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IN THIS ISSUE:

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FICTION

  "A Hunting in the Taste of Gray"
      by Daniel Roy

  "Clank"
      by Leah R. Pugh

  "Song of the Siren"
       by Ian DiFabio

  "Witch Trials"
      by Joyce Reynolds-Ward


  "Gone"
      by Arthur Davis


  "Surprise Me"
      by Andrew Knighton

  "Thespan: A Tale of Tragedy and
  Redemption in Three Acts"
      by Kyle A. Massa

  "A Three Percent Chance He'll Ever"
  Know I Lied"
      by Jude-Marie Green

  "A Knight Most Valiant"
      by Laura Stephenson

  "Chroni Saturnia "
      Willem Myra

  "The Right Choice"
      by Nicola Lombaria
      translated by J. Weintraub

  "The Agreement at Clivemore"
  "Regional Hospital"
      by David Draper

STAFF SHOWCASE
"Novel Preview: THE UNDERTAKERS: END OF THE WORLD"
      by Ty Drago

  "Novelette Preview: THE WRITING
      CLASS"
      by Kelly Ferjutz


  "Novel Preview: CRYSTAL ILLUSIONS"
      by J.E. Taylor

  "Novel Preview: THAT ROOM AT
      ARDENWYCKE"
      by Kelly Ferjutz

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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COVER ART
THE WRITINGS OF TY DRAGO
NAME IN LIGHTS AWARD


About Jude-Marie Green:

Jude-Marie Green has edited for Abyss&Apex, Noctem Aeternus, and 10Flash Quarterly. She has published stories with Hadley Rille Books anthologies, M-Brane Science Fiction, Perihelion SF, and The Colored Lens, among others. She is a life-long scifi fan and cn frequently be seen on panels at your favorite convention. She attended Clarion West in 2010, a life-changing and writing-changing experience. See her website at judemarie.wordpress.com.


"A Three Percent Chance He'll Ever Know I Lied"

by Jude-Marie Green

 

I wonder when he’ll die. I wonder what I’ll do when he dies.

I keep the needle ready. It’s steely and tanged with a glowing cartridge of silvery chemical. The fluid inside will bring him back. “Use immediately for best results.” I wrote that instruction. I’ll follow it.

And I watch. Sleepless nights. The cancer will take him, no question. I’ll bring him back.

#

I dream I sit naked on a cold porcelain toilet while a wedding party waltzes past me. The strains of the 3/4 time music is overwhelmed by my whistling flatulence and the hollow splatter of diarrhea. The wedding guests, resplendent in silk and tulle and tuxedoes, watch me in my blushing embarrassment as they circle. They smile and chatter through faces wizened and blackened as any mummy, green and rotten as any corpse. A spider, big as a kitten, runs over the plump flesh of my bare left foot.

I awaken.

Luke stares at me, bright with fever, his pasty skin slick with sweat.

“Sylvia. Tell me,” he demands in a bedroom whisper that is part night and part illness.

I touch his face, high on the right cheek. Courage.

“It was our wedding,” I say. “Me in that white silk dress, you in your morning suit. Except it wasn’t Reverend Margaret, it was The Impressive Clergyman from “The Princess Bride.” He kept saying, “A dweam within a dweam.””

Luke sleeps again. Does he know I lie?

“Reverend Margaret said “Forever,”” I whisper. He is turning that vow into a lie. I guess we’re even.

#

I stand in the hallway with my carryon suitcase and my medical bag. I don’t want to leave for this shortest possible business trip but the United Nations Human Rights Council insists. The AMA insists. My research group insists.

A daydream evolves in my head. Luke is well enough to join me. Luke and I visit all the touristy attractions of the Big Apple. Luke and I. Luke and I. Just like it used to be.

A discreet knock on the door. I come back to myself. The caregiver who will stay with Luke while I’m gone stands on the doorstep.

“Come on,” I say. “He’s in the back room. All the meds are in the same places; you remember from last time?” Koziol, his name is. He nods.

I sit on the bed and say goodbye to Luke. He must have made a trip to the bathroom by himself while I packed. He’s neatened up. Shaved. He smells like a Caribbean afternoon.

I kiss him on his hollow cheeks, my lips brushing the carefully scraped skin. He has never liked stubble. I’m indifferent, but I like his skin, smooth or prickly.

“Fly safe,” he says. His hand is strong in mine. This vitality startles me. Isn’t he more frail than that?

“Remember your dreams,” he says. “We’ll share when you come back.”

There’s an act of faith. I fear he’ll die while I’m gone. Koziol isn’t one of mine; he’d never use the syringe. If Luke dies in the next two days, he’ll remain dead.

#

The flight isn’t full but a man sits beside me. He’s a doctor of oncology. He trained in a backwater medical school, he says. Going to bigger opportunities in New York City. I ask about his school. His work. His family and hobbies. I tease him about his clothing choices.

He doesn’t recognize me but he flirts back. He’s waiting. He knows I want to ask him something. They teach med students about that, the “door question.” In my field, I am the dedicated expert. He’s new in his field and has been exposed to everything experimental. I approach the subject obliquely.

“No one uses cobalt radiation any more,” he says. “Except for that particular cancer. Intractable. We can cure so much these days,” he says, “but not everything. Not that.”

He looks at me with scorching pity. I yearn to strike out. My lips stretch thin over my dry teeth.

“Everybody dies. Eighty seven percent stay that way,” I say. He turns pale. He’s a newly-minted doctor, of course he knows all about the 87%. “We don’t know why. When you die, will it be forever?”

It’s a weird kind of threat, hurting him with facts. Recognition finally hits him. He stiffens, draws away from me in the tiny airline seat. I sneer. Then I struggle to my feet and clamber over him and the woman in the aisle seat. The bathroom is available. I close the door and slam the latch home just in time. The bowl catches my vomit.

The window seat is too small now. I decline drinks and foil-wrapped peanuts. I can ignore the doctor but I can’t ignore my own whirling mind. I stare out the plane’s portal window at the clear blue sky. Cobalt. I close my eyes. I don’t think I cry.

#

Linen wraps my body from head to toe. Strips of disintegrating fabric, gray and dusty, hang from my hands. I clutch a sealed canopic jar to my chest. My heart is inside the jar. I set the jar on the podium and wipe some linen threads from my face. The microphone picks up my heart’s strong beat and amplifies it back into the auditorium. I try to speak but the electronic feedback whine cracks my ears. I put the jar on the floor and resume my speech.

I’m talking in Egyptian, the ancient language of the pharaohs from three thousand years ago. For a moment I panic, but this is the U.N.. The translators smoothly find my words and give them back in modern language. I hear English and Russian, Farsi and Thai. The lights glow off the mellow velvet curtains and upholstery. It’s a full house, crowded ranks of diplomats and envoys and they are all dead.

But they listen.

The chamber is silent when I finish. Under the agony of those dead gazes I stumble away from the podium. I kick the canopic jar. It spins wildly and rolls off the edge of the stage.

I scream, and screaming, I awaken. I’ve kicked the seat in front of me. The woman turns to glare and I duck my head, shamed. Must I always dream?

I will write a story in my dream book to share with Luke, something sweet. It might be a while before I can think up something sweet.

I suffer a blur of airport and taxi and traffic and hotel check in. I text Koziol for updates on Luke’s condition but he’s very terse. All well. Same. No change. Next time I’ll hire a verbose caregiver.

Of course there won’t be a next time. And Luke is comfortable with Koziol.

Luke is foremost on my mind during my United Nations appearance. I might have enjoyed the experience. If I’d been living in the moment and not panicked about losing my husband.

I sit in bed, comfortable with white-covered pillows mounded behind my back and coverlets pulled up to my lap. I’ve completed the official report. Now to write a blog post about what really happened in that United Nations chamber. No secrets, no surprises, in either my presentation or the council’s unsettled response.

I type “87%.” The chemical will not affect most people. The chemical may as well be saline solution injected into fresh corpses. For 87% of the newly-dead.

I type in “10%.” A significant number. These people come back. They revive, but they are docile. Sheep. Incomplete. They have no stamina. A startlement, a common cold, an upset stomach, and they die. No amount of the chemical brings them back a second time.

And yet. Ten percent of the dead come back. Drink a cup of soup. Allow family time to love them for a few days more.

I type, “3%.” This is the statistical flag. This is what we’re working towards. There are still some flaws. Some problems. They come back robust, complete, exhibiting free will. They aren’t alive biologically. They don’t eat soup. I sit back in my chair and frown. I know what they’re called, this 3%. Zombie. This percentage is why I still have a program. The name is why the assemblies and councils are reluctant to grant permissions for further research.

I text Koziol. It’s still early on the West Coast. He texts back. “No change.”

#

The bedroom light is on. Men and women in stiff suits crowd around my hotel bed. A lovely woman in a peach silk robe approaches me, kneels at the bedside.

“Please,” she says. “He is dead.” There are no tears in her eyes.

I’m not allowed to pretend I don’t know what they want. Someone holds my medical bag. I slide out from between the warm sheets, naked. For a fleeting moment I wonder if I’m caught in another dream, but of course not. I never wonder during a dream.

She shrugs out of her silk robe and gives it to me. Her chemise clings to her body, lace at her throat and ankles. I wrap myself inside the silk robe. I follow them to a room two floors up and a world of prestige beyond mine. We sweep through the salon and the sitting room into the bedroom and beyond it, into an enormous bathroom.

We’ve shed the escort. Now it’s only me and the woman and a suit holding my medical bag.

The body isn’t naked. He’s stretched on the tile floor, clothed in warm cotton pajamas. He has blue socks on his feet and there’s a hole in one toe. He hasn’t been dead very many minutes; the stink of his voided bowels is strong and raw.

Why is he dead? Suicide? Stroke? Cancer? I don’t see any obvious signs, no blood, no wounds. He is thin, flaccid, gray; but the dead frequently are.

“What happened?”

The woman shakes her head.

The suit gives me my bag and I select a syringe, fill it with the chemical.

“Roll him on his side,” I say.

The woman and the suit move the body. I arrange his upper leg so the knee bends. The spine needs to be flexed for this. I push up his shirt and find the right spot between the vertebrae.

I pause, needle hovering at his back. I look at the lovely woman.

“If this works, it’ll be immediate.”

She stares at me.

I inject him.

I would never do this to a living being, not even a lab mouse. The agony of spinal injections is too severe. But the dead don’t complain and the revived never notice.

The man stirs.

The woman sits back on her heels and drags in a breath. I reach over the man’s body and grab her wrist.

“Don’t scream,” I warn.

She shakes me off but nods. She understands.

The man sits up. He’s dazed, sitting in his own stink. He blinks his eyes.

I put my fingers on his wrist. His pulse is slow and mild. I could perform a flurry of tests but I already know. I’ve seen so many in this state. He is one of the ten percent.

The man and the woman speak slowly to each other. I suddenly recognize them. A strong president and her brilliant diplomat husband. They’ve done good things for their country. Never a media hint that he was ill.

She presses herself against his chest. He strokes her hair. He’s not stupid, I know, or damaged. He’s distant, as if part of his soul were elsewhere.

I stand up, replace the used syringe in the bag. The suit blocks my exit, waiting impassively for a sign from the woman.

“You’ll have all the funding you need,” she says.

No superfluous words. I admire that. But it’s not enough. Funding is good but I need permissions. Licensing. Otherwise I might as well stop.

“And we’ll negotiate with the council for your permissions,” she says.

I don’t believe in the sixth sense, psychic ability. She’s not reading my mind. She knows what I need, is all. She knew I was in the hotel. Just in case. She would know how to pay me. Just in case.

I nod sharply. The suit relents and allows me to leave the bathroom.

I’m in the air halfway home before I realize I still have her silk robe.

#

Luke has broken all the glass.

I follow a progress of destruction that begins with the door panel, cracked and loose. It’s a carpet of sharp stones. The photo frames, the expensive Chihuly glass, the terrarium. Water glasses, tea cups, wine bulbs. Spice jars. In the front hallway by the bedroom door I’m reflected in shards of mirror.

I’m afraid to open the door.

He is alive, I say to myself. My eyes are closed. I shove the door open.

He sits at the window, huddled under a load of blankets, motionless in my oaken rocking chair. A crocheted stocking cap covers his shaved head. The syringe sits on the window sill, a moment away from his hand. Sunlight glints on it and sends refractions of light spinning onto the bedroom walls.

“Where is Koziol?” I say. I texted an hour ago from the airport. He’d texted back, “No change.”

I sit on the bed next to the rocking chair.

“The speech went well,” I say. “We got some help.”

“You have enough subjects,” he says. His voice rasps. “Not me.”

“Where’s Koziol?” I say again.

“He found that,” Luke says. “I asked him to leave.”

I’m not worried about the syringe. I have plenty of syringes. I have plenty of the chemical. Why had I left the prepared needle in Luke’s room? I curse Koziol. I curse myself.

Luke coughs. I reach out with a tissue. There’s blood. Worse yet, there’s pink foam. Blood in the lungs.

“Not me,” Luke says when he can talk again. “I don’t want to be a zombie. I don’t want to die at all, but please. Not a zombie.” He gasps out the last word.

“There’s only a 3% chance,” I say. “Shouldn’t we take any chance we can get?”

“Swear to me,” he says. He lurches up from the rocking chair. Blankets fall to the floor. He sways. His skin is gray and sweaty. The rampage took a lot out of him. I surge to my feet, put an arm around his waist. He pushes me away.

“Swear. Not me.”

“Get in bed,” I say. “A last chance for us,” I say. “Please!” I beg. Finally, finally, I say, “I swear. Not you.”

He collapses into bed as if explosively punctured. I arrange his legs, plump the pillow, raise the blankets to cover him foot to chest. I crawl into bed with him. My head on his shoulder, I whisper into his throat, “I swear. I promise. Not you.”

My fingers aren’t crossed behind my back. And he’s still alive.

#

I rock next to the bed and dream a future. At his next doctor’s appointment his tests are clear, miraculous remission. He’s still pale because it takes a while to recuperate. The doctor recommends a long vacation on a warm beach. The president makes us her guests. In a month, no, let’s be realistic, two months, Luke is strong and tanned and eating huge seafood feasts. Shrimp and golden fish. Beer.

I’m happy with him. The urgency of research fades. I can do anything tomorrow. Today the sun shines on me and Luke.

I wake because his breathing changes. Rasping. Intermittent. Like a defective buzz saw that stops and needs restarting.

He’s not sweating. I sit on the bed next to him. His skin is cool. Pulse mild. I pump the sphygmomanometer and read low numbers.

He’s fading.

I scream. I grab his arm and pinch the flesh underneath, that most sensitive spot. He does not respond. I slap his face.

He snorts out a ripping exhalation. And stops.

I roll him onto his side and bend his top knee. I ruck up his bed shirt.

I grasp the prepared syringe from its place in the bedside drawer. I don’t hesitate for a moment. I never planned to hesitate. I would have sworn on my eternal soul and would have still. Never. Hesitated.

The chemical goes into his spine. I withdraw the needle and rub the spot on his back. An apology.

He stirs.

I can’t bring myself to check his pulse, now, when it counts most.

But he’s not in the 87%.

He sits up. I note that his bowels never relaxed enough to purge. A last indignity he’s spared.

Then he shrieks.

He leaps from the bed. Sees me. Grabs my shoulders and flings me across the room. Enormous strength. My head knocks against the wall. Black spots dim my vision.

He doesn’t ask any useless questions. No what. No why. He doesn’t confront me with my lie. He doesn’t say anything. He slams his fist against the wall. Paper and chalk cloud around him. The hole grows under repeated blows. No blood. The ripped skin on his knuckles will never heal and never bleed.

He stops hitting the wall. He looks at me. I’m not able to hold his gaze. I look away. He pulls clothes from the dresser. Basics: underwear, jeans, tee-shirt.

I struggle to my feet.

“Where are you going?”

He can’t tell me. Not if he’s in the 3%. He slides his feet into his shoes.

“I want to be with you. Forever,” I say. I pull a second prepared syringe from my bedside drawer. This one’s special. The load will kill me first then allow the chemical to do its work. I position the fine point above my arm vein.

Luke darts over to me. Preternaturally quick. He slaps my hands. The syringe flies across the room. It shatters against the wall. He holds my hands in his, not at all gentle.

It’s a moment of quiet. We gaze into each other’s eyes. I’m not at all psychic. I don’t believe in the sixth sense. But I see the answer in his still-clear eyes. He knew. All along. He knew I lied. He knew I’d do anything to bring him back.

He kisses me with the desperate passion I remember from before his illness. I kiss him back with all the strength I can muster. His teeth grind behind the hard line of his closed lips. He’s resisting a new desire, a new need. A month from now he won’t be able to resist. Given the chance he’ll bite the lips off my face. Devour them.

With that awful thought I’ve let him go. My heart has labeled him. Zombie.

I flinch away from his kiss. I stiffen against him, turn away so slightly. I can’t let him go. I can’t bear to hold him.

He pushes me away. With a roar he wrenches the door open. He escapes into the morning twilight.

I should follow him. Dispose of him. Using methods outlined in my research protocols. But I can’t. Not to Luke. Not him. He’s alive. That has to be enough. I turn back to the dark room. Back to what’s left of my dreams.


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