TCL #12 – Summer 2014

The Hands That Coded Heaven

Thursday, December 23, 2044

It was on the seventh day of Rachel’s disappearance that I finally left the house. I felt like the broad whose husband goes out for a pack of smokes and never comes back. I tried to lose the feeling in an afternoon ski amidst the mountains surrounding our cabin, in the graveyards of birch, in the skeletal branches grasping towards the still-hidden sun. We’d camped in the trees here just a year ago, though it seemed an eternity. Time flows strangely up in the mountains, it’s passage bent and slowed by ancient ridges and slopes. I wondered if Rachel was out here somewhere– camping under snow-pregnant pines or down and dying cedar. She loved camping as much as I loved skiing.

I lit a cigarette then, a blend of perique tobacco that I grew myself during the long summers, Rachel hated it, but she was gone and there was nothing for it. The wind picked up, and I wiped tangled threads of snot from my beard as howling gusts pulled hungrily at my exhaled smoke. A final glance at the stand of birch, and I tugged my balaclava back on, chipped a piece of ice off a binding, clicked into my skis, and stripped my sodden cigarette, pocketing the filter. I wished briefly that I’d worn goggles, then set my shoulders before starting a strong stride back home. It felt like a storm was coming, lightning and snow. I kicked off, racing down the valley’s curves, stomping back up the sloping hill of her white belly. My lungs burned, and my breath froze in the mountain air. I was old, out of shape.

An hour later, just as the sun began to hide its face behind the mountains, I crested the final ridge overlooking my little world. I lived in a secluded valley, with a single road winding down the south side. There was a small grove of maples surrounding the house, which was set into a small mound in corner of the valley.

There was also a gleaming black snowmobile purring out front. A man garbed in a parka stood outside. He looked like he was about ready to scale Everest. Maybe he was lost. I took the downhill slowly, savoring my last breath of solitude. I rarely had visitors. That was kind of the point.

“Mikkjal Turing Helmsdal?” They always ask for your name, solicitors and evangelists, like it’ll somehow make you friends right off the bat. He was smothered in layers of goose down and Gore-Tex. Funny. It’d probably never even gotten colder than twenty below up here. He definitely wasn’t a local. Probably an evangelist. I hoped he wasn’t a Neo-Christian. I was already well-acquainted with the faith.

“I don’t need saving, friend, if that’s why you’re here.”

He unwrapped his scarf, and slid off a pair of sunglasses. “I don’t know about that, Mickey. I seem to recall saving your ass on a number of occasions.” He grinned. “Remember when you were chock full of whiskey and Robitussin, trying to get away from Professor Wegler’s wife? You ran gasping into our room and hid under the bed for three hours. I thought you’d lost your marbles, until she came in looking for you. Sounded like a lovely evening.” He looked around. “Looks like you got that all straightened out though, eh?”

I smiled and grabbed the man in a bear hug. I’d met Harrison Yorke at Stanford. I’d doubled in computer science and cognitive psychology. He majored in gender studies, or something equally soft. I’d never really been totally sure. He’d moonlighted as a private detective, though, the old-fashioned kind out of hard-boiled crime novels. Our relationship was less academic than bacchanalian. Not that I mean to imply that we fucked. He’d always been a little thick for my taste.

“Thanks for coming, Harry. I didn’t expect you so soon. You got my letter, then?” I unclipped my skis. I’d sent Harry a message about Rachel’s disappearance two days ago, but I hadn’t thought he’d make it out to my mountain so quickly. My stomach grumbled. “Hold that thought. We’ll talk inside. I’m starved. Come on in. The fire should still be going, and I baked some cookies this morning. It’s deer for dinner, if you can handle that.”

My house warmed up quickly, and we wolfed down some cookies while we waited. I’d ordered a fancy wood stove just before moving out here. I loved watching the fire after it was stoked. I’d grown up in an old farmhouse before I moved to the States; I took an unseemly comfort in crackling flame.

After a pot of coffee and a venison meatloaf, it was pretty easy to catch up with Harry. It seemed he’d kept up with the detective business, and he was a veritable collection of mystery stories, which he shared vociferously.

“You look like you could use another coffee, Harry.” I finished my own, and got up to grind some more. He pulled a flask out of his hip pocket.

“Want to add a little fire to that coffee? I brought a bit of Bushmill Reserve.”

I paused, and eyed the bottle, then shook my head. “No thanks. I haven’t touched the stuff in 20 years. Seems a bit late to start again.”

“Suit yourself, I guess.” He looked surprised. I couldn’t blame him. My liver was the stuff of legends.

“Look, Harry,” I cleared my throat. “I’ll level with you. I do need saving. It’s Rachel. I haven’t seen her in three days. I’m worried.”

“You guys have a fight or something?”

“No, not at all. And it’s not like she can’t come and go as she wants, you know, but she’s never been gone this long, even when she goes into town for the Christmas service.”

He raised his eyebrows. “You remember the last fight you did have?”

I stopped grinding the coffee. “To be honest, I don’t know that we’ve ever had one. No arguments, no yelling, no throwing of plates or anything like that.”


I shrugged. “Really.”

He narrowed his eyes. “She still goes to church, though, huh? You guys never fight about that?”

“Hell, Harry, you know I don’t like it, but I’m not gonna tell Rachel how to run her life. She’s a grown woman, and I love her. I don’t mind it. Really.”

“Right.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “Right, right. About the church, though- have you been keeping up with the Neo-Christians?”

“Not a chance. I’ve been out here in the mountains for twenty years. I don’t know shit about them anymore. I swore off it, you know, Neo-Christianity. If it’s got to do with Heaven, you’ve got the wrong guy.” The coffee dripped. I’d tried to swear off Heaven, anyway. Giving up eternal bliss is a hell of a thing. I sure hadn’t forgotten how it felt. You hear sayings sometimes, like: the grass is always greener on the other side, or pink, if you’re seeing it through some old rose-colored glasses, and it’s meant to help ground you and bring you back to reality but the truth of the matter is that sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, and taller, and full of manna.

I pulled my mug, and sipped, sitting quietly for a minute. Harry snorted.

“Oh, don’t give me that shit. You can’t give up Neo-Christianity. You wrote Heaven. You were the first one to jack in. You know it better than anyone.” He squinted at me. “Jesus, you’re scared, aren’t you.”

I snorted right back. “Of course not. You don’t get it. If it has to do with Heaven, I can’t help. It’s not mine anymore, if it ever was. It’s dynamic, to put it lightly, that’s the whole point. The program changes fundamentally every time someone jacks in. It works by reading individual neuron signals, then transcribing and recombining them. It’s like grammar, like a language. It constantly changes in response to new stimuli. That is how you create eternal happiness. Change. It’s not really heaven, you know. It’s a bunch of electric pulses. It’s a game.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Well, I’m no neurologist, but the Neo-Christians don’t think its a game.”

“Yeah, well, it’s hard to think straight while you’re jacked in to paradise.” I finished my coffee. “You’d know, if you’d ever jacked in.”

He shrugged and mimed a knife across his throat. “You know I haven’t. Epileptics can’t jack in. Might kill me. That whole recombination thing doesn’t work so well when you start tossing in random neuron signals.”

Items of Thanks

He stood on the cliffs over the river and waited. The wind whispered through his thin wings, and the rocky ground was hot beneath his bare feet. The human tribe always took this path–always crossed his river here. It had always been safe before. But spring storms had weakened the trail that wound down the cliff. The weakened stones would crumble under human feet.

He had seen it. But he could stop it.

The line of figures approached over the horizon. He waited till he was sure they had seen him. It didn’t take long. Their eyes were keen, and they were constantly scanning for threats.

He spread his wings and took to the sky.

The tribe found another way down the cliff.

They left him offerings as thanks for his warning. A shiny rock, a handful of shells, and a cornhusk doll. A veritable fortune. He treasured them.

He stood on the shore of his river. The deep waters here looked calm, but hidden eddies waited to pull travelers down to the rocks below.

He watched the new tribe approach, then took flight when he was sure they’d seen him.

They continued toward the river.

Surely, they’d change course. They must understand his warning.

The first of them reached the river, took a step into the water. If they continued, they would all die.

He had to stop them. He swooped down waving his arms. They fled.

They found a different spot to cross the river.

They left no gifts.

He perched in a tree, above a couple that would die crossing a bridge. Unless he stopped them.

Warning the humans had grown more and more difficult. He had failed many times, and each memory was a weight on his heart. He wished he could make noise as they did. Maybe then they’d understand. But his throat was not like theirs.

He relied completely on fear now. Slowly, the humans had learned to look at him and not see. Their eyes cut straight through him. They crossed his river and died.

He wanted the two below to be different.

When they didn’t see him, he pounded on the roof of their vehicle. He threw dirt, then stones.

Finally, for an instant, they saw him. Their eyes widened in terror. He tried to warn them–tried gestures he’d seen humans use.

They didn’t understand. They fled. He tried with others. Again and again.

They all died on the bridge.

He withdrew from them. He watched their tragedies without trying to stop them. He told himself that it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t believe it.

He curled in a bush and listened to the water rage over rocks. It was dangerous today.

And there were humans coming.

They were young. Just past adolescence, holding hands and laughing. The boy carried a picnic basket. The girl a bag on her shoulders and a worn blanket draped over her arm. Both wore swimming suits.

He stood to better see their faces, to remember. The girl stopped and stared at him.

He waved her away from the river, even though he knew it was useless.

The boy tugged on her hand, but she shook her head. They spoke for a few minutes, then turned and walked back up the path. Away from the river. Away from their deaths.

He remembered how victory felt.

A few moments later, the girl ran back down the path, and his heart froze.

But she stopped. She pulled a tiny ragdoll out of her bag, kissed its forehead, and sat it against a tree.

He would treasure it.

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. Her short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Penumbra. Her fiction has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists, and she’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her Kickstarter-funded short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Find her online at