Author: stephenhemmer

I am a diabetic who is teaching English in Japan. I write speculative fiction and post the really short and sweet stuff here.

The Traveling God

A young man sat on a bench, turning to check the timetables further down the platform. He still had a good half an hour but he could not get himself to stop tapping his foot.

Past the platforms, on the far side of the station were a dozen stained glass windows, and behind the man were another twelve. He could name a few of the gods of travel depicted on them, but not all twenty-four. Religion was not his best subject, and another two had been added since he graduated. A trade hub like Fora picked up more gods than they knew what to do with, especially gods of travel. 

Fourth from the right was the one he knew best, Thera. After all, he was named after her. 

He shook his head, choked down a curse, and started to pray instead . This train hadn’t derailed in the ten years it had been in service, but how many stories could he recite on hubris? A prayer couldn’t hurt. In his head, he recited, “Thera, mother of travelers, who carries the moon gently…”

Suddenly, there was a hand on his shoulder, startling him out of his prayer, almost dropping his ticket.

Edric.

Edric stood there and said, “S-sorry for startling you. Hope…hope I’m not bothering you. Can I take this seat?”

The young man sat silent, ignoring Edric, with his stupid salt and pepper beard and calloused fingers that still felt like sandpaper on his shoulder.

(more…)

Votive

Nina flipped up the personal mirror over her seat, placed her chapstick back in the central console, and turned up the radio. The music was new, at least to her. Some band she never heard of, but honestly, pretty good. She liked how it was kind of jaunty, high energy, but without overstating itself. So much new music was trying to be more than it needed, and this, this was just something you could really lean into, follow the groove.

She reached down the side of her seat and leaned it back, pulled out her phone, and checked for updates. 

No messages for the past half hour. That was fine. No reason to get concerned.

She read Rae’s last message again. “hey mom, could you come pick me up from blue oaks? meet you at the park’s front lot, if that’s okay. love you.” 

It was probably fine, only twelve minutes since Nina texted back that she was in the lot.

She adjusted her seat back up, getting ready to pull up Rae’s contact and call her when she noticed in her side mirror that there was a thick fog rolling down the mountains. The park was named after the way the fog made the mountains, more like hills, look sort of blue instead of green. A little further south and the mountains would be described more as smoky. 

Nina looked toward her rearview. “Hope she gets here soon. Don’t want to drive through that.” She looked back down and turned just a little, just enough to get a glimpse of movement. “You sure she said she’s on her way back? You know her, she can get kind of lost in the moment.” Nina saw the girl in the back nod, her hair bobbing.

(more…)

Who’s Watching

Frankie shifts the phone to her other hand. “Hey, can you actually hold on a second?” She rolls her neck and hears a satisfying crack. Her shoulder muscles feel significantly more relaxed as she turns the corner to her stairs. “I’m back, but hey? Can I actually tell you something a bit weird?” 

She turns around and looks back at her front door, just past the foot of the stairs. The fogged glass always makes her a bit uncomfortable, distorting the view to the porch, but she lets it slip past her mind and starts up the stairs.

Candice responds on the other side of the call. “Obvi, you can tell me anything. You should know that. I mean, as long as it’s not, like, anything gross.”

“It’s not gross.”

“Well, okay, you can tell me gross stuff too, but like, just…give me a warning?”

“No, oh my god, shut up. It’s nothing gross. It’s way more serious than that. Just listen.” 

Frankie gets to the top of the stairs, rounds the banister and leans against it. She looks at the door to her bedroom, just above the front door and looking over the street. She looks away and continues. “Okay, so you know my parents are still out of town right? And they have me looking over the place while they are gone, just me and the cat. Well, when I’m about to go to bed I always close the curtains, but, before I do I look out. It just feels nostalgic I guess, but the place across the street, I think the Madisons? On their roof, every night, there’s like a shape, I think. Its honestly too dark to tell for sure, but it looks like a person is sitting on their roof, like right at the edge, legs dangling and everything. And it just freaks me out.”

(more…)

Dragonfly: Diner

Ferg set his tray on the table, sat down, and put on his visor. The room around him was still the same, cold white walls, a white table, and a, well, it wasn’t a bad facsimile of mashed potatoes, but it still wasn’t quite past the uncanny valley. Whatever detail was missed with the meatloaf though, that little detail wrong, made it taste almost twice as good.

He sighed and took a bite. 

A prompt flashed on his visor to close his eyes. He smiled and complied. He said, “Finally.”

He opened his eyes and suddenly the room was completely different. The table was wooden, and across from him was his sister Beatrice, her hazel eyes wrinkling with her smile. “Ferg! It worked!” She took a bite of her eggs, part of a full English breakfast. 

“It’s so nice to see your face sis.” Fergie smiled and unrealized tension left his shoulders. 

(more…)

Bricked

From the window of the station Tony could just make out the outline of South America. With a nearby ding he remembered where he was standing, grabbed two coffees from the vending machine and turned around to see Lynn waving him over to talk with one of the doctors. He quickly crossed the waiting room toward his haggard wife and the well-kept Dr. Zionkowski.

As he bridged the distance, his wife motioned to the doctor. “She says she has news.”

Tony handed one of the coffees to Lynn, who just held the warm cup. He said, “How is she?”

Dr. Zionkowski lifted up the tablet to double-check her charts and then sighed deeply. “I wish I could give you better news, be more gentle. But it’s not looking good.”

Lynn mumbled, “Oh no.”

Dr. Zionkowski continued, “She…she isn’t responsive, not to sound, not to light or vibration. I fear you have only a few hours to make a decision.”

(more…)

A Better Life

Jason took another plate and stacked it on the edge of the table before picking up the whole set and walking to the sink. As he began washing the dishes, his husband spoke up.

Adam said, “Before I head out, just letting you know, I heard some scratching in the wall I think.”

“Could you get some rat traps on the way home?”

Adam stood up from the table and walked up to Jason. He wrapped his arms around him. “Sure. I could get a few from the hardware store.”

“I’ll set them up. It only seems fair if you’re getting them.”

Adam leaned in and gave Jason a quick kiss. “You’re good for me.”

Adam disentangled from his smiling husband and picked up his suitcase. “Hate to kiss and run, but I have to get going.”

“Can you take Danny with you today?”

Adam looked into the living room and saw the little troublemaker watching cartoons. He looked at his watch and then said, “It’s the exact opposite direction.”

Jason turned away from the sink and looked his husband in the eye. He stared with wide pleading eyes.

Adam broke. “Alright.” He turned back towards the kid again and said, “Alright Danny-boy. Let’s get moving! Pop has a tight schedule and I need to get your butt to school.”

(more…)

Dragonfly: Foot of the Mountain

Zoey took a second to breathe as she massaged her legs. She sat down on an oddly-shaped rock near the upward-sloping side of the path up Mt…she would have to double-check the name when she left. Her legs burnt with lactic acid, real lactic acid, and it made her smile, but then groan as they hurt to even massage.

“It’s good exercise, just take each step as it comes. Wes told you what was at the top. Just got to go up there and get it, right?”

Zoey looked forward, toward the other side of the path and past the railing. The slope cut down sharply, but past that ridge was a sea of trees blowing and shifting in the wind. Near the edge of the woods was a line of residential buildings, followed by medium-rises, and then skyscrapers barely bigger than the nail on her little finger. She checked.

Zoey searched through her backpack, pushing aside a first aid kit, a flare gun, and a copy of a book she didn’t remember bringing. At the bottom was a cell phone.

“There you are. Let me just…” She took a picture of the landscape that unfolded before her. Beneath the photo she captioned it, “Absolutely gorgeous landscape, can’t believe the work that goes into making this place beautiful. Already looking forward to coming here again and just staring at the forest. 5 stars!”

(more…)

The Accident on Titan

Do you know about the motor pub? The one on Vine Street? It’s a little hole in the wall, but it’s popular with people just passing through the area. 

I was there last Thursday, a bit early in the night. I had finished my research for the day and decided to celebrate before the place got too many customers. Well, when I was there I saw a man sitting alone at the bar, and you know me, I just had to chat with him. I love to chat with anyone I can and there is no one better to talk to than someone drinking alone. 

He looked like he was passing through. I had never seen him at the bar before, so I didn’t think he was a regular.e had a suitcase sitting next to his stool, with his foot wrapped around one of the handles. I admired his determination to keep his belongings safe, but honestly, all he’d get out of that situation would be a broken foot if anyone with any determination tried to take his stuff. But I digress.

I sat next to him and offered to buy him a drink. He thanked me and ordered a whiskey straight. He drank the whole thing in one gulp. Told him, “You didn’t wait for me, but I’m not buying you another.” I laughed.

He didn’t.

(more…)

Dragonfly: Goodbyes

Sean stood in the door frame and crossed his arms. He looked in and stared at the back of Ricky’s head, tried to open his mouth to speak but stopped himself before he said anything stupid. As he leaned against the old wooden door frame, it let out an audible creak. 

Ricky turned around and Sean finally saw his fresh black eye. It wasn’t the first one he’d seen on him. Ricky paused for a second, looking at Sean’s tightened jaw and freshly crew-cut red hair on pale freckled skin. 

The two young men just stared for a second, considering the first words of what would assuredly be a difficult conversation.

Ricky spoke first.

“What are you doing here?” Ricky turned his head so his black eye was no longer visible.

“I…” Sean paused.

“Yeah? Spit it out.” Ricky’s eyes started to dart across the room to find something, anything else to look at than the man in the doorway.

“I…I’m going to leave. I just wanted to let you know.”

Ricky forced a laugh. “Then go. No one is holding you here, Sean.” Ricky flicked his wrist to shoo away Sean as he said, “The door’s that way.”

(more…)

Ripple

Passing by a picnic bench, Elise leaned a little to the side so she could run her hand across its rough wooden surface. She continued toward the pond just past the pavilion she was walking through. As she left the pavilion’s cover she began to feel light rain kiss her skin.

She stopped at the water’s edge and sat on a large stone. Taking a deep breath, she could smell the smoke of charcoal grills burning close by. The smell of the rain mixed with the smoke made her smile. She took off her shoes, set them on the stone, and stepped into the pond, wading just deep enough to let the pond reach her knees. 

She turned to the grills running along the side of the park’s pavilion and stared at the smoke gently wafting from the unmanned stations. Elise tilted her head and frowned a little before closing her eyes tight. She thought of her father and uncles before opening her eyes.

Standing before the grills were now a row of men wearing khaki shorts and brightly colored button up shirts laughing and waving to each other, repeating the same basic movements of flipping burgers, turning hotdogs, and looking back up to wave again. At the edge of the row stood a nun doing the same synchronized cooking routine.

(more…)