Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


This is the Hardest Thing I Do All Day
by Alexandra Grunberg

by Fábio Fernandes

Sixteen Tonnes
by Robert Dawson

It’s Not What You Think
by Davyne DeSye

Dreams of Clay
by J. Rohr

Mundane Applications
by Philip Margolies

by Eric Del Carlo

My Parking Space is Near the Door
by Gustavo Bondoni

Shorter Stories

Clothes Make the Man
by Peter Wood

For All Time
by Simon Kewin

You Belong to Me
by Tom Borthwick


More Than “Zarathustra”
by Dennis W. Green

When Words Divine
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Dreams of Clay

By J. Rohr

HE COMES WHEN I CAN’T STOP screaming. With his needle fingers he grabs me by the arm, stabbing deep, red eyes burning inside his skull. That rictus grin always looming, he pumps me full of sleep. And I close my eyes when I should be working, only I don’t ever know when I’m awake.

It’s been too long. She needs me. I made promises. I need to ...

“Check on number twelve. He looks like he might be getting a bit unnerved.”

“He looks fine, Grace.”

“I don’t know.”

“You worry too much.”

“Matt, if I don’t ...”

“No one will?”

“Very funny. See!”

“Oh shit.”

“Get a sedative and gauze. Lots of gauze.”

... focus. Start at the beginning ... which beginning? If I think about it I’m swimming up the canal with a million brothers and sisters that’ll never be, or feeling my skin caramelize in the wash of the Big Bang; my heart stopping at the sight of Grace, when I first realized I needed more than air to stay alive.

Stick to the dull points. Keep the mind from drifting.

My name is Matt Huntley. In 2019 I went around the world trying to sell one idea. My colleagues—Grace Johansen, Roger Millar, and Gordon Pritchett—believed we could create a compound which would induce, what we liked to call, three-dimensional thinking. To put it simply: you take a drug and for a time are able to see what you think; the ability to literally visualize concepts, then interact with them. It would allow the imagination to become tangible, but unlike other hallucinogens the effect would be controlled.

It sounded fantastic to us. So we were a bit surprised when no one gave us a dime for research. Sometimes I think we sounded too boastful, our confidence coming across as arrogance. I remember saying once, “The brain isn’t as complicated as people like to think. Like most things it only seems complex since it is understood so little. In reality, the brain is nothing more than a series of chemicals and electric currents. People, even the most objective scientists, don’t like to think of human consciousness as a spew of electrified chemicals, but that doesn’t change the reality.”

Eventually, we got lucky. Grace suggested our intentions ran along the lines of “creating controlled schizophrenia.” I winced when she put it that way. We fought about it later. We always fought back then, even about things which didn’t matter.

“Is this your dish in the sink?”

“Yeah, and what?”

“Put it in the dishwasher.”

“I will.”


“When I feel like it.”

“You’ll never feel like it, and I’m going to have to do it for you like always.”

“Grace, why don’t you just have another glass of wine and calm down?”

It’s hard learning the world doesn’t care how smart you think you are. None of us stood out in school. Sure, we all got high grades, but nothing about us screamed paradigm shifters. There are a lot of stars in the sky. However, we thought our group formed a constellation. Together we stood a chance of making a mark.

In the middle of a fight over a coffee table stain, her phone rang. It felt like the last fight we would ever have. Somehow what she said must have clicked. We got the money we wanted.


She went into the maze to find her way out from the center. Now we’re both here. All here. But I don’t care about the others.


Malcolm Weiss started Synergism Pharmaceutical with a vision of a better tomorrow. That’s what he likes to tell people, and from what I’ve heard every new project, especially the ones which might make a lot of money, gets to hear the story. So we got the spiel about a man with a dream and through nothing but sheer will achieved his ambition. However, at the end of his story he said to us, “I used to have a brother. He killed himself a few years ago. He was a genius, and I don’t use that term lightly.” Then he left the room leaving us to wonder why he told us that. Roger somehow found out Weiss’ brother was a schizophrenic. Apparently, Malcolm Weiss considered our project some kind of path to a genius pill. Needless to say, it put some pressure on us to produce results.

Synergism Pharmaceutical spends close to $500 million a year on research and development. It must not seem like much to a company making billions a year, and for the first two years our project got total access to that purse. I felt like a king. Whenever we needed more money we just asked and the company gave. For a while, we all figured we deserve this. However, by the third year, without any significant results, the money fountain started to trickle rather than flow.

Gordon got quite adept at begging for more cash. He and I didn’t spend much time together after that all started. He’d plead his case then go out drinking. Once, I saw him in a pub and heard him ranting at the bartender, “I say to her, Look it’s not my fault what they cost, but if you want results we need this stuff. Or something like that. I mean, valernic acid is thirty-eight grand a gram. For a gram! And neurotrophins—forget it. You’re talking 858 thousand easily. For a gram!”

I didn’t stay to have a drink with him. It made me uncomfortable seeing him that way. I’ve seen him drunk plenty of times—we went to college together. But his desperation, as if the whole project hinged on his ability to squeeze out pennies for us ... gold flakes falling in a desert melting like snow ... it made me uncomfortable. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough myself.

In the end it took almost four years to get it right. Or at least, to the point it seemed to work. Brain scans on animals showed activity in the right regions. For example, even though LSD has an effect on animals, they can’t relate their experiences with the drug. We needed human subjects in order to make sure our prodrug worked.

Thanks to Synergism, we made it out of animal testing faster than anything I’ve ever seen. Plus, once it looked like success might be right around the corner, the purse opened up again. Given the potential risks, we needed a substantial cash incentive to get volunteers. We informed people as much as required legally, and they signed their lives away. People will do strange things for the right amount of money. Later, Roger found out the money didn’t get paid to the families of our subjects. He raised all kinds of hell. Mr. Weiss told him he could quit or go back to work; and that if a word of what happened ever got out, Roger would be the first one on Malcolm Weiss’ shit list, a list that included a few missing members of Congress. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I can see me at the end of the road looking back at myself, too far away to hear what I’m shouting.

The funny thing is we all agreed with Roger until our budget got tight. What’s the line? I pay thy poverty not thy principles. Or something like that. Grace would know. Maybe it’s not that funny.


Sometimes the door opens, and I can leave this room. Then I’m back at the labs. We’re all back at the labs. I try to work, but sometimes there are snakes made of coins, and Grace is screaming about her skin peeling off, while Gordon mainlines vodka, and Roger is praying for forgiveness to a god shitting on his face. I work as hard, as fast as I can, and the solution seems so close. I feel their hands clawing at me, and in a thought I’m back in this room. Alone.


So we jumped into human trials. We called the drug Phainein. According to Gordon, that’s Greek for to show.

We started with sixteen people. Grace made it a point not to learn any of their names in case something went wrong. Her attitude caught on, though I resented her pessimism.

Subjects took a dose of Phainein and went into a room. Inside they found a table with a jigsaw puzzle on it. Subjects then tried to visualize the jigsaws assembled without touching the pieces. Afterwards, they told us the completed image. Everyone got it right, bunnies in an autumnal forest ... hopping happily...

In any case, the drug worked, and we all relaxed. I don’t mean to sound like it all went swimmingly. The subconscious gave us problems, as we anticipated. Subject thirteen kept seeing giant insects. Number eight would either talk to his grandmother or run from her shambling corpse. Number sixteen sometimes thought she’d instantly been transported into the stratosphere and was plummeting back to Earth. However, we found they could be talked out of these accidental hallucinations. We found that with training, subjects would develop the ability to stay focused.

During that time we also noticed a few interesting and wholly unexpected benefits. Phainein allowed subjects to relive memories. The subject’s perception of the past reshaped the memory to a certain degree. Yet, the potential for, what Roger dubbed “streaming photographic memory” seemed to be there. And we gladly patted ourselves on the back for this unexpected bonus.

Roger kept an eye on the animals in case any physical abnormalities developed. Grace shared his concern. In fact, she wanted to hold off on human trials for almost a year. I remember the two of us arguing:

“How patient do you think Malcolm Weiss really is?”

“Matt, I get it, but what you don’t seem to ...”

“Because I think we’re still on thin ice.”

“We’ve got the drug.”

“We think we’ve got it. Human testing might show we have to start all over.”

“That’s not likely.”

“And you base that on what exactly?”

“The fact I know what I’m doing.”

“But I don’t.” My tongue knows how to throw knives.

Grace sighing, eyes like a cancer patient hearing the word terminal, “Don’t do this.”

“I just want to know when I became the dumbest man in the room.”

“Long term effects. I’m worried about long term effects. Have you seen the animals lately?”

“You know what, Grace? You’re going to do what you want to regardless of what I say.”

Grace is a chronic pessimist which is what makes her a good member of any team. Optimism can obscure potential calamities farther down the road. I see optimism as a fault the older I get.

The animals began exhibiting more and more erratic behavior. One chimp grabbed itself by the cheek and ripped off a large portion of its face. Brain scans revealed that after a certain amount of doses the effects of Phainein never really wore off. The drug didn’t just activate portions of the brain. Phainein changed the way it functioned.

So we stopped giving doses to the test subjects and waited. It didn’t take long.

One night subject ... Greg Thompson went to sleep and woke up with no sense of reality. His dreams, his nightmares, all came with him into the waking world. We tried to guide him, but there was no way back. Either the subconscious or some other distraction would topple the house of cards we built. The longer he stayed in that state ... I watched Brad Wayland carve open his arm with his fingernails trying to get bugs out, scarabs burrowing beneath his skin. Grace and I did what we could, but Brad didn’t make it. It’s amazing how much damage a determined person can do to himself.

That night Grace said, “Maybe he’s better off.”

I couldn’t disagree.

Gordon started drinking again. Roger, as I mentioned, tried to raise hell. According to the consent forms, subjects renounced all payments due in exchange for Synergism Pharmaceutical assuming responsibility for any medical expenses ensuing from participation. In other words, fifteen people got institutionalized and Synergism footed the bill. Their families never received a dime or an explanation.

“They consented. They knew the risks.”

“How could they know the risks when we didn’t even know them?”

“Grace, those people are gone, and there’s a good chance we might be out of a job.”

“No, we’re not.”

“What do you mean?”

“Mr. Weiss called me up to his office yesterday and we talked.”

“About what?”

“He wants to cure them.”

He wants to cure them.”

“He said, The drug works. It just needs to be made safe.”

So we began a new project.

When did it start snowing? I have to pay more attention. I don’t feel cold, but the snow is falling. Comforting, pure white blanket. If I had time, I would love to appreciate it. But I can’t stop. Regardless of that clock there is no more time. It spins because of gears, not fuel made of seconds. It runs without time.

Eight miles high—who needs a clock that tall?

Focus! Goddamn it, I’ve got to keep it together. It’s not all your fault, but it’s enough. They’re counting on you. But don’t think about them or they’ll be in the room. Thirty-eight faces accusing. Seventy-six hands grasping, clawing, tearing me to pieces. I can see it all before it happens, and that’s what makes it happen. I see what I know.


Gordon just never came back one day. He didn’t answer his phone. No one in his apartment building knew where he might have gone. I noticed Roger taking some pills. He worked long hours, the longest of any of us. He spent days in the lab. One time I overheard him muttering to himself about salvation and forgiveness. He chewed one of his fingernails clean off. I didn’t tell him to stop. Every hour he spent in the lab meant time I didn’t have to be there. Grace always made Roger go home.

She and I still lived together, but we didn’t share a bed anymore. Our conversations only related to work. Pass me this or that. Double check my numbers. Cordial yes, but after our former intimacy it felt bitterly cold.

Grace and Roger spent days in the lab working on potential solutions. I operated on a different schedule. I didn’t see the point. I just couldn’t. We’d failed and every action we took seemed to merely exacerbate our failure. Grace’s former pessimism mutated through guilt into a determined optimism. She counted every defeat as one tally off the list of possibilities which she saw as narrowing every time she made an attempt. I refused to share her perspective. Every stab at a solution meant more people sent into the void, lost in a streaming subconscious, prisoners confined by their every thought made tangible. I wanted to throw up my hands and move on, let someone else look for the answer.

I held a sneaking suspicion Malcolm Weiss sat in his tower laughing at us. He could have tapped any number of brilliant intellects, but he left us alone to toil. It felt like his sick form of punishment for wasting his money. I’d go home at night imagining him with a devil’s grin, watching us on some hidden camera as we labored to undo our horror, all the while Malcolm knowing we’d never find it; and once the search ruined what was left of our constellation, he’d bring in some 190 IQ who would fashion a cure in the blink of eye.

“Oh,” Malcolm’s genius would say, “This is so simple. All you need to do is this.” And poof! The solution.

Not that we ever asked for help.

So I came to work and operated mechanically, waiting for the others to give up with me. I figured it to be only a matter of time because I wasn’t yet familiar with desperation.

Grace and I came to work together. The previous evening belonged to those rare occasions she went home. She went straight to bed and rode with me in the morning. We expected to find Roger at his station. Instead we found his rosary on top of a DVD. I picked up the rosary and handed the disc to Grace. While she loaded it on her laptop I looked at the religious trinket.

I remembered when Roger accidentally confessed his atheism to his mother. Too much wine during a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner—Roger never had much of a tolerance for alcohol—prompted him to declare he wouldn’t be attending church with his mother on Sunday. He never forgave himself for making her cry. Though I knew the reason, I didn’t like to think why his faith had returned. In fact, I hated the way it tormented him.

The screen glowed to life. We watched Roger step back from a camera and take a seat on a stool. His eyes rimmed by red halos, he managed a crooked smile, “Hey guys. I just wanted to, uh, you know, let you in on things.” He took a deep breath, held it, and looking away from the camera, talked to the floor. “It didn’t seem worth bringing up at first, but where I’m at now I can’t say there’s any reason to hesitate. In all the trials I’ve noticed, and you can read my notes to check for yourselves, the intelligence of subjects seems to increase.”

“Oh no,” Grace said, clapping her hands over her mouth.

“What?” I said.

Roger went on, his eyes occasionally flitting to the camera, “So, um, I figured it would be like a worthwhile risk to, ya know, start taking the drug. Phainein. I’ve been dosing myself at night.”

I grabbed the computer, screaming at it, “You fucking idiot!”

Grace turned away from the screen, and I could hear her crying. I slammed the laptop down.

“I’m sorry,” Roger said, “I’m so sorry ... I had to.”

Security cameras recorded Roger running down a hallway. There’s no sound, but he looks terrified. I can only imagine what Holy Roman terror is chasing him as he dives through a window. I put his rosary in my pocket as a reminder of my friend and what I felt really killed him.

Grace went over his notes. A few days later I came to the lab, found her at my station. She folded her arms across her chest and said, “Hear me out.”


“You haven’t even ...”

“It’s the stuff of bad fiction and complete stupidity.”

“IQ increases almost twenty points.”

“So what?”

“Roger couldn’t stay focused.”

“No shit. There’s a draft because ...”

“Matt!” Grace put her head in her hand, covering her eyes. I tried to touch her, comfort her, but she shrugged me off, “Don’t. Just don’t.”

I’m not proud of then saying, “You know what Grace? You do what you want to. Like always. I don’t know why you even pretend like you want to hear my opinion.”

I stormed off to collect data on subject number twenty-nine. When she needed me to understand the most. Grace knew the risks. She wanted an anchor to keep her grounded. I left her to twist in the wind. Part of me wanted her to float away.


I sit in the room watching the scene-thought. Happy laughter still echoes, but it’s fading. I see the past, on purpose on occasion. However, it doesn’t make me feel what I intend. Even the good times can inspire bad feelings. I watch Roger laughing with Gordon while Grace tries cracking an egg with one hand. She crushes the egg, and we all laugh. She chases Gordon around the room trying to slap him with the yolk. He ducks under a table, and she spins, whipping a stream off her fingertips. It flies all over Roger. He shouts a comical, “Ewww!” all the while grinning like a kid at Christmas. I shake my head, and when I look back it’s still the kitchen, only now Gordon is singing drunkenly as Grace shuffles about the room, muttering to herself, wrapped in a straitjacket. From a giant rosary nailed to the ceiling, Roger hangs by the neck. I think about what he might smell like and the stink floods my nostrils. I double over, throwing up from the stench. “You can save us,” I hear Grace whisper. I want to believe her. She wants me to ride the lightning like she did. Maybe I can get it right, but I hate her for leaving me. And the bells are ringing ... it’s a strange thing ... tolling the hour ... having someone alive and lost ... the eleventh hour ... when they’re right in front of you. Ring go the bells. Ring go the bells. Yes, I know what time it is! It’s past the eleventh hour, when no one has a chance to second guess. We plunge. Plunge into the storm. I can feel it on my face. The hurricane in the room, and if I think just right I can ride the lightning. Yes dear, I know we’re all here in our cozy apartment, the home we built together, and our guests want to eat a quiet peaceful meal, but this was, after all, your idea. So excuse me while I jump out the window to grab a bolt, visit the gods, and remake the brain. It’s so simple isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Is it? ... I miss you.


I remember sitting on the couch, staring at a blank TV screen. I wanted to turn it on but couldn’t find the point. It wouldn’t be the distraction I needed. So I considered having a drink, however, that only made me miss Gordon. I can’t say how long I sat in silence, practically catatonic.

A key scraped against the front door. My eyes turned to the sound. Grace came in and I said simply, “Don’t do it.”

Her lips tightened into taut white lines. She tried to look too many different ways at once: stern, resolute, comforting. The mess of emotions just made her look ready to cry. She said, “It’s too late.”

“Oh.” My eyes went back to the blank screen, “Okay.”

The next morning when she went to work I stayed home. And the day after, and after that, and after that ... two weeks passed. The phone rang. I answered. A crisp voice told me I’d been summoned to Malcolm Weiss’ office. I showered, put on some fresh clothes, and tried to believe the call meant Grace had succeeded.

Malcolm Weiss did not meet with me alone. His lawyers attended my audience with the head of Synergism. At a mere gesture, one of them placed a document in front of me. Before I could even ask, Malcolm said, “This is a nondisclosure agreement. It forbids you from mentioning anything about your work here. To anyone. Ever.”

“Where’s Grace?”

“Ms. Johansen has been transferred to a facility where she can receive proper care,” one of the lawyers informed me.

“And where would that be?”

Malcolm pointed to the agreement in front of me, “You sign that first. Then we’ll talk.”

I signed, and for a moment, I felt better. There seemed to be a wall between me and the past. Malcolm Weiss may have just been protecting his own ass, but in a way he gave me an excuse to let it all fade away. I could forget about what happened and never have to explain myself to anyone. People sometimes talk about a weight being lifted, and it’s true. You feel lighter because of that sense of relief. But what few mention is if that weight comes crashing back down, it crushes all the air out of you, oxygen exploding out your pores, tearing you apart. You can’t catch your breath. Your stomach feels empty and too full at the same time—the contradicting sensations somehow exaggerating one another; you feel sick but are unable to be sick.

After I signed, a lawyer wrote an address on a slip of paper. She passed it to me, “You’ll find Ms. Johansen here,” bringing the weight back down.


I watched her through a glass partition. The doctor wouldn’t let me in the room with Grace. She said the hospital couldn’t afford the risk. Grace had been violently delusional since her arrival. The doctor didn’t understand the nature of her hallucinations. She sounded almost excited. Grace looked like a unique case, something to study, perhaps even elevate the good doctor above her colleagues. We’re all searching for a chance to be celebrated. Of course, Synergism didn’t inform the hospital as to the nature of Grace’s condition—one more shield against lawsuit. The hospital didn’t care as long as the bills got paid; and Malcolm Weiss sweetened the pot by donating a substantial sum. He got a plaque in his honor naming a ward after him. They keep all the test subjects, all my failures, there.

Sometimes Grace glanced in my direction, narrowed her eyes, and turned away, shaking her head violently.

“Fascinating,” the doctor said, “It’s like she doesn’t trust reality anymore, as if she might will it into something else.” She scratched a few notes. I caught a phrase out of the corner of my eye, delusions of a malleable reality?

“There’s no way to convince her what’s real anymore,” I said.

“Was there?” the doctor asked, her eyes bright at the prospect of information about her oddity.

I didn’t say a word, just turned and left Grace behind, huddled in a corner, muttering to herself, trying to find her way back.

When I got home I found a package on the doorstep. I took it inside. The answering machine blinked, heralding a message. To my utter lack of surprise, Synergism’s human resources had called to inform me of my termination. I sat down on the couch, thought about getting drunk, tried not to think about what to tell Grace’s parents. Not that I could really tell them anything. Maybe: “It’s my fault. I convinced them all we could be special. But I never made those other decisions. They did it to themselves. Gordon chose to get wasted all the time, and Roger didn’t have to fear divine retribution, and Grace ... floated away.”

I ripped open the package to keep myself distracted. Inside I found a manila envelope bearing the Synergism Pharmaceutical Logo, a shield with the inscription Speramus Meliora. Translation: we hope for better things. Not knowing what to expect, perhaps a hefty severance check to further cement my silence, I opened it. Spilling the contents onto the coffee table I discovered a vial and a note. Written in Grace’s handwriting the note read, “Come find us.”

She anticipated the end. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to deduce a solution in time, Grace sent me a vial of Phainein in the hope I might follow her path.

I injected myself with it that night but not to find a cure. The streaming photographic memory let me have Grace back. We spent all night together the way we used to. Happily, as I recall.

By morning, she was gone. I knew what I had to do. Somewhere the thought occurred, “If I save one, I save them all,” but the others didn’t matter, like an excuse to keep people from knowing how selfish you really are. I just wanted Grace.

However, she didn’t give me enough. The vial only contained one, maybe two more doses. I’d need more.

Why dwell on, then? When I snuck into the lab and managed one full syringe before security arrived. Before Malcolm Weiss stormed in with his rent-a-guards ... only I’m the one twenty feet tall now, and his men look like an army of cards. My hand goes snicker-snack, cutting them to pieces.

I prefer to go back earlier—our constellation still in the sky. I lie on the floor sometimes and watch us glow against the black ceiling ... akin to Pisces fleeing Typhon. Without an end, the story could conclude as well as we hoped.

But they took me to the fiends with needle fingers who filled me, fill me still with sleep. They don’t understand. To sleep on Phainein brings dreams to life. And what a nightmare it is to live as such ever after.

There are slender moments I know I’m let out of my room, and it isn’t just me thinking it so. I find Grace. We sit by one another, neither really sure the other is real. I tell her I’m working on a cure, promise I am, so I won’t have to confess I gave up to get in to be with her.

She just smiles and says, “That’s what I want to hear.”

And I think, “I can do this. I can fix it all. I can fix her.”

All it’ll take is a thought. END

J. Rohr has had eighteen stories published in various online and print periodicals such as “365 Tomorrows,” “Nebula Rift,” “The Mad Scientist Journal,” “Fiction Vortex,” and elsewhere. He also operates a blog at “Honesty is not Contagious.”




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