Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Stolen Dreams
by Joseph Green
and R-M Lillian

Boon’s Mutiny
by Harold R. Thompson

Dancing in the Right of Way
by Cyn C. Bermudez

Esterhazy’s Cadence
by Guy T. Martland

Ghosts of Space Command
by Milo James Fowler

by Jeremy Szal

White Russians and Old Lace
by K.C. Ball

Shuttle 54, Where R U?
by Jack Ryan

Shorter Stories

Faraday Cage
by Timothy J. Gawne

Rose Coloured Tentacles
by Gareth D. Jones

Screaming His Scream
by Tim Major


Making Real Life X-Men
by E.E. Giorgi

Taking the Temperature
by Pierre Duhem



Comic Strips




White Russians and Old Lace

By K.C. Ball

RAIN POUNDED AT THE ROOF of the City Company Theater.

The persistent noise made hearing difficult for everyone, on both sides of the arch, but it didn’t sound as if the weather would heed the backstage Noises Off sign.

Two minutes until the curtain went up on the company’s off-Broadway revival of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Ten people sat out front; not enough to call them an audience and not the sort of crowd Dora had imagined for her first professional performance. Nothing to be done, though; no time to make it right.

The stage manager called: “Places everyone.”

Dora peeked through the curtain one last time and saw a familiar face. Her neighbor, a well-mannered older man she ran into now and then at the mailbox. His name was William and he taught at NYU. Dora hadn’t realized he knew about the show.

She knew he enjoyed live theater, though. Once or twice, as they both came or went, she had spied a playbill for the 1944 Broadway production of “Harvey” hanging just inside his apartment. It was not a bookstore reproduction.

“Places, damn it!” the stage manager hissed.

Dora scrambled off-stage and the curtain rose.


The curtain fell to enthusiastic applause, even if it was from a small audience. Dora hurried through the house door and caught up to William as he pushed through into the lobby.

“Hey there, neighbor,” she called.

He turned and offered a smile that lit his face. He wore a tasteful wool pinstripe, solid-blue knit tie, gleaming wingtips. His gray hair was cut just so. Older; yes, but still good looking.

“Dora,” he said. “I’m so pleased to see you.”

“And I’m surprised to see you.”

Growing up, her mother had scolded her, told her she was too impulsive and mother’s words had a way of lingering in Dora’s mind. She heard them now.

“Learn to take a breath, dear, before you speak or act.”

Dora hesitated for an instant, but only that. “What did you think of the show, William?”

He offer that killer smile again.

“Creditable,” he said. “The set was well detailed and you were a marvelous Elaine.”

She blushed. “Thank you. Sounds as if you’ve seen Arsenic and Old Lace before.”

His smile faded. “I have. It was my late wife’s favorite.”

Dora wanted to see that smile again. “Would you like coffee or a drink? My treat. We could chat about the show awhile.”

“I would like that,” he said. “But only if you let me pay.”

“All right,” she said. “Let me change out of this costume.”

She turned to the stage, ignoring her mother’s imaginary warnings once more.


William leaned close. Dora could smell the gin and tonic on his breath, but she’d had her share of White Russians, too.

“Karloff’s doing Jonathan,” he said. “Every performance, Dr. Einstein, played by a wonderful actor named Edgar Stehli, would ask Jonathan why he had killed Mr. Spinalzo, and Karloff would growl: He said I looked like Boris Karloff.”

Dora giggled. White Russians always made her giggle, but it wasn’t the alcohol this time. She found the story funny; William had a knack for it. He regaled her with tales of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” In return, she offered the tangled details of her life.

He hadn’t told her much of his, though, and hadn’t said one word about his late wife, other than his comment at the theater. Dora ached to know more; it was her nature, after all.

She jumped into the lull in conversation.

“Tell me about your wife.”

For a moment, she feared she had overstepped her bounds, then William drew a long breath, as if he were about to plunge into a deep and chilly pool.

“Miriam and I met at a graduate-assistant party at Case Western in Cleveland. October 10, 1976. I fell in love the very moment I first saw her.”

He took a sip of gin and tonic. Dora managed to hold her tongue and he went on.

“We shared enthusiasms. Biking. Kayaking. Edgar Allen Poe. Live theater. She was gorgeous, open and caring. Much smarter than I ever was. We married June 14, 1977; earned our master’s in particle physics together on June 7, 1978.”

“Did you do your doctorates at the same university?”

He retrieved the gin and tonic, but only held it; rolled it between his hands. He was silent for a time.

Finally, he said, “No. After Case Western, we decided to take a year or two off to work on one of Miriam’s projects. It had to do with the nature of space-time.”


“And on January 20, 1980, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Six months later, she was gone.”

“Did you finished the project?”

“We did. And it gave us time to spend the last few months she had, going to the theater every night.”

Outside, the rain had stopped. He finished off his gin and tonic and glanced around, as if to see if anyone was listening.

“Would you like to see what we created?” He leaned in close and offered up that killer smile.

“At the university?”

“No. Across the hall from you. I’ve got a little workshop in the second bedroom.”

He’s drunk!”

Dora suspected her mother’s whisper might be right. Her mind’s eye saw and heard her mother shake a finger and whisper: “Don’t you dare go with him!” Dora ignored the little voice.

“I’d love to,” she said.

He eased off the bar stool. “Come on.”


They took a taxi home. Outside William’s door, Dora glanced across the hall to her own apartment. Her mother murmured in her mind: “You don’t know him all that well. What if ...”

As if he heard it, too, William said: “We don’t have to do this now. Perhaps some other time.”

“No,” she said, stepping closer. “I want to see.”

“All right.”

Inside, there was so much more than a “Harvey” poster. Dozens of framed playbills lined the walls—all for Broadway hits from the 1930s and 1940s. Like her apartment, it was a high-ceilinged space, so there was room for half-a-hundred photographs, too. Each black-and-white was framed to match the playbills.

“Look around,” William said. “I’ll be back.”

Dora browsed the room. The only color photo hung above the mantle. A candid shot of a tall, young blond woman. She wore a wetsuit and held a kayak above her head.

“Is that Miriam above the mantle?” Dora called.

“Yes,” William called back. “We were on our honeymoon.”

A black-and-white photograph, hung next to a playbill for “Pal Joey,” was the next thing to catch Dora’s eye. A woman in an evening gown stood between two tuxedoed men. Dora was certain one of the men was Gene Kelly, the star of the show. She knew his face from an old film: “Singin’ In The Rain.”

She took the photo from the wall. The woman in the evening gown looked just like Miriam; her blond hair swept up in a lush forties style. The second man looked like William, except much younger. Neither of them appeared to be more than thirty. The math didn’t work, though. The photo had to be seventy years old.

“Found it,” William said.

He had stepped back into the room while she examined the Gene Kelly photo. He held a gleaming cube big as a lunchroom microwave. It looked heavy. The segmented sides were imprinted with circuitry, but Dora wasn’t interested in machines just now.

“Is this Photoshopped?” she held up the photograph.

He smiled. “No. That’s us—Miriam and me—with Gene Kelly on opening night of Pal Joey, Christmas Day, 1940.”

Her mother whispered: See; I told you. That’s crazy talk. Dora took a step toward the open door.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” William asked.

Dora stopped and did her best to slow her breath, to calm her nerves, and to ignore the whispers. “Curiosity killed the cat, you know.”

What Dora knew was that she wanted to find out how William—and his dead wife—could have appeared in the photograph she held. If it was a fake, it was the best work she had ever seen; but Dora didn’t think it was a forgery. She stepped away from the door, pulled her shoulders back and drew another cleansing breath.

“Show me,” she said.

William set the cube upon the floor at the center of the room and began to unfold it. Dora heard a faint click as each piece snapped into place. As he worked, he talked to her.

“Miriam believed the universe was infinitely flexible. That it could be folded or unfolded, stretched or compressed, made to overlap itself.”

By then, the original cube didn’t look any smaller, but a slim and gleaming mat, three feet to a side, had formed.

William continued to unfold the cube. “It took four months to get the equations right; Miriam did all the math. Four more months to produce a prototype.”

He stopped working. “We finished a working model two weeks before we found out she was going to die.”

The cube hadn’t shrunk an inch, but segments had spread so that they covered an area six feet to a side. That was just as crazy as the photograph.

“What is it?” Dora asked.

William smiled. “We called it a traveling mat.”

He glanced at her expectantly; it took Dora a moment to catch the awful pun.

“That terrible,” she said.

“Sorry.” He gave a little shrug. “Miriam loved puns as much as she loved the theater.”

Dora pointed to the mat. ”What does it do?”

“Within certain limitations, it will carry you across space and time.”

“Go on,” Dora said.

“No; really. You can’t time travel in your own lifetime, and can’t jump through space farther than twelve parsecs, but other than that, you can go most anywhere.”

“Now you’re teasing me,” she said.

He looked alarmed. “I’m not.”

“You are.”

“I swear I’m not.”

He sounded so serious; she played along.

“So it’s like a TARDIS?”

He blinked. “Hadn’t thought of that, but in a way I suppose it is.”

Did he just say it was a time machine?”

Dora asked the next logical question. “Have you used it?”

He smiled and swept his arm around the room, as if to say here’s all the proof you need. “I have.”

She almost saw the light bulb blink above his head. “Would you like to try it?”

“I’m not ...”

“We could take in a performance of the original production of Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Her mother’s little voice had been right. This was all an elaborate hoax. It had to be. Dora waited for another shoe to drop, waited for William to mention—ever so casually—just how little she would have to pay to get her ticket.

Instead, he dropped to his knees. He tapped at a keypad set into the top of the cube. And as his fingers danced, he spoke.

“Opening night was January 10, 1941. We can’t attend that one. Miriam and I were already there.”

“Will you die if you run into yourself?”

“Don’t be silly; but it will set up a paradox.”

He was so busy, he didn’t even hear his inadvertent pun. A low hum filled the room.

Dora could feel it in her teeth, as it grew in intensity. Before it became uncomfortable, though, it evened into a steady background noise.

“Second-day will work, don’t you think?” he said. “Perhaps the matinee.”

Dora heard other sounds then. Horns honking. A hum of tires on asphalt. Echoing crowd noises. A chill breeze blew from off the mat, carrying the aroma of the city, at its best and worst, and the breeze brought with it a slant of snow.

Across the mat, the light had dimmed.

Details of the room faded into soft white. Through the growing flurries, Dora could make out the white lights and red neon of a theater marquee.

William took a small keypad from the top of the cube, stood and stepped onto the mat.

“We’ll need proper clothing, but there’s lots of time.”

His face was a picture of delight and hope. He held out his hand, inviting her to join him. Dora saw snowflakes gather on his shoulders and across the carpet just beyond the toes of his wingtip shoes.

That can’t be!

Dora didn’t need to hear her mother’s voice. She turned and ran. Across the hall, she fumbled for her door key and found she still clutched the Gene Kelly photograph. She gently laid it on the floor, worked the key, slipped inside her apartment, then locked and chained the door behind her.


She woke next morning on the sofa; fully clothed. After her first cup of coffee, she peeked outside the door. The framed photograph was gone.

Sober, in the morning’s crystal light, she realized how startled and frightened she had become after seeing William’s traveling mat in operation.

That swirl of snow, that flash of neon through the storm, had been too damned real. But what if William really had a way into the past?

What if she had fled a wondrous opportunity?

She ached for another look now; a second chance to step onto the mat. The notion nagged at her. She cursed herself for acting like a coward, for listening to her imagined version of her mother’s cautionary voice.

Dora began the trip across the hall a dozen times, but never made it out her door. Just after ten a.m., her cellphone rang. Dora snatched it up, hoping to hear William’s voice.

It was Brady, another barista from the Starbuck’s where she worked part-time. They had gone out a time or two; he liked the retro stuff as much as she did.

“Hey, Pan,” he said. “Wanna do a movie? The African Queen’s playing at the Bijou?”

Dora started at a quiet slither across the room. Someone had slid a manila envelope beneath the door.

“Hang on a minute, Brady.”

She set her cellphone on the kitchen counter. The envelope was fastened shut but wasn’t sealed. Inside, Dora found a fold of paper clipped to a five-by-seven snapshot. The edges were uneven; it had been printed on a copier.

There was a theater ticket inside the paper. It was done old style—with raised ink and thick cardboard—newly printed and sharp-edged. It felt and smelled too right not to be the real thing.

It read: The Fulton Theater is pleased to present “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a new comedy by Joseph Kesselring. Seat 6. Front row center. Date: January 11, 1941. Matinee: 1:00 p.m.

A hand-written note on the paper said: “I’m not looking for a lover; I don’t expect to be repaid. I’m just tired of going to shows alone. I took a chance, getting close enough to take this snapshot. I think you’ll find it interesting.”

Three people smiled back at her from the snapshot. A shiver skittered up her spine when she saw the faces. She had changed her mind, it seemed, about stepping on the mat.

Or would change her mind.

In the snapshot, she posed next to William. He wore another perfect suit and tie. She wore a cocktail dress straight off the pages of a 1940 issue of “Vogue” magazine. They both were smiling. A second man—still in costume and stage makeup—stood beside them. He looked absolutely monstrous, despite his gentle smile.

It was Boris Karloff.

Dora returned to the kitchen counter and scooped up her cellphone. “Brady,” she said. “I think I’ll pass.”

He sounded puzzled when he asked: “Did I do something?”

“Not at all,” she said. “But I’ve got to find a dress and shoes. I’m going out for drinks and a Broadway matinee.”  END

K.C. Ball is an active member of SFWA, and a 2010 graduate of the Clarion West writers workshop. Her fiction has appeared in “Analog,” “Beneath Ceaseless Skies,” “Lightspeed,” “Every Day Fiction,” and other publications.


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