Online Fiction


The beach was fine and white above, coarse and black below. Treacherous. The moment he reached the edge of the shore, he felt the sand give way underfoot. He stepped back quickly, before his wife and son caught up.

The waves crashed in, making a green roil from the horizon to a tumble of lava boulders that edged the cliffs where they touched the water, aslant from jungled peaks high above. Only this thin crescent of sandy beach remained untouched, and even that was being steadily eaten away by the sea. Read More

The Law of Seconds

“Ah,” said Garramond, “an inn! Allow me to treat you, lad!”

The inn was as welcoming as the older man’s offer, with lights shining out into the darkening lane and a courtyard busy enough to indicate a popular establishment, but not so busy as to suggest it would be full up for the night. Having no horses or conveyance of their own to tie up, Norton followed Garramond straight into the common room. A large hearth-fire warmed several tables, the largest occupied by a loud party which cast them not unfriendly looks as they made their way to the smallest.

The travelers sat opposite each other. Garramond removed his hat, dragged his fingers through lank grey locks and came away with a few thin knots; Norton pulled off a knitted cap, causing his thick black brush of hair to prickle upright, like a dog’s hackles. Read More

A Mammoth, So-Called

“The time has come,” said Vargas, apparently prompted by contemplation of the ice bucket he had just filled from a freezer in his cellar, in order to chill his famous Expeditionary Tonic of dark rum, espresso, and flavors less identifiable, “to speak at last of the so-called mammoth we discovered on our Arctic expedition. Hard to believe that was 1947. Seems like only last year.”

He fussily packed a measure of ice into every glass on a silver tray, then poured in his dark, viscous cocktail, stopping only when the crystalline chunks jostled at the brim. Vargas offered the tray around until each of us held a frosty glass. The shades of the study were drawn, the air still and warm, even with the broad blades of a fan stirring the ceiling shadows. My first mouthful of the inky concoction smacked of unknown spices and, even more evocatively, of cold climes infinitely preferable to the one where we now waited, sweat seeping into our ascots, for Vargas to get on with it.

“‘So-called’ mammoth?” said Guzman. “In what sense, ‘so-called’?” Read More

The Ghost Penny Post

I hope London’s trust in me is not misplaced, thought Hewell as he sought his valise under roadside ferns. He spotted the leather case, still buckled, its sheaf of papers safe, and drawing it from among the fronds, climbed out of the ditch to stand beside the carriage. Always fond of a good puzzle, Hewell was none too keen on mysteries; and unfortunately, events of the morning suggested more of the latter were in store for his afternoon.

He offered the harried driver a hand strapping their trunks back in place. The man had finally managed to calm the more nervous of the two horses, understandably shaken after the affright, or attack, or whatever it had been. When the incident occurred, even though it was still shy of noon, Hewell had been dozing uneasily inside the compartment. His seat suddenly slewed, twisting him out of a restless dream, flinging him first against the door and then through it, onto a blessedly mossy embankment. The coach had very nearly toppled over onto him. Thank God for a skilled driver and at least one imperturbable horse.

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Wetherfell’s Reef Runics

The visitor drowned at Hollows Reef while Ambrose Sabala, mid-snorkel, was making a gleeful mental inventory of the morning’s haul—not of fish, but of books. Ambrose drifted over the dull, trampled coral beds with ears full of seawater, snorkel mouthpiece firmly clenched in his teeth, three-pronged pole spear dangling, and did not hear the sirens wailing louder and softer and louder again as emergency vehicles raced along the folds of the ocean highway. He had raided the Friends of the Library bin outside the Schefferville Library that morning, and with one ten-dollar bill taken away a stack of first editions in good and even mint condition. A Bret Easton Ellis, stowed in someone’s luggage, then unpacked and left behind—no doubt to make room for a resin tiki or a seashell mug. A biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, also unread. An untouched copy of The Marriage Plot, or anyway one that had been touched only in order that it might be used to flatten a dozen photographs of a bat mitzvah and family surfing lessons. Ambrose pulled his spear back taut on its rubber sling and released it halfheartedly in the direction of a triggerfish, which failed to react except to swerve away slowly from the empty triple threat of his barbed prongs.

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A Swim and a Crawl

A hundred yards out, the longshore current caught him. He stopped swimming and let himself be carried. Looking back, he no longer saw the deserted lifeguard tower. The steep green ridge above the beach grew black in the evening light, a shaggy silhouette that marked the end of the road. He spun slowly in the current, rounding the point. The clouds, clumped on the horizon like lint caught under a door, faded quickly from burnished copper to dull grey, and the small waves that bore him along kept pace with their transition.

Overhead, Venus still had the evening to itself. When he looked down, he was surprised to see his limbs appearing luminous against the depths. To anything gazing up from below, he would resemble bait. Darkness filled the ocean as surely as it filled the sky. He was caught between them, but on balance he belonged to the sea.

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The moment he reached the edge of the shore, he felt the sand give way. It was fine and white above, coarse and black below. He stepped back quickly, before his wife and son caught up with him.

The waves crashed in, making a green roil from the horizon to the tumble of lava boulders that edged the cliffs slanting down from jungled peaks high above. Only this thin crescent of sandy beach remained untouched, and even that was being steadily carved away by the sea. It was vivid in every detail.

“The waves are a lot bigger than when we were here on our honeymoon,” his wife was telling their son, “but that was in the summertime. It seems like yesterday.”

He turned around and beckoned them closer, putting his back to the sea. The boy came up beside him and slid a hand between his father’s arm and waist, hanging there as if he were an ape about to start climbing. “There’s rescue tubes back there, Dad! And signs saying people get swept away here all the time! Kapu! Do you think that really happens?”

“They’re just being extra cautious,” he said. “That’s all ‘kapu’ means. Your mother swam here and it was just fine.”

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Late in the overcast afternoon, they came upon a cluster of housekeeping cabins, otherwise deserted in this season between skiing and hunting. They were given the cabin farthest from the road. He could hear water through the trees as he followed her in with their luggage. She carried only the small white box. First she set it on the dresser near the TV, then she shifted it to the middle of the one small table, pushing aside an ashtray and ice bucket. He had dropped his overnight bag on the table, but when she moved the box there, he slid the bag to the floor. He told her he needed to check the car and went back out alone.

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Total Conversion

On his way home from CompUSA with the latest overdrive processor and another 128 megs of RAM chips in the tiny trunk of his Alfa Romeo, Barton Needles cruised slowly past the high school and gazed through the chainlink fence at his so-called peers. It was a scene that should have set him tingling with nostalgia, like something out of a PG-13 teen romance movie: sociable kids taking lunch in the quadrangle, running laps on the track, throwing themselves at football dummies, laughing and shouting. But as the bell rang, calling the students back to classes, Barton mouthed the word “Losers,” and stepped on the gas. Read More

The Random Man

Milt Random had put a few beers under his belt, sitting alone in his dark little apartment, when he noticed that the grains of his wooden coffee table were subtly rearranging themselves. Blinking through his alcoholic haze, Milt cleared away the magazines and ashtrays that littered the table, and peered closely at the scarred surface:

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