Monday, May 28, 2012

Issue Twenty-Two, Volume Three

From the Desk of the Editor;
 Hello and welcome to the Twenty-Second issue of Larks Fiction Magazine's Third Volume! With only two more issues till volume four we want to thank you for driving us to keep putting out quality fiction.

We apologize for lateness of this issue. We had a catastrophic computer failure on our newly upgraded system and had to perform emergency surgery. Afterwards we had to find a backup of our issues. Luckily we found them!

On a sad note my iPhone went for a swim with me at a cook out and may or may not pull through.

Thank you for reading and please enjoy this quirky zombie issue of Larks.


Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

Sarah Last

Berk Dementis was not a man of many fears.

He was, in fact, training for the zombie apocalypse.
His days began with a routine chugging of raw eggs before setting off on his 15 mile run around suburbia.
“Hello Mrs. Winkles. How are you?” He would greet his elderly neighbor every day with a smile and a wave of his hand; all while envisioning her flesh turning green and her frail legs becoming powerful under the spell of fleshy hunger. He felt the blade of the bowie knife strapped to his calf and was reassured. Zombie grandma wouldn’t stand a chance.

In his work as a gym instructor, Berk worked out almost as much as he taught. Rock climbing, weight lifting, long-distance swimming; he did it all. Not one muscle that rippled through his body held flab.
After work, Berk went to target practice.

“I dunno why you come here day after day,” said the owner of the range, grinning at his best customer. “You get it dead center every time.”

“You can never be too careful,” replied Berk in a gravelly tone that rivaled that of Wolverine.
Though his body was in peak physical condition, Berk still felt unprepared for a zombie invasion. So, a few nights a week, he signed up for classes that would teach him skills he might need in an emergency situation. He learned how to do CPR, how to find food in the wilderness, and how to keep calm with the remarkable art of Zen.

His ritual was the same each night: go home, guzzle down a chalky protein shake, and settle into his vacuum of a basement for some television and trail mix.

Berk had been living alone ever since he left home. Once he was on his own, he distanced himself from his older brothers and parents. His heart never panged for love or attention, and if it did, it was brief and usually satisfied by eating copious amounts of beef jerky. When the zombie apocalypse started, he couldn’t worry about anyone else. The emotional damage of losing someone he was close to would have rendered him unable to go on. Completely impractical.

Days passed, as did weeks. Months and even years went by and Berk still kept his same routine, each impending second becoming even more apprehensive with the idea of a zombie outbreak.

One day, he even broke down and told some of his fellow gym instructors that the world would soon turn into a flesh-rotting, moaning, blood-and-guts spewing warzone. And all he got were chuckles and the sound of feet shuffling away. No one was as excited as Berk when one morning, inhuman moaning could be heard from outside.

 Grinning like a kid on Christmas morning, Berk strapped his bowie knife to his leg and gathered his artillery- guns, grenades, knives, and the odd flame thrower. He threw open his front door to find…nothing
What was going on? He was sure he heard moaning from somewhere…

Berk screamed as diseased teeth pierced his shoulder, hungry growling echoing in his ears like thunder. More bites followed quickly, bringing the once strong Berk to his knees in agonizing pain. He couldn’t even reach the halter of his knife. He could feel the venom sinking into his veins and knew that he would soon be done for.

His final regret was that he hadn’t attended the How to Quietly Hunt class scheduled the same day.

The End

About the Author;
Sarah Last began her career of literature as a young reader. Inspired by tales from great authors, she set out on her journey to become the best writer she could be. Her only wish is to bring as much joy with her writing as she has gotten with her reading.

Before the Fire
by Tyler Hansen


It's my Birthday, and Christine bought me a new journal! Everyone is downstairs right now, but I had to run up and at least write something in it. I know after I go out with Brandon and everyone later, I won't feel like writing by the time I get home. Mom and Dad think I'm just going out bowling, but Andrea's parents are out of town and her older brother is picking us up some beer and a bottle of vodka. Between the five of us, that should be enough to catch a buzz. Okay, off I go. Hopefully I will have something interesting to write about tomorrow.


Yesterday was absolute hell. Mom and Dad found out I had been drinking instead of bowling, and now I can't do anything. It's so unfair. Especially since Mom told me all of those stories about her and her sister sneaking vodka from Grandpa's liquor cabinet when they were my age. She's such a hypocrite. Daddy was less mad about the drinking, and more mad that I was in Andrea's house with Brandon. He yelled at me, and called Brandon a loser. He said he would never do anything with his life and that all he wanted to do was take advantage of me. I know better than that. Brandon and I made out most of the night, but he never once tried anything else. He knows I'm a virgin and that I don't want to have sex right now. Not until I find the right guy anyways.

On top of all that, I spent most of the day in bed with a hangover. My head still feels a bit fuzzy, but I think I'm okay. It's not the first time I have ever got drunk or anything. I'm 16 after all. If you haven't gotten drunk by the time you're 16, you're pretty much a loser. Andrea, Christine, and I agreed on that our freshman year when we snuck out to go to Brad Milton's party.

Well I guess that's it for today. Back to school tomorrow. Blah. Hopefully Mom and Dad calm down by then so I can go out after school with Andrea to pick up hair dye.


It is so not fair that I can't do anything! Dad was outside school, waiting to pick me up. It was so embarrassing. I screamed at him and told him just how much he was ruining my life. He told me that I was doing a good job of that myself hanging out with Andrea, Christine, and Brandon, who he calls “the shithead”. When I asked him if he would at least drive me to Sally's to get hair dye, he just about blew up. He told me I didn't need pink or blue or purple in my hair, and that if he ever caught me with it he would shave my head. The minute we got home I came up here. This is such bullshit. I can't go out and do anything with my friends. Not to mention that now I'm going to be the only one without colored highlights in my group of friends. I hate my Dad so much.


School today sucked! Andrea, Christine, and I were headed out the west entrance to skip science, when Mr. Paulson caught us. He brought us back to his class, but didn't write us up, which I guess is cool. His class is so boring. We had to learn about a meteor shower that's supposed to be happening tonight. Mr. Paulson asked us all to watch it tonight and write a page on what we see. Normally, I wouldn't bother, but my grade is really bad for Science right now. I asked Daddy to open the attic window for me and I'm going up there after dinner. At least I can call Andrea and Christine while I'm up there, and Daddy won't be able to hear me.


The meteor shower last night was really cool! There were so many colors in the sky, it was unreal. I was on the phone with Christine when it started, and she saw it too. We tried to get Andrea on the phone after a bit, but she didn't answer. I wrote down everything I saw, and it was over two pages! Mr. Paulson was really impressed, and said it would bring my grade up. After he collected everyone's papers, he told us that there was a good possibility that there were a lot of impact sites in a few places outside of town. He explained that a lot of the colors we saw last night were different elements burning up in the atmosphere. He is going to try and arrange a field trip for next week to go and look. I don't like science, but this just sounds cool. Christine wasn't excited at all, and Andrea wasn't in class. We figured she wasn't feeling well and was asleep when we tried to call her last night.


Andrea wasn't at school again today, and she didn't answer any of my calls or texts. She's either sick for real or she's playing it up really good. Brandon said he would skate over there instead of going to fourth period and check on her. I don't know if he did or not and he wasn't outside after school. Christine said he probably just skated home after dropping by. I know Andrea has a thing for Brandon, so I was just pissed off. The only good part of the day so far was Mr. Paulson saying he got approval for the field trip. He just has to go and check the place out first. I've never seen the old guy so excited. I guess when you're a high school teacher, there isn't much to get excited about in your life.

Daddy was complaining about the cable and internet being out when I got home, but that's nothing new. They go out every few months for an hour or something. He said the phone lines were dead too, but who uses a landline anymore? We all have cell phones, and mine works just fine. Mom told him to read a book or do the dishes instead. That shut him up and I laughed. I could tell that pissed him off, but I don't care. He has been an asshole lately. I just hope he lets up soon. I can't go without a social life for much longer, and it's so boring being stuck at home every day after school.


I'm so sick of living here! I can't go out all weekend, and since the cable is out, Mom made a list of things Daddy and I have to do! Chores! This is so stupid! Andrea gets to fake sick all week and hang out with Brandon, Christine is supposed to meet up with them tomorrow at the mall, and I have to clean out the attic. This is such bullshit.


Even after taking a shower last night, I feel gross as hell. I was up in the attic all day with Daddy while Mom went shopping. We moved out so much crap and went through so many dusty old boxes. I didn't think there was that much stuff up there!  When it was all done, Daddy told me I could move up there if I wanted to! I'm so excited! I texted Christine, but she didn't reply. I guess I will just tell her at school tomorrow. I have to keep cleaning the place up and I already have stuff packed. I have to get back to work. SO EXCITED!


WORST DAY EVER! To start, my cell phone is not only out of service, but I can't contact anyone about it until daddy takes me to the mall. Then, at school, Christine, Andrea, and Brandon wouldn't even talk to me! I don't know what is going on with them. They were all crowded around Andrea's locker after first period, but when I walked up to them they turned and left. I ran down the hall to catch up with them, but they bolted out the door. Then, to top it all off, Mr. Paulson wasn't even in class today. There was a sub, and she just had us watch a movie on photosynthesis, which we aren't even learning. The only good thing about today is that I got the rest of the attic cleaned out yesterday and I can start moving upstairs! Not that I can tell anyone since all of my friends are being jerks.


So this whole cell phone thing is ridiculous, but I found out it's not just mine. Everyone at school had their cell phones die yesterday. Mr. Paulson was back in class today and told us it was probably something to do with the cell phone towers. Same thing with everyone's cable and internet. It was weird that he brought it up though. Like he wanted everyone to be alright with it. I don’t know. He said he was sick all weekend but still got out and checked out the place for the field trip. He still looked sick too. Poor guy.

Andrea, Christine, and Brandon didn't talk to me again, so during third period I wrote them a note and put it in Andrea's locker. I just said that I didn't know what I did to deserve being treated like that, and I didn't appreciate it. I guess I will see if they say anything to me tomorrow. A lot of other kids were missing today. Guess there must be a bug going around. I hope I don't get sick too.


Didn't hear from Andrea, Christine, or Brandon today. I saw them again, standing around Andrea's locker, but I didn't even bother trying to talk to them. I said all I had to say in the note. Brandon looked up at me when I walked by, but went right back to talking with them. I'm so angry and hurt. The only good thing that happened today was that Mr. Paulson said we are going on the field trip on Friday. I guess I will be alone for that one since Andrea and Christine pretty much ignored me the entire class like they have been doing. Mr. Paulson looked worse today. The dark circles under his eyes were bad, and he was coughing a lot. I hope he doesn't call the whole thing off.

Daddy was pissed off today when he picked me up. He said that the ramps to get on the highway were all closed. He had to get to Minneapolis for a meeting, but the way he takes each day was blocked off and he couldn't even get out of town. When we got home, Mom made the comment that we were cut off from the outside world. The scary thing is, with no phones or internet, and now the roads being closed, it's kind of true.


I brought my permission slip to Mr. Paulson today and things got weird. He looked really bad. His eyes were bloodshot and his skin looked really papery. He asked me to write down a bunch of extra stuff too, like my Mom's name and phone number as well as Daddy's. Class was really off too. All we did was discuss things like what to bring tomorrow, and how Mr. Paulson wants us to find whatever meteorites we can and take them home for homework, observing them and writing a page on everything we see. It's like he expects us to find enough for the whole class. Maybe when he went and checked out the place he found a bunch.
Nothing new with Andrea, Christine, and Brandon. I am just going to stop trying. I don't know what I did, but I'm done with anyone who would treat me that way and just cut me out of their lives and pretend like I'm not even there.

I'm just about finished with moving in upstairs. Daddy is going to help me move my bed up there after dinner, and then that's it, except for my desk. I am so excited to be done with it. I am sad that I don't really have anyone to tell, but whatever. I have a huge new room!


Today's field trip may have been the weirdest thing to ever happen to me in my entire life! So, we get there, and immediately everyone is miserable. It was cold and drizzling out, so everyone was damp and freezing, but Mr. Paulson acted like everything was fine. He told us to spread out all over the open area and that we could go in the wooded parts, but not too far. As expected, I was by myself, so I started looking for anything that might be a meteorite.

I guess I wasn't paying attention to where I was going because I looked up and I had moved into the woods a bit. I started to head back the way I came when I heard something farther in. It sounded like some people laughing, so I decided to catch up with whoever it was so I didn’t look like the only person in class by themself. After a minute of walking, I see its Andrea, Christine, and Brandon with Mr. Paulson. They are all together and seem to be staring at something on the ground. I thought maybe they had found a meteorite, so I started walking up to them when Mr. Paulson turned around. He called me over, and the rest of them just stared at the ground. I walked over and saw a bunch of fist sized stones with a bluish color on the ground, all piled up.

Mr. Paulson said they had found them and collected them for the class, but a lot of them were stuck in the ground, like they had landed that way. There seemed to be enough for the whole class, and that had Mr. Paulson pretty excited. The thing was, Andrea, Christine and Brandon didn’t even make eye contact with me. They just kept looking at the meteorites the whole time and acting like I didn’t even exist. That really hurt, but I didn’t say anything about it.

We all went back to school shortly after. Mr. Paulson had us all congratulate my “friends” on their find and he gave us all our pieces to take home. So, I’m in my new room staring at a rock. I’ll write my observations later. For something that flew through space, it looks kind of boring.


I may as well forget about ever having a social life again. No phone or internet, and there is nothing to do in town unless I have a fake ID, which I don’t. The on ramps to the highway are still closed and I thought Daddy was going to have a meltdown when he found out. Once again he went on his rant about how it’s all the President’s fault, or something. I hate politics, so I just tuned it out.

I guess I can stare at the rock some more and see there’s anything else I can add to my report. So bored!


So, it’s 10 in the morning and I’m home. I should be at school, but after last night and earlier today I don’t know if I want to go anymore. Something weird is going on there and I think it has something to do with my friends and Mr. Paulson.

Last night I decided to finish my report on the rock. I held it up to the light when I saw that if you chipped away some of the outer stuff it was clear underneath. Then it broke. Like, my fingers crushed it and there was this liquid stuff inside. It smelled horrible and got all over my bedroom floor. I tried to clean it as best I could, but it STILL smells like it in here!

I took the pieces to Mr. Paulson this morning right away to show him what had happened. When I got to his office Andrea, Christine and Brandon were there. They looked startled and angry that I was trying to talk to Mr. Paulson. It even looked like Andrea was going to hit me at one point until Mr. Paulson asked what I wanted. I showed him the pieces and he looked sad. He told me it was unfortunate and asked Brandon to get me one of the spare samples in the classroom. Then, and this is the crazy part, he gave me an “Excuse to Leave the Building” pass and told me to go home with the new rock and finish my report.

I know enough not to question a legit excuse to leave school, so I took the pass and the rock and left, but my friends followed me the whole time. I mean, even to my house. They were trying to hide, but I saw Brandon duck between two houses in the rear view mirror of a car I walked past. I think they might still be out there. I don’t want to look outside and find out, and I don’t even want to touch the damn rock. I left it in my backpack downstairs, and I think I’m going to fake sick for the rest of my high school career. I don’t know where Mom and Dad could be since the highways are closed, and I can’t call them to find out anyways. Screw this.


I can’t go home. I have to keep hiding here in the sewers or else they will find me. Mom is out there with them, and Daddy is dead. I ran and I hid down here. Nobody has come looking for me. Every so often I can hear them above me. They walk by talking about the portal and the “Light Ones” or something like that. It’s all they ever talk about.

I haven’t even bothered to look at this journal since I ran away, but reading through it, I can guess where this all started. I have so much I want to write, but I don’t know if it will ever be read or matter at all. I guess it is just keeping me sane at this point. Here’s what I know about what is happening.

There is stuff inside the meteorites taking people over. I don’t know why my first one didn’t work on me, but I think maybe it was dead or something. The people who have been taken over have killed everyone else. Then they started building something big. They call it the portal and it is supposed to bring the “Light Ones” here. I think we are being invaded, and I could very well be the last person who hasn’t been taken over by the meteorite stuff or isn’t dead.

I have to figure out a way out of town. I have to get help for everyone.


There is no way out. I have tried, and almost been caught twice. I was lucky to make it back to my house. They aren’t the people I knew before. Not anymore. They came at me and I fought. I killed Andrea’s brother, and they didn’t even care. I care. I’m not a murderer!


The entire neighborhood has been abandoned and all of the people who have been taken over are working around the clock on the portal. I was able to get close enough to see it last night after I calmed down.. It’s just a big hunk of metal in the shape of a half circle. There was a big console in front of it that I can only assume controls it. When they are done, they are going to open it.

Coming back here was hard. They moved Daddy’s body and burned it with the rest, but the blood stains are still there on the living room floor. The power is out like everywhere else. It’s all being rerouted to the portal. Everything in the fridge has gone bad, but I found a box of cereal to eat.

I read everything in my journal again and cried. I have been doing that a lot since I got back here. Less than a month ago, everything was completely normal. Nothing will ever be normal again. I miss my friends. I miss my parents.

If anyone reads this, my name is Jamie Anders. I held out this long, but I have to do something now. I have Daddy’s gun that he kept in his closet, and I have gas from the lawnmower to make Molotov cocktails. I am going to leave this journal here, in my new room I never got to really make mine, and go out to destroy that portal before they turn it on. I don’t know what’s happening in the rest of the world, but I hope this ends it.

The End

About the Author;
Tyler D Hansen is a 26 year old writer living in Saint Paul, MN. He has been previously published on ("6 Bullets") and is a writer/producer/actor for a comedy webshow, "The Breaks". When he isn't writing, he is spending time with his 4 year old daughter, Eris.

Thank you for reading and make sure to come back next week for more great literature!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Issue Twenty-One, Volume Three

From the desk of the an editor,

Hello and greetings to this eclectic themed issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we are exploring the weirder side of life with odd stories of bewilderment and sublime.
Make sure to check out our online e-magazine on Smashwords for entire month collections of our fascinating stories. Take Larks anywhere you go.
In news: we are going to be changing out hardware/software on our work computers this week. We will still be answering emails but our reaction time may be intermittent.

Best wishes,
Jessica Rowse
LFM Editor

An Unusual Greeting
by Beth J. Whiting

It began with Woody. He wasn’t the smartest man in the world. The receptionist Marsha was the one least surprised by it, although everyone else had their mouths opened.
He walked in with his head sawed in half.
When Woody came up to Marsha he said, “Hello Marsha.”
He lifted up the top of his head like you would a hat when greeting someone.
She saw the top of his brain. It was a pinkish-peach.
She said, “Hi Woody,” looking at him somewhat disgusted.
Then after he was out of sight, people started to discuss it.
“What did Woody do to his brain?”
Being vice president of the company Woody had plenty of money, maybe too much. He could afford to do something like this.
Marsha thought it wouldn’t be healthy to expose the brain to the air like that.
Some people said it was disgraceful. Others said it was just bizarre. Greeting someone by showing your brain? Why not buy a hat?
Woody was a single guy. He had respect in the office due to his rank but he didn’t have any friends. He wore old-fashioned clothes. He wore suspenders and bow ties, both of which gave him immediate notice. He wore shoes that squeaked. If Marsha was buried in paperwork, she could still tell if he came in by the squeak. He wore thick black square glasses. What was he trying to prove by this?
Marsha found it unsettling. Sure, you appreciated the brain and all that it did. However, it wasn’t a bouquet of flowers. It was kind of mushy and pale.
During the next week Marsha had to deal with Woody and his greetings. It made her nauseated. She knew that she wasn’t the only one. Others said it made them feel woozy.
Marsha wondered how his head could stay in place. You could see the halfway line through the forehead of where it was cut.
Marsha accepted that eventually he would be written up for a health code violation.
Then a month passed. The CEO passed by her desk. She could see the saw mark atop his forehead. He greeted her as he passed with a tip of the scalp.
Marsha in her wildest dreams wouldn’t think that anyone would want to copy it.
But they did.
Only people with above-average income would do the procedure. It became a citywide trend, and to think, it started at the office with Woody.
People would say, “No after you,” and take their heads off in a gesture. Soon Marsha couldn’t take the train to work anymore without seeing a professional, business clothes and all with a sawed off head.
 It took three months for this madness to end. Marsha saw it reported on the 6 o’clock news. Roaches, ants, and worms had learned to open the head and crawl in at night. Those who paid for the procedure were paying just as much to cure their infections.
Soon Marsha saw Woody with his head glued back.
He approached her by taking off his hat.
This time she said with a smile, “Hi Woody.”

The End

About the Author;
Beth J. Whiting was born in 1983 to a large family of brainy
eccentrics. At eight years old she developed a love of books through
the works of Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Her short stories revolve
around underdogs in suburban settings, such as the one in which she
was raised. She currently lives with her artistic twin sister in a
tiny apartment in Mesa, Arizona.

Thump thump, thwack, thump…
Heavy anxious fists slammed on the barrier door. Rhythmic, fast and signaling that Jerry needed to get off his ass and let the scout party back in. Flipping the safety latches open and the removing the steel dead bolts, the thick hatch flew open.
Kara, Hank, and most of James crashed through the door and slammed it behind them. The three lay still for just a moment breathing hard; listening for anything following them.
After a minute Jerry broke the silence, “What happened?”
Hank answered, “We got jumped just as we got to Main Street. Twenty, thirty—it could have been a hundred for all I know.”
Kara said, “Who in the hell is on look out?!”
“Kara…” James choked on the blood filling his mouth, “Please don’t worry about it. I knew the… *hak* risk. Take me to Shelly… I want her to do it.”
Shelly sat in the decaying beauty parlor on the fourth floor of the “Petroleum Building”. It had been an office-for-rent building before the war—not that Chickasha, Oklahoma had changed much during the war. Now it was home for her and the other survivors.
She picked at her breakfast of pigeon eggs and rat meat. Losing appetite she rearranged the beauty implements strewn about the counter. She could hear someone climbing the stairs.
“Shelly! Shelly come quick!” It was Jerry. He was bloody but not bit.
He didn’t have to say why he was crying but he did, “He… he got infected. There isn’t much time. He asked you to do it.”
Her mouth went dry, her legs wobbled, and everything felt like it was falling.
“A flood of zombies on Main got’em surrounded. He’s pretty rough.”
“Where is he?”
“Down at chapel. Father Frisby is praying with him now.”
Shelly flew down the stairs. The families were already gathered in the main hall. The men were concerned and the women were grieving. Only Kara looked up at her. She reflected the anger Shelly was holding. In front the chapel Frisby was consoling Angela, James’s breeding partner. She hugged her stomach and cried onto the Priest’s shoulder.
The rotting floor groaned. All eyes turned to Shelly. She was suddenly all too aware of herself. Butterflies leapt into her stomach. She breathed deeply and held it. Looking forward she walked past the on lookers and entered the chapel.
It was dark, only sparse candles lit the room. Books from the former secondhand shop were shoved against the store front windows. James lay in the baptism tub near the back wall.
“Hey rug-rat, guess I wasn’t fast enough,” he coughed out.
She looked at his broken body. His arm and legs were scratched and bitten to the point of uselessness. One eye was swelling to the point of closure and the other was already turning pale.
“What’s wrong Shell-Bell?”
She could not make a single thought stick long enough to say anything at all. Her butterflies turned to worms seeing him.
“Sorry… I tried to protect you… for dad… but I guess… I guess I wasn’t handy enough to save myself,” he said shaking his stump.
She wept.
“Don’t be like that. We don’t have long before I turn. Let’s make it happy,” he tried to reach her, but remembered his infection and sat back down.
She wiped her tears and looked into his paling eye.
“I… I love you,” she choked.
“I know Shell-Bell. I love you too. Take care of Angela, and the baby for me.”
The door rattled. Hank entered, “There isn’t much time Shelly. He’ll turn any second. Take this.” He handed her a sledgehammer. “We can’t risk the noise with a flood so close.”
Taking the handle, “I understand.”
She walked to the tub and looked into James’s eye one last time. Bowing slightly she let one more tear fall. Looking back the innocent boyish grin slacked and his eye widened. He gripped his chest and convulsed.
“Don’t miss,” he laughed for the last time.
Shelly raised the hammer high above herself. She felt its full weight strain her arms. His convulsions stopped. She could hear the rats scratch at the walls. Then he grunted and started to turn back. Seeing her, he hissed.
Shelly brought the sledge down on the front of James skull with a wet dull smack…
Hank sniffled at the door. He said, “You did good kid. I wouldn’t have the strength for that. Not the kind a sibling would have. Tha…Thank you.”
Shelly stared at her brother’s smashed skull and asked, “Who was on lookout?”
Hank swallowed. “It was… It was Pete. He should still be up there now. But we shouldn’t worry about that now. We all make mistakes.”
She avoided looking him in the eye and just walked back to the door clutching the sledge.
“Can I have my hammer back?” She didn’t answer. “Where, where you going darling?”
“To make a mistake.”
Throwing open the door Shelly raced for the steps. The clansmen cried out in surprise. She took the stairs two at a time. Each flight her anger filled her lungs. Her legs burned and her head pounded.
Reaching the fifth floor she went straight for the roof access. Swinging open the door she saw Pete sipping tea and warming himself over a coffee can fire.
“Hey sweetie, did you come all this way to see me?” asked Pete.
Shelly stood in the doorway.
“What’s that sledge for? Trouble down stairs?”
She closed the door and jammed a piece of rebar into the handle.
“No, the trouble is here… James is dead.”
Pete got to his feet and glanced over the edge of the roof. Seeing the horde of undead on Main Street he dropped his tea. He started say something but all Shelly ever heard was a wet dull smack.

The End.

About the Author;
Daniel J. Pool is a writer and editor from the southern Mid-West. His work has appeared in the Scarlet Sound, Daily Love, and Indigo Rising. His hobbies are telling horrible jokes, tweeting, and putting together plastic models. In his spare time he edits Larks Fiction Magazine.

You can follow him @Filozophy on Twitter.

Thank you for reading and make sure to come back next week for more great literature and art!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Issue Twenty, Volume Three

From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we are pleased to bring you two exciting exploits from across time and space in our science fiction issue! Zartman and Conway are here to blow you away with tales of bravery, business, and cockroaches.
In news we have contracted a graphic designer for a banner and logo! We are happy to say that we will be retiring the big green coffee drinking lark Sam and be issuing in a double lark design soon. Come back next week to see a preview!
Also if you did not hear our March edition of LarksMonthly is online now! Check it out on Smashwords.
Thank you and enjoy reading,
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

The Bender Beamer
by J. C. Conway

The world ends twice a day; three times on Sunday.
Junior Bender wanted to believe it. It was the closest thing to advice his father had ever provided. But all it meant was nothing is carved in stone—fresh starts happen every day.
He could use a new start now.
Junior sat on his hands to avoid fidgeting behind his broad mahogany desk. His CEO nameplate evidenced his powerful position in the world's fastest rising business. But he did not call the shots. Junior didn't even earn his position, he inherited it. 
He cleared his throat. "The government has offered to buy."
Junior's CFO, and his father's former right-hand man, Henry Orwill, belted a cynical chuckle. "Too bad for them."
Junior's gut tightened. Junior longed to deal man-to-man with Orwill, but he still felt like a child to "Uncle Hank."
"They're offering a lot," said Junior, seeking a deeper discussion.
"If we sell now, it wouldn't be to our advantage."
Junior pressed. "They won't give up. We're a monopoly. We're crushing the world's transportation industry. If we don't sell, I'm afraid they'll just take it."
"Listen," said Orwill, standing, "if we sell now, we'll be out of the picture for good. We don't want that."
"Are you going to sign those papers?" he asked as he left, pointing to today's stack.
Junior nodded, sighing.
Quiet fell. What was wrong with the government offer? What better result did Orwill have in mind?
Junior activated his Room Moderator.
"Transparent," he said.
The opaque walls turned clear. The floor of the Central Beaming Hub stretched out below him. Thousands of passengers arrived in flashes from transmission booths around the world. They scurried to departure terminals and disappeared in another flash, transported by Bender's trade-secret beaming technology. A kilometer away he could see the new project—large cargo transmitters—under construction. Nearer, the technical brains of the operation, Benjamin Knoffe, managed a crew of technicians checking coils or wires or something beyond Junior's understanding. The wiry man was obsessed with minutia. Junior couldn't recall two consecutive sentences from Knoffe's lips that Junior ever followed.
But that didn't matter. He had to connect with Orwill.
Junior touched his desk. "Audio message."
The room beeped.
"To Henry Orwill. Suppose we release the designs confidentially, for security use only. They promised secrecy and offered billions for that alone—and we could keep our monopoly."
Junior leaned back. Had that sounded professional enough?
He signed papers as he waited. Finally, Orwill responded.
"Their objective is to destroy your father's company. It doesn't matter what they promise. If we release our designs, it will be weeks at best—not months or years—before we lose all control. No sir. Not yet. Sit tight. We'll give it to them, but not until the right time."
Junior spun in his chair. Uncle Hank was still not listening.
He prepared a response. "Why worry about that? It's more money than we could ever want. And they'll give us a share of future profits."
Orwill answered quickly. "No. Why don't you take some time off? Go sailing. Enjoy yourself."
Junior wondered what his father would do; probably something bold and risky. Junior's father was shrewd. No one took him for granted.

Junior arrived at Bender Transcontinental Beaming just after noon the next day. He felt good. He passed his own office and proceeded to Orwill's, entering unannounced, with a bounce in his step.
"Hello, Junior," said Orwill, terminating a video conference. "What do you need?"
"It's about the offer."
Orwill shifted in his leather chair. "I was hoping you'd thought better of that by now. It's not the right time."
Junior waved the remark off. "I've just signed—it's a done deal."
Orwill coughed.
Junior squared his shoulders. "I decided it is time. As of Friday, this company is government property. But your position is secure. I insisted."
Orwill's face whitened. Through clenched teeth he said, "Okay ... I'll have to deal with a few things."
Junior nodded, pausing, and then asked, "Hank, wasn't there another reason you didn't want to sell?"
Orwill grumbled.
"Since it doesn't matter now ...?
"Uh ... not now, Junior ... I've got to ... um …"
"Later today?"
"Tomorrow," said Orwill, absently.
Junior pushed for a firm commitment. "Nine o'clock?"
"Yeah, nine," echoed Orwill quietly. "Now if you'll excuse me—"

The next morning, Junior found Knoffe pacing in front of his door.
Knoffe looked at him nervously, "Orwill's gone."
"What do you mean?"
"Split—skipped out—we've been had!"
Junior studied the scientist. He seemed agitated beyond his usual nervousness. His eyes appeared wide with genuine panic. "Why?"
Knoffe grabbed his arm, and glanced around. "Not here. Inside your office ..."
Knoffe closed the door cautiously behind them. "It's about the matter transmitter."
Junior leaned against his desk and folded his arms. Maybe now, if Knoffe could speak in layman's terms, he could learn something about Orwill's concerns. Perhaps they'd done something illicit. He wondered if Knoffe and Orwill had stolen the design, or—heaven forbid—did they kill someone? He imagined Knoffe and Orwill tossing a body into a river, pocketing a notebook of technical drawings.
And if they did, what about his father?
Junior shivered. He prompted the pacing Knoffe was a gesture.
"It's not really a matter transmitter," blurted Knoffe.
 Junior tilted his head. What an odd combination of words. He squinted and spoke slowly. "Then what is it?"
Knoffe wrung his hands. His knuckles whitened. "When I worked at the University," he paced again, "Your father told me the universe is unstable—that matter and energy periodically builds to a critical mass, annihilate, and then reform."
Junior's mind spun. "Twice a day," he muttered.
"Whatever," said Knoffe, waving. "But I considered it. Annihilation and reformation ... the basic pattern at the quantum level ..."
Junior's neck tingled.
"—cells, impulses, processes, even thought patterns ... perfect replication." Knoffe threw his hands down. "We put the core technology here at the Hub so they couldn't reverse engineer the process. But that's all they are—annihilators and replicators. That's our trade secret."
Junior stood. "But that's—"
The men stared at each other. Knoffe's Adam's apple bobbed. Junior heard the roar of his own pulse.
"—murder," finished the scientist, "on a mass scale."
"But how could you do such a thing?"
Then Junior gasped. "I went through one of those things!" He patted himself—head, arms, chest, hips—he felt like himself, not a copy.
Knoffe shrugged. "It was Orwill's idea. But it doesn't matter now ... and it doesn't matter if you're an original. Whoever and whatever you are, we're both in trouble."
"The law!" He pointed with a sharp gesture. "It's your beamer. It's your company. You hired me, and you signed all of the papers—not Orwill."
Junior plopped back against the hard edge of his desk. Knoffe was right. Orwill signed nothing. Junior was the CEO responsible for everything.
Silence fell. Knoffe covered his face with his hands. Junior's knees felt weak.
"My father went along with this?" he finally asked.
Knoffe peeked at Junior through glistening eyes. "He said it's no different than the natural course ... annihilation happens anyway." Knoffe shook his head. "Something like that."
Junior blinked. "Was he right?"
Knoffe shrugged. "Quantum instability. The underlying premise panned out well enough to make the machines work. That's all that mattered."
Knoffe fell into a chair and whimpered, curling into a fetal position.
Junior winced. Knoffe was beyond terror. And why not? He'd cooperated with—hell, he'd performed—the largest mass homicide in history.
Except that nobody knew it.
Junior's eyes widened. His play had worked. He did not learn what he expected; but he learned what he needed. A rush of bright enthusiasm welled.
"Relax," said Junior.
Knoffe shook his head.
"Nobody has to find out!" said Junior.
"Of course they will. You sold out. They'll get designs, schematics, memos ... and even if we destroy all that, they'll have the devices. They'll take one apart."
Junior shook his head. "No, they won't!" He grabbed Knoffe's shoulders. "I was just trying to be clever, like my dad and like Orwill."
"I didn't sell!"
"I lied!" he laughed. "I wanted Orwill to tell me why he didn't want me to sell, so I told him I already did!"
"And now he's gone."
Junior drew a breath. It was a mistake to have trusted Orwill. "The bastard was setting us up all along. He knew it wouldn't last. When the time came, he would cut out. My lie made him leave early. "
Junior felt lighter than air. He told Knoffe to continue business as usual. "It's as if nothing happened." He promised to work out the details for the both of them.
Knoffe agreed, finally settling back to his normal level of fidgety nervousness, and returned to his duties.
Junior folded his arms behind his head and sank comfortably into his deep executive chair. He scanned the office through new eyes and laughed.
Orwill had taken advantage of him—or had tried. No one would do that again.
Junior activated his executive assistant. "Revoke Henry Orwill's access to all systems and assets. I want a meeting with the accounting heads in one hour, and I want Orwill's spending patterns for the past ten years transmitted to Security."
He wondered whether Orwill had taken a booth for his getaway. Probably. One would have to believe in souls to think it actually killed.
Now what about the government? It was still a problem. He wondered how much regulators made. Would it be as simple as properly-placed rewards? He checked his schedule. "New items," he said, and set up a series of important meetings at his office, then thought better of it. "On second thought, make those meetings on the yacht, and set up catering and entertainment as follows ..."
With that in the works, he lifted his name plate from the desk—a piece of clutter that no CEO needs—and dropped it in the wastebasket. Then he made a note to have all company publications and directories change his name to a dignified "J. E. Bender."
Yes, that should do.
J. E. Bender settled into his office and felt the freedom of real power rush through him. He didn't know if his father was right about the world ending, and he didn't care. But it had certainly started anew. And this time, J. E. Bender would call the shots.
The End
About the Author;
John Conway is a parent, a teacher, and a complex-litigation attorney. He writes science fiction, fantasy, young adult and romance stories. He has been published by Residential Aliens, Battlespace Anthology, Static Movement, and Bewildering Stories. He is a Genre Fiction winner with two science fiction stories in the 2011 Writers Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition, and is the 2012 grand prize winner of the Yosemite Romance Writers Smooch contest.

His web site address is

A Guest
by Joel Zartman

Y luego cuando la muerte vino a recordarle que él no había sido sino un húesped más en su palacio, la impenetrable estancia quedó clausurada y muda para siempre.
—Rodó, Ariel
The clouds were piled in the west: resplendent, white, intolerable with the glory of the sun. The crouching mountains waited for the lengthening shadow, and the sprawled city also waited and twinkled with groping lights. He looked out over it: his achievement.
The Bizmarq smelled the wind; it was heavy with rain. He stood on the spiral of the ascending, coiled pinnacle of his palace in Andridulla, his metropolis. "A culture to rival the cultures of earth," he said aloud. He reached for a roasted cockroach and delicately nibbled at a leg.
Later, he looked over the city gleaming in the rain. He saw the transporters flashing through the broad avenues, the levcars raising red lights against the clouds, casting long beams through the diamond curtain of the rain. The city of gold and marble and endless, endless catacombs bathed in the rain and waited.
They were eating delicacies in all the restaurants: tender plants, eggs, delicate meats, subtle herbs, wines, cheese, and ripe, gigantic insects—the prize of which were the coppery-golden, king cockroaches of Andridulla. The Bizmarq liked to think on this: it was his achievement as well.
"Your eminence."
He turned and looked upon the pallid acolyte, one of the virgins from the temple delegated to the service of the Bizmarq in the palace. He raised an eyebrow.
"A messenger has arrived."
"This night?"
"Yes, your eminence."
He listened to the rain rilling along the smooth spiral of his palace, looking at the ugly girl without really seeing her.
* * *
He was clothed in black, like one of the fanatics from the desert. The Bizmarq spied on him before entering the chamber—as was his custom. Rough clothes, like sacking; probably a temper-suit underneath, as they were not averse to technology; and no weapons other than a highly trained mind and a very fit body. Vital statistics showed a perfectly calm human.
The Bizmarq had people working on eradicating the sect of the prophets—admittedly hard to eradicate. He had toyed, from time to time, with the idea of suborning them, infiltrating; but any time he made it a policy, he ended up losing some of his best operatives.
It was enraging actually, and with a calculating mind he stifled the impulses that rose in his vicious heart. He focused on the numbers of the statistics and then looked again at the figure shown on the screen.
It crossed the Bizmarq's mind that this one might be a former operative: the man had a hard face . . . perhaps also a tattoo on the inside of his arm, the snake of the service, as it was known. Some liked to keep the tattoo as a point of pride, and some kept it adding a strikethrough.
Layers and layers—he thought, and the thought caused a small smile to play upon his features. If he had beaten the cockroaches, he would beat these fanatics too . . . make them another of his bases of power. He was the greatest result of the genetic manipulations, the fullest of the reptilians. He believed his instinct was greater than that of any purebred.
The man nodded when the Bizmarq appeared, but offered no obeisance, no verbal acknowledgment of the power and splendor of the supreme ruler of New Byzantium, all its dependencies and wide-scattered tributary planets (Carthage, Sund, New Ethiopia and especially Ophir, the hostile planet from which slaves mined the priceless, green-tinged gold).
"Gold, O Bizmarq, is always upon thy mind," the dark man said.
The Bizmarq regarded him in silence for a while. Outside the rain fell, and the splashing of the fountains in the palace mingled together: a clean sound, the sound of washing.
"Gold," the Bizmarq hissed at last, "is often upon my mind—the color of God, the sun by whose rays we live. Often, but not always. Have you come to reveal to me my thoughts?"
"The Bizmarq knoweth his mind well enough, and though his counsels are dark, yet these he has no need of seers to see or tell him thereof," the dark man said.
They are always shrewd ones—thought the Bizmarq—cagey and much like snakes; but too human, lacking in instinct. The Bizmarq did not fear the purebred humans, but he did not trust them. All his trusted servants, though these were few, were reptilian, hatched from eggs, servants of the sun and of the Bizmarq.
"Well, messenger," the Bizmarq said. "What is your message?"
"Know, O Bizmarq, that thou shalt crawl upon thy belly and eat dust."
A dangerous light sprang up in the Bizmarq's eyes, but he remained still and his expression did not alter.
"I have looked upon the stars, I have wandered in the desert, I have come with the rain which will cease at dawn, and afterward leave thy city to long drought."
The Bizmarq laughed, low and mirthless. "This I know already. Do you think, yokel, this city depends upon the weather for any of its needs?"
"I know, O Bizmarq, the foundation whereon Andridulla is founded, and how vast are the ways the water runs in from the sea, and how thou filterist it, and thou distillest it, and hast vast reserves thou thinkest inexhaustible digged deep inside the mountains that surround thy city. I know also how deep lieth the power station whereof the city is charged, and never was there greater, or greater reserve of potency. Thou hast water for all thy tinkling fountains and the broad, clear rivers that wind through the ample streets under the luxuriant trees that shade thy city of marble and gold. Thou hast power for all thy works, for the myriad lights in panels, in diodes, in flash-tubes, for the powering of all thy communications, connections and cunning devices. Thou has stores whereof thy people may be nourished in tensa-barns, granaries, dank caverns for the mushroom and the breeding of thy many maggots and all thy loathsome bugs. Thou hast founded thy city in this impregnable valley and ordered and fortified it. Nor are thy people slothful, but busy pursuing earnestly for thee and thy glory greater wealth, splendor and power."
The usual—thought the Bizmarq. "Perhaps," he said to the prophet, "you will taste some of this cockroach? No doubt the people of the desert are hungry from time to time."
The prophet stared at the king cockroach stuffed with rice and surrounded by baked fruit. The Bizmarq had waved a hand and it had come sliding out of the wall, steaming.
"The delicacy of the worlds," the Bizmarq hissed.
"I know where thy cockroaches swarm one over the other: gigantic, fantastic, bathed in an amber light and dust of gold that ariseth after their scampering in little puffs."
This the Bizmarq did not expect: the caves in which the cockroaches were bred were secret. Few had seen the sights this prophet now described. The cold brain worked furiously, his instinct ducked and weaved like an adder in the jungles of his heart. He made a gesture and an onyx chair emerged out of the black wall. Gathering his robes and sash, the tanned Bizmarq sat down on the chair, poised, leaning forward a little, regarding the messenger.
"What curious tale is this?"
"No tale. I have dreamed it in the night, in the desert when all the winds were still and there was no moon. It is the desert truth of the juniper and of the sage. Thou hast deep caverns digged wherein thou breedest these cockroaches. Great wealth—-the splendor of Andridulla—-depends on these caverns and their secret. Well have the men of old said there is no accounting for taste."
"And for this I must crawl and eat dust?"
"Not for this," said the prophet, holding up a hand. "Not for this."
There was a long pause. Not often did the Bizmarq hang upon another's words, but now he hung, and knew it, and determined he would give the order for the prophet's guts to be removed from his living body with a hook . . . eventually.
"Well, what then?" he snapped.
"For that thought which hath crossed thy secret heart, O Bizmarq," the prophet said quietly. And then the Bizmarq in his robes and splendor trembled on his onyx seat, and he grew pale under his smooth, tanned skin.
The prophet departed the way he had come, and in the morning, when the rain had stopped, the Bizmarq's servants found their master still sitting in the chair, lost in one of his serpent reveries, his eyes covered over by a milky film.
* * *
"Did you insult him? Tell him he was a polygamist breeding like a cockroach in the cracks of the walls of the universe?"
Hanx looked up from his sandwich at Yome. "What? No! Do you really think the reptilians of Andridulla care what people think of their polygamy?"
"What did you do? They're saying the Bizmarq was in some kind of catatonic trance for like two weeks. He must have been really pissed."
"No doubt."
"So what did you tell him?" Yome was sitting forward, watching Hanx eat his sandwich from a distance that Hanx found less than companionable.
"I told him," he said, "that his heart was rotten."
Yome sat back and Hanx began to eat his sandwich again.
"What do you mean, ‘his heart was rotten?’ What would that have done?"
"Well, I didn't say it in so may words. Yome, you ought to read more classic literature."
Yome snorted and stared at Hanx, sitting back with his arms crossed. Hanx finished the sandwich and wiped his mouth on the cloth-card and then dropped the card in the slot. The slot whirred and the check appeared.
"You don't get it, huh?"
"No I don't."
"What I said was that he would be punished for 'that thought which crossed thy secret heart'."
"Huh? What thought?"
"Man, how would I know what thought?"
"I have no idea what the guy thinks about—other than roaches and gold."
Yome leaned forward again and said, "Let me get this straight: you went into the palace at Andridulla, called for the supreme ruler and despot of about thirty planets, you talked some mumbo jumbo about the secrets crossing his heart and then you walked out again?"
"That is correct."
"Am I supposed to get it?"
Hanx shrugged. He got up to pay the bill, and Yome scrambled after him.
* * *
The restaurant was down to the last cockroaches. Tuken looked at the row of silver packages in the humidor. Ten banquets if they were lucky. Somehow he knew he wouldn't be lucky. What else to serve? Megaprawn? Maybe it was time for people on Andridulla to start eating chicken again . . . ech!
The lights were coming on in the city—the first, faint coppery ones. Under the orange skies the city began to glow, some of the buildings pulsing slightly. From the top of the King Cobra Hotel, Tuken watched. The rotating dining room was revolving slowly so that potential customers could check the fantastic view on screens in their rooms or in the lobby nine hundred stories below.
Tuken wondered. The reputation, the power and splendor of Andridulla—all of which had been built by the Bizmarq himself—seemed threatened. The Bizmarq in his wisdom had outlawed the cultivation of roaches, had stopped the supply controlled by the palace, had cast adrift not only the fortunes of high-end restaurants such as this one Tuken managed, but perhaps that of the whole capital and all the civilization of New Byzantium.
The temple was silent too.
When he was at the point of achieving a civilization to rival the ancient civilization of earth, the Bizmarq had gone into a two-week trance and now appeared bent on destroying all his careful work.
Life in New Byzantium, with all of its anxieties, assimilated this one, went on working, pondering and worried.
Tuken wondered if he could import roaches. There were enough of them on the spacers that came and orbited in station, but he knew these would be inferior: small, underdeveloped, banned and quarantined—not the copper-golden, king cockroaches of Andridulla. Only on Andridulla: because the fear of genetic tinkering lingered like a superstition in the confederacies, federations, and other political entities that warred and traded throughout the Milky Way.
He did not know if it was only rumor, but he had heard they ate chicken on earth. He supposed they plucked them before they ate them, but to eat a creature with feathers seemed very wrong. He heard heels clicking on the parquet and turned to greet the first guests of the evening: some reptilian dignitaries from a coastal province.
* * *
"So now we're going back to New Byzantium?"
"That's right," Hanx said. The craft was spinning, preparing to move eckward and close the distance between the nearly derelict CAC station and New Byzantium.
"For what?"
"Find out what the Bizmarq is up to."
Yome checked the panel and flipped a switch; the ship wrenched and eckt from the region of the CAC and into the perimeters of the New Byzantium.
"Lots of Mackerels over toward Norma," Yome observed, checking the console.
"They like the bright parts, don't they?"
Yome grunted and made sure the ship was on trajectory for the capital planet.
"What do we tell customs?"
"Roaches for where? And I thought they were out. Man, you got money for roaches?"
"No, yes, and for . . . say, Norma," Hanx said, answering the questions in reverse order.
Yome was used to these laconic responses: "Roaches for Norma; and you ain't got money but they don't have any to sell? I guess they'll still let us in to resupply the ship. Ok. Explain?"
Hanx yawned and stretched, "Find out what the Bizmarq is up to, like I said."
"What if they don't let us through?"
"Yeah." By which Hanx meant he wasn't sure yet.
Yome was silent for a while, then he asked, "What's your theory on the Bizmarq?"
"I think he wants to be a roach."
Yome chuckled softly, patting his thighs and rolling his head. "Man, I don't know how you come up with this stuff. That's crazy—-and you're serious!"
"It would explain why all the production is shut down. Did you know the temple is also closed?"
"How did you find that out?"
"Man, those crazy-serious desert dudes . . . I don’t know why you gotta get mixed up with them. They’re your contact for this one too, aren’t they?"
Hanx frowned and looked over at Yome. "They’re a professional outfit, as good as the old man."
"Huh. The old man’s dead. The mackerels got him."
Hanx made no reply.
* * *
The Bizmarq waited behind the glass. He had not sunned himself for weeks and in the blue light looked pale, cadaverous. He was watching his people at work. The crystal pulsed with blue light and the amber dust swirled, tinged with blue around the crystal. In the blue-amber twilight he could see the giant cockroaches crawling on the floor, slowly, in their last throes as a result of the toxins. Hooded and anonymous, his people went with faint white lights that shone into the dust, moving among the gleaming cockroaches in the sacred atmosphere of the crystal. The Bizmarq prayed and trembled.
* * *
Tuken stared up at the sun, and then looked at his water level: it was like when he ran out of roaches, like watching them go a little too fast on that last night. That life was over. He had other concerns now, such as hoping his water would last until he found the manhole and deliverance.
A manhole in the desert! For some reason it struck him as a line of poetry, though his situation was anything but poetic. Before him the desert shimmered, the sun beat down without mercy, and he trudged along in a temper-suit. It was pretty good—the suit—but he had never used one before, and it was the sort of thing one had to become accustomed to. An experienced wearer would be able to jog along in the desert for hours at an even temperature. But Tuken struggled, and the temper suit did too.
This could be my death.
He put the thought out of his mind and focused on the guidance display: five miles to go. Then he noticed the guidance was flickering at the edges. Just what I need—he thought—had it been flickering that way before? 
As he wondered, the display went out. Then it came back on right away, but now it was flickering more, and then it started showing gibberish. He realized it wasn’t the suit’s system, it was the whole planetary system going offline. To Tuken's horror, the guidance gave out completely and he was left staring through his visor at the endless desert.
Everything's failing—he thought. He sat down on the scorching sand. Now what?
He hadn't been paying attention to the guidance system other than to see he had half an hour left to go, more or less. He was going in a straight line, and could guide himself by the sun, but not for long: his relative trajectory was not directly aligned with the movement of the sun.
Better wait to see if the system came online again. He coughed, expelling more vital water through his mask and into the merciless, predatory atmosphere. He drank down more of the diminishing fluid and stifled the next cough. For a long while he sat there waiting, resting, allowing the suit to function more efficiently. He noticed it was humming oddly.
He noticed something else: a few feet away, the sand moved. It began to rise, and to pour off of a hump in the desert . . . something was moving under the sand, lifting it. Abruptly, the sand began to blow away from the mound, and Tuken leapt to his feet. A hole had opened and was blowing the sand away from the mouth. It continued for a few minutes and then stopped.
Silence—-though Tuken did not notice the silence included the silence of his suit. It had failed too.
A lid was raised from the desert floor and a head peered out at Tuken.
"Tuken Jupiter?" the head asked—some guy with a beard, squinting into the sunlight.
"Are you Tuken Jupiter?"
"Yes . . . how—"
"Good. We've been tracking you. The system has failed. We had your location, so we burrowed out to get you. Come inside before you die." And the head vanished into the hole.
Tuken scrambled into the darkness of the brotherhood.
* * *
Hanx looked across the desk at the new guy. He was short, stocky, obviously unaccustomed to a temper suit—which did not appear to be turned on—and did not look promising.
"Why don’t you take that helmet off?" Hanx asked.
"I can’t. I don’t know how to turn the suit off."
"The suit is off already."
"What!" He fumbled at his neck and eventually removed the helmet. He breathed the dry air of the chamber. He felt foolish.
"What did you do?" Hanx asked.
"I got lost, what do you mean?"
"No, what did you do in life, before here?"
"You mean my work?"
Hanx nodded.
"I was the manager of a restaurant, the one on the top of the King Cobra Hotel—know it?"
"I've eaten there."
"You have?" Tuken was amazed.
"I've eaten there, yeah."
"Costs a fortune to eat there."
"I know. But I didn't have to pay. Let's get back to business: we're here to interview you. So if you ran the restaurant you must know something about roaches, right?"
"Correct. That's the next step, you move up the chain and into the distribution, which is closely guarded."
"And also, I understand," Hanx said, sitting back in his chair, "the limit of purebred involvement."
"Not true: we can be involved as long as we are in the upper reaches, the regions right around the temple. I don’t know if you know this, but the temple prostitutes and virgins all are purebred."
"I didn’t know that."
"Yes, anyway, we can get into the distribution but not too far. You’re right from there on down: only reptilians can deal with the catacombs where the roaches are bred. It’s closely tied with their religion. I actually think it is more of the real thing than the business with the virgins and the prostitutes."
"That’s a pretty shrewd guess," Hanx said. He sat in silence, thinking for a while. "Some kind of mystical genetic manipulation," he said at last. He looked away from Tuken, thinking. "That's where we need to go; it’s the Brotherhood's next project. Maybe it can be your rite."
"Everybody has to make a contribution to the cause, a sort of ordeal that shows the person's loyalty to the Brotherhood—make sense?"
"It does." The thought of going into the roach catacombs fascinated and horrified Tuken. He did not want to be caught down there by reptilians, but he was very curious about the place where the roaches were bred, and the processes, and also the strange religions accretions. There were all kinds of wild tales that circulated . . .
"Anyway," Hanx said, "I'm not in charge here. I'm just a friend. You'll have to talk to Aiden, the director. He's running a bit late, so he sent me in to feel you out. The good news is that I think you feel ok; the bad news is that mine is just an opinion. But Aiden should be here any minute."
* * *
"How are things up there?"
"Busy. Looks like everybody purebred is leaving Andridulla. Authorities can't keep up, they're just letting people ship out. Kind of hazardous, seems to me, but nobody's crashed—yet."
"Interesting. Any idea why?"
"Why? Because the place is falling apart, the com-networks failing, the water supply running out, the reptilians all locked up in the temple or somewhere: anarchy and apocalypse, that’s why."
"Yeah! You can almost see it from orbit, don't need a whole lot of mag to notice. Man, whatever you did to the Bizmarq, and I still don't understand it, was bad. The dude is letting everything come apart."
"What are they saying about that?"
"It's something to do with their religion, man, the crystals. But I can't get anything coherent from people."
"Interesting. It's all quiet here in the desert. We know the comnets are failing, but we don't have any first-hand reports. I should probably get Aiden to send in some scouts. Maybe go in myself."
"Man, you have to be careful in Andridulla nowadays. It's wild. I think as word gets out there'll be ships coming in to loot the place on top of everything."
"If it continues."
"What would stop it, Hanx?"
"If the Bizmarq finished his roach project."
There was a pause on the communication link while Yome absorbed what Hanx had said. Then Yome said, "You're serious about the roach thing, aren't you?"
"Yep. Gotta go, Yome. Out."
* * *
The car rolled up to the city limits.
"The comnets are coming online again," one of the Brethren said.
"He's back," Hanx said.
"Who's back?" Aiden asked.
"The Bizmark."
"You're sure?"
"Pretty sure. Lets try to go in."
The car rolled through the checkpoint and into the city. Nothing happened. Andridulla was deserted and dust blew along the streets. They passed abandoned transporters, crashed lev-cars, broken windows and twisted rails.
"Looks like they had a war," Aiden observed.
"It was like that when I left," Tuken said. "People leaving, looting, hiding away."
"The city power is coming back on," the Brother at the monitor said.
"Looks like you're right," Aiden remarked to Hanx.
"Of course," Hanx said. "Now we should hurry."
"Hurry where?"
"To the temple."
* * *
Altogether elsewhere—it seemed to Hanx. They were standing in the great courtyard of the temple, and before them rose the structure of crystal and winding, interlaced bamboo. It throbbed with blue lights and cast a pall, an artificial twilight so that the structure's lights could mark and possess the atmosphere before it. Blue lights, smaller amber ones crawled among the blue, and a strong, orange one shone from the mouth of the temple high above.
"This is not the same place," Aiden said.
"It doesn't feel the same, does it?" Hanx said. "Something crucial has changed. I think perhaps the Bizmarq has succeeded."
The drum began to throb from the temple, and a weird, sinuous music rose up around them, from everywhere, but leaping around, hard to locate, undulating.
"Immortality!" a voice cried.
"Immortality," came the answer from a crowd.
"Hail the immortal! The Bizmarq of Andridulla!" the voice cried again. A choir answered it with the same cry.
"Hail the immortal," the crowd shouted in turn. And the drum stopped, and there was silence.
In the mouth above, the Bizmark appeared, and the amber light concentrated on him while blue lights played along the outlines of the vast temple.
"My people," the Bizmarq cried in a gigantic voice, "I am immortal!"
It was precisely at that moment that a ray of sun shone through falling on the Bizmarq. His amplified scream seemed to paralyze time and abruptly to shift all the world into a howling nightmare. Then the sound died away.
* * *
The waves lash the pier. Tuken looks out over the troubled waters, he picks up his tea and goes to stand at the edge of the veranda. The rainwater pours off the thatched roof, and he remembers the rain on Andridulla an age ago. Turning, he goes to the other side and walks landward. In a field behind the house his space ship is rusting; the grass has grown over the low prow. It looks like a dead bug, like the roach king—-as they called the old Bizmarq.
He drinks.
The smell of his tea reminds him also of that day: the peculiar dusty fragrance of the tunnels and dry waterways around the temple in Adridulla. He had smelled it when they pursued the Bizmark into the nearest hole.
That had been at the end of the spectacle: when the Bizmark had revealed himself in the new transformation. Tuken remembers the amber light, the flickering blue, the man standing above, appearing to wear a cloak and lifting four arms into the air. Then the Bizmarq had spread what Tuken had taken for a cloak, and shown his golden-copper wings—-or the shell protecting his delicate, developing wings.
They had chased the fleeing Bizmark in the tunnels with the light of Aiden’s flash: confusing, dark, and with that dusty fragrance Tuken remembers every time he smells his tea. The dust of tea leaves and roses—-he remembers more exactly. And it seemed not only exotic at the time, but also strangely apt.
And then had come the mirror—-another of the day’s optical illusions: first the cloak and now the mirror. Actually a glass partition in the tunnels and chambers under the temple, it had worked like a mirror when in that darkness the light of Aiden’s flash had penetrated, revealing the Bizmark to himself: crouching on a wall, a pallid face, an insect body. His last words had been whispered in the sibilant accents of a reptilian, with difficulty because of the emerging mandibles, but with unambiguous horror.
The rain stops, and Tuken’s tea is finished. He looks up at the skies as he always does, remembering that day when as the Bizmarq stood at the height of his glory and had been smitten—-as Hanx liked to put it. As if on queue, as he had lifted up his golden-copper wings, the sun had broken with a ray through the temple’s pall. Tuken remembers the unforgettable scream, the Bizmarq falling, clutching the lip with two of his four arms, swinging, and finally scurrying down the side of the temple like a bug.
Tuken remembers Hanx’s explanation as they stood before that glass partition after the Bizmarq’s last words and his vanishing into the endless catacombs forever.
"Roaches don’t like daylight."
"But he’s still running," Aiden had pointed out.
"I think it’s because he’s losing everything but the instinct of an insect,” Hanx had explained. "He was very successful. The thing is, if he was entirely successful he’s also an immortal insect."
Tuken shudders and turns to enter the house again. That last statement of Hanx’s had cut deep into the society of New Byzantium; it had been picked up by some reporter and published. Now the reptilians were in charge again, they had a ruler called a Bizmarq, but they had sealed off the catacombs below, cleansed the temple of the bogus trappings of whore and virgin, and were said to be fond of reindeer meat, of which they cultivated galloping herds.
Pausing on the threshold, Tuken remembers the old Bizmarq, thinks of him still haunting the catacombs of Andridulla, and as he enters his house he shakes his head and whispers the once powerful ruler’s last realization: "I am loathsome!"
He heads toward the kitchen: time to roast a chicken for supper; tonight he will play chef again; he is expecting guests.
The End
About the Author;
Zoel Zartman lives and works in Bogotá, Colombia, a place which sometimes seems to have been dreamed up by Philip K. Dick. He has published fiction and poetry in Aoife's Kiss and the Mythic Circle.

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