Flash Showcase: Earthbound Nebula by Ava Kelly

Image Credit: Ava Kelly


When it approached, it was slow. Passive enough to get close, unencumbered by human worry, graceful enough that its scarlet brilliance had exalted awe instead of fear.

I remember Pops, sitting on the back porch in that old squeaky chair, scratching his forehead, saying, “It’s gotta be something else. Aurora my ass, look at it.”

I remember Kiddo blinking at me, a couple of decades later, asking, “Why’s it so pretty, Daddy?” and, “Do you think we can touch it someday?”

I’d answer the same—nothing at all—because any words tasted like ash on my tongue. There had been one action to take, and one action only; even my twelve-year-old self knew. Study the earthbound nebula, comprehend it at all costs.

***

When it hugged the Earth, we didn’t notice, too preoccupied with measurements and suppositions and models. Too close to see. Kiddo used to tell me, when he got tall and broad-shouldered and voice-thick, that it governed my life. It had dragged me through school, through the long hours in the lab, through loss and pain, through stolen tenderness. I sigh, even now, at the memory of his angry frustration.

“We must understand,” I used to say. “Maybe it’s sentient. Maybe it also wants to understand.”

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Flash Showcase: The Memory Within by Aaron E. Lee

“What happened?” Yun asked the two scientists standing in front of her.

“The Memory War was almost fifty years ago now, I think.” Dr. Reyes raised her eyebrow, but Dr. O’Quin neither confirmed nor denied.

Instead, Dr. O’Quin said, “Genetic testing revealed the true form of memory in biology, and while the processing of those memories indeed took place in the brain, they were stored throughout the body in our DNA.” Yun nodded. It was a theory she had heard, but it seemed a confirmation of this would be pretty big news.

“Once we figured out how the body stored and processed this information, people started to get creative with that knowledge. Medication came out to improve memory, restore lost memories, and even to help people forget.” Dr. Reyes started unbuckling the clasps that held Yun down on the table.

Dr. O’Quin proceeded, “The medication was only half of the delivery system. After eight hours the patients had to be exposed to a low dosage of radiation, which triggered the Mnemonic Molecules. The medication was cheap to make. We didn’t go to war over the profits of the Memory industry. We went to war over the memories themselves.”

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Flash Showcase: Acid to the Bone by A.J. Van Belle

Kell wiped red paint from her hand onto a boor-tree-fiber towel and studied her creation. The crimson streaks glowed in the diffuse light from her bedroom window. All one color, an entire tube of alizarin used on one small paint board. The paint’s thickness determined the darkness or lightness. No recognizable figure graced the image, but the strokes suggested movement. An arm flung wide. A tapered back arched in dance. Transition from standing to leaping.

She frowned at her work. It wasn’t good enough.

She went to the window, wishing it were safe to go outside. Beyond the glass, rain dripped from curling fronds. Acidic slime, an oocyte that lived everywhere on this planet, dropped in sloppy masses from the branches of the treelike organisms in Kell’s neighborhood. She let her faint reflection fill her field of view and disappear as she pressed her nose to the cold glass. Her breath made a misty circle. Stories of going outside to play filled her head, tales she’d heard since infancy. All the classic stories came from Earth, the broken place that could only support a few thousand souls now, in cities that shielded their residents from the weather extremes wrought by global warming.

Here, on Kell’s home planet, children didn’t play outside. The oocytes would melt your dermis. The warnings echoed like a hiss, first as the voices of the adults around you and then from the mire of your own brain, never to be erased: The oocytes’ll burn your skin. They’ll eat you to the bone.

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Flash Showcase: The Past and the Future by Abhijatya Singh

Father is setting up the Time Fleeting Belt. After years of effort, he has finally figured out a medium for us to move through in time. He says that I will be able to see everything that has occurred or will occur like a spectator. He is telling me to not test its limit. I should just go back a few days and come back. He is pressing the button to activate the Belt.

I am moving back in time. I can see my father instructing me to not test the belt’s limit. I am going back. I see him celebrating after he realizes what he has made. I am floating through time. I see myself making out with my girlfriend for the first time. I see me, ten years old, trying to look through the door to see what my father does in his lab. I see my mother taking her last breath after giving birth to me. I should return now. I just need to turn the dial from past to present. But my curiosity is getting the better of me.

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Flash Showcase: Suckers by Gavin Jefferson

“If you can sign here, and here,” he said, pointing, “and here, here and here, you’re good to go.”

He perused the contract slowly, reading the words over and over in his mind. “I don’t know.”

“What are you worried about?”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

“Well ….” He shrugged his lips. “You’ll be dead.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” he sighed.

“If you’d rather not, then I understand. It’s experimental, but revolutionary technology. I admit, we haven’t figured out how to revive the dead yet, but we will.”

“Are you sure? I mean; how close are you to cracking it?”

“Close,” he nodded frantically, “very close.”

“Within weeks, years, what is it?”

The man smiled and pulled the contract from the table. “I can see that this is not for you,” he said, folding the paperwork.

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Flash Showcase: Best Friends Forever by Michelle Ann King

Suelita and I are friends. This is a fact. She tells me so, and I agree with her.

Suelita’s mother is called Ana. ‘That’s nice, dear,’ Ana says, when Suelita tells her we are friends.

‘And I got arrested for murder, and the house is on fire,’ Suelita continues.

Ana carries on tapping at her phone and says, ‘Mm-hmm. That’s nice, dear.’

I am also supposed to agree with Ana, but it is sometimes difficult. Those things, were they to have happened, would not be nice.

Suelita’s father is called Mr Jordan. ‘Don’t be silly,’ he says, when Suelita tells him we are friends. ‘It’s a robot, Sula. A machine. You can’t be friends with a machine.’

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Flash Showcase

I would love to showcase a new flash story, prose poem or piece of creative non-fiction on the website every week. Pieces will be submitted on a voluntary basis at first, with the view to making this a paid opportunity in future if it is successful.

Stories should have fewer than 1,000 words and must be in keeping with our preferred themes and interests:

  • Philosophical, psychological, mystical or scientific concepts explored through fiction
  • Autofiction and Creative Non-Fiction
  • Imagining the future
  • Unusual POVs
  • Subjectivity
  • Consciousness (ordinary and altered)
  • Identity
  • Memory
  • Dreams

Stories may be part of something longer but must also function as self-contained pieces.

Stories may have already been published elsewhere, as long as your submission to us doesn’t violate any terms you have agreed with other publishers.

You can submit again if you have been accepted before, but only one submission at a time please.

Send submissions to Caroline via submissions@orchidslantern.com with ‘Showcase’ in the subject line. Stories should be attached (not linked to) along with a short bio as you would like it to appear on the footer of your story if published. I will also accept links to your own webpages or stores for the footer. Word documents preferred.

If your story is accepted, I will aim to contact you within a week to let you know your showcasing date and any minor proofreading/presentation points.

Reminder: We are also open to submissions for our second anthology until 30th June. Details here.

Book Review: Chroma: Calanooka by Carlie Martece

Review by Aaron Lee

This review contains spoilers.

Chroma: Calanooka is the third book in the Constructed Sanity series by Carlie Martece, who has brilliantly woven another story that plays out on multiple levels: this is not simply a book to read, but to interact with.

We follow our neurodivergent protagonists, Leandra and Cal, through the desert to a little town called Summerton. They have difficult lives, trying to survive in a world that does not care about them. They are visited by Kalakai, an alien, who tries to recruit them for cosmic battle and warns them things may get worse before they get better.

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Book Review: MUNKi by Gareth Southwell

The synopsis:

What price would you pay to live forever?

The winter her grandfather died, Cari Silvestri swapped her home town for a new life. But the past is not so easily outrun. Almost ten years on, Grandfather returns, his stolen memories repackaged by technology giant Merrywhile Industries as a slick marketing promo for their latest project: digital immortality. But when no one believes her, Cari’s search for proof and answers gradually draws her into a lawless digital underworld.

Mel Faith is also haunted by the past. Her journalistic career circling the drain, she finds herself still obsessed with the one piece she never filed – the tragic history of Michael Sommeil, grandson of Merrywhile’s founder. It’s a story with few leads and fewer prospects, but at whose heart – she’s sure – a secret still sits untold.

As their paths intertwine, the two women enter a world of masks and aliases, of mercenary hackers and corporate spies, and where, underlying it all, is the hunt for the Singularity – the point, both feared and hoped for, where AI will finally surpass human understanding, and nothing will ever again be the same.

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Writers on Lockdown: Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett is an Arthur C Clarke award winning science fiction author. He’s published six (soon to be seven) novels and dozens of short stories, often focusing on ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’ space. I caught up with him to chat about isolation, metaphysics, and tribalism in modern society.


Hi Chris, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! So, how are you faring in these strange times? Is isolation a help or a hindrance to your writing process?

I’ve been having difficulty moving my writing forward this last couple of months, but this often happens – I simply dry up and can’t seem to write anything – and it may have nothing to do with the lockdown. However I do think my ability to concentrate (never brilliant to be honest) is worse than usual.  

When the real world is stranger and more engrossing than usual – and I am finding it engrossing – it is perhaps harder to focus on imagined worlds? 

In my life generally, I’d say I am finding the lockdown more interesting than distressing. I’m used to spending a lot of time by myself at home, and in some ways the lockdown is providing a stimulus for me to find ways of keeping more in touch with some people than I usually would, which is nice.  

I have a little granddaughter – she is 13 months old – and I’m very sad not to be able to spend time with her, as the plan had been (until this happened) that I would be looking after her for one day a week.

I’ve heard from several writers that their creativity is at a low point. I wonder if being engrossed in new situations is all part of ‘refilling the well’ of inspiration. Do you think we’ll see a different kind of fiction emerge on the other side of this?

I think that’s exactly right about ‘refilling the well’. We have to stock up on life in order to have anything to write about.  And none of us have had many experiences which are completely comparable to this one. (In fact a lot of writers have had pretty quiet lives generally, I suspect). I’m sure new kinds of fiction will come out of this, but I really don’t know what. This virus has changed life for everyone, but in so many different ways.  

I wanted to talk in particular about your recent novel, Beneath the World, a Sea, which is full of strong, surreal imagery, questions of the unconscious and philosophy of mind. When so many science fiction writers are focused on future technology, what made you turn inwards and address the nature of consciousness?

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