Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Joy Ride
by Jude-Marie Green

Barnegat Inn
by Brian Biswas

Captain Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers
by Milo James Fowler

by Michael Hodges

Discord in Paradise
by Leslie Lupien

(225-50) Agnes
by Mark Ayling

It’s a Long Road to the Sky Train
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Not Her Kind
by Peter Wood

Down Courthouse Wash
by Steven L. Peck

Blink Twice
by Rebecca Birch

by Sean Monaghan


Mad Max, R2-D2 Return
by Adam Paul

Sixteen Shades of Ice
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




By Michael Hodges

CARNOLD PECKHAM FOUND HIMSELF climbing through Pipestone Pass with Darling, his reliable horse. Darling had eyelashes longer than the fanciest whore and legs to make any woman envious. A jagged scar ran down the side of her head, below the left eye. Rescuing her from the meat packing plant in Wild Arrow had not been easy. Nor had the decision to go after Geiter, a bear that had been terrorizing Three Forks.

Derk Raul, the town constable of Three Forks, had offered a reward for the first man to come back with the bear’s head. At first the reward was a pound of gold in a burlap sack tied off with a strip of leather. When the sheriff and his deputies never came back, the reward bumped to two pounds of gold coins. When a group of vigilantes—many with wives and children—failed to return, Derk held a town hall meeting and offered four pounds of gold pieces. That was a price Carnold couldn’t refuse. Hell, that was enough to pay back certain gambling debts, ones that had gotten him into trouble. Beyond that, he could even buy a spread in the country, run a few cattle and keep his nose clean in the fresh air. And he didn’t have no friends or family who’d miss him if Geiter ate him, so it made sense.

He and Darling worked their way up the pass through dry juniper. Carnold brushed a glove-wrapped hand along a branch and watched it swish back into place. He dug into a saddle pouch and retrieved a carrot. He leaned over and Darling’s eyes went wide. She crunched the carrot down, although not in a piggish way, for Darling had finer sensibilities. She chewed, then trotted into a fancy gait.

Good girl.

Each hundred feet higher the woods inherited vibrancy from some unseen painter. Puddles of water marked farther up on Darling’s legs. Wood anemone and ferns appeared and the tangy scent of sweet grass pleased him. Fireflies winked in far-off glades.

Soon they passed the skeletal remains of a settler’s wagon, listing to the right. The canvas cover showed countless holes as if chewed by a locust swarm. Gaps revealed the support ribcage like that of a dried-up whale, as if a whale had flopped up the mountain in a mad rush of confusion, the sea glinting thousands of feet below. But there was no sea near Pipestone Pass, nor the town of Three Forks.

A murder of crows shot from a lodgepole pine and Carnold reached for his pistol. He leveled the firearm up trail. Darling neighed. When nothing came he shook his head and holstered the weapon. Another quarter mile up they crossed a wooden footbridge barely suitable for the mare. Trees crowded them. Scuffed boulders framed the creek and black flies buzzed them. Pines chewed up the sun and sent it every which way and one of those every which ways lit up a sign that was nailed to a chokecherry tree:

You are entering the habitat of Geiter. Best turn around. —Constable Derk and the town committee for Three Forks.

Carnold tipped his hat.

Another half mile and whatever was left of the sun wasn’t enough. Stars glimmered between canopy patches, a one-off view meant for just this moment, never to be replicated.

They broke camp off trail, in a twenty by twenty clearing with a heap of boulders on one side and a stack of lodgepole on the other. Carnold cut up logs with his axe and tethered Darling to an aspen with lush grass beneath. As he lit the tinder with his flint he heard her cropping. Stars jostled for his attention above the clearing like children.

He fed Darling another carrot and patted her on the neck as she nickered. He sat down on a coarse boulder next to the fire and lifted his pant leg. Above his boot shown a brace of metal that went to the knee. He made sure the fussy springs were right and that tolerances were as they should be. He didn’t care too much to think about how he’d lost the leg but he did anyway, to remind himself. He’d gotten into a fight over gambling debts with Eldrid Erickson of Wild Arrow, a town out on the plains. He’d drunk too much and played cards with a crew he wasn’t so sure of. When Eldrid had won all ten rounds, Carnold had sassed off, something about Eldrid being porky and a cheat. Well, Eldrid was porky, but he was also six-foot-eight and 350 pounds. Eldrid had sent him flying through the saloon doors. Carnold had hit his head on the dirt and blacked out, and by the time he’d come to he’d felt horrible pain and seen a mad look in Eldrid’s eyes and the dripping carpenter’s saw in his hand. Eldrid had said this would teach him a lesson, and that if he didn’t get his money, the other leg would be next.

Carnold tapped his metal leg three times for luck and covered it. He poked around the fire with a good stick and watched the sparks rise into the air. He pictured Geiter, ten feet tall with a powerful shoulder hump and paws that could knock a man’s head clean off.

He awoke in the night, sweating. He checked for Darling and saw her ghostly figure in the starlight under the aspen. Overhead, night birds squawked and fluttered. Carnold went to the creek and washed his face, the stars buoyant and luxurious in the dark water. Tomorrow, he thought.


All he wanted was a glimpse of this Geiter, of this legend. For once, there might exist such a thing that was beyond the trumped-up baloney that plagued Three Forks and Wild Arrow. And if he could shoot the thing and drag it down mountain, all the better.

As Carnold broke camp, Darling snorted and looked about.

“You alright, girl?”

Her nostrils flared and she stomped a hoof.

He held his hand out, palm up, then smoothed her mane. He aligned his head with hers so he was seeing what she was.

The sun lit everything in high definition the way it does at altitude. The contrast between rocks, tree, and sky crackled. He lost himself in the cobalt sky and was startled by a hawk’s silhouette. When he looked down from the hawk he saw a slanted meadow to his right, rife with Indian paintbrush, three-flowered avens, and arnica. Lodgepole pines bordered the meadow and several large boulders squatted in the grass.

One of the boulders moved.

Carnold drew the reins and halted.

For a moment.

Darling snorted and reared up. He leaned forward and patted her down. Her breath was hard and he felt it in his thighs. Her nostrils flared and shot phlegm, pattering down black flies.

Carnold drew his pistol and leveled it up meadow. What he’d thought was a boulder had gotten on hind legs and stood twelve feet high, its brown fur ruffling in the wind. The mouth of the thing was bigger than any horse’s. The bear opened its maw, releasing a powerful note for all inhabitants of this high mountain pass to hear.

Hands trembling, Carnold dismounted and swatted Darling on the hind. She bolted up trail, her tail disappearing past a bend of lodgepole and Indian paintbrush. Carnold ignored the nausea and panic, then turned to face the deadly bear.

Geiter was still a hundred yards up mountain.

Carnold wiped away his moistening eyes. When he cleared his hand, Geiter was within fifty yards. The sun shone silvery hot across the bear’s back. Geiter growled with his mouth closed, all that rage and power boiling inside. The growl vacillated with each paw stroke.

Twenty yards now.

Carnold raised his pistol with a trembling hand and fired.

Wide left and a cloud of dirt.

Geiter at ten yards.

He fired again. The bullet ripped into Geiter’s head and clanked off his skull.

Carnold stood there, dumbfounded. A goddamn robot bear. A flash of metal where scalp had been, as the bear thundered below a patch of yellow flowers and bluebird sky.

A postcard death, Carnold thought.

He tried to fire again but Geiter ripped the gun out of his hand and knocked him backwards. The bear pinned him to the ground with one paw, for both paws would not have fit upon his chest. Carnold coughed and wheezed. Sparkles of white and purple filled his visual plane as oxygen expunged from his brain. He thought of Darling and hoped she’d be okay. Maybe someone would take care of her, she deserved that alright. Geiter opened his mouth, saliva hanging in long strands like icicles. Geiter’s tongue was pink like a cow’s, but the teeth were metal like a knife blade. Carnold shielded his face and screamed. Geiter whipped around and seized him by the leg, preparing to bite it in half. The muscular hump on Geiter’s shoulders flexed.

Goodbye, Darling.

Geiter clamped down on his leg.

And then the bear stopped. Stopped growling, stopped salivating. Only a low huffing remained. Geiter stared at Carnold’s metal leg and turned his mad-pig gaze towards him. The eyes softened in that moment as metal teeth released metal leg.

The great bear turned away, then lumbered twenty yards and glanced back, eyes dog-like. Geiter ambled up meadow, where he took to grazing on numerous wildflowers.

Carnold lay there, chest heaving, his pants stained from the urine of the bear and his own. His metal leg checked out okay, and his left arm had bite wounds but nothing that he couldn’t repair. He stood and scrambled for his weapon. With the pistol firmly in his grasp, he leveled it at the bear.

Geiter met his gaze with sad eyes and resumed devouring the yellow arnica. Then he rooted around a log and slurped fat white grubs. Geiter ate them with his snout high in the air like a dog.

A bear is meant to be shot, he thought. That’s what everyone knows. Especially a goddamn mechanical bear from who knows where. Carnold stood there, a beast of a revolver in his hand. The sights were good and true on Geiter, enough to plant a bullet in its jugular, if it had one. Yet he couldn’t pull the trigger. His eyes watered again and he turned up trail to fetch Darling.

By the time he found Darling clipping fresh grass in a glade, slashes of lightning imprinted the sky. Soon hail pelted his skin and Darling’s enormous skull and they hunkered under an old growth pine which rose above all others on that mountain slope, and in turn that mountain rose above all others and at the top of the mountain he had no doubt Geiter was there, challenging the lightning and whatever may come his way. Hail sifted through the branches like glow-in-the-dark-eggs and sometimes rustled its way to the brim of his hat or his lap. Darling nickered with each passing thunderhead.

The night was long and cold and the lightning had even driven the birds mad, for they squawked and screamed throughout the night, impatient and eerie calls sent from feather and vibrating hollow bone.

He woke slumped on Darling while she chewed grass in a clearing. What was left of the storm rumbled to the east.

They took the path back to Three Forks and galloped into the meadow where he’d been bitten by Geiter. The brute was a hundred yards up meadow, feeding on flowers and grubs. Carnold patted Darling on her flank and dismounted. She clipped grass on the downward slant of the trail, one eye on the bear. Geiter paid her no mind. Carnold sat on a boulder and watched Geiter while eating a piece of jerky. Birds bandied about, some of which he’d never seen, and bees zipped from flower to flower. He realized Geiter didn’t eat meat. Never did Geiter try to hunt. Never did Geiter stalk. Geiter ate grubs, grass, bulbs, and bugs.

That night he watched the stars in a nearby camp and in them he saw the shape of a girl he once loved. She’d died from yellow fever and when they’d buried her at eighteen she was buried with a yellow rose in a yellow dress. What was left of the priest’s hair blew to and fro in that desert breeze and the lines in the faces were quartz-hard. The priest had held a wooden cross and grimaced and there’d been sand on those teeth. Attendees had squinted on, holding hats to their chests or weeping, and some coughed because they had the yellow fever too. And from that valley floor he’d looked up into these very mountains, and he’d dreamed about a better way and a better place for Abbey, his girl in the yellow dress. She’d been fearful of the drinking and the madness in town, said she wanted a life in the country away from criminals and the pipe-steam factories which fouled the air. She’d made him a necklace from a strip of leather and she’d carved an eagle’s beak from soft pine and attached it to the leather. He touched it now as he looked at the stars and that shape of Abbey.

Thin, low clouds rose up mountain and dimmed the stars. Wind carried creek sounds throughout camp, as if there was a flood and the shimmering water had spilled around the campfire. Night birds chittered and darted above the fire, picking off moths. He curled up in his bedroll near Darling and fell asleep.

The next morning he sat on a boulder and watched Geiter feeding in the meadow. In his hand was not a revolver but a carrot. He held it out in front of him and climbed the meadow slope, breath hard amongst the Indian paintbrush, boots thudding amongst the chalice. Geiter looked up from his grazing and stared him down. Carnold pressed on. He knew the bear was a softy, that Geiter only attacked those who attacked him. That’s why the men had disappeared. He continued upslope as Geiter watched him. The great bear huffed and Carnold set his carrot on a log.

He retreated downslope and sat on the boulder near the trail. Geiter lurched down to the log and sniffed the carrot. Then the bear ran its snout along the log and scooped up the carrot sideways.

Carnold smiled. He turned to Darling to see what she thought of all this. She was getting fat here from all the lush grass. And speaking of fat, he wondered why Geiter needed to eat. Geiter did have fur, a tongue, and real eyes, so it must be a hybrid, which meant it had to get fuel from somewhere. The meadow was as good a place as any.

Carnold settled into camp again, Abbey high above him, smiling. He heard no sound of man, just the rustling pines and whispering creek. Before he’d laid upon his bedroll, he’d set a fat carrot upon a log at wood’s edge. Every so often he opened his right eye and peered above the fire. Above the flames and the carrot and the canopy, a brace of stars curved. And in that curve were more stars, and behind those stars a sheet of stars imprinted in a fainter blow. And beyond that another sheet offset and fainter yet. At one point the stars were blocked by shadow, and in this shadow two points reflected Venus.


He stood like that, up in the stars for a few minutes. Then he came down and snatched the carrot with a sideways snicker, muzzle quivering up and down the log. Geiter reared back and chomped the carrot down with his metal teeth and Carnold eyed him with one eye and held his hand to his hat snug in that bedroll. The great bear arched his massive head back and swallowed the carrot and sniffed the night sky. The stars blinked down to the bear in some obscure form of communication no man could possibly understand, for only the truly wild understand the stars.


Carnold spent the next morning whittling a flat piece of soft pine and then rode Darling down trail. He waved goodbye to Geiter in the steep meadow. The bear was feasting at the top on grubs and flowers like he always did. Geiter saw him and stood and rocked back and forth. Then the great bear let out a roar that made Darling’s skin all twitchy. Carnold blinked to clear the water from his eyes.

They carried on, Carnold holding that piece of wood tight to his thigh as they loped down trail. By afternoon they’d come to the narrow footbridge in the tight trees near the signpost. Carnold dismounted and pried Derk’s sign off the post. He replaced it with the soft pine he’d carved earlier and lashed it to the post with strips of rawhide from his saddlebag. He faced the sign and crossed his arms over his chest. The carving wasn’t perfect, but it’d do:

You are enterin’ the habitat of Geiter. He is a friendly bear, do not raise your revolvers. —Carnold Peckham

He turned to Darling and her nostrils flared terrible. Then her eyes got big. Carnold stopped and listened, catching a faint breeze in the pines and the distant chatter of men. Boots on dirt followed the chatter and soon he saw the hats of men and the pink desert faces below. Carnold’s stomach roiled. He pivoted on his metal leg and mounted Darling. He kicked her sides and whipped the reins and they shot up mountain.

They reached Geiter’s Meadow and sprinted towards the top, past Indian paintbrush and alpine hawksbread and pink wintergreen. Darling’s hooves kicked up chunks of moist soil, her breath rocketing forth, caught up in her mane and then released at her flanks. Carnold leaned forward, everything as if in slow motion. He pointed and yelled at Geiter, who stood on hind legs and stumbled backwards. He yelled for the bear to get back, but when that didn’t work he and Darling fake-charged him. Geiter stood his ground and watched him with the eyes of a curious dog. At last Geiter lifted his snout to the air and sniffed. Then his apple-sized eyes locked onto the trail far below.

Carnold stared into the blue sky and held his arms wide. Darling whinnied. Far below, a group of twenty or so men clamored, gripping rifles and a set of traps. Two men held flashlights, then lit the meadow near the trail with pop-off flares. Gobs of flame wicked across the wildflowers. Amongst the posse hulked a giant of a man, all 350 pounds of him.


The men came running and firing, the air so pure Carnold caught whiff of gunpowder from at least a hundred yards away. Bullets climbed the meadow faster than any living thing and tore Indian paintbrush in half and whizzed past Carnold’s head. A bullet ripped into Geiter’s front leg and tore away flesh, revealing metal bone.

Carnold Peckham drew his revolver and leveled it down meadow. He thumbed his eagle necklace with his other hand. Darling whinnied and reared and he had to grab the reins. Geiter turned his incredible head to Carnold, then to the men, then back to Carnold. And in that moment Carnold saw a thing flash in that metal bear’s eyes, a thing of kinship, a thing of gritty, coarse granite that only two things who shared a mountain could ever understand.

Carnold Peckham waved his arm forward on that bluebird day in Geiter’s Meadow, amongst the yellow flowers. Darling leapt forth, head down. Thunder now, thunder. A bullet whizzed by him and thudded into soil. As he turned, Carnold saw the great bear follow their lead, immense paws throwing dirt and bits of wood. The bear held his head low for speed and so did Darling and so did Carnold. Thunder now, the paws and hooves, thunder now. END

Michael Hodges is a member of SFWA and the Codex Writing Group. Read more about Michael on his website. This is his fifth story for “Perihelion.” He has also been published in “AE,” “Bards and Sages Quarterly,” “Penumbra,” and other magazines.






jamie noble