You think you had a bad day:
I hit the wrong key, wiped out
Three finished star systems,
A single hyperbolic orbit that I had worked on
For the better part of an hour,
And one sentient species. In this
Quadrant, that sets Creation back
An entire day, and all the texts
Will have to be changed to read
That rest had to wait
For the Eighth day. There was
Quite a to-do, and I thought for a while
I might be let go.
But in the end, I got some office tape
And penned a sign that reads
“Not until the Big Guy says so,”
And covered the button all the way
Around. Of course
The overtime I worked
To get new stars and planets and
And a substitute evolvable species set up
Was all off the books,
But it was a close one:
I thought I would be kicked back
To polishing haloes, feathering wings,
Encouraging unicellular organisms.
No one wants to lose a job
On the front lines like this:
I have so many creatures yet
To test out, so many plans
To put to the Boss. One
Miss-pressed key and my dreams
Shrink up like they were knocked free-fall
Into a gravity well. But,
With management’s reputation for Forgiveness,
And my skill at looking uncommonly repentant,
I’m back again to smoothing the residual anger out
Of crisp, new planetary systems, fixing the drive
In custom made dominant species.
Soon, I’ll have another fresh hyperbolic
Orbit running about in my imagination, bound
With the warmest celestial mathematics
And surfaced like wickedly loose light—
And with this one, I could just get an approval
For the angels of calculus that might divinely support it.
— Ken Poyner
Ken Poyner’s latest collection of short, wiry fiction, Constant Animals, and his latest collections of poetry—Victims of a Failed Civics and The Book of Robot—-can be obtained from Barking Moose Press at www.barkingmoosepress.com, or www.amazon.com, or Sundial Books at www.sundialbooks.net. He often serves as strange, bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs. His poetry of late has been sunning in Analog, Asimov’s, Poet Lore, The Kentucky Review; and his fiction has yowled in Spank the Carp, Red Truck, Café Irreal, Bellows American Review. www.kpoyner.com.
Editor’s Notes: Artwork is an oil painting by Sascha Grusche (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0) of conic sections, which describe possible orbits/trajectories of small objects around the Earth. A projection of these orbits (yellow) onto the gravitational potential (blue) of the Earth makes it possible to determine the orbital energy at each point in space. Isaac Newton, who proved that orbits were conic sections, is shown next to the Milky Way, our galaxy. The spectral colors symbolize different energy values, in analogy to the frequencies of light.
“I cannot linger long”
First words my selkie said to me,
Fierce eyes black as obsidian
“Lest I strangle you with seaweed
Or drown you like a sailor
Shipwrecked far out at sea.”
We made love in breaking waves;
Afterwards, I lured her home with me,
Tempting her into my bed,
Our new love slowly quickening
Three months she stayed with me . . .
A season all our own.
We embraced by the ghost-white moon;
Upon the beach in sun-struck sand
Or beneath warm, comforting covers
In my rough-timbered fisherman’s hovel—
Her passion sometimes frightening
One night it stormed, and on a rocky strand
We listened to the thunderous ocean roar—
As if the storm within her were without.
Gentler times we swam together
In a calm sheltered cove
On the leeward side of the island
The wives and mothers of our village shunned her . . .
One day her demented eyes met mine,
Black as black obsidian:
“I dare not stay another day,
Else I’ll take your breath away forever—
Bury you in the coral sand of my underwater garden
Beneath orange ornamental shells;
And turn your eyes into milky pearls
Staring blindly up from the ocean’s floor
“I must leave now; forsake your love—“
Last words my selkie said to me,
“For, as you see, I am quite mad—
As mad as the mist and the sea.”
The wind caught her words
And broke them on the rocks,
And hurled the scattered sounds
Like salt-spray on an ocean’s shore
. . . And I am torn asunder,
Mad as the mist and sea
As mad as the mist and the sea
— Kendall Evans
Kendall Evans’ stories and poems have appeared in nearly all the major science fiction and fantasy magazines, including Asimov’s SF, Analog, Abyss &Apex, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Weirdbook, Mythic Delirium, and many others. He is the author of the novel The Rings of Ganymede and a number of chapbooks, including Poetry Red-Shifted in the Eyes of a Dragon; Separate Destinations and The Tin Men (both written in collaboration with David C. Kopaska-Merkel), I Feel So Schizophrenic, the Starship’s Aft-Brain Said and In Deepspace Shadows.
Editor’s Notes: The painting, Selkie, is by Nicole Welch, created using watercolors on Arches 140lb cold press paper (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). I was inspired by the legend “about a lovely seal that shed her skin as she came upon the shore. She transformed into a beautiful woman and became a delight to the eyes of fishermen in those parts. One day a man took her seal skin as she was bathing in the shallow waters and she soon became the wife of the lonely fisherman. She spent her days as a good and loyal companion to the man until one day she found her skin and she returned to the sea as seal once again. For this was her destiny, to fill the heart of a lonely man with love and service until she was called back to the sea.”
It’s the queen he needs to appease,
stridulations scraping on his carapace.
Death might reward his gentle overtures
as he advances through her silken web.
Stridulations scraping on his carapace
make no plangent tunes for human ears
as he advances through her silken web—
his flesh a gift for children he won’t know.
Though no plangent tunes for human ears,
he sings desire to his eight-legged queen.
His flesh a gift for children he will never know,
yet he dreams of more than sacrifice.
He sings desire to his eight-legged queen,
it is she whom he needs most to appease,
yet he dreams of more than sacrifice—
death might reward his gentle overtures.
— Deborah L. Davitt
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but received her MA in English from Penn State, where she taught rhetoric and composition before becoming a technical writer in industries including nuclear submarines, NASA, and computer manufacturing. She had poems published in Silver Blade, Star*Line, and many other venues. Her short stories have appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show and Compelling Science Fiction, and her Edda-Earth novels are available on Amazon. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son, and has a history of writing affectionately about spiders, in spite of her arachnophobia. For more information, please see www.edda-earth.com.
Editor’s Notes: The brown recluse is also known as the “violin spider” because of the shape of its body. The Pantoum is accompanied with Linda Tanner’s photograph (CC 2.0) about these spiders in a mating ritual. She says, “Not unlike human females, brown recluse females require a male to impress her before he is allowed to mate with her. A male spider can do this in a few different ways. For example, during mating season, a male brown recluse usually starts its attempt at wooing a female by performing a dance. If this is not enough, the male might also bring its female of choice some food as a gift. If the female accepts the food and softens up toward the male, the start of a new family has begun. If not, the broken-hearted male takes off to find a different female.”
Horsemen in black boots shine
against the dead streets, peering in each window,
smashing in every door.
The house begins to smolder;
smoke like thick liquid rises silently and fast,
closing our ears with a flood of dark.
The yellowing stars go out
like theatergoers after a disturbing performance
stumbling in the aisles, whispering angrily.
Zeppelin angels drift overhead,
each arcing sword a roar of blue flame,
their robes ballooning with hot air.
Somnambulant, we lose our way
in baroque murals, trompe-l’oeil gardens,
a flaking fresco of falsehood and denial
whose far horizon holds an ancient ridge
of mountains, crumbling like a fossil spine.
We will cross them safely into another country.
— F.J. Bergmann F.J. Bergmann edits poetry for Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (sfpoetry.com) and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com), and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. Her chapbook A Catalogue of the Further Suns recently won the Gold Line Press manuscript competition.
Editor’s Notes: From publicdomainpictures.net, the fiery “lord of darkness” is combined with saucers and stormtroopers.
The Sandman’s Children “[W]ho is this naughty Sandman, who always drives us away from Papa?” “He is a wicked man who comes to children when they won’t go to bed… He puts their eyes in a bag and carries them to the crescent moon to feed his own children…” —E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Sandman
The moon is full of eyes,
coated with delicate
dust, a thin crust
of sifted snow.
gifts from Father
and his white canvas sack
that would rupture with a flourish,
in each of our beaks.
And while we fed,
he’d retell the story of sight:
the source of illusion,
of desire, of sin
its portals once thought
to emit their own light.
spun sugar and fire
stretching from our stomachs,
forming webs some creature
with its apertured organs.
A traveling conjecture: our lives,
our dreams, our joy!
But no more. Daddy vanished
in alien water, a stockpile
of soft spheres left behind
in every crater,
of our fear.
What powers forged
such wretched objects?
Once sweet, now they’re odium
with blades in their bellies,
that never sleep.
— Melissa Frederick
Melissa Frederick is a writer and freelance medical editor from suburban Philadelphia. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous publications, including Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM,Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, Spectral Realms, Mid-American Review, Mithila Review, Heron Tree and is forthcoming in Oxford Poetry. Her chapbook, She, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2008. Follow her on Twitter at @msficklereader.
Editor’s Notes: The associated image by Johanna Öst (http://www.johannaost.com)
used with permission, “speaks” to German story by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776–1822). He wrote an inverse depiction in 1816 of the lovable character in a story called Der Sandmann, which showed how sinister such a character could be made. According to the protagonist’s nurse, he threw sand in the eyes of children who wouldn’t sleep, with the result of those eyes falling out and being collected by the Sandman, who then takes the eyes to his iron nest on the Moon, and uses them to feed his children. The protagonist of the story grows to associate this nightmarish creature with the genuinely sinister figure of his father’s associate Coppelius. In Romanian folklore there is a similar character, Mos Ene (Ene the Elder). (Cited from Wikipedia.)
‘It will be as if, in the place of the stars, I had given you a great
number of little bells that knew how to laugh . . . I, too, shall
look at the stars. All the stars will be wells with a rusty pulley.
All the stars will pour out fresh water for me to drink . . . What
makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that
somewhere it hides a well . . .’
—Antoine de Saint Exupéry, translated from the French by Katherine Woods
Every day I try to speak. I used to know
How to move lips and gums and teeth, tongue striking hard
To shape a sentence—or a smile. Signs recognized,
Though wordless, fail me too: I think I dream, sometimes,
By the window, watching cars, waiting, willing you home.
You don’t notice the longing in my eyes—green
Like the sea, the green you drank deep
Each time we stayed at the old house by the lake,
Pumping the well first thing every morning,
Black iron handle giving a sharp creak. The last time
We tasted that mossy, stone-soaked water, you fell asleep
Reading, dreaming in the sun. Pyewacket slipped her leash,
Ran down the beach, paws taking in tiny stones,
Siamese fur a blur at dusk, eyes gleaming bright
Green like the lights across the shore. Time was
We’d sit on the green bench all night, heads
On each other’s shoulders, watching stars,
Glassy-eyed Pyewacket winking as she purred
her own rumbling rhythm on our laps.
That evening she ran free, she never came home.
She had slept with me since a kitten, so familiar, yet
She’d come to me a mystery; tamed me with feline magic,
Her chirps a witch’s charms that only I understood.
When you woke up, I was out walking, and you crawled,
Frantic, calling, under the house, your trousers muddy,
Your lime shirt sprinkled with cobwebs. She wasn’t trapped
Under the boat. She didn’t bob against the dock,
Caught in your fishing lines like a magical carp.
She was gone, her vanishing act as mysterious
As her arrival. I cried bitter water.
Two days later, I went rowing without you
Around the dangerous bluff, missing her,
Blaming you. The currents tore an oar away.
Waves smashed a log into the boat.
I love the water but never learned to swim.
Drowning, I looked up toward heaven, the deep
Green weeds tangling my feet, green water rippling overhead,
Green leaves framing a sky so far away. At least the stars
Twinkled to me, purring with furry light, while I lay waiting
In a deep as dark as sleep, listening to their voices
Singing like tiny Siamese meows,
Enraptured, snared by dreams, drinking our story.
Now I sit curled beside your feet,
Struggling to say your name. You read my
Anxious look as a cat’s plea for affection.
We talk of nothing, but share a bed
As warm, as close, as lonely as before.
— Adele Gardner
With a master’s in English literature, Adele Gardner has twice won third place in the Rhysling Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Her publications include a poetry collection (Dreaming of Days in Astophel) as well as 225 poems and 40 stories in venues such as Legends of the Pendragon, The Doom of Camelot, Strange Horizons, American Arts Quarterly, Silver Blade, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Two stories and a poem earned honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Adele also serves as literary executor for her father and mentor, Delbert R. Gardner. Learn more at www.gardnercastle.com.
Editor’s Notes: The free wallpaper image (Gambar Bintang – Pemandangan Luar Angkasa/Star Pictures – View Space) of a nebula is matted by a stock photo of beautiful clear pool water reflecting in the sun (Fedor Selivanov).
Noldor women, elven men
in the slow, sonorous music of stone
learned from the dwarrow
of the halls of Khazad-dûm?
In the moonlight you coax,
the precious fumes of molten mithril
slowly, so slowly,
out of moonlit, starlit mist
with words of thrumming power.
So much effort for so little!
But the artisans require it
for a project worthy of Fëanor himself.
And over several misty evenings
the small basin fills.
The weather clears.
The forge-fire dies.
When Celebrimbor inspects their basin,
And passes his hand above the harvested ithildin
It causes the contents of the bowl to shine like stars,
reflecting Elbereth’s glory,
glow as if moonlight shimmered on water.
“What word will unlock its power, my lord?”
Asks a smelter-singer, with a respectful bow.
Celebrimbor’s eyes lift to the lambent snows
above the dwarrowdelf, and he smiles.
“Friend. The inlay is for a door to our friends.”
— Wendy S. Delmater
Wendy S. Delmater is a writer, poet, and the long-time editor of Hugo-nominated Abyss & Apex Magazine. Recent publication credits include short stories and poetry in *Star Line*, Silver Blade, The Singularity magazine, and Illumen. Her new poetry chapbook Plant a Garden Around Your Life can be found on Amazon.
Authors’ Notes: J.R.R. Tolkien drew heavily on Nordic myths in his mythology of elves. So it felt fitting to have a Nordic translation of an origins story for the Doors of Mordor from the happier time when Hollin (Eregion, in elvish) was under the dominion of the high elves who had come from Elvenhome to Middle Earth. The linguistic challenge of writing this poem in a similar style to Tolkien’s verse while staying within the confines of Norwegian, which has very few words, were considerable, but we believe that the results are worth it.
Margrét Helgadóttir (translated into Norwegian)
den langsomme, dype musikken i sten
lært fra dwarrowene
i Khazad-dûms haller?
I måneskinnet lokker du,
de dyrebare partiklene fra smeltet mithril
sakte, så sakte,
ut av månelys, stjerneklar skodde
med ord av trommende styrke.
Så mye kraft for så lite!
Men håndverkerne krever det
for et prosjekt verdig selveste Fëanor.
Og over flere tåkefulle kvelder
fylles de små bollene.
Når Celebrimbor undersøker deres balje,
Og lar sin hånd gli over den høstede ithildin
Får det innholdet i bollen til å skinne som stjerner,
gjenspeiling av Elbereth’s herlighet,
glødende som månelysets skimmer på vann.
“Hvilket ord vil låse opp dets makt, min herre?”
Spør en smelter sanger med et respektfullt bukk.
Celebrimbors øyne løftes til den hvitstrålende snøen
over Dwarrowdelf og han smiler
«Venn. Innstøpningen er for en dør til våre venner.»
— Margrét Helgadóttir
Margrét Helgadóttir is a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and anthology editor (African Monsters, Asian Monsters) living in Oslo. Her stories have appeared in a number of both magazines and print anthologies such as In flight literary magazine, Gone Lawn, Luna Station Quarterly, Tales of Fox and Fae and Girl at the End of the World. Her debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away was published by UK-based Fox Spirit Books in 2015 and was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award in 2016. http://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com/
Editor’s Notes: Ithildin was a substance made by the Elves out of the metal mithril and used by the Gwaith-i-Mírdain in constructions such as gateways. Ithildin could only be seen by the reflected light of the Moon and stars, and even then remained hidden until a “magic” word was said. The designs on the Doors of Durin were made from this substance. In the legendarium, Gandalf translated ithildin as “starmoon”.
Tolkien stated that ithildin is a Sindarin name, meaning “moon-star(light)”, “moonlight” or “starlight.” The word contains the elements Ithil (“moon”) + tin/tîn (“spark; star; twinkle of stars”). He noted that the correct Sindarin form should be ithildim .
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, “A Journey in the Dark”
 J.R.R. Tolkien, “Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings”, in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 39, 66
(Cited from Tolkien Gateway)
The composite image was stimulated by the line, “bowl to shine like stars”: a crystal bowl superimposed with an abstract radiant light source.
Most nights, you mention him,
the ghosts rise from the cypress
come back to wail and moan.
Haints all look the same,
can’t tell the whites from the Brothers,
‘cause the war took every one alike,
and some still stick around.
It’s been nigh fifty years, Granpappy say,
back when it was the Civil War,
and that man with crazy eyes came through—
old General Sherman and his men
took our food, our mules,
even our women along the way,
burning and blazing every field,
cotton or corn or sugar cane,
telling us we join up
so’s we’d be free, that’s what they said.
Granpappy almost starved,
beings how the soldiers got the food
and only scraps for the Brothers that survived;
still more drowned at Ebeneezer Creek
trying so hard to keep up,
a-marching straight to hell,
all the while still being slaves,
no better than the Reb’s to them.
But them haints, General Sherman,
they all look the same.
— Marge Simon
Marge Simon has won the Strange Horizons Readers Choice Award, the Bram Stoker Award™ (2008, 2012, 2013), the Rhysling Award and the Dwarf Stars Award. More at margesimon.com
Editor’s Notes: The superposition of solider statues on the base of the William T. Sherman Memorial in President’s Park (Washington, DC) in silhouette on a photograph of cypress trees (by blackmagic), all rendered in a ghostly sepia, complements the poem.
I know it is only a synthetic shell:
False skin grown in a sterile plasma farm, sold
By the yard, shipped cold, pathogen-free, and
Uniform. Beneath it, there is an ordered consistency
Of gel pre-molded, and mechanistic mysteries
Indifferently coiled and calibrated
Against the entire range of tolerances
The present gravity and rhythm can stew up.
Deeper, there is a nano-carbon chassis,
Micro-motors, and anabiotic pulleys; with a battery
Compartment smack in the middle
Of that oh so wonderful abdomen.
I’ve seen them coming off the production
Line: each private run of dozens to hundreds
Meticulously customized to the purchaser’s core need.
Imagine what stories there might be
If that sex-slinging gyndroid were fashioned
Of real, sweating, sinfully sugared flesh:
If her back could truly counter twist like that;
And if her cutthroat breasts had come with evolution,
And not simply been disgorged
From a frustrated engineer’s late night fantasy.
Imagine: the orgasmic gymnastics
She and I as a fighting pair might accomplish,
Making any not-as-lucky ordinary man in sympathy
Glow sadism green and blue electric envious—
Eyes bruised beyond simple focus and his tongue
Acid-flat against a uselessly unclasped jaw.
When she’s done with me, I might find
My soul stuck in neutral, my condition brother to that of
Ordinary robots—robots terminally returned, once their wickedly
Thin effective service life has drearily expired:
Obedient, uncaring, and willingly scrapped for reusable parts.
— Ken Poyner
Ken Poyner’s latest collection of short, wiry fiction, Constant Animals, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, at www.barkingmoosepress.com, or Amazon at www.amazon.com. He often serves as strange, bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs, where she is one of the most celebrated female power lifters of all time. His poetry of late has been sunning in Analog, Asimov’s, Poet Lore, The Kentucky Review; and his fiction has yowled in Spank the Carp, Red Truck, and Café Irreal, Bellows American Review.
Editor’s Notes: The image, “Android Legacy,” was created by Oliver Wetter / Ars Fantasio (Deviant Art) in collaboration with photographer Louis Konstantinou and model Gianna Vlachou. (Copyright notice and disclaimer: You are welcome to share my work or repost it.)
The right kind of night for
a theatre of the dark absurd,
an enchanted evening’s folly
of murder most foul.
Shadows were gathering,
in the salon, the greenhouse,
the library of countless shelves,
dread passions soon released
in the night, voices raised
in anger, three screams,
the barking of a dog.
Morning would find
blood in the back garden,
a scimitar discarded
on the study floor,
the stoked remnants
of belladonna dreams
in the sunlit haze
of the unaired rooms.
On the screened porch
the chairs and tables
tossed this way and that,
broken glass and the
residue of spilt drinks
scattered across the tiles.
Bodies would be
trucked to the morgue
in the county meat wagon,
thick with the scents
of death and horror.
By noon of the next day
the slaughter and wreckage
will have streamed away,
furniture properly placed,
dead bodies resurrected,
shifting shadows restored,
prepared for one more
dark enchanted evening
of murder most foul.
— Bruce Boston
Bruce Boston is the author of more than fifty books and chapbooks. His writing has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov’s Readers Award, a Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling and Grandmaster Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. His latest collection, Resonance Dark and Light, is available from most online booksellers. bruceboston.com
Editor’s Notes: Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol (The Theatre of the Great Puppet was a theatre in the Pigalle area of Paris (1897 -1962) specializing in naturalistic horror shows, often graphic and amoral popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. (See Wikipedia for more discussion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Guignol