built a truck, a Ferris wheel, bridges, and a number of original designs which made no sense whatsoever.

I also owned a Gilbert Chemistry Set, which engendered my passion for chemistry and science in general. [That’s me at the right around 1965.] Most of the chemicals were innocuous, but a few bottles contained compounds that could send you to the hospital. Never did, however. Not even a hiccup. I rapidly outgrew the confines of what Gilbert had to offer and expanded my “home laboratory” from other sources, both locally and through mail order. Unbelievable what you could get with your parents’ permission: sulfuric acid, various peroxide compounds, ammonium nitrate, metallic sodium. The list goes on. Surely there were terrorist organizations around from 1959 to 1965. Maybe they never studied general chemistry.

For some reason, I was never interested in one of those iconic Red Ryder BB guns with which you could “put your eye out.” Might have been a regional thing. None of my friends ever had one, or wanted one, either. I enjoyed archery for a little while, shooting at straw-filled targets, mostly at the YMCA on Saturdays. But the fascination was short-lived.

Now here I am about to celebrate my sixty-eighth year on Earth. The little kids on the block are peddling their bicycles wearing helmets that Evel Knievel would envy. There’s a playground and water park up the street that has so much foam padding it could sleep several dozen. Kids now engage in organized activities where you will find more parents than offspring. It’s a safe new world. What happens when these overprotected generations grow up?

Sam Bellotto Jr.