THE FIFTH DI…
Edited by J Alan Erwine
Haunting the Painted City
By Dale Carothers
Zaide knew which house was haunted. The missing door made it obvious.
It was yet another modest house standing in a long row along the river: thin and tall, with several pairs of narrow windows and a high-peaked roof. It was a neighborhood of craftsmen; carvers, clockmakers, bakers and butchers.
“Whoa, Coalblack!” Zaide called to the albino donkey that pulled the cart. He never understood why his father thought the name was so funny, but his father had left him his livelihood—the donkey and the cart—so he’d best not complain.
Zaide dropped to the cobbled street, pulled the letter from his jacket and compared the address to wooden numbers near the door.
2356 Lysy Street, City of Uulski, home of Alojzy Wach and family.
Zaide passed through the doorframe. A steep stairway rose along the left wall, and a hallway ran parallel to the stairs leading to the kitchen. The front room lay off to his right. Within, the Wach family filled only a few of the many chairs arranged near a coffin made mostly of their front door.
A cheap copy of Daily Prayers to the Undersoul sat on an empty chair. Printed on its curling yellow cover was the symbol of the Church of the Undersoul. A black ring around a solid white circle, depicting a dark life on the surface and the everlasting joy of the great Undersoul in the center of the world. The church hated how Zaide’s machine interfered with a soul’s progress into the afterlife. He’d have to be careful, and get out of town quick after the job was done.
Zaide spied a long table full of uneaten kielbasa, pierogi and potatoes. He helped himself to a lump of fried cheese that’d been carved into the shape of a duck.
Biting the duck’s head off he said, “I got your letter.”
They all turned. Some of them reared back and the two little girls squealed and covered their eyes.
A man with a graying push-broom mustache got up. He, like all the others, wore funeral black over white shirts. Colorful flowers had been embroidered into the lapels of his vest and the necklines of the women’s dresses.
“Zaide the Ghost Man?”
“Ghost Collector, yes,” Zaide said, putting out his hand. “Mr. Wach?”
“Please, call me Alojzy.”
Alojzy gave Zaide’s hand a limp shake.
“What can I do for you?”
“It’s my mother,” Alojzy said. “She won’t leave, and others,” he motioned to the prayer book, “were unable to help us.”
“Don’t worry,” Zaide said, smiling. “It won’t be a problem.”
“For you, maybe. But for us…” Alojzy shrugged “…look at my girls. Frightened to death by a woman who used to care for them.”
By Matthew Spence
I found out about the mirror less than a week after I bought it. I’d gotten it at an estate auction, it was the only thing I bought, and I’d gotten it mostly because of its appearance. It was hexagonal in shape, with carefully etched glass that seemed to refract light like a prism. After a few days of having it standing in my living room, however, I began to notice something that at first looked like something had gone wrong with my eyes. Then I thought it was an optical illusion. After that, I just wasn’t sure, so I called up an old college buddy, Rudy Spencer, to ask his opinion. Without going into too much detail, I told him what I had on my hands, and he agreed to come over when he had some free time.
Rudy is an optometrist by profession, but he also has an interest in astronomy and in light and physics in general. He looked over the mirror appreciatively before I set it up in the position that I wanted. “Okay,” I said when I was done. “Now, tell me what you make of this.”
I walked in front of the mirror, and stood aside as the afternoon sun shone through the windows and struck the glass. Rudy’s eyes widened-because he saw a reflection of me, doing the exact same thing I’d just done a few minutes earlier.
After regaining his composure, Rudy said, “Here, let me try that.” I obliged by helping him to set the mirror at a slightly different angle. He did the same thing, taking short, even strides across the carpet. Then he stood aside and checked his watch, counting down to himself.
“Three, two, one, and...” At that moment, his own reflection walked across the glass.
We spent the next several minutes talking and performing experiments of a similar nature while sharing a few beers. Finally, Rudy said, “It’s some sort of a time delay, an effect of micro-lensing of the type normally only seen in deep space. It’s what’s called an Einstein-Rosen bridge, a warping of space-time caused by extreme distances-or, in this case, apparently not so extreme. What do you know about this thing, anyway?”
“Only that it was owned by a very elderly lady who’d passed away and that it was being sold as part of her estate. She didn’t seem to use it that much; as you can see it was in mint condition when I got it.”
Rudy thoughtfully nodded. “Okay, stay put, I’m going to do some checking around. In the meantime, just keep it where it is and use it like you would any normal mirror-you might have to get used to the delayed effect, but it doesn’t seem to go back any further than a few minutes at most. I’ll be back in a few days to catch up.”
For the next couple of days, I did as Rudy said. It was still a mirror, with my own reflection otherwise behaving just as it normally would have, only delayed, but the effect was too creepy for me to get used to, so I decided to quit using it and tried to avoid it completely until Rudy came back over. That was when something even weirder happened.
I was sitting in the living room on the day Rudy was due to return, watching TV with the sound muted, when I saw movement in the mirror’s glass. Curious in spite of myself, I went over to check it out, and saw the image of a young woman in her late twenties, wearing clothing that looked like it was from the flapper era, posing and preening herself in the glass. The background was different, too-it definitely wasn’t my apartment, with furniture that looked like it was from the turn of the twentieth century. For a moment, I had the uncomfortable feeling that she could see me, but she apparently was just a reflection, because her attention was caught by something else, a sound that I couldn’t hear which caused her to look away with a worried expression on her face. Then she walked away, disappearing from view. The reflection then became distorted and faded, like a TV signal breaking up, just as I heard Rudy knock on my door.
By Eamonn Murphy
“We’re in a jam,” said Hari Murtan, President of the Free Federation.
His top aides were seated with him in his private quarters. Judi Cranmer, chief executive, sat with her legs crossed, relaxing on a low sofa. Vernon Carmichael, his chief of communications sat next to her, looking cool and confident as usual. A tall, slender man with a neat moustache and very short hair. His mild, self-effacing manner concealed a sharp mind.
Tall, rangy Jeff Bishop, his speech writer and chief policy advisor, paced about the room in agitation, now and then running a long bony fingered hand through his mop of dark curls.
“I assume it was your two V.I.P. visitors that put us in this jam,” he said.
Murtan nodded solemnly. Not just us. The whole Free Federation. Democracy itself is under threat here. The most powerful corporation in the galaxy is going to turn this whole election into a sham. And I’m not sure we can stop them.”
Vernon Carmichael looked his chief right in the eye. “Tell us what happened, Hari.”
Hari Murtan frowned, well aware that his square-jawed visage was being scrutinized by millions on the planet below. He coped with this by imagining he was addressing a small crowd in his home town, as he had when starting out in politics long ago. He continued with the speech.
“Friends, fellow citizens. Under my leadership this Federation will continue to preserve the essential freedoms that are the rights of every human being: the right to own property; the right to work for a more prosperous future for yourself and your children; the right to worship, or not, in whatever manner you see fit.”
He glanced down at the monitors spread before him, showing crowds looking upwards at the huge screens his team had set up in public places all over the planet. The screens were sponsored by Galactic Video Productions, a corporation whose pretentious name did not lessen the huge power and influence they wielded in the Free Federation. GVP ran most of the news channels and any commentary on events was filtered through the screen of their political affiliations.
Hari continued somberly. “Some planets outside our Federation do not have the same rights and freedoms. That’s up to them. But if the so-called Co-Operative Worlds try to spread their pernicious doctrine here - he paused for dramatic emphasis - “they wwill be stopped!”
“Give ‘em Hell, Hari!” shouted someone behind him.
The monitors before him transmitted loud cheers from the inhabitants of Betelgeuse IV, at least from those few who bothered to turn out for presidential campaign speeches.
A stern warning to the Co-operatives was a standard part of his speech nowadays but Hari Murtan liked to close on a positive note.
“Meanwhile, my government will continue to deliver increasing prosperity and better standards of living. The economy will keep expanding. The Free Federation will keep expanding to new worlds across the galaxy, adapting to their conditions where possible, terraforming where necessary but always improving them. That’s what Man does. We came out of Africa and conquered new continents. We conquered the seas and the oceans. We conquered the solar system and now… the galaxy is ours. God bless you all.” He raised his hand in a gesture of farewell and took a step back. The screens in front of him went blank, as did the screens on the planet below.
The Black Canvas
By Robert N Stephenson
The sound of breathing became his friend years ago, as it was the only real thing he understood that made him alive.
In and out he would breathe, in and out, or if he was in the storage container outside the ship it would be the click, click of the respirator as it detected the exhalations from his lungs. He didn’t go outside anymore; it was too cold, far too cold for his suit and reminded him too readily of home.
For now, he sat in the flight seat, suit on and plumbed in, the recyclers whizzing and spinning somewhere behind him. He wasn’t totally sure where the units were but until they failed, he wouldn’t go looking for them; if things weren’t broken then he didn’t search them out, as long as they lasted another decade, he would be fine. All he really wanted to break the monotony since setting out was to see something, to have an experience that said all was okay and that a new beginning was possible. That’s what he wanted, he thought, an essence of hope, brightness beyond all he was ever able to see. After all, he volunteered to see if the great expanse could be crossed and if a man could survive the journey. The greatest journey any man could have taken and one that had no return and no survival beyond the life of the ship itself. He checked the navigation screen and the rows of numbers all running down, well not all, some were running up, like distance travelled; nine hundred thousand and forty-eight light years to go. Not a decade to go it seemed, only nine years and seventy-one days. How did he miss so much time? He’d studied the readouts every day, every moment trying to find joy and pleasure in the ever-changing numbers. Had he slept again, taken some of those deep drugs designed to keep him alive and phased out of reality for a time? He must have. He shook his head to clear the thoughts and found all as it was supposed to be. The rows of small instruments and their toggle switches passed overhead, barely fifty centimetres away from his face. He knew every switch and what it did and he even knew the ones that did nothing unless the ones that did do something stopped working. The redundancy even invaded his thoughts, the non-thoughts he didn’t need until he really needed them. Yes, he was having an episode, he knew it. The black did that, the coming black, the constant black and the nothing black, all combined to leave him with nothing. Some antipsychotics would make him right, but he used them sparingly so as to not run out if things really got bad. The hardest thing to face at times was that he was redundant, the ship would record and catalogue everything, it didn’t need him but he needed it. The time to think was the worst time and he often wondered if his volunteering was simply an elaborate suicide attempt, a commitment to taking his own life without really having to truly carry out the act. He had those thoughts often, those really deep ones that bubbled in his gut and made him feel ill. Those were the big questions he avoided by staring at the walls of instruments in the cabin; just staring as if something would wake him up and he’d find he hadn’t suicided and had just been asleep for a very long time.
In and out, he breathed; in and out.