Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips




Glass Eye Pines

By Michael Hodges

THERE IS YET ONE PLACE FREE OF development. An island mountain range in Sector A-5, or what was once called Northern California. Godspeed, son. I’m an old man. But if I could, I’d make the journey with you. You must see it for yourself. They say there’s a lake at the top of the mountain, like a big glass eye staring up at the heavens. And pine trees, son. Imagine that. I’ll cover for you. Tell them you’re sick. Gestevea may be ruthless, but I can buy you time. —Father John Aurora, May 6, 2256.

That was the last time Kelby ever spoke to Father John Aurora. Two years ago now. Smartphones had been banned in 2250 for the non-elite Sweepers, so there was no hope to hear from the man who rescued him from that moldy orphanage in Sector D-4.

Sweepers worked the Pavement on top of the sprawl. The Pavement, made of asphalt, plastic, and carbon fiber collected moisture and funneled it into what Gestevea called “claymers.” The claymers led to under-Pavement water chambers that were rationed amongst the last dwellers of this atrophic world.

It was always night now, except when on top. Kelby had been a Sweeper all his life, working the white Pavement and making sure it was clean enough to collect water into the claymers. It didn’t rain much.

As Kelby hiked amongst the dark sprawl, he wondered why he’d done this to himself. For the past two years he’d travelled ceaselessly under the Pavement, never finding a spot with grass or “natural acreage,” as Father John Aurora had called it.

Father John had started all this by giving Kelby a book by a man named Ansel Adams. It was a picture book, with images of how Earth used to be. Gestevea had banned picture books except for their own unique brand, GESTEVEA APPROVED stamped on the covers in black text. The first time he’d flipped through the book by Mr. Adams, he couldn’t believe it. Earth did not look like this. Earth was covered in Pavement and claymers, with security bots patrolling for runners. The rest was dark and filled with decaying buildings, or “sprawl” as Father John Aurora had said. The only bright things were the occasional advertising billboards and the clean, maintained buildings owned by Gestevea. Sometimes music came from the upper floors of those buildings. And sometimes bodies tumbled from them, appendages flailing. Or not.

Kelby crossed his arms over his chest and huddled in the dim corner of an alley. A lone street lamp flickered and buzzed, offering just enough light to make out the glowing eyes of a wandering cat. Kelby almost cried when he saw how thin it was. It’s eyes and head were way too big. The orange and white cat approached him with caution and Kelby took out a nutrient tin from his backpack. He cracked the tab and rolled it back, and the cat perked its ears. Soon the pathetic creature was licking at the nutrients and purring. Kelby patted it on the head, and next thing he knew his watch alarm was going off and he’d slept six hours. He’d had that dream again. The Glass Eye. And a girl. Very beautiful, yet he couldn’t make out all of her facial details, but he wished he could. It seemed he always woke right when the light was about to reveal her face.

When he tried to stand he realized the dang cat was in his lap! He cradled the cat in his arms and gently lowered it to the alley. The cat blinked at him and purred.

“Go on,” Kelby said, pointing twice in the opposite direction.


“I said go on now.” Two more exaggerated points.

Purr. Purr.

Kelby pivoted and headed west. The maps—now tattered and held together by old tape—indicated he was two days from Sector A-5. Over the last year, he’d noticed people got less and less. This wasn’t like D-9, not at all. They were jam-packed into that sector. He walked almost a kilometer and then heard pattering behind him.

The cat. The dang cat.

“Go on now,” he said.

Purr. Rrrrrupt? Rrrrrupt?

Kelby used what limited energy he had and ran to the west. He heard pattering paws behind him, keratin scraping on asphalt and crunching decaying newspapers and coffee cups. He ran for another hundred meters. When he turned back again he saw the emaciated cat trotting after him, a filthy pipe cleaner of a cat in and out of the faltering street lamp light cones.

Kelby sat down cross-legged and sighed. The cat rubbed on him so hard it almost tipped over. He opened his backpack for a nutrient tin and the cat nestled inside.

“You got to be kidding me.”


Kelby split the nutrient tin between himself and the cat. Then he stood and put on his pack which didn’t feel all that much heavier. He turned his head and felt the droopy whiskers of the filthy pipe cleaner on his skin.

Kelby soldiered on into the dark sprawl. He didn’t understand how non-Sweepers lived down here without ever seeing the light. Only the Elites and Sweepers were allowed to surface. He missed the sunlight, how it made him feel alive and happy.

Father John Aurora had told him we’d made the Earth too hot, and that’s why we had to build the Pavement. And making the Earth too hot had other effects. New diseases, it was said. Gestevea denied such assertions. Those who repeated this information a little too often disappeared.

Kelby passed a hunched-over figure wrapped in a blanket under a flickering street lamp. An old woman, her hair white and dirty, blackhead pimples covering most of her nose. Albino eyes. She pointed at him with a crooked finger and kicked at the sidewalk with a holey shoe.

“Tresser,” she muttered, spittle fouling her words. “Tresser passer!”

Kelby froze and stared straight ahead. Her words echoing across the dead city. “Tresser ... tresser ... tresser!”

When he was five meters past her he slowly turned, only to see her lurching after him, discolored claws outstretched, face as pale as the moon he sometimes glimpsed while on the Pavement. Clutched in her right hand was a rusty kitchen knife. The cat leapt from his backpack and hissed.

“No!” Kelby shouted.

The cat hissed again and charged the woman. She swung the rusty knife at the cat and cackled, revealing blackened gums. “Dinners,” she said, a thread of drool hanging from her chin.

The cat whipped around to her backside and tore into her calf. She screamed and flailed with the knife. Kelby couldn’t believe the sounds the cat made. Harsh, wicked caterwauling that would’ve woken anyone had there been anyone in this Nothing Land of abandoned auto repair shops, dry cleaners, video stores, restaurants, and apartments.

The woman collapsed onto what was left of the sidewalk and grasped her right leg with both hands. Spittle flew from her rotten mouth and her albino eyes reddened from intraocular pressure.

The cat see-sawed back to Kelby, its face stained with blood and its tail fluffed out. It ran two feet past him and then leapt onto his shoulder and nestled inside his backpack. Kelby turned to go. After all, the old woman never should’ve gone after him with the knife. Her actions were a violation of the Gestevea Righteousness Guidelines.

Soon the woman’s pain-fueled wails faded into the crepuscular landscape and he found himself and the filthy pipe cleaner in his backpack staring up at a ten story red-bricked building. The top floor windows were aglow with citrine light. Music emanated from the top floor, too, and above that, darkness, as there always was. Someone opened the glass door at the bottom of the building and Kelby disappeared into the shadows. A striking woman sauntered out, wearing nothing more than a bra and black skirt. Kelby crouched deeper into the shadows, but it was too late.

“Hey sweetheart,” she said, her shoulders tilting side to side as she walked.

Kelby rose, calmed by the cadence and tone of her voice.

“Whatcha doin’ out here all by yourself?”

The cat hissed. Kelby heard things in it that he didn’t think people should hear so close.

The woman angled her chin down and smirked. “Not much of a talker, are you?” she said.

The cat hissed again.

“Boy, what you got in that backpack? Dinner?” The woman raised her head and stretched her neck to get a better look.

“He’s not to be eaten,” Kelby said.

“Aw, now you can talk.”

The woman adjusted her cleavage by cupping both hands to her bra and pushing up. Kelby understood there was a world in her cleavage—one to which he was drawn. A whole realm of possibilities. But it was not his world right now.

“You want anything, baby? I can do it all.”

“No thank you,” Kelby said, feeling the whiskers of the cat against his cheek.

The woman’s eyes turned hostile. “You better, baby.”


The woman slowly turned and rolled her eyes up to the top floor. “Sweet Riggins is up there,” she said, pointing with a hand burdened by too much jewelry. “And he don’t like it when people say no to a fine thing like me.”

Kelby kicked his boot toe at the crumbling sidewalk and hitched his thumb into his pants pocket. “Well I’m saying no.”

The woman looked back up at the citrine windows and hollered. “Riggy, we got a runner!

Dogs started barking and the rest of the windows in the building lit up. Their barks were like vocoders. Kelby saw their red eyes in the windows. Hybrids, with increased olfactory capabilities. The cat hissed and he sprinted to the west, the woman screaming behind him and a male voice booming from above. A shot rang out, the audio-vector bullying the night until victims kneeled and let pass.

Kelby kept running to the west, always to the west. The shouting and vocoder dog barks faded behind him, and he found himself in Section A-3. It looked the same as all the other sections. Abandoned stores and restaurants. Vacant dwellings. Unending. This was the Earth he’d always known. And at age nineteen, it might be all he’d ever know. Father John Aurora told him life expectancy for non-Elite males had plummeted.

After putting another two kilometers between himself and Sweet Riggin’s location he looked for a place to hole up. Ahead, past stained concrete structures and trashed lots was a doorless entrance to an old brownstone. He was in what they used to call California now, he knew that much. The maps would not lie, could not lie like digital maps manipulated by Gestevea. They liked to manipulate everything, keeping information that might raise questions away from non-Elites. Of course digital manipulation was easiest. He could not trust digital devices. Certain keywords were flagged in an enormous propaganda computer, and adjustments were made to any device connected to the Internet. So he had maps. Good old maps made out of paper that those scum suckers couldn’t touch. Maps given to him by Father John Aurora.

Kelby coaxed the cat out of the pack and opened a nutrient tin for him. The cat lapped at it like crazy and made sick belching sounds. Well, Kelby had been hungry. He patted the filthy pipe cleaner on the head and it purred. He dug in behind its ears and it purred even more. Kelby smiled, switched on his headlamp, and unfolded his tattered map while sitting on a grubby mattress. He ran his dirty finger along the contour lines, then placed the Gestevea section on top, which was imprinted on waxpaper over the old state of California. He gawked at the map, his mind swimming with route possibilities. Sector A-3, alright. Forty kilometers from A-5 and the area Father John had told him about. In the olden times this was known as Redding.

In the morning he woke to massive gurgling sounds. They were not strange to him. The cat jumped into his pack and they left the brownstone behind.


At what point is it impossible to revert a mistake? Our ability to create exceeds our ability to test for the full array of side effects. We’ve become so caught in our quest to construct, that we’ve neglected what was already here. And Kelby, I think we’ve reached that point. I don’t like it any more than you do. When you get the chance, son, leave. I don’t care how. —Father John Aurora.


Light filled the sky this morning. Artificial light. Near-violet clinical light that makes everything look dirtier. The Pavement’s undercarriage was exposed in fleeting glimpses as security-bots buzzed beneath it, checking for structural flaws. Half a kilometer away, a massive claymer connected from the Pavement to the floor of Redding. The usual bulbous water reservoir was out of site behind roof-tiered sprawl. Normally claymer tubes were white, like PVC. When water at fifty percent transfer capacity channeled through them, they took on a chartreuse glow. Even from this far off Kelby heard the water sluicing down the claymer. Security bots whirled and clicked about the gurgling tube, which was a hundred meters wide. Soon other bots hovered in close, exposing carbon fiber bracing and intricate suspension materials with their flashlamps. Father John Aurora said Gestevea had derived their bracing designs from spiders, and it sure looked like it according to the forbidden books he’d read.

The streets were even scummier in the passing bot flashlamps, as if a bomb had been dropped and the heat baked everything into gypsum salt. But Gestevea saved their explosives for aqueduct construction. And for whatever vegetation took root on the Pavement. Plants stole water. Stole what was theirs. Or so he had been told countless times.

As Kelby took in the busy scene, the filthy pipe cleaner of a cat purred nonstop in his backpack. He could feel the cat’s warm pulses against his back, and something inside him warmed, too.

They made their way through dingy, trash-filled streets. Once in a while a vagrant mumbled something from a dark alley, or bloodshot eyes appeared behind cracked panes and mold-blotted curtains. They passed signs, coated in grit and soot. JOHNNY’S LUBE EXPRESS. TONY’S TACOS. GIDDYUP LAUNDRY. THE LAW OFFICES OF KIM, LI, and SANDERS. The owners of all, dead or missing or both.

Grime and particulate crunched under his feet in the streets. Above him, the entire time, loomed the Pavement. He passed laddered support sections, each guarded by a security bot. Once in a while a behemoth claymer appeared, gurgling with water and turning chartreuse as fluid sluiced down to a J-pipe that took the water to an aqueduct he’d never seen, but could tell was near because of a humid quality to the air.

Section A-4, now. A gut feeling, a hunch. He sat on a questionable porch to rest his throbbing feet and to check the maps. He unfolded the map section by section, his dirty finger sliding across the paper, smooth and purposeful. He tapped the map twice. There. Eighteen kilometers to the northwest. Section A-5.

The cat leapt from his pack and rubbed on the map—the part he was reading. Kelby groaned.

“Get off, Pipey” he said, nudging the cat, then stopping to admire the name he’d come up with.

Pipey head-butted the map and purred. Kelby gave Pipey a light noogie between the ears and the cat arched its head back, its deep mouth line suggesting a permanent smile.

Kelby smiled too.

He reached into his pack and secured another of the nutrient tins he’d stolen from a Gestevean Food Surplus, and cracked it open for the beggar. The filthy pipe cleaner acted like he’d never eaten in his life. Maybe that wasn’t too far from the truth.

Kelby turned the doorknob above the stoop and entered the slum. They crept up to the third level, Pipey on his heels. They found an old mattress in the back corner room. Heck, even a fireplace and two cords of Simu-Wood. He unwrapped the condensed oil and fiber logs and placed them in the firebox, then procured a flint from his pack. A tattered cardboard box under the mouse-chamfered mattress would do the trick as kindling. After three tries the Simu-Wood caught and he and Pipey sat cross-legged in front of the crackling logs. After a few moments, Pipey curled up on his lap and drifted off. Kelby felt his eyes drooping, and soon there was nothing but darkness and warmth.


A peculiar sense tweaked Kelby. A sense that perhaps this wasn’t Gestevea’s morning. That the morning was his and Pipey’s. And maybe something else’s.

Light rays cut through carbon-bonded gaps in the Pavement. They slanted down to rotted and fading billboards. One ray lit up a sign for BOB’S AUTO BODY like a spotlight. Kelby expected a drum roll and a fistulous performer to emerge, maybe singing a song and dancing. But entertainment was for the Elites now, high up in their suites with 24/7 access to the Pavement.

Kelby looked to the north towards A-5. More majestic sun rays beamed down from five hundred meters. Kelby shook his head and wondered at how they all lined up, forming a grand path. The ratty pipe cleaner rubbed on his legs and stared at the rays. Kelby reached down and scratched its back. Then the thing leapt onto his shoulder and nuzzled into his backpack.

A half-kilometer later, Kelby halted. He squinted at the sooty horizon, above countless black-roofed buildings in various stages of disrepair. Were those even more rays of light beyond? Pipey meowed hoarsely and Kelby picked up pace, clutching his tattered maps in his fist.

As a Sweeper in section D-9 he had scheduled access to the Pavement. There was no question he missed that access, that above time since starting his journey. Had he tried to make the trip to the surface unscheduled, security bots would have executed him on sight. Sweepers were given strict coordinates, and any who wandered a hundred meters beyond could be sentenced to death without need of judge or jury.


Before you go, I want you to take this pocket watch. It was given to me by my father, and his father before him. It came from California, son. Before they paved the world. When you get to the Glass Eye, not IF, I want you to bury this watch along the shore. Go now. You’ll always be a son to me. But you need to be more than a Sweeper for Gestevea. I do not expect to see you in the morning. God bless Mother Earth, and God bless the future. —Father John Aurora.


Soon Kelby was standing under the first ray of light. He looked up and squinted. So warm and golden on his skin. His spirits bloomed. The Pipe Cleaner squinted too and purred, tilting his head side to side and arching his head back to let the light bathe under his chin. There weren’t as many light rays in the rest of the country. Gestevea patched the Pavement as fast as possible when that happened, but not here. All around him light rays formed golden stairs to the Pavement. Kelby held his arms out wide and smiled, and his smile was interrupted by a menacing buzz from above. A security bot peered at him from a crack in the Pavement with a lone red eye, then buzzed on. He knew from experience that when a bot stopped and watched you, it was processing your image.


Kelby retreated from the light towards a block of shadowy buildings. Pipey meowed with each bounce. He ducked into an old restaurant with day-care center flooring. Smart tablets of ancient origin were scattered across the yellow tables and counters. Back when a tablet was a tablet, or when they could even have tablets. Two for one. Ha.

Kelby went around the counter and felt Pipey’s claws sticking through the pack into his skin

“Alright relax, relax,” Kelby said.

Pipey did.

Kelby searched the glass display cases and found what he was looking for. Hard as a rock. Or marbleized glass. He lifted the thing from the display case and let it thonk onto the counter. Then he took a knife from a drawer and began chiseling away. Pipey leapt from the backpack and watched him from the safety of the counter, leaving little paw prints in the dust. Kelby jabbed the knife into the object, sending burgundy shards across the dusty counter top.

“Fruitcake,” he said to Pipey, offering him a shard.

Pipey took it in his mouth and chewed it like a bone.

Purrrr. Graaar.

The fruitcake tasted rotten, like his world. But there was something still crucial inside. Warm, ticking, life-sustaining.

Once he was sure that the security bot who flagged him was gone, Kelby continued on through the sprawl, checking his map every fifteen minutes to make sure he was heading to A-5. He didn’t need the map. Not anymore. Numerous rays broke through the Pavement, lighting his way. A kilometer ahead the staccato pattern of rays segued into seamless light. And in that light he noticed a glimpse of green.


Kelby dropped the map, his jaw hanging like an unhinged gate. The splotch of green was high up, near where the Pavement should be.

Should be.

The filthy pipe cleaner squirmed out of the backpack and loped ahead, angling up and down like a runaway see-saw.

“Pipey!” Kelby shouted.

He took off after the cat amongst the trash-riddled streets. The sun’s rays lit up rotting styrofoam cups and showed how grimy things really were. Darkness was a deceiver, oh yes.

Pipey disappeared down an alley and Kelby followed, nutrient tins rattling in his backpack. When he saw Pipey again, the cat slammed his front paws down and dragged his furry butt in an effort to brake. His head was tilted up, ogling at what appeared to be slopes.

Mountain slopes.

Most mountains and ridges had been removed for coal, oil, and other resources. What he was seeing he could not fathom. It looked like a picture from the book by Mr. Adams. The one Father John Aurora had given him.

For the first time in his life, other than on the surface, Kelby saw a lack of buildings. He stood there shivering with happiness, his corner lip secreting a thick string of drool.

The buildings were gone. Gone. In their place was a meadow of grass. The grass rose upslope to a tremendous mountain, which in turn rose above the Pavement through an enormous circular-breach. The space between the mountain and the Pavement had allowed for the light rays.

But all was not beautiful with this very special vista. Gestevea sentries surrounded the mountain’s base on his side. Laser fences ran between the sentries. Yellow lasers, the worst kind.

All Kelby had in his pocket was a cheap red laser pointer that he sometimes poked with around on the Pavement, or tried to irritate Gestevea security bots with back in D-9. And speaking of the damned security bots, they buzzed and hummed at the base of the majestic mountain, irritated at its very presence. Ha. Kelby loved that they hated it. And he thought perhaps Pipey did, too.

Kelby hunkered at the edge of a decaying brownstone. He scooped up Pipey. Pipey crawled along his shoulder and into his backpack. He turned to the filthy pipe cleaner and put his finger to pursed lips.

All that green. All that green! Were they trees? They were like carpet, rising and rising until they disappeared at the Pavement’s penumbra. How he craved to see the rest of this mountain, to get to the top. And the air was the sweetest he’d ever smelled.

His gaze lowered to the mountain’s base. One of the irritated security bots ventured a meter or so farther than the others and disappeared in a violent burst of orange light. The remaining bots buzzed and scattered. Black-uniformed Gestevea officers bearing red-striped markings Kelby had never seen before ran behind the laser fences from sentry to sentry, their radios crackling with anxiety.

Then something moved on the mountain. The trees. The trees! The tops swayed from a gust of wind, in unison. It came from the Pavement breach and roared downslope, forest litter dappled in sunlight. Gestevea officers along with the automated sentries fired their weapons, a caliber Kelby had not seen before. They seemed to be projectile weapons, but with expanding projectiles as the shot travelled.

Yet the wind came.

Gestevea officers stopped firing, and the automated sentries followed. The security bots hovered in place. Voices boomed from megaphones around the breached Pavement. One of the voices was Commander Gregious, a war hero who had defeated the Asian Army in the Battle of Prophet.

All eyes turned to the wind.

The deafening, sun rift wind.

It roared downslope, and in a vulgarity of light the Gestevean weapons disappeared. Security bots caught in the ferocity tried to buzz and whirl away. The wind kept coming, bringing with it topsoil and dust and ripped-apart mechanical pieces. It tore into the laser fencing, knocking the fence lines haphazard. The capitulated yellow lasers, burned out several automated sentries, and sliced off the legs of a Gestevea officer. Kelby watched as the officer reached for limbs that were not there.

Kelby closed his eyes and felt Pipey’s warm breath on the back of his neck. He didn’t need to see the filthy pipe cleaner to know its eyes were like saucers.

When Kelby opened his eyes, the giant wall of turbidity lingered a meter from his face. Inside the roiling monstrosity were the screaming, twisted faces of Gestevean officers. Bowling-ball sized security bots buzzed and clacked in a swarm. Officers still able to man their weapons tried to cut through the cloud and were silenced.

The roaring, the screaming, the hands plastered against the edge of the thing as if it were plexiglass.

A soldier with black hair and brown eyes begged for release, looked him right in the eyes, banging the edge of the prison cloud with his fists. The officer screamed as spittle flew from his mouth. But the cloud ... it smelled pleasant, and Kelby found himself sniffing at it to the horror of the trapped officer.

Before Kelby could respond to the pleas, the cloud retreated, sucking the entire mess back up mountain, back above the trees and through the Pavement breach.

Kelby sat there still and quiet as the buildings at his backside, his mind trying to decipher what he’d seen. Pipey made growling sounds in his backpack, and then quieted down.

A half-kilometer wide swath appeared where Gestevea sentries had been. This was his chance.

Kelby ran, Pipey bouncing in his pack. They ran through the sunlight, warm vitamin D upon their skin. They ran through flowers and fields and creeks. He flung the map aside and pumped his fists in the air. The climb, the climb. Dear god he was climbing! And in the sun! Past ravines and pine trees. He touched his hands to the bark and felt an unusual power surge through him. The pines smelled like the cloud. Up now, up towards the breach, higher and higher, plucking fat berries from bushes and feasting, energy for the climb. Great, leafy trees and needled trees now, wildflowers and moss. Lichens, boulders, all things he was told were false, or lies. He climbed until he reached the breach and looked back down, and down there was a scabby world, dark and cemented like a contiguous graveyard. Piss-stained, dust-crusted, rotting, filthy, sooty. Nasty.

He turned back to the mountain and the light, glory, glory. He rose above the Pavement, the despicable Pavement like some stillborn white sea. Higher now, his breath heavy in his chest. Among the pines and boulders. Sunlight on his skin, on Pipey’s fur. A thousand meters above the Pavement. Fifteen-hundred. Two thousand. A drink at a spring creek, the most delicious water he’d ever tasted. Above him alpine rock and snowcapped peaks. Snow!

In another hundred meters he climbed over a rock lip and saw a blue lake spread before him.

The Glass Eye.

Sun dappled waves murmuring against pine tree shores. The wind sang through the pines like a woman’s voice.

He stripped to his skin and jumped in. Pipey lapped at the water, then rolled on his back with his paws in the air.

“Come in for a bath, you filthy rat!” Kelby said.

Pipey flopped on the shore.

Kelby dove under water and watched the sun ripples from below. So calm beneath the surface, streaks of light fanning all around him and shining on the colorful flanks of fish that watched him from rocky nooks.

When he resurfaced, he saw a man walking along the shore. The man wore a Gestevea commander’s uniform. Kelby doggie-paddled back to shore and dressed. The man put his hand out flat and angled his chin down.

“Don’t go,” he said.

“I’m not doing anything wrong.”

“I know.”

The man took off his Gestevea helmet. His hair was the color of pepper, and his facial features sharp.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “But I’m not them.”

“But you’re wearing—”

“I’m not them.”

“Then why—”

The man smiled. “Because I like to fuck with them. That’s why.”

Pipey’s tail fluffed up and he arched his back and hissed.

The man approached closer. “Who’s the little fella?”

“He doesn’t much care for strangers.”

“I’m no stranger.”

Kelby stared at him, dumbfounded. “Sure you are.”

“Maybe you are to me, but not I to you.”


The man tossed a pebble into the Glass Eye. “I created you.”


Another toss, this one a smooth, flat rock that skipped four times. “Dang. Not very good, was it?” The man reached down for another rock and flung it sidearm.

“If you created Pipey and me, you’re Gestevea, too.”

“Yes, but not in the way you think.”

Kelby let out a rip-roaring laugh. Pipey made a little chortling noise and the man appeared taken back by Pipey’s uncanny human inflection.

Kelby knelt at the lakeshore and drank, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “If you created all this, why would you ruin it?”

“I kept a souvenir,” the man said, waving his right hand to the surrounding landscape. “To remind myself of the greatness of this place. And yes, it can return to its former glory, but not with these people. There are things up here, Kelby. Wild game. Fish swim this lake. Berries grow everywhere. It is the perfect place to raise a family. There are a few other places, Kelby, but perhaps it’s best I don’t mention them right now.”

“So you let me up here,” Kelby said, petting a purring Pipey at his drying feet. “That cloud was you.”

The man nodded and skipped another rock across the Glass Eye. He made a pained face when the rock skipped only twice.

“What do you want with me?”

The man approached closer to Kelby’s face. His eyes were calm reservoirs of cobalt. At first Pipey arched his back, but then he relaxed.

“I want virtue.”

“You’re an alien, aren’t you? Those stories that ancient aliens seeded this planet eons ago? You want something more than virtue.”

“Yes I do. I want you to live.”

Pipey watched Kelby, then the man, then Kelby again and back to the man. He hissed.

Kelby heard loose rock scraping behind him, and a girl emerged from the lip of the talus slope. It looked like someone had tossed a handful of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her hair was red, her face soot-covered. She had to be Kelby’s age. Her eyes were wild with fear and curiosity, and she shouldered a backpack. Tucked into the pack was a cat, a Russian blue. The Russian regarded Pipey with disapproving eyes.

“Who are you?” she asked, her chest rising and falling.

The man turned to Kelby and pointed at the girl. “Can you fill her in? I’ve got something to do.”

Kelby caught himself admiring how pretty she was. The Russian blue leapt from the pack and sauntered over to Pipey, nose held high in the air. Pipey sneezed and sidled up next to the cat.

“I can’t believe this,” the girl said, thumbs hitched under her backpack straps, mouth slack as she stared at the Glass Eye. “Sunlight? Trees? Sky? What’s going on? Hey, look!”

Kelby pivoted to the lake. A single, flat rock came at them from several meters away. It skipped across the surface again and again, skit, skit skit. Then it hurled off the mountain towards the Pavement. A blinding citrine light consumed everything below. They shielded their eyes and turned back to the Glass Eye, leaving that world behind them.

A moment later the girl stripped to her underwear and cannonballed into the lake from a rock outcrop. The Russian blue ignored Pipey. Pipey growled but did not give up.

Kelby dug into the bottom of his pack and pulled out a silver pocket watch, not sure if he should open it. It wasn’t his, after all. He sauntered down the beach ... of this place, this ... Glass Eye. He uprooted a boulder, kicked aside sand with his boot and set the watch in the depression, then scooped it right back up. He flipped the watch open, using his dirty fingernail to get between the lids. The watch was an unusual piece, with Charlemagne font and a healthy mule deer buck in the center. Kelby brushed his thumb along the engraving on the lid.

For Father John Aurora, a son to me. —Abraham Aurora, Redding Valley Ranch, California, 2190. END

Michael Hodges resides in the Northern Rockies. Over twenty of his short stories have appeared in various anthologies and magazines. The film rights for his novel, “The Puller,” were optioned in 2015. Find out more at Michael’s official website.


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