The Stars Were There


The stars were there the night she was born.
          They shined above the highway as her Dad searched frantically in the trunk of the car for a picnic blanket he was sure had been floating around back there since the summer before, and her Mum laughed from the backseat of the car with just a tinge of hysteria in her voice as she repeatedly said, ‘she must be a keen one, just can’t wait to meet us.’
          The stars watched as in the field beside the highway she entered the world, red and wrinkly and perfect, on the old tartan picnic blanket. They heard as she let out her first cries, which were loud and high pitched, and her Dad whispered to her Mum what a great job she’d done, how proud he was, and how they’d be telling this story for years to come, and her Mum just laughed and sobbed, relieved and happy.
          On that night, the stars were there.

The stars were there when the thought first formed itself.
          They looked down at her, as she looked back at them and thought about what she wanted to do with her life — a young age to be making that kind of a decision, but then she had already proven herself not to be a usual six year old. It was the presence of the stars that sparked the thought, the one that would change the world.  As she looked at their bright burning bodies, it came upon her that if she stared at a single star for long enough it would disappear, only to then reappear if she turned her gaze ever so slightly to the side. Nothing other than an optical illusion, caused by the microscopic mechanisms of the eye, as she would later learn, but at six she couldn’t help but wonder where those stars went when they disappeared.

The stars were there when her parents took her out to celebrate.
          It was a clear summer night, the family took a table outdoors, ordered food, and raised a glass to toast her many achievements. Doctorate degrees in theoretical physics and astronomy, the publishing of her first scientific paper; The existence and breaching of alternate universes, and the multitude of grants she had received off the back of that paper.
           They clinked their glasses, and sipped. The wine ran down her throat, making her feel giddy and warm. She may have been only fifteen but her Mum had said she was allowed the drink because it was such a special occasion. Because they had so much to celebrate.
           Her father made a toast and they clinked glasses again, the crystalline sound waves traveled out and away from them.
           Out towards the stars.

The stars were there the day she first breached the divide.
          They hung in space, unseen behind the light of the sun and the walls of the building, as she stood, surrounded by grad students, most older than her, all dressed in gowns of white. They burned, light years away, as she turned on the machine. A mouse, dressed in its own coat of white, looked at her with eyes as black as space and gave a twitch of its whiskers. She smiled at it, hopeful, and pressed the space bar.
          The machine, known colloquially throughout the lab as the WHB (or wormhole box), hummed gently as it drew in power. A lot of power. So much power that the humming turned to a drumming vibration. The mouse and his cage shook, and the little animal ran to hide, but it had nowhere to go. The machine sounded a DING, like a microwave announcing the popcorn was ready, and the mouse was gone. The machine’s humming slowed, then stopped, until a charged silence filled the room; then the scientists began to cheer.
          She didn’t. She knew the job was only half done.

The stars were there the day it all went wrong.
          In the years since that first breach more mice had been sent through the WHB, which was now into its twelfth model. Hundreds of mice had heard the hum, then the shake. Each time she had been the one to press the space bar, and each time they’d ran to hide, and each time it had done little to keep them in this universe.
Now she knew how to bring them back.
          The stars, once more hidden behind a blanket of sunlight and atmosphere, were nevertheless where they had always been as she approached the lectern. She looked out at the crowded theater, at the representatives of the government agencies and independent research organisations, all the people who had provided her with money and equipment and support over the years. She looked to the cameras, where she knew people from all over the globe watched her on their laptops and tablets and phones. She looked to her parents, smiling in the front row.
         She introduced herself, although there were few who didn’t know her name, and told them what they were there to see.
          The chimp was brought out. It climbed into her arms, and she laughed as it kissed her on the cheek. With gentle hands she placed the humanoid animal into the exterior chamber of the WHB, stoked its head, and wished it luck.
           She pressed the space bar, and the machine began to hum.
           It continued to hum until it met an error in the machines programming. A section of code that should have contained a decimal instead contained a comma. A simple mistake, and one which caused the machine to draw in energy like a black hole drawing in gravity.
          The machine was well made and did what it was commanded to do.
          The stars were there when the world disappeared.

The stars were there when the earth came back.
          One moment their rays of light passed effortlessly through the dark of the universe, the next they were rebounding back off of the face of the world.
For twenty one days the stars had been alone. Twenty one days for her to rework the math, rewrite the code, and use the WHB to bring them all back.
          At first, people hadn’t believed.
          Then they saw that the stars were wrong.
          Then there had been panic.
          Days were shorter, nights longer, and without a moon the seas were eerily still.                  Energy remained, but with the satellites left behind, communication had been lost. Twenty one days of fear and quiet and waiting.
          Now, they were back, and the rebuilding was already well under way. Soon they would be reminiscing about the time the earth had become the largest transport vessel in existence. The three weeks they spent in an alternate universe. A story to tell the grand kids.
          She looked at the stars, all in their usual places, and breathed a sigh of relief; ignorant to the fact that something had come back with them.

The stars were there when the entity was first discovered.
          The spore, native to that other universe, had adhered itself to the ground in the middle of some rarely visited bush land in Western Australia. There it had grown, it’s tendrils rushing through the rich soil like a swarm of eels through water, spreading further and further. Then it sprouted. Giant strings of fungus burst from the ground for miles in every direction from where the spore had first landed. Heavy fruit quickly grew from the strings, then burst, letting out an a sea of spores to be taken by the wind.
          The owner of the land saw the white and spindly stalks on the horizon just as the first stars were appearing in the sky. News vans rushed to the site to be the first to capture the alien entity.
          They needn’t have bothered. By the morning, the spores had spread and sprouted across most of the state.

The stars were there when the fight began.
          Under their light she watched the footage on her phone. The alien flora tearing through the country had already started appearing in other parts of the globe. She didn’t need to guess where it had come from.
          She put out a call to the best and brightest from every field, and they’d come, through satellite beams and fiber optic cables, to help her form the plan of attack.
She’d talked with them through the night, as the stars twinkled above. They spoke of plant physiology and structure, ecology and genetics, life cycles and distribution models. They talked and she listened, collating it all.
          Then she spoke. She told each party what she wanted them to do. Where to marshal their attack. How to lay the specific type of defensive groundwork. What types of new bio-weaponry to create.
          For herself, she got on a plane and headed to where it all started. She wanted to meet the enemy head on.

The stars were there when she lost all hope.
           She wept under their distant light with no idea what to do next for the first time in her life.
          It had taken only weeks for the fungus to cripple the planet. It’s feather light spores had ridden slipstreams across oceans, finding their way to every part of the globe. At each point the fungus had spread and sucked the land dry. It’s growth rate was unheard of. It was growing still.
          As it grew it destroyed. It absorbed every drop of water, every mineral, every scrap of unwary life. The native flora either shriveled away to nothing or were simply smothered under the weight of the fungal growth. Herds of animals dropped dead due to starvation or dehydration. Now there were reports of the fungus making its way down to the ocean floor.
          She’d done everything she could think of. Attacked it with every form of chemical weaponry known to man. Invented new ones. Tore kilometers of the hungry infestation from the ground. Then, when nothing else had worked, set the country ablaze in an effort to eradicate it.
          Still it grew.
          It’s level of indestructibility would mean their destruction, she knew this now. It was only a matter of time.
          So, she wept. Alone, in a field, with the fungal stalks around her, and the stars overhead.

The stars were there when the new earth was born.
          She looked up at them as she stood beside the WHB, the device drawing in life from one of the few remaining power sources. She hadn’t slept for days. She’d been coding non stop since the answer had come to her; rewriting the settings so the WHB would only transport matter from within a very specific set of parameters.
          The stars watched as the humming turned to shaking, and the few remaining artificial lights went out. She looked at the stars, taking them in for the very last time.
The machine dinged and a new earth was born; green, and lush, and perfect.
          Technically, it wasn’t a new earth at all, simply an alternate one, but it was new to her, and to the rest of the previous earth’s inhabitants that had unknowingly made the journey with her. Through the new starlight she saw a flock of birds cross the sky. An insect buzzed by her ear. Good signs. They would have to rebuild everything. Start again from nothing.
But that was tomorrow’s problem. For now she fell to the ground, laughed and sobbed, relieved and happy.
          On that night, the stars were there.


Thanks for reading,



Riding to Mars (Part 2)


Part 1 of this story can be found here.


Justice woke, disorientated and in pain.

She hadn’t meant to sleep, but, buried in a hole, there was little else to do. She took a second to take note of the situation. It was quiet, and dark; both the day and the dust storm having moved on while she slept. With a grunt she pushed the bike and coat off her self. Cold rushed in. She inhaled with the sudden chill and rushed to wrap the coat around herself.

The cold now having woken her properly, she thought about what to do next. There was only really one option, try to get back to the city. She let out a heavy sigh, and looked down at her broken leg. She was just going to have to do her best.

Justice knew she should wrap the leg, but with no bandages on hand, and the cold settling in for the night, she was hesitant to rid herself of any additional clothing. Finally, she decided that she would likely warm up on the walk back, and that she could perhaps bare to lose her singlet top, which would still leave her with a shirt and coat.

She stripped down, then hurriedly re-clothed, minus the singlet. She used her teeth to tear through the hem and then tore it as best she could down the middle, doubling its length. With gritted teeth she wrapped the fabric around her leg; starting at the bottom and moving upwards. A guttural moan pushed up her throat as the fabric wound around the point of skin barely holding back her broken bone. Her teeth clamped so tight they felt like they might shatter from the force, and tears welled in the corners of her eyes. She pushed on, continuing the wrapping and tying it off.

She allowed herself a few deep calming breaths and then moved onto the next challenge. A crutch.

There were no trees out this far from the city, so branches were out of the question. It would have to be the bike. She looked across at the mangled wreck and tried to pick out the most likely parts that would suit her purposes. Both the top tube and bottom tube of the frame were bent, but perhaps not too bent. The ends were twisted and pressed, but that might actually help with the situation as she would have to try and separate them from the rest of the frame anyway.

She got to work. The frame was made of a metal alloy that made it extremely light, and only semi durable. This was why it had crumpled so easily from a basic fall, it would take most of the brunt of any accident, but wouldn’t get up again to face another one. It also meant she could bent and twist the frame using just her hands. She started on the wheels, pushing them out of the way so she could get to frame behind. Then it was just a matter of bending the metal one way, then back the other, over and over again until it finally weakened enough to snap. With both her hands heavily grazed, the already hard job was made even more difficult. But what other choice did she have? Nothing was ever easy, she thought.

By the time she had both metal tubes free she was covered in sweat, and her hands were bleeding. The cold was doing little to cool her down and she considered ditching her coat. Then it dawned on her that even with her recent labor she really shouldn’t be so hot. The temperature was likely single digits out here, meaning any heat she worked up should be whipped away in an instant.

A fever then, it had to be. Which meant infection. She doubted, and hoped, it wasn’t her leg. Likely it was her hands and face. Best keep her coat on then, she thought. She was probably colder than she thought she was, meaning if she stripped down she could freeze while still feeling like a human furnace.

She pushed the end of the top tube into the bottom, bending until they were as straight as she could make them. After all her manipulations the stick of metal was twisted and dented, making it look like as if were a toothpick that had been used by a giant mecha.

It only needed one more addition.

She freed the bike seat from its bearing and reattached it to the top of her stick. It was wobbly, but with her weight on it she assumed it wouldn’t be so noticeable. Only one way to know for sure, she thought.

Using the newly made crutch for balance she managed to draw herself up onto her good leg. It hurt, a lot. Once up, she placed the cruth into her armpit. It wasn’t perfect. The wobbiliness of the seat was more annoying than she had hoped for, and it was short, making her tilt to one side, but it would do. It would have to.

She left the rest of the bike where it was — seeing no need to carry additional scrap metal with her — and began, slowly, to walk.

She kept her eyes firmly fixed on the distant lights of the city as she made her way through the dark, refusing to bow her head or look at her injuries. Sweat continued to drip from her, but the cold of the night did work to cool the liquid, which added some relief.

Every step was accompanied by a jolt of pain. She did her best to keep as much weight as possible off of her left leg, but it wasn’t easy, and occasionally she would give it just an inch too much and scream as the pain spiked into white hot territory.

She tried not to think about the broken bone jostling within her skin, the shattered ends rubbing against each other with every move she made. She didn’t have much luck. The image kept flashing in her mind with every step she took.

Still, she stepped on wards, forcing herself to focus on the fact that with every step she was a little bit closer to her goal, rather than all the steps she still had to take.

After what she guessed was about a kilometer, she stopped. She didn’t sit, worried that it she did she might not be able to get back up again, just got her breath back, and tried to ease her legs as best she could. Her right one was already tired, overcompensating as it was for her left. Knowing it wasn’t likely to feel better any time soon, she carried on.

One hour passed, and then another.

The pain had reduced to a dull roar, as though covered with a thick blanket that muffled the bulk of it. Justice knew that wasn’t a good sign. She had started feeling woozy too. Now edging up to giddy, as the fever raged through her.

She thought she kept hearing noises out in the dark, but the saner part of her mind knew that should be impossible. While there were animals that lived on Mars, they were mostly livestock, kept to the immediate outskirts of the city, not out here in the flatlands. Still, the noises came at her, some familiar.

They’re video game noises, she thought with a moment of clarity. The pings and pops signifying achievements within a game, specifically the one she’d played as a kid. She hadn’t played it for years.

Then she heard a rising bbbbrrraaa-ding!

It was the noise that sounded whenever a new section of land was discovered. She began to giggle. She supposed she was uncovering new land, although it wasn’t lighting up like it did in the game, darkness still pervaded her senses. Every ten steps or so her mind would once more form the noise, bbbbrrraaa-ding! Oddly, it helped, she found herself pushing forward, wanting to hear the noise and hit the next imagined check-mark.

Then she fell.

Her leg just went out from underneath her. No warning. No tremor. Just her face hitting the hard dirt as her leg ignited into agony. She lay there for a second trying to figure out what had happened. Had her body just given up? All it’s resources gone. She started giggling again, and found couldn’t stop. Saliva dribbled from her mouth to mix with the dust, which puffed with ever gasping exhale she let out. Still, she couldn’t stop laughing. Or was it crying? Both, she decided.

‘What’s so funny, squirt?’ A voice asked.

She turned her head to see a small cartoon bird flying above her. Willow was its name. She knew this because it too came from the video game. It was the main characters sidekick, and only ever referred to them as squirt.

Justice let out a whine. That’s really not good, she thought.

‘I said, what’s so funny, squirt?’ Willow said again.

‘Just that I’m going crazy, and probably dying.’

‘Hm,’ Willow said in a confused voice, ‘that doesn’t sound funny at all.’

‘It’s not,’ Justice told her.

‘You should probably get up then, shouldn’t you?’

Justice thought about this. Wondered if she could, physically, stand. She wasn’t sure. She felt disconnected from her body. Felt as if she were somehow floating just outside of it.

The rational part of her mind screamed at her that this was bad, that if she was hallucinating, and hearing things, and no longer able to feel her body then she was likely on the brink of death, and all she needed to tip over it was to stop.

‘C’mon, squirt, time to go.’ Willow said with a flap of her wings. ‘Lot more land to discover yet, can’t be giving up now.’

Her voice, now sounding very much like Justice’s own, was sincere and urgent.

And so, Justice stood. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but she managed to get herself back upright once more, and place the crutch under her arm. She took a shaky step forward, then another, and then eight more. Bbbbrrraaa-ding!


They found her just as the sun was beginning to rise, she had made it all the way to the edge of the city. She was rushed to the closest hospital where she was treated for dehydration, fever, and of course, a broken leg.

Justice was not on the first leap out to Europa, but she was on the second. The higher ups from the institute, Serena Shaw amongst them, were impressed at the way she’d coped and survived after the accident, and at her test scores once she’d retaken the exam. It hadn’t seemed as stressful the second time.

As she’d walked onto the enormous space craft, her homemade crutch in hand, she thought about all the land she would discover. All the lights she would turn on.


Thanks for reading,


Riding to Mars (Part 1)

1930864_1Image Credit: Bambalick Design

Sweat streamed down her face as she rode. It glowed red, burning with both exertion and shame.

The heat of the sun shimmered against the red earth, as though she were riding headlong towards a portal to another world. Justice eyed that shimmer, wanting the fictional escape. Her legs pumped against the pedals, each footfall drawing another bead of sweat, each cycle pushing her forward, but the new world never came.

The temperature would drop soon, she knew. The weather lately had been alternating between extreme heat and chilling cold, as though the the city itself were running a fever. Between each change came the wind, rushing in to sweep the previous elements away.

The weather had been temperamental since the day Mars was terraformed, but it had increased recently. She didn’t know what that meant, if it meant anything, but she didn’t care. She wanted off this red rock anyway.

As she’d predicted the wind came gusting across the barren landscape, blowing first with her, then against. She growled against the added strain.

When her parents had first told her they would be moving to Mars she had been happy, then sad, then happy again. Bittersweet was the word, but at ten years old she was unfamiliar with the term.

The bitter came from the idea of leaving everything she knew behind. Her small town in southern Australia had encompassed almost her entire world–the odd trip to Melbourne the only exception. She saw it like an online role playing game, where most of the terrain stays in black, lighting up and revealing itself only when your avatar braved forward into the dark. Her world was mostly black, but soon she would be on a rocket to another planet, and she knew you would be hard pressed to find a way that lit up more terrain than that. That was where the sweet half of the equation came from, the chance to explore, and the fact that Mars was the best place to achieve her desired career. She was going to be an astronaut, she just knew it.

Her first year on Mars hadn’t lived up to expectations. The infrastructure in place when she had arrived with her family had been the barest necessary to allow human habitation, meaning all her usual comforts were non existent. Mars might have been terraformed and now habitable for humans, but it would take decades yet before anything resembling an ecosystem would start to appear. Each seed of that ecosystem, not to mention all the tools and materials that would allow it to flourish, would have to be shipped over on expensive cargo shuttles from Earth. Even basic comforts, such as indoor toilets and showers, had yet to make their way to Mars.

In the time since, Mars had flourished, and so had she.

Space travel advanced, becoming cheaper, and more and more shuttles began arriving every day. Her small outpost grew to became a city. Not like the ones she’d known back on Earth perhaps, but something new, and, eventually, familiar. The desert still remained, but the Earth-brought vegetation was beginning to establish itself, advancing outwards from the city like the world’s slowest moving army.

She had studied and trained. Every day. She had ran made up drills out on the red flats, pushing herself to become stronger, and asked her parents to supply her with books on every topic, to be brought over by the incoming fleets. She had discovered that knowledge was also like the terrain in a role playing game, and so she had sought to dispel the dark there as well.

Then, at fifteen, she had joined the institute. They had pushed her even harder than she’d pushed herself. She made the decision to move into the barracks a year early, at seventeen, a decision her parents questioned, but she knew she had to give her all if she had even a chance of making it. The next leap, out to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, was scheduled for just over eight years away, and she had a lot of ladder to climb if she wanted to ensure she would be on that mission.

She wouldn’t.

What she would do is suffer a panic attack during the final examination, brought on by lack of sleep and a general over exhaustion. This would lead to her hyperventilating and passing out only to then vomit on her personal hero and admiral of the fleet, Serena Shaw, when she tried to rouse her. They had taken her to a medical room to lie down, but as soon as she was alone she’d left, jumped on a bike, and rode for the distant horizon; a location that, much like her future career as an astronaut, seemed to move further away the harder she pushed herself toward it.

She leaned over the front of the bike, forcing her aching legs to pedal faster, then faster still. She screamed into the whipping wind, at the planet, at the situation, at herself, a guttural scream that tore at her throat and left her breathless.

Then the bike’s front tyre found a rock and the next thing she knew she was flying through the air. She hit red dirt, compacted and hard. Lights flashed in her head and she passed out for the second time that day.

She woke hours later; bleeding, bruised, and broken.

Justice lifted her head, and squinted against the still whipping wind. A groan dribbled out of her as she pulled herself into a sitting position to assess the damage. She felt sore all over. Whatever muscles weren’t bruised felt stiff from their prolonged awkward position on the hard ground. Her hands and elbows were heavily grazed, and, judging from the hot pain on her cheek, she assumed the same was true for the left side of her face.

Worse though, were her legs. The right one was okay; okay meaning cut and bleeding but otherwise functional. The left was broken. It’d been trapped between the ground and the bike as she hit, and had snapped like a candy cane from the combined pressures.

The bike was a mess of twisted metal. The front end in particular, as it has hit the ground hard and head on, probably saving her own helmet-less head from cracking. She freed herself from the tangle of bike, whimpering as she was forced to lift her broken leg, then drew her pant leg up with a hiss of pain.

The break wasn’t a compound fracture, but she could see the bone jutting against her skin from the inside. She bit down an urge to gag and took a deep breath; using her training to calm herself. She needed hospilisation, except the closest one was now kilometers away. She hadn’t ridden with any direction or destination in mind, merely wanting to create distance between her and her failure. Back the way she had came, she could just make out the outline of the city, hidden by the blowing dust.

They would come looking for her, given enough time, but how long would that take? Hours? Days? She would need to make her own way back, somehow. First, though, she needed shelter. The wind was becoming worse, and she knew a dust storm couldn’t be that far away. Except there was no shelter. There was no vegetation this far out from the city, and no outcrops to hide behind in the immediate vicinity.

With a sigh, she reached over to the bike and unscrewed the mud guard. It wasn’t much in the way of spades, but it would have to do. She began to dig.

The hole was far from perfect, she could only just fit into it by pulling her legs up into a fetal position, an act that caused tears to rush to her eyes as she jostled her broken limb. She then pulled her cloak over herself, and dragged the damaged bike on top to weigh it down.

As she lay there, knees pressed up against herself, the weight of the bike pushing down uncomfortably on top of her, wind and dust howling overhead, she considered just how shitty a day she’d had.


Part 2 of this story can be found here


Thanks for reading,



Fortune Delivered


There was a knock at the door.

Alan rose from the couch and waited outside the hallway for just a second before entering. He didn’t want the delivery driver to think he’d been sitting there, just waiting for his food to arrive. He had been, but he didn’t want them to think that.

Through the glass of the front door he saw a bored looking asian man. He was young, around his age, and wore a bright puffy jacket with the delivery company’s logo on the front — black to the jacket’s garish yellow — and a motorcycle helmet still on his head, only the top half of his face visible through the lifted visor.

Most importantly though, his hands held food.

Well, they held a brown paper bag, but inside that bag was food.

Alan had been dreaming about this meal. All. Week.

His diet had started two weeks ago. It had meant to be three weeks ago, but then on that first tuesday someone had left a pack of biscuits in the break room and he’d eaten one before remembering he was supposed to be on a diet, and so after that he’d decided it would be best to just wait to the following Monday to start the diet again. More complete that way.

Other than that one deviation though, he’d done quite well. A whole fortnight of sticking to his meal plans, limiting his snacking to only the healthiest options, and denying himself of sugar all together. He felt great. Well, he felt withdrawn and tired, but he was also very proud of himself.

Naturally, that sort of self discipline deserved a reward.

He opened the door and forcibly stopped himself from reaching for the bag. He didn’t want to seem like a food starved crazy person. Best to let the delivery driver hand it to him. These things had a protocol.

‘Hello,’ he said, and the delivery driver turned to look at him.

He did reach for the bag then, but the driver pulled it away from his reach to read the docket stapled to the side.

‘Prawn toast, spring rolls, combination black bean, and a twelve pack of wontons?’ he said with a muffled voice as he held the bag hostage.

‘Yep. That’s what we ordered,’ Alan said, reaching again for the food, wanting the interaction to be over, now self conscious of the solo order.

The driver gave over the bag, and Alan started to close the door.

‘Wait,’ the driver said. ‘Orders of this size come with a serve of fortune cookies.’ The driver reached into his backpack and pulled out the complementary dessert.

‘Thank you,’ Alan said, taking them, but not entirely sure if he wanted them, not having factored the cookies into his calculated reward.

‘Have a good night,’ the driver said.

Alan thought he was smiling at him, the edges of his eyes had crinkled upwards, but he couldn’t be sure since he was unable to see his mouth. He thought it best to presume he was, gave him a smile of his own, and said, ‘you too.’

He closed the door behind him and carried the brown paper bag and fortune cookies into the lounge room. Alan smiled. He and the food were finally alone.

He quickly changed out of his jeans and shirt and into sweatpants and a tee — he’d only been wearing the clothes until the interaction with the delivery driver was over — settled himself onto the couch, turned on the tv, and pulled the food into his lap.


The meal was everything he’d hoped it would be.

The prawn toast was the perfect combination of crunchy and soft, the wontons squishy and savoury, the spring rolls flaky and flavoursome, and the black bean sauce ran dark rivers across his taste buds that he drank down like a man who hadn’t eaten for a week. Or a fortnight.

He leaned back against the couch at the end of the meal, a picture of satisfaction. He laid his hand across his belly which felt full, but a comfortable full. He didn’t need another bite.

But still…

His eyes moved to the plastic bag and the fortune cookies within.

One would be okay. Surely. They were so thin and light. Yes, just one.

He reached across the coffee table and lifted the bag to him. It had one of those sticky tags around the top that he could never quite open and so he ripped a hole in the plastic. The smell of the cookies wafted towards him. He breathed it in. They were far from his favourite dessert, but after two weeks without sugar the smell triggered all the right receptors in his brain. He looked in and and grabbed the biggest one.

The pastry snapped easily in his grip, causing bits of crumb to fall back down onto his lap. His mouth watered in anticipation. Then he saw the strip of paper hanging from the side of the cookie. He’d almost forgotten about the generic bit of fortune that the sweets were named for. Might as well read it, he thought.

He took up the small bit of paper and read:

You will discover you are not alone.

Alan stared at the words, printed a faded grey on the cheap paper, and chuckled. Yes, it was the usual nonsense. A sweet platitude but ultimately meaningless. Besides, he was happy to be alone.

A noise sounded from the other end of the house.

A thud, then a scurry.

Alan looked towards the sound and listened, waiting to hear if there would be a repeat. There wasn’t, so he decided it best to ignore it, and turned his attention back to the cookie. He put both halves into his mouth and chomped down. His eyes closed with bliss as he crunched the bits into smaller bits, delighting as the sweetness activated the corresponding taste buds.

The noise came again. Thud, then scurry.

Alan turned, mid chew, to once more look towards the other end of the house. He couldn’t ignore it now, could he? No. He decided. He sighed and rose, placed the rest of the cookies onto the coffee table and brushed the crumbs off his lap.

The house was mostly a single hallway, with the kitchen and lounge room at one end, a spare bedroom at the other, and in between his bedroom and the bathroom. He assumed the noise must be some kind of animal that had gotten into the house, a possum perhaps.

He stopped outside his bedroom door, gave it a quick look but saw no sign of disturbance.

That settled it then, the possum must be in the spare room.

He pushed open the door. The room was silent, the thudding and scurrying paused for the moment, but there was a smell present. Musty. Not like an animal exactly, more like…aged. He stepped one foot into the room, shielded the rest of his body behind the door, then reached out and flicked on the switch. Warm light enveloped the room, which grew brighter as the halogen bulb became hotter.

Something was definitely in there. The room, which served as a spare bedroom/study/storage room was crowded. Plenty of places for a critter to hide. The desk chair was down, knocked over, as was a stack of his old textbooks. The explained the two thumps, but not the scurrys.

Alan bent to pick up one of the fallen textbooks. As he did he heard a noise come from under the bed. A snuffle, was probably the best way to describe it. Did possum’s snuffle? He wondered.

He got on all fours, holding the textbook as a shield, and peered under the bed.

He thought he saw movement, but it was black moving on black so it was hard to be definitive. He considered crawling under the bed with a broom or something, but quickly dismissed the idea. No, better he take the hands off approach.

He stood up, moved back to the safety of the doorway, and flicked the light switch off and on a number of times.

Amazingly, it worked.

Alan heard a snuffle, saw movement, and so left the light on.

What came out from under the bed was not a possum, or a rat, or any animal Alan had ever seen or heard of. It was round, it’s body an oblong cylinder, off of which came two pairs of feathered wings, and three sets of legs.

And that was it.

No head, no eyes, no ears. Just the single piece of flesh with wings and legs attached. At least Alan thought they were legs. They somewhat resembled chickens feet, but had the same covering of pink flesh the rest of the body had, making them also look like hands.

Whatever definition you chose, the creature used them to walk itself out from under the bed, emitting more snuffles as it went. Alan wondered how it could snuffle when it had no mouth. He wondered a lot of things in that moment, at least in the recesses of his mind; the front part was panicking. Alan let out a sound, a sort of questioning groan, and the creature spun towards him. He stepped backwards out of the room and slammed the door.

Something like, what the hell was that? ran through his head on repeat, although it was less coherent, and more like a swarm of general confusion and horror.

Alan paced down the hallway trying to think of what to do. Should he call animal control? Did they handle…monsters. Which was the only word he could think of to describe the thing. What was he going to say to them? Hello, some creature crawled out from under my spare bed that looks like a headless pig, with wings and an extra set of legs.

They’d think he was crazy.

He’d think he was crazy if it wasn’t for the fact that he could still hear the beast snuffling around in the other room.

His pacing took him back to the lounge room where the remaining fortune cookies drew him like steel to a magnet. He wasn’t hungry, but he was a nervous eater, and now seemed like a good time to be nervous. Alan drew out a cookie and had already cracked it when he saw the previous fortune.

You will discover you are not alone.

That had certainly proven to be true, he thought, first with panicked amusement and then growing horror. The cookies? Surely not. No. No. That was insane. Right?

He remembered back. He had first heard the sound after he’d snapped the first cookie. But, if that were the case…

The walls shook as a thump sounded from the other end of the house. Alan ran towards the noise, bile rising in his throat as he moved down the hallway. He swallowed it and swung the door open.

The creature filled the room. It’s huge bulk leaned heavily against one wall and its six legs scrambled as it tried to find space for the extra mass it now carried. The bed was a pile of splinters and linens, and the rest of the rooms clutter was in a state of further disarray.

Alan slammed the door shut and fell back against the hallway wall. He looked down at his hands, which were balled into fists, and forced himself to unclench them. One still held the second fortune cookie, now shattered, his sweat mingling to make it a sticky mess of broken biscuit, a small strip of paper at the center. Seven words told him his second fortune.

Ignore your problems and they will grow.

The bile came back with a vengeance, and this time Alan couldn’t keep it down.


He waited two hours before he opened the next fortune cookie.

That time was spent thinking through the problem while routinely checking in on the creature. It had calmed down after it had destroyed the room. Now it lay in the rubble of his possessions like a dog in its bed.

Here are the solutions Alan came up with and dismissed in those two hours:

  1. Starve it out – Except it had no mouth, so who’s to say the thing is even capable of starving
  2. Kill it – Problematic due to its size and the fact that it seems to have an awareness of his presence despite a lack of eyes. Basically, it might kill him before he can kill it
  3. Call the police – It seemed likely that they would do able to do something — although Alan didn’t know what exactly — but it also seemed likely that they’d have a lot of questions for him, questions he couldn’t answer. He also wondered how much prison time exotic animal dealers got these days
  4. Keep it indefinitely – Too many negatives; hard to explain to visitors, lose a whole room of his house, not really at the point in his life where he can commit to keeping a monster
  5. Give the chinese restaurant a bad review online and complain that their fortune cookies were enchanted – satisfying, but wouldn’t solve the actual problem

Which left him with option number six: open the rest of the fortune cookies and see what happens. It was a problematic option. It had the potential for greater disaster, almost a guarantee really, and by no means did it seem definite that it would offer a solution.

But it might.

That ‘but’ was what he was working with. Out of all the options this seemed like the only one that had even a chance of getting rid of the beast, however small that chance was.

There were two left in the bag. Two seemingly harmless clam shaped wafers with his future written inside. He wondered if it mattered which one he broke next, or, if like the fortunes themselves, all of this was preordained. It didn’t really matter, he supposed. He picked up the one on the left and snapped it in two.

Opportunities to climb high will come your way.

What could that-

A crash. A tear. Plaster and roof tiles and footsteps. From above.

The thing was on the roof.

Alan rushed into his spare room and saw exactly what he feared he would. A hole where a ceiling should be. He ran back down the hallway and towards the front door. Once outside he looked up. On the rooftop, it’s silhouette visible through the moonlight, was the beast. It snuffled, then let out a muffled and ragged caw.

Lights were turning on in his neighbours houses, and through the windows he could see people peering out.

‘Shit. Shit. Shit,’ Alan said, taking the last fortune cookie from his pocket. He really hoped it would have a solution. It cracked under the pressure of his shaking fingers, and with more than a little trepidation he freed the off-white slip of paper from it’s sugary shell.

Open up the senses, and all that bothers you shall disappear.

What the hell did that mean?

No, don’t freak out, Alan told himself. Disappear, that’s a good thing, right? He just had to solve the riddle. Open up his senses. He could figure this out. Sure.

The beast paced across the rooftop, each step cracking tiles and breaking wood.

C’mon, Alan, he thought. Open up his senses? What could that mean? No, he was reading it wrong. It was open up the senses, and the only thing without senses around here was…

Oh no. Alan really hoped he was wrong, but he had a sickly feeling that he wasn’t.

He looked up at the faceless monster, who had stopped its pacing and was now perched on the edge of the roof. It’s posture suggested it was looking down at him.

Alan, feeling miserable, put both halves of the fortune cookie in his mouth and chewed.


The tiles slid under his feet as Alan made his way across the rooftop. The rain had started while he’d been searching through the shed which only made his already dangerous task even more so. He didn’t have a ladder so he’d had to climb up the wheelie bin and then scramble his way over the guttering. Not an easy thing to do when you were carrying a drill in one hand.

He’d almost forgotten he had the thing. He’d received it as a present a few years ago when he’d gone through a handyman phase. Once that’d passed he’d left the drill in the shed with his few other tools to collect dust. It still had some battery though. He hoped it was enough.

He was about a meter from the beast when he slipped. He fell face first down onto the already cracked tiles, which cracked further under his weight. His chin bounced but he managed to keep hold of the drill. He carefully got onto his knees, wiped the blood from his chin, and looked up at the monster who had stepped forward to loom over him.

Alan swallowed his fear, which tasted of bile and fortune cookies, and leapt into action. He jumped onto the monsters back, used one hand to steady himself, gripping its wings, and with the other he turned the drill on. It let out a terrible mechanic whine that was followed with a rumble of thunder from above.

Alan screamed out an apology and forced the drill into the left side of the beasts “head”. The drill took and pushed forward. There was little resistance and he was surprised to see no blood escape the wound. It was as if the monster was made of cork rather than flesh. The creature bucked and scrambled across the roof, but Alan held on. He removed and reinserted the drill to create a similar hole on the right side.

Good. Ears done. Only five more holes to go.

Alan leaned forward and with two quick whirs, gave the beast its nostrils. It reared up in retaliation, it’s two front feet leaving the ground. He gripped tight to the wings, and felt his stomach rise up in his throat.

Lightning cracked.

The beast dropped down and Alan went back to work. He forced the drill into the area where he figured its right eye should be. The thing bucked again, forward this time, causing Alan, already off balance, to slip. He flipped mid air and landed hard on his back, which forced the air out of his lungs.

Alan gasped as he struggled to pull oxygen back into his body. Feeling sore and light headed, he nevertheless managed to draw himself up, drill still in hand.

Thunder boomed again.

Alan wiped the rain from his eyes and charged.

The monster swung its weight towards him but Alan leapt at the last second and brought the drill down to its left, creating a second eye in the creatures front. Alan smiled, he was doing well. Which was when the beast kicked him. He went down for a third time. The drill bounced out of his hands, slide across the roof, and fell to the ground with a smash.

Alan looked from the broken drill to the monster. The two eye holes he had given it stared back at him. It pawed the ground, ready for a charge, then came; one big ball of muscle.

Alan grabbed the closest thing to him, a broken piece of tile, and slashed out as he simultaneously rolled to the side.

The monster, unable to stop its momentum, skidded and toppled over the edge of the roof.

Alan pulled himself up onto all fours, and looked down. Where he expected to see the body of the beast, smashed on the ground alongside his drill, he instead saw it hovering, it’s four wings flapping to keep it in place.

It flew up, drawing eye level with Alan. Lightning cracked and through the sudden light he saw the beast now wore a ragged smile, compliments of the broken tile.

The creature bowed, and Alan met its smile with one of his own.

The monster’s body began to disintegrate, particles of it moving to land on the broken roof, and through the hole it had made.

Where every particle fell, wreckage was restored.

Alan stood in wonder as all around him his roof repaired itself, then looked up to see the last of the beast, it’s newly acquired face, fall to pieces and disappear.

Then he was alone, standing on his roof in the rain.

Alan climbed down and went back inside. He made his way towards the spare room, now completely restored, and checked under the bed to be sure, but there was nothing there. He went back into the lounge room and flopped his sodden body down onto the couch. The discarded packaging of his dinner lay before him.

He wondered if he would ever order take away again.


This creature in this story was influenced by one from chinese mythology, the Hundun. In the mythology the Hundun was the personification of chaos, and lived before the world was really the world. It lived with the gods of the north and south seas, Shu and Hu, who one day decided to grant the Hundun its senses, and so drilled seven holes in its head. On the completion of the final hole the Hundun died, and from its body the universe was created.

The Hundun is a symbol of the undivided beginning, the embodiment of primordial chaos. His lack of senses highlights the complete darkness that exists in the beginning of time, and which ended with the death.

It is also the mandarin name for a wonton.



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Image and information from:

The Chalk Man


I write this in a dimly lit room, stark walls surround me, no windows. If my script is large or chaotic it is because I have left my glasses in the room next door. I allow not even a mug of water in my presence. I have discovered a myth, or something more, perhaps, and I do not want the subject of my study to see me; not yet.

Lost legends have him as the Chalk Man, less a name but a descriptor; given for his white and ashen skin. Which is wrong, as it’s not skin, but bone. Bone so old that it crumbles, leaving a fine powder of dust, akin to chalk dust, on whatever he touches. Man is also wrong, as he is of no gender, nor even human, but, for lack of appropriate terminology, we will use the pronouns referring to the masculine throughout this text.

The lost legends — that are now found, if only to myself — are, by a human understanding, ancient, as the Chalk Man hasn’t been spoken of, written of, or likely even thought of, for centuries. His existence slowly being lost from the collective consciousness one life at a time. By the Chalk Man’s point of view, however, they are practically modern, having been written within the last millenium.

His purpose, in those legends, is ill defined, if simply not mentioned at all, which is a shame because his purpose is a very important one, that contains many roles. He is a king to some, a servant to others, sometimes a friend, sometimes an enemy, an angel, or a demon. His job, as it were, is to appear as the honest reflection of us all. A confusing, if not mysterious, job description I am aware. Let me try and make more sense of it.

Have you ever caught your own reflection and for a moment thought someone else was looking back at you? Perhaps you saw a monster, or a stranger, or a royal, or a saint. Just for a second. That was the Chalk Man. Or at least, that is the Chalk Man at work, and he has been doing this work for a very long time.

It is presumed that the Chalk Man was present when we were still walking around on all fours. Indeed, it is likely he was there when our ameba ancestors were first beginning to divide. He watched us, they say, the legends that are both ancient and modern, from his reflective surfaces, waiting for the day when we would gain a level of sentience that could recognise our own image.

Some of the legends, that I have hunted down in hidden cities that no longer have names, argue that the Chalk Man did more than watch; that he, just once, stretched out a bony arm from his reflective kingdom and altered the course of man; that it is due to him that we are so different from the rest of the animals that we share this planet with. What it is the Chalk Man did to achieve this is not written, and so this theory is to be taken with a pinch of salt…or chalk dust, as it were.

The first recorded encounter with the Chalk Man came some time after, when one of the ancient civilisations, the residents of one of those cities without names, first started writing things down. One such text wrote of an encounter whereby a local woman went to drink from the underground river that fueled the city, peered into the inky water, and saw the Chalk Man staring back at her. The woman, a weaver by the name of Oma, cried out, but did not flee. Instead, once her breath and heart were once more under her control, she crawled back to look at the water. Once more she saw the Chalk Man, bony and white, her own reflection nowhere to be seen. He did naught but watch young Oma, who, after deeming him not a threat, went to gather others to show them the chalk figure in the water. By the time she brought the crowd to the water’s edge, he was gone; her own reflection returned to her. It would only be later, after multiple appearances, that Oma’s story would be believed.

The reason why the Chalk Man simply watched Oma, and especially why he watched her in his own form, has been much argued over the many years by the forgotten scholars that once studied the Chalk Man. Some claimed that by seeing the Chalk Man as he truly is allowed Oma some gaining of knowledge outside of our understanding, and caused some great shift in her life, and on mankind as a whole; and indeed Oma did go on to live a remarkable life. Some claimed that he fell in love with Oma, and stole her reflection for those few short minutes to take as his Queen, only to find a reflection was no substitute for the real thing; this too, may well be the case. For myself, I think the Chalk Man was simply studying, seeing some final aspect of mankind’s heart so he could then go on to do his true work.

The work, as one of the old texts described it, was: “Purveyor of understanding and dealer of truths”. This is the most accurate description I have found. Simply, the Chalk Man shows you what you need to see. If you be good, but lacking in courage, you may see yourself momentarily in a reflective surface as a hero. If you be evil, but lacking in morals, you may see yourself as a monster. You may see an angel when you need hope. You may see a devil when you need fear. You may see your mother when she needs you to visit. And on it goes. The Chalk Man knows what you need to see and shows it to you. Often, after a viewing, you may find some of his bone dust on a shoe, or you shirt. This is the way to know if was a true showing. Or, so the texts say.

One text, the latest I’ve found, goes one step further. It claims that behind every reflective surface lies a kingdom, his kingdom, and if you do not heed the truth he offers you that he will reach out and take you there, never to return.

The next question, and the one most pressing to my own research, is why was knowledge of the Chalk Man lost? Why has he left our collective consciousness? Many of the the legends I’ve found barely describe the Chalk Man whenever they reference him, so sure were they that the reader knew of whom they spoke. So how is it that he is not even a mythological figure today? I do not know, but I expect to find out soon for I think he watches me.

Twice now I have had a glimpse of something else in my mirror. First, I am sure it was his own figure, white and silent, then the second time I saw myself, only with unbroken skin where my mouth should be. After both instances I searched the area for dust, and both times found it.

I have collected the dust and added it to a small vial, to be sent to the university along with this manuscript. I hope to send it this very afternoon. This will of course require me to leave my matte room and pass my own reflection, be it in a window or pool of water. I am ready. I have my questions. If I see him again I will not look away, but will instead ask why he withdrew from our world — as I am sure now the lost knowledge of his person was at his own design — and if he is likely to return. I hope he does, this world could do with a good hard look at itself.

One final note. It occurs to me that perhaps I have been…foolhardy, cataloging this history, if indeed the Chalk Man does want to stay hidden. So if you are reading this, it might be best to steer clear of mirrors for a while. You never know when he might be watching.


Thanks for reading,


Crossing the Divide

cake_wormhole_by_alienphysique-d5n64pmPhoto Credit: Alienphysique

Chaos bloomed behind me. A literal ending of the world. I paid it no mind. I instead stood at the threshold to the divide and stared deep into its turquoise depths and considered all the possibilities laid out before me. I could go anywhere. To any point within the known universe, or, if I was brave enough, into the unknown.

I went to the one spot I was always going to go. I went home.


I stepped out of the cold of the divide and into the heat of a thirty five degree day in Melbourne, Earth. Brown grass crunched beneath my feet, scratching my skin. When had I lost my shoes? I wondered, more with curiosity than any feeling of concern.

‘Bernice,’ a voice said from behind me. I turned, my mind still a whirl after passing through the divide, and saw a woman looking at me, a house behind her. Her forehead was creased with worry and her eyes leaked tears over her dark skin.

‘Nora,’ I said with a smile, not really sure who she was but happy to see her.

‘What? Where?’ she started, but her words became drowned in a sea of heavy tears. She rushed towards me and threw her arms around my shoulders, burying her head into my shirt. I put my arms around her.

‘My sister.’ I said, the fact returning to me.

She pulled back and looked into my still smiling face and in a rush asked, ‘What the fuck happened to you? Where have you been? Are you okay?’ A blinked against the barrage of questions as a flurry of knowledge drifted down from somewhere in the upper reaches of my mind like an autumn tree losing its leaves. The knowledge settled and returned me to me. I was Bernice Jarrin, I had crossed the divide.

I looked into Nora’s eyes feeling more like myself. It must have showed because some of the worry fell away from her face. ‘Yeah. Yes. I’m okay,’ I said. ‘As for what happened, I…’ I trailed off, not sure how to explain it.

‘Why don’t we go inside,’ she suggested. ‘Get away from this heat.’

‘Actually, can I take you somewhere?’ I said. ‘There’s something I can show you that might provide context as I answer your questions.’


‘I don’t know what I’m looking at?’ Nora said, her voice echoing through the large and mostly empty warehouse.

‘It’s…well, it doesn’t really have a name yet. I’ve just been calling it the UD. Unknown Device. I, well, I built it.’

She ran her hand across one of the three curved pillars of brass, then gave a hard flick to the dome on top, causing it to let out a hollow ding that hung in the room. ‘You built it but it’s unknown?’ She asked.

‘No. Well, yes. I built it, but it’s not my design.’

‘So who’s design is it?’

‘I don’t know.’

She turned to look at me, eyebrow raised, all sass. It was good to see her usual manner had returned after the short car ride. ‘You realise how unsatisfying these answers are, don’t you?’

‘Right, sorry. It’s from a design I found.’

‘That’s it? Bernice, I swear to god, you are the worst story teller.’

‘Sorry. Sorry. It’s been a long…how long was I actually gone for?’

‘Just over a week,’ she said, some timidity returning to her voice. ‘The police thought you might have been killed. Either that or you’d ran off somewhere. We should probably call them. Let them know they can call off their investigation.’

‘Umm, it might be best to hold off on that for now.’ I said.

Nora whipped her head toward me, eyes penetrating, and I felt the desire to rub my hands together. ‘Why? You planning on leaving again?’

I did rub my hands together. ‘Well, possibly. It might be necessary to-’

‘No, I don’t want to hear any wells, or possiblies, or mights. Tell me straight where the hell have you been?’

‘Luyten b.’

‘What? The exoplanet?’

‘That’s right.’

‘How is that even-? ….and it imploded. It’s been on the news.’

‘Really? For how long?’

‘A couple of days.’

‘So, the crossing isn’t instantaneous. Interesting.’

‘Bernice! What is going on?’

‘Right. The machine, the UD. It’s, for lack of a better word, a transporter.  But it’s also so much more than that. It took me to Luyten b, I watched the world implode. It was…beautiful, terrifying. I, I really don’t have words for it.’

‘I don’t care about the description, Bernice. What do you mean it took you to Luyten b? That’s impossible. That’s…holy shit, I need to sit down.’

I dragged over two old stools I had found by a dumpster when I was first putting together this workspace, and, after a look of reluctance, Nora sat in one. I took the other and spoke.

‘I’m sorry, I really am doing this badly, I know it sounds crazy, but that’s why I wanted to show you the UD, so you could see that this is real. This device, it created a divide between here and Luyten b. All I had to do was step through and I was there. The planet was habitable, just like they thought it might be. I could breathe and it had this kind of odd grass that felt like silk against my feet. Well, at least until it all imploded.’

‘How? How can this device do that?’ She said, pointing at the statue of brass. ‘That’s science fiction, I mean…how?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know? You built it!’

‘Yes, but from a set of instructions, the science of it is…unexplained.’

‘Okay. So where did these instructions come from?’



‘Originally, although that’s not where I got them from. I found them in one of Marie Moreau’s notebooks.’

‘Okay, and who is she?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘Seriously, Mona? I’ve told you about her a million times.’

‘You talk about a lot of old people!’

‘My thesis was based off her work! My career is based off her work! I went to France last year to visit her ancestral home!’

‘Oh, the one who went crazy.’

I sighed. ‘Yes, but that’s the least of what she-’

‘Wait. If you got the instructions from one of her notebooks how come no one’s ever discovered this before?’

My cheeks flushed. ‘Because no one knows this particular notebook exists. I noticed an image of a book hidden in one of the many paintings she did of her garden. So, last year, on my trip, I had a look, and sure enough in the hollow of this elm tree was a notebook–

‘And you stole it?’

‘I discovered it!’

‘Bernice, come on. Shouldn’t it go to her family trust? Or some scientific society, or something?’

‘I am her scientific society. There is no one else on this planet who knows her work as well as I do. Most academics simply think of her as crazy, dismissing her work entirely. Trust me, the best hands the notebook could possibly be in are mine.’

‘Okay, putting aside your theft for the moment, how is it that you don’t understand the science? If you have the notebook wouldn’t it explain it?’

I blushed again and looked away, knowing Mona wouldn’t like what I was about to say next. ‘Well, the notebook’s a bit hard to understand. It came from later in her career so a lot of it is more, ah, raving, than coherent thought, or written so messily that it can’t be read. But the instructions were clear, as were the descriptions of how she got them.’

Nora gave me one of her classic hard looks. ‘So, let me get this straight. You found the notebook of a woman who was clearly losing her mind, in which was the blueprint for a device that the crazy lady said she got from space, and you decide to build it? Not to mention go to a planet that you thought was habitable. You realise how dangerous that was? How irresponsible?’

‘Yes. Well, no. More risky than irresponsible. But being a scientist is about taking risks.’

‘Controlled risks, that you tell your sister about. Not hide up in a secret warehouse somewhere like some mad doctor. I thought you were dead, Bernice. Hell, if this device had been designed for something else, if anything had gone wrong, you could have been.’ Her voice had risen to a shout, and there were tears in her eyes. Her breath was coming fast and I realised mine was too. I took a deep breath and apologised.

‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘I…I should have told you. I just, I didn’t know how to. It was all so crazy and exciting and…I was selfish. I’m sorry.’ I climbed off the stool and hugged her. After a second she returned it.

‘You’re all I have, you know. Ever since we lost Mum and Dad…well, I thought I was alone.’

‘I’m sorry.’ I repeated. ‘It was dumb.’

She pulled out of the hug and looked at me. ‘But you’re planning on using it again.’ She said, more statement than question.

‘Not without you.’ I told her, meaning it.

‘You want me to go to an alien planet with you?’ She asked.

‘Yes, I mean, sure, why not? There are still a number of planets that have been discovered that scientists are confident are habitable. We could visit any one of them. Be the first sisters in space.’

She wiped a tear from her eye as she shook her head. ‘Bernie, you know how crazy that sounds. You don’t know that this device will even work a second time. And what if the scientists are wrong? What if these planets aren’t habitable.’

‘Like I said, the UD can do more than just transport. Moreau wrote that it also provides a protective barrier around you that contains the properties of wherever you’re transporting from.  Basically, a little pocket of Earth. And I think that’s just the start of what it can do. It’s not as dangerous as you think, Nora, trust me.’

‘And if I say no? What then? Will you still leave?’

‘No,’ I said, but with a moment’s hesitation.

‘Fine,’ she said, hearing it. ‘But we’re doing it right. Bring supplies, plan ahead, and get you some shoes. And I need to know everything I can about this device. Just explain it in as non-crazy-smart person as you can. For starters, how does it even work?’

‘Like this,’ I said, and placed my palm wide over the dome. With a twist clockwise, turquoise bloomed around us.


Thanks for reading


Up For It


The procedure was experimental. Well, maybe experimental isn’t the right word. Unproven. It had been proven now though, all thanks to my agreement to be a case study, but there’ve been some complications. No, side-effects is probably a better word. Oh man, I never used to care about words. 

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on my thirtieth birthday. Literally on the day. I blew out the candles of my birthday cake in the hospital cafeteria and let me tell you they are not exactly festive places.

Sclerosis, if you’re Greek’s a bit rusty — and mine used to be non-existent — means scars. The multiple scarring the name refers to takes place within the central nervous system. On the nerve cells themselves. The protective coating that surrounds the neurons actually shears away. The hard truth is there is currently no known cure.

When I found out the reason I’d been having trouble holding cups lately, not to mention my bladder, was due to multiple sclerosis the doctor also told me that it affects roughly three times as many women as men; as though knowing I shared this disease with all my fellow double X chromosome sisters was somehow comforting. It wasn’t. It just further proved we get the rougher end of the deal. When he mentioned that there was a more radical treatment available though, that got my attention.

That’s what my procedure was, a treatment. Not like a mad scientist harnessing lightning from the sky kind of treatment, but still, it was a bit out there.

Look, I’ve never exactly been a model student, or employee, or person, really. I’ve had a few scraps with the law and done some things I’m not proud of, and maybe haven’t achieved a whole lot, but that didn’t mean I was ready to roll over and let this disease have my body. So, when the Doc said ‘stem cell transplant’ I said ‘sure, I’m up for it’, without really bothering to think it through. Honestly, to my non-medical school trained brain it seemed pretty straight forward. You have these stem cells, which are kind of a blank slate capable of turning into any other type of cell, repairing or replacing damaged cells in the process. So, a donor offers them up for whatever reason, my crappy nerve cells get repaired or replaced, and I’m free to spend my thirty first birthday not in a hospital. Simple.

Maybe simple’s not the right word. Straight-forward. Anyway, not so straight-forward, it turns out. Although even the doctor’s didn’t know that.

My donor’s name was Rupert Hellings. The hospital insisted I meet with him beforehand. Personally, I would have preferred to have taken his stem cells and been on my way, but he was a nice enough guy. Bit older, real academic type. Professor of linguistics at the University of Melbourne, whatever that entails. His wife had had multiple sclerosis and, while it wasn’t what killed her, he said he wanted to help others avoid what she had gone through. Like I said, nice guy; although he had this habit of always cracking his knuckles, drove me crazy.

Anyway, the procedure went fine. Stem cells were transplanted and I stopped having issues with vertigo and motor control. For all intents and purposes I didn’t have multiple sclerosis anymore. Good, right?

Then it started. The side-effects. Little things to begin with. Like I started correcting people’s speech. ‘It’s Holly and I, not me and Holly.’ Things like that. I just couldn’t stop myself. I would hear someone say something incorrect and I would have to correct them. I’ve never been that type of girl, and my friends aren’t the kind of people that like being corrected, or who have much of a grasp on the nuances of language. Basically, I was correcting them a lot. Like, constantly. They stopped inviting me to things, and I could hardly blame them. I was getting fed up with it too.

Then it got worse. I would see a word, just any normal word, written on a sign or a poster and I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it. I would become captivated with it. No, not captivated. Obsessed. I would think about the different sounds that made up the word. How it could be used in different contexts. I would begin to wonder about the history of the word and have to look it up, which would inevitably lead me to some new word I would become obsessed over. It was weird, it was wrong, it wasn’t me.

When I started cracking my knuckles, it all fell into place. I realised I was cracking them whenever I was lost in thought, usually over some word or another. Like I said, cracking knuckles drove me crazy, but for some reason doing it now felt right. Then I thought of the only other person I knew who cracked their knuckles in that way, the only other person who was likely to get obsessed over words, and my gut dropped.

What could I do? I knew what what would happen if I went back to the hospital. They would be fascinated by the whole thing. The idea that a stem cell recipient might take on the personality traits of the donor? C’mon, I wouldn’t be leaving that hospital anytime soon. They’d want to do so many tests and experiments on me that every birthday for the next thirty years would likely be spent in that hospital cafeteria. I decided instead to pay my donor a visit.

+ + + +

He was sitting at his desk when I stormed into his office. Universities, it turns out, are pretty easy places to just walk into. He looked up in shock, then pleased recognition at the sight of me. He didn’t stay pleased for long.

‘You’ve infected me,’ I yelled.

‘What?’ he asked.

‘Your knuckle cracking, your word fetish. I’ve got all of them.’ I realise I probably could have been a bit clearer in my language but to be honest I was furious and scared. My body was being taken over. To his credit he figured it out pretty quickly.

‘Wait. Are you saying you’ve somehow taken on some of my mannerisms through the stem cell transplant?’ He asked. Smart guy.

‘That’s exactly what I’m saying and I want you to undo it right now!’

He ignored this statement, too caught up in the implications of what I was saying. He stood and started pacing around the room.

‘That’s amazing. My traits are expressing in you. Part of me is in you,’ he said thinking it through. ‘If its existence can be proven then…’

‘Then you and I would never leave a hospital or laboratory ever again,’ I finished for him. That got his attention.

‘Yes. Yes, I suppose you’re right,’ He returned to his seat. ‘This is all a lot to take in.’

‘You think? Try being on the other end of it!’

‘Right. Tell me, what is it exactly you’ve been experiencing?’

‘Words, man. I can’t stop thinking about words. I’m bloody fascinated by them. Like, right now, I can’t stop thinking about the word fascinated. Why do we use it? What’s its history?’

‘Oh, well that’s very interesting actually-’

‘Stop,’ I say. ‘I don’t want to hear it. Well, I do, but not right now. The point is you need to think of a way to get you out of me.’

‘I- I don’t think I can. My stem cells aren’t even my stem cells anymore. They’re your nerve cells. Even if we did go to the hospital I doubt they could reverse it. They wouldn’t know which neurons had been altered, and from the sounds of it it’s affecting your whole central nervous system, all the way up to your brain. I’m sorry but I think you’re stuck like this.’ He gave a tight lipped smile and raised his eyebrows apologetically. It didn’t do a whole lot to comfort me.

I collapsed into the chair opposite him and put my head in my hands. Was it even my head anymore? It didn’t feel like it.

‘You know, it might not be all bad,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, not really caring for whatever pleasantry, no, platitude, he was about to give me.

‘Well, you said you were fascinated by words, even wanted to hear the history of the word fascinated. I take it that means you’re getting at least some level of enjoyment from the study of language?’

‘Yes,’ I said, feeling ruefull, because the truth was he was right. It had alienated me from my friends and made me feel less like myself, but I had also never had such purpose before.

‘Okay. Good. Well, you could always apply to study here. I run the Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics. I could ensure you get a place next semester.’

Me, study? I had certainly never thought of that before.

‘And you would teach me about words?’ I asked.

‘I would,’ he said, smiling.

+ + + +

I took the professor up on his offer. I mean, what else was I going to do? Part of me feels like I’m almost his daughter now, anyway. No, daughter’s not right. Clone. Either way, I decided I’ve just got to be up for it, see where it takes me. Or, at least I think I did.


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