A Door Opens
by Gordon Linzner
The witching hour: midnight to some people, three in the morning to others. For Lucille Jiang, 2:17 a.m. was the haunting hour, the exact moment of Benita Carlson’s death, measured far more precisely than any medical examiner’s report. Who would know better than the victim?
Jiang perched on her couch, legs crossed yoga style under a drab floral housecoat. The fabric cover made her calves itch. There were scuff marks on the wooden floor; she’d repositioned the furniture for better viewing, once she realized what had been happening over the past week. On the floor before her sat a now empty long-stemmed wine glass. This was all part of a ritual she’d developed over the last few days. Hands trembling as they gripped the throw pillow in her lap, Jiang stared at shadows writhing in the corner; shadows cast by neither the baseboard nightlight nor the streetlamps outside her second floor apartment.
To the unenlightened eye, those shadows seemed to be random swimming swirls of dust. Jiang knew exactly what they represented. With each passing night, the horrific details grew sharper.
by Derwin Mak
“That’s a nice dress,” the new customer said to Susanna.
Susanna smiled and slid a glass of beer to him. She wore a long red gown with a slit up to her hip. The women working at Club Mandy had to look glamorous and sexy.
She flipped her blond hair. “Thank you,” she said. “I wanted to look like a Hollywood actress. Let’s bring some glamour to this drab little planet.”
The customer wore a blue jumpsuit with the logo of the Columbian Off-World Company, a golden eagle holding a spade in its talons. The jumpsuit meant that he worked in the mines or the smelting plants, not in the company’s business offices. Susanna guessed that like most men here, he came to Southern Comfort for the high wages and would leave when his contract ended in two years. Southern Comfort offered nothing but a gray sky and an equally gray landscape. There was nothing to keep a man here forever.
The miner took a sip. “You look like a movie star,” he said.
He glanced around quickly, furtively checking out the other girls. Susanna thought, he's such a shy kid. Probably doesn't have much experience in bars like this.
Then he looked back at Susanna. “Uh, do you want to go upstairs?”
“Ah, no. I’m flattered that you would consider me, though.”
“Oh, I thought all the girls in this bar are working girls,” the miner said.
Susanna shook her head. “That’s a misconception back on Earth. We’re all working, but not all in the same business. But that’s okay; you’re new here. I’m in bar and restaurant management.”
She pointed at a woman who was eating alone at a table. “That’s Postie. She’s the postal manager of the mining camp, which means she’s Postmaster General of the entire planet.”
“Wow, she’s pretty,” said the miner. “Is she a Thai ladyboy?”
“She’s actually Filipina, and she prefers to be called a lady, not a boy.”
by Evey Brett
It’s the sympathetic ache in my hand that makes me sneak out of the barn and over to the gelding tied to the hitching post, still saddled. His owner, a trader come to inquire about my sister’s spidersilk garments, is inside talking to Mama, who ain’t gonna like me being out, but I can’t leave a beast in pain.
The horse whickers. I pat his leg, feel the twinge of discomfort, and it ain’t but a moment later before I get the rock pried from his hoof with my pocketknife and he’s nuzzling my cheek and licking and chewing the way horses do when they’re pleased.
Being this close to the house, I can’t help but risk a peek inside. There’s my sister Delia showing all her fine things to the trader. It’s a rare sight for me, since I ain’t allowed near her on account of the time I tripped over a loose floorboard, tumbled through a spidersilk scarf and spoiled six months of work.
She looks different, my sister. Too thin and spindly. I’d think she was ill, but she’s never been sick a day in her life. Not like me.
Delia says something to Mama, who glances toward the window. I duck down, but I ain’t quick enough. The door to the house slams and all of a sudden Mama’s there, shaking her finger. “Rowan!”