Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


On the Road Again
by Michaele Jordan

A Prince of Blood and Spit
by Guy Stewart

by Brandon L. Summers

Little Ships
by Harold R. Thompson

Road Rage on the Hypertime Expressway
by Ken Altabef

Bug Out
by Cas Blomberg

By His Jockstrap
by Eamonn Murphy

Tamera’s Engagement
by John Hegenberger

Shorter Stories

From the Other Side of the Rubicon
by Sean Mulroy

To Be Carved
by David Steffen

Final Frames of the Eldrisil
by J. Daniel Batt


About That Colony
by John McCormick

Tesla and Newton
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Bug Out

By Cas Blomberg

EIGHT OF US SURVIVED. THEY SHOULDA killed us all and shut down the labs, burned everything up, or whatever they do to destroy the stuff they don’t want anyone to find. I say burned because I like burning things. I like watching the crackling orange and red flames dancing around. Maybe I always did. Maybe the doctors chose us. Maybe they found me in an alley somewhere setting egg cartons on fire. I would ask, but the doctors are all dead now.

Broken thinks I’m stupid. He don’t know nothing. I was at first. Stupid, that is. I didn’t get it. My head was stuffed with marshmallows, but time ate those up. Been awake for eight days now and I figured it out. I rub the puffy scar at my temple. It itches sometimes. Feels like bugs crawling over my skin. What they did was wrong. Yes, that’s the word I want. Wrong.

“We don’t need ’em!” I scream at Broken. I don’t know his real name. I don’t know mine. “You’re trying to take her. I won’t let you!”

“Shut up, Bug.”

I jump on his back, wrap my hands around his head and scratch at his eyes. His hair is sticky and he smells like alcohol and sweat. “You want her to die. You want us all to die!”

He swats me away, knocks me to the ground. “Shut up, Bug.”

I scamper over to Sunshine. She’s dying. I can see it in her eyes, big brown things that don’t know where the iris is supposed to end and the rest of the eyeball begin. Two balls of molten coffee rolling around inside a gaunt, pasty face, no longer caring what goes on around her. She probably quit caring after that first day of needles and screams.

“Do you care? Hey! Do you care?” I ask. She doesn’t blink. While I’m pulling up her eyelids to see if anything is in there, some secret she’s hiding from the rest of us, I hear the shuffling behind me.

They creep around the corner and past the barricade of gurneys we set up days ago in case more doctors showed up. Three women and a man. The last of the survivors. Broken found them yesterday hiding deep in the belly of the building. Says he can hear them. I don’t hear nothin’ but him tellin’ me to shut up all the time. The women shuffle forward clutching torn and dirty hospital gowns the color of Sunshine’s cheeks and frayed at the ends. The man is taller than Broken and wears a gown of blue paper. The women smell like musty old clothes. The man ain’t got no smell. Something ain’t right.

I drag Sunshine away from them. “Leave her alone!” I scream. “Go away!”

“Shut up, Bug.”

“You shut up, crazy old man. Go look for your missing teeth.”

Broken scrunches up his face and I know he’s trying to count his teeth with his tongue. The women huddle together around Broken and keep looking at the Blue Paper Man. I watch their chests rise higher and higher. Scaredy-cats. Broken’s lips ain’t moving but he’s talking to them. The same way he tries to show up in my head. I shove his voice outside. He lies whenever he’s hungry.

The Blue Paper Man ignores them, steps through the wall where a window once divided the examination room from an office and walks over thick pellets of mirrored glass scattered over the floor. I watch his feet wondering why they ain’t bleeding.

“I came to help her,” he says.


“Bug,” he says it awkwardly, like he’s never heard of a bug before, “she needs help. I have medicine. I—”

“No! No medicine, Paper Man. She don’t need another doctor and she don’t need no more medicine.” I spit at him, all the while dragging Sunshine by her dirty gown. She don’t mind. She stares at me with those dark, unreal eyes. I scramble behind a metal cart loaded with rubber suction cups, a jumble of wires, a small metal basin and a pair of scissors. Always moving backwards. Keeping her safe. I ain’t givin’ anyone another victim.

The Blue Paper Man inches closer, his eyes twitching between Sunshine and me.

I snatch the scissors from the cart and slash the air. “Go away!”

The man stops. He watches me drag her farther away. His hand reaches toward something on his belt, but then it stops. He looks at the others. The girls are still huddled around Broken, who’s watching everything with wide-open eyes. The Paper Man turns back to me and says, “All right, Bug. I’ll go away. Before I go, I want you to listen to me. Sunshine is going to die. She needs help.”


“Just listen,” he says, while I continue pulling Sunshine toward the hall that must lead to somewhere without paper men and people who can show up inside my head. “My name is Blu, Bug, and I want to help her. I want to help you.”

With a grunt, I heave Sunshine around the corner and into a dim corridor lit by traces of thin sunlight from a pair of windows set high in the wall. The Paper Man’s voice follows me, “Bug, I’ll come if you need me. Press the round button, that’s all you need to remember. The round button.”

Something clatters against the wall and lands in the shadows. I ignore it and drag Sunshine into the darkness. Blue and Broken don’t chase me.

“They know I’ll slice them open,” I tell Sunshine. “They’re scared of the dark. They don’t have no light once they pass the outer corridors, remember?” She remembers, but she don’t want to say. “Broken and the others spent all afternoon throwing rocks at the big square lamps in the ceiling that used to burn us. Didn’t matter anyway once he smashed that box downstairs. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Says I’m stupid. He’s the stupid one. Least I know strange boxes have secrets. Everything has secrets. They forget that, but I don’t. They needed me the day we searched for the way out. Only there wasn’t a way out. Maybe there’s a way in.” I stop talking wondering who would bother trying to creep into the place.

I lose count of the rooms. Cluttered rooms where I drag Sunshine over bits of metal trays and plastic sheets and empty rooms with ugly grey tiles and large silent monitors attached to the wall. Finally, we collapse in an old closet. I prop her up in the corner and look around. I grab a puffy silver blanket from a cabinet and throw it over her. I also find a plastic bucket. Plopping it down in front of her, I sit on it, examining her like the dead doctors did to all of us. Only I don’t strap her to the machine. I don’t line up the needles.

Sunshine slumps to the side, her long hair spills over the floor like a dirty blanket of sand.

“What secrets did they give you?” I ask her. She don’t answer.

I shove the sleeves of her gown up and bare her arms, riddled with hundreds of blue circles, a pink scab in the center of each. I turn it so she can see the marks. “What did they do?” I scream at her, wanting answers, knowing she won’t give them to me. She ain’t said a word since we found her huddled in the corner of a cell. I let her arm fall back to the floor.

“There you were, scrunched up in the corner. I don’t think bad of you for it. We were all like that, hiding in the corners like spiders, hoping they wouldn’t find us. Until someone stabbed the doctors. Did you stab them?” I ask. ”Or is this a nightmare? Are you here to wake me up? I think you’re like me. Did you used to set egg cartons on fire?” I pull out the scissors and start carving tiny circles on my hand to match hers.

Sunshine’s foot twitches against mine and I jump, the point of the scissors biting into the palm of my hand. Blood runs down my hand and drips to the floor. I watch it until my stomach growls.

“You got any food?” I ask. Can’t eat her. She ain’t dead yet. “I wouldn’t eat you,” I tell her. “I ain’t like Biter and Broken. I watched. What else was I supposed to do? Biter ate the dead ones first, remember? Broken joined later, but first it was only Biter. Then he disappeared into the night where the darkness ate him. I’m not scared of the dark. I like it!” I lean over and pound the floor with my hand. “I like it,” I whisper to Sunshine. She blinks. “They don’t have lights burning in their eyes all the time. Broken and Biter and those three new girls. We’re all that’s left, ain’t we? But the docs didn’t give anyone eyes like mine, did they?” I ask, rummaging in the cabinet for food. Packets of liquid. Bottles of moldy bits of strangeness. Anything.

“I figured it out. These experiments. Some of them, anyway. They stirred a big spoon in our heads. Changed us. My words are all sloppy, my thinking off. Don’t matter really. I know what they did to me. Everyone knows what they did to me. The others hide their secrets. You,” I lean around the cabinet and poke my finger at Sunshine. “No idea what they did to you. You don’t talk. Did they take your tongue?” I hop off the bucket and squat in front of her. Pinching her cheeks together, I force her mouth open. Poking around a set of filed down teeth is a pink stubby tongue. She turns those liquid eyes upon me and I shiver. My hand falls away and we stare at each other. Then my stomach growls again.

“Food.” I look back at the useless cabinet, and then back at the door. “Stay here,” I tell her, backing away from her molten gaze. “I’d give you the scissors, but you scare the piss outta me and I ain’t givin’ you a weapon until you start talkin’ like a human.”

I creep back out to the main hall, sliding my hand across the floor in places so’s I know how to get back. I won’t forget though. Sunshine’s hidden away behind the blue door without one of those steel windows.

When I turn the corner into the large corridor, the hair on the back of my neck rises. Too quiet. Can’t hear Broken muttering to himself, not even yelling at someone to shut up. I keep to the shadows, thankful he can’t see in the dark. My foot kicks something and sends it skittering across the floor. I snatch up the device the Paper Man threw at me, shove it into the large square pocket on my gown where I keep my tube of water and walk into the large examination room.

No one’s home. Maybe Paper Man took them. Maybe Broken and the others were busy chasing Paper Man around the complex. The thought makes me giggle. Either way, good news for me. I scamper over to bug out Broken’s stash and dig around. I find an old tablet with a smashed screen, a set of keycards, and a bunch of torn gowns. I spend a few minutes shaking around a long skinny metal bar I’ve never seen before, but nothing happens so I throw it down. It clangs against the floor and the sound makes me jump. When my heart stops thudding in my ears, I slide the keycards into my pocket because I want to look at the pictures later. I knew his water tube wouldn’t be here. He keeps that on him. But I had hoped he had food hidden. Everyone hides something. Not Broken. He didn’t even hide a stale cracker. Bastard.

Food! The thought bursts inside my head. And suddenly I know. Broken and the others aren’t chasing the Paper Man.

I run back through the corridors, my bare feet slapping the tiles. “Stupid Bug! Stupid, stupid, Bug!” I smell the chemicals Broken soaks his rags in to make what he calls stick flames. Alcohol burns my nostrils. Ahead, the door stands open. I hear the grunts and the oomph sound of a fist hitting flesh.

“Aarrgh!” The sound comes from somewhere inside my chest as I rush toward them. My hands grab the scissors and I raise them high above my head. One of the girls shrinks away from me and I let her. I run into the room and slam the scissors into the back of another girl. Her body arches and she screams. She falls backward, her mouth open, the sound of her scream filling the entire room. She hits me and I crash into the girl who tried to slink away. The scissors skid across the floor. I try to rise up for another attack, but the girl I fell into grabs my arm and yanks me down. She wraps her other arm around my neck.

From the corner of my eye, I see Broken drop his flame stick and lunge for the woman I stabbed.

It’s getting harder to breathe, worse than when the doctors squeezed my body. Worse than when they filled the room with thick gases. I gasp for breath as my feet slip across the floor. Unable to stand, I roll. I roll and roll and roll. An old memory, that. Rolling. I hold on to it. Roll until my head is even with her chest and I barrel into her, slamming her into the wall. She rakes my back with long, claw-like nails. I cry out in pain. Everything else vanishes. The room, the acrid smell of chemicals and plastic burning, the memories of black aprons and pain. The two of us are the only two left and I’m gonna be the one that walks away. I slam her into the wall over and over. Until her body becomes still and heavy. I crawl out from under her and she flops to the floor.

Broken is already halfway down the hall, dragging the wounded woman. The third woman must have been hiding somewhere. She meets him at the corner. Coward.

“That’s right, get outta here!” I yell. The unharmed woman looks back once at Sunshine, and then back at me again.

I grab the scissors from the floor and smile. “I’ll wait for you,” I tell her.

Once they’re gone, I kneel down and check on Sunshine while the flames from Broken’s light stick leap against the side of the cabinet. I like the fire. It pops like it’s talking to me. It warms my face and makes me forget about the blood dripping down my back. My wounds are nothing compared to Sunshine.

“They really got you,” I tell her just in case she doesn’t know how bad off she looks. A trail of blood slides down her nose and across her lips. The red circle on her gown, where a metal stake has been shoved in, grows bigger as I watch it. Someone, Broken maybe, had already bitten her. On her forearm, teeth marks surround those little circles with scabs in the middle. Two of the scabs have broken off and tiny drops of blood pool in the center. She turns her brown eyes toward me and I have no idea if she is asking a question, or waiting to eat me.

“Stupid,” I say. “I shoulda let you have the scissors. Coulda stabbed them in the eyes. You creep me out. You don’t even talk, just sit there, judging everyone, judging me.” I rip a strip of my gown off and hold it out for her, waiting for her to take it. I want her to move, to do something normal. Finally, she reaches up and takes the cloth in her long bony fingers just as blood starts dripping out of her ears.

Flames reach for us. Sweat beads pop up on my forehead like liquid popcorn. I want to stay and watch the fire. Sunshine claws at my leg. I try to ignore her, but she digs her fingers into my bare calf muscle.

“Fine,” I grumble. “We’ll leave. Let go of my leg.” I drag her slowly into the hall and around the corner. This time I go deeper into the building, into the corridor where the screams lived. Where the doctors played with us. I drag her until I can’t hear the fire anymore. My breaths are ragged and painful. Maybe my ribs are broken. I manage to pull her down two long hallways, across another corridor and into a stairwell before collapsing over her body on the platform between floors 11A and 11B.

She touches my arm and I almost jump outta my skin. I follow her eyes to my pocket. The pocket which holds my water tube and the strange plastic device. I grab the water and mess with the lid until I can suck a few sips from the canister. I offer it to her. She shakes her head and looks at the pocket again.

“I ain’t calling him. He don’t smell right.”

She walks her fingers down my arm. I slam my hand protectively over the pocket.

“You can’t trust a man that wears paper!” I scream. My last excuse.

She blinks at me. Once. Twice.

“I need to think!” I say and start pacing up and down the steps. My head won’t work right, and all I can think of is pancakes.

She lunges for my hand when I pass her.

“Fine! I ain’t protectin’ you if he tries to kill you. Got it?”

I take out the device. The buttons shine for me in the darkness. Only, I don’t remember which one to push. I turn the thing over, looking for words, little pictures that show me what to do, but there’s nothing there. Red and yellow circles and squares, blue pulsating lines, but no instructions. I start pressing all of them, then some in combination with the others. Strange beeps erupt into the air. I jump back and wait until the device stops humming. Then I grab it and slam my fist on the device, to hit as many buttons at one time as possible.

“Happy?” I ask her, throwing the device down the stairs. A smile spreads over her face. It’s the first time she’s smiled for me. There she is, seeping little bits of Sunshine all over the floor and she smiles.

She grabs my hand, the one I stabbed earlier, and rubs it across the open scabs.

“My hand!” I jerk away from her. My hand tingles and I wonder if she’s infected me with something. “Why don’t you speak?” I ask her. “Hey, you ever had pancakes?” She doesn’t answer either question, but it don’t bother me none. I ramble on about pancakes and syrup and jelly until I hear a sound like metal sliding over the floor.

The Paper Man.

He don’t need a light either, it seems. He pulls open the door and looks at us.

“Thank you for calling, Bug.”

“Why’re you so happy ’bout that? What ain’t you tellin’ me?”

He ignores me and kneels beside Sunshine, who doesn’t even flinch when he touches her. He looks at her and tilts his head. Sunshine nods and sighs deeply, a shaky, rattling sigh, the kind you get when gunk moves around inside your lungs, or just before you die. He reaches down and yanks the metal rod out of her chest.

“Hey! What’re you doing? I didn’t call you here to kill her! Don’t touch her!” I shove him backward. He falls, but manages to catch himself upon the railing.

“Bug, she doesn’t have much time. I’m here to heal her, not harm her.”


I jump toward him. He moves out of the way and I fall onto the steps and roll down three of them before I stop. When I look up, he’s holding a thin silver rod. He presses a button and suddenly I can’t move. I can’t speak. I can’t move my head. The pressure pushes against me from the outside, while the pain claws inside my head to get out from the inside. My guts are gonna burst out from my belly. My head’s gonna explode. Another second and I’ll be mush. Only I’m wrong and one second becomes ten seconds and then twenty. I want to scream but my mouth won’t work and my lungs are on fire. For the first time in my life, I can’t see anything. A curtain falls over my eyes and plunges me into total darkness. Like someone has painted my eyeballs with ink. Thunder cracks in my ears. When the sound dies away, I hear the Paper Man talking from the end of a long tunnel.

“I’ll release you, Bug, if you promise to let me work. I’d like your help. I can do this alone, but it will take much longer and Sunshine will most likely die. I need you. Will you listen to me? Will you help me save Sunshine? Will you trust me?” The pain lessens a little, the pressure remains.

Bastard. Wants a promise. Can’t speak. Can’t spit in his face.

“The doctors said that, too, didn’t they? I’m not them, Bug. I’m not the doctors. They wore black. Do you remember? Black aprons to hide the stains. I’m one of you, Bug. I’m one of you,” his voice tapers off, whispering at the end.

The curtain lifts and the light returns, glaring and painful, but a different kind of painful. This pain feels like I’ve had it forever. I felt it first when I was born under the bright square lights that burned me. It belongs with me. I inhale deeply and the smell of chemicals burns my nostrils. My feet are cold against the cold floor. The scratches on my back sting.

“Bastard,” I say, with only a touch of feeling. His upper lip curves into a small smile.

“Your job is easy, Bug. All I need you to do is hold her head,” he says, laying Sunshine flat on the platform.

Fear washes over me. “No. They always hold your head. The machines hold the head. No. No!” I back away, my feet slipping off another step and my hand groping around in my pocket for the scissors.

“Bug, I’m not them. I don’t have a black apron. See? Blue, not black. I know it’s different from yours. I don’t know what they did with mine. I was naked when the power shut off. The cell door clicked open. Found this,” he pulls at the paper gown he’s wearing, “in a cabinet and put it on. You can do this, Bug. We’re going to heal Sunshine and then we’re going to leave.”

“Can’t leave. No way out.”

“I know the way out. You want to leave, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I whisper. “Yes. I want to leave. Sleep on the grass. Eat pancakes.” My voice is distant, as if I’ve only heard about grass and pancakes from someone else. “We checked. Spent all day poking through doors and banging on walls. There ain’t no way out.”

“Bug, hold her and I’ll get you out. I’ll show you the grass, and I’ll teach you to make pancakes.”

“You went out? Why didn’t you bring help?”

“Too long to find someone to help. We’ve been down here too long. And I couldn’t leave without bringing any of you I could save with me. I couldn’t leave someone like me down here. We’re going to need each other out there. Help me and I’ll take you outside. I’ll show you.”

It’s the pancakes that make me decide to help him. I creep over and grip Sunshine’s head between my hands. It feels like a lumpy melon. When she turns to look at me, I ask her, “Do you want syrup on yours, too?” She closes her eyes. Smoke drifts into the hallway. The fire’s getting closer.

I turn back to Blu just as he rips the flesh off his arm. I scream and crawl backwards away from both of them. “You ain’t right! I knew it! What kind of person rips off their own arm? You ain’t human!”

“You’re right, Bug. I’m not right, but I can heal her,” he says, yanking out tiny wires from inside his arm.

“Where’s the blood? Huh? You gonna tell me to trust someone who wears paper and don’t bleed like the rest of us? What are you?”

“I’m Blu. Bio-engineered Life Unit. And right now, I’m the only thing you can trust. Now listen to me. There isn’t much time. Take these.” He hands me a stack of round circles, little pieces of waxy rubber with a metal disk in the center of each one. I look at the dots along Sunshine’s arms and neck. I get it now.

“You did it!”

“Not me, them. They did it, Bug. Just like they gave you your special eyes. They changed her on the inside. Her cells are different now. Look at her wound if you must, but put these on her while you’re doing it. We’re losing her.”

I poke my finger through the hole in the gown where the metal rod was and try to push it into the wound. It won’t fit. I snatch back my hand. Wipe the blood on my gown. “She can heal herself. Why’s she dying then?”

“Her blood can heal, but damage to the rest of her is different. Her body isn’t the same, Bug. The cells need energy to heal. Energy she doesn’t have. Put those on!”

“Talk sense, Paper Man,” I say, while slapping the circles all over Sunshine’s body. Blu goes behind me and attaches a tiny clip to each disc. A red wire trails down into his forearm. In the distance, I hear something crash. The fire wants more. I imagine I can hear it crackling. I want to go watch the flames, but I got to stay and make sure the paper metal man doesn’t kill Sunshine.

“Sunshine and I have been here the longest. We were the first. The shining successes they paraded before congressmen and government grant committees. Our humanity hidden behind wires and a plastered smile.” He’s talking fast and I try to grab on to words I know.

“Wires,” I say. “How’d they get all the squishy stuff out to stick in a bunch of metal?”

“Hold her head,” he says. He’s sitting on top of Sunshine, his legs tight against hers and his knees pinning down her arms. In his hands, he grips the thin red wires together. Then he flips a switch inside his arm.

“What—” Sunshine’s head starts flopping against the floor. The wires attached to her neck flail around.

“H-h-hold her!” he screams at me with a vibrating voice.

“Don’t yell at me, Paper Man!” I snap. I reach for her head and end up slapping her in the face. I snatch of handful of hair and pull her head back down. I scoot my knees up to hold it in place. My arms start shaking and I watch the flesh jiggle violently wondering what my face looks like.

“Wh-wh-why—” I begin, but can’t stop my teeth chattering long enough to get the sentence from my head to my mouth and into the air.

“We’re hybrids, Sunshine and I,” he says through gritted teeth. He’s barely shaking. “Our bodies made of flesh and metal. We have hearts that beat and lungs that pump air. I bleed, but not everywhere. I have a mind that remembers a ten-year-old boy who liked to fish and a mother whose hands always smelled like fresh-baked dough. I also have chips that allow me to restore damaged cells and who knows what else. The doctors promised Senators they could cure diseases. Re-engineer our bodies. Insert mechanical organs when the natural ones failed. Rewire our capabilities. You’ve guessed that much, haven’t you, Bug?” Blu reaches in and makes an adjustment inside his arm.

The shaking stops. Sunshine shudders one final time, and then lies still. I want to yell at Blu for some reason. Maybe because my teeth hurt from all the shaking. Or maybe because something is happening inside my head. Something wants to remember. Did I like to fish? I don’t think so. Fishing is stupid.

“They gave you light. For no reason. You didn’t have a disease to cure. You weren’t blind. They gave some four arms. Two hearts. They began experimenting because they could. We were ignored behind the successes. One by one we died under the doctors’ knives.”

“I’m hungry,” I say.

“You’re not sleeping well, are you, Bug? Your eyes are bloodshot. The lights are always on. You can never turn them off, can you?”

“You promised food.”

“I promised to teach you to make pancakes. I’ll teach you to make other things, too.” He’s pulling off the wires from Sunshine’s skin. I don’t help him. “You see more than most, don’t you, Bug? You can see into people. It’s why they gave you the lights. A cruel trick.”

“I see more than Broken. Something inside of him is gone. He killed them. I know it. He had their cards.”

Blu nods. “Yes. Broken killed the doctors. He saved us, but he didn’t stop with the doctors. I found him the night he followed Biter. Sunshine, weak and fading, was next. I tried to stop the other girls from following Broken, but they were too easily fooled.”

I stare at the rod on his belt. The one that made my world dark and full of pain. I’m going to steal it from him when I can. He looks down.

“I’m sorry, Bug. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I found it on a dead doctor. They had one for me, too. I imagine they had one for each of us. I only found the one. I’ve tried it on everyone. Broken. Each of the other girls. You were the only one it worked on. It’s programmed to the chip they put into your head.”


“We need to move,” he says and pokes his head back into the hallway.

“Why do you care?” I ask, angry at him. I’m angry at everyone. The doctors. Broken. Blu. Everyone, but Sunshine. She wouldn’t have tricked me. “Let Broken come after us. You ain’t alive to die!”

He grabs my hand and presses it against his chest. I listen for a moment. Then I feel it. Faint. Like the breath on my cheek when someone whispers into my ear.

Dunk-dunk. Dunk-dunk.

“A recording,” I say, convinced he’s been spitting lies at me since he showed up. “Let’s move then. Hey, Sunshine! Wake up!” I shake her shoulders. “The fire’s coming for us.”

“She’s out. An hour, maybe more,” he says while shoving the last of the red wires back inside his arm and reattaching the flesh-looking flap. “I’ll have to carry her.”

“Where are we goin’?”

“Today, out of the building.” Blu hoists Sunshine over his shoulder.

“And tomorrow?”

Blu shrugs just as a door slams.

“Broken!” I hiss.

“This way,” Blu leads me down two flights of stairs and into a corridor filled with smoke. “Cover your nose and mouth,” he says.

I pull my gown up to my eyes and follow him through the empty corridors wondering if he’s going to take me back to the fire so I can see it. Behind us, I hear an explosion. Guess not. Bastard.


Another explosion. The smoke thickens and I feel like I’m pushing aside a heavy grey blanket that won’t go away. My lights can’t see through the smoke and my lungs are burning. I lunge forward and grab Sunshine’s foot, wrapping my hand around her ankle. A few steps later, the coughs come. I cough and cough and my body scrunches up trying to get the smoke out from my lungs. My stomach aches. My throat feels like someone has scraped it with glass. I can’t take another step. Sunshine’s foot pulls away. I’m left alone in the smoke, angry at the Paper Man again for pulling me away from a proper death by fire.

I try to move forward. I fall to my knees. The lights go out and I struggle to imagine the ten-year-old I once was years before when the doctors found me.

I don’t see him, but I feel him. His arm around me. He pulls me up. “Now about these pancakes,” he says, “Do you want the fluffy kind, or the thin kind? I’m partial to the fluffy kind myself. With butter and syrup. The butter has to go on warm, too.” He won’t shut up. He goes on and on about stupid pancakes while we stumble through the smoke. I want to hit him, but I can only focus on my feet. We come to another stairwell and this time we go up. With great heaving breaths we climb. Up and up until I wish my legs would fall off.

Then it’s over. He guides my hands to a thick metal door, and together we push it open. The stairs are gone. The wind blows against my face. Wind! I dare to open my eyes. We’re standing in the middle of an old abandoned parking lot. The metal shed behind us looks like a giant green box. The outline of the door is impossible to see in the bright sunlight. I look around at the emptiness. The asphalt is pitted and pocked like someone threw a million firecrackers at it.

The ground starts shaking.

“We should leave,” Blu says.

I don’t wait for him to say anything else. I run. I keep running when the explosions rock the ground over and over again. I smile knowing everything is going up in flames. I almost stop and consider going back to watch, but then I think of the Paper Man behind me and I run. I remember the doctors with their lies and black aprons and I run. And when Blu calls for me to stop, I keep running. END

Cas Blomberg is an active member of the Stockholm Writers Group. She is the author of “Ashborne: The First Chronicle,” available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Learn more about Cas and her writing projects on her blog website.


Hardy Fowler




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