Authors: Post Mortem Press,Harlan Ellison,Jack Ketchum,Gary Braunbeck,Tim Waggoner,Michael Arnzen,Lawrence Connolly,Jeyn Roberts
Post Mortem Press
Anthology Copyright © 201
by Post Mortem Press
All stories Copyright © 201
by the respective authors
, except as noted below.
“Amid the Walking Wounded,”
2003 by Jack Ketchum. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the Author.
“Seeing” by Harlan Ellison
1976 by Harlan Ellison
. Renewed, 2004 by the Kilimanjaro Corporation. Reprinted by arrangement with, and permission of, the Author and the Author’s agent, Richard Curtis Associated, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. Harlan Ellison
is a registered trademark of The Kilimanjaro Corporation.
All rights reserved.
Post Mortem Press Cincinnati, OH
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Without authors, there would be no Post Mortem Press.
This book is dedicated to the brave writers who have joined me aboard this insane roller coaster. We’re on to something here, and I have you to
First and foremost, I need to thank (in no particular order) Gary, Tim, Larry, Michael, Jeyn, and Harlan for trusting Post Mortem Press with their work. But without question, the remaining authors are the heart and soul of this book. It was created with your sweat and nightmares.
This book would not be possible without the efforts of Paul Anderson. He was instrumental in obtaining permission to reprint the Harlan Ellison™ story and for providing a level of enthusiasm I can not sustain, or maybe even attain.
Finally, I need to acknowledge the
patience Stephanie Beebe has shown, not just through this book, but the 50 or so others that came before it. I owe it all to you.
Thank you all.
Table of Contents
Introduction Eric Beebe
Fear is one of those concepts that is easy to understan
, but difficult to describe. Many of the previous Post Mortem Press anthologies have dealt with the concept of fear
the fear of being alone, the fear of death, the fear of losing a loved one, the fear of things that go bump in the night, and so on. Yet more than any one particular topic, the fear of the unknown is likely the most dreaded.
Ironically, the search for knowledge and understanding, what some folks like to call science, tends to create the biggest sense of unknown. We stare into the abyss, hoping to learn, to understand. But the abyss is a cold and uncaring muse.
We risk all when we enter the abyss, usually with little hope of significant payback. The idea behind the Higgs boson particle, known to us lay folks as the “God Particle,” suggests the mere act of discovery could
reality as we know it. O
f course the idea of a universe-
ending scientific discovery is shrugged off by physicists, but that doesn’t stop the lesser informed or skeptical
from being afraid.
In an everyday sense, the abyss is the absolute bottom of an unending unknown. What’s more frightening than an unending unknown? I am not sure I can think of anything.
The stories that follow present twenty-
unique visions of the fear of the unknown,
in many cases
when that fear is associated with science and the quest for knowledge.
Among these pages are stories from authors who have been nominated and won the most pres
tigious genre fiction awards:
Aurora, Stoker, and many others. Jack Ketchum’s
Amid the Walking Wounded
was part of his Bram Stoker Award™ winning collection,
. Harlan Ellison
has won more awards that I can mention, and we
original stories from numerous award winners and nominees alike. These folks understand fear.
rather than read my ramblings, you came here to read some excellent short stories,
Fear the Abyss
will not disappoint. Remember, they’re just stories.
Joseph Williams has appeared in several Post Mortem Press anthologies alongside New York Times Bestselling authors and Stoker Award winners including Clive Barker, Jonathan Maberry, F. Paul Wilson, and Jack Ketchum. He has
of stories (
Swinging with Stars
) to critical acclaim. His work has also appeared in
The Wayne State University Literary Review, A Fly in Amber, The Western Online
. He also writes freelance articles for Real Detroit Weekly, where he has interviewed artists ranging from American Book Award winners to Grammy Award winners. He lives in Michigan with his wife.
Jeff talks backwards when he's anxiou
One time, he told me there are seventeen thousand different species of centimeter on one cubic bacteria of dust out here. Another time, he told me I'm full of shit.
Actually, he said, "Shit fills you."
I guess it's not really backwards all the time. Just incorrectly processed. He assures me he's not mixed up when I tell him so.
Well, actually, he says, "I am not a mixture." You get the point.
It sounds crazy. It sounds ridiculous.
That's just Jeff.
I think his wires have corroded, or whatever the fuck they used to put his brand together. He's twenty-years old now. They were using a lot of experimental alloys, prosthetics, and processors back then. Regulations are stricter these days.
Anyway, he doesn't like when I touch him, or especially when I tease him about his wife. She's been dead for seven years. Her circuits fried having crazy machine sex, but not with him. He doesn't know who her tango partner was. Hard as the lab coats have tried, androids still don't have DNA, so nothing was revealed in the postmortem.
That's why he started talking backwards, he says. Or, "chronologically misplacing" his words.
See what I mean?
I'm on to him now, though. I don't think it's part of his mental breakdown. I think he does it on purpose. He thinks if he talks backward then I'll start thinking it's actually forward. Like I'm just hearing it wrong. I'm hearing it in the past. I'm thinking backward. Like I'm the one who's really going crazy. My wires have corroded or something. Programming is fucked. Synapses no longer firing at optimum levels.
"Fuck you," I tell him. "At least I wasn't made in a factory."
I may as well have been.
That's what I tell myself, not what he says in response. Besides, he'd be agitated after a remark like that, so really he'd say, "Might you have," or something.
What a prick, huh? Well he's all I've got for company right now.
Dirks told me to cut the cord on this whole mess if they weren't back in three days. It's been five, and I already want to slit Jeff's throat. But we haven't cut the cord. We won't until there's no other option.
Jeff and I fight about this every day. He's good at taking orders and I'm good at ignoring them. He says that if Captain Dirks told us to cut the cord after three days, then we should have cut the cord after three days. I tell him it's murder if we don't give them every chance to get back to the shuttle by then. He says, "He won't be happy you disobeyed him."
But the way I figure it, that's contingent on his survival. If he's already dead, it doesn't matter. And if he survives, well, you'd think he'd be grateful that I didn't give up on him, right?
"Wrong," Jeff says.
He left us here because we don't need to breathe, Jeff says. Just because we survived doesn't mean they did. They must have run out of oxygen by now. And if we don't get back to the ship to let somebody know what happened, they'll just send another, and another, and another. All that blood on our hands, Jeff says.
We're in a big storage bin that Jeff converted into an emergency medical facility. It's crude. No windows. No air flow, minimal atmosphere. No gravity. Just two horizontal tubes of light over an eight by six steel table which once held core samples and mining equipment before the big wigs decided to give up on this lifeless rock. Sometimes the lights flicker. But we were built to adapt.
Jeff brought along all the important gear from the ship. Scalpels, IVs, sutures, trauma shears, oxygen masks, gauze, syringes, pain medication, anesthetics, anything the rescue party might need. It looks out of place in this huge metal bin, and it takes up a lot of space. We don't know what sort of shape the Captain will be in if and when he gets back, though, so we have to be prepared for all eventualities. At this point, after five days of exposure, five days' worth of oxygen used up, the chances we'll have anyone to operate on are slim. But if we do, at least we're prepared.
I'm getting close to cutting the cord. I'm close to giving in.
"We have to draw the line somewhere," Jeff says.
I think the better question is
Jeff talks backwards when he gets anxious. My secret is much worse. I get a-whole-nother personality when I'm overtired.
Overtired, you say? Yeah, it happens to us, too.
Jeff's here because he's got a background in medicine. He's a surgical model.
I'm here because I can see the past.
It's not what I was programmed for, mind you. I'm a masseuse by trade, or was. It's a glitch that wormed its way into my system seven years ago.
Can you guess how?
Can you guess what special talent Jeff's wife used to have?
Besides being a real good lay, of course.
Anyway, they thought it would help for me to come and see if I could pick up on the trail of the lost ship. The last signal they put out, an SOS call, supposedly came from the surface of this moon, but I don't sense anything. The only vision I'm seeing is Jeff walking around his apartment, naked, and it's creeping me the fuck out. They don't make the surgical models attractive. Otherwise, they wouldn't get anything done. They save that for the service industry models, like me. So Jeff isn't much to look at naked, even in the past. It's even worse when I have to see him right there in front of me in this goddamned metal box, knowing a part of me had sex with that flabby stomach, those protruding ribs, that bald head.
These goddamned memories.
Memories can be a venereal disease, you know. Apparently, so can the ability to see the past, as long as the Betty you're bopping fries her circuits mid-coitus.
You get my secret now?
I was the one fucking Jeff's wife when she died. When I don't shut down long enough, she starts poking up in all kinds of weird places inside of me. Part of her consciousness was burned into me when she died. The ghost in the machine, you might say.
Sometimes, I just want to wear a short skirt and paint my nails.
Don't tell Jeff, though. He'd either want to kill me or fuck me, and neither option sounds particularly appealing to this bag of bones and wires.
On the morning of day six, which may as well be the night, Jeff puts it to me straight.
"We have to make the decision today. There's no way they could have lasted this long. They don't have enough air."
"Why didn't you give them the oxygen masks?"
He looks insulted. "Because those are for emergencies."
I say, "What's more of an emergency than running out of air on the surface?"
I'm about to go to school. Jeff doesn't say this, but I was married to him and I know when he's about to condescend.
"Suppose they made it back just before their reserves ran out and I needed to operate on one of them immediately. It would take hours to get back to the ship even if they went straight to the shuttle, and then it would be too late."
I don't like how he's talking about this scenario in the past tense, but maybe that's just because he's anxious. Maybe he's just talking backwards, 'cause I'm looking into the past and all I see is Jeff's pale, hairy ass bobbing up and down the day I (she) made love to him the first time. I don't see Captain Dirks gasping for air while dust swirls around him in the purplish black wind. Maybe that means he's still alive, maybe it just means I'm processing the information wrong.
Memories. Save my soul.
I'm so goddamned tired. I don't know when we'll be able to sleep again.
"Not until we make the decision. You know that."
He must not be agitated. I sure as hell am.
Jeff must realize I'm not in the mood for spirited debate or the guilt of pronouncing a dozen of my closest friends dead, because he goes back to whatever the fuck he's been working on with the medical equipment this whole time. Hooking wires to power packs, unhooking them, hooking them back in. Making crude, leather restraints to hold his unseen and as yet unidentified patient down. Adjusting the two bars of light overhead so they reflect the horrible sterility of death from the dulled steel. It just makes them flicker more.
Like he expects to save someone.
Didn't this asshole just tell me we need to cut the cord today? Cutting the cord means death. Cutting the cord means leaving a brother behind.
"What the hell are you doing?" I ask him.
"Prepping for surgery."
Jeff is a surgical model. I'm not. But I've seen him work enough to notice the anesthetics are still in a container by the door next to the old archaeological equipment. They used to dig here.
Jeff doesn't answer me. His brow is furrowed and he's reading something from a worn datapad. I can't tell at first whether it's because he's trying to sound threatening or if he just doesn't hear me.
knows. She remembers, therefore, I remember.
Before I can stop her, my hands are around his waist and my dry lips are touching his neck.
Jeff doesn't like when I touch him. He likes it even worse when I impersonate his wife. He thinks I can help it.
"Off the fuck me!" he yells.
I'd laugh if I weren't so scared. I don't like when I'm not in control.
He's agitated. I'm exhausted. That's not a good combination, but one inevitably leads to the other. And so on and so on, always and forever.
"Relax," she says through my mouth. It's really her voice, too. That's the fucked up part. Probably why he gets so goddamned mad when she pops up. "I know how to calm you down."
She's got my lips on his earlobe and my hands on his stomach. I want to die. Jeff wants me to, too. I can actually feel her taking over my thoughts. That's when the shit really hits the fan.
Two things happen at once.
First, Jeff lets me (her) kiss his ear, waits while my calloused, hairy-knuckled man-hands tread the line between his belt buckle and his flab, watches like he's scientifically observing them in their natural habitat. He hesitates, we both know it, and that puts him over the edge. He knows he let me touch him, and that brings up all sorts of uncomfortable questions even if he tries to chalk it up to hearing the seductive voice of his dead wife.
So that's happening.
Jeff was already experiencing some technical problems, as evidenced by his reverse sequential speech patterns and general difficulty with word retrieval. If he were a real person, this would be called a symptom of early onset dementia. He's not, but it all amounts to the same. And I'm thinking to myself, this can't be good.
Second, I get a vision of Captain Dirks and he's gasping for air in the purplish black wind. It's bad. His oxygen is low, and I can tell just by looking at him that the only reason he's alive is he took someone else's tank after they died. But he's not dead yet, at least, and he doesn't look like he's really that close to it. In the same neighborhood, sure, but not on death's doorstep. Not quite.
I'm glad we haven't cut the cord.
Jeff has, only it's a different one. Jeff's short circuiting.
He wheels around so fast and so powerfully that I go sprawling against the empty bins of medical supplies. Something in my back flares with pain. A pinched wire.
Yes, we feel pain. How else do you keep someone in line?
"You!" he screams, jabbing one, sparking index finger in my direction. He's shaking, but not the way you would shake. More like the way the road shakes a mile in front of you on a hot day. A humidity shake. "You!" I don't think he trusts himself to say anything else right now.
I can feel her leaving me, retreating to the safety of my heart and wires. The bitch never had much of a backbone. That's why she never told him about us.
I guess I could have.
"I can't help it, Jeff. I swear."
But it's too late. Jeff has turned into an unintelligible cyclone of rage and sparks. If I could make out any of his jumbled words, I'd tell you. I can't.
They aren't even words anymore. Jeff's so fucked up now that even the letters are backwards. If he wrote them down, I might be able to make sense of them. He doesn't.