Letter from the Editor


Welcome to another edition of the Free Bundle Newsletter Magazine!

As you might have seen in the last issue, we finished 2019 with a bang! Our comic holiday special, A Dog’s Christmas, was a huge success! We truly want to thank everyone who reached out to us saying how much you laughed with Dogeron’s small Christmas adventure.

On this new issue, the first of 2020, you won’t believe what we have in store for you. I’m not kidding. We have new original stories by some great upcoming authors and a Library’s grand opening.

Also: writer, actor, producer, and director, David Hayter, sat down for an interview with us. We talked about the past, the present, and the future of the business. If you are trying to make it into Hollywood, you really want to hear what the guy who wrote the screenplay for Watchmen and X-Men has to say.

Like always: if you’re a writer, remember to stop by our submissions page. If instead, you just want to drop us a lineto say hi, we are always happy to hear from our readers.

Now go enjoy your Free Bundle!

March 2020

Javier Cabrera

Editor-in-chief

Carlos Cabrera

Artwork

Lauren Collins

Assistant Editor

Janice Mills

Proofreading

Tiffany Amber

Proofreading

Jody Wenner

Contributor Writer

Hayley Chow

Contributor Writer

Bogi Beykov

Contributor Writer

V.R. Tapscott

Contributor Writer

CABRERA BROTHERS FREE BUNDLE is published by The Cabrera Brothers Company. All rights reserved through the world. Cabrera Brothers FREE BUNDLE. Copyright 2018-2020 Cabrera Brothers. All intelectual properties featured in this and past issues, the distinctive likenesses thereof and related elements are trademarks of each of its own authors and trademarks holders. For advertising and Custom Publishing, please contact our editor.


Fantastic Horizons

Fantastic Horizons

"Pulp Magazines" are rising from the ashes! This section of the Free Bundle is a digital monument erected on the web to honor the golden era of the Fantasy & Science Fiction Genre.

In a small town, no man can kill a cat...

The Cats of Ulthar

It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroe and Ophir.

He is the kin of the jungles lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten. […]

[…] In Ulthar, before ever the burgesses forbade the killing of cats, there dwelt an old cotter and his wife who delighted to trap and slay the cats of their neighbors.

Why they did this I know not; save that many hate the voice of the cat in the night, and take it ill that cats should run stealthily about yards and gardens at twilight. But whatever the reason, this old man and woman took pleasure in trapping and slaying every cat which came near to their hovel; and from some of the sounds heard after dark, many villagers fancied that the manner of slaying was exceedingly peculiar.

But the villagers did not discuss such things with the old man and his wife; because of the habitual expression on the withered faces of the two, and because their cottage was so small and so darkly hidden under spreading oaks at the back of a neglected yard. In truth, much as the owners of cats hated these odd folk, they feared them more; and instead of berating them as brutal assassins, merely took care that no cherished pet or mouser should stray toward the remote hovel under the dark trees.

When through some unavoidable oversight a cat was missed, and sounds heard after dark, the loser would lament impotently; or console himself by thanking Fate that it was not one of his children who had thus vanished. For the people of Ulthar were simple, and knew not whence it is all cats first came.

One day a caravan of strange wanderers from the South entered the narrow cobbled streets of Ulthar. Dark wanderers they were, and unlike the other roving folk who passed through the village twice every year. In the market-place they told fortunes for silver, and bought gay beads from the merchants.

What was the land of these wanderers none could tell; but it was seen that they were given to strange prayers, and that they had painted on the sides of their wagons strange figures with human bodies and the heads of cats, hawks, rams and lions. And the leader of the caravan wore a headdress with two horns and a curious disk betwixt the horns.

There was in this singular caravan a little boy with no father or mother, but only a tiny black kitten to cherish. The plague had not been kind to him, yet had left him this small furry thing to mitigate his sorrow; and when one is very young, one can find great relief in the lively antics of a black kitten. So the boy whom the dark people called Menes smiled more often than he wept as he sat playing with his graceful kitten on the steps of an oddly painted wagon.

On the third morning of the wanderers stay in Ulthar, Menes could not find his kitten; and as he sobbed aloud in the market-place certain villagers told him of the old man and his wife, and of sounds heard in the night. And when he heard these things his sobbing gave place to meditation, and finally to prayer. He stretched out his arms toward the sun and prayed in a tongue no villager could understand; though indeed the villagers did not try very hard to understand, since their attention was mostly taken up by the sky and the odd shapes the clouds were assuming.

It was very peculiar, but as the little boy uttered his petition there seemed to form overhead the shadowy, nebulous figures of exotic things; of hybrid creatures crowned with horn-flanked disks. Nature is full of such illusions to impress the imaginative.

That night the wanderers left Ulthar, and were never seen again. And the householders were troubled when they noticed that in all the village there was not a cat to be found. From each hearth the familiar cat had vanished; cats large and small, black, grey, striped, yellow and white. Old Kranon, the burgomaster, swore that the dark folk had taken the cats away in revenge for the killing of Menes kitten; and cursed the caravan and the little boy.

But Nith, the lean notary, declared that the old cotter and his wife were more likely persons to suspect; for their hatred of cats was notorious and increasingly bold. Still, no one durst complain to the sinister couple; even when little Atal, the innkeepers son, vowed that he had at twilight seen all the cats of Ulthar in that accursed yard under the trees, pacing very slowly and solemnly in a circle around the cottage, two abreast, as if in performance of some unheard-of rite of beasts. The villagers did not know how much to believe from so small a boy; and though they feared that the evil pair had charmed the cats to their death, they preferred not to chide the old cotter till they met him outside his dark and repellent yard.

So Ulthar went to sleep in vain anger; and when the people awakened at dawnbehold! Every cat was back at his accustomed hearth! Large and small, black, grey, striped, yellow and white, none was missing. Very sleek and fat did the cats appear, and sonorous with purring content.

The citizens talked with one another of the affair, and marveled not a little. Old Kranon again insisted that it was the dark folk who had taken them, since cats did not return alive from the cottage of the ancient man and his wife. But all agreed on one thing: that the refusal of all the cats to eat their portions of meat or drink their saucers of milk was exceedingly curious. And for two whole days the sleek, lazy cats of Ulthar would touch no food, but only doze by the fire or in the sun.

It was fully a week before the villagers noticed that no lights were appearing at dusk in the windows of the cottage under the trees. Then the lean Nith remarked that no one had seen the old man or his wife since the night the cats were away. In another week the burgomaster decided to overcome his fears and call at the strangely silent dwelling as a matter of duty, though in so doing he was careful to take with him Shang the blacksmith and Thul the cutter of stone as witnesses. And when they had broken down the frail door they found only this: two cleanly picked human skeletons on the earthen floor, and a number of singular beetles crawling in the shadowy corners.

There was subsequently much talk among the burgesses of Ulthar. Zath, the coroner, disputed at length with Nith, the lean notary; and Kranon and Shang and Thul were overwhelmed with questions. Even little Atal, the innkeepers son, was closely questioned and given a sweetmeat as reward. They talked of the old cotter and his wife, of the caravan of dark wanderers, of small Menes and his black kitten, of the prayer of Menes and of the sky during that prayer, of the doings of the cats on the night the caravan left, and of what was later found in the cottage under the dark trees in the repellent yard.

And in the end the burgesses passed that remarkable law which is told of by traders in Hatheg and discussed by travelers in Nir; namely, that in Ulthar no man may kill a cat.


H.P. Lovecraft was an American author who achieved posthumous fame through his works of horror and weird fiction. “The Cats of Ulthar” was first published in the literary journal Tryout in November 1920 and now resides in the public domain.



Fantastic Horizons

Fantastic Horizons

"Pulp Magazines" are rising from the ashes! This section of the Free Bundle is a digital monument erected on the web to honor the golden era of the Fantasy & Science Fiction Genre.

She is in for a surprise in...

Swap Meat

When Jules walked into a swap shop that afternoon, she was prepared to die; however, she didn’t think she was going to be murdered.

The clinic felt no different than any other she’d been to, and Jules had been to her share of them. She’d seen doctors, counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. None of them were able to offer her the help she needed, so here she was, at her final clinic. She filled out the forms on the clipboard the receptionist gave her, and then she waited. She hated waiting; it stirred up all sorts of stuff in her head. Was this the right thing for her? Should she reconsider?

No. She took a deep breath. This was what she wanted. She was sure.

Two other people sat waiting nearby. Looking at them, Jules wondered if they were going to go through with the procedure today, or if they were just here for the consult like her. The woman to her right didn’t seem particularly anxious, but the man across from her was visibly sweating. She had so many questions she’d like to ask them, but she stayed quiet. Soon enough the technician would tell her everything she needed to know.

Actually, maybe knowing everything was part of the problem. She’d always been someone who fretted about the little things, which was why she had such a hard time being decisive. Funny how none of that mattered anymore. In fact, she was relieved to be leaving it all behind. This time when she took a deep breath, she felt lighter. Yes. This was the right decision.

A woman wearing khaki-colored scrubs came out of a door and called her name. Jules got up and handed her the clipboard.

“Please follow me, Miss Levinsmith.”

They passed behind the door and into a long corridor.

“Are you ready?” the technician asked as Jules followed behind her.

“Wait. We’re doing it now? I thought this was just the consultation.”

They stopped. The technician quickly glanced at the clipboard. “Everything here looks to be in order. Did you have questions?”

Jules thought about how good she felt with her decision back in the waiting room. “No. I’m ready. Let’s do it.”

The technician smiled. “Great.”

They started walking again. The hallway was long and narrow. The technician took high, bubbly strides. She craned her neck around as she marched and said with a wide grin, “You’re doing a wonderful thing. Your family must be very proud.”

“They don’t know yet,” Jules said.

The woman nodded and looked forward again. “So, first things first. You’re going to meet your recipient.”

“Oh? I didn’t realize…”

“You sound hesitant. Are you having second thoughts?”

“No, I just—”

“It’s standard procedure. Most people find it to be a great comfort.”

Jules relaxed again. “Okay.”

They walked on. When they turned a corner, a series of closed doors with numbers on them lined this corridor. The technician referenced the clipboard again, then stopped in front of door number thirteen. Jules almost asked her to keep going. Everybody knew thirteen was an unlucky number. But then it struck her as ridiculous. What did it matter anymore?

“Take as much time as you need,” the technician said. “Press the buzzer on the wall when you’re ready.” Jules thanked her and went in. The door closed behind her with a loud, hollow clap. Jules turned to find a nearly empty room. It was long and narrow like the hall she’d just come down. Glistening white tiles lined every surface. A beam of light from the ceiling reflected off the sterile surface so brightly it nearly blinded her. She squinted and peered down at the far wall where she saw a square pane of glass centered on it. Through the fluorescent haze, she walked toward it.

As she sat down in the chair positioned in front of it, the light in the room dimmed. A soft glow rose up from behind the window and revealed an emaciated young woman slumped in a wheelchair facing her. The hair on her head was mere stubbles. IV lines protruded from her thin wrists. The silence in the sterile room was so thick, it shocked Jules when the recipient’s voice came through from a speaker in the wall.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Jules. I apologize for my appearance. It’s breast cancer, just so you know. That’s always the first question donors ask, so I thought I’d get it out of the way.”

“You’ve talked with other donors?” Jules asked.

“Yes.”

“So that means those others… changed their minds?”

“Yes.”

Jules spoke confidently, as if convincing this woman was her true mission. “I’m ready,” she said.

“You don’t have to do this,” the recipient said, as if pleading.

“I want to.”

“Why?”

“I just know that this is the right thing for me.”

“Have you tried medications?”

“Yes. I’ve tried everything. Trust me.”

The recipient seemed oddly hesitant. “Sometimes,” she said, “all you need is a little time.” Jules couldn’t contain her laughter. All of the scientific and technological research, the trillions of dollars in pharmaceuticals, all revolving around fixing her and people like her, yet this woman, who couldn’t have been all that much older than her, was trying to tell her the secret was actually just giving it a little time. “No offense,” she said, trying to keep her voice even, “but I’ve had more than enough time. You have no idea. Besides, the woman outside said I met all of the requirements.”

The woman just stared at her for a long time with sunken eyes. Jules didn’t know what to say to make this complete stranger understand. There were so many things she would have liked to convey, but her mind was turning into jelly again. She had too many thoughts and emotions coursing through her. She’d gone from nervous to excited to angry all in the last five minutes. She wondered if this was why there had been others who had walked away from this woman.

“I understand exactly what you’re going through,” the woman said softly.

“I highly doubt that.”

“Let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Ami. I’ve been happily married for three years. I recently had a baby boy. My milk wasn’t producing. At first they thought it was just a blockage but the x-ray revealed a mass. It’s stage four.”

“See? This is perfect,” Jules said. “Your husband and son need you. Why don’t I just go and tell the woman waiting outside that we’re ready?” She started to get up from her chair.

“Wait,” Ami said. “There’s more. I need you to hear this. Please sit down.”

Jules hesitantly lowered herself back into the chair.

“When I was about your age, I actually sat right where you’re sitting now.” Ami paused to suck on an oxygen mask hanging next to her from the IV stand. “My recipient was an old woman. I mean really old. Pushing eighty. I asked her why she thought I should choose her. Why did she deserve it more than someone else…someone younger? She looked genuinely surprised I would ask such a question.

“Then she told me the thing that changed my life. ‘When I was younger,’ she said, ‘I tried to jump off a cliff. We didn’t have these fancy swap shops on every street corner like they do now. No, if we wanted to meet our maker, we had to do the messy job all on our own. So I stood on the edge with my eyes closed and just as I was about to launch myself, someone grabbed my wrist and pulled me back. It was an angel. A man had seen me from the highway and stopped to save me. He didn’t realize he was going to truly save me. Long story short, I married my angel and I’ve had an amazing life.’

“The old woman went on to explain to me that the irony of it all is that you had to live long enough to see the true meaning. There isn’t a cure. It’s not that easy. You have to fight. Not everybody wins. You have to be one of the lucky ones who comes out on the other side of it. She said she believed life was a gift. It’s not perfect, but that’s what makes it so special. Pain is a measure for how good we can feel. Black is only dark if there’s white. She said now that her time was near, she was able to see the good in every little thing, even in the worst case scenarios, and as long as these clinics existed she was going to fight for every moment she could get.”

Ami inhaled oxygen from the mask again. “I started to wonder if maybe this old lady really did know some secrets I didn’t. She convinced me to go out and to give myself a little time. I was too young to get it. Maybe somebody would grab my wrist and show me to the other side, too. And low and behold, wouldn’t you know it, I started to slowly see the good sprinkled in with the bad. It wasn’t night and day, but when my son was born,” she took another breath, “well, there are no meds that can make you feel as good as cradling your baby in your arms. Anyway, now I get it. I assume the cancer is my penance for wanting to end it all too soon, but I don’t care. Just like the old lady, now I want nothing more than to fight.”

Jules sat quietly in the chair for a minute processing everything Ami had thrown at her. “Well you aren’t doing a very good job of it. I came in here certain I was ready. Now I’m having second thoughts.” Unexpected tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. “I just wanted to do something, just one thing, that would make my family proud of me.”

“This isn’t the answer. I don’t care what the brochure says. I was lucky enough to have someone pass along a gift to me when I was your age. I want to do the same. Please. Go home and think about what I’ve said. For me to be comfortable with this, I need to know you’re truly ready. I don’t think you are, Jules.”

“The woman with the clipboard said I was ready.”

“But what do you think?” Ami asked.

“Honestly? I’m not sure about anything.”

Ami nodded. “That’s what I thought. Can I ask you a personal question?”

Jules wiped her eyes. “Okay.”

“Have you ever been in love?”

“I’ve dated.”

“Tell me about that.”

“The last guy I was seeing dumped me because he said I was holding back.”

“What were you holding back?”

“Love, I guess.”

“Why were you doing that?” Ami asked.

“It don’t know. Nobody understands what it’s like. He thought it was my fault, that I was trying to make us fail.”

“Was he right?”

“No! Of course not,” Jules said with a bite.

“Were you upset by the breakup?”

“No. But not because I didn’t care about him. It’s because of the condition. You think I want to be miserable? You think that I can just will myself to be different? If I could, I would. I can’t! I’m glad you found happiness, but that doesn’t mean everyone can.”

“You’re right,” Ami said nodding. “I’m not saying you can. Believe me. I would never insinuate that what you have isn’t real. And I’m not saying love is the answer to everything. All I’m saying is…you’re so young. I want you to at least get the opportunity to experience true love once in your life.”

Jules was conflicted. “Maybe I’m not lovable. What if that’s the real root of my problem?” It was her biggest fear, the secret she’d kept to herself. She’d been relieved to have been diagnosed with the condition just so she didn’t have to face the possibility. What if she were to find her angel, but they didn’t love her back? But now she faced this woman who was dying, this stranger, who wanted nothing more than to keep going for the love of her child, and yet she was willing to let Jules walk out of there so she could give her another shot at figuring herself out. Something sparked inside of her that she’d never felt before.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Ami said. “I think maybe you just haven’t found the right person yet, or maybe you just haven’t come into your own yet. Maybe you just needed…this experience to put it all into perspective. Just like me. I just want to make sure that you’re really sure.”

A silence filled the small space again. This time is was Jules’s own voice that shocked her when she spoke. “Okay,” she said. “I’m going to take your advice. I’m going to try again.” She got up.

Ami smiled as if it caused her pain to do so. “I’m glad. I hope you find something good out there this time just like I did.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be okay.”

“Thank you, Ami.”

Jules moved to the door. Next to the call button on the wall she took note again of the number thirteen on the door. She thought to herself how she’d been wrong about it being unlucky. It had been the exact opposite. This was actually the miracle she’d been seeking. It wasn’t a hoax or a quick fix. It was just some sage advice from someone who’d been through it herself, someone who was a few steps ahead of her in her life journey, someone who understood what she was going through and had come out on the other side.

Jules smiled. She was feeling clearer than she’d felt in years. For once she didn’t feel like she was underwater. She was going to leave this clinic and turn things around. If not for her, then for Ami, who was selfless enough to let her see what she’d been missing all this time.

Confidently, Jules pushed the button to call the technician back.

The moment she did, she felt a wave of heat coarse through her. The light above her got intensely bright before it flickered and the small room went dark for a moment. When the light came back on, Jules understood immediately something had changed. She looked down at herself. Her skin was sagging and pale.

Her breath was now coming in shallow increments. She felt…not herself. She turned and walked back toward the glass. Standing on the other side, staring back at her…was her.

“Jules?” the person in her body said. “What happened?”

“Ami? Is that you? I don’t know! I just pushed the button to call the attendant.”

“No. That button was to make the swap.”

“Oh, God! I didn’t realize.” She examined herself in the reflection of the window. “I’m…you now?”

“Yes,” Ami said.

Jules suddenly felt sick. Because she was sick; in fact, she was dying. She sat down in the chair. Everything in her body hurt to do so. “What have I done?”

She looked back up at Ami who was breathing deeply from her new set of lungs. The expression on her face was not one that Jules even recognized as her own. It was one of pure bliss. “I feel so good.”

Jules watched as Ami examined her new exterior, touched her new thick head of hair. “It’s amazing.” Ami walked to the glass separating them and put her hand up to it. “My God,” she whispered. “I look terrible. I hadn’t realized how bad…”

“Please,” Jules pleaded. “Swap me back! I made a mistake. I changed my mind. I can’t do this. I don’t want to die.” She tried to calm down. She grabbed the oxygen mask and inhaled deeply.

Ami didn’t break eye contact. “I want to. I really do. It feels so good to be able to breathe again.” She began to slowly back toward the door on the opposite side of her room.

Jules yelled as loud as her new body would allow, “What about everything you said to me, about making sure your donor was ready? Oh God. Please, Ami. Swap me back!”

“I’m sorry, Jules. It’s done now and I just… I’m really sorry.” Ami turned and opened the door. She gave a quick glance back…

“Wait,” Jules said faintly, but it was too late. She was already gone.


Jody is a self-published author of over seven mystery and psychological thriller novels. She enjoys writing in many different genres and have published a few shorts in various science fiction anthologies, as well as in mystery magazines. You can find more about Jody here:

@JWenner_Author


Fantastic Horizons

Fantastic Horizons

"Pulp Magazines" are rising from the ashes! This section of the Free Bundle is a digital monument erected on the web to honor the golden era of the Fantasy & Science Fiction Genre.

They will find way more than darkness...

Hidden In The Deep

I wake up in total blackness. For a moment, I just lie there, still as a summer day. I let myself believe that when I turn on the light, I won’t be in my barren, dingy cabin aboard a ship hiding in the darkest corner of the ocean deep. A notification chimes on the utility patch adhered to my bare neck, and the lights click to a soft glow, illuminating the same hard steel box I’ve been living in for the past 782 days.

Stroking my whiskers irritably, I search for a holo-vid to lighten the gloom. On command, my patch projects a much younger version of myself frolicking about with my mother. On the surface. Under the sun. Did the world still look like that up there? Were we really that happy once? […]

[…] It’s amazing what a couple years in the depths will do to you.

With a sigh, I touch my patch and cancel the vid, calling up my agenda visual instead. I’m on reconnaissance today. Not my favorite, but there are worse duties. I slap on a nutrition patch above my utility and head out into the corridor. I pause, debating on where to spend my last free hour before my shift. The electric lights buzz as I breathe in the musty air, my mood still sour. Then, I turn right towards the recreation area.

The meditation room is the friendliest space on the ship, which isn’t saying much. Colorful fabrics and rugs drape the grey walls and floor, dampening the omnipresent vibrations of the engine. Golden solar bars line the ceilings, shining their almost natural light down on the denizens of the HX sub. Vas is already there, settled in a corner, and I claim the cushion next to him.

“Good morning, Jul.”

I grunt.

“In a pleasant mood today, I see.”

I grunt again. “What’s there to be pleasant about?”

“I hear we’re heading to the shallows to recharge our solar cells.” Vas lean toward me. “They say we may even get time hull-side.”

I soften ever so slightly. Every now and then in shallow waters, command would let us don deep-suits and float among the sea creatures. Sometimes, on clear days, the sun would even reach her fingers down through the waves to tease us. Not the same as going to the surface of course, but not as risky either. At least you could escape the tin can, if only for a short while.

I sigh. “Better than nothing.”

We linger in companionable silence for a while longer, letting our ennui and cynicism drain away into the cloth and stuffing like a lanced pustule. My thoughts meander back to my mother. Was she still out there somewhere? Herded into a crowded camp or caged in a lab? Perhaps if I concentrated hard enough, my thoughts could escape the depths and reach her somehow. Comfort her.

My patch chimes, bringing me back to the sub. I sigh again, deflating a little, but the bitterness has gone out of it. Mind cleared to a serviceable state, I finally rise to tend my shift.

The whir and clutter of surveillance control stand in stark contrast to peaceful meditation. Holomaps grow out of every wall with processors purring within them. The map on the left depicts the ship itself, the immediate exterior as well as internal rooms and halls, because of course, you still couldn’t depend on your own team, even at the end of the world.

Luckily, Bon’s been assigned to that miserable monotony today. Instead, I’m monitoring one of the external networks, connected to the last of the world’s remaining infrastructure the Vun haven’t managed to destroy yet.

While some among the crew shout for sabotage and rescue missions, the commander continues to prioritize the need to understand our enemy before we strike. So for now, we hide, surveil, and survive. For obvious reasons, we don’t have many personnel, so my reconnaissance sector is broad, and I enjoy the freedom to scan where I wish, recording my observations. My patch links directly with the holograms, so I can flick through the scenes briskly.

Now that they’ve killed or captured the majority of the population, the hulking creatures move through our cities with impunity. The Vun are unsightly things with many appendages, strange orifices, and disgusting excretions, but their destructive efficiency is staggering. They subject our people to experimentation and violence while destroying our landmarks and history with one sweeping hand.

I try to avoid those depressing scenes, instead focusing on their daily lives. How do they nourish themselves and interact? What motivates them? Where did they come from? Through these sessions and intensive study, I’ve actually even started to pick up some of their words. I hate them—yes. But, I am also fascinated. It wasn’t so long ago that an alien incursion was a fantastic speculation. Now here we are, living the nightmare.

Nearby, our section lead, Shem, nudges Bon. “Are you awake over here?”

He grumbles sleepily, his movements sluggish. I can hardly blame him, internal surveillance is the worst.

“We can’t have anyone making off with extra nutrition patches,” Shem teases, gazing up at the holo’s.

“Perhaps we can find someone to spy on.”

Then something changes, and her body tenses.

“Wait.” She taps Bon again.

“Seriously, what’s that?”

Bon shifts his gaze. “What’s what?”

I turn to see Shem pointing to a dot in the minimized holo at the tail of the ship, near the auxiliary engine. “That.”

Bon enlarges the images to magnify the bulky dark shapes gliding down the hallway.

Everyone freezes.

We know what they are. We’ve been watching them for years, but still, fear impales us.

This is impossible.

Shem smacks her patch to call the commander while I sit there, transfixed. For 782 days, the HX has hidden us from harm, but in a single instant of carelessness, the Vun have crawled right under our skin. Had I really resented those years of safety?

Bon stares blankly at the hologram, rigid as stone, as more and more black figures blot the holo. So, still numb, I tap my patch and say the magic words: Breach. Breach. Breach.

We’re under attack.

Alarms blare and lights flash as everyone jolts into action, their training taking over. “Escape pods. Get to the escape pods!” Shem shouts.

I only reach the door before the power is cut and we are left in the darkness. Standard procedure, I remind myself. The invaders rely mostly on sight, so this is to our advantage. We know the ship and can feel our way to safety.

Still, the pitch black is unnerving, as if the hull has been stripped away and we are existing in a pocket of air in the deep. Ready to burst at any minute.

Shem leads the way with Bon sandwiched in-between us, shell-shocked by some deadly mix of guilt and fear—useless as a child. Every corner we turn, I jump at the brush of other evacuees darting this way and that. My patch is still connected to the ship’s communications, announcing each pod ejection. But, it also broadcasts the screams of shipmates as our defenders sacrifice themselves to give us time to escape.

At last, the three of us reach our assigned shuttle bay, but a yellow glow of the control panel spells bad news. It’s already been deployed. Panic erupts within me like a burst pipe. Our own crew has cut off our escape, sentencing us to our Vun executioners.

But Shem doesn’t humor despair, and she’s already speaking into her patch. “Any other pods still shipside?”

“We’re the last, but we’ve got room.” The voice is miraculously steady on the other end.

Shem is already reversing direction. “What sector?”

“Twelve.”

“Hold it for as long as you can.”

I think of the ship map. “But isn’t twelve close to—”

“We need to move fast,” Shem cuts in, launching down a different corridor.

We stumble over a fallen comrade in the dark. Shem’s patch glows for a quick second as she checks for life, but I look away—not wanting to recognize a lost friend. Moving forward, I silence my patch comm as we near the heart of the battle. My attention swivels, straining for any hint of alien sound, sight, or presence. Easing around a corner, Shem jerks back before signaling to reverse course. Starting to lose my bearings, I push Bon closer to Shem, in hopes she still knows where she’s going.

We pass a hall where the Vun are trussing up one our own. The screams of the captive sound like Vas, but I can’t be sure. Anxiety seizes me with needle-like claws, but they don’t notice as we slide by.

I try to beat the desperation that threatens to drown my thoughts. We have to be getting close.

Finally, we turn another corner and I can see the blue control panel. The door hisses open, and a shipmate waves wildly for us to hurry.

Hope thickens as we rush towards the door. Three more seconds… then two… then— Something shoots into my back and a jolt of electricity brings me crashing to the floor. Pain surges through my whole body.

Shem and Bon dash into the pod, slamming the door closed without me. No hesitation. The floor trembles as the pod rockets away from danger, away from death, away from me.

A forlorn knife guts me as I lie prostrate on the steel floor. She didn’t even pause. But I shouldn’t expect different. With so few of us still free, we have to save as many as we can.

The raiders approach to retrieve their prey. The Vun seem even bigger in person, hunched over their weapons as they stoop in our corridor. Frantically, I wiggle to right myself, terror overwhelming all else. They fling a voltage net over me, another shock bringing me to the edge of unconsciousness.

I can hear them speaking, but it is a rough oral language I’ve only begun to understand.

“Damn, we’ve been chasing these critters for years. I can’t believe we finally found’em.”

“Maybe we’ll get some shore leave when we get back to base.”

“Hell, I’ll settle for some celebratory Texas Fried Chicken at the chow hall.”

“I could go for that.”

As they near, I see myself in the reflection of their ocular visors—antenna quivering, vibrissae erect, beak ajar, and spines grey with terror. Nothing like that vibrant young Becaplahelen in the holo-vid this morning, or even the benumbed refugee that watched it. I am nothing but a jelly of fear now, the invaders have taken everything else.

The monster swings his meaty five-fingered appendage toward me once more, and everything goes black.


Hayley Reese Chow is a professional engineer by day with short and flash fiction featured or upcoming in Lite Lit One, The Drabble, Bewildering Stories, Teleport Magazine, and Rogue Blades Entertainment’s omnibus, AS YOU WISH!

You can read more about Hayley here: https://twitter.com/hayleyreesechow and https://hayleyreesechow.com/


Address comments to the editor and we will get back to you on the next issue.

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Drop us a few lines telling us what you like, what you think we can improve and what you would like to see us publishing and we will automatically add you to our quarterly books giveaway.

Arthur, Kate and Nathan wrote us this month, they have already been added to our quarterly books giveaway contest.


DEADLY VIRUSES

Dear Editor:

Now that we need to spend more time at home because of the coronavirus, I thought I’d send in a few comments and requests.

First: I used to read Orson Scott Intergalactic Medicine Show almost religiously, even though some of the stories I found them to be somewhat similar to one another. Sadly, it is now gone. It was after looking for a replacement that I came across someone’s tweet on the Free Bundle. I must confess, the name threw me off at first, but once I looked at the material your magazine is publishing, I couldn’t resist subscribing.

What a delight it was to find a community of hardcore science fiction fans keeping the old school magazine type alive! I was aware of Asimov’s and a few others, but I didn’t realize there were still others for me to discover! The material is solid, too; I couldn’t believe it when I saw you had “The Monkey Paw” available for everyone to read! I particularly enjoyed “Daggers and Heroes” by Luke Kiernan.

Second: A MAP TO WHERE MUSES LIVE, OR HOW TO BUILD YOUR HOME LIBRARY. I must confess I had only read half of it because work and life got in the way back when it was first published, but now that I have more free time (again, thanks to that stupid virus), I’ve forced myself to sit down and read the rest. What a fantastic piece. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on how and why we should be building libraries. It would be an exciting read, especially now that the entire world is complaining about how dull their lives are because of the “self-imposed” quarantine (an oxymoron if there have been any in history).

The pictures you are using for the short stories in your mag are simple, yet, they remind me why simple is sometimes better: they do wonders for the imagination of the reader. I must also pay my compliments for the chosen column layout for the stories. Its been a while since I’ve read anything in this way, even the most well-known mags abandoned the old columns layout for a more modern approach.

As for the video cover, I must say you could do very well without it and still have a good quality magazine, besides giving artists a chance to showcase their work.

ARTHUR SAHA.

Arthur, Thank you for your kind compliments, everyone here works really hard into making the best magazine we possibly can. Getting comments like yours makes it all worth it. We are happy that you are enjoying the short stories we published. We are sure Mr. Luke Kiernan will be more than glad to read your mention of his story.

About my personal take on why it is imperative every home owns a library, there is a short piece I wrote for this issue where I discuss how everyone already has thanks to projects like Gutemberg or The Internet Archive. Still, even then, it is of the utmost importance everyone starts stockpiling books with the same crazy diligence they are filling their shelves with food and toilet paper. Not because of some deadly virus, but in case governments (which are a different kind of illness, one a tad more lethal we still haven’t found an immunity for), decide in their all mightly wisdom that we shouldn’t really enjoy the freedom to have them, as it is often the case with bureaucrats and men who ostentate a limited but relevant amount of power.

You know what? We have been actually thinking about opening our cover page to artists. We might take on your suggestion. Thank you again for writing, Arthur.


REQUEST FOR PDF VERSION

I am writing to you in name of everyone who owns and uses an iPad. Love the magazine, love the design, love the web version, but what I don’t love is not having a PDF version. Could you please, please add a way for those of us who do read PDF magazines to download yours? I do all of my reading on my iPad and it will be nice to have the Free Bundle. Since you are at it, could we have a name contest or something? The Free Bundle doesn’t sounds right for a Sci-Fi magazine. Thank you.

KATE BARNARD

Kate, We appreciate your suggestions! There have been editorial talks about changing the name of the magazine for sure, but we decided to go with what we have. The reason is that most people who already know what we do, are used to the name and those who don’t know it, will end up getting curious about it. Instead of changing it to something like “Fantastic Horizons” (which we could, mind you, but that’s the name of one of our sections), we will “own” it the best we can. Like many things in life, the name of this magazine outgrew its initial purpose (more on that here). We are confident that you will come to like it with time. Hopefully. Maybe. Perhaps. Give it a few months! Who knows.

Now, about the PDF situation, we have obviously thought about it and even made a few tests. That’s all I can say for now. I can’t promise anything, but if it happens, we will make sure you are the first to know about it. Thank you again for taking the time to write to us, Kate.


ANIVERSARY AND CONGRATULATIONS

Congratulations on completing your first year of printing old classics fantasies and awesome new science fiction shorts. When a friend sent me the link, I couldn’t believe I was reading a magazine, what a fantastic idea. With such a rise in quality over the last few numbers, there is no doubt that your magazine will be long lived. I can hardly wait for each new issue. My favorite section has to be DOG’s webcomic (the Christmas special was a blast!). Are you planning on publishing it for real? If you do, let me know, I will order a few issues for a few friends and me.

Could I make a request? I want to read more Lovecraftian stories. I’m not exactly fond of the Fantasy genre or the “hard sci-fi,” but I found myself coming back to “The Rite” more than a few times to really digest the ending.

One last thing: could you please clarify something for me? What is the run of this magazine? Once per month? Once every two months? Sometimes I get the email weekly, others every few months, and to be honest, it is getting somewhat difficult to keep up. Please don’t take it as a complaint, it is just that it would be easier for me to know when to wait for the new Issue, that’s all! Thanks!

NATHAN GILBERT

Nathan,

Thank you very much for the birthday wishes! It has been a rough year for the Free Bundle, but we never expect it to have it easy. Tell your friend we say hi! Regarding DOG’s webcomic: we are thrilled you like the character. It does take a substantial chunk of time to produce, though, so we can’t always deliver on schedule, but little by little, we’re getting there.

A printed version of DOG’s webcomic is going to happen. Not this year but, maybe next. There are plans for something else, though. Something we know you and everyone else reading the comic will most likely be pleased with. More on that on the next issue, which takes us to your last question. The Free Bundle gets updated with a new Issue every three months (quarterly), so you can expect a new Issue around June.

Thank you for reading, Nathan!



Cover Story

Cover Story

Cover Story

Here we publish stories we feel deserve special attention from the science fiction community.

Grand Opening: The Ray Bradbury Library

Although most people don't know it yet, we all have free, unlimited access to one of the largest libraries humanity has ever seen.

We won.

Goddammit, we won!

Our enemies are down on their knees. All the dictators, bureaucrats and tyrants, are already defeated. They are no more. Defeated by guns? No, not by guns. Not by bombs either, but by culture, by the undeniable speed in which culture can now spread.

Do you want to read the collected essays of Bernard Shaw to find out what the author thought on parenting? You can, instantaneously.

Feel curious about French artist Van Gogh? Delight your eyes with a starry night and travel back to 1889 in the blink of an eye.

What if, instead, all you wanted was to listen Edith Piaf sign “non, je ne regrette rien” performing live, in Paris? Or hunt for the white devil with no other than one of the original ardent blasphemous, Captain Ahab?

You can. You can. You absolutely can! Now more than ever.

Goddammit, we won!

Culture is the only hammer strong enough to break the chains of oppression, forever. That which is first attacked by the tyrants. That which those who call themselves religious but have no God see as their outermost enemy when they whisper in the ears of those dumb enough to attempt to govern man.

Culture. Today, found everywhere, even in the palm of our hands.

See, when young author Ray Bradbury took the stairs down into the typing room of the UCLA’s library, back in 1951, all he had in mind was to write a short story. He never thought he would end up calling it “The Fireman”, and through he suspected he could make a sell to one of the pulp magazines that back then were as popular as Netflix and Disney+ are today, he never imagined, by his own account, that the story would end up in the pages of Galaxy Magazine.

Galaxy Magazine! Perhaps one of the most read Science Fiction magazines of the time! Could you imagine that? What’s even more spectacular: “The Fireman” was a chrysalis from which “Fahrenheit 451” emerged, spreading its wings and flying into the imagination of entire generations to come.

Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, first edition, next to its two film adaptations.Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, first edition, next to its two film adaptations.

The library! That’s where Bradbury wrote his short story! At the basement of the UCLA’s library. His own words: “how could I get writer’s block there? All I had to do was run upstairs, pull out a book and get inspired”. Unknowingly, the author was describing the way the Internet works, long before computers ever existed. Or at least, the way the Internet should work.

Let’s be honest here; year after year the most searched terms on the internet range from either soccer players, to techno-gadgets, movie stars, or explicit content. Only a handful of people seems to be aware of the true power the Internet holds for us. It is the job of the tyrants, of the state bureaucrats, of the dictators of the mind and soul that it stays that way.

No crazy conspiracy theory, only the truth.

And though they have been already long defeated by Gutenberg and his movable type printer, they are still trying to keep us under their boot. Chances are, they will never quit. Which is why it is so important to remind ourselves, from time to time, that WE WON THE BATTLE. That we are, indeed, free.

What better occasion than this essay then to open a library?

Open a library?

Yes, the Ray Bradbury Library. Figuratively speaking, of course. Let this essay titled after the man who wrote about defeating the tyrants from within the sacrosanctness of a library, be a map in which we can, together, rediscover what the Internet has to offer besides funny cat videos and social networks that de-socialize us from one another.

Ready to set sail to uncharted territories? Let us then head towards the Internet Archive, a personal favorite but one many, many are unaware of.

The Internet Archive Building and one of its many servers inside a Church.The Internet Archive Building and one of its many servers inside a Church.

There has not been a project as important since the conception of the Internet as the Internet Archive. It is even more relevant to mankind than Wikipedia. More, you say? Yes, far, far more relevant.

Erected as a monument to hope in a defunct Christian Science church in San Francisco, the Internet Archive is a digital library with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge”.

And what a better place to keep the world’s books safe than a church? Holy ground! From within the virtual corridors of the Internet Archive ANYONE can find actual book scans, original radio segments, journals and everything in within, absolutely free of charge. But let’s drop anchor here and row to those shores, there’s much to see.

Among the vast journals collections, we find the rare “Voynich Manuscript”, dating from a era unknown, though it is suspected to be from the 15th century. This illustrated codex was hand-written, in a language as mysterious as the plants and diagrams that holds.

A Writer’s Notebook”, by English playwright, novelist, and short story writer W. Somerset Maugham. Published in 1915 and reduced from fifteen volumes to one notebook. This gem is among one of the toughest editions to come across in real life. Digitalized here by the Internet Archive team and free to access for all.

An engineering notebook from one Joe Decuir from back when he worked at Atari, the game company. This notebook includes design concepts on the Atari 400 and 800, as well as on the ANTIC chip, meeting notes, notes on the competition products and other mind-melting bits of history. In fact, there is an entire corridor devoted to Atari’s historical documents at the Internet Archive that range from notebooks, development material to newspaper clippings from those working for Atari at the time.

Also important, the Isaac Newton’s College Notebook, the scanned pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks by the British Library and Mark Twain’s Notebook, which we wouldn’t be able to find so easily somewhere else.

When it comes to books, we can rejoice our minds with rarities such as the Grammar of Ornament, published in London 1856. Hamonshū, by Mori Yūzan, written in 1917, is a sort of template for woodcarvers of the era.

Also, a selection of great Science Fiction and Horror magazines, such as Selected Science Fiction, Fangoria, Amazing Stories, Psychotronic Video, which was a hand-written and photocopied weekly fanzine on low-budget obscure Science Fiction movies that ran from 1989 to 2006, Interzone, a British Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, some issues of Weird Tales, Dime Mystery and True Detective, among many others.

Now that we have covered the basics, let’s not forget about the Popeye Cartoons. Did I just said cartoons? Yes! Because just as with any library, the Internet Archive hosts a vast collection of public domain cartoons, documentaries and educational content, all in video format.

So, follow me down the Cartoon aisle and let’s watch The Lone Ranger, The Pink Panter, Heidi, Girl of the Alps, directed by Isao Takahata with a special collaboration of no other than Hayao Miyazaki. Marvel with me with Out Of The Inkwell, the cartoon that inspired Walt Disney to create an entire empire, and talking of which, let’s also see the world’s first animated cartoon that carried recorded sound instead of a living musician with Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie.

These are just a few examples of what’s in the Cartoon aisle of the Internet Archive. We also have Paramount Pictures’ Casper, Walter Landz’s Woody Wood Pecker, The Adventures of Pinoccio and pile after pile of Bugs Bunny cartoons you have probably watched a hundred times already and are there, waiting for you to watch them a hundred times more.

But why stop there? We can also stop by the collected images from the Metropolitan Museum to delight ourselves with the full high definition scans of marvels such as the Madonna and Child, an oil painting by the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, c. 1500, a plaque with a erotic scene, from India, 1st Century B.C., the woodblock print of Naruto Whirpool, dating 1853 Japan, a photograph of a real Samurai, taken somewhere around 1865, The Death of the Virgin, the oil painting of Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist , a picture of a 1851 Colt revolver, or a 1862 Colt Revolver the police used, if you prefer.

Already trembling with excitement? Then let’s camp out, here, on the shore of our imagination and read some of the great classics from Project Gutenberg such as: Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Regions of the World, by Jonathan Swift. This Crowded Earth, by Robert Bloch. Operation Haystack, by Frank Herbert, author of Dune. The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. Perhaps you want to spend a while visiting the strange sightings at the Island of Doctor Moreau by the same author, or go back in time with me by using The Time Machine.

Our options are limitlessness as we are only scratching the surface of what we can find. Maybe spend some time reading the illustrated version of Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island? Or read his Essays of Travel, either case, you decide.

I began this essay describing how Ray Bradbury went on writing his short story, “The Fireman”, which later metamorphosed beautifully into “Fahrenheit 451” and I will end with with two gifts for you to take with you.

One, the first issue of Futuria Fantasia, Ray’s own Science Fiction magazine, which ran just for a few numbers but included stories from Ray Bradbury and cover illustrations by Hannes Bok, who would later would on to illustrate Bradbury’s book Something Wicked This Way Comes, immortalized into film by Walt Disney in ……, besides becoming one of the most celebrated illustrators of the pulp era.

This particular issue of Futuria Fantasia, the second one dating 1939, has a poem by Henry Hasse, with whom Bradbury would collaborate to publish his first story which we have featured here, on the Free Bundle, called: The Pendulum.

The second gift comes wrapped with a promise: the Ray Bradbury Library will be a reality, one day. I lay this essay as a mason lays the first stone before a long and tedious construction, and I will see it reaches completion. The gift, then, to you and everyone else who dares to accept it, is this.

May this journey mark the beginning of some of the most beautiful and magical experiences of your life! Now let’s head inland and see what the realms of imagination have in store for us!


Fantastic Horizons

Fantastic Horizons

"Pulp Magazines" are rising from the ashes! This section of the Free Bundle is a digital monument erected on the web to honor the golden era of the Fantasy & Science Fiction Genre.

Better have an ace under the sleeve when trying to find...

Akawa's Secret

Rehuo slammed his Petawatt blaster on the Chinese rosewood table triumphantly. He had been waiting for this moment for over a hundred and fifty years. Akawa, facing the muzzle, made a grimace.

“Careful, you’ll scratch the table! This is the Ming dynasty. I think.” Then after leaning back in his chair, he added with a slight note of curiosity, “Weren’t these banned?”

“It’s from the old days. And to believe I was able to smuggle it all the way here undetected!”

“I detected it, by the way,” mumbled from the corner Zeno, Akawa’s old but faithful android servant. […]

[…] “Shut up!” roared Rehuo. The traces of emotion in the detective’s voice revealed the last remaining remnants of humanity in his artificially modified body. A body he had tortuously reshaped to prolong his life, to fuel his endless pursuit, to finally complete the mission. An old reflex made him lick his trembling cold lips. He tightened his bony grip on the blaster’s handle. “I know who you are, Akawa. I remember who you are.”

“You must’ve seen my statue then! The big one, on Earth One?”

“Even better. I saw you. Inside a spaceship, orbiting around the Cygnus X-1 black hole a century and a half ago. A ship that was the only artifact, known to us to be of alien origin. Then I saw you accelerate it, fly past my Imperial guard cruiser and run away like a little bitch! It took me a moment to find you, I admit. But I kept sniffing and digging until I put the puzzle back together and here I am now!”

Akawa didn’t respond. He looked at Zeno, then back at Rehuo. Scratched his rare white beard and then, slowly tilting to one side, still intently looking into his opponent’s eyes, let out a crackling fart.

Rehuo’s prosthetic eyeballs squeaked crisply as he rolled his eyes in exasperation. “All of this,” he continued, “This fortune, this empire. It doesn’t belong to you. Now I take it away!”

“Alright, chill.”

“What?!”

“Not the coldest. Just slightly chilled. A Cabernet Blanc would do. No, wait, Zeno, better bring a Pinot Noir. Sorry, detective, if I’m going to die today, let me at least enjoy a glass of wine. Have you tried my wine?”

“I can’t afford it.”

“Ah, then you must, man! It’s something else.”

Zeno strolled into the cellar to fetch a bottle. He felt very emotional and easily irritable lately. The doctor had said it was chronic processor overclocking. And constantly procrastinating his software updates didn’t help either.

Meanwhile the two old men kept staring at each other while their shadows pranced around on the bookshelves. The fireplace was another splendid display of eccentric affluence in Akawa’s study. Real wood was near impossible to find these days and he was burning it for fun.

“Ah, here we go!” Akawa clapped his hands as Zeno poured the first glass. “If you have a thyroid modulator installed, you might wanna tone your metabolism down so you can enjoy this more.”

Rehuo thought what the hell. He ran a quick scan for poison, nevertheless. Old habit. He tried to hide his embarrassment when realizing he couldn’t recall the last time, he had consumed a liquid through his mouth. He took a few awkward gulps and looked back at his collocutor. Akawa was slowly nodding with a big grin on his face. He must have been over two hundred by now but didn’t look a day over ninety. The magical lifestyle of the rich and powerful.

“You know, for the longest time I was wondering,” started the detective, “what was it exactly that you had found on that ship? What resource would be so valuable that it would catapult you to where you are right now…”

“Exactly! I love that thought,” interrupted Akawa, “How come this poor kid,” and he pointed at a large oil painting on the wall, presumably of his younger self, “became one of the richest men in the galaxy. Founder of Akawa Industries with factories in 156 stellar systems…”

“162,” corrected politely Zeno.

“Yes! 162. Which is even more than I previously said. You know, I once had so much money, I moved a couple of stars around in the Arches Cluster to form a heart? I was trying to impress this girl, I was dating at the time. I mean, that cluster was pretty crowded to begin with and her home planet was just in the right position…”

“Enough!” croaked Rehuo, “Like I said, I don’t care anymore. You are a thief! You stole from everyone. And you stole from me. You got away that day and I lost my job, my crew’s respect, my wife. Everything!”

“Well, hold on, you’re still technically alive. With a few adjustments on your adjustments, you might even look handsome.” Then leaning a little closer he added, “There are these sex clones from around Betelgeuse, man. I’m telling you…”

“I don’t want anything from you, Akawa. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Rehuo wasn’t angry at this point. Just tired. A realization started creeping into his mind. The realization that the temporary relief, he would feel from accomplishing what he had come here to do, would be just as inconsequential as the rest of his painful existence. Just a melting snowball of unnoticed flukes.

Meanwhile Akawa was just about to get angry. He always prided himself on being good at reading people. So ever since Rehuo walked in, he recognized the look. The look of someone who had heard countless pleas of people begging for mercy. Even though no one dared to bother Akawa anymore, he, of course, still had a few means of illegal self-defense. Artifacts from an era so primitive, civilians were still allowed to harm each other. An archaic lunacy that no one remembered anymore. So Akawa wasn’t worried. Just curious. Curious to find out what the detective wanted from him. How come he had gone through so much trouble to make it here, yet he didn’t seem to be happy now.

“Alright,” Akawa snapped his fingers and Zeno filled up the two glasses again, “I will tell you my story. And you better listen, man. Because there is no one else who knows this.”

Rehuo detected something unusual. For the first time so far, Akawa was serious. The detective took another sip. “I’m listening.”

“I always liked girls,” Akawa began, “I know it’s all relative these days, but I guess I’m old fashioned this way. There was this one called Amika. Ah. She could make a comet sweat. She made grown men turn into kids and professors into idiots. And even though I was young and stupid myself back then, I was not immune to her charm. Having a few square feet of skin per foot less, made me look not too bad either.

We were in love and on the run. But back then space travel was much more limited. So just as I was trying to sling-shoot us past Alpha Centauri A into Wolf 1061, where I had a friend waiting for us, we got caught. Did I mention Amika was married to one of the Overlords of the Spiral Arms?”

“An Overlord?” Rehuo almost dropped his glass, “But we haven’t had any overlords for almost a millennium.”

“And we haven’t had one like this guy ever! There is nothing more dangerous than a big man with tiny balls. When his goons transported us into their cruiser, I thought I’d spend some years improving my meditation skills from the inside of a prison cell. But I had no idea how much pain a wounded ego could inflict in the dark corners of space.”

He swallowed down the painful memory with a gulp and looked out through the big window onto the megapolis beneath. From this high up the glimmering lights of the city seemed to blend smoothly into the starry night sky. The top of Akawa Tower – the tallest building on the planet. The old man sometimes joked that if someone were to jump from here, they would never fall down.

“His men made me watch while they killed her. I don’t think my heart ever beat much louder after hers went quiet. Then as I was ready for my turn, I saw this bright light. I got tossed across the room. It took me a while to understand what had happened. Amika must have had an explosive device somewhere in her body that was triggered by her death. Not uncommon back in the day. It killed most of the henchmen. I helped finish the job. But since my ship was badly damaged during the pursuit, now I had to use this human coffin to escape. Some days or weeks must have passed but his men caught on to me again.

I was speeding as fast as possible but still short of reach of their rage and bloodthirst. No resource was spared. They even shot dark matter projectiles at me. At this point I was already dangerously close to Cygnus X-1. So I thought to myself, what other choice do I have? With these monsters on my back, I preferred a quick impromptu face-to-face with singularity. I set course directly for the hole.

I don’t know how long it took. I didn’t care anymore. They were closing in and I hoped and prayed they would get sucked in with me and all of their hatred. Soon I couldn’t see them anymore except for on my radar.

I couldn’t see anything for that matter, you wouldn’t believe the amount of shit circulating a spinning black hole. Like flying through a sandstorm of radioactive debris, I was headed for the eye of the hurricane. Then the screens went off and I could just feel the glow. It really looked like the light at the end of a tunnel. The ship was cracking like a cheap plastic toy in the grip of a spoiled kid.

I was deafened by the sound of the air being sucked in through the multitude of holes in the hull and some distorted explosions in the distance. I closed my eyes because they kept burning and the tears didn’t sooth anymore.

You can’t help some of these stupid instincts kicking in at these moments. Like taking in a last breath. As if I was able to preserve life in a tiny bubble in my lungs when everything around me was turning into dust. I wondered what would it feel like, being devoured by space itself? Anyhow. Then I woke up with this killing headache…”

“Wait, what?”

“He said he woke up with a headache,” explained Zeno who looked baffled himself, apparently not having heard this story before.

“Yeah, I just woke up and my head, man…”

“Yeah, but what about the ship?” demanded Rehuo, simultaneously pointing at his empty glass and throwing a glance at Zeno.

“Well I was still on my ship. And in the ship at the same time. ‘The alien ship’ as you called it. Inside a hangar on board it. How that happened, I still don’t know. It must have been a coincidence. It was probably just passing by at that point. Some sort of a mechanism detected me and pulled me in. I was fine, man. Temperature, air pressure, oxygen levels, sealed against the radiation, the conditions were perfect for humans. Or something similar for that matter.”

“So, it was an accident?”

“A miracle!”

Rehuo got up and started walking around the room nervously shaking his head.

“I don’t know what happened to the bad guys or how long I was out for. But I walked around, you know? Explored a bit. There was no one else on the ship. Completely empty. But boy, was it huge!”

“I recall.”

“Almost like a flying city. Never seen anything like it. Naturally it made sense it was never discovered being, as it were, in a stable orbit in proximity to the black hole. The event horizon was so close I could smell the spaghetti. It was also somehow powered by the radiation of Cygnus allowing it to maintain a constant speed almost close to that of light. Not quite though, so it could still boost and leave. You see, it was perfectly planned from the start by whoever left it there. An inch closer or further and none of this would have been possible.

I spent a lot of time trying to wrap my head around the controls, but I’d never seen anything more bizarre. There were biometric elements, ultra-sonic energy conductors, chemical virtual reality simulators. There was also this weird organic device. It looked like a boiled egg and it would make you feel a little sleepy if you stared at it for too long.

I finally discovered a large spherical room in the center of the ship where its quantum computer was stored. Or should I say, it wasn’t stored because it simply couldn’t have been. It had a processor packed with pre-programmed quarks, except the values of their spins were irregular numbers! I only discovered the computer in theory. I reverse-rationalized its existence and later reverse-used it but I still can’t explain how because it was impossible.

Whoever abandoned this ship around Cygnus, left no signs behind either. Almost like they had a catholic camp on board and had to erase all the evidence. It was impossible to tell how long ago they left it there either. After I escaped, I studied some of the artefacts from the ship for years to come. The scientists, working for me estimated the ship’s age at…Well it would make no sense, they were probably wrong.”

“We could have studied it. Humanity could have. The technology this race must have possessed, must have been beyond comprehension.”

“Oh, please. It wasn’t that crazy, to be honest. I mean, think about it. Humanity keeps evolving. Remember how close you were able to get when you tried to pull me in using those, what do you call them? Space lassos?”

“Close? We were 10,000 miles away!”

“That’s not bad at all! And those cords were solid. What were they made of? Did you mine the core of a collapsed neutron star to produce them?”

Rehuo grabbed the next bottle from Zeno’s hands and lifted it to his mouth with a snarl.

“All I’m saying is, it only took you 1,000 years and you almost had me, man.”

“Wait,” Rehuo nearly choked, “you mean to tell me you were on that ship for 1,000 years?!”

“If he was that close to the black hole, the time dilation must have been severe,” explained Zeno.

“To me it was only about a week before you arrived,” explained Akawa. “I wish I had more time, but once the ship detected what was happening, it reacted and…well I suddenly had control. I guess, I have to thank you for that, otherwise I would have still been stuck there. And so, you see, I couldn’t obliterate you.”

“Obliterate me?” exclaimed Rehuo.

“Yes. That was the best solution, presented to me by the quantum computer. Maybe it took into account your future revenge, were I to take a more passive approach like, say, play hide and seek, as I ended up doing.”

They both drank for a while in silence. Zeno, for a moment, felt irrelevant again. But since a moment could last long in his algorithmic core, he decided to bring a tray of aged gouda from the kitchen, in hope of renewed purpose through outside validation.

“I must say, I am disappointed,” began again Rehuo.

“Have you met my ex-wife?”

“A thousand years old and still corny.”

The detective smiled ever so slightly. He was realizing how useless reasoning was with this tacky old crook. But he still anticipated the rest of this confession with curiosity. But with every next sip of the wine, Rehuo’s anger was releasing its grip on him.

Akawa was now almost horizontal in his large chair probably belonging to someone equally snotty millennia ago. He couldn’t help the childish pleasure pouring over his reddened face. He was a man, after all, who suckled on the attention of others his entire prolonged life.

“So, let me guess,” continued Rehuo, “You take this ship apart piece by piece and build your empire on its carcass?”

“Yeah, that would have been great. Except, I kind of crashed it.”

“You what?”

“Yeah, like I said I was trying to learn the controls. Then you rushed me and all that. But no, I still managed to salvage some pieces and more importantly – most of the cargo. Cheers to that!”

“Ah! Here we go!”

“Yeah, I mean listen, I was a poor man before. But imagine me now. Here I am in the far future, everyone is all futuristically rich and they don’t even have weapons anymore. So, it’s not like I can steal anything, man. But it worked out eventually.”

“Get back to the point, will you? What did you discover about the ship? Did you save this…egg thing?”

“You’ve investigated me, detective, so, tell me this. How did I start my business?”

“The hotels and casinos.”

“No, before that.”

“The asteroid restaurants?” chipped in Zeno.

“Who asked you, boy? Why don’t you go put some more wood in the fire,” and then smacking on the cheese Akawa added, “Remind me to debug you next week before you rebel completely and snap my neck.”

“Wait and see until I crash right before my license renewal…” Zeno mumbled to himself as he attended to his task in the most visibly offended way possible.

“I had many different ventures over the years,” Akawa returned to the topic, “some of them more profitable than others. But the money to invest in the first place – it all came from elsewhere. My biggest cash cow, my first and last business.

It still is so mindboggling to me. These aliens must have not been that different from us after all. I mean to come up with such an idea. Genius!”

He lifted his glass in a triumphant toast.

“It was the wine, man! That’s right. These aliens had shipped 100 million tons of the best wine in this universe to the future. Very, very slowly aging it to perfection while orbiting around that hole. Why didn’t they ever come back to get it? No idea. But it’s delicious, right? Am I right? Detective?”

Rehuo, slouched back and with his mouth ajar, stared blankly into space. Akawa heard a quiet metallic snore escape through the detective’s throat pipe.

“If I had to guess, I would say the alcohol negated his ventrolateral preoptic nucleus inhibitors,” observed Zeno, “In other words, he got really sleepy.”

“Poor thing. God knows how long he’s been awake anyway.”

Akawa got up from his chair and stumbled into his puffy hover-slippers.

“Throw some blanket over him, will you, Zeno?”

Gliding towards his master bedroom, the old man stopped at the door and turned around one last time.

“Oh, and if there’s any wine left in his glass, bring that over to my room, please.”


Bogi Beykov’s work has previously been published by the Aphelion Webzine, Scarlet Leaf Review and Alternate History Fiction.


Movie Night!

Movie Night!

Movie Night!

Netflix is way too small for us—we discuss Korean films, Anime series and classic movies.

David Hayter Talks Movies

Pull up a chair, we are about to have a long conversation about movies with Writer, Actor, Director and Producer, David Hayter.

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. David Hayter. Many of you know him for being the voice of “Solid Snake” in the old “Metal Gear” series.

But besides his brilliant voice acting career in the video games industry, David Hayter is perhaps one of the most talented writers Hollywood has to offer. That’s no exaggeration. He’s been credited in X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Watchmen, The Scorpion King, Wolves, Warrior Nun, and a few more.

Sit down with David and us; we are about to talk movies here.

Javier: This one’s hard to ask for me because I really like the movie. Back in 2014, you directed and wrote Wolves. I’ve been waiting six years to ask you this question.

The makeup effects were there, (Dave Elsey’s werewolves had a sort of The Howling vibe, that’s always a good thing), the cinematography was there (who doesn’t loves Canada scenery?), the direction and writing was there (you), the cast was there, I mean, Jason Momoa, Stephen McHattie, you can’t do better than that. What do you think happened? Was it a timing issue?

Maybe there wasn’t an audience already built like with The Hunger Games or Divergent? It was a few years ago, but I won’t forgive myself if I don’t open the interview by asking about Wolves.

David: Well, first of all, I appreciate your kind assessment of the film. I agree the cast was excellent, and the creature effects were well executed. The main issue was that when we did early test screenings, the audience support was around 30% (which is the current Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, by the way).

Now, for a strange werewolf action-horror hybrid, I thought 30% was pretty good. But our producers and financiers panicked and lost all faith in the movie.

We did not get the release we wanted, coming out in just two theaters in L.A. and New York, and there was zero publicity put behind it. No one wanted to put in the money. I felt this was short-sighted, as Jason Momoa was already a huge star due to Game Of Thrones, and I knew he would be doing Aquaman in the future. (They had already approached him to play Drax in Guardians Of The Galaxy.) And I knew his performance was spectacular. The man is a living timberwolf. So it was a huge missed opportunity. But I’m so glad you enjoyed the film. Tell your friends to check out the “Unrated Cut”.

Javier: You are filming Warrior Nun, could you tell us a little about that? (Also, what are the main differences between working with Netflix vs working with the big studios? And can we expect some of your writing in the show?)

David: WARRIOR NUN is an action show adapted from the graphic novels by Ben Dunn, which will premiere on Netflix early next year. I had been looking to get some writers’ room experience, as well as some “Showrunner Training”.

The creator of the show, Simon Barry, was kind enough to bring me on, even though it is a strange experience to bring an established screenwriter into a TV writers’ room. Nobody really knows what to expect from you (and your ego). That said, the experience was fantastic. I just sat down to work with everybody else, I got to work with nine amazing writers and break an entire season of television with some excellent, experienced people. I learned a huge amount. It was very different from the experience of writing a studio feature, but every professional production has its rules and strictures and the process was very efficient and creative.

As for my writing, I was involved in the breaking of the entire season, as we all were, and I will have a personal writing credit on episodes four and eight. Hopefully, we will do more seasons of this show. It’s very kick-ass and unique.

Javier: You wrote the screenplay for the original X-Men movie and worked on the sequel as well, then you wrote the screenplay for Watchmen, one of the best comic book adaptations to date right along with Sin City and 300.

Aside from some of the latest Marvel movies (and the Joker, of course), why is Hollywood having such a difficult time translating stories that are already written to live-action films? I don’t want to name a particular film, but we all know which ones flopped. With Frank Miller’s work, the argument is always the same: Miller’s writing is easy to translate to the big screen, that’s why it works.But Alan Moore’s writing isn’t particularly easy to adapt into a live-action film, yet, you made it happen.

David: Well, again, it’s about fear. If you have to spend $150-$200 million on a film, the studio is always going to second-guess the material. Part of what makes a great comic book story is that it is unique, edgy and weird. Studios hate that. And they don’t give any credit to the comic book story itself, as it probably has not sold a hundred million copies like a Harry Potter novel. So they are always second-guessing great material. The only way to get the studios to make a truly great, original adaptation is to have a huge director or star on board.

SIN CITY got made because of Robert Rodriguez, and WATCHMEN only got made because of Zack Snyder. I spent nine years trying to get that film made, and four different studios couldn’t wrap their heads around it until Zack signed on. They would claim they “didn’t understand the script”. Of course, they did understand the script, their notes made that clear. They were just terrified to make something they hadn’t made before, until a proven money-maker told them, “It’ll be great. Trust me.”

Javier: In your experience, if a writer has an opportunity to get in a room with a producer, what should they do?

David: Have a few stories to pitch. I once spent a few hours in a car with a film intern who was helping me pick up my production vehicle. He was a writer, but he never pitched me anything, despite having me trapped, a captive audience. Now, I’m not saying I want to be pitched all the time, but I do know that when a writer gets my ear, it will benefit them to take the opportunity. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but let these producers know what material you’ve got. It may spark a conversation, and it may lead to setting something up. Everyone wants and needs new, fresh material, and young people are a great resource for that kind of thing.

Javier: How do you know when your script is ready? When do you know it’s time to print the entire thing and start pitching?

I go through a rigorous process of outlines, beat sheets and development before I even start a screenplay. So I always begin writing, knowing pretty much where all the twists and turns will be, leaving myself open to surprises along the way, of course. Then, hopefully you have some producing partners, or a director you can trust, who can give you notes. A script can always be improved, all the way through to the final edit. So listen to the people you trust. (Not just some dude who’s seen a bunch of movies, unless it’s Quentin Tarantino.)

Be open to any note, even if it runs contrary to what you’re thinking. They won’t all be right, but all of them probably contain a kernel of truth that a problem needs to be addressed. I find that it takes at least three or four rewrites before I’m ready to take a script out and for the ones that have gotten made, there are typically at least eight drafts that got us to that point.

Thank you for your time David, this was fantastic.

Thanks so much. Excellent questions.


Fantastic Horizons

Fantastic Horizons

"Pulp Magazines" are rising from the ashes! This section of the Free Bundle is a digital monument erected on the web to honor the golden era of the Fantasy & Science Fiction Genre.

Life and Death Has Been and Will Always be...

In The Palm Of Your Hand

Connor didn’t like the new lights. In the beginning, he’d thought they were pretty nice. His little corner of the world in the bookstore had been dark and dingy, and it made the process of reading a client’s palm a dicey process.

So much of what he could see was obscured by the shadows, and he’d have to turn the palm from side to side to get a better look, which stretched and creased the palm in ways that made the meaning more difficult to discern. He’d welcomed the new lighting with open arms, […]

[…] so to speak. But now, two weeks after the lights had gone up, it was becoming apparent that too much of a good thing was just too much. So, today he’d brought something with him that he thought would help the situation. A large chunk of thin linen cloth with just a bit of a yellow cast to it. He’d simply hang the cloth over the ceiling light when he arrived and take it down on departure. Everyone would be happy and there was no expense to speak of in the process.

To that end, he was standing on his chair, teetering a bit as he reached about as far over his head as he could to tack the piece of cloth in place. One tack, two. Move the chair. Three tack…

He stretched out just a little more to reach that final pesky tack location and felt the chair begin to go. He’d been slightly suspicious of the chair from the beginning and now it was showing itself to be just as treacherous as he’d thought. Only, it would have been better to have not been using it as a ladder at the time that he was being proven right.

The leg bent.

The leg bent slightly, thought better of it, stopped - then said, “What the hell, why not?” and doubled. Doubled down, even.

Doubling down in Blackjack can be an exhilarating experience. It can also be a real downer. Which is what this was, since Connor began to go down. Oddly, the tacks almost saved him. He grabbed for the linen hanging as he went, and for just a moment, he thought he was going to be able to shift his center of gravity with the help of the cloth hanging.

Nope.

He stopped doubling and just went down. It was very inconvenient that there was an old-fashioned steam radiator next to the chair. Connor’s head met the radiator. There was no shaking of hands, but there was a certain melding of surfaces.


Connor was standing in line. It was rather a long line, and he had no idea how long he’d been standing there. Which was probably good. It looked suspiciously like one of those Disney rides where the line was artfully wound about and hidden in places and doubled back on itself in a clever attempt to make the line look like it was actually possible to get through before dinnertime.

The reality of the line’s true length actually became apparent every time you made any progress and realized that you were now eight inches closer to the head of the line than you were when you passed this spot two hours ago. Going in the opposite direction.

Connor considered his options. He could stay in line and keep going, finding out what it was he was in line for, or … … he looked behind him. There was nothing there. Literally nothing there. And when he moved forward another foot, there was still nothing behind him. He sighed and decided his options were clear. Stay in line.

He stayed in line.

Oddly, after this bit of inner turmoil, the line began to move.

In fact, it started moving so quickly that he nearly tripped and fell into the podium in front of him. He stepped back a bit and looked up. Scowling down at him was a beautiful blonde woman with a sour expression on her face. She glanced at him. “Slug” she said. She looked back down at her paperwork.

Connor stood there in confusion. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

The scowl deepened. “I said ‘Slug’. Move to the right, please.”

Connor looked to his right. It was a simple concrete path covered with flowers and dread. It went on and on. In fact, he couldn’t see the end of it.

“Why ‘Slug’?”

She seemed to swell up, the frown became more pronounced if possible, and she said, “Because twenty-seven murders, nine rapes, one-hundred-eighty-six shoplifting events and nine petting the cat the wrong direction sentences you to being a ‘Slug’! It’s a no-brainer, dude.”

Connor frowned back at her. “That’s not possible. I don’t even own a cat. Never have. Can’t go near them, I swell up in hives.”

She just stared at him. “Are you saying I made a mistake?”

Connor shrugged. “I dunno. But I’m pretty karma-aware this time around, and I know I’m coming out of a karmic debt from my last life. I’ve been watching it close. No murders, no rapes, no shoplifting and especially no cat petting. Either direction.”

She sighed. “It’s people like you that make it hard on the legal system.” She scowled at him. Then she bellowed “Not guilty!” She looked at him, again, like he was a ‘Slug’. “Room 1698840. NEXT!”

Connor was sitting in front of a desk. The desk was located in a cubicle. The cubicle was located in room 1698840 off a hallway 2,574 miles long. It had taken him thirty-six days to walk along the hallway to this room and while he didn’t tire or need food or rest, walking for thirty-six days while reading room numbers had made him cranky. If he’d had a cat, he’d have pet it backwards.

The woman behind the desk looked exactly like the woman behind the podium, but her eyebrows were plucked to resemble tiny flaming spears. She scowled at him.

“State your name.”

“Connor Williams.”

“Spell it, please.”

“C o n n o r W i l l i a m s”

She looked at him sharply. “Spelling your name wrong will not help your cause.”

“What?”

“You spelled your name wrong. It’s got an ‘e’ at the end.”

“No, it doesn’t. It’s my name, I should know how to spell it.”

She tapped her lips with a pencil. “Connor?”

“Yes.”

“C o n n o r ?”

“Yes.”

“Not C o n n e r ?”

“No. Yes. I mean, whatever it is that means my name is Connor, not Conner!”

She tapped her pencil against her lips again. “It does no good to be testy.”

He glared at her testily.

She glared back, sucked in some air and tapped her pencil some more. “I see the problem. It appears that Conner Williams died at exactly the same instant you did and there was a mistake in Collection.”

Connor sucked in some air. “A mistake.”

“Yes.”

“In Collection.”

“Yes. You have an astute grasp of semantics.”

Connor glared at her some more.

She sighed, like he was still at fault. “We’ll need to send you back. I suppose we’ll have to issue some credit for this.”


Connor stared at the light in the ceiling. He was quite sure he’d hung the red linen cloth over the light just moments ago, but the cloth was lying on his little end-table in a heap. He rolled his eyes regarding his freaking memory, then moved the chair under the light to hang the cloth. The chair collapsed as he placed a foot on it. It was certainly nice it had collapsed now rather than when he’d been up standing on it.

He grimaced. For some reason he was feeling testy toward the world right now. He hunted down another chair stood on it and hung the cloth. Then he sat back down in the chair, waiting for his first client. He glanced at his hand as he sat, then took a second look. His Girdle of Venus was gone. It was impossible, but there it was. Or it wasn’t, more accurately.

Just then, his first client arrived, and he busied himself with her palm. Over the course of her reading, the memory of him having had a Girdle vanished. Everything was once again in balance.


V.R. Tapscott is a new and upcoming author, you can find more about him here:

Blog: https://www.electrikink.com

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/V-R-Tapscott/e/B07LCZQV6F

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/VRTapscott


Fantastic Horizons

Fantastic Horizons

"Pulp Magazines" are rising from the ashes! This section of the Free Bundle is a digital monument erected on the web to honor the golden era of the Fantasy & Science Fiction Genre.

A working's man life won't look such a bad deal in...

The Shoemaker And the Devil

It was Christmas Eve. Marya had long been snoring on the stove; all the paraffin in the little lamp had burnt out, but Fyodor Nilov still sat at work. He would long ago have flung aside his work and gone out into the street, but a customer from Kolokolny Lane, who had a fortnight before ordered some boots, had been in the previous day, had abused him roundly, and had ordered him to finish the boots at once before the morning service.

“It’s a convict’s life!” Fyodor grumbled as he worked. “Some people have been asleep long ago, others are enjoying themselves, while you sit here like some Cain and sew for the devil knows whom… .” […]

[…] To save himself from accidentally falling asleep, he kept taking a bottle from under the table and drinking out of it, and after every pull at it he twisted his head and said aloud:

“What is the reason, kindly tell me, that customers enjoy themselves while I am forced to sit and work for them? Because they have money and I am a beggar?”

He hated all his customers, especially the one who lived in Kolokolny Lane. He was a gentleman of gloomy appearance, with long hair, a yellow face, blue spectacles, and a husky voice. He had a German name which one could not pronounce. It was impossible to tell what was his calling and what he did. When, a fortnight before, Fyodor had gone to take his measure, he, the customer, was sitting on the floor pounding something in a mortar. Before Fyodor had time to say good-morning the contents of the mortar suddenly flared up and burned with a bright red flame; there was a stink of sulphur and burnt feathers, and the room was filled with a thick pink smoke, so that Fyodor sneezed five times; and as he returned home afterwards, he thought: “Anyone who feared God would not have anything to do with things like that.”

When there was nothing left in the bottle Fyodor put the boots on the table and sank into thought. He leaned his heavy head on his fist and began thinking of his poverty, of his hard life with no glimmer of light in it. Then he thought of the rich, of their big houses and their carriages, of their hundred-rouble notes… . How nice it would be if the houses of these rich men – the devil flay them! – were smashed, if their horses died, if their fur coats and sable caps got shabby! How splendid it would be if the rich, little by little, changed into beggars having nothing, and he, a poor shoemaker, were to become rich, and were to lord it over some other poor shoemaker on Christmas Eve.

Dreaming like this, Fyodor suddenly thought of his work, and opened his eyes.

“Here’s a go,” he thought, looking at the boots. “The job has been finished ever so long ago, and I go on sitting here. I must take the boots to the gentleman.”

He wrapped up the work in a red handkerchief, put on his things, and went out into the street. A fine hard snow was falling, pricking the face as though with needles. It was cold, slippery, dark, the gas-lamps burned dimly, and for some reason there was a smell of paraffin in the street, so that Fyodor coughed and cleared his throat. Rich men were driving to and fro on the road, and every rich man had a ham and a bottle of vodka in his hands. Rich young ladies peeped at Fyodor out of the carriages and sledges, put out their tongues and shouted, laughing:

“Beggar! Beggar!”

Students, officers, and merchants walked behind Fyodor, jeering at him and crying:

“Drunkard! Drunkard! Infidel cobbler! Soul of a boot-leg! Beggar!”

All this was insulting, but Fyodor held his tongue and only spat in disgust. But when Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw, a master-bootmaker, met him and said: “I’ve married a rich woman and I have men working under me, while you are a beggar and have nothing to eat,” Fyodor could not refrain from running after him. He pursued him till he found himself in Kolokolny Lane. His customer lived in the fourth house from the corner on the very top floor. To reach him one had to go through a long, dark courtyard, and then to climb up a very high slippery stair-case which tottered under one’s feet. When Fyodor went in to him he was sitting on the floor pounding something in a mortar, just as he had been the fortnight before.

“Your honor, I have brought your boots,” said Fyodor sullenly.

The customer got up and began trying on the boots in silence. Desiring to help him, Fyodor went down on one knee and pulled off his old, boot, but at once jumped up and staggered towards the door in horror. The customer had not a foot, but a hoof like a horse’s.

“Aha!” thought Fyodor; “here’s a go!”

The first thing should have been to cross himself, then to leave everything and run downstairs; but he immediately reflected that he was meeting a devil for the first and probably the last time, and not to take advantage of his services would be foolish. He controlled himself and determined to try his luck. Clasping his hands behind him to avoid making the sign of the cross, he coughed respectfully and began:

“They say that there is nothing on earth more evil and impure than the devil, but I am of the opinion, your honor, that the devil is highly educated. He has – excuse my saying it – hoofs and a tail behind, but he has more brains than many a student.”

“I like you for what you say,” said the devil, flattered. “Thank you, shoemaker! What do you want?”

And without loss of time the shoemaker began complaining of his lot. He began by saying that from his childhood up he had envied the rich. He had always resented it that all people did not live alike in big houses and drive with good horses. Why, he asked, was he poor? How was he worse than Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw, who had his own house, and whose wife wore a hat? He had the same sort of nose, the same hands, feet, head, and back, as the rich, and so why was he forced to work when others were enjoying themselves? Why was he married to Marya and not to a lady smelling of scent? He had often seen beautiful young ladies in the houses of rich customers, but they either took no notice of him whatever, or else sometimes laughed and whispered to each other: “What a red nose that shoemaker has!” It was true that Marya was a good, kind, hard-working woman, but she was not educated; her hand was heavy and hit hard, and if one had occasion to speak of politics or anything intellectual before her, she would put her spoke in and talk the most awful nonsense.

“What do you want, then?” his customer interrupted him.

“I beg you, your honor Satan Ivanitch, to be graciously pleased to make me a rich man.”

“Certainly. Only for that you must give me up your soul! Before the cocks crow, go and sign on this paper here that you give me up your soul.”

“Your honor,” said Fyodor politely, “when you ordered a pair of boots from me I did not ask for the money in advance. One has first to carry out the order and then ask for payment.”

“Oh, very well!” the customer assented.

A bright flame suddenly flared up in the mortar, a pink thick smoke came puffing out, and there was a smell of burnt feathers and sulphur. When the smoke had subsided, Fyodor rubbed his eyes and saw that he was no longer Fyodor, no longer a shoemaker, but quite a different man, wearing a waistcoat and a watch-chain, in a new pair of trousers, and that he was sitting in an armchair at a big table. Two foot men were handing him dishes, bowing low and saying:

“Kindly eat, your honor, and may it do you good!”

What wealth! The footmen handed him a big piece of roast mutton and a dish of cucumbers, and then brought in a frying-pan a roast goose, and a little afterwards boiled pork with horse-radish cream. And how dignified, how genteel it all was! Fyodor ate, and before each dish drank a big glass of excellent vodka, like some general or some count. After the pork he was handed some boiled grain moistened with goose fat, then an omelette with bacon fat, then fried liver, and he went on eating and was delighted. What more? They served, too, a pie with onion and steamed turnip with kvass.

“How is it the gentry don’t burst with such meals?” he thought.

In conclusion they handed him a big pot of honey. After dinner the devil appeared in blue spectacles and asked with a low bow:

“Are you satisfied with your dinner, Fyodor Pantelyeitch?”

But Fyodor could not answer one word, he was so stuffed after his dinner. The feeling of repletion was unpleasant, oppressive, and to distract his thoughts he looked at the boot on his left foot.

“For a boot like that I used not to take less than seven and a half roubles. What shoemaker made it?” he asked.

“Kuzma Lebyodkin,” answered the footman.

“Send for him, the fool!”

Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw soon made his appearance. He stopped in a respectful attitude at the door and asked:

“What are your orders, your honor?”

“Hold your tongue!” cried Fyodor, and stamped his foot. “Don’t dare to argue; remember your place as a cobbler! Blockhead! You don’t know how to make boots! I’ll beat your ugly phiz to a jelly! Why have you come?”

“For money.”

“What money? Be off! Come on Saturday! Boy, give him a cuff!”

But he at once recalled what a life the customers used to lead him, too, and he felt heavy at heart, and to distract his attention he took a fat pocketbook out of his pocket and began counting his money. There was a great deal of money, but Fyodor wanted more still. The devil in the blue spectacles brought him another notebook fatter still, but he wanted even more; and the more he counted it, the more discontented he became.

In the evening the evil one brought him a full-bosomed lady in a red dress, and said that this was his new wife. He spent the whole evening kissing her and eating gingerbreads, and at night he went to bed on a soft, downy feather-bed, turned from side to side, and could not go to sleep. He felt uncanny.

“We have a great deal of money,” he said to his wife; “we must look out or thieves will be breaking in. You had better go and look with a candle.”

He did not sleep all night, and kept getting up to see if his box was all right. In the morning he had to go to church to matins. In church the same honor is done to rich and poor alike. When Fyodor was poor he used to pray in church like this: “God, forgive me, a sinner!” He said the same thing now though he had become rich. What difference was there? And after death Fyodor rich would not be buried in gold, not in diamonds, but in the same black earth as the poorest beggar. Fyodor would burn in the same fire as cobblers. Fyodor resented all this, and, too, he felt weighed down all over by his dinner, and instead of prayer he had all sorts of thoughts in his head about his box of money, about thieves, about his bartered, ruined soul.

He came out of church in a bad temper. To drive away his unpleasant thoughts as he had often done before, he struck up a song at the top of his voice. But as soon as he began a policeman ran up and said, with his fingers to the peak of his cap:

“Your honor, gentlefolk must not sing in the street! You are not a shoemaker!”

Fyodor leaned his back against a fence and fell to thinking: what could he do to amuse himself?

“Your honor,” a porter shouted to him, “don’t lean against the fence, you will spoil your fur coat!”

Fyodor went into a shop and bought himself the very best concertina, then went out into the street playing it. Everybody pointed at him and laughed.

“And a gentleman, too,” the cabmen jeered at him; “like some cobbler… .”

“Is it the proper thing for gentlefolk to be disorderly in the street?” a policeman said to him. “You had better go into a tavern!”

“Your honor, give us a trifle, for Christ’s sake,” the beggars wailed, surrounding Fyodor on all sides.

In earlier days when he was a shoemaker the beggars took no notice of him, now they wouldn’t let him pass.

And at home his new wife, the lady, was waiting for him, dressed in a green blouse and a red skirt. He meant to be attentive to her, and had just lifted his arm to give her a good clout on the back, but she said angrily:

“Peasant! Ignorant lout! You don’t know how to behave with ladies! If you love me you will kiss my hand; I don’t allow you to beat me.”

“This is a blasted existence!” thought Fyodor. “People do lead a life! You mustn’t sing, you mustn’t play the concertina, you mustn’t have a lark with a lady… . Pfoo!”

He had no sooner sat down to tea with the lady when the evil spirit in the blue spectacles appeared and said:

“Come, Fyodor Pantelyeitch, I have performed my part of the bargain. Now sign your paper and come along with me!”

And he dragged Fyodor to hell, straight to the furnace, and devils flew up from all directions and shouted:

“Fool! Blockhead! Ass!”

There was a fearful smell of paraffin in hell, enough to suffocate one. And suddenly it all vanished. Fyodor opened his eyes and saw his table, the boots, and the tin lamp. The lamp-glass was black, and from the faint light on the wick came clouds of stinking smoke as from a chimney. Near the table stood the customer in the blue spectacles, shouting angrily:

“Fool! Blockhead! Ass! I’ll give you a lesson, you scoundrel! You took the order a fortnight ago and the boots aren’t ready yet! Do you suppose I want to come trapesing round here half a dozen times a day for my boots? You wretch! you brute!”

Fyodor shook his head and set to work on the boots. The customer went on swearing and threatening him for a long time. At last when he subsided, Fyodor asked sullenly:

“And what is your occupation, sir?”

“I make Bengal lights and fireworks. I am a pyrotechnician.”

They began ringing for matins. Fyodor gave the customer the boots, took the money for them, and went to church.

Carriages and sledges with bearskin rugs were dashing to and fro in the street; merchants, ladies, officers were walking along the pavement together with the humbler folk… . But Fyodor did not envy them nor repine at his lot. It seemed to him now that rich and poor were equally badly off. Some were able to drive in a carriage, and others to sing songs at the top of their voice and to play the concertina, but one and the same thing, the same grave, was awaiting all alike, and there was nothing in life for which one would give the devil even a tiny scrap of one’s soul.


Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. His career as a playwright produced four classics, and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. The Shoemaker and the Devil was published in The Schoolmistress and Other Stories (1918).


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