zef art/

The phone rings and Kevin answers.


But static is his only reply. Kevin waits one second, two seconds, three, then ends the call and drops the phone back into his pocket.

The phone rings again.

Kevin glances at the screen—Unknown Number—and answers once more.



Kevin waits some more, then drops the phone onto the coffee table and takes a seat on the couch, waiting for the other party to call back. He’s been through this a thousand times before and will go through it a thousand times again. He knows this call is important, and he’ll answer as many times as it takes to make a connection.

The phone rings again, and this time, when Kevin answers, there’s an ocean of static. The sound is so loud, so irritating that he has to hold the device in front of him to keep from going deaf.

“Hello? Can you hear me?”

Now, at last, the static changes. The pops and hisses run at first closer together, then further. The sound begins to take shape, but it has not yet resolved into a language Kevin can understand.

This time, he does not hang up. Instead, he leans back and puts the phone on speaker, saying, “I’m here when you’re ready. I’m listening.”

Now, a crackling burst of something that almost resembles a voice.

Come on, he thinks, silently rooting for the person on the other end of the line. You’re so close. You can do this.

“—ell— Can—”

The two partial words emerge from that roiling sea of static, and Kevin cheers.

“Yes,” he says. “I can hear you now. Keep trying.”

“—ello,” the almost voice says before collapsing into static.

“I’m still here.”

“—an you hea— e? —eed help.” Static. “—ou help m—” Static.

Kevin has the sinking feeling they’re not going to make it through on their own. It’s happened many times before, and Kevin, already aware of what he must do, cups his hand over the phone and closes his eyes.

All at once, he’s flying. Not his body, which remains planted on the couch in his apartment, but his soul, which shoots through space and time to bridge the gap.

I’m here, Kevin calls in a soundless voice that ripples across the cosmos.

At last, the two souls meet.

Help me.

That’s what I’m here for, Kevin answers.

Kevin can feel the other soul’s relief rolling off of him like heat.

I didn’t know if you could hear me. I thought— I tried—

But there they stop and say no more.

A soul, male, trapped between two worlds, stuck on the precipice between life and death.

Listen, Kevin says, having done this many times before, you have to let go. I can’t help you break free until you do.

But my wife, my children—

Kevin sees the cord that tethers him to the Earth, quivering with worldly concerns.

You can’t be with them anymore. It’s time to move on.

But who will take care of them?

Kevin understands this kind of post-mortem anxiety well. With great care, he makes contact. A connection is forged between their intersection, and for a timeless instant, the two souls merge. A spark of something like electricity passes between them, and the man, frightened, tries to pull away. But Kevin’s grip is tight and he does not let go.

See for yourself how your wife and children are getting on without you.

Kevin reaches across a great cosmic threshold, and together they traverse the intricate tapestry of human life that covers the Earth. Starting from the top, they burrow down through more than six billion lives, narrowing their focus until the man’s wife comes into view. They watch her, working hard to put food on the table, and when it’s clear his family’s financial means are taken care of, Kevin shifts their attention to the man’s children, playing on the swings at school during recess. They feel as one his wife’s and children’s pain, their sadness, and their grief, but also their determination, their grit, and most of all, their obstinate will to go on living.

As you can see, your wife is strong and capable of providing for your family on her own, and your children, though sad, have already learned to go on without you.

No, the man says, still afraid and clinging to what he’s lost. I can’t go. I can’t leave them. I can’t—

Kevin grabs the cord that binds his soul to the Earth, and in one deft motion, severs it in two.

The man’s soul howls, wounded and in shock.

No! he cries. Nonononono!

But without that tether to the Earth to hold him back, Kevin can already feel the man’s mind clearing and his heart preparing for the mysteries of Beyond.

Go, Kevin says, not unkindly.

For a moment, the two regard each other. Then the man’s soul nods, a gesture of gratitude and respect.

Thank you, the man says, then kicks off and rockets into Beyond.

Kevin feels a tug on his own cord. It calls him back to Earth, and soon enough, he’s opening his eyes on the couch, the phone still sitting on the table beside him.

“Good luck, my friend.”

There are other calls that night, a few as desperate as the first. Kevin answers each in turn—”Hello?”—and someplace, sometime, another connection is made.

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Happily Ever After

DFLC Prints/

This post was originally published through Patreon on December 18, 2018.

Happily ever after.

The cliché mocked Samuel in the moldering darkness of his one-bedroom apartment. A fairy tale ending, saccharin sweet, and so unlike the reality of human life.

Happily ever after.

It was a lie told to little children to shield them from the dark, sinister truths of the world, and perhaps also a lie told to adults too weak to face their problems head-on. In either case, it was a con man’s ruse, as plastic and artificial as a G.I. Joe action figure.

Happily ever after.

Once upon a time, Samuel had tried his own luck at “Happily ever after.” And what had it gotten him? A low paying job and a lonely, miserable life. No family, no friends, no wife or children.

But that was about to change.

Happily ever after.

The accursed phrase had been the object of Samuel’s obsession for almost thirty years. Every day, as he fought rush hour traffic, as he toiled at a job he couldn’t care less about, as he stopped at the groceries to buy his microwave dinners, he mulled over those perverse words, a slow, acid churn that never stopped until he turned out the light and allowed his bitterness to assault him in his dreams.

That was when the demon had visited and made Sammuel an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Happily ever after.

That was the wicked creature’s proposal, and Samuel hadn’t paid a moment’s notice to the price.

“A wish granted,” the demon snarled, “in exchange for a kind thought turned sour. A harmless enough cost, I should think, and a chance to live—”

Happily ever after.

And Samuel had wished, and Samuel had watched each one of his desires spring to life.

What an extraordinary power, he thought, and in the heat of his excitement, he didn’t see the change that took place inside of him.

A harmless enough cost, the demon had said, and it had seemed at the time that he was right. In Samuel’s elation, how was he to notice his desires turning dark, his wishes turning vindictive, his own definition of “Happily ever after” turning more and more twisted by the day?

Now, Samuel had conceived of the ultimate wish, and all he had to do was summon the demon one last time.

Just one more wish, and in the ashes of a smoldering post-apocalyptic world, Samuel could, at last, live—

Happily ever after.

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Memoir of a Star

Sergey Nivens/

Lyra was a noble star descended from a long line of other stars: Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Andromeda. Together they reigned in peace and prosperity, each of equal stature, strength, and rank, presiding over an expanse of space and time that blazed with their celestial light. But in the midst of such perfection, Lyra grew bored and, restless for adventure, decided to leave her kin and stake out a corner of the cosmos for herself.

And so, after saying goodbye to her family and home for the last time, the star set out, crossing the threshold of her ancestors’ domain into empty space.

She thought the darkness beyond her realm both novel and unique, and, for a while, Lyra was entranced. Here was an endless mystery waiting to be uncovered by her otherworldly light. But as time progressed and her sojourn continued, the darkness started to oppress her. It pushed back, jealous of her light, and with time she began to dim.

After eons of aimless traveling, Lyra stopped and, surrounded by the void of empty space, thought better of her quest. Only then, on the verge of returning home, did she look back and realize she’d lost her way.

Despair set in. She could already feel the relentless cold reaching into her core, gumming up the forces that kept her alive. Numb and frightened, Lyra cried.

Her tears fountained in the endless dark, shimmering like stars in miniature. Soon her sobs and heavy breathing slowed, and she watched, fascinated, as her tears first pooled, then condensed, pulled together by the fundamental force of gravity. Nine distinct bodies emerged from Lyra’s despair: nine worlds, each with their own unique needs and desires. They huddled about her in the darkness, afraid, and she offered them her light, rekindled by the fire of a blossoming love so intense that she was never to feel the cold of empty space again.

Lyra loved each of her children in different ways, but Earth was special, for this was the daughter who’d seen fit to bear children of her own. Life erupted from Earth’s fertile soil and swept over oceans and forests, mountains and plains. Some took to the skies, others to the water. Some marched across Earth’s rugged terrain on two legs, others on four. Lyra beheld their various forms and loved each and every one.

First children, then grandchildren. Her new family was nothing like the stars she’d left behind, and Lyra was pleased.

If only my ancestors could see how happy I am now.

Lyra had set out in search of herself, and in so doing had almost lost herself. Now she had a family of her own. Her place in the cosmos was set and she would never feel restless again.

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