Bennett North is a technomage, artist and rock climbing enthusiast whose work has appeared in F&SF, Escape Pod, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Follow Bennett on Twitter @BennettNorth for occasional tweets about lasers, and on Instagram for occasional pictures of things made with lasers.
Smooth Stones and Empty Bones
There’s a skeleton in the chicken coop. It’s some bare collection of abandoned bones, maybe a former fox, and it’s slishing through the pine needles and bumping liplessly against the gate. The chickens, for their part, don’t look concerned.
Mom is still in the house, folding laundry. I take a watering can from where it’s sitting next to the potted mums and haul it out to the coop. When I dump it on the skeleton, it shivers like a wet dog but doesn’t retreat.
I glance over my shoulder at the house again, then open the gate to the coop. The skeleton doesn’t appear to notice, so I get behind it and shove it out. The skeleton stumbles around like a dog with vertigo.
“Shh,” I say when it clacks its teeth. If Mom sees this, I’m in so much trouble.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses
There’s a thick yellow stink in the town of Zaretan when I arrive, like stomach bile and fetid water. This is a town that eats its shoe leather, I can tell. A town that depended too much on the earth to keep them fed, and now that the rains have stopped and the crops have died, there’s nothing left for them. The first clue is the smell; the second is the absence of rats. The third clue is the shopkeeper sitting on the front steps of the general store like a polished brown collection of bones.
I have felt eyes watching me since I crested the ridge and saw the town below. You get that feeling the further out west you go, the feeling that they’d eat the pages out of your Bible just to have something to chew.
The shopkeeper stirs when I approach but only enough to shift his head. Still, I keep a few feet away, out of grabbing range. He’s taking advantage of the July sunlight, warming himself like a cat. I bet there aren’t any of those running around here, either.
—“Forgive Us Our Trespasses,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #237 on Oct 26, 2017.
All Profound and Logical Minds
The space station was silent in the way that a black hole is black; it was more than just an absence of noise. There was something physical to the silence, a force pulling in all sound and eating it. Hannah anchored her boots to the floor of the atrium, feeling the reassuring click as the magnets engaged. Emergency lights washed the atrium floor with a watery red light.
Taking a deep breath of her tepid suit air, Hannah unzipped her bag. An insulated thermos floated out. She left it slowly rotating next to her elbow while she rummaged around to find her keychain. It was a cheap one, made of injection-molded nickel, in the shape of a caffeine molecule. Stupid and gimmicky, yes, but she needed a symbol of her faith and as an atheist, it worked. Bethany had come up with the idea of doing the ritual as an exorcism. A real Catholic exorcism would take much longer, but the clients liked the concept, and Hannah’s abbreviated version worked.
A faint click in Hannah’s ear warned her a second before she heard her sister’s voice over the radio. “Ship to Missionary. Come in, Missionary.” Bethany’s voice was thin and staticky, more white noise than words, but it was like tasting cream after having nothing but water.
Hannah closed her eyes for a second, savoring the soft hiss, and then opened them again, shifting a glance to the heads-up display to trigger the radio to pick up her response. “This is Missionary. I’m in position in the atrium.”
“How’s it looking in there?”
Hannah looked toward the starboard side of the atrium. Six or seven bodies had collected in the awning of a cafe like a lost handful of balloons. They were dressed casually as if they’d been strolling through the park at the time that the station vented.
“Quiet,” said Hannah.
—“All Profound and Logical Minds,” Escape Pod episode 618 on March 8, 2018.
When the scream shattered the mid-morning quiet, Beckah was in the middle of guiltily deleting six of her mother’s emails from her work account, unread. It took her a moment to process what she had just heard. There was only one thing that that kind of a scream could herald, and it was pretty late in the semester for it.
Beckah opened her office door at the same time as Professor Peters down the hall. A few architectural design students who had crammed themselves into a hallway niche were looking up from their drawing boards in mild interest.
“New guy?” said Professor Peters with a smirk. Beckah shrugged and strode to the interior balcony railing, looking down.
In the classroom below, Drawing 101 was doing a final critique. Thirty students sat in a half-circle, staring at a handful of charcoal drawings pinned to the particleboard. One was still settling on the floor where it had been torn from the wall.
The office door at the corner of the classroom slammed shut. The class burst out in nervous titters. Professor Peters leaned over the railing next to Beckah and tsked.
“Who did it?” Peters called down. Faces turned up to them, and Beckah picked out the culprit before the students even started to point. It was an older student with a particularly local look about him. The overhead lights glimmered off the faintly bulbous dome of his eyes and the iridescent skin under his jaw.
“Show me,” Professor Peters said. The student picked up the discarded drawing on the floor and pinned it back up on the wall. Beckah caught a glimpse of a writhing mass of unholy limbs, detailed in charcoal, before she skirted them both and headed for the closed door of the office.
No one answered her knock, but the door wasn’t locked. Beckah pushed the door open as the critique resumed behind her. “Hello?”
-“Glory Night,” Welcome to Miskatonic University (pre-order link) by Broken Eye Books, forthcoming.