Fiction

The Songs of Eridani – Part 2

Read The Songs of Eridani – Part 1 by clicking here.

Chapter 8

We pushed into the jungle above S’uval the next morning, my mind focusing on that special inner spot that had always centered me: I’m nothing but a man who tracks other men for pay; that is what I am, it’s what I do, and nothing else. I seek men who don’t want to be found–whether for reasons of crime, sin, personal disgrace, or some sort of queer, unknown psychological imbalance. Men who have slipped off the net, and have to be netted again so as to answer to others. That is all I am, that is all I need to be.

And I’d dealt with all those types, all those reasons. Yet never had I engaged in a commission as flaky or as suspicious as the one I now pursued. And why did I accept it? I certainly didn’t need the money,
not at this point in my career. For all I cared, Dr. Kline could have fallen down a rat-hole and been eaten by Eridani maggot-analogs.

And yet, I pictured those maggots as wearing the faces of the Directors of the Church of the Holy Psychological Redemption. There was something else going on here, and I was determined to wrench it to the surface.

I removed my field cap and swiped the sweat off my scalp with my hand, turned and waited for Laura and Pete to catch up.

"Hold up a minute, T’aylang! You hanging in there, Pete?"

Pete was panting, trying to catch his breath in the steamy air. "Is the . . . pope . . . a bear?"

"Time for a break, folks," I said.

I was suddenly aware of T’aylang by my side, studying Pete. "This man is not well-adapted to the environment or to the task at hand," he said. "Will we be required to carry him for the balance of the journey?"

"No, just give us a few minutes to rest here, Big Guy. Pete’ll be all right."

I looked sternly at Pete when I said that, hoping to drive that veiled admonition into him.

The Eridani raised his head to an erect vertical position. "This is not a safe place to stop. We are traversing a pyloc’s game trail. Similar to what you refer to in your language as a ‘big cat.’"

"So, are you seeing any?" I unclipped the holster of my firearm.

T’aylang pointed to one of the porters and barked a short command. The other Eridani began to sing, a strange polyphonous song whose ultrasonic overtones made me wince in pain.

"We will persuade any nearby ones to take an afternoon nap. But only a short one. It would be best if your colleague gets his breath back soon, so that we may continue on our way."

Pete gasped and nodded, apparently agreeing in principle with T’aylang.

The Songs of Eridani – Part 1

Chapter 1

Things grew large on epsilon Eridani III, but it was the smallest of creatures that brought us down. We were barely two days into the unexplored jungle that lay to the north of S’uval, the riverside port
village that marked the farthest reach of human colonization on the planet.

I lay prostrate and sweating on the bedroll inside my tent,
hallucinating in the throes of my fever. I was dimly aware of T’aylang,
our native guide, bending over me; his massive, cylindrical head filled
my blurry vision. In my delirium, the rainbow of colors refracting off
his eye-hoop mutated into a medieval painting, one that depicted a
terrifying, insane vision of damned souls in hell.

“I’m dying,” I said weakly.

“Death without redemption is a terrible thing to contemplate, Mr.
Bishop,” T’aylang replied.

“The databulb. Make sure it gets to Kline.” I struggled to withdraw
the bulb from underneath my sweat-drenched shirt, where it hung on a
lanyard around my neck. Somehow it seemed imperative that I not take it
into hell with me. Perhaps my own redemption depended on it.

T’aylang reached down and stilled my fumbling hand. “Best to take
it to him yourself. You will survive, as will your colleagues. Eridani
insinuates herself into your flesh as we speak. She is harsh, but not
always deadly. It is only the first step of your true journey.”

You’ve Got To Tell Your Own Tale

I only remember bits and pieces of my first night at Whitestone Wall, looking over into Lios Iridion. The crinkling fires. Tussocks of grass and hard earth underfoot. Hot dogs from a briny tin: plump and pale marshmallows on sticks. My father lifted me up to look over, and I braced myself by putting my feet against the blanched stones of the ancient wall.

On the other side it wasn’t night.

On the other side it’s never night.

Other men from the town had brought their sons, too. They sat in communal circles on foldout chairs around their own campfires, or stood at the wall themselves, holding up their boys: each and every one of them hopeful that his son was special somehow; each and every one of them hopeful that, tonight, there might be a sign.

On our side the night was a glassy black, the tree-lined ridge between us and town obscuring the stars. The shafts of many-coloured light that make up Lios Iridion took up the whole of the other horizon, tinting all faces with garish hues.

My father put his lips to my ear:

“I think I see something in there!” He whispered, his moustache scratching against my earlobe. Then, after glancing along the lines of arrayed men and boys either side of us:

“Shhhh… ”

Martha in the Manuscript

Saugerties is a pleasant place; beyond the coffee shops and fruit markets are rows of tall, colorful houses lined along endless concave streets like stretches of rainbows. But it also has the river—the same river. So even though I’m sitting on a bench that’s more than a hundred miles away from the city, except for the lighthouse, the water across from me is no different.

The lighthouse is tall with a rounded black terrace and a point on top. I watch the people linger around it. Some are inside, their backs against the windows. Others walk across a wooden dock. No one steps onto the terrace.

The bench also has me in perfect firing range of a breeze that I imagine tumbling down the mountain like little rocks, blowing against the lighthouse so the chimes hanging on the wooden dock whistle along with the rippling water. It hits often, not like the breeze in the city, which only found me between the spread of buildings.

Suddenly there’s a sound to my left. I turn and see something else that usually doesn’t find me: a tall, attractive woman, brown hair splitting at her forehead. I don’t think she’ll stop, but she does.

“You got a smoke?”

I dig my hand into my pocket, nod, and move over so she can sit.

“I gotta run,” she says, and looks at the space I made. “But I could really use a smoke.”

“Don’t you have a minute?”

She considers me carefully. “You’re new in town, right?”

I nod.

“You’re not crazy are you?”

“Depends.”

She takes the cigarette and sits, leaning in for me to light it. She smells like wine. “Depends?” she repeats, “what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s not Tuesday,” I say. “So you’re in luck. I’m only crazy on Tuesday.”

She takes a drag of the cigarette. “That so? All right then, crazy man, what’s a guy like you doing out here alone?”

“I’d tell you, but I don’t want to give the secret away.”

“Makes sense,” she says. “Crazy people keep secrets.”

“How about this,” I begin. I realize I’m still holding the lighter so I put it away. “You tell me why you’re in such a rush, and then I’ll tell you something about me.”

She looks at her watch. I think about what I should start with. “It sounds like a fair deal, and I’d like to, but I really don’t have the time right now.”

“Probably because you’ve got secrets too.”

She seems taller the second time she stands. I want to stand too, to see if I’m taller than she is, but I decide to stay sitting. “I’ll leave that up to you, crazy man,” she says. “Thanks for the smoke. I’m sure I’ll see you again.”

Considering five minutes ago I was thinking of leaving, I’m satisfied being quiet and watching her body shrink into the distance. I take a deep breath and turn to the river. I knew there was something about this place—that proved it. A boat stops at the lighthouse. It’s the fourth of the day. Then I see someone looking at me from the terrace. I know who it is, but I can’t believe it. I stand to get a better view, but she turns and walks back into the building, and I know I won’t be able to see her again.

The Bringing Moon

Margot fiddled with the eyepieces of the binoculars. If she squinted, she could see the moon, round and white and far away in the darkening sky. She turned the knob backwards, and the moon grew until it filled the lenses. She imagined astronauts in puffy white spacesuits and bubble helmets, driving a flagpole with the United States flag into the spotted moon rock. There had been pictures like that in her history book.

“The moon doesn’t have a face, Lilly.”

“Over here.” Her sister Lilly’s hand blurred through the lens, guiding Margot’s head to the left. “Do you see it now?”

A bright yellow spot appeared in Margot’s vision. She blinked several times until her eyes focused on a grinning face, thick red lips smiling over a wide mouth of white teeth. A black line curved upwards in a swirling motion for its nose, with two crooked angles fixed for eyebrows. She turned the adjusting knob, moving the face farther away until it took the shape of a large yellow blimp floating above the stadium.

“Arturo’s Tacos,” she read. “That’s tacos. Not the moon’s face.” She set the binoculars down on the table.

“Then who brought me the bike?” Lilly puckered her lips and pressed Berry Blast lip gloss kisses on the glass.

“You don’t have a bike.”

“I asked the moon for a bike like Sarah’s, and when I woke up this morning, it’d brought me one with pink streamers. Go look.”

Margot jumped up and ran down the hallway, making sure to tiptoe when she passed Momma’s door. She pulled on her snowboots and threw open the front door of the trailer to see a small pink bike leaning against the railing. Pink and gold streamers flowed from the bike’s handlebars, and lightning bolts curved along the middle and front bars.

“Isn’t it pretty?” Lilly’s teeth chattered together.

Cinema Verite

Kara slowed her pace through the east hall of the nursing home, checking to make sure Nurse Dearn wasn’t around before rolling her book cart into Mister Jackson’s room. “We don’t have much time, Jackie. Dearn’s on my case.”

“In my day, we’d have called her a harpy.”

“I’d say what my generation calls her, but I don’t want to make you blush.”

Jackie laughed, then waved her closer. “How much did we make this time?”

She handed over a deposit slip. “You’re set for the next five months.”

“It’s strange,” he said, as he pushed the slip into his bedside drawer. “I know I sold something, but I can’t remember what it was.” Biting his lip, he looked up at her. “What was it?”

“I can’t tell you. Those are the rules.”

“I know–I remember that. But…there are holes. It’s disturbing.”

“We can stop whenever you want.”

He shook his head, his lips tightening as he said, “My son was in to see me today. He lost another job. Can’t afford this place anymore. After all I’ve done for him…”

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t like living here, but it beats sharing a urine-scented double with some drooling idiot down at the county assisted-living center–assisted dying is more like it.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to sell your memories. You’re under no obligation to do this.”

“And my boy is apparently under no obligation to me. Hook me up. See what you find. Tell me what it’s worth.”

“How much of it?”

“Whatever you want to take, hon’. My Alice left me after fifty years of marriage. I’m stuck with this lowlife son while my stockbroker daughter who could buy this place, much less pay my rent, writes me off. Why the hell do I want to remember any of it?”

“Okay. Calm down.” She dug out a pair of small goggles and slipped them over his eyes, fastening the strap, then attaching the wires that linked them to another pair of goggles that she put on.

Jackie moaned as the goggles started to hum. “I hate this part–why can’t you make me forget this, too?”

“I don’t know.” She didn’t understand the tech that went into the goggles. But then, she didn’t have to. Her role was creative–Boris said she made the best memflicks he’d ever seen.

Up to now, she’d been selective, just taking little pieces of Jackie’s memory, but chunks–big, meaty ones–sold so much better. If she did it right, he could be set for life.

She sat down in the chair next to him, immersed in his memories, tapping on the goggles when she wanted to tag a part, using her eyes to set the crop area.

“I’ll love you forever, Alice. I can wait for the wedding night if you’re not ready.”

“I’m coming home, darlin’! We can get married.”

“We’re pregnant? Oh my God, we’re pregnant?”

“We can try again. Sweetheart, we can try again.”

“It’s a boy. I have a son!”

“Take a cigar–pink this time, my friend.”

“What do you mean you’re dropping out of college? Did you get kicked out of this one, too?”

“Why doesn’t she ever call? It’s like I embarrass her.”

“Who is he? Who is he, damn it? No one just leaves. There’s always someone else!”

“Well?” Jackie asked, and he sounded like he was crying.

“It’s good. It’s very good.” There was a big market for this kind of “slice of everyday American life,” a yearning for what was–even if it turned ugly at the end. “I can make you rich, Jackie.” She reached out, found his hand, and squeezed it. “But I’ve told you before: who we are–our personality–it’s a sum of our memories. Once they’re gone, your life will be gone. too.”

“What life? Being an old man, lying here all day?”

“Lying here all day knowing who you are.”

“Not sure that makes it any easier, Kara. Just do it.”

“You’re certain?”

“Leave everything before Alice.” He squeezed her hand. “I had a nice childhood. I had great parents, fun times. And Alice wasn’t my first–I can remember sex before her without any guilt.” He winked at her. “And I’ll still have you, right?”

“Well, if I take it all, you won’t remember me the next time you see me, but we’ll get reacquainted. And I’ll make sure you’re okay.”

“You always have, sweetheart. I’d have been out on my keister a long time ago if you hadn’t come along. You might like the younger me a whole lot better.”

“I doubt that.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek, then whispered in his ear, “I can still just take bits.”

“No. I don’t want to know I’m forgetting things. Just take it all and let me remember my life when it was simpler.” He laid his hand against her cheek. “Did I ever tell you that you look like my first girlfriend?”

“No, you never did.”

“Well, you do.” He let go of her. “Now. Let’s get started. We’re burning daylight–isn’t that what filmmakers used to say?”

“Yeah. Only I think moonlight’s more fitting in our case.”

“Well, we’re burning something. Get to it, kiddo.”

She got to it.

Ravensdaughter’s Tale

Ravensdaughter liked Novembers best. That was when the rains came and slicked the leaves down into a tar on the rooftops and made the whole world smell like wet. She’d get trapped in her dry spot in the bell tower days at a time, wrapped up in the blanket the miller had left out for her, but when it was over, those were the best days. Like today.

Ravensdaughter held her arms out like a scarecrow as she balance-walked along the backbone of the roof between the keep and the kitchens. The cold was only just enough to pierce her dress and make her fingers sting yet, but it was winter enough that the sky was cold and gray as the castle stones. The sound of one of the kitchen boys tending to the pigs drifted up from the courtyard. She laughed. The slates on the roof were still wet from last night’s rain, but she never missed a step.

She knew the castle roofs better than the humans ever would. She’d named every gargoyle. In the summers she’d climbed the rafters of the bell tower and watched the cuckoos come and lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. She knew how you couldn’t trust the gatehouse, since its roof was rotten with moss and about to fall in, but the roof over the kitchens was a good place. There was a good shot there for throwing bits of slate at the kitchen boys when they went out. They’d put their hands over their heads and beg her not to hex them, so naturally she’d dance back and forth and yell ooga-booga until they screamed and ran back inside. The humans all smelled funny, anyway.

Ravensdaughter knelt on the slates and ducked her head under the kitchen eaves. Down on the windowsill there was an offering: a bundle wrapped up in cloth on top of a plate. The kitchen lady was trying to get her to leave the boys alone again. Just in case, the shutters were locked up tight with an iron horseshoe to keep Ravensdaughter out.

Ravensdaughter grinned, then swung her legs over the gutter and dropped down to the sill. She hoped it was a saucer of milk in there. Or a bit of fish, raw, the way she liked it. Or even bread. Her fingers were stiff with the cold, but she managed to undo the knots in the bundle.

A dolly? Like the little human girls played with? Why? She crouched there holding the dolly by the neck, brow furrowed. It wasn’t even a very good one. The stitching was all lumpy.

There’d been a dolly in the little house in the village.

Burnt porridge and Bible sermons. That sour human stink everywhere. Fake brothers and sisters and her fake parents all crammed into one wooden room. That was before her ears had grown in pointy and Fake Mother had run her out of the house with a broomstick. Ravensdaughter picked at the dolly’s frayed-yarn hair. Back when everybody thought she was a little human girl.

Changeling, people whispered. Wild girl. Look at those ears.

She threw the dolly down and leapt back onto the roof.

The Heroics of Interior Design


I can’t fly faster than a speeding bullet. I can’t lift a car. I can’t climb slick surfaces with my bare hands or breathe underwater or stop time. All I can do is change blue things to yellow. I didn’t bother to buy a cape or a spandex suit like the others. I just bought a blouse and some slacks and went into interior design.

I don’t get much business anymore. All the people in this town who liked yellow but moved into the houses of people who liked blue have pretty much hit me up. Blue is a more popular color than yellow anyway. I wish I could change yellow to blue instead. I’ve started doing odd jobs in my off hours. Sometimes I set up a folding table in front of my shop. While the real gifted fly over my building and punt criminals off of rooftops with their shiny boots, I do magic tricks for quarters, blue crayons to yellow, changing the color of children’s snow cones, that sort of thing. No matter how yellow I turn them, they taste like blue raspberry. Last week I did a quick paint job on a car for a few grand. I think it was for a getaway driver. I haven’t told my husband about that one, but I did take him out for a steak dinner.

Tyrone isn’t one of the gifted. He can’t even change things from blue to yellow. He can design skyscrapers though, and he’s good at it, too. He makes a hell of a lot more money than I do, anyway. After Dr. Detriment blew out all the windows on tower number one, he started incorporating sonic resistant glass into his plans. Now all the businesses want him to design their new offices. He just got a big contract with Triumva Corp South. They don’t want their offices to be yellow–I asked. Although, I suppose if they did want yellow, they wouldn’t bother to paint them blue first.

The Colored Lens #1 – Autumn 2011

When the editorial team here at The Colored Lens sat down and started thinking through the myriad of decisions involved in putting together a magazine, I confess I had my doubts and fears. I worried that our theme of shifting perspectives on the world would be either too limiting or too conversely too generic. I worried that we wouldn’t get very many quality submissions. I worried that we wouldn’t find a reader base. I even worried that we might blow up over creative disagreements among the editorial staff.

Now, as we debut our first official issue, I find my concerns to have been so far from the reality that I can only laugh. There have been no blow-ups, or even real disagreements. We’ve got the start of a reader base. We’ve had a plethora of great submissions. And we’ve put together an excellent handful of stories that do, indeed, help us see the world just a bit differently than when we started the story.

In Margaret Taylor’s “Ravensdaughter’s Tale,” we see the magic that can come from friendships, even in the least expected of ways. Gerri Leen’s, “Cinema Verite” shows us the value of memories, and the cost they can carry. Erin E. Stocks’ “The Bringing Moon” offers a different kind of cost for the things we hope for. Shawn Rubenfeld’s “Martha in the Manuscript” shows us how difficult escaping the past can be. S.J. Hirons’ “You’ve got to Tell Your own Tale” reminds us of how magical a world can be, and how differently it can be interpreted. Elise R. Hopkins’ “The Heroics of Interior Design” reminds us what it’s like to be on the fringes of society. And the first half of Gary Cuba’s novella “Songs of Eridani” introduces us to a world that leaves us questioning what the true dangers are.

We’re excited to present the first issue of The Colored Lens, and hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you.

The Colored Lens is a quarterly publication featuring short stories and serialized novellas in genres ranging from fantasy, to science fiction, to slipstream or magical realism. By considering what could be, we gain a better understanding of what is. Through our publication, we hope to help readers see the world just a bit differently than before. The Colored Lens #1 – Autumn 2011 is available for only $0.99 in e-book format for Kindle or Nook. Read a free sample of this issue in your Google Chrome or Safari web browser by clicking here.

The Dirty Fairy


I chased my dreams in the woods behind the house. I would run for hours amongst the trees.

My mother said, “I never should play with the fairies in the wood.”

When I asked her why, she said, “They drink.” Her voice was a stone.

“Like Daddy?” I asked.

“Like Daddy,” she said. Mother’s voice fell into dark water.

But all summer long, I chased my dreams in the woods behind the house. I would run for hours amongst the trees. Mother didn’t notice; she was too busy looking after Daddy.

Summer was almost over, and it seemed like my chance was gone. We had to move houses because there had been complaints. But on the last day I saw a gleam of light in the dark wood’s shadows.

I stalked the fairy so quietly. I know how to be very quiet. My teacher often said that I was the quietest girl in class.

In one swift movement I caught my fairy. He wriggled in my hand.

I wasn’t expecting a male fairy. In my head I’d imagined a beautiful girl fairy with fluttering wings and a gossamer gown.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I’ve been looking for you for a long time. I want us to be friends,” I said. I was determined to make the best of things.