DP FICTION #39B: “Graduation in the Time of Yog-Sothoth” by James Van Pelt

Jackson clung grimly to his seat as the bus rattled over a corduroy stretch of road, tossing him against Gwynn. She held a flute case in her lap, while in the back of the bus, the rest of the flute section, seven girls and a boy—piped a discordant, screeching melody that wasn’t improved by bouncing around as the bus lurched down the rough track. Gwynn wore her hair short, seldom used makeup, and he’d often seen her sitting in between classes working on a sketch pad.

“Weren’t you supposed to play today?” said Jackson. The bus lurched left, pushing them the other way.

“Last week for seniors.” She looked out the window. The woods that lined the road when they took the bus in kindergarten were now blasted, shattered and burnt fragments that stuck up from the ground in painful angles. “The underclassmen have to learn how to play without us.”

Jackson nodded. Only five days until graduation. “Same with the newspaper. The senior editors handed their duties over to the juniors the first of the month,” which stung because Jackson had been the sports editor. He was sure Drew Whittier didn’t have the same drive to get to the heart of a news story that he had. How would the fall preview go without Jackson’s input? Did Drew have the same contacts on the football team? Did he know anything about cross-country? The section would be a mess.

It was hard to think, and even harder to be optimistic with the flutes shrieking behind him, but he wished they played louder, protecting them. Through the tinted windows, the low-hanging clouds swirled, glowing orange and red at their edges as if reflecting an unseen fire, a sure sign an Old One was about. Only flute music could placate them, although that was no guarantee. Three years earlier the forensic team didn’t escape, even though they traveled with that year’s state championship flute section. Some of those kids were still at the school, in a separate room, tended by aides who pushed their wheelchairs about and fed them.

Gwynn leaned into him, “Do you have your speech ready?”

Jackson grimaced. “Everything I write sounds stupid. What do I say about our future? We might not even have a future.” He’d been both proud and terrified when Principal Akeley named him valedictorian. At the beginning of the year, Howard Durst and Emma Chen had higher grade point averages, but they found Howard in the library on Halloween, slack jawed and drooling after reading from The Book of Azathoth (which was supposed to be locked up and unavailable to students) while Emma fell for a weirdly fishlike football player from cross-county rival, Dunwich High, and failed all her first semester classes except Mythology.

Gwynn said, “Write something hopeful.”

The road to the high school entered Trimount Canyon where low, limestone bluffs rose on either side. Jackson relaxed. He felt safer within the stone walls. They’d be harder to notice here, but they hadn’t gone a half mile before the bus slowed, then pulled onto the shoulder. Pale rock blocked the view out the windows across the aisle. Cloud-shrouded light illuminated the road through his window, though. The flute section redoubled their effort. A tremor shook the bus, then another. Dust drifted from the cliff walls as the sky darkened and grew more crimson.

“Put your heads down, kids,” shouted the bus driver. “Heads down and stay down until I tell you to sit up. Just like the drills.” She sounded calm, as if she did this every day. Even as Jackson pressed his chest into his knees, he marveled at how collected she was. Without the flutes, silence ruled.

The bus trembled again. Whatever Old One came their way was immensely huge and heavy. Would it step on them without even seeing them? Or would it pick them up, shake them about like pebbles in a box? Would it stare at them, sucking their minds into madness before it tossed them aside or dropped them down his terrible throat?

Gwynn grabbed his hand. They’d never held hands before. She was just a friend who’d been in his classes since preschool, like many of the seniors.

She whispered, “Will you open with a joke? Last year’s valedictorian told that great one about the three blind guys at a nudist colony.”

An Old One had never come this close to Jackson. They left omens in the sky: blood moons, tortured clouds and foul winds, signs in the sea: unnatural tides, fish kills, strange eruptions, but never a genuine appearance. Like tornados or tigers or tsunamis: they were much talked about, often part of nightmares, but not actually real.

He knew when it passed over. The hairs on the back of his neck stood, and then a pull from above from the Old One’s self-generated gravity. An icy, pure glacier abyss opened in the sky, as if the bus had turned upside down and longed to fall up. Jackson swallowed hard and clung to Gwynn’s hand. A thought looped, faster and faster: If I survive . . . If I survive . . . If I survive.

Then his organs shifted. The pull released, and darkness relented.

Jackson breathed deep. “I don’t know. A joke might be cheesy. I thought a shared memory like when Mrs. Peterson made hot fudge sundaes in kindergarten.”

They hadn’t sat up. Heads down, holding hands, Jackson felt as if they were alone somewhere, sharing a lifelong past. When the Old One eclipsed the sky, Jackson couldn’t tell if he was feeling Gwynn’s hand or if he was her feeling his hand. It seemed in that instant he saw the bus floor from his eyes and hers. For a blink, he sat in her mind, surrounded by her thoughts, being her, and he knew she’d become him. She hadn’t been as scared as he was; she’d thought about painting the clouds—blending the orange into the red and the red into gray. That close to pure, psychic alienness, they’d joined. The power to drive a human mind mad must have degrees. They hadn’t been taken over the edge, but they altered. Their skin melded; their nervous system became singular. The Old One, its mind more vast than human imagination, washed through them without bending from its alien mission and unknowable intents. Jackson had never been closer to anyone.

“Did you feel that?” Gwynn asked.

“Old One aura. Remember from the orientation?” He shivered. He couldn’t feel more exposed if they sat next to each other naked. How would they look each other in the face again?

Gwynn stayed down. The bus driver hadn’t cleared them to sit up yet. Jackson could tell Gwynn searched for words. How would she process what they’d gone through? Would she be able to talk to him?

Finally, she cleared her throat. “I forgot about those sundaes.” She squeezed his hand. “Every day was sunny then, even the rainy ones.”


In the hallway, Jackson pushed past the Acolyte Club who’d set up tables against the wall with promotional flyers and pamphlets. “We’re doing a chant around the flagpole after school to placate our benign overlords,” said a sophomore boy Jackson knew from the newspaper. The boy had blue lines on both sides of his neck in nesting curves, imitating gills. Jackson couldn’t tell if they were drawn or tattooed. Lots of kids had them, and many greased their hair and brushed it straight back from their foreheads, as if they’d risen from the ocean. Lately they sported large black buttons with yellow writing that read “Nothing Without Sacrifice”.

“DBD,” the kid said. “DBD, bro.”

Jackson shook his head, refusing the flyer. DBD: Dead but Dreaming. Jackson thought, aren’t we all.

Half the school belonged to the Acolyte Club. A group of teachers sponsored, slicking their hair back too. The rumor was that some of them encouraged the Acolyte Club to circulate the petition, asking the school board to change Kennedy High’s college-oriented, liberal arts curriculum into a religious one. They listed classes they wanted to add to graduation requirements, including “Important Figures, Relics and Places from Abdul Alhazred to Zon Mezzamalech,” “Sea Wisdom,” and “Intro to the Outer Mysteries.”

Gwynn sat behind him in British Lit. Jackson took out his notebook with quotes he’d been collecting that he might use in the speech. She looked over his shoulder. “Is that Othello?”

Jackson turned back the pages, one by one so she could see. “Yep. Othello, Macbeth, Gilgamesh, the romantic poets and the realists, stuff from American presidents, movie quotes, song lyrics, advertising slogans, and stuff my parents say. Nothing has struck a spark yet.”

He didn’t want to meet her eyes, but she wasn’t talking about the trip to school, which was good.

A couple girls a row over whispered to each other, looking Jackson and Gwynn’s way.

Gwynn said, “The word is out about our close encounter. Everyone on our bus will be famous by lunch. What are you going to say about what happened?”

“I’m not sure I know what happened.”

“Ask one of the acolytes. They’ll have an explanation.”

Jackson almost laughed despite himself. “Will it involve the transmutation of souls or surrendering ourselves to the vast indifference of the universe?”

“I almost wouldn’t mind the dissolution of self as long as they don’t ask me to wear my hair like that.”

Jackson said, “One of them told me that in madness lies sanity, and then asked if he could copy my Calculus.”

“Everyone wants to copy your Calculus.”

“You’re not helping me with the speech.”

“Do you want help?”

Jackson faced her. He hadn’t ever looked at her eyes before, not with this attention. They were dark brown on the edges, fading into gold near the pupils. She’s the girl with the treasure-well eyes.


During lunch, Principal Akeley looked up when Jackson entered her office. She often wore floral pantsuits. Today’s ensemble leaned toward pinks and purples, as if a giant orchid had thrown up on her, but she had an unforced smile and liked to joke. Normally Jackson didn’t mind talking to her, but not today. She’d want to know about the speech. Instead, she went a worse direction.

“Have you decided on a college, Jackson?” She put her hand on a short stack of brochures on the desk. “You missed the early application deadlines.”

“Umm, not completely. Maybe the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.”

“Long way from home. Long way from the ocean.”

“That might be the point.”

“Why not Miskatonic?”


Akeley raised an eyebrow.

Jackson said, “Miskatonic in Town. Nobody wants to go to college that close to their parents.”

Principal Akeley shook her head. “It’s the same everywhere.”

“Then does it matter? I was going to apply to Stanford.” He regretted saying it. He didn’t want to sound bitter. Palo Alto didn’t exist anymore. In its place, a four-mile wide crater filled with the San Francisco Bay seethed and bubbled. Last summer, for weeks, news covered the disaster. They showed seabirds by the hundreds of thousands gathered on the shore, piping a terrible din, wheeling about in great clouds above the water, but never landing, and whatever stirred the unnatural bay didn’t surface.

She hunched forward on her desk, and grew intense. “They don’t care about us, Jackson. I don’t believe they know we exist.”

“Don’t say that to the acolytes.”

Akeley continued, “Today, on the bus, might never happen to you or anyone you know again. Stanford may never happen again. They could disappear as suddenly as they arrived. You can’t make your decisions based on the worst case scenario.”

“I know. I know. But it’s harder for us, for the seniors, I think. What did you worry about in high school?”

The principal straightened her folders, then glanced at her clock, looking infinitely tired. Jackson realized she had other appointments. “The world changes. Growing up is challenge enough. How’s your speech coming? You know I need to approve it first.”

“I’ll have something for you soon. Tomorrow after school?”

She squinted. “You haven’t started it yet.”

“Not the speech itself, but I’ve been thinking. I’ve gathered material.”

“A lot of people depend on you to make a good show of it. Parents, alumni, the school board and all your peers. Give them something to think about.”

They shook hands.

Outside her office, Jackson thought, way to take the pressure off, Akeley.


Jackson knew Gwynn was on her way before she appeared around a corner of the school a hundred yards away and walked toward the bleachers where he sat. All day he’d noticed ghost feelings: the weight of a pen in his hand when he wasn’t holding anything, a necklace he wasn’t wearing rubbing against his neck, an inhalation when he exhaled. They were Gwynn’s experiences. He wondered if their link would fade.

She set her art portfolio and book bag on the bleacher, then settled onto the bench next to him. “Weird day, huh?”


Something itched between Jackson’s shoulder blades. He thought about trying to get to it, but he knew he’d look stupid stretching about.

Gwynn put her hand behind him and scratched at exactly the right spot.

“Thanks,” Jackson said. They looked at the football field and clouds without speaking for a minute before he realized what she’d done. He glanced at her. She clasped her hands in her lap, sitting still. From the other side of the school, a dull, rhythmic mumble arose. He recognized the source: the chant at the flagpole. It would take a lot of acolytes to be that loud. The story of what happened with the bus had lit them up. Interruptions filled the afternoon as teachers reminded acolytes to stop whispering. Several times, Jackson caught an acolyte staring at him.

She said, “I got a C on my final art project.”

“No way!” The yearbook had named Gwynn “Most Artistic,” and the newspaper had written an article about her winning entry at the Massachusetts Art Institute High School Show in December. “How in the world did that happen?”

“Because of this.” She pulled a small canvas from the portfolio. On it she’d painted an orange resting on a worn wooden table. A single rose lay before it. Behind both, a crystal pitcher, half full of tea, glowed warmly in sunlight from a window not in the picture. Even with his limited understanding of art, Jackson gasped. Something in the way she’d painted it made the shadows utterly real, and the orange’s skin held and reflected the light.

“That’s beautiful. What didn’t she like about it?”

Gywnn laughed. “The assignment was a still-life, clearly, but she put on the table a dead rose, a broken pitcher, and a nasty, rotted orange. She said, ‘make your painting reflect a mood.’ Evidently she wasn’t going for what I saw. Last week we did multi-media with mutant ceramic tuna, rubber octopuses and seaweed. The art room looked like an insane asylum fish market. Gave me nightmares.”

“Does she wear her hair slicked back?”

“You know it.”

On the horizon, clouds swirled and pulsed with internal light. Jackson watched them warily.

Gwynn put the painting back in the portfolio, then produced a notebook and pen. “I have an idea for your speech, but you have to answer some questions first.”


She made a mark on her notebook. “Good. Do you want to be funny, serious, or both.”



“Are you giving the speech for your parents, your friends, the senior class or just yourself?”

Jackson wrinkled his brow. He hadn’t considered that, plus the chanting and roiling clouds distracted him. “I’m not sure.”

“You’ll have to decide.”

On the school’s other side, the murmur intensified. Jackson had heard the chants before, and seen bathroom graffiti featuring strange words, not in English, unpronounceable with too many consonants and lots of apostrophes. Jackson almost missed the casual racism and crude sex talk from elementary school. Yesterday, below a poorly rendered representation of what might have been a slaughtered sheep, or a dog drawn by Picasso, someone had written, “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.” Underneath that, in a different hand, was a reply, “Wake him!”

“The acolytes are moving,” said Gwynn. A crowd flowed around the school, heading toward them, arms in the air, repeating, “Iä Hastur cf’ayak’vulgtmm, vugtlagln vulgtmm.”

More emerged, hundreds of them, walking slowly, waving hands in the air. Jackson recognized some. Bud and Terrance from newspaper. Chuck who had played third base in junior high. Junior class president Lisa Schmaltz, her face filled with zeal, the bizarre words tumbling from her lips. Many were seniors he’d march with into the gym for graduation in a week, friends he’d known for years.

Gwynn said, “That’s creepy.”

“Have you seen the buttons?”

Jackson joined her. She stood. “Do you think they’re literal, about sacrifice, I mean?”

Together, they started down the bleachers. Jackson said with a calm he didn’t feel,

“They’ve been eyeing me all day. I don’t want to find out.”

They broke into a run across the football field, away from the chanting students and didn’t stop until they reached a low hill overlooking the school. The crowd filled the football field, arms still in the air, weaving back and forth, words now indistinct, but “Cthulhu R’lyeh” seemed a key component.

Jackson shivered, then moved closer to Gwynn. He was afraid to hold her hand again. Memory of the morning was too intense, but he felt safer next to her. The clouds darkened. A cutting wind swept through the trees behind them. Jackson heard it rushing through the leaves before it pressed against his back, cold and smelling of the Atlantic. On the field, the chanting rose in volume. Arms swayed, hands dancing like demented starfish. The students undulated in obscene synchronization. For a second, he was convinced that whatever monstrosity that missed them this morning was returning to finish the job, that if he looked up, a huge object would descend, a tentacled, leprous, oozing mass, the base of a huge trunk that disappeared into the clouds, a single leg of the creature whose head must reach into the stratosphere.

The image trembled in his mind as vivid as a prophetic vision.

Principal Akeley appeared at the crowd’s edge carrying a megaphone, while the congregants looked to the clouds, ecstatically repeating whatever appeal they were making.

She brought the megaphone up, fumbled with it until it emitted a siren howl. The kids nearest to her looked her way.

“Students,” she said. “Buses will not wait. If you miss your ride, you will have to walk home or call your parents.”

Jackson imagined the acolytes falling upon her, their primitive lusts let loose and indulged, but the chant faltered. Arms fell to their sides, and they moved toward the school. A student tossed a Frisbee to another. Kids laughed. They hummed with lively chatter. Within a couple minutes, the field emptied.

“We survived,” said Gwynn.


Their hands moved toward each other, a mutual decision, and they touched. Nothing had changed from the morning. The connection remained. Jackson knew Gwynn and she knew him. No consummation could be more complete. They would be friends forever. More than friends.

And nothing in the future seemed bleak.

Jackson thought about the folder filled with quotes in his locker. For the first time, he imagined himself giving the speech, not what he would say, that was still a mystery, but he knew he wanted to speak of hope.

He said, “How does this sound: None of us knows our future, but we don’t need to when we have each other.”

Gwynn shivered. “Corny. Corny but true.”

The clouds above the school folded upon themselves then flashed from internal lightning. A few seconds later, the rumble washed across them. Something incomprehensible moved above, but Jackson realized it always had. For all of time the universe had been indifferent to humanity.

We are on our own.

Graduating from high school, really graduating, meant finally realizing that truth.



© 2018 by James Van Pelt


Author’s Note: I’ve been a high school teacher for a long time, and I remember being in high school myself vividly.  When I heard a suggestion to write a cthulhu mythos story set in a high school, I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner.  Where else but in high school does the universe ever feel quite so huge and uncaring?


James Van Pelt is a part-time high school English teacher and full-time writer in western Colorado. He’s been a finalist for a Nebula Award and been reprinted in many year’s best collections.  His first Young Adult novel, Pandora’s Gun, was released from Fairwood Press in August of 2015.  His next collection, The Experience Arcade and Other Stories was released at the World Fantasy Convention in 2017.  James blogs at http://www.jamesvanpelt.com, and he can be found on Facebook.








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Announcing the Diabolical Plots Year Four Fiction Lineup!

written by David Steffen

Diabolical Plots was open for submissions once again for the month of July, to solicit stories to buy for the fourth year of fiction publication.  1003 submissions came in from 720 different writers, of which 25 stories were accepted.  Now that all of the contracts are in hand I am very pleased to share with you the lineup, which will start as soon as the Year Three stories have wrapped up in March.

This year I think the overall submissions were more on-target to my peculiar tastes than ever.  Emphasis on the weird, with a lot of great stories that involve religion without preaching or demonizing it.  I am very excited to share these excellent stories with the world.

Since I accepted 25 stories instead of 24, there is one month that will have three stories (which I’d like to see as a regular thing if the recurring funding is there for it).

April 2018
“Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” by Derrick Boden
“Her February Face” by Christie Yant

May 2018
“The Efficacy of Tyromancy Over Reflective Scrying Methods in Divining Colleagues’ Coming Misfortunes, A Study by Cresivar Ibraxson, Associate Magus, Wintervale University” by Amanda Helms
“Graduation in the Time of Yog-Sothoth” by James Van Pelt

June 2018
“Tank!” by John Wiswell
“Withholding Judgment Day” by Ryan Dull

July 2018
“Crimson Hour” by Jesse Sprague
“Jesus and Dave” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

August 2018
“Medium Matters” by R.K. Duncan
“The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” by Benjamin A. Friedman

September 2018
“Glass in Frozen Time” by M.K. Hutchins
“The Fisher in the Yellow Afternoon” by Michael Anthony Ashley

October 2018
“Pumpkin and Glass” by Sean R. Robinson
“Still Life With Grave Juice” by Jim Moss

November 2018
“The Memory Cookbook” by Aaron Fox-Lerner
“The Coal Remembers What It Was” by Paul R. Hardy

December 2018
“The Hammer’s Prayer” by Benjamin C. Kinney
“For the Last Time, It’s Not a Ray Gun” by Anaea Lay

January 2019
“The Divided Island” by Rhys Hughes
“The Man Whose Left Arm Was a Cat” by Jennifer Lee Rossman
“The Dictionary For Dreamers” by Cislyn Smith

February 2019
“Local Senior Celebrates Milestone” by Matthew Claxton
“How Rigel Gained a Rabbi (Briefly)” by Benjamin Blattberg

March 2019
“Heaven For Everyone” by Aimee Ogden
“The Last Death” by Sahara Frost

Daily Science Fiction: February 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Whew. A lot going on in our little Diabolical world. So much David Steffen has left the substitute in charge. David assures me that Anthony Sullivan is more than capable for the job, and said he has yet to miss an edit.

On to this month’s review!


A little girl has a gift the alien overseers need in “Substitutes” by Colin P. Davies (debut 2/1 and reviewed by Frank D). Melinda has been blessed with the ‘gift’, the ability to navigate the stars. Aliens have come to Earth and spread a condition among its youth. Melinda’s father calls it a disease, but for the few who have been affected, they are prized by the aliens. They offer compensation to Melinda’s father, and a substitute that is in every way a perfect copy of Melinda. It isn’t enough for Melinda’s dad, but the aliens are relentless. The pair have been playing a cat and mouse game as they try to stay a step ahead of the aliens, but the creatures who have managed to travel the stars are far too clever to shake.

“Substitutes” is an eerie tale. Whatever the affliction Melinda is under, it has affected her mental capacities. Her father reacts how I’d imagine most people would react, angrily and fearfully. The brief tales plays out like a Stephen King premise, clones stalk the pair as they run to new homes. An increasingly desperate father gets more violent with every encounter.

I really liked this story. Liked it so much I was disappointed that it ended so quickly. Add 80,000 words as good as these 2000 and it would make a great novel.



An abandoned and hungry girl stumbles upon an edible house with her brother. “Hungry” by Robert E. Stutts (debut 2/4 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a captive in a cannibalistic witches’ home. The witch has imprisoned her brother in a cage and is fattening him up while impressing the little girl to be her apprentice. The little girl knows this will not end well for her and her brother, no matter how much the outcome changes.

Mr Stutts R rated version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is dark, even for this very grim Grimm tale. I found myself glued to it, as if I had fallen under a spell. Daily SF has published many disturbing tales. There may be a creepier tale than “Hungry” in its archives but if there is, it isn’t coming to mind.


The need to belong compete with its consequences in “Wildness and Wet” by Lee Hallison (debut 2/5 and reviewed by Frank D). Leah watches a flash dance performance from the safety of her bedroom window. The dancers are teenagers her age, connected via implants to the web. They share a clique like no other in history. Leah wants to be a part of it, and the boy who climbs to her open window may be too alluring to resist.

“Wildness and Wet” is a tale of temptation. The kids joined in this futuristic web have a shared physic ability thanks to the enhance technology. They garner all the substance they need through the implant and share a closeness ordinary human contact can never achieve, but their candle burns twice as quick and they die very young , burned out expending the extra flare they have enjoyed. Leah is like an imprisoned princess , unable to be a part of the exciting world she sees but she is very aware of the price she would have to pay to be a part of it.

I have one major complaint about this story , way too brief. This is just a taste of a far larger idea. I hope Ms Hallison explores this world further and shares her findings with us in the future.


A scientist and his greedy sister fight over their departed father’s possessions in “Mirror Image” by Peter M. Wood (debut 2/6 and reviewed by Frank D). Sam is a physicist but even he can’t piece together what his extrinsic father’s basement lab is all about. Doris, his sister, wants to sell it all and split the sale 50/50. She had already bilked Dad of the rest of his assets but it is never enough for her. Sam wants to see if there is anything to his late father’s claims of alternate realities, but Doris’s greed may make it all a moot point.

This tale explores the insanity of adults who fight over their departed parents belongings and adds a convenient twist to it. Amusing, in this world and in the one next door, I’m sure.


The Time Travel Device” by James Van Pelt (debut 2/7 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has created a means to travel through time. He isn’t able to control where he goes, his own desires choses his destination for him. Where you go can say much about the person you are.

This short tale has a morbid tone to it. Fascinating destinations, but I’d be worried if I were the protag.


A socially awkward girl makes her pitch for a date in “A Phone, My Heart, and Maybe My Last Shred of Dignity” by Luc Reid (debut 2/8 and reviewed by Frank D). Iowa is a loner in a society where no one is alone. Her life is a series of disasters. Today has been an unusually brutal day even for her, but reflection can help heal her self-inflicted wounds.

“A Phone” is a comedy of errors with a love story buried within. The story is told in a string of flashbacks , unusual but effective when written by someone as skilled as Mr Reid. Iowa has fallen for a woman giving a demonstration at 20th century fair. Iowa hatches a very crazy plan in hopes of impressing her.

I simply loved this tale. The ending of it was the beginning; watching Iowa’s crazy plan unravel in reverse made it that much more entertaining. You may need to jump back to the opening to notice the sweet conclusion to the story.



Charles Milford speaks for the President in “For The People” by Ronald D. Ferguson (debut 2/11 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). He has no official title, no position, but he sees him every day; which makes him the perfect vessel for the explosives planted in his abdomen. The resistance movement plans on using the drugged Milford to kill both the President and the Vice President. But will the plan succeed or do the rebels have it all wrong?

This story was set in the not too distant future, maybe one we can even see from here. I thought it was a little uneven at the beginning; but as I read on, I was rewarded with a pretty good story. It had a nice little twist at the end, and I’m a sucker for those, so maybe I’m prejudiced, but I thought it worked well. I think if you keep an open mind at the start of the story, it’s worth it in the end.


Kane is an empathy in “The Needs Of Hollow Men” by K.A. Rundell (debut 2/12 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), one that works for the police to solve crimes from the emotions left behind at the scene. A “hollow man”, someone empty of his own emotion. His lack of personal emotions facilitates his work, of course the meds help. But Kane is a man in trouble; the emptiness has been filled by everyone else’s emotion, squeezing him from inside. Who can help ease the pain he feels? Who will help the needs of a hollow man?

This story is well laid out and does a good job of ushering us into Kane’s world. We also get to see how he is starting to unravel. I think the author did a nice job of striking the right balance of information about Kane and the emotion he is dealing with. Nice story.



Two fairy tales intertwine in “A Hairy Predicament” by Melissa Mead (debut 2/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Mother Gothel has taken Rapunzel of her overwhelmed parent’s hands. Disposing her abundant hair has proven problematic but Rapunzel has an idea. Mother Gothel knows a Fae spell has its consequences, and a grieving widowed giant has come to complain.

This dark fairy tale is written with a tongue in cheek. Cute.


A little girl draws maps of the future in “Maps” by Beth Cato (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Frank D). Christina is cursed with the ability to predict the tragic future. Her left hand independently pinpoints the place where future events will happen. It is a gift she does not want and she is willing to maim herself to rid herself of the curse.

“Maps” may be the most tragic story I have ever read on DSF (quite a claim for this publication). The story was like watching an accident on the side of the freeway, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. High marks to Ms Cato for her accomplishment.


A creepy guy offers to buy a woman a drink in “Five Minutes” by Conor Powers-Smith (debut 2/15 and reviewed by Frank D). Sasha is a hard working single mother; stopping at a local pub for a quick drink when a man takes the stool next to her. She needs to get home to her sleeping children but the man is insistent that she wait and listen to him. The strange man claims he has a limited gift of foresight. He only can see five minutes into the future, an ability that hasn’t been all that beneficial for him. Sasha can’t get away from him quick enough but he only wishes for two minutes of her time, offering to sit with her on the deck and watch as the cars pass through the nearby intersection.

“Five Minutes” is told from the perspective from an exhausted woman. That last thing she needs is to placate a disturbed man. It is written as if you are sure this man is up to something sinister; expecting a dark turn of events to spring into action as you read. Well done.

If you were to take the title and the strange man’s backstory into account alone, you would likely be sure how this tale would conclude. It takes a skilled writer to lead the reader into a different direction. Mr Smith’s use of characters and a careful crafting of the tone of the story will make you doubt the obvious.



The world is ending and there is only one place you can go to be saved in “The Mountain” by Andrew Kozma (debut 2/18 and reviewed by Frank D). Salvation from annihilation can be found on a series of hills with very descriptive (and bland) names. The people count their numbers (only a few can be saved) and watch as the universe dissolves.

“The Mountain” is told from a distance and with little emotional flare. The faceless characters of the story are rescued but have nothing left. I failed to see the point of any of it.


A fatigued man frightens an imprisoned woman in “Coffee Pot” by Jez Patterson (debut 2/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is huddled in a bed, watching a man who sips coffee. She just wants him to fall asleep so she can escape. Escape has its permanent drawbacks, in her case.

I hesitate revealing anymore to this tale. Suffice to say it has an effective twist. Unfortunately, the storyline didn’t capture my interest that much.


“I Heard You Got a Cat, I Heard You Named Him Charles” by M. Bennardo (debut 2/20 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has heard his old girl friend has gotten a new pet. It was unnecessary, because he could have taken the position of a cat for her. He could be anything she wanted, and had never left her side.

This story is told from the perspective of a shape changing stalker. He is willing to do anything for her just so he can stay by her side. He is the ultimate in creepy behavior. I really felt for his girl.


Fulfilling a need can get very expensive in “Coin Op” by David Steffen (debut 2/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this short work of humor is woman who is experiencing a bit of a losing streak. Her girlfriends have pooled their money together so she can spend an evening with an android gigolo. Not sure how far she is willing to go, she opts for the ‘pay as you go’ method. Unfortunately, passion and frugality make incompatible companions.

“Coin Op” opens as a strip tease. The android takes bits of clothing off for a nominal fee that is pennies at first. The less he wears the stiffer the price. The fact the protagonist is female makes me suspect the viability of the premise, especially when the android is completely devoid of any passion at all. However, the questionable premise does lend to the absurdity of the scene. Particularly amusing is how the android’s member is treated as ‘medical waste’ when he is finished, making me feel shameful in the protagonist’s behalf.

I imagined this brief and amusing piece brightened a few people’s morning when they read it in their inbox.


A young man searches for love, in real life, his dreams, and through cyberspace in “Crabapple” by Lavie Tidhar (debut 2/22 and reviewed by Frank D). Youssou dreams of flying in the arms of an off-world lover. He lives in a house grown from a plant on an old highway in Tel Aviv and mingles with neighbors as he shares drugs and food. Youssou has left his lover and replaced him with a fictional one. The boy down the street knows all about it, because he can experience others dreams.

“Crabapple”, like so many other Tidhar tales I have read, is a difficult story to understand. The backdrop in this surreal premise are references to popular subplots borrowed from classics of the past. Concepts Niven, Pohl, Simak – and several others whose work I recognize but I can’t attach their name to them – appear throughout this tale. They serve as bright neon signs that drown out the sights around them, brilliant to the point of distraction. The story (I think) is about Youssou’s inability to commit. His subconscious attempts to fill this void (total guess), and as a viewer, we are granted a glimpse into his backstory to piece it together. A tangent to this tale is Kranki’s gift of seeing Youssou’s dreams. I would expand on this subplot more but I failed to see any meaningful relevance to the rest of the tale.

I’ve read more short works written by Lavie Tidhar than any other author save my favorites whose collections I have bought in mass in the past. I really want to like his work. He has a poetic flare to his prose. His stories have the feeling of a greater message we all could benefit from. But alas, I have yet to decipher any great message from his stories.

I can sum up all of Lavie Tidhar’s work with my experience of reading “Crabapple.” I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.


“Living With Trees” by Geetanjali Dighe (debut 2/25 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this tale is an explorer. He lands on a beautiful green world full of trees like the kind Earth once possessed. The trees are one with the planet, and with their spores and psychic ability, the protagonist becomes one with them.

The author draws upon her association with Far Eastern mysticism to bring this tale to life. The story has an unspoken feel of dread for an ending.


“The Small Print” by Amy McLane (debut 2/26 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), contains one of the singularly most intriguing lines I’ve ever read. Some might suggest it doesn’t carry weight out of contest, but even in context, it was out of context, and hooked me, firmly, into the story.

“The Druskies call you Padre Smallprint, because you’re always hunting for the catch.”

The story is about a man who removes memories, cleans them of their owner, and sells them to others. (We know nothing of his general clientele, and only learn of one customer of seemingly very ill repute, which adds to the story’s sullen mood.)

When the memory is gone, what is left in its place is a piece of himself. “She’ll come back. She’ll come and come until there is nothing left of her…” the Padre thinks after the initial visit/sale of a woman who’d sold an average summer day.

There are some complex ideas here, and some I feel could be interpreted differently by different readers. What exactly did he do inside her memory? Author Amy McLane doesn’t spell everything out for us, which in my opinion, enhances the tale.
Melissa Mead has written several humorous and interesting twisted fairy tales and to my delight I keep getting tapped to read them.


“Hazel Tree” by Melissa Mead (debut 2/27 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) I feel is weaker than the others, but it is nevertheless fun and, well, twisted.

Here, the put-upon stepdaughter has a magic hazelnut tree at her disposal. What she does with it is what any business minded, industrious individual would do… She profits!


A surrogate android experiences all the joy and pain of child birth in “Hope, Shattered” by Brian R. McDowell (debut 2/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Damara has been designed for the specific purpose of carrying a child to term. Most mothers who use her do so to maintain their physique, but the current mother whose child Damara is carrying is not one of those shallow women. Damara experiences all the discomforts of child birth, as well as all of the emotional peaks and valleys a mother goes through during the event as well. She is just what modern day parents need, if only it were possible for them to tend to her needsâ€

“Hope, Shattered” is an emotional tale. Damara was built for a purpose. The original birthing-bots were built without emotions, but that made them to eerie and machine-like for parents. So her updated model has been equipped to act more like a mother living through the experience. It has left her with a flaw that is heart-wrenching. A neat story, most striking about it is that the author is male.


Welcomed competition…

For months, Diabolical Plots has been beating the drum that Daily Science Fiction has failed to receive the attention we here believe they have earned. It is our opinion that it is a disgrace DSF receives for its first two years, with the exception of this lone website, only passing and brief reviews for selected stories, but that is no longer the case.

Songs of Eretz is a blog written by Dr Steven Gordon. He is a prolific author and poet, and reviews Daily SF the day each story appears (where in the hell does he find the time?). He writes a brief synopsis, what he thought of the piece, and shares his rocket rating. He even goes through the trouble of adding an appropriate photo for each story. I’m impressed.

Aside from the reviews he does of Daily SF, Dr Gordon writes a book report for the latest classic he has completed. Well thought out and well done. The good doctor is very good and very committed to his blog. Give it a look. As a reviewer, I give it 7 out 7 rockets.

As much as I have chastised the publication in the past for their snub of DSF, I would like to congratulate Tangent Online for including several Daily Science Fiction stories in their year end Recommended Reading List. Despite the fact that Tangent doesn’t review Daily SF, Bob Blough was moved enough by a handful of stories to include them for Tangent‘s list. I applaud Dave Truesdale for including them in this year.

Perhaps this would be a good time for Tangent to reconsider if Daily SF is worth their time. I know most of their offerings are shorter than majority of the stories Tangent chooses to review, but DSF does publish a showcase, longer tale every Friday. That makes 4 , 5 tales a month, comparable to what Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and so many other vaunted publications the reviewing site never fails to miss. Surely the quality of the writing at Daily SF is equal to what those celebrated magazines publish, but don’t take my word for it , my illustrious reviewing superiors , take your own recommendations to heart.

stork carrying baby

David Steffen has a very important matter that he needs to attend to. For that reason, he has left DP in the very capable hands of Anthony. The matter is a secret, very secret. You couldn’t get it out of me no matter how hard you tried.

See David? Told you could trust me!