Last Christmas by Doctor Manhattan

“Last Christmas” by Doctor Manhattan, who does not perceive time linearly, but all at once.


“Where are you, Jon? When are you?”


It is December 15, 1984. I hear George Michael on the radio.


It is December 26, 2018. You are giving my heart away.


It is December 26, 1983. I am trying to console George Michael, whose heart I have given away. I tell him I understand. This is as yet a lie.


It is December 25, 2018. I am giving you my heart.


It is December 24, 2019. I am listening to a song George Michael wrote, understanding.


It is December 25, 2019. I am giving my heart to someone special.


It is June 14, 1983. I tell George Michael to stop calling me and write a song.

We See You When You’re Sleeping

Imagine your family tucked warm in their beds on Christmas Eve. The lights on the tree twinkle, cookies and milk wait on the table, and white snowflakes sparkle in the silent night. No last-minute shopping, no fighting crowds at the mall. Your family awakens to the perfect gifts under the tree. And the cookies and milk? Gone, with a note saying “Thank you!”

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Set budgets for each family member, and enable Amazon’s always-on Checking It Twice™ (Beta) AI to compute their “naughty or nice” scores for the year, and adjust budgets accordingly. Keep your family on their best behavior with alerts from Santa. And when Christmas Eve finally arrives, Santa’s reindeer drones wait until you’re sleeping (Fitbit or compatible sleep monitor required), and use Amazon Key® to deliver your gifts right under the tree. This year, believe in Christmas again.

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“Remember the Ifrit”

I sold my second story, and the thrill is just as strong as the first. The Cast of Wonders podcast called for Young Adult science fiction/fantasy stories that evoke a sense of wonder — in 500 words or less. And since this is a podcast, I got to hear my words read by a professional voice actor (and Hugo award-winning author), which is pretty cool.

This is a short one. I hope you enjoy “Remember the Ifrit.” (If you’re in a hurry, my story starts around the 6:00 mark on the audio.)

Writer’s Endnotes

An image that stuck with me from childhood was from an episode of Cosmos, where Carl Sagan hypothesized what kind of life might exist in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet like Jupiter. (I’m pleased to see that the segment clip is up on YouTube.) It was only after I’d written the first draft of “Ifrit” that I realized I was stealing from Carl Sagan. Let’s call it a tribute, instead.


When the family went on a whale-watching cruise off Whidbey Island in Washington State, I resolved to experience it with my daughter, directly, with no camera involved. But my resolve faltered when the Humpback we’d been following began speeding just under the water’s surface. I had gotten my phone out of my pocket and started taking a video when she breached out of the water and then fell with a tremendous SPLASH. I never got her in frame — I wanted to see it with my naked eye — but in the audio, one can hear the family shouting and whooping, and mine was the loudest voice on the boat. That cruise, and sharing the experience with my daughter, was the first thing I thought of when I began considering topics of a story with a “sense of wonder.”

My cousin-in-law did manage to take a perfect picture of the whale, so I got the direct experience and a memento. I think it’s interesting that it’s not the photo that best recalls that sense of wonder for me, but the audio. The picture represents what I saw; the audio captures how I felt. For the story, I felt that both the experience and its recollection were important, along with the curious modern impulse to interpose devices between ourselves and a wonder in hopes of being able to re-experience it at will. And, of course, the power of an experience shared was the most important of all.



Poisoned Arrows

Cupid lay dying

His bow snapped in twain

At my feet he lay writhing

And moaning in pain

An eye for an eye

So Cupid did pay

For sending his poisonous arrows

My way

My blood is afire. The wound is just a nick, but poison throbs hot in my shoulder. My Queen is in anguish. The poison is taking her too. Stand. Nock. Draw. Hold. Loose. I know failure before the arrow leaves my bow. The demon flaps its wings and sends another shaft into my thigh. Cherub it may seem, but it is the deadliest archer I’ve faced. Again I draw. “For my King,” I whisper. My arrow finds sinew through feathers, and the demon tilts and spirals low. I leap, grasp its foot, and drag it to earth.

I snap its wings like dry branches, and kick its bow from its reach. Its youthful, curl-framed visage belies hideous strength, and we grapple as I strain for my sword.


I glance to Guinevere — my Queen — and too late i see the arrow in the demon’s fist. It pierces my heart. My very soul catches fire.

I am vanquished. My foe is gone. Guinevere cradles my head in her lap. Tears stream down her cheeks, falling like sparks on my fevered brow. The poison roars in our blood. I can feel it in her, throbbing in time with mine. She shakes her head, denying something unseen.

My mouth is sere. Her lips are pink, parted, and — suddenly I learn — impossibly soft. I mustn’t. But we are twin bonfires consuming each other, uncontrolled. I try to fix in my mind the image of my King, but the thought blackens, curls, and disappears in bitter smoke.


A Scary Story

In the dark, dark woods is a dark, dark house.

In the dark, dark house is a dark, dark room.

In the dark, dark room is a dark, dark shelf.

On the dark, dark shelf is a dark, dark book.

In the dark, dark book is a dark, dark manifesto.

In the dark, dark manifesto are some dark, dark ideas.

Within the dark, dark ideas is a dark, dark perspective.

Behind the dark, dark perspective is a dark, dark experience.

In the dark, dark experience is dark, dark suffering.

Behind the dark, dark suffering is some dark, dark hate.

Behind the dark, dark hate is dark, dark anger.

Behind the dark, dark anger is dark, dark fear.

Behind the dark, dark fear is dark, dark despair.

In the dark, dark despair is a dark, dark abyss.

And the dark, dark abyss…



Image by soldiercloud42

Bad Gaiman Challenge: “Tides, Blood, Or Lunacy”

Inspired by the Wits radio show “Bad Gaiman Challenge” ( ) and first written as a set of Twitter tweets.

Gibbous Waning held the mirror, admiring herself in three-quarters profile, her complexion luminous.

She practiced mysteriously turning away, but always stopped short of losing sight of herself. Her vanity rivaled Full’s, but she was coy.

The eight Phases sat in position on the circular marble bench on the peak of their mountain, their beauty-stand in the center.

The scrupulous would count more than eight Phases on the top of that mountain, though they might not agree on the precise tally.

The ones who pushed for space on the bench so closely resembled their neighbors, they were often mistaken for them.

On the stand were a formidable assortment of beauty implements: exfoliants, tweezers, combs. And the gleaming Milk, of course.

Crescent Waxing yanked a plastic strip from above her lip. “Tides, blood, or lunacy?” Her voice was as thin and reedy as she was.

Gibbous Waning held the mirror. The choice was hers. She affected an expression of deliberation. “Oh… Lunacy, I think.”

Gibbous Waning fixed her gaze in the mirror, which suddenly seemed vast. In the world below, those who glanced skyward saw her face aglow.

“There once was a restless lad,” Gibbous Waning intoned, “who was pursued, night and day, by a preposterous notion…”

Gibbous Waning spun her tale, and far below in the world, unwitting actors fell in step with the plot. Her story was theirs, or vice-versa.

In Gibbous Waning’s story, strange actions had stranger consequences, and the world below twisted and groaned in response.

Old paradigms crumbled, and the actors, whose ranks swelled in the telling, grappled with ideas and possibilities heretofore unimagined.

Gibbous Waning ended her recitation. The world below still churned, its momentum exceeding the bounds of the story.

The Phases were quiet. Then New, whose bowl of shining Milk sat untouched under the bench, said “I didn’t follow that at all.”

“That’s the point, New,” Gibbous Waning said, tamping down irritation. “It’s lunacy. Weird for weird’s sake.”

New pouted. “Well I don’t get it.” Third Quarter reached over and patted her hand. “That’s why I always choose tides.”

Cats Suffer For Science

It is still hanging from the underside of the bed, yowling. I sit on the hardwood floor, streaked with claw marks and butter, staring into its yellow eyes. Were I inclined to anthropomorphism, I might read accusation. Certainly it is distressed. I consider putting it out of its misery, but as data, it is more compelling alive. And it will make me famous.

An experiment yields either a measurement, or a discovery. This holds even when forcing into opposition the immutable laws of nature. A cat always lands on its feet. Buttered bread always lands butter-down. In my first trials, no matter how tightly secured, the bread detached, or slipped from the cat’s back to its belly before landing. I’ll admit to being driven by frustration when I shaved the cat’s back and glued down the bread.

In the shadows I see the creature lower one limb to the floor before panicking and sinking its claws deeper into the fabric above. Hanging — a brilliant impromptu adaptation. I hear more yowling in the distance. I smile.

Hypothesis: when forcing two “immutable” natural laws into opposition, one will prevail, suggesting precedence — a relative degree of immutability. But instead my camera documented a transformation, legs twisting, cat to cat-prime: a creature landing simultaneously on its back and feet. From the yowling I hear in nearby apartments and the alley, the transformation was not isolated. Universal correction? So many questions and dangerous avenues of inquiry. And my discovery lies at the heart.

The Wails of Evie O’Grady

In the forlorn bloggy reaches of the internet are pages visited only by mindless things that crawl the Web. In this virtual twilight, where sadness hangs like mist, there are still voices. In brighter days, there were ears to listen. And those that remember, agree: nobody wailed online like Evie O’Grady.

Evie’s marriage endured three years. Hearing that relationships were mourned at least as long as they lasted, she made grief a habit to replace the habits Richie stuffed into a suitcase and took to Los Angeles with someone named Lana. Evie returned every evening to the apartment, declining happy hour invitations until they stopped. Some weekends she didn’t change out of pajamas or even leave the bed. Her phone became her world.

At three in the morning, she could post a digital howl, and online arms would comfort her. Souls she hadn’t met in the flesh would proffer virtual shoulders. Even seeing her words “Liked” comforted her. The tendons of her thumbs spasmed, but through the months of typing on the tiny keyboard, she mastered sculpting dirges into written art, her pain a bottomless well of inspiration.

But appreciation for her beautiful melancholy soon waned. “Friends” vanished with each lamentation, and Evie mourned them as she mourned all loss, wailing in the digital dusk. Some posted from their distant, sunny haze. Evie sometimes caught their eyes with a tag or mention. But after a few times they too would wink out, one by one, like stars behind a fog.

The Devil On I-80

Every time I drove past the Devil on a lonely stretch of Interstate 80, he popped up again, a few miles west, with his ratty crow-wings, pointy gray beard, and unforgiving stink-eye. I spied him perching on the knuckles of a dead tree, poking his head out of a haystack, peeking through the slats of a dilapidated barn — or hunkering over roadkill, because even the Devil needs to fuel up over the long haul.

He avoided cities, places where he found too much competition. It was the same reason I never lingered. But the road was no kinder. Once, outside Des Moines, a storm swept him into one of the gigantic turbines towering over the plains. But that old bastard always found his way back.

I thought about breaking the cord around my neck, tossing that gold tooth out the window, and just being done with it. That’s what he wanted: what I knocked out of his jaw the last time we tussled. But he would never call us square. If he wanted his tooth back, he’d have to make a deal. And he’s got nothing I want.

He finally caught me in a cornfield, answering nature’s call, and he made me an offer: one day out of my past as a re-do. Well, I thought that over for all of ten seconds.

“The day I whupped your ass!” I said.

So now I got two gold teeth around my neck. Don’t ask me how. I ain’t Stephen Hawking.

When Get Dog

Harry awoke in the night and began deciding if it was worth it to use the restroom. His hand dropped from the recliner’s armrest and he was surprised to feel soft, warm fur. He shifted, turned his neck, and saw a big dog lying against the recliner, its legs stretching under the bed where Sabrina slept. Somehow, he wasn’t alarmed. Harry’s fingers scratched its shoulder. The dog pawed the air.

He hoisted himself into his walker, making it to the toilet and back. The dog lifted its head. Its eyes shone like moons. Its tail thumped, and Harry motioned for it to hush. He fell back to sleep stroking its fur.

In the morning, after Sabrina fed him with a funnel through the tube in his stomach, Harry wrote on his notepad, “WHEN GET DOG?”

Sabrina shook her head. “I don’t want a dog,” she said.

The black dog was rolling on the living room carpet, snorting happily. Harry shrugged.

In the evening, Harry sat with Sabrina on the sofa and they listened to Mozart, the black dog curled against his legs. Sabrina’s eyes closed. Suddenly, the dog rose to its feet, ears perked. It was tall enough to look Harry in the eyes with an unmistakable expression of eagerness.

“A walk? All right. I feel like stretching my legs too.” Harry rose from the sofa effortlessly, silent so not to wake Sabrina. “Let’s both of us have a cookie on the way out.”

The black dog wagged its tail.