I Dated Mother Nature

I Dated Mother Nature
by Joshua Harding

I guess the ex I remember most is Mother Nature—or Gaia, as she prefers to be called. What more could a man want, really? She was fertility incarnate, a living Venus of Willendorf, a walking, talking cornucopia of procreation. Her hips were rolling hillocks, alive with the sound of music. Her auburn hair would whisk against her smooth shoulders with the hush of a Montana wheat field.

She was a jealous bitch, though. She’d flood my apartment with heavy rains or drop a tree in front of me if I so much as looked at another woman. Our relationship was, to use a cliché, a little stormy at times. But God, did she have great tits!

My older sister had dragged me to a party in the Jersey suburbs so I could meet some people and maybe find a job and maybe become more responsible. I’d just graduated from Colgate in the class of ’58 with a degree in literature (or “filth,” according to my mother), and I realized the moment the hostess took my coat that I didn’t fit in and never would. I was an artist—a poet—with a spine-cracked copy of A Coney Island of the Mind in my pocket. I had nothing in common with those workaday types. You could practically scrape their quiet desperation off the floor.

I happened to notice a book strategically placed on the coffee table: Henry Miller’s Under the Roofs of Paris. Its title peeked out furtively from beneath the latest issue of Woman’s Day. The hostess, a childless suburban housewife and high school friend of my sister’s, was trying very hard to advertise that she was into banned books. Too bad no one at the party (including her) had actually read the thing and knew the saucy nuances contained inside.

I looked at the book and then at the room full of people all wearing their Chanel and Dior with the sable fur trim, and thought: These ladies think of themselves as worldly and scandalous. They wish they were having affairs (with Henry Miller in Paris) while their husbands are out playing golf. They need to get out more. And I wondered how many of the husbands were doing just that to their wives—screwing someone at the office or the trade show or the regional sales meeting.

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Stuck

Stuck
by Andrew Atkinson

The alarm started blaring promptly at 7:00 a.m., just as it had every morning for the last eight years. Alan was already awake; his internal body clock had gotten so used to waking up at that time it had started rousing him five minutes before the alarm sounded.

He climbed out of bed, stretched, and hobbled over to the food replicator.

“Morning, Foody,” he said. “What’ve we got for breakfast today?”

“We have fried eggs and bacon, or cornflakes,” the electronic voice of the food replicator replied.

“Eggs and bacon, I think.”

Alan ate his breakfast quickly and crossed to the other side of the room. Filling the whole wall was the Information Network Super Computer; a large screen dominated most of the computer, with a few lights and buttons on either side.

“And good morning to you, Ms. Knowledge.” Alan punched a few buttons on the left side of the computer and the face of a young woman appeared onscreen.

“Good morning, Alan,” Ms. Knowledge replied. “I hope you are feeling well?”

For eight years, Alan had been going through this routine, and in all that time, he had never been able to figure out why the computer’s programmers had seen fit to give the computer the face of Marilyn Monroe and the voice of Vivien Leigh. It was such a weird combination.

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The Whole Tooth

The Whole Tooth
by Steven P. Bouchard

Two kids were studying the grotesque doll in front of Earnest’s carnival tent.

“It might grant you a wish if you’re worthy,” the carny said, straightening his tie.

“Yeah, right.” The girl was maybe 11, the boy, a few years younger. He stared in awe, while she had a typical preteen look of disdain.

The old carny came around the doll’s footlocker. “Right as rain. Push that little button, and if he loses a tooth, you get your wish.”

The doll was four feet tall and dressed in a suave ringmaster’s suit. If it weren’t for his bulging, bloodshot eyes and the set of oversized teeth protruding from his blackened gums, he might have been considered dapper. But Granddaddy never was a dapper man, and he’d have thrashed anyone who even suggested it.

“He’s ugly,” said the boy, making a face.

“Yep. Just as ugly as in life.”

“He’s not alive.” Again, that head-wagging attitude. Granddaddy would hate the girl.

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Unfurled

Unfurled
by Kiya Krier

“No home toys at school, Rylan,” I said, folding myself into the preschool-sized chair.

He pulled the orange figurine from his pocket. His pants were on backward. Again.

“She’s not a toy,” he said. “She’s a real, live dragon.” The model stood, head held high, front foot cocked off Rylan’s scabbed palm, little wings unfurled slightly.

“Beautiful. Put the toy in your cubby.”

His dark brows drew together. “Ms. Kathy, she doesn’t like when people call her that.”

I glanced at my watch. Three minutes late. “Of course, just put it away.”

I followed Rylan with my eyes as I sang the circle-welcoming song to the rest of the class. His ankles showed between his shoes and pant hems. The scabs were back. If only he would stop picking them.

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A Madness to the Method

On Tuesday, the official Acidic Fiction submission form officially crapped out. It seems that Google Forms has reduced the size of form responses to 10,000 characters, which meant the existing form could only accept stories with fewer than 1,000 words or so. I’m not sure if this is a new bug or a new “feature,” but it’s enough of a problem that I have to revamp my submission system if I want to keep getting longer submissions (and I do).

Before now, the submission system worked as follows: Authors would submit their short story and some personal information on a Google Form separate from this site. The form responses  were stored on my personal Google Drive account in the form of a Google Sheets spreadsheet, which I would download and save as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Using a mail-merge template I had created in Microsoft Word, I would import the data from the spreadsheet and organize it into individual story submissions contained in one large Microsoft Word document. From this document, I would copy each story submission into a blank document. At that point, I finally read the story.

After I read the story and made my decision, I would copy and paste one of four pre-written response emails from EditPad Lite, inserting the relevant information into the email as necessary. At the end of the email, I would type some notes to the author about why I made that particular decision. I also included the text of the original submission for reference. Once the email was ready, I would copy and paste it into a new message from my dedicated Gmail account, which I would then send to the author. I repeated this story for each of the 50 or so stories I received every week.

Although the process was extremely inelegant (the technical term is “kludge”), it worked fairly well. Most of the actual effort came from setting up the system last fall, and the roughly 1,000 story submissions I’ve received since then have all gone through this system. However, because Google Forms is no longer cooperating, I will start using an entirely new system tomorrow.

The new form will be hosted on acidicfiction.com using a WordPress Plugin called Ninja Forms. This system will send confirmation emails to authors and send the submissions directly to my Gmail account, where I can reply to them directly. Because this system is new, I will still be adjusting to it in the next few weeks, but it shouldn’t be nearly as difficult or complicated than my previous method. It’s also free of charge, which is still my highest priority in selecting a submission system.

If you’ve had trouble submitting to the site in the past because of issues with Google Forms, I hope you’ll try submitting through the new system. We can all discover the inevitable glitches with this system in the days to come, but at least they will be new and improved glitches.

Starting May 1, the link to the form will be available the official submissions page: http://acidicfiction.com/submissions/. Make sure to read the guidelines before you submit anything, or all my hard work (and yours) will be in vain.

Kentucky Rush

Kentucky Rush
by Samuel Marzioli

Megan entered the grocery store looking every bit the part of a homeless woman tramping through to escape the broiling summer heat. The thought even occurred to her when she passed the glass doors of the frozen foods aisle and sneaked a glance at her reflection. There wasn’t much she could do about it, so she swept her hand through the tangles of her hair to break apart the greasy stiffness, and then shrugged and carried on.

She pulled a mangled slip of notebook paper from her purse and read her grocery list from top to bottom. Most of the items had been written down at home during a rare energetic fit, but the feeling had quickly passed and the majority were crossed out on the drive over. Only sandwich ingredients remained, and that suited her just fine. Sandwiches were easy: just a few slices of bread and a slather of something sweet or tart for flavor, and the meal was finished.

After gathering peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, and some lunchmeat, Megan rolled her cart to the last stop: the bread aisle. That was when she saw something framed between the darkness of the endcap’s empty shelves. From a distance, it looked almost like a face, peering at her from around the corner, utterly black but for the whites of its eyes. She squinted, trying to extract detail, to clarify it as something more than just a blur, but her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be.

“Hello?” she said, taking a step forward.

From the size of its head, she knew its owner couldn’t be much older than ten or twelve. She wondered if it was a child playing a game with her and whether it was lost and scared and waiting for a parent.

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Coming Home

Coming Home
by Priya Sridhar

Three cops tried to stop me as I made my way down the street. No, three cops is a wrong way to say it. It was more like three cops, each with their personal arsenal of grenades strapped to their belts, attack dogs, and large cars. In fact, I had only seen cars like these in my army days, when I had been a commander.

“I have to get home,” I tried explaining to one guy. He was wearing riot gear and riding an armored truck. I had been shuffling down the street, moving slowly because I couldn’t see out of one eye.

“Road’s closed!” He shouted at me through a bullhorn. “Go back!”

“I can’t,” I said, calmly. It never helped to get angry with the police, no matter how stupid they were. The last time I had lost my temper …

“Move or I’ll make you move!” he screeched. His fingers went to his grenades, preparing to toss them.

“Then make me,” I said, unbuttoning my shirt and rolling my eyes. I had been wearing an aqua-blue polo that night; I was still wearing it. There hadn’t been time to change, probably because my mind had been in a strange place full of blackness and murky images. Too much chatter, too many blurred memories congealing into an ugly mess that I didn’t want to remember.

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The Other End of the Lake

The Other End of the Lake
by Dara Marquardt

I don’t remember much about my death. I don’t even think of it very often. At first, it was all I could think of, but that only lasted a little while. Now, I know that I’m dead. There’s no sense rehashing it.

What I really recall is the white. Sometimes I think about it as I watch him sleep. I think of the blinding white light and wonder if that’s where heaven comes from. There were slices of light that night, and they remain sharp, like cut stone. The white of headlights dancing off the rim of the steering wheel. The scattered diamonds of rain on the windshield. The wipers as they scrape against glass. The chrome door handle shining as I put the key in the lock. The glow of the stereo as I turned the knob.

I remember looking at Jane. She was burning as she sat by the hospital bed. She was burning as she’d burned in a field of golden green the first time I saw her. Her mouth a clever smile, her eyes like two secrets, her skin like white honey. She was beautiful then, with her blonde hair down and tree shadows hiding the edges of her cheeks. And she was beautiful in that T-shirt she slept in, sweatpants on, our daughter on her lap.

She was beautiful when I died. I don’t think I’ll forget that.

It was hard at first, to look at things. Everything was very bright. Jane, maybe because I loved her, love her still, was the brightest. But our daughter was bright, too. I remember wanting, needing, to reach out and touch her cheek. To feel the fine strands of her brown hair. To be near her. To feel the warmth of the light burning through her.

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Little Cracks

Little Cracks
by Jesse Sprague

At the foot of the stairs, two steps away from the light switch, sits the doll. Cracks web her ancient porcelain face, and her hair is thinning in the wig over her carved scalp. A quirk of the house puts the light switch at the bottom and not the top of the wooden slat stairs. After I descend, I must frantically slap the light on. Before the bulb illuminates, her eyes are the only thing I can see—orange with tiny pinpoints of black at the center.


“Is this a joke?” Father yells. “This is how people get sick! Does this water feel hot enough to kill anything?” His grip on my wrist tightens as he drags me back to the sink and shoves my hand into the soapy water.

Silence is golden when he’s like this. I should know.

“They’re clean!” I say. “Leave me alone!”

He turns on the spout, still bellowing. The words strike my ears, but I don’t hear them. Steam begins pouring up as he tosses the dishes I just finished cleaning into the sink. Only the red handle is on. I take a few steps away from him as the last of the plates plunges into water so hot even Father thinks it kills germs. What does he think it will do to me?

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The Woods

The Woods
by Jacob Stark

Tom took a long, slow pull on the joint, held the smoke for a ten count, and released it to the world through the open window of the pickup. He coughed long and hard before expertly flicking the excess ash from the tip, and passed the joint to the driver.

Shane took the half-burned joint between his thumb and index finger, lifted it to his lips and inhaled deeply. The cherry flared, spitting sparks that danced in the air like hellish fairies before getting sucked out of the window. Shane took two swallows of Budweiser before exhaling, grinning wolfishly at Tom.

“Not a bad way to end the fuckin’ day, eh, Tommy boy?”

Tom nodded in agreement, his own can of suds pressed to his lips, rendering him momentarily mute.

Shane and Tom had grown up together, attending the same schools, ball games, and church functions since they were in the third grade. After graduation, they’d both opted out of college and landed jobs in the pulp mill of the local paper mill. It was backbreaking work, but it paid 18 dollars an hour, practically a fortune to a twenty-something from rural Alabama.

“These damn woods seem like they go on forever, like they could just swallow you up and the world would just forget you ever existed,” Tom said. He stared out the window into the dense pine forest. At just past ten o’clock, the darkness was all-consuming. “Lookin’ in there makes you wonder what’s looking back at you.” The worst part, he thought, is not knowin’ what’s out there. Just that something’s there, always watching, biding its time.

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Contemporary Speculative Fiction Short Stories Every Monday and Friday