Stories

Click the story title or cover to read some of the story online or get access to an ebook version of the story.


1. The Fifty-Minute Nietzsche

Peter rushed into the classroom and fell onto a seat at the bottom of the horseshoe of tables aimed at the professor. Pulling a three-ring binder from his rain-soaked bag, he squeezed his toes in the wet lining of his shoes and wished he could be somewhere else. The professor had just begun his lecture, poised in front of the blackboard with his wrinkled notes in his right hand. He cleared his throat noisily in Peter’s direction and started again.

  • Available as an ebook at Smashwords and Amazon.
  • First published in Windhover, May 1996. My first story publication!

2. Siding the House

I love summer because I get to ride my bike and run races all day with my best friend Toshera from down the road and I can stay outside until Grandma yells me in for supper.  Grandma hasn’t got any teeth and her lips look like she’s eating them when she talks in her crinkly old voice.  But I listen to her because she’s smart and she’s not afraid to tan my hide if I run away from her.

It’s getting sweaty in my bed so I roll out of it when I hear Grandma thumping around the house.  The hot air is still stuck in my room even though I have a fan in the window and it’s blowing in on me and Mama.  She lets me sleep on the bed most of the time because she says she’d rather have the floor.

  • Available as an ebook at Smashwords and Amazon.
  • First published in Obsidian II, November 1997.

3. Fences

Canton woke with a gasp, his ears cold and the taste of metal in his mouth from the worn-out space heater two feet away from his bed.  It must have dropped below freezing again, he thought, staring at the scratches of frost crisscrossing the two mismatched windows of the guest house.  The bedroom he left behind five years ago had been offered to him on an almost daily basis since his return home, but Canton couldn’t share a roof with anyone else right now.  He needed the space – such as it was in his parents’ eight-by-ten renovated storage shed – that the guest house offered.  It wouldn’t be much longer until he was back on his feet again.

  • Available as an ebook at Smashwords and Amazon.
  • Honorable Mention story, O. Henry Festival Stories, March 1998.

4. Waiting for Joey

Chris Simpson walked out of the diner without eating, leaving his wife behind.  The look on Ellie’s face when he left her had been priceless, he thought to himself as he climbed behind the wheel of his truck.  Why, he thought to himself, should a woman be surprised when her husband gives her a big old kiss and walks away?  He maneuvered through the light traffic of early afternoon Goldsboro, singing softly along with the radio, and stopped the truck in front of Gregson’s Hardware.  He sat in silence with his hand on the door, his good feeling draining away as he faced the challenges of the day ahead of him.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in PIF Magazine, November 1999.

5. Unplugged

I’m on the front porch of Rubin’s place, staring across the lawn at the silent cars slashing past, feeling old and empty inside, when the new guy walks out.  He’s got the cowboy twitch, the uncontrolled jerk of the head to the right or left, that all of us have when we first arrive here.  I suddenly want to scratch the back of my head, down at the base, but I fight the impulse.  The new guy sits next to me, sighs, then pulls his head up suddenly.  It goes down and up again three times before I look away.  Nobody likes watching someone else short circuit.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon or Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Science Fiction Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in SpaceWays Weekly, January 2000.
  • Reprinted at ShadowKeep, September 2000.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.

6. A Simple Way to Pass the Time (aka Comfort and Joy)

Two things, and two things only, kept Lew Zimmerman from quitting his job at the toy factory.  The first was driving Marty Thier to and from work.  Marty stood five foot nine inches tall and weighed two hundred and thirty pounds and hadn’t cut his hair since high school, facts that the rail-thin, clean-cut Lew worked into as many insults and verbal pokes as he could on their weekday trips together.  The only other time Lew and Marty saw one other outside of work was by chance – no dropping by one of the town’s thirteen taverns for a couple of beers together, no shooting pool, no pickup softball games at the town park. That was the kind of friends they were.

  • Available as an ebook as “Comfort and Joy” at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in New Works Review, March 2000.

7. Wrecked (long version)

I saw it all happen when I came around a tight, tight corner on a narrow two-lane north of Chapel Hill.  I wouldn’t have been there at all if I hadn’t skipped work, just kept on driving past the school where I was supposed to be a substitute teacher that day.  What I saw was a car, a little red Festiva with a taillight already broken out, get caught on the lip of the road, jerk to the right, and plow down a steep embankment into the ditch.  A part of me, the same part that made me cut out on my job, wanted to keep going and not get my lucky green shirt dirty, but when I saw a hand reach out of the punched-in passenger side, I pulled over and stopped.

  • Available as an ebook (containing both long and short versions!) at Smashwords and Amazon.
  • First published at ShallowEND, March 2000.

8. Wrecked (short version)

  • Available as an ebook (containing both long and short versions!) at Smashwords and Amazon.
  • First published in The Raleigh News & Observer’s Sunday Reader, March 2000.

9. Peterson & Son Automotive

Every day except Sunday I worked from four in the afternoon until one in the morning with a man I called Pop, even though he wasn’t really my father.  He was the guy my mother married when I was two.  Pop and I changed oil, rotated tires, and replaced clogged air filters for the people who were too busy to bring their cars in during the normal workday.  It was Pop’s idea to be open at night, since he liked to watch the stories during the day.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at 3 AM Publishing, June 2000.

10. Mud and Salt

Skin followed Georgie and Matt out of the pickup, his entire body shivering despite the three layers of clothing he wore.  Outside the truck, the early-morning November air was crisp, with just a hint of wind that seeped through his camouflage jacket.  Skin felt Matt watching him in the semi-darkness, making his shoulder blades itch until Georgie slapped him on the back and handed him a rifle.  Once all three were armed, they stood in an empty field a mile from the abandoned Omaha Indian reservation.  According to the guy in the bar last night, the alien had been seen in the area the previous afternoon.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in Writers of the Future 16, September 2000.
  • Reprinted in Why I Hate Aliens, January 2004.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha and in The Wannoshay Cycle.

11. Winter Hunt

In the early morning darkness, Brad Koopman stepped into the tracks his older William made in the snowy hay field, his smaller boots fitting easily into each hole.  William had taken the lead automatically, and his broad back deflected most of the bitter Iowa wind, also making it easier for Brad to move.  The two brothers walked in silent gray darkness toward the trees as bands of red light filled the sky above them.  Their father was deep in the woods, waiting for deer.

  • Available as an ebook at Smashwords and Amazon.
  • First published at The Stirring, July 2000.
  • Reprinted at Climate Controlled, October 2002.

12. Breathing Trouble

Five bottles of dollar-fifty beer had come and gone in front of me when I saw her glide into the bar and sit at a booth behind me.  Above the bar, the Budweiser horses circled around and around, pulling their plastic wagons of beer into infinity.  In my peripheral vision, she moved like time passing, smooth and solitary, wearing a white T-shirt tucked into faded jeans.  I limited my sidelong glance at her to exactly one second.  Then I went back to my increasingly difficult job of watching the plastic workhorses turn in their lighted globe.    

Just taking another breath became hard labor on muggy nights like tonight, and it had been a long, desolate night already.  It was eleven o’clock.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at The Pedestal Magazine, December 2000.

13. Crossing the Camp

At the west entrance to the detainment camp, government workers string another layer of wire against the wall.  It uncoils through human hands like a metal snake without a head.  I tell Jaime Mundo, my new trainee, that the fence will be electrified by the time we leave tonight.  He nods, fingers twitching for rosary beads that aren’t there, and I force a smile his way.  We pass the guard house and enter the camp.  He’s going to have to learn quickly.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon or Smashwords.
  • First published at Strange Horizons, January 2001.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 19.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha and in The Wannoshay Cycle.

14. One Night in Rosecroft

After hearing stories about it from his drinking buddies for the past five years, Grant Krantzmeier decided that tonight would be the night he finally joined up.

“Everyone’s in it,” his old buddy Tony Anthony had said the previous afternoon, already four beers ahead of Grant and not even showing it, despite being a hair over five feet tall.  “Unless you have some sort of problem.”

  • First published in The Witching Hour, February 2001.
  • Reprinted in a six-book bundled ebook, “Halloween Six-Pack,” available from Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.

15. Scotty’s Song

After his fourth straight night without sleep, Montgomery Scott could hear the music throbbing in his bones and echoing in his ears.  It filled his chest with both sorrow and the too-familiar tightness of unrelenting stress.  The recorded song, piped into the makeshift operations center Scotty had set up in the Enterprise’s cargo bay, rose to a sudden crescendo.  He looked up from the mess of sensors, gauges, and readouts in the cargo bay and fervently wished he were somewhere else.

  • First published in Strange New Worlds IV, May 2001.

16. Explosions

Of course everyone blames the aliens.  But they were working right up until ten minutes before the blast, that’s what really bothers me, and that’s what makes me think it was all just bad timing.  Bad timing for Janna and me, too, when I stop and think about it.  We’d be long gone from here if it hadn’t been for the Wannoshay.  Now I’m out of work, we’ve moved everything out of our apartment once again, and the investigators are asking me what I know.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at Strange Horizons, July 2001.
  • Reprinted in The Best of Strange Horizons, October 2004.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha and in The Wannoshay Cycle.

17. What Was Left Standing

We started the fires at dusk.  Jockey pushed the loose trees together with the bulldozer’s blade, and the downed trees in a pile looked like broken bones.  Our foreman soaked the first pile with gas, and when he lit a match his hand was surrounded for half a second by fire.  It must have been the fumes in the air.  Half an hour later, the sixteen piles were burning and everyone else had left but me.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at The Pedestal Magazine, August 2001.

18. After the Storm

When the wind knocked over the first tree with a crack like a bone snapping, Ellie was already awake to hear it.  Peeling herself off the cushions of their vinyl couch, she pried open the screen door.  Her bare arms, covered in sweat, prickled with goosebumps at the sound of hissing trees and the skittering bits of garbage being tossed across the front lawn.  It could turn into a hurricane, she thought.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in The Raleigh News & Observer’s Sunday Reader, November 2001.

19. A Feast at the Manor

Outside the Manorhouse Hotel, Rob Heying and his big, beautiful wife tried to catch their breath in the desert air.  He felt like his lungs were melting into so much taffy, while Melinda simply moaned with each exhalation.  The airport taxi motored off, pushing hot air onto them with a foul whiff of exhaust, a cruel imitation of a breeze.  The driver of the taxi hadn’t stopped yammering on and on about the Barringer Meteorite Crater – “It’s only ten miles from here!” he’d shouted back at them over the blasting radio – and how they had to visit it before they left.  Rob just hoped his heart wouldn’t give out and leave his body floundering on the hot sidewalk of the hotel next to his wheezing wife.  There wouldn’t be time for sightseeing on this trip.

  • Available as an ebook from Amazon.
  • First published at NeverWorlds, February 2002.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 16.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.
  • Reprinted in The Fat Man at the End of the World, November 2008.

20. Working the Game

I knew it was going to be a bad day when I saw the scrag almost get cut in half twenty minutes after work began.

I was working on a crew off Hodges Street, a mile from the wall that separated us from the rest of Raleigh.  I’d been on the job for eighteen days now.  For my first two weeks, the oldest workers — the ones with years of breakdown and restructuring in their hands and backs and legs — constantly watched me for any hint of weakness in the chilly fall air.  For all of them, half an instant’s distraction could mean a painful, crushing death.  So I showed up early and worked late with the rest of them, and they were starting to trust me.  I was finally working the game.

  • Available as an ebook at Smashwords and Amazon.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Science Fiction Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published at Future Orbits, April 2002.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 20.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.
  • Translated to Russian and reprinted in Russian magazine Esli.

21. Natural Order

They picked me up outside Wilmington, North Carolina, just before the rain began, but not before the gale-force winds blew the cigarette out of my mouth.  In the dark, I touched the fresh pack of Camels in my coat pocket with relief, feeling more tired than usual.  But as long as I had my smokes and my ride, the wind and the rain didn’t bother me.  That was just my nature.  In a matter of speaking.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Dark Fantasy Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 2002.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 20.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.
  • Available as an audio podcast from Escape Pod, April 2006.
  • Reprinted in Polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka, 2006.
  • Reprinted in the Relief Anthology The Fleas They Carried, May 2009.

22. Visions of Suburban Bliss

Richard Tolliver was proud of the fact that his was the first black family to move into the Olde Carriage Ridgewood subdivision in Cary, North Carolina.  His job as an electrical engineer at Implement Telecom in the Research Triangle Park, nestled between the three cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, had allowed him to spring past his childhood neighbors from the housing projects of Southwest Raleigh.  Many of his old neighbors were still living there, either working one to two hourly, minimum-wage jobs, or working the streets, hustling crack or coke or bags of pot.  They’d all been going nowhere fast, Richard knew.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Dark Fantasy Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published at Gothic.Net, June 2002.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 16.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.

23. Mother of the Bride

The knocking started again.  It was the groom, and he wanted to see her.  I checked the lock on the bedroom door and ignored him, touching the perfectly molded shape of my hairdo.  Smoothing down the powder-blue front of my new dress, I hoped my makeup covered the scar on my chin.  I told myself again, for the twentieth time that night, that I didn’t need a nip from my flask to calm me.

The groom was shouting through the door now.  Didn’t he know a lady needs her time to prepare for a night like tonight?

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at HorrorFind, July 2002.

24. Wantaviewer

Alissa Trang couldn’t keep herself away from the Winnipeg slum.  She called in sick for her evening shift behind the counter at CanTechWorld once again and hitched a ride up Highway 3 into the city.  For the entire ride from Sanford to Winnipeg, she kept her mouth clamped shut to keep from screaming at the old man driving the antique Saab to go faster.  Faster.  Everything was too slow for her when Ally wasn’t using Blur.  She would’ve borrowed her housemate’s car, but she didn’t trust herself to drive after a visit to Jenae’s in the bad part of the city.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at Strange Horizons, September 2002.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 20.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha and in The Wannoshay Cycle.

25. Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies

People stopped coming to the North Carolina coast when the dead returned to the beach after four decades away.  Got to the point where folks couldn’t sit outside their own beachside trailers with a case of Bud without some rotting corpse staggering up and asking for directions to the cemetery or the bars or the bait shop, the whole time smelling like spoiled tuna.  They killed us for most of the entire tourist season before we realized what they were up to and actually did something about ‘em.  Goddamn zombies.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon or Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Dark Fantasy Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in The Book of More Flesh, October 2002.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 16.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.
  • Reprinted in The Best of All Flesh, December 2009.

26. Comfort and Joy

Two things, and two things only, kept Lew Zimmerman from quitting his job at the toy factory.  The first was driving Marty Thier to and from work.     The second thing that kept Lew from quitting was his desire to get under Marty’s skin during their fifteen-minute trip through their sleepy hometown before and after work.  So far, after over two years of riding together, Lew hadn’t even come close to denting Marty’s round, peaceful exterior.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in The Raleigh News & Observer’s Sunday Reader, December 2002.

27. Gunning for the Buddha

We killed the Buddha for the first time outside of Berlin.

It was fitting that we caught sight of him walking barefoot next to the autobahn, where it would be a real bitch to stop in time to pick him up.  But we were nothing if not up for a challenge.  I brought our ’75 Firebird screeching to a stop next to him on the narrow shoulder, giving him a few centimeters of breathing room between muscle car and blocky metal guardrail, and opened the passenger door.  Traffic screamed past us like bullets as the little man lifted his robes and stepped into the car.  With a groan, Ari had jumped into the back and onto Marco’s lap, crushing Annina, Marco, and Yeshev.  The Buddha rode shotgun.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon or Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Dark Fantasy Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published at S1ngularity, March 2003.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 17.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.
  • Reprinted at Farrago’s Wainscot, 2007.

28. The Deck

Jerry Lassiter had circled the top fifteen floors of the Deck twice in his new Ford Slipstream SL without finding a single space to park.  He glanced at the holo-clock floating in the right-hand corner of his spectacles.  7:54 a.m.  He had six minutes to find a place to leave his ultracompact car and get to the tubes so they could whisk him through the nineteen blocks to his job at Accounttaxtech.  He wasn’t going to make it.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Science Fiction Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published at Windhover, May 2003.

29. Riverrun Alley

In the ramshackle slum of Riverrun Alley, just east of the City of All-Worlds, winter started early and stayed longer than an uninvited guest, and Tockle the otherworlder was beginning to doubt he’d ever see spring.  Perched on the edge of his sleeping mat, he tried to remember a day in his new world without bitter cold and searing wind.  But the tall blue being from Quantock was cursed with a painfully short memory, and he couldn’t remember what he had eaten last night, much less what life had been like before he entered the Portal that led to Subaridon.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at MarsDust, July 2003.

30. The Disillusionist

I was a day behind him, riding west as fast as my horse would allow.  He held my future in his rotting, trembling hands, though neither of us knew it then.

Until my deputization just fifteen days ago, I had been flailing and floundering with the direction of my life like a tired man in deep water.  I left Kentucky years ago, traveling to Orleans and Illinois, searching for something more from life, knowing I needed to do my part for my country.  This nomadic life came hard on the heels of my defeat for the Illinois General Assembly, which in its turn followed the nightmare of the Black Hawk War.  It was the summer of 1834, and I was twenty-five.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available in a six-story bundled ebook, “Halloween Six-Pack,” available from Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in Would That It Were, August 2003.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 17.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.

31. Never, Incorporated

Little Adolf spent the morning dropping business cards face-down throughout the miles of halls connecting the eight office buildings.  Breath hissing from his hairy mouth, he darted up and down the sedate beige corridors, never leaving two cards within sight of another.  Downward-staring employees saddled with shiny plastic badges walked around him, avoiding his short, hunch-backed figure.  Ade soon got rid of all two hundred and fifty-seven white cards, the embossed black letters still redolent of fresh ink.

  • First published at Flytrap, October 2003.
  • Reprinted in a six-storybundled ebook, “Halloween Six-Pack,” available from Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.

32. Helljack (with Tim Pratt)

They hijacked the train somewhere in the Rockies.  Janis had been looking forward to the slow crawl through snowy passes, the fat flakes drifting past the windows.  So far the long ride from Missouri had been surprisingly pleasant — she’d met people to play cards with, the food was palatable, and, because of the years she’d spent as a nurse, she could sleep anywhere.  Not as opulent as the historical Orient Express she’d read about, perhaps, but good enough for Janis.

  • First published in H.P. Lovecraft’s Horror Magazine, November 2003.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction(!) vol. 22.

33. Coal Ash and Sparrows

Lina Seymour had been putting off going into the barn all day.  Less than a week ago, the doctor had come to tell her, her mother, and her younger sister about her father’s fall from the church roof.  Daddy had been working with a crew of three other men, trying to finish shingling the roof of the new Petersburg church before a storm blew up.  The rickety old wooden ladder on which he’d been standing had given way when he reached for a fistful of shingles.  He lingered for almost four days, his face and body swollen and unfamiliar in the back room of the doctor’s office.  Then two days ago he simply let out a long sigh and never drew in another breath.

  • Now available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Dark Fantasy Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, January 2004.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 22.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror vol. 18.
  • Reprinted in Gunning for the Buddha.
  • Reprinted in Cornstalk Gypsies, October 2008.
  • A prequel of sorts to my novel A Sudden Outbreak of Magic.

34. Remainders

Jaret Lazarus forced his eyes to remain open as the Pantheron burned through the entry atmosphere of Socorro.  He rested his hand on his upper thigh, a few centimeters from the two rows of five buttons on his belt.  The interior of the ship smelled like rotting fruit, sulphur, and sweat, thanks to the proximity of the members of his squadron.  He shifted his weight, pulling his gut free from where his belt always pinched his skin, and yawned.  He’d never been to Socorro, but he knew it had been one of the first colonized human planets outside of the original solar system.  As a man with a past he’d rather forget, Jaret cared little for history.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as the five-story ebook bundle “Science Fiction Five-Pack” (save $2 off buying the stories individually!) at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • Second prize-winner in the SF Reader annual contest, published there in February 2004.

35. Repeat Performance

  • Too saucy to ever be available as an ebook!
  • First published at Fishnet, July 2004.

36. Redemption, Drawing Near

There were armed soldiers in Father Joshua’s church again.

As he went through the familiar, almost unconscious movements of the morning Mass, Joshua McDowell did his best to ignore them. The four soldiers were nearly invisible anyway, thanks to their nano-fiber camouflage fatigues. Taking a deep breath, Joshua continued with that day’s reading: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come. Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in Interzone, August 2004.
  • Reprinted in The Wannoshay Cycle.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 22.

37. An Outrider’s Tale

After the short, lopsided battle, as the younger warriors hauled the dead bandits out of the old castle, the man known only as Seeker carried a bottle of dark wine over to where the outrider known only as Fist sat, alone.

Though the Code forbade him to ask the history of another outrider, Seeker needed to know the man’s story.  Now that the fighting was over, his goal was to loosen the tongue of the big, scarred man.  Night had fallen, yet the moon shone brightly through holes in the ruined roof of the tower.  Seeker’s eyes had been trained, in his first life, to see perfectly in pitch-black night, but when he stepped up next to where Fist rested, he doubted what his eyes saw.

The big man was cradling in his hands a perfect red rose.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as part of the High Fantasy Four-Pack, a four-story ebook bundle of fantasy stories (save a dollar!) from Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in Gunning for the Buddha, January 2005.
  • Honorable Mention, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, volume 19

38. Black Angels

In an abandoned graveyard on the outskirts of a small Midwestern city, on his ninety-seventh birthday, a slender man stood in front of a slab of concrete and wished for death.

He pulled the hood of his gray coat tighter around his head, hiding his unlined face.  Tomorrow the workers would tear out the slab, all that remained of the obsolete cemetery.  He stood in front of the statue’s base as the sun turned the cloudy sky red, then purple.  All too well he knew the legends surrounding the statue that had once rested on this slab, but that had not kept him from returning for a final visit to the Black Angel.

  • Available in a six-story bundled ebook, “Halloween Six-Pack,” available from Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in Gunning for the Buddha, January 2005.
  • Honorable Mention, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, volume 19

39. California King (with Greg van Eekhout)

Our hero, a scrawny, bristle-haired man, softly sings a song he wrote when he was fifteen as he gives himself a new tattoo.  He no longer remembers the verses, but the chorus goes something  like: “Nyah-nyah, fuck-fuck, I’m the king, nyah-nyah, fuck-fuck.” Even after all these years, he finds the hook sort of catchy.  His raspy tenor smoothes and deepens as he embeds dozens of carefully-spaced puncture wounds into his skinny right arm with his long, sharp knife, stealing the voice of the unconscious man upon whom he sits.

  • First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, April/May 2005.
  • Available as a podcast available from Podcastle
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 23.
  • Honorable Mention, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, volume 19

40. Gillian Underground (with Tim Pratt and Greg van Eekhout)

Since dropping out of college the year before, Gillian had hitched her way all over the South, from the waterfront elegance of Charleston to the wrought-iron decadence of New Orleans. She’d visited Dr. King’s church in Alabama and looked for peacocks in Flannery O’Connor’s yard in rural Georgia. Now after four straight days of hitching all day and sleeping rough, fleeing a bad scene at a country bar in West Virginia, she’d fetched up in the North Carolina mountains. The spring sky above was stern and gray, a wind howling down from the peaks, threatening rain. Gillian was ready for a break.

  • First published in Polyphony 5, November 2005.
  • Honorable Mention, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, volume 19

41. The Brotherhood of Trees

The Brotherhood of Trees (cover by Zone1Design)Every morning that winter, just as the black night began to melt into the first red fingers of day, I went running in the forest behind our house. Fred was still snoring and twitching in his light, carpal-tunnel-induced sleep, and his eyes would be red when he woke after too much dreaming about line after line of code. Me, I’d be refreshed and sharp and focused, thanks to my new routine of jogging with the hounds.

We’d never wanted kids, Fred and me, not back in the days when our love was still athletic and young. So we got dogs instead. Not a bad tradeoff, in hindsight, due to how hard Fred worked and the long hours I’d started to keep myself after fifteen years at the firm. We loved our nieces and nephews, and we ignored the awkward moments as the kids adjusted to having two uncles living together in one house.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published at Aeon Speculative Fiction, February 2006.
  • Honorable Mention, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, volume 24

42. This Divided Land

Once upon a time, not long from now, there lived two people who had fallen in love. Alan was from the northeastern mountains, and Zack was from the Midwestern flatlands. They met in the virtual world long before they ever met in person, but by their third shared linkup, each knew he’d found the person he’d been seeking all his life.

Unfortunately, the new border separated them.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in Jigsaw Nation, May 2006.

43. Meet the Madfeet

Everyone who lives and breathes in our green land thinks that my predecessor, the Mighty Greybeard, could do no wrong. That includes the accursed little people, those smiling, singing, irritatingly needy little fur-feet.

I tried to stay away from their villages built into the sides of hills and keep out of their business, especially if it entailed a visit to the cramped caves that they call home. Without exception, I found their holes filled with mouse droppings, birds’ nests, and blue mold, not to mention the ends of worms and an oozy smell.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as part of the High Fantasy Four-Pack, a four-story ebook bundle of fantasy stories (save a dollar!) from Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
  • First published in Fantasy Gone Wrong, DAW Books, September 2006.

44. A Miracle in Shreveport

We were lucky to make it out of Shreveport alive on that early spring day in 1917.

At noon, before the first game of our doubleheader, my All Nations team was taking batting practice, and as usual, I was studying the crowd. The people fascinated me: all those life stories that I’d never get a chance to hear, like that old colored man smiling and singing to himself next to his stern, frowning wife in her flowered hat, or the two white women with their cigarettes and exposed ankles. I was amazed by it all, though we never stayed in a place long enough to learn about anyone or anything more than the game and its players.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • Also available as an audiobook at Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.
  • First published in Electric Velocipede, May 2007.
  • Reprinted in The All Nations Team.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 25

45. Drinker

The path itself remained the same, a trampled indentation of ice and snow wending its way first through black rocks and stubborn tufts of purpling vegetation, then over featureless blue ice until it reached the melted edge of the ocean. Its span, however, was always lengthening over time, like a hair-tentacle attached to the head of an always-eating foundling. At one end, our encampment of huts ringed with caves remained static, while the vital salt water at the other end of our march grew more distant with each frozen cycle.


46. Tiny Disaster

This is what I think after I hit the ground, when the bodies begin to bounce off of me: Two thousand years ago, all of the people crowding around me now would have thrown rocks at me then until I was dead.

You may think, judging by my size, that many rocks and stones would be needed for this task, but I must tell you that even though I am large, far larger than you and your closest friend combined, I still feel pain and I still bleed. I simply feel it in more places, and I bleed from more wounds. Not only is there more of me to love, as my aunt has always declared, there’s also more of me to hurt. A whole lot more.

  • Finalist, 2004 Brenda L. Smart Award for Short Fiction.
  • First published in The Raleigh News & Observer’s Book Pages, September 2007.

47. Painting Haiti

In spite of the alarm blaring for the past ten minutes, Claudia kept on working, thinking: just one more dab of color here, one more brush stroke there, just a bit more shadow in the background.

Malpwòpte,” she muttered, glaring at her old alarm clock and then at her painting.

She wasn’t sure which one she was labeling a piece of shit. Probably both. She could see something finally taking shape there in the brown, blue, and black lines of her oil-based cityscape, after almost three hours of painting and scraping and repainting. She’d been close to giving up on this one, and she couldn’t afford to waste paint.


48. A Game of Contact

Andy was DM again, and the stupid spaz couldn’t stop using the word to describe everything.  Exquisite this, exquisite that.  It was getting to the point where Mark wanted to blast him with a Magic Missile for a massive hit-point loss until he had no choice but to curl up behind his folded cardboard screen.  Even the two Chrises, one on each side of Mark, were getting restless, waiting for Andy to finish his endless descriptions and get to the combat.  But of course, Dungeon Masters were impervious — see, Mark wanted to say, I know fancy words too! — to any form of damage.  They were untouchable, separate from both worlds, the real and the imagined.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published in The Exquisite Corpuscle, Fairwood Press, October 2008.

49. Devil on the Wind (with Jay Lake)

Dropping the ceremonial razor from my numb hand, I rested elbows on knees over the drainage pipe of the Ascension Altar and watched the rest of my blood flow out of me.  The pain was exquisite, a sweet sacrament of hot, liquid agony that always left flavors of copper and wine on my tongue.

A taste of glory.

  • First published in Black Gate 14, March 2010.
  • Honorable Mention, Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 28.

50. The Inverted Bearded Boy of Chicago

“Professor Challenger, thank you for sharing that thrilling tale of your adventure in the Lost World.It makes me mindful of the time when I encountered the inverted bearded boy of Chicago.”

Wreathed in smoke, the man who had just spoken lifted his head from where he sat at a table near the window, a handcarved wooden pipe in his hand. Curly gray hair, long muttonchops, and a jutting pink chin framed his somber expression. He wore a dark, hooded overcoat, and his humorless brown eyes drifted once to the window before he spoke, as if looking for the abovementioned boy from across the sea.


51. Zeppelin Women

None of us armed ourselves with the laser harpoons or hydraulic zeppelin guns when the first dirigible came to earth, for all the weapons had been taken up by the men.

Our husbands, lovers, brothers, fathers, nephews, cousins and any other male over the age of ten had left us, engaging in the battle against the silent ships whose presence in the gray acid skies were as constant as the sun and the stars.


52. Snakebite and the Sea

Snakebite lived in the abandoned restaurant next to the Long Beach pier, the ruined building hanging together with a few rusty spikes and a good bit of ignorant determination. Where the ocean once spat foam onto the windows of the you-catch-em, we-fry-em seafood restaurant, the salty air pattered down on Snakebite through the glassless holes in the ocean-facing wall.

“The sea,” Snakebite muttered.


53. Origins

Stories are like babies — most of ‘em look the same at the start, then they start growing, putting on weight. And then they’re gone, out of my hands, little monsters unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

Let me tell you story about a guy and someone else’s baby. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.


54. Orc in the Family

It always rains here in the heart of the Sludge Mountains.

All my life I’ve worked hard, chasing after elves in their stinking forests, cracking them over the heads with my club whenever they got too close to our mountains and caves. So you’d think my boy Graggenglub, a soldier from the High Command, of all places, would remember that, and keep his monstrous children from falling on me like foul drops of unpolluted rain.


55. The Chicken Project

Looking out at the muddy pasture at ten minutes past seven in the morning, inhaling the eye-watering scent of fresh manure, John Koopman figured out why he’d always hated living on the farm. Back in Chicago, he’d always been busy: moving stocks, tracking the markets, keeping careful notes on hundreds of clients. And then, after the markets closed, he’d spend hours sorting through the mess of newspapers, client files, and computer printouts strewn across his office like so much litter or hay.


56. The Doorstop Thieves

When I was eleven years old, my best friend was Chris Thomas, and together we were doorstop thieves.  We went to Saint Francis Xavier Elementary in Dyersville, Iowa, where a huge statue of the patron saint stood peacefully in front of the brick four-story school.  It was the goal of every fifth and sixth grade boy to climb the statue, swing from the saint’s arms, and spit on his classmates below.  The small concrete birds that had once perched on Saint Francis’ shoulders and outstretched arms had been broken off by small, rough hands, leaving only tiny nubbles of stone and the memory of serenity.


57. A Tale of Two Shits

We start with this guy, name of Gabe.

Sitting on the hard plastic toilet seat of a dank, humid rest-stop men’s room, forty-five miles from his home back in the suburbs of Miami.

Holding onto his gut like it was a time bomb, about to explode. Trying not to moan.


58. Back to the Old Neighborhood

Terri Johnson was already sweating as she walked west down Milwaukee’s Clybourn Avenue, the trucks on the interstate to her left making her flinch with every shuddering of their air brakes. On either side of the street sat dead gas-burning cars, windows broken out and bodies turning grayish-red with rust. She kept her distance from them, afraid that she’d come across one of the aliens huddled inside. After walking for over an hour, she’d passed her old apartment three times. Despite the familiar landmarks of the abandoned cars, the rundown stores, and the apartment entrances, Shontera felt lost in her old neighborhood.


59. The City of All-Worlds

The humid night air crept closer, dripping onto the boy like tar as he slipped into his teacher’s cave. Young Palapeeter walked on tiptoes, with a silver whistle in his right hand and a tarnished silver bell—its clapper pinched with a thumb and forefinger—in his left. In the cave where his master slept, there would be no excuse for noise.

Silence was needed, for Bartolamus the Sorcerer was dying.


60. The Last Sorcerer

Under a gray-brown Chicago sky, stirring slightly between a brick wall and the sidewalk, sat a worn cardboard box. Expensive leather shoes, bright heels, and heavy boots detoured around the box, while horns honked, brakes squealed, and cars roared past on the narrow city streets. A harsh word from the driver of a speeding truck added to the clamor as it roared past the box. The owners of the shoes, heels, and boots hurried past with their heads down, oblivious to the box and the noise. To them it was just another snowy day in May.

  • Available as an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords.
  • First published as part of Free Fiction Friday, UnWrecked Press, August 2011.
  • This story is an early version of the story that later got expanded and updated into my Contagious Magic novels, which start with A Sudden Outbreak of Magic and continue with A Wild Epidemic of Magic and A Lasting Cure for Magic.

61. The Death Sentence

The City had never been cleaner, safer, or quieter than it was on Erik Dankelson’s twenty-ninth birthday, and he couldn’t have been more heartsick about it. The streets were free from litter, refuse, and vagrants. The Downtown buildings rising above the waters of The Lake and The River were pristine towers of concrete and steel, untouched by graffiti and vandalism. Even the speech of The City’s citizens was as distilled and pure as boiled water.

Before dawn on his birthday, Erik began his last day of life in a secure room at the heart of this seemingly perfect City.


62. Death in the City

The story is fueled by cans — empty, sticky, abandoned cans.

He was an old man who walked the back alleyways of my newly-adopted city, and he was a source of mystery and fear to me in my youth. The gaze of those who lived in this city often passed without resistance over people like him, residing on sidewalks and park benches. His name was Porter, and outside of his obituary, his story was known to no one. I feel the need to flesh out his tale as best I can, for a memorial, and–I must admit–for myself.


63. Home Court Advantage

The zebra shirt was too big for me, stretched out by the previous wearer’s wide back and sagging belly. I tucked in the shirt past my underwear and hung the whistle around my neck, the impression of someone else’s teeth still denting the rubber that covered the metal of the whistle. Almost time for the big game.


64. Takedown

Far as I was concerned, the whole tournament was a foregone conclusion.

At five minutes past eight, in a mostly deserted gym, I swatted the rear end of my one hundred and twelve pounder and pushed him into the circle. My head throbbed, my mouth was dry, and the day stretched out ahead of me like a long drive across the plains. I fell into the cold metal folding chair next to the bright red mat as the referee dropped his hand to start the match.

“Stay low,” I said, saving my voice for later in the tournament.


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