Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


A Breath of Aphrodite
by Rebecca Birch

An Undiplomatic Incident
by Paul R. Hardy

Deus Ex Parasitus
by Josh Pearce

Dust to Dust
by Richard Wren

Space Horses
by Diane Ryan

Mercy Park
by Patrick Wiley

Patient, Creature
by Andrew Muff

by Timothy J. Gawne

Shorter Stories

Turn Off, Tune Out and Reboot
by J.R. Hampton

Sky Widows
by Matthew F. Amati

Crottled Greeps
by John Teehan


This is the Way the World Ends
by Carol Kean

A Reason for Returning to the Moon
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Patient, Creature

By Andrew Muff

I HEARD A WARBLING SQUEAL through the speakers in the doctor’s lounge, the sound our intercom system makes when the talk button is hit with a fist, followed by Rebecca’s voice shouting, “Get your ass out here, Danny!”

Because we only averaged two, maybe three patients a night, hospital administration had whittled down the overnight ER staff to a skeleton crew: just one resident and one nurse. An attending was supposedly on-call, but I’d been given instructions not to page him unless the hospital was literally burning to the ground.

I hurried from the lounge and slipped in the hallway, landing flat on my back. An oily trail of black ichor had been smeared all over the floor.

I limped into the trauma room and found Rebecca helping an old man in a flannel coat heft a plastic tarp onto the exam table. They both strained to lift the heavy tarp from the floor. The same black ichor from the hallway dripped from the tarp’s belly like an oil leak.

The man in flannel was a local named Ernie Harris. He drove a bread truck and drank on his route, so he wasn’t exactly a stranger to our ER.

“What’s going on?” I said, snapping on a pair of latex gloves. “Did you flatten another mutt, Ernie? I told you not to drag your roadkill in here again. This isn’t a vet clinic. I’m not—”

“It ain’t a dog,” Ernie said. He stood with his back against the wall, kneading a ball cap between his hands and staring at the exam table with glassy eyes. “Don’t know what you’d call it, but it ain’t a dog.”

Rebecca peeled back the tarp and we got our first look at what was buried under the plastic folds.

Ernie was right. It wasn’t a dog. 

She screamed, “What is it? What the hell did you drag in here?”


The basic definition of shock is a lack of blood flow to vital organs. After I saw the thing wrapped in Bernie’s tarp, my brain must have been positively starved for oxygen. I struggled to think despite the panicky sludge filling my head, but nothing close to a coherent thought made it through.

I’ll start with this: the thing was vaguely humanoid. Its torso was a puddled mass of loose, rubbery flesh gathered between four bony limbs, and it had a spade-shaped head with three eyes arranged in a triangle above a puckered mouth slit.

Honestly, at first, I thought it was a halloween costume. It looked so rumpled and deflated. A large “x” was carved through the center of its chest and a rectangle of bruised flesh stamped its abdomen. My eyes searched the skin folds for a zipper. Ichor oozed from its mouth and bubbled from a pair of fluttering nostrils the size of lima beans.

Rebecca edged toward the exit and I backed away from the exam table, ready to follow her out the door. The creature raised one of its bony hands. Loose skin dangled from its arm like overcooked flapjacks, gently swaying as it beckoned me closer with its fingers. Its middle eye opened and a red-orange iris briefly darted around the room before settling on me.

The creature mumbled something. I had no idea what it said.

“Are you just gonna let it die?” Ernie asked. He kept his back against the wall, ball cap pulled taut between white-knuckled fingers.

“Danny!” Rebecca said. “What are you thinking? Look at it! Let’s get out of here and call the police!”

“Wait ... wait just a sec,” I said, staring at the creature’s fingers. Did it really roll those bony digits at me? Maybe it was just a twitch or a muscle spasm. Maybe.

“Ernie, where did this thing come from?”

“Oh, hell, don’t ask me,” Ernie replied. His voice sounded detached, like he was talking in his sleep. “It ran into the road and I nailed it with my truck. Nothing complicated about what happened. Except ...”

“Except what?”

“It looked bigger when I hit it. Way bigger. Taller than my truck, even. Does that make sense? Maybe it’s somebody’s rubber toy. It looks kind of fake. Do you figure that might be it?”

“No,” I said, thinking about the creature’s red-orange eye. “Whatever it is, it’s dying. Exsanguinating. Massive volume loss. Internal bleeding. Becky, you should start an IV.”

She stared at me like I was speaking Swahili.

Becky?” I said. “Hello? Hey, Rebecca! Snap out of it!”


“I’ll hook up the cardiac monitor. You take some vital signs and start an IV.”

“Start an IV? How?”

“I don’t know. This is our patient, it’s in our goddamn ER, and we’re gonna treat it to the best of our ability. Are we clear on that?”

This may have been a hallucination, but I swore the creature nodded its head—just slightly—after I made my decision to stay and treat its injuries.

I rolled the EKG cart next to the bed and hooked the electrodes to the creature’s chest. The screen displayed an immediate flatline, so I fiddled with the electrode placement, not knowing what else to do. Tiny blips appeared on the screen, then full waveforms. Eventually, I arranged the electrodes into three separate groups. Each one tracked a separate heartbeat. The waveforms looked like fancy doodles, all spirals and dashes and circles, things I didn’t even know our EKG was capable of recording.

“How are you doing with the IV?”

Rebecca flashed me a sour look. “I found a usable vein. Want me to push a bag of saline?”

“Sure. How are its vitals?”

“Hard to say. Its pulse is 500.”

“500 beats per minute? The same rate as a fucking hummingbird? Are you sure?”

“I checked it twice,” she snapped. “Blood pressure is 46 over 12. Oxygen saturation is down to two percent. Don’t know what its respiration rate is ... two maybe four breaths per minute.”

The right stats for someone about to become a corpse. The blood pressure cuff, EKG, and pulse oximeter were all hooked to a row of monitors on the crash cart, flashing and beeping ominous alarms. I tried to plan my next move, but my brain was getting too much oxygen and the shock-padding that made me so calm and efficient moments earlier was crumbling under the weight of my increasing terror. This thing—be it alien, test-tube monstrosity, or re-animated halloween costume—was going to die if we didn’t do something quick to turn around those numbers.

The creature spread its arms toward the ceiling, slow and smooth, and flexed its back. The skin on its chest peeled open along the x-shaped seams like a blooming flower. Four “petals” folded back to reveal the interior of its chest cavity. The EKG monitor tracking its three heartbeats flatlined. The machine screeched, making an “ehhhhhhhh” noise.

The creature’s three hearts, each one pink and marbled with red arteries, turned blue. Their rhythmic beat, which thumped along like a jazzy drum solo, fell apart shortly after the organs went on display. The hearts began to writhe like they were filled with worms. A network of weird, hotdog-shaped lungs hissed and deflated. Its arms slumped toward the ground like wet noodles.

I looked at the monitors. BP: 0/0. Pulse Ox: 0%. Pulse: 0.

Ernie said, “Jeez Louise, Doc, I don’t think your patient’s doing all that well. What do you think?”

“Danny?” Rebecca said.

“Yeah? What?”

“Do you want the shock paddles?”

“That’s an idea.”

“Want me to push epi?”

“Okay. Sounds good.”

“One milligram?”

“Sure—no wait. Make it three.”

I wheeled a separate cart next to the table. On it sat a relic from the 1980s: a manual defibrillator. The automatic versions had all kinds of neat features like voice prompts and preset voltage levels, but it only worked if it read a “shockable” rhythm. The safety features—on this particular patient—would probably frustrate our efforts. The manual defib was simple and low tech. Using it safely was your problem.

Rebecca pushed a slug of epinephrine through the IV line. Nothing happened. I greased the shock paddles with conducting gel and rubbed the slippery surfaces together like you see them do on TV (I have no idea if it was necessary or not; this was my first time using a manual defib, not to mention these paddles were meant for external use and I was going to use them on an open, exposed heart).

I cranked the voltage to 350 J and laid the paddles on the heart closest to its head. The creature’s hand spasmed and flopped onto its chest, index finger pointing directly at its middle heart. I lowered the shock paddles from the uppermost heart to the middle. Sweat dripped off my forehead and plopped into the open chest cavity. So much for a sterile environment. Gritting my teeth, I compressed the thumb triggers.

The heart jerked into a hard spasm, squeezing into a blue knot of corded tissue. The creature’s noodle-limp arms straightened into shivering rods for a moment, then slumped into noodles again.

I hit the charge button on the defibrillator and shouted, “Push another round!”



“Are you sure?”

Ernie said, “Doc, maybe ...”


I shocked the creature’s middle heart again. The writhing bag of worms stopped, jerked into a knot, then began beating in its previous funky rhythm (a human heart goes LUB-DUB; this heart was going lub-lub-DUB-lub-lub-DUB, like the opening notes to “We Will Rock You”).

“More epi!” I shouted.

A typical adult patient in cardiac arrest will receive one milligram of epinephrine every five minutes. Our patient had already taken six times the normal dose. A part of me knew it was nuts to order more and I had no scientific rationale behind my order. This was sheer panic at the controls. The reptile part of my brain saw tiny signs of life returning to the exposed organs and wanted me to go full-on Frankenstein.

Rebecca pushed more epi, I have no idea how much. I shocked the heart sitting lowest in its chest next. The heart started beating again, the pattern quick and urbane, like BUMP-A-BUMP-A-BUMP-chit-chit, BUMP-A-BUMP-A-BUMP-A-chit-chit. The pale blues of deoxygenated flesh swelled and became vibrantly pink again.

“More epi!” I ordered.

“We should wait!”

I looked at the creature for guidance. Its right thumb twitched. That was all the go-ahead I needed.


I shocked the third heart.


The creature’s chest “petals” closed into a neat, x-shaped seam. Its abdomen hitched as it coughed up wads of pudding-like, coagulated ichor. Skeletal fingers curled into fists and its legs shuffled over the plastic tarp covering the exam table. Still holding the EKG paddles, I backed away. Rebecca mirrored my retreat. Ernie clutched his ball cap tighter to his chest. I don’t think he budged an inch since entering the trauma room.

I felt a gentle pull under my left shoe and looked down. “Holy fuck!” I cried, throwing the paddles into the air and stumbling next to Ernie.

“What?” Rebecca asked. “Are you okay?”

“Look at the floor! Look at the goddamn floor!”

She looked down and screamed.

The ichor that I had slipped in after rushing from the doctor’s lounge—that smeary trail that presumably stretched from the rear of Ernie’s bread truck to the trauma room—was flowing back into the creature’s body. It looked like black molasses being poured down a slanted surface ... only it was somehow flowing up the exam table.

Disconnected blobs of ichor occasionally bounced away from the central stream, moving with the kind of unhurried momentum you see when astronauts eat cubes of Jell-O in zero gravity. Those blobs still found their way back into the creature’s body, slipping through its nostrils or squeezing into the rectangle of jagged rents in its abdomen where Ernie’s license plate must have smacked it. The effect was bewildering, almost magical. We stared at the flowing current with our jaws collectively dropped.

The creature’s limbs became engorged. A beard of tentacles lying under the creature’s chin that I missed on initial exam spilled down its chest. The tentacles squirmed like blind snakes. The shriveled body lying on the table inflated with shocking speed. The creature’s feet dropped to the floor and its knuckles brushed the bottom of the table. A deep, percolating noise bubbled from its chest with every breath.

The creature sat upright on the table. The top of its head scraped the ceiling lamp. The bulb died with a muted pop. Darkness filled the room. The creature’s beard-tentacles tightened into a mess of gnarled coils that shivered with restrained tension.

I held my breath, afraid to make the slightest noise. All the monitors—previously beeping and clanging like the world was coming to an end—became mysteriously silent while the creature drew its quivering bulk around itself.

Its three slitted eyes peeled open.

Ernie raised his crumpled ball cap like a grade school student asking for a bathroom pass. Sweat soaked his clothes. Why didn’t he just stay plastered against the wall? I don’t think Rebecca had the courage to blink after the creature sat up. We both froze like lawn statues. The creature’s body language told us everything we needed to know.

It was confused. It was terrified. It was furious.

And it was waiting to explode on the first thing to break the silence like a nuclear reactor.

I stared at Ernie’s raised hand with an expression of brain-melting horror. I shook my head—a trembling, tiny shake, all I could muster—and tried to send him a psychic message: PUT YOUR HAND DOWN AND KEEP QUIET, ERNIE! FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, DO NOT SPEAK!

Ernie stepped forward and said, “I think I need to leave—”

An ear-piercing shriek cut him off, followed by a sound like a steel bolt being sheared. Silhouetted tentacles flashed across my vision. The creature knocked me aside. It slapped Ernie with the back of its hand. A fan of blood sprayed the wall. The creature shrieked again. I covered my ears and curled into a ball on the floor. The creature ran from the trauma room and stomped down the hall. Its heavy footsteps made the floor shake.

I called for Rebecca. Blood dripped down my cheeks. Later, I learned that both my eardrums had ruptured. My head felt like someone stabbed me in the forehead with a sharpened screwdriver. I crawled toward Ernie. He was lying in the corner of the trauma room with his arms folded over his face.

“Becky? Where are you?”

“Over here.”

She was tucked inside a supply cabinet under the counter. Bags of saline and shrink-wrapped cervical collars were scattered across the floor. I saw the toes of her pink sneakers peeking from the bottom of the cabinet door.

“Can you come out?”


“Ernie’s hurt pretty bad. We need to help him.”

Even with my eardrums ruptured and filling with blood, I somehow still heard Rebecca’s withering sigh. END

Andrew Muff is a graduate of the Rosalind Franklin School of Medicine and Science. He works as a physician assistant in Wichita. His stories have appeared in “Electric Spec,” “Sword and Sorcery Magazine,” and the 12-MAR-2016 “Perihelion.”


callahan 9/16