Image Flash #36

Image Flash #36

5 minI’ve had a niggling daydream in my head for a novel for couple of decades now. It’s one of these things that I’ve let ferment, never really acted on, and pops into my brain every now and again. I have other projects I want to do first, but eventually, the concept will finally accumulate enough substance for me to turn into a story.

It’s about dreams, and shared dream experience, and memory, and loss, and how we cope with guilt and fear and it’s still only half baked after all these years. But this picture pulled it strongly out of my head and I decided to write a scene that could exist (but probably doesn’t).

There was something hiding beneath the leaves. There was no outward indication of this fact. The crimson plants remained still and did not move. No sounds came from their quiet fronds. But still, I knew. I knew it almost from the moment I entered this place.

But, with the same certainty that I knew there was something out there, moving around beneath the shrubbery, hiding in the gloom, I was certain that it was not harmful. I felt strongly that I was in no danger.

It was a great flat forest. The ground was as level as if it had been engineered and covered in waist high red-leafed foliage. Tall, branch-less, black trees reached up into the mist. Everything was painted on a blue, sourcelessly illuminated, fog.

I was pretty sure that I was a silhouette.

“What is this place to you?” I asked.

From a half dozen yards away her outline responded. “A secret mostly. Something lost. Maybe wants to be found.”

“Potential then?”


I looked out into the rows of trees, vanishing into the haze. I felt I could walk miles in any direction and find the same view. A treadmill maze without walls.

“Not exactly the most romantic place to meet up.” I said.

Her figure shrugged, leaned against a tree. “I’m not feeling particularly romantic.”

Whatever it was, beneath the bushes, was listening. I used my foot to push away one of the plants to get a look at it. Nothing was there. I was sure it had been though. It was quick and quiet and absolutely not real.

“This is an old one, isn’t it? It’s very simple. Very clean.”

She chuckled. “Are you saying my newer expansions are dirty?”

I walked over to a tree and touched it. The bark was smooth, unfinished, and felt more like drywall than a tree. “Of course I am. We all clutter with age. Have you ever been in an old person’s Sphere? Their final realms?”


“They’re amazing. Terrifying too. Nothing is so pure. Everything is touched by something. Usually more than one thing. Every object, every component, is ladled full of memories. This tree, right here…” He knocked on the trunk. “It has none. It feels like you might think it feels if you’d only looked at it, tall and straight, and never touched a tree. Like someone who didn’t know that smooth pine was flaky and moist with sap. That oak is craggier and deeper than ash, but both are rough. Or birch had horizontal bumps of tough interspersed with paper thin curls. No, when you made this, you weren’t even tall enough to pull yourself up onto a branch.”

“And someone very old?” She asked.

I was unsure how to articulate it. I gave it my best shot. “So, imagine this tree is there. The bark could look the same, even feel the same, but it wouldn’t be the same. It would hold the weight of what it isn’t more heavily than what it is. It would know it didn’t feel right. You would feel the reasons. The old person couldn’t have created it without their own experiences, and they graft into it.”

I continued. “You would feel the differences. Every other tree, every other texture, that had ever passed through their fingertips would stand along-side it. Their choice, to use that texture, cannot hide the fact that it’s a choice. Like, picking a number between one and ten. The number five cannot be picked without also knowing that the other nine were there, along side it, as possibilities. Nothing an elder creates stands outside the context of everything they’ve experienced. Knowledge crushes it. One fingertip on such a tree and you recognize the scale of everything they’d ever touched.”

She stepped away from the tree she’d been leaning on. I noted that her hand slid away from it last, feeling. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

I nodded. “Oh sure. If that were all there was to it. But it’s not. You see, every one of those textures has memories associated with it. They come along, playing into the sensation; childhood climbing, shop class, yard work, camping trips. All of it, communicated indirectly through only the feelings associated with them. A flood of contradicting emotions rushes in along with the scale of the thing. It’s overwhelming. And, keep in mind. I’m only using a single tree as an example. When the elderly build, everything they create is this dense. Impossibly assaulting to your system. Near utter confusion.”

“It sounds like a lot.”

“It is. But, in the end, that barrage of sensation and imagery, isn’t the worst of it. The brain can’t handle it. So, it simplifies. Tries to bundle it all up into one giant feeling. It sees all this information, pouring from someone nearing the end of their journey, and recognizes it for what it is.”

Finally, she walked over to me. “And what is it?”

“A desperate revealing of self before they die. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a ninety five year old in a wheelchair, trying to hand out their biography for free in Times Square, and everyone ignoring them. And they know it. They know none of them care. They knows when they die that those books will rot, unread. And it terrifies them, so they start throwing them at anyone within reach. But they’re too frail to throw and the effort won’t matter. They know this too.”

It was as close a description as I could muster. It was wildly insufficient.

“That’s so sad.”

I looked her trees up and down. “Yeah, it is. I like this more. Romantic or not, we can come here any time you like.”

She took my hand. “Let’s walk.”

We did. I knew that whatever it was hiding beneath the leaves was following us but it didn’t bother me. And despite the fact that we went nowhere, and the fog reminded us of the futility of progress, I quite enjoyed myself.

Image Flash #33

Image Flash #33

5 minYou may notice that this particular Image Flash is a couple days late. Well, that’s on purpose! This one is being released on Valentine’s Day and is about as close to romance as my writing gets these days.

Sister (patient) Valerie was in love.

It wasn’t (was) common for members of the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum) to seek out romantic relationships. They were supposed to be focused on their spiritual selves (mental problems) and not the physical world. It was something Sister (patient) Valerie tried to do, but found herself constantly struggling with. Ever since the visits (shifts) from Hector, acolyte to Elder Antolo (server for lunch meal), had started, she found it impossible to focus. Her mind was filled with nothing but thoughts of them being together, his hands on her body, their flesh intertwined.

She managed to sneak from her prayers (room) one day, intent on declaring her love for him. There was no make-up at the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum), but she did the best she could by letting her hair down, pinching her cheeks, and rubbing a ripe strawberry (bloody cut) on her lips. Her heart fluttered as she approached him that first time.

“I’ve been watching (stalking) you and have something to tell you. I think I love you. I would leave (escape) this place for a chance to share your life (suffering).” She said.

He smiled (frowned). He moved closer (away). He spoke (shouted). “Forever! (Security!)”

While this behavior was scandalous (common) for a Sister (patient), there was precedent (were consequences). The other sisters (asylum doctors) doubled her duties (meds). Despite this, Valerie discovered that it was possible to abandon (escape) the Holy Tabernacle (Warren Asylum). Once a year, on Saint Embers (spring cleaning) Day, any Sister (patient) wishing to leave had only to perform (execute) the right rituals (plan) and she could be free to choose her own path.

Sister (patient) Valerie made her choice. She knew that, though she would be leaving, she was following the will of her Sacred God (demented heart).

As the departure ritual (escape plan) dictated, she put on her best dress and covered her head in a crown of flowers (cage of iron). With the help (corpse) of one of the others (orderlies), she washed her arms in rose water (fresh blood). She took the wine decanter (stolen keys) and went down the hallway to the High Mother’s quarters (Head Directors office). She was sad (surprised) to see her go (there). They drank (fought) and Valerie hugged (choked) her. She took her time, keeping her arms wrapped around her, prolonging the goodbye (murder).

The rest of the day went easier. She went to the chapel (kitchen) and prayed for peace (turned the burners). She lit a candle. She took a blessing amulet (fire axe) from the church altar (emergency stairwell) and showed (used) it to (on) everyone as she made (carved) her way to the exit.

Outside, the wind smelled like summer sap (burning bodies) and freedom (death).

She felt happy and confident.

She set out to find her love.


Image Flash #32

Image Flash #32

5 minThere are a few concepts in this little piece that I could easily translate into some sort of strange, science style, horror story. But I’ve got a full plate of work, it’s not something I’ll get to in years, and I can always self-cannibalize my own ideas in the future.

So while the idea could have gone horror, I decided to swing it into something a bit more odd and, dare I say, lighthearted?

Dr. Johnson Momoa was soaking wet as he stood on the doorstep of his colleague, and blackmailer, Dr. Catherine Dunning.

He jabbed the doorbell again and immediately followed the action with a series of kicks to the door itself. He hated being here almost as much as he hated this island, with it’s tempestuous micro-bursts and jungle plant stink.

“I swear to god, Cathy! If you don’t open this damn door, right now, I’m leaving! I don’t give a damn who you tell about my bugs!” He shouted.

He heard the clatter of locks tumbling and the door swung wide. A old man in a lab coat was hunching there, one arm extended to let Dr.Momoa in. He was leaning on a cane, but despite this, had a large drink balanced in that hand. It had three cherries and a lime floating in it, ice-less.

“Bugs, you say?” He squinted. “Insect or germ?”

Dr.Momoa bustled in. “None of your business, Gunderson! Where is she?”

He pulled the door shut. “The lab, the lab. Always the lab.”

The two headed there. Dr.Momoa, himself an old man, didn’t walk much faster than his caned companion, but it was just slightly fast enough to be irritated at having to wait for the man. He did not enjoy the squeaking noise his wet shoes made and the puddles he was leaving. Also, he did not enjoy speaking with people.

“So, she’s got you on a short leash too, eh?” The man babbled. “Me as well. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It turns out that one of the best ways of achieving the type of breakthroughs we need is through mutually assured, global crimes against humanity, threats of exposure.”

Dr.Momoa scowled. “I do not require any help for breakthroughs.”

Dr.Gunderson nodded. “No, I suppose you don’t. It seems the arrangement would benefit some of us more than others. But, it’s all for the good. Well, the subjective good anyway. My projects could certainly be interpreted in a variety of moral ways. Have I told you what I’m working on?”

“I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Please stop.”

The old man huffed. “You certainly can’t keep me from saying what I want. It’s my tongue and I’ll use it when, and where, I see fit. But since you’ve been so rude about it, I don’t think I have anything else to say to you.”


The man stopped. “On second thought, I do have one last thing to say to you. You are a fucker.”

Dr.Momoa didn’t disagree. He left Dr.Gunderson there and enjoyed the silence.

Cathy’s lab (despite professionalism he always thought of her as Cathy and then mentally corrected himself) was, Dr.Momoa noted with disdain, a chaotic mess beyond reconciliation. Small carts, loaded with equipment, littered the aisles, in some cases, eliminating them entirely. Every table was heaped upon with equipment and all the wiring, tubing, venting, and piping that went with it. Clearly, the woman never put away anything and just kept building on the ruins of past projects. She was the vile offspring of Albert Einstein and a junk yard hoarder. He had seen some of the cats he experimented on cough up more organized hairballs. He rounded a bank of Amiga computers (all chugging furiously) and caught sight of her fiddling with a panel that had no less than a thousand color coded wires plugged into it. The old woman was, seemingly randomly, unplugging and inserting connections.

“I’m here, Dr.Dunning!”

She didn’t look away from her work. “Over here.”

He joined her. “I know where you are. What is it that you want?”

She plugged a last connection, looked them over, calculating in her head, and then turned to face him. He was surprised, as he always was, how his mind played tricks on him whenever he saw her and, for a moment, she wasn’t the old woman she was; she was the brilliant, young, blonde he used to know, shining through. Like her name, he pushed it aside.

“Can we get to it already? I don’t have all day.”

She nodded, knocked out of a reverie he hoped was dislike his own. “Right. This way.” She said.

They followed the wires she’d been playing with to a table. A naked man was strapped to it with dozens of electrodes attached to his head, feet, and hands. He was unconscious.

“Volunteer or patient?” Asked Dr.Momoa.

She ignored him. “I’ve been working on targeted cellular transfiguration. Manipulating specific cells to become other types. Bone cells to skin cells, fat cells to brain cells, you get the idea. It’s been working. I can pretty much swap cell types anywhere I want.”

Dr.Momoa knew she was brilliant, but this, this was beyond anything even he had dreamed of! It was the cure for disease, aging, body control. It was, if handled properly, a wide open door to the direct manipulation of the human species.

“My god…”

“It was all going perfectly. Everything I wanted. But then I hit a wall. I’ve lined the patients cardiovascular system with taste buds. When I did, he went into a coma.”

Dr.Momoa blinked in confusion. “You did what?”

“Tastebuds. Veins. He can taste his own blood, everywhere, all the time. Keep up!” She snapped at him.

“But, why would you do that?” He stammered.

She pointed to the sensors on his head, leading to the computer banks. “He’s out cold, but I can see everything going on in his brain. Totally overstimulated in there! Everything is almost working like I want, but I can’t get it right. I need your help.”

Try as he might, Dr.Momoa could not conceive of any good reason to do what she’d done. It was miraculous idiocy. He knew she’s gotten a bit eccentric in her older age, but this was beyond his ability to deal with. He went with his fallback; anger.

“I don’t even know what you’re trying to accomplish with this, Cathy! What the hell do you want from me?”

She looked at him like he was stupid. “Johnson, don’t be so dense! Do I have to explain everything, dummy?”

She leaned over and patted her ‘patient’ on the chest.

“I need you to help me change the flavor!”


Image Flash #28

Image Flash #28

10 minI haven’t written an Image Flash in a while since I’ve been far too busy work, and writing Mark of the Cloven, and lots of distractions.

This one got a little longer than most. I really felt the image had a lot of story to tell and the scene came to me in its entirety. Feels good to be back at it!

Candice Jane sat on a wooden stool with a shotgun across her lap and facing the front door. There was a rocking chair in the corner that was far more comfortable, but she didn’t trust herself not to fall asleep in it. It had happened before. Most often when she was quilting and not when she was as high strung and alert as she was tonight. But still, the cost of comfort was too high when added to the chance of failure.

She pinched her cheeks and shook her head.

The cabin was nice, by frontier standards. Davis had built it up against a stone embankment and mined out a shallow larder, a warm alcove for the bed, and built the fireplace right into the rock. Low embers warmed the room, but the oil lamp on the table lit it. The wood shed covered the Western wall and was accessible from inside as well as out. Opposite, large windows let in the morning light. They were barred with metal and had shutters to seal them against both invader and cold. Candace had done so in the occurrence of one and anticipation of another. It was a good defensible home. The only easy way in or out was through the front door.

Candice listened to the blowing wind, laden with approaching winter storm, and waited. Trouble was on its way. While she’d had no direct confirmation that they were coming tonight, she’d dealt the cards and read them, just like she did every night. The tarot said they would come with the snow. Probably figuring her for an easy target. A lone widow on a rich claim, a dead husband, and weather fierce enough to kill a deer. She could see their plan clearly enough; drag her into the cold and leave her. Let nature run its course. Later, they could return and ‘discover’ the tragedy. The land would become available. Somebody’d get rich.

But she knew they were coming, had Davis’ gun, and was ready. If she were lucky, she wouldn’t die tonight. The snow started to fall, fat and thick. Soon now.

Everything in the tarot read told her it was coming tonight. Her grandmother had taught her the cards and she was an able hand at deciphering them. It was easy to see some things, but not so easy to see everything. She’d known full well on the morning she sent Davis off to his dig that he’d strike it rich that day. But in the excitement of the good cards, she’d missed the full weight of the Five of Cups. They always carried gloom, but the Sun had shone too brightly on the reading. She’d missed the full implication. The very rocks that tumbled away to reveal the bright future crushed the life from Davis.

She knew she wasn’t seeing everything clearly tonight either and her mind kept going over the read, over and over, afraid that she was missing something. It was that Ten of Wands that kept giving her the most trouble. Why was that there? So much fire for a cold night. She stood and went to the table, looking over the spread again. Still, she could not see the significance, especially where it was positioned in the past, near her lost husband. Did it mean that warmth was in the past? Her attackers would succeed?

She heard the squeal of an engine and white slivers of light slid around the room from approaching headlights. At least three cars. This was worse than she’d thought. Two or three men, she could hold off with a shotgun. More, was out of the question. She heard shouting outside, over the storm, and then a loud knock on the door.

A voice shouted over the wind. “Hello? We need help. Our autos can’t move in this storm. We need shelter!”

A predictable ruse. She had to decide, quick, what to do. She wanted to kill these murderous thieves. It made her angry that they thought she was weak and stupid and easy to get rid of. But, more than that, she was infuriated by the possibility that it seemed to be the case. Fighting them all didn’t seem as possible as it had before they’d arrived.

“We’ve got nothing to help! Move down to Hargraves! He’s got a barn for you and your autos!” She yelled back.

“Can’t do it, widow! Now open up!” He punctuated his demand with a fist on the hardwood. She responded with a pair of blasts to the mantle above the door.

“Get off my property!”

She quickly reloaded, half expecting them to bust in. They didn’t. She heard shouting, a few of them laughing. Minutes ticked by. Nothing. She thought she heard them rummaging around in the wood shed, but the noise didn’t last long. The headlights turned off on all but one of the vehicles. There was a thump as something struck the side of the house, then the sound of a man on the roof. There was another quick knock on the door.

“Last chance, widow. Open up.”

Why were they on the roof? They couldn’t be so stupid as to think they could send a man down the chimney. But they could…

She dropped her shotgun and rushed for the flue lever. Even as she did, sticks, wrapped in hay, started to fall down into her fireplace. Ten of them landed onto the hot coals before she got it closed. She didn’t miss the significance of that. She grabbed the hearth shovel to drag them out before they caught and smoked her out. But the entirety of their plan hadn’t completed.

Gasoline poured down the chimney, around the flue, and ignited her fireplace in an explosive splash.

Candice’s sleeve caught on fire. She backed away from the blaze, patting out the flames on her arm. The room was quickly filling with smoke. There was a crash and her front door slammed open. The man who’d knocked it down fell forward onto the floor. She ran for her gun. A second man followed the first, barging in. She got to the shotgun, raised it, and fired as he swung his arm at her, knocking the shot wide. He grabbed the barrel and shoved it upwards. She fired again, and he hit her in the face.

She fell backwards and scurried toward the stone wall. Figure after figure, dark silhouettes in the lantern haze, entered her home. She heard a gun cock.

“No.” Said a voice. “No bullets, you idiot.”

“Dead is dead.”

The man nearest her was pulled back and shoved toward the door. “Hardly. Now put that away and go get the ropes. Bag her. And somebody open that damn flue!”

They came for her. She punched, and kicked, to no avail. She counted eight of them and knew there were no more outside. She’d seen the Eight of Swords. They rolled her over onto her belly, put a sack on her head, and bound her hands. All around her she heard boots on the floor, stomping and creaking. She hadn’t realized how big of a find Davis must have made if it warranted this kind of attention.

“You two know what to do. Make sure she’s not too hard to find, maybe out by their dig, then come back here. We’ll spend the night then double check it’s done in the morning.”

Rough hands picked her up and carried her out into the bluster. Without her coat, in just her dress, the wind was brutal. They dragged her out past the stream, up through the boulder strewn trail and across a small footbridge. One of the men stopped.

“I’m freezing. Let’s just put her here, under the bridge. People will think she slipped or somethin’.”

“We were supposed to go further.” He gave her a rough tug, trying to get them moving again.

“We were supposed to leave her in a good spot. This is better. It makes more sense. Maybe she was coming down here for some water, tripped, fell down.”

The second man acquiesced. “Fine, you drag her down there.”

She stumbled down the embankment with him. She slipped on the smooth ice of the frozen stream and fell. He didn’t bother righting her and just tied the extra rope they’d left dangling from her wrist bindings to one of the support legs of the bridge.

“Just go to sleep, lady. Think of your husband.” He patted her on the shoulder and scrambled back up the incline. They re-crossed the bridge and she heard the snow crunching as they left her.

As she lay there, muscles twitching with cold, freezing to death, she found that she wasn’t really afraid; she was angry. That patronizing touch at the end, like comforting an irrational child, kept playing in her head. Is that what she was to them? As small an obstacle as some weak, unintelligent, youngster? Evidently.

She thrashed against her bindings. She managed to wiggle free of the bag on her head an almost instantly regretted it. At very least, it had been keeping her face warm. Now the wind froze her frustrated tears on her cheeks.

She tried righting herself on the ice but kept slipping. She rolled onto her back and looked up at the dark sky, the underside of the bridge, and the falling snow. She’d be damned if she died this way. There had to be a way out of it. She just had to see it. Whatever she needed to do was in those cards she’d read earlier. She just had to remember them, to interpret it right. She ignored the biting cold and tried to focus.

It was those wands. She had to comprehend their meaning. Now that she’d seen the ten kindling bundles that fell, their meaning changed. That fire, while it proved her undoing, wasn’t enough for something positioned so prominently in the read. So near to her husband. It signified a bigger blaze, something more. There had to be a connection between her husband and the flames.

She brought him to mind, rolled their happy memories together, looked for the clue. It didn’t take her long to find it. Once she had it, a plan formed in her head. She didn’t know if she’d survive the night, but she certainly knew now that she had a chance at revenge, if only she could unbind herself.

She raised her legs up and brought her boot heels down onto the ice. Over and over, she smashed the into the frozen stream. It was thick enough to bear her weight, but not a good pummeling. Her feet broke through to the freezing water. She slid into it, shimmying her body down until her hands and wrists were submerged. It was near unbearable, but once she was there, she rocked left and right, splashing wildly.

The thin rope used to bind her dragged back and forth across the edge of the ice, fraying and weakening it. She threw her weight against it; not enough. Back into the water to try again. She repeated the process, working the rope furiously, and on the second time it snapped. Her hands came free. Dripping, barely able to walk, she climbed back up the embankment and made her way into the woods.

Despite the dark and the snow, she had no trouble finding her husbands grave. She couldn’t feel her hands as she dug into the earth. She was freezing cold, but the work, digging, hunched over, warmed her some. Where once she’d felt ashamed that she hadn’t been able to bury him very deep on her own, or now she felt gratitude. After a time, she struck his belt buckle. She didn’t clear him off completely, just the area around his groin. She dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out a lighter.

Trembling, she flipped the lid up and clicked it. A warm yellow flame sprung to life.

For the first time that night she smiled. The read, the whole tarot read, finally made sense to her.

The Chariot sat before the Eight of Swords. She would put a car in neutral and barricade the door of her cabin with the eight men inside.

Below the Chariot was the Ace of Cups. She would do as they had, drain the gasoline. Only it wouldn’t be a bucket. She’d drain all three cars and douse the entire cabin.

The Tower, the card of destruction, violent change, and trouble, was the one that had warned her of their coming, that she was in danger. But now she now realized was not for her.

They would all burn. Her home would burn. Her past would burn.

She would stay warm in the glow.

Image Flash #26

Image Flash #26

5 min

It pushed, dropped, and popped his ears.

Then it was done.

“Excuse me, do you have any gum?” He asked.

She opened her purse and rummaged. It was a slick red thing. The flat sort of purse you brought on a date. It didn’t have a strap, just one of those little loopy bits meant to wrap around your wrist and dangle.

“No.” She answered.

“Thanks anyway.” She nodded and looked out the window. Harper was in the aisle seat, next to her. He supposed he could have moved to a window too, but he didn’t want to. It would seem strange. Of course, it was already strange.

He twisted toward the back of the plane, looking for the stewardess. Nothing. He tapped his finger on the arm rest. They were still ascending, not even as high as the clouds yet. It had only been a few minutes since liftoff and he couldn’t take it. He turned to the woman next to him.

“It’s not just me. This is really weird, right?”

She turned from her view outside to look at the cabin. They were the only two passengers on board. Row after row of empty seats filled the plane.

“I guess people don’t want to go where we’re going.”

“Then why’d they take off? I mean, they wouldn’t fly all the way for just a pair of tickets. That doesn’t make sense.”

She shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe one of us is very important.”

He wasn’t buying it. There had to be a good reason. Maybe the plane had to get back for servicing or something. He couldn’t imagine what sort of servicing it couldn’t have gotten in New York, but that had to be it. That made some amount of sense. Maybe it was a scheduling thing.

“Well, anyway, I guess our seat assignments don’t really matter with all these empty seats.” He unbuckled his belt and started to get up. “I’ll give you your space.”

“Look.” She said, pointing out the window.

He leaned over, to see what she was pointing at. He was acutely aware of how close this brought him to her body and he studiously avoided looking at her. She was beautiful; a petite woman with deep red hair that was almost brown. She had circular black framed glasses with bright eyes behind them. It came across as an intentional attempt to make her look older. She was no child, but attractiveness is often associated with the young. He suspected the glasses, and her classy dress and purse, were intended to convey competency. She didn’t want to be judged on her looks. He discovered that he was doing his best to meet her unspoken desire even though they’d never met. He didn’t look at her body. He looked where she wanted.

The sun was setting. It was a massive orange orb on the horizon. At this altitude, it seemed impossibly big. Distortions from the window glass caused amber streaks of light to prism in his vision. Black dots. Blind spots.

“It’s pretty.”

She kept looking at it. “Is it? You don’t have to move. I don’t mind the company.”

This surprised him. “Well, all right then. I certainly wouldn’t mind it either.”

She didn’t say anything else. He reached into the fold in the seat in front of him and pulled out the in-flight magazine. It was almost entirely adds for resorts and luggage. There was a article on Georgia peanuts. As if the planes served peanuts anymore. He looked up and down the aisle again, looking for a stewardess. Still nothing. He hadn’t seen one since he’d boarded.

“If we ever get somebody to come around we could get a drink.” He said.

“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?” He asked.

“Ruin it.”

He cringed inside. He was suddenly aware of how he’d been mentally hoping for a fiction, acting in a way that wouldn’t eliminate the possibility, even though it was a ridiculous speculation. He didn’t like being reminded that it was all up to her. God damn it, he knew he was the supplicant. He didn’t need reminders. His temper rose a tiny bit.

“Then how about you talk.”

She shifted to face him. She looked over her glasses at him and he felt like she was really looking him over for the first time.

“I said I didn’t mind company. Since when is that the same thing as talking?”

“I just thought…”

She blew out a deep sigh. “I’m sure. It’s just not how I was hoping to spend my last trip. I’d hoped to enjoy the view, and the quiet, and perhaps to know I wasn’t alone doing it.”

“Last trip? You’re planning on staying forever, are you?”

She squinted at him. “We both are.”

He shook his head. “No, not me. I’m only going for a short trip.”

Her expression shifted into incredulity. “Do you not know where you’re going?”

“Of course I do.”

She challenged his assertion. “Where?”

Harper racked his brain. Where the hell was he going? He couldn’t for the life of him remember. She continued.

“I know exactly where I’m going and why. Maybe you should sit somewhere else after all. Perhaps think about why you’re here.”

She turned back to look at the sun. It looked even bigger, almost filling up the entire compartment, casting orange light in shafts across the cabin.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

Then he did what she wanted and moved to another seat. He sat there, looking at the back of her head, thinking, wishing things were different.

The stewardess never came. The light got brighter and brighter as they descended.

And descended.

And descended.

And descended.

line break

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Image Flash #24

Image Flash #24

I know this image isn’t something meant to be on a faraway planet in some science fiction story, but sometimes I feel like the differences between people are so vast, it might as well be.
5 min

Otalli Habn Star opened his mouth as wide as possible and inhaled deeply. He stuck out his tongue to feel the air, full in his mouth, and rolled it around. Nothing. No moisture in it. In fact, he felt the precious liquid evaporating past his lips. He closed his mouth and frowned.

It was too dry here. It might be too dry everywhere.

“Well?” Asked Sharon.

He shook his head, no. Sharon sighed heavily and followed him across the wasteland. It had been sixteen days with no luck for the three of them. Well, two actually. Binco didn’t count. Not really. Oh, sure, she talked to him, and he talked back more often than Otalli did, but he wasn’t human. She glanced behind her to make sure he was keeping up.

The robot was trudging along on the hot, packed earth, at a steady pace. His frame was made of flexible plastics, virtually unbreakable, but capable of bending under strain. He certainly was strained. The amount of gear they’d loaded onto him was more than enough to curl his legs out like a bowlegged cowboy. He looked ridiculous, piled high with water barrels, packs, and boxes. On top of it all was an angled solar panel held on with bungee straps. She was constantly convinced that he was going to fall over at any moment, but he never did. Those were some damn fine internal gyros.

“You doing okay there, Binco?” She asked.

He didn’t look up at her. “Yup yup.”

She went back to following Otalli. Not for the first time in the past weeks, she got the strange impression that while Binco was the future, following behind her, Otalli was the past, on the path ahead. He wore white robes and a turban with a colorful cloak (mostly green with rivers of rust and turquoise). He carried a long, slender stick, nearly twenty five feet long over his shoulder. She had no idea what it was for. She actually had no idea how he was even alive in the blistering heat without an environmental suit. Hers kept her surface temperature around seventy four degrees in all the places it came into contact with her, a full forty degrees cooler than the outside temp. Her face got hot, but small fans in her collar blew cold air up at her. She had on a reflective hat. If she broke a sweat, it was because she wasn’t used to walking all day, not the lethal heat. But now, weeks in, she was acclimating and even sweating wasn’t happening much anymore.

Mostly she was bored.

Those little moments when Otalli opened his mouth like a fish and looked at the sky were pretty much the highlight of the day. It meant that they were one time closer to when they’d be done. He didn’t talk to her. Didn’t look at her. Slept apart on the stone. Whatever he was eating or drinking was under his robes and she never saw it. Hell, she spent four days spying on him to see if he took a piss. He didn’t. Well, maybe he did and it just evaporated. It was pretty damn hot out.

Four hours later and he stopped to do it again. She watched him, eyes rolled back into his head, forehead aimed at the sky, tongue all the way out on his chin. Over his mouth there were heat vapors, like a mirage. It looked like he was exhaling a wavering column of water that resembled a sky colored flame. After several minutes he closed his mouth.

“Well?” Asked Sharon.

He squinted at her but didn’t shake his head no. Raising his arm he pointed his long strange stick off to the horizon on the right.

“Jesus. Are you serious?”

Otalli Habn Star arched an eyebrow at her.

“Right, right. Very serious. Got it. Okay, so, lead on.” She was surprised. A part of her had thought this would take months. Another part thought she was on a fools errand and she’d wind up a bleached skeleton in a very expensive environmental suit with a bowlegged robot tombstone.

Otalli put his hand up. Pointed to her robot, the only thing that had talked to her since they landed on this inhospitable rock, and raised a flat palm. The message was clear. No Binco.

Okay, he could stay here. She could go, get what she needed, and come back by nightfall. She shouted back at him.

“Pitch camp, Binco. Stay with the stuff.” Binko dropped gear and started setting up.

“Okay, let’s go.” Sharon said.

Otalli shook his head. He pointed to her environmental suit and put his palm up. Again, the message was clear. No suit.

“Oh, you’ve gotta be shitting me!” She said.

Otalli Habn Star was not one to shit.

She undressed. He waited until she’d removed every shred of clothing, even her shoes. The intense sunlight on her flesh felt like an actual weight. It was a hot veneer and she was certain she’d burn.

But it was worth it.

The man in robes, bearing a long stick, walked with the naked woman under the terrible sun and they left the robot behind them.