FLAME TREE FICTION NEWSLETTER
Tenth Issue! Alien Blood
Welcome to the Tenth issue of the FLAME TREE PRESS NEWSLETTER! As ever we've got two brand new stories, exclusive for subscribers to read for one month. Last month’s themes were Blood and Gore and Aliens on Earth, and we’ve picked a couple of showstoppers we thought you'd enjoy! We also have two releases in our Essential Gothic series and titles from FLAME TREE PRESS!
This month's newsletter features:
- Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: I Thought Them Starlight by Marie Croke
- Original Horror Flash Fiction: My Husband's Craniotomy by Andrew Bourelle
- FLAME TREE PRESS - July Releases
- Flame Tree Publishing - Essential Gothic, SF & Dark Fantasy
Original Science Fiction Story
I Thought Them Starlight
We thought it a missile from an airplane, sewage dropped over our fields by some tired red-eye pilot. The twisted lump smelled of sulfur and smoke, like Mom had left the eggs boil until they'd gone black and cracked. The stench grew pervasive, gnawing across the acres, blotting out the sweet scents of honeysuckle and fresh-cut grass.
I held the flashlight while Ben prodded the lump with a stick. It broke open, or at least seemed to, releasing such foulness we gagged. Yet in gross fascination, we stepped closer still.
Into the grass huffed clear liquid, viscous and sparkling in the moonlight. "Almost pretty," I'd said. "Almost." The stress needed to stall mockery from an older brother.
Scientists later insisted the metals to be a similar iron-nickel alloy to what is normally found in meteorites, though conspiracy theorists had much to say in that regard. But in that moment my brother and I only knew of simple compounds, the everyday we were accustomed to at nine and eleven. We joked about the liquid being pee, maybe the whole of the lump brown if we'd been in daylight.
"Sluggish," he'd said, "sluggish like a shit river."
Those words drilled themselves into my head, a brief respite of giddy laughter abruptly replaced. For that thing, that thing lifted it's misshapen, misbegotten lump of a head. Skin or rock, scorched and sore, veins of liquid metal, cooling fast, faceted eyes of…
I thought them starlight the way they glowed.
We of the first contacts called them metal stars though later some governmental summit coined them something longer, technical. Having to do with Aerospace input from agencies around the globe. Our name stuck.
StarMetals came to Earth…and died here.
I had fallen into the dewy grass, the moon at my back and my childlike shrieks finding no need to falter as that alien rose, rose, silver appendages flowing like wrong, wrong rivers grown thick and slow with debris. "Impressive," some journalists quoted other first contacts, but I'd thought nothing of the sort as I'd crawled backward, mud smearing old jeans and new sneakers. I remembered having an inane thought as my heel squelched, that Mom would sigh when I tracked prints across the kitchen. That Mom would scream, worse than I could. I remembered not wanting to see her face, yet wanting her arms tight about me.
The StarMetals hardened, liquid turning solid as they cooled, their space-faring bodies unable to withstand such differences to their environment. They became statues for our yards, our museums, our fountains and parks. Sold for millions or a pittance depending on whether one lived in a country of extravagance or poverty. Depending, too, on the last, fateful movements of each individual StarMetal.
We gave them names, but that was our only token offer of humanizing behavior.
The famous "Reach," stuck eternally behind barriers in the National Air and Space Museum in DC, became the figurehead of the alien meteor shower, the event coined The Starfall in presiding history texts. That singular figure, some unnamed personality from a race we knew little about, froze the alien tall, lower appendages in differing stages of morphing, clear and crisp and separate. Upper arms had just begun to mimic a human's when the StarMetal had ceased moving. Fingers still in the process of forming, reaching out, strands of hardened metal stretching slim and fragile between each digit.
When my alien hardened, it recoiled in slow-motion, as if my screams physically pushed it. That single motion stayed in my mind. An act that might have been the preparation of a strike, like a snake's coiled neck, or possibly something more.
Some postulated the aliens had been invading, though scientists laughed in conference rooms and between emails at the absurdity. The reigning theory related to an accident, that the StarMetals had been migratory beings and a portion of them had simply misjudged the orbit of our passing planet or had been the unlucky few our gravitational pull had stolen from their flock, parliament or murder. With them too cold, too frigid and stiff to make adjustments once space-borne, they fell, heating in their entry, as they likely would have done as they fell in the stars, our sun either a passing stop or a home.
They all died once upon their entry to our planet. All but one.
For the one that broke my brother's skull with a hardening golem fist, moonlight flashing through the air as the alien roiled in what I've come to realize as a form of visceral terror, it I heat in my forge. Heat and heat, its body pooling, sluggish like those first moments when Ben and I laid eyes on it, to watch it die and die again, body turning hard in tortured positions, sometimes roundish, other times an undulating wave in mid-crest, yet always with that sparkle I thought of as starlight.
My courage fails me each time, my forgiveness not yet complete, my words swallowed behind a continued, pervasive grief. I've seen behind its starlit eyes where hides an intelligence, a resignation, and a regret. I've seen and understand my job, though it's taken me time, oh, so much time, to beat past the anger.
One day. One day I'll speak, forgive. Be a voice for a race our very planet enslaves. Until then, I stoke my forge and give life, even if only temporary, even if only for brief gasps at a time.
Marie Croke is a fantasy and science-fiction writer based in Maryland. She was raised on a healthy diet of Golden Age fiction, 80s fantasy movies, and puns. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, and DreamForge Magazine. She is also a first place winner in the Writers of the Future Contest. This is her first appearance in Flame Tree's Newsletter. You can find her online at www.mariecroke.com and www.facebook.com/marie.croke.
Original Horror Story
My Husband's Craniotomy
When the doctor came into the waiting room, I knew he didn’t have good news. It was way too early. The surgery was supposed to take six hours. It had only been one.
“What happened?” I said. “Is he …?”
I couldn’t say the word. It was stuck in my throat, and I swallowed it down.
Dr. Lawrence shook his head. “Nothing like that, ma’am. We’ve just had a … a complication.”
“What kind of complication?”
They were operating on my husband’s brain. He’d had headaches and migraines since childhood, but recently they’d become excruciating.
After a series of tests—EEG, CT, MRI—they found a tumor in his brain the size of a lemon. The doctors didn’t know if it was benign or malignant, but either way it was causing Mark to have debilitating headaches. They needed to open his skull up and see what they were dealing with.
“Is there a history of twins in Mark’s family?” Dr. Lawrence asked.
I frowned. What the hell was he talking about?
“Has he ever mentioned having an unborn twin?”
“Mark’s an only child,” I said.
“Unborn,” he said. “I mean when Mark’s mother was pregnant.”
He saw the look of confusion on my face.
“One in four pregnancies begin with two fertilized eggs,” he said, “but only about three percent of the time are both twins carried to term. Most of the time one of the fertilized eggs perishes. Usually they are simply expelled from the body. A woman might experience a bit of spotting early in the pregnancy, not knowing that she is losing a baby she didn’t know was there to begin with.”
I tasted bile in my mouth. I knew plenty about losing babies.
“Other times one fetus is absorbed by the other,” he went on. “Sometimes—rarely—people are born with artifacts left over from the other fetus.”
“A benign cyst can turn out to be a clump of hair with a different genetic code. Pieces of bone or even teeth have been discovered in tumors.”
“That’s what you found in Mark’s brain?” I said. “Pieces of a twin?”
He nodded. “This is a little unorthodox, Mrs. Mayer, but I’d like you to come into the operating room and take a look.”
“What for?” I said, horrified.
“Because you have power of attorney,” the doctor said. “You have to decide whether or not we should try to remove it.”
Ten minutes later, I was covered in a surgical gown, cap, gloves, mask, and over-shoes.
“This is going to be hard to look at,” the doctor said. “But remember this is a sterile environment. Try not to throw up.”
There was a whole team of doctors in the surgery room, all dressed the same as me. Mark was laid out on a hospital bed, hooked to machines. An IV in his arm. An oxygen mask over his mouth. A wire that monitored his heartbeat. Another that measured the oxygen in his blood.
As we walked closer, I saw the hole in Mark’s head. A square of skull the size of a spatula blade had been folded back. The blood was incredibly red under the bright light.
My legs wobbled and the doctor caught my arm.
“Take a deep breath,” he said, and then a moment later asked, “Are you okay to continue?”
I looked at Mark, not the wound in his head. Just him. His scalp had been shaved bald, and his skin was gray. He looked dead, and if it weren’t for the faint fog inside the oxygen mask, I might have asked if he was.
I told myself to be strong. My husband needed me. We didn’t—I couldn’t—have kids. Mark was my whole world.
“I’m ready,” I said, although I wasn’t at all sure that I was.
We moved closer—the doctor still holding my arm, which I was thankful for—and he pointed into the trapdoor open in Mark’s head.
“What do you see?” he said.
Underneath a sheen of blood, I could see Mark’s brain, the folds like worms of hamburger meat fresh out of the package. But something else was there too. A layer of skin was intertwined with brain tissue, and it was scrunched and wrinkled in a way that looked like part of a face. An eye, with its lids closed, was visible, as was the shape of a nose, with two recognizable nostrils. I saw the faint lump of lips, and realized that there was a gap through which I could see a tongue, tiny and pink like a cat’s.
My lungs heaved. I blinked back tears.
It was as if part of a tiny child’s face—smaller than a newborn’s—had been sliced off and grafted into Mark’s brain. The features were almost cute, but the location of them was surreally wrong. I felt like I was hallucinating. Was my mind playing tricks on me or did it look like Mark’s brain was pulsing under the face?
“We think that movement is a heart,” the doctor said. “Beating.”
The room spun.
“Mrs. Mayer,” said the doctor, “you need to understand how entangled the tissue is, how dangerous the surgery is going—”
The mouth opened, and past its probing tongue, I could see down its throat into a cavern inside the brain tissue. A human heart the size of a walnut was visible, pumping blood to a labyrinth of tributaries that ran through the folds of Mark’s brain like ore in a mine.
“Cut it out,” I gasped. “Kill it.”
The heart’s rhythm accelerated, as if its owner was as frightened of me as I was of it.
Then the eyelids on the face sprang open. A tiny eye—blue, like Mark’s—looked out from my husband’s brain and fixed its pleading gaze on me.
The doctor asked, “Are you sure?”
Andrew Bourelle is the author of the novel Heavy Metal and coauthor with James Patterson of Texas Ranger. His short stories have been published widely, including in The Best American Mystery Stories, Mystery Tribune, Pulp Adventures, Thriller Magazine, and Weirdbook Magazine. His short story "Little Healers" was published in Swords & Steam Short Stories from Flame Tree Publishing. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can find him on Twitter at @AndrewBourelle.
FLAME TREE PRESS | July Releases
We are extremely excited to be announcing our July titles! We've got resurrections and characters bargaining to save people's lives in Bram Stoker Award Winner Tim Waggoner's latest Horror They Kill, a strange world of bloodletting, madness, murder, and an ancient evil are in stall for readers with the excellent new to Flame Tree Horror tale from Jonathan Janz called The Castle of Sorrows, and finally we have American Dreams, the debut novel by Kenneth Bromberg where climbing to dominate the New York underworld is the only way to win back the one you love.
Flame Tree Publishing | Essential Gothic, SF & Dark Fantasy
We've got four exciting titles with updated covers in our Essential Gothic, SF and Dark Fantasy range. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables also by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft and The Last Man by Mary Shelley. Make sure you check them out on our website, they are both fantastic reads and essential classics to have in your collection!
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