Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


From Gaia to Proxima Centauri
by Milo James Fowler

Suck the Oil Out With a Straw
by Robin White

L’enfer, C’est la Solitude
by Joe Vasicek

Tea With Silicate Gods
by Auston Habershaw

by Andrew Muff

Gina Starlight’s Got the Blues
by Sandra M. Odell

Passing History
by Bill Adler Jr.

A Planet Like Earth
by E.K. Wagner

Shorter Stories

Cold Deaths
by Michael Haynes

Leviathan Buffet
by Sarina Dorie

by Hall Jameson


How Far is Heaven?
by Gary Cuba

A.I. Invasion or A.I. in Education?
by Jason M. Harley



Comic Strips




A Planet Like Earth

By E.K. Wagner

THEY CRESTED THE SHORT RISE and ahead of them the red canyon floor spread flat to the horizon. Dust devils spiraled among the rocks, and the metal-rod skeleton of a giraffe caught the sun and burned their eyes. Kriesla tapped the side of her helmet and the visor darkened another degree.

“What? Is it dead?” The voice of one of the hunters crackled in her ear.

She turned slowly. The group from the hotel was huddled together in white suits, forming an odd bulbous formation against the backdrop of the cliff-face.

“Dust on the solar panels,” she said.

The man who had spoken walked forward, clutching his gun awkwardly under his arm. She shifted slightly as he swung the charged end into the air. He bent on one knee and shot with little aim. The electric bolt whined past her. She saw the tiny spark as the bolt found purchase on the metal frame of the fallen animal. The man grunted and straightened. He caught her eye.

“We were promised a hunt, Ms. Terrau. And yet we have a broken robot.”

Laughs echoed on the other channels.

“If you will be patient, sir, I promise you a herd before day’s end.”

He tucked his gun back under his arm. “You Martians are all alike,” he said. “Full of promises.”

She smiled a particular smile reserved for guests, then turned away to lead them down from the rise and deeper into the canyon. Despite the treads on their boots, it was difficult finding purchase on the constantly moving grit and dust of the floor. Even at this depth, the wind was there, pushing and kneading at the particles and tiny rocks. Behind her, the hunting party bobbed ever so slightly in the low gravity as they moved over the shifting ground.

The giraffe was not far beyond the rise. As they drew near, it grew taller and taller, its sharp silver neck arcing into the sky. Its legs were folded and bent beneath it at odd angles. The thin rubber coating, patterned to resemble Earth models, had been ripped to shreds by long exposure. It hung like flapping skin on the metal skeleton. Kriesla signaled for the party to stop. She clambered onto the back of the slumbering beast, careful not to puncture her suit. The solar panels were scratched and grimy. She tried to buff it clean with the back of her glove. With a jolt that made her grab onto the giraffe’s spine, its neck lurched forward, its head arcing back into the sky. It stuck out its long prosthetic tongue as if tasting the iron of the air, then the neck slowly sank to the ground. The giraffe stopped moving. She caught her breath.

“Ms. Terrau.” The man’s voice was impatient.

She did not look at him. She ran a finger over one of the giraffe’s metal bones, and imagined how cool it must be, exposed to the wind. The hunting party made small sounds of impatience behind her. She tapped the screen on her wrist, which was hardwired to a tracking device, and it lit up with a myriad of small colored dots. At least one herd congregated around the curve of the canyon, just past the party’s horizon. She looked up at the sky which was still white and clear.

“I have them,” she said. “Three klicks ahead.”

“Why are we standing here then?” The man slipped the gun back into the shoulder holster so that it stuck up like an antenna over his head. He moved forward. The hotel group followed after him, their steps a little slower than when they had started out in the morning.

“Earthers,” Kriesla muttered under her breath.


She sat on the balcony of the largest and most expensive hotel in the Mariner Valley. Situated under an overhang of rock in the cliff-face, the balcony was shaded from the sun. There were also four layers of reinforced and tinted glass between her and the open canyon. The rest of the hotel, floors of rooms, as well as movie theaters, shops, and restaurants, had been dug deep into the stone behind her, where the natural shelter of the rock made construction easier. Despite the glass, despite the rock, there was a feel of open space here. She curled her feet beneath her. She liked to sit on the ground, as close as possible to the window. The other side of the canyon was too far away for her to discern small details, but she knew the whole cliff-face was a warren of small holes with openings only large enough for one man to leave or enter at a time. Wealth, on Mars, could be measured by the size of your door.

The old man shuffled up beside her and paused, as if waiting for her to speak first. Eventually, when that did not happen, he spoke. “Long day?” The sun was finally setting, and the cliff was a brilliant red, red as cherries and firecrackers. Like a substitute for cicadas, she could hear the low hum of the generators rumbling in the bedrock, the occasional whine that was a ship landing on the docks.

“Sometimes I think I have memories of Earth though I’ve never been there,” she answered. “I was born here and the landscape still seems wrong. The day a little too long, the sun a little too dim.” She looked over at the man who had eased himself into the chair near her.

“I don’t think blood and DNA carry memories,” he said.

Sieran’s face was as deeply creased as the palm of her hand. He breathed heavily though he had done nothing but sink into the cushions.

“Then why do I feel this way?”

“Kriesla, every day you take rich Earthan tourists and businessmen out there.” He waved his hand toward the window and the abyss that was the valley. She wondered if the animals huddled together at night, their metal joints creaking with dust, for fear of nonexistent predators stalking them in the darkness. “And it’s in their nature to compare. To talk about the reasons Mars is strange.”

“But why should it be strange to me? I’ve gone out into the sun and the dust every day of my life since I was old enough to remember.”

In the warrens, she had bedded down with her three siblings and their parents in a tiny cavern of a room that was always too warm. Each night, you had to kick and struggle for your share of the mattress. The fans were never enough to cool down the room and often they short-circuited, only juttering back to life after her mother had opened their panels and tinkered with them.

“We start to think like those we’re around,” he said quietly. He leaned his head back.

“They’re a bunch of clodders.”

They sat in the growing silence of the darkening room. Soft lights began to glow in strips along the walls. The heliotropic flowers that were bunched in every corner began to close their petals in on themselves, and their usually strong scent became more like the perfume of a woman who had just left. She wanted to hear the cicadas, speaking to each other with only the music they could make with their bodies.

“It took me a long time to get used to the gravity here,” Sieran broke the quiet.

“I didn’t mean you,” she whispered back.

“I know you didn’t.” He closed his eyes. He coughed and it sounded almost like he had grit in his lungs.

There were no stars to see. The weather service had predicted a dust storm and it arrived on time. Though she could not actually hear it, she imagined the keen of the wind, whistling through the canyon.

When she thought Sieran may have fallen asleep, he spoke. “He arrived today. I saw him in the lobby with my own eyes.”

She turned her head to look at the old man. Her blood began to beat fast at her throat and wrist.


He opened his eyes and they were wet, red-rimmed and baggy. “The senator. Dunford.” He did not use his son’s first name.

“Is it happening then? Are they demanding Mars as an Earthan province?”

Sieran shook his head, but he looked sad and he looked unsure. “He’s here to talk now. He’s here before the bombs come.”

She stood up, thrusting her hands in her pocket, pressing her forehead against the glass of the window. “It’s been three generations since my family were Earthers. We’re a different kind of people now. The Earthers won’t understand us. Their laws will be Earthan laws.”

“The iron here gets into your soul and your will.” Sieran sighed. She could not tell if he had just quoted a song or if meant what he said.

“They can’t just subsume us like that.” Her voice rose. “We’ve worked hard to live here.”

“And that’s the story, isn’t it?” he said. “That hard work means you get what you deserve.”

She stayed quiet, but she was angry inside.

“Perhaps they have a claim,” Sieran sighed. “We did come from Earth. We do eat their food; we do depend on their trade.”

“And they depend on us. They use our ore. If they come here and set up direct oversight under terms of provincial law, we will be digging for them. There will be nothing left for us. We will have nothing left to trade.”

“And is that worth killing for?”

She turned away from the window. “You’re the one who predicts death and economic collapse. Don’t ask me these questions now, after you’ve won my allegiance.”

He chuckled a bit, deep in his throat, but he looked like he was grieving. Her heart hurt to look at him, but she was also irritated, bothered by his questions.

“The hotel, at the bequest of the Martian council, has booked a number of entertainments for the Senator. Tomorrow, he’ll be hunting.”

She could hear glasses clinking in the bar across the hall. Laughter. It all seemed very far away. Sieran seemed very frail and even her own hands felt suddenly weak. She turned back to the window. The glass was cool.

He spoke softly when he began again. “A hunting accident would delay the Council, would give us time. It would not be seen as an act of aggression or of war. Even if the Earthan government suspected, they would have no proof.”

She turned her head and stared at him a moment. He did not look at her.

“And just like that, you tell me?”

“How did you want me to tell you?”

She smiled in a way that made it hard for her to growl or grimace, made it hard for her to betray herself.

“You signed up for this, Kriesla,” he added very softly.

“I know. Yeah. I know.” She stepped back from the window and sat down in a chair next to his. “I hoped it wouldn’t be you telling me.”

He leaned forward and reached for her knee, fumbling with the tips of his fingers, finally shifting so he could place his hand there.

“You’re the only one I could ask,” he said. “You’re the only one I wouldn’t hate.”

“How will you not hate me?”

He drew his hand back and looked out into the blackness beyond the window. The glass was too thick for them to hear the dirt and dust pounding against it.

“I’ve been listening to Martians for a very long time.”


The storm had cleared in the morning. Kriesla waited in the hotel’s airlock, watching the sunlight bounce through the tiny windows on the outer door. She was almost fully suited, but she held her helmet under her arm. The gun was heavy in the holster at her back. She flexed her fingers in her gloves and checked to make sure the tracker was functioning. The animals were active today. A herd of gazelle was less than one klick from the hotel. She watched the dots mill restlessly on the tiny grid.

The elevator door slid open silently. She looked up. A middle-aged man entered the chamber. He had a shaved head and was dressed in one of the insulated jumpers the hotel issued to those going on excursions. Most tourists looked uncomfortable and out of place in the padded jumper, but he moved with a quiet assurance.

“Senator Dunford?” She stepped forward, reaching out one hand.

“Yes,” he smiled like a person who was used to being expected. “Yes. You must be Kriesla?”

“Ms. Terrau.” She pointed to the lockers. “Find a suit in your size and we’ll be ready to head out.”

“Yes, ma’am,” and his expression was somewhere between amused and offended.

She watched him for a minute, studying the way he moved, the way he handled the gun and the holster. She cleared her throat, and began her usual introductory spiel. “Things you need to know before we move out. As your tour guide, I am here for your protection. You move when I say move. You stop when I say stop. The animals you will encounter are advanced mechanical simulants. This means they act according to programs drawn directly from their Earthan counterparts. They are not toys. They will act out of emotions approximating fear, anger, etc. They can be dangerous and unpredictable.”

He zipped up his suit. “Do people often assume otherwise?”

She paused. “Almost always.”

“Well, I assure you, Ms. Terrau, I am a man who knows how to follow orders and I would never underestimate a beast in the wild.”

She did not continue with the rest of her usual rules. “You hunt on Earth?”

He shook his head and laughed. “There isn’t much of that anymore. But I was a soldier.”

“Who is there left to fight?” Without thinking, she curled her fingers into a fist and then relaxed them.

“There’s always someone.”

The elevator door slid open again and two men entered.

“I’m sorry,” she began, moving forward to intercept them. “This is a private tour.”

The Senator interrupted her. “Ms. Terrau, don’t worry. They’re with me. I rarely leave a building without bodyguards, and though the Martian terrain does not lend itself to assassination, I do not plan to start now.”

She tried to smile and nodded her head instead. “Suits are in the locker to your left.”

Once all three men were suited, she checked that helmets were properly secured and that there were no rips or tears in their suits. She put on her own helmet, then tapped it over her left ear. The comms crackled on, even as the helmet fully sealed with a tiny click. She pantomimed for the men to turn on their own comms.

“Can you hear me?”

The bodyguards nodded. “Loud and clear,” the Senator said.


The hides of the gazelles almost blended in with the red canyon floor. They nibbled at the dirt as if they were searching out grass. They could hear Kriesla and the hunters approaching, and almost half of them lifted their heads, their nostrils quivering. She watched them through the zoom lens built into the helmet. Their black eyes returned her gaze. They blinked slowly, turning their heads back and forth as if trying to smell her on the wind. It surprised her every time that, when they were well-functioning, she could never tell that these were not real animals. Other than the improbability of Earthan beasts running and cavorting over the surface of the red planet without oxygen, the tableau seemed to her very real.

“That’s a strange sight,” the Senator whispered.

She moved to one side. “You can release your guns from your holsters,” she instructed.

The bodyguards did not move, but the Senator carefully reached one hand over his head and drew out his gun.

“The guns fire electric charges, so the kickback is not as bad,” she explained. “A good thing in low gravity. Also, the charge will short-circuit the animal’s system, simulating death.”

“Simulating death,” the Senator repeated, but she could not tell if he was mocking her.

He took careful aim, sighting down the barrel. The bodyguards watched both her and the gazelles. In the pause between aiming and shooting, she often held her breath. Sometimes she realized she was doing so.

The Senator lowered his gun without firing. He looked back at her. “Do you have any larger animals? More violent animals?”

She glanced over the herd of gazelles again. They had gone back to grazing. The sun reflected off the white of their stomachs.

“We host all big-game hunting here. Lions, hippos, elephants, bears, wolves, elk. Any animal you can name, we probably have.”

“Strange ecosystem.”

“It’s not really a system.” She could not tell if he was joking.

“No.” He holstered his gun. “Find me some hippos.”

She looked at the grid, typed in search parameters. It was a rare request, but not unheard of. “They’re four klicks out,” she said. “That’s a long hike.”

“We’ve got a long day,” the Senator answered.

She stared at him for a second, trying to see his face through the glare on his visor. Her throat felt dry. The gun rattled in the holster at her shoulder. A red light blinked on the screen of her tracker. She tapped it and a weather alert unscrolled across the grid. A dust storm was heading in from the east. If they returned to the hotel now, they ran a good chance of escaping it. Otherwise, the storm would overtake them just as they reached the hippos.

“Something wrong?” The Senator was watching her.

She shook her head, but looked at the gazelle instead of him. “No. If you want hippos, we’ll find them.”


When she was a child, Kriesla’s father had taught her how to avoid dust storms—how the sky looked when the dust was still over the horizon, how the temperature began to shift, how the ground began to vibrate ever so slightly. “It’s the weather that’s man’s worst enemy here,” he told her. Apart from the bunkroom, they had one other room in their quarters, a workspace where her mother and father could repair topside suits, a business that should have been more lucrative than it was. She remembered leaning on the table while her father held up a handful of dust, letting it slide through his fingers. “The dust can get everywhere,”’ he said. “It’s dangerous. Into the breathing apparatus, into the visor. If you’re ever out in a storm, there’s little that can save you. But still, if you are, huddle straight into the cliff wall. With one hand, cover your face. With the other, cover the entrance to the breathing tube here,” he grabbed her hands and placed them on the suit he was working with. “You must keep the dust from getting in.” “I hate it here,” she said. Her father looked at her and answered nothing.

It was the memory she returned to most often when she thought of her father. It did not make her happy or sad, but there was something urgent about it.

“What are those?” The Senator’s voice interrupted her as she absentmindedly sought out the lip of the breathing tube where it entered her suit.

She lifted her head. The hippos were huddled in the valley below. She and the Senator, the bodyguards behind them, stood on a slight rise in the ground and looked down on top of the gray-skinned animals. Some wallowed in the dust in lieu of water. They had broad backs and thick teeth and their hides were prickled with stiff hairs. They were not the Senator’s concern.

On the horizon beyond the herd, large dust devils spun over the ground, red and angry from having picked up the dirt of the canyon floor. They were almost the size of a person, and they moved over the ground rapidly, like slices of the sky they were so opaque. Kriesla knew they were the forerunners of a much larger wall of dust and dirt that would sweep into the canyon like a tidal wave, as wide as the canyon itself. She looked to her right, where the cliff-face was close.

“Dust devils,” she said.

She knew how it would sound to them, not nearly as ominous, not nearly as threatening as she knew them to be.

“Like small cyclones,” the Senator said, wonder in his voice.

“Are they dangerous?” one of the bodyguards asked.

“Just stay out of their way.” She could not stop looking at the dust devils even as she said it.

The Senator drew his gun out of his holster, but he talked as he did so. “I admire you, Ms. Terrau. You’re not frightened of this place.”

She was surprised by the comment. She struggled for something to say in reply. “I grew up here.”

“Still, I think it would scare me.” He lifted the gun to his shoulder and looked down the barrel.

She stood unmoving, her heart pounding in her chest. The sky looked dark behind the cyclones and the dust was dancing under her feet. She could not stop watching the Senator’s movements. He did not look scared despite the way he talked.

“You do not know much about this planet.” Even as she said it, she worried she had given everything away.

The Senator did not appear to hear. He pulled the trigger on the gun. The charge was but a spark in the air and then one of the hippos fell. A cloud of dirt swelled up around it as the animal hit the ground. Its legs jerked spasmodically. The other hippos lifted their heads slowly and looked at them, grinding their teeth. Another hippo collapsed at the back of the herd, dust settling on its solar panel in the wake of a dust devil’s passing.


Before she had been a tour guide, as a teenager, it had been her job to ride out early in the morning and find animals which had fallen in the night, from the dark or from the dust, and to recharge them, to clean off their panels, to get them back on their feet. The small rover she’d been given had seen better days, and she could feel every rock the tires climbed. It was a lonely job, but she had liked it better before there was a gaggle of tourists following her.

There had been a bear once, muzzle buried into the sand as if it were searching for bugs. Its dark coat was shaggy and coated with the grit of a thousand winds. She had approached it carefully as if it might still rear up on its hind legs and lay claim to some plot of barren territory or attempt to protect absent cubs. It did not move. She brushed her hand up and down over the coat, knocking dirt and pebbles to the ground. The solar panel was nestled in the center of its back, a small square grid of reflective black. Though the wind sometimes did her work for her, the shaggy fur of the bear had protected the panel from exposure and consequently the build-up of red dust was thick and gritty. She gently buffed away the dirt and placed a solar ray directly over the panel to give the animal an immediate charge. There had been a catharsis in it, when the bear had risen jerkily first on its back paws and then on its front, head swinging back and forth as if taking in the world anew. The bear roared, opening its mouth wide and she could see a gleaming row of teeth, never used.

She listened to it roaring as she climbed back onto the rover. It would need more of a charge before it could try to follow or attack her. The bear’s anger was a hollow show, but she felt the rage nonetheless. She looked up into the empty sky and she imagined a greater universe could hear that scream.


“If you listen long enough to someone, you start to think like them, that’s what my father says,” the Senator straightened. “So talk to me, help me understand. What should I know about this planet?”

Her suit tightened slightly, reacting to the levels of dust in the air. Her visor registered that the temperature was dropping slightly. She did not like to hear the Senator echoing Sieran’s philosophy. She did not like to be reminded of what the old man would feel. The Senator had not sat and talked with Sieran in a twilight balcony for hours longer than an Earther could understand. Did he even know his father was residing in the same hotel?

“You’re here to force our hand. To make us an Earthan colony.”

He laughed.

“No. You’ve got it wrong. You are an Earthan colony. That’s just a fact. How many generations removed are you? No more than three, I’m guessing.”

She squeezed her hands into balls, felt the suit taut against her knuckles. “You don’t want to think like a Martian.”

“No,” he conceded. He slid the gun back into its holster. “That’s just something I say.”

He was turned toward her, and she could see the red wall of dust cresting the horizon behind him. The bodyguards shifted uncertainly beside her.

“Look around you, though,” the Senator said. He swung his arms out toward the herd of hippos. “There’s nothing you want more than Earth. You call them simulants. I call it desperation.”

The hippos lifted their heads, looking toward the horizon, and bellowed deep in their throats. They began to charge toward the cliff face, seeking shelter. The gray of their hides almost shone in the last bit of sunlight.

“Sir,” one of the bodyguards interrupted, his voice barely controlled.

The Senator looked out to the horizon and the wall of dust that was rapidly approaching. While he struggled to figure out what he was looking at, Kriesla began to run, loping toward the cliff face as well, trying to control her breath and movements as well as she could. In her head, she was repeating over and over again the words of her father in that workshop. The Senator and bodyguards paused a minute longer and then followed her.

“What do we do?” The Senator screamed in her ear through the comms.

She did not answer. She huddled as close to the cliff face as she could, tucking her head into her legs, placing one hand over her visor and pressing one close over the lip of the breathing tube. She closed her eyes as tightly as she could.

“Kriesla,” the Senator screamed again.

The wind, arriving a second before the storm, whistled over her, the noise like the sound of someone blowing over a thousand glass bottles.

“Protect your face and your air,” she spoke into the comms. She felt as if she had swallowed a stone and it was settling heavy into her stomach. She wanted to speak but she hated herself for it. “Put a hand over your breathing tube.” She thought she could hear the hippos bellowing, crying. She scrunched her eyes even tighter. They were wet.

Then her senses were overwhelmed. The dust hitting her did not sound like millions of particles, but rather like static louder than her ears could stand, unceasing. A force stronger than she had ever felt before pressed her hard into the cliff. She worried a moment about whether her suit might tear before her thoughts were ripped from her in the cacophony. She was, for the ten minutes that followed, nothing but the planet itself. Red, barren, dust-filled, howling, bellowing, scouring. She did not know whether she could hear the hippos or the men. She did not open her eyes to see what she could make out.

The silence was almost painful when it finally came. It was followed by a period of stillness when she remembered how to move. Her arms and legs would not budge at first. She realized slowly that she was covered with a mound of dust. Then she realized that she was alive. It was a minute more before she could scramble to her feet. With one hand on the cliff face to steady herself, she looked around her. There were two mounds with two helmets near her. The dust shifted and trickled down the piles and both men suddenly stood up with an unexpected jerk, stumbling, and then falling backwards. The Senator and one of his bodyguards.

“Where is Enri?” The bodyguard looked frantically at the Senator and her and then out over the canyon floor. He tried to run across the piles of dirt and fell again. “Enri,” he shouted, forgetting that he spoke through comms.

Kriesla saw a gloved hand sticking out from the dirt, halfway down the slope toward the hippos. The hippos were kicking and wading out from under the dirt, those whose solar panels and metal skeletons had survived the storm’s assault. She shuffled down the rise and began to brush away the dust from the suit of the second bodyguard. He was lying facedown. When she turned him over, his face was bloodied from sharp particles ripping through the visor sealing of his helmet. Beneath the blood, the skin was purple.

“Enri,” the bodyguard thumped down heavily beside her, panting.

The Senator still stood at the top of the rise. He was watching the hippos struggle. She left Enri’s body and walked up towards him. She could feel bruises and welts within her suit as she walked.

“You don’t have a warning system for storms like that?” His voice was steady, but low, as if he struggled to speak with any volume.

She did not answer, but continued past him.

“Ms. Terrau,” his voice cracked. He was either angry or afraid.

She stopped and turned around. She walked back to him. She pointed to the hippos.

“Those are Martian animals, not Earthan, Senator. They knew to run to the cliffs.” Her voice quavered a bit as she spoke.

She did not wait for him to respond, but turned again towards the hotel. He would not hurt her here, not where he was frightened. She saw out of the corner of her eye when he and his bodyguard began to follow her.

“It’s a fantasy, Ms. Terrau,” he said. “Or either you’re all just robots. Maybe Mars has changed you.”

She did not stop walking. She choked on snot and saliva. “I saved you.”

He laughed, and there was no mistaking the mockery now. “It looked a lot like killing us.”


She sat close to the glass of the window. She breathed onto it and her breath fogged the glass. She ran her finger through the fog. Her arms, her legs, her neck, her scalp, they all hurt. The back of her throat hurt too, but she could not cry. She waited for Sieran’s shuffling steps, but he did not come for a long time. The sky grew dark, but the storm had passed so the stars shone clearly now. The scent of the flowers was warm in the air.

“The hotel is protecting you for now,” he said when he did come. “Accidents happen. If it comes to lawyers, they’ll provide one for you.”

She shivered.

“It was a pointless death, Kriesla. The bodyguard’s.”

She dropped her head onto her knees, pressing her hands into the back of her neck. “It’s all pointless.”

“You’ve been listening to the Senator.” She heard him settle into one of the molded-plastic chairs. His knees cracked as he moved.

“My father said this planet was our enemy.” Her voice was muffled. She did not lift her head.

“Yet he stayed.”

“We don’t all have a choice.”

Sieran did not answer. He let the silence settle deep into the room, making the voices across the hall in the bar sound strangely loud.

“Independence is a lost cause,” she said finally when she could no longer take the quiet.

He still did not answer. She raised her head. He was staring through the glass, as if he could see something she could not.

“Do you forgive me?” she asked.

He did not look at her when he finally spoke. “How could I not? He was my son first before he was my enemy.”

She cried, then, quietly, under the absence of his gaze. The tears slid down her chin.

“Hush,” he said after minutes passed. His voice was stern. “What will crying do?”

“I killed a man,” she whispered, barely articulating the words.

“You did not kill him.”

She disagreed, but she did not say anything else. They two sat and stared into the darkness. She could see the red dust though she could not. She could feel the wind driving her into the cliff face though she could not. She could hear the hippos bellowing though she could not.

She wondered whether the hippos would notice the dead man in their valley, his white suit stark against the ground, whether they would rip at his suit with their metal teeth. Or would they pay him no mind and go through the motions of eating grass that was not there and swimming in water that was not there?

She imagined them standing in the early morning, huddled together, waiting for an African sun. She lay down on the floor of the balcony, the cool floor pressed against her cheek, and, staring into the dark, missed again the sound of the cicadas. END

E.K. Wagner has a Ph.D. in medieval literature. She also teaches at the college level. Her stories have appeared in “Tales of the Talisman” and “The Colored Lens.” She recently completed a novel, "The Rune Cutter,” and is working on a second one.


winchester 11/16



crazy liddy 9/16