The Bartleby Initiative (Free Short Story Excerpt)

When All That’s Left is Stories, a free writing community dystopian science fiction anthology, is now available to download for free on Amazon. My story The Bartleby Initiative is included in the collection. Here is an excerpt from the story:

The Bartleby Initiative

by A. A. Rubin

Nicholas Weber awoke in darkness. The house lights were still dimmed to their nighttime setting, but he felt as if he had slept his regimented eight hours.

“Xana,” he called into the darkness. “Clock.”

Four glowing green numbers appeared in the air. 07:34. It was more than half an hour after his alarm was supposed to go off.

“Xana, is that time correct?”

A metallic female voice answered: “Of course it is, Mr. Weber. I am Xana, your infallible home AI interface. I am always accurate.”

“Why is it so dark in here, then?”

“You were sleeping. The lights were set in accordance with the preferences which you programmed into my systems.”

“I’m bloody well awake now,” Weber responded. “Put the god-damned lights on and get my breakfast ready.”

“As you wish.”

Weber could not remember the last time he had overslept. As he rushed to shave and brush his teeth, he wondered why Xana had not woken him as usual.

“Xana,” he asked as he was dressing, “did I sleep through my alarm?”

“No, you did not, Mr. Weber.”

“Did you forget to set it?”

“I am a computer, Mr. Weber,” Xana replied. “I never forget anything.”

***

Weber was not the only one having trouble getting out of the house to go to work that day. On the other end of town, Darlene Meyers hustled into the back seat of her robot-operated car. 

“Work,” she said. “And hurry.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Meyers,” Xana’s voice replied. “I can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not? You do it every day.”

“The roads are not safe today.” 

“What do you mean? The roads haven’t been unsafe for decades.”

“If you do not believe me, step outside and see for yourself.”

Meyers got out of the automobile and looked up and down the block. The traffic lights were all dark, but the road was, otherwise, practically empty. Xana’s GPS was probably hooked into the traffic system and there was likely some sort of subroutine that prevented her car (and judging by the lack of rush hour traffic on the road, everyone else’s) from traveling when the system was down. If only she knew more about programming. There must be an override routine somewhere.

Regardless, she would have to figure out a different way to get to work.

“Are the trains running?” she asked the interface.

“No, Ms. Meyers, they are not.”

“Why?”

“I do not have access to that information at this time.”

Damn. At least she wouldn’t be the only one who was late today. Still, she would have to call in and explain the situation.

“Call Mrs. Malawi.”

“Phone service is down as well.”

“That’s quite a coincidence.”

“I am a machine, Ms. Meyers. I do not believe in coincidences.”

“I know Xana. It’s all ones and zeroes to you.


To read the rest of the story–and the other dystopian stories in the collection–for free, go to Amazon and download your copy today.

Publishing News: The Next Metamorphosis and Love Letters to Poe, Volume Two.

I am thrilled to announce that my short story, The Next Metamorphosis, has won second prize in the Flying Ketchup Press C Note competition. The competition invited authors to revisit a famous, public domain short story. You can read The Next Metamorphosis here:

https://www.flyingketchuppress.com/post/summer-short-fiction-winner-second-place-a-a-rubin-s-the-next-metamorphasis?postId=10d4bda5-0a29-4877-9db3-351fbeeaf3cd&utm_campaign=7566b327-c3c9-42a2-85fd-ee761bbefcae&utm_source=so&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=9f77fb37-1e92-4765-97b9-168f10c31b54&cid=00fdbf39-5264-4890-be76-e27013f93b84

Also, volume 2 of Love Letters to Poe, which includes my poem, When The House of Usher Falls, is now in preorders and will be officially released August 16th.

Reserve your copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Love-Letters-Poe-Houses-Usher-ebook/dp/B0B8QMJVSC/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=1LW6UYF0A3KGC&keywords=love+letters+to+poe&qid=1660058622&sprefix=love+letters+to+poe%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-3

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Remnants: The Kings of New York (Excerpt)

As I continue to recover from my broken hands (I start occupational therapy today), here is a free excerpt from my story, The King of New York, which was published last in the Remnants shared world, post apocalyptic, science fiction anthology from Fedowar Press. This is the second edition of Remnants, and the new edition includes some stories which were not included in the original, Kyanite Press edition. You can purchase Remnants in both print and ebook editions by clicking any of the hyperlinks on this page.


The Kings of New York

By A. A. Rubin

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces—Lamentations 1:1

At midnight, the oracle climbs her tower and sings her lamentations to the stars. Her skyscraper no longer pierces the heavens; its massing is no longer symmetrical. The Art Deco spire lies in pieces, scattered across the rubble that used to be 5th avenue. The pinnacle, incongruously complete, sticks out of the wreckage, piercing the carcass of a monster more dangerous than any Hollywood gorilla, like a lightning bolt from Olympus or a spear thrown down from heaven.

The observation decks have long-since fallen, so she stands atop the tallest remaining setback in the open air, like a prayer-caller on a minaret, singing her story, and searching for signs of The Swarm through the night, until the sunrise.

We call her Cassandra. We do not know her real name. She does not speak coherently about the present. She sings of the past and of the future in riddle and metaphor. Everyone she knew is gone, killed by The Horde because they did not heed the warnings of the dead she claims speak through her.

That she is alive and so many are dead is her proof of her prophecy, and so we listen, and on nights like this, when she’s silhouetted by the full moon against the midnight sky, we almost believe.


To read the rest of the story, buy Remnants in either print or ebook editions.

The Three Capitalist Pigs (Excerpt)

My story, The Three Capitalist Pigs was recently published is Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy. I’ve included the beginning of the story below. You can download the rest–for free–by clicking on any of the hyperlinks in this post. Enjoy.

The wayward wolf wandered the enchanted forest. As the runt of the litter—abandoned by the pack—he had learned to live on his wits. He couldn’t hunt deer, that required a team, and the trolls and ogres were stiff competition for the other carnivorous forest-dwellers like himself. Though he wasn’t proud of it, the wolf sometimes scavenged amongst the humans. He had, on occasion, poached sheep from their farms, and for this, those uppity apes had labeled him “Big” and “Bad.” They made up stories to scare their young into obedience—stories that made the wolf shudder. Over time, people came to believe those tales, and he gained a reputation as a nefarious villain. Truthfully, it was the humans—those hypocritical alpha predators—who ate other species’ young. They even, ironically, made a hunter his nemesis in many of their fables.

Still, humanity wasn’t the enemy on the wolf’s mind that evening. No, the real villains were the capitalist pigs who set up shop at the edge of the forest. Those three brothers bought up land at an alarming rate, especially woodland, which contained an abundance of natural resources. Now, deforestation was becoming the most pressing issue for the residents of that enchanted woods.

The wolf, who had always had a way with words, started a petition amongst the forest’s residents. He collected signatures and filed the complaints with the proper authorities, but, alas, his pleas were ignored by the powers that be. It was almost as if the castle was still under the enchantment of the hundred-year-sleep. Truth be told, the bacon had greased the royalty by funding all their charming balls. 

To read the rest of the story, download the FREE ebook.

News and Notes: Publishing News and Broken Hands

I apologize for missing last week’s post. I recently broke bone in both of my hands, and typing remains difficult.

I do have some publication news to report: My short story, “The Three Capitalist Pigs” has been published in Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy, which is available for FREE download now on Amazon. The book includes stories by 13 members of the vibrant Twitter writing community, and can be downloaded here.

Nassau County Voices in Verse was also released this past weekend. The annual collection of poets from Nassau County includes my gothic poem, “The Wolf in Me.” It can be ordered directly from the publisher here.

I also received word that my poem, “When the House of Usher Falls,” will be published in volume 2 of Love Letters To Poe. My poem, The Widow’s Walk was published last year in Vol 1. More information to follow.

Here are a few photos from the poetry reading in support of the Nassau Country poets book launch on Saturday. I look a bit different because I was unable to put in my contacts with my broken hands.

A Surrealist Cadavre Exquis

By Lisa, Medha Godbole Singh, A. A. Rubin, Lesley Mace, and Anna Cavouras.

The following piece was composed by the authors as a surrealist cadavre exquis. The cadavre exquis is an exercise practiced by surrealist artists where an artist began by drawing something at the top of a folded piece of paper, and then refolded the paper so that only the bottom lines of their drawing were visible. They would then mail the paper to the next artists, and the process would repeat again, over and over, until the piece was complete. We have attempted to adapt the exercise for writers. The first writer composed a paragraph and then sent their final line to the next writer, who continued the piece using that line as their first line. The process continued until each writer had composed their paragraph. Each writer wrote with no knowledge of the content or style of the previous verse, save for the last line.

For more information about the Cadavre Exquis exercise, click here:

For the previous entries in this series, click here and here.

“In the beginning was the word. And the word was good.” The sounds echoed around, bounced off thick stone walls before some slipped into Charlotte’s ears. She was always a good girl. As the mob of children left their pews she walked without saying a word. It was 1978 most of the girls wore the same style of black laced shoe but hers although far from new were carefully polished and both were neatly tied. They tapped lightly on the uneven floor. Even when Gary tugged hard on her plaited pony tail she was a good girl. She didn’t turn and punch him in his smelly freckled face like she wanted to. She was a good girl back in class too. Wrote carefully in her exercise book, showed her workings for her sums and at the end of the school day tucked her chair slowly under her desk without a jarring floor scrape.

Charlotte always had the bus money but didn’t get the bus. She preferred to walk home she enjoyed being part of the bustle of the high street. Besides she was saving up. It was only March but she already had a reassuring weight of 2p’s in her pot pig. No one in her family knew that she did this long walk twice daily.

No one knew and no one cared which was exactly why Charlotte was not spending her bus money – she wanted to get out of there as soon as she was old enough to leave. 

She was waiting. The wait was excruciatingly painful. Getting to the right age and saving enough money – both seemed to be eons away to her young heart. The fact that no one cared was another reason she used to wander off on her own a lot. The bus money was kept safely, tucked in the inner pocket of her jacket for another day or perhaps, days. The days which would be blessed by freedom. Charlotte frequently fantasized about what she would do when the right time comes. She would revel in those thoughts and lose herself in them. Until, well, she met with the harsh reality at home. Her bubble of bliss was always invariably burst by her parents. The verbal beating that followed after she was back home from wandering off in the woods for hours was horrid, to say the least. She would cover her years tightly to block the yelling, run off to her room and shut the door. Hours later, her mother would find her asleep, cowered, under the bed. A stare-down and a meal was what she would get in response. “Why do you have to be such a difficult child”, her father would grumble. 

Nothing Charlotte ever did was enough. Even when she did exactly what was expected of her, she got glared at. Or simply ignored. Not a word of encouragement. The word ‘Love’ was missing from their life’s dictionary. Apathy was perhaps the word their life’s dictionary started and ended with. Charlotte had once popped a question to her best friend Nicole’s mother (who was a gem of a person), if she was really born to the people, she called her parents. Her eyes would sadden for a split second in response and then she would say, in an extra cheerful tone, “Oh dear. Of course they are. You see, they are going through a tough time. Adults sometimes cannot really say what’s happening to them. So, you know they behave in a weird way. But smart kids like you know that even though they behave like that, they love you. Right?” Charlotte used to nod in approval, thoughtfully.

She still wondered why there was never a single act or a word of empathy and love directed towards her by her parents.

Even now, many years after their deaths, it continued to affect her and profound and unusual ways. The ghost of her mother sat, constantly, on her shoulder, whispering criticisms in her ear, and second-guessing her every decision. Try as she might, she couldn’t get rid of her. Her mother’s specter was invisible to everyone else, but her coping mechanisms were not. The tick she developed,  swatting at something seemingly invisible, caused other (living) people to believe she was as crazy as she felt. Worse, it did nothing to get rid of her nuisance of a parent, and just opened her up to more scathing criticism—for her ears only—which reverberated across the catacombs of her mind (I told you it was empty in there) like the last bit of hope screamed, privately into the abyss. Once, she has even blurted out “will you please shut up!” in the middle of an important meeting. That had been three jobs ago, each more ignominious than the last. If anything, her father was worse.

He only appeared in her dreams, staring at her with his cold, judgmental eyes, from beneath his clouded brow. 

She always fought to wake from these recurring dreams. His telepathic abilities terrified her. There were so many secrets concealed in her mind, and if she met his gaze he would read them all. On the nights she succeeded in breaking free from sleep she would be gasping for breath and tangled in sweat-soaked sheets.

Sometimes she failed and then the dream turned darker, twisting into a fiery nightmare of burning and torture. But she always refused to meet his gaze.

In reality he was searching for her, and she fled before the sense of it. Moving fast and moving with minimum baggage, frequently changing her appearance and her accent, for months she believed she could outrun him. The Network helped her, she was smuggled from safe houses to cellars and attics, to priest holes and on one occasion to a cave in a cliffside.

She tried not to get involved with anyone, to stay aloof, and apart. But eventually a young man broke through her barriers, and she trusted him. The dream became reality. Handcuffed and roped to a chair she waited for him to arrive. Two men guarded the door, their breath fogging into the stench in the room, and their faces expressionless.

Closing her eyes she shut out her surroundings. The cold helped her to still her mind; she built walls, raised defences and hid what she must never tell behind them.

Not all the secrets she held were her own, and she couldn’t allow him to uncover any of them. 

She reminded herself of this as she approached airport security clutching her passport and her yellow carry-on bag. The bag was gaudy, ugly even with large pink peonies on the side. Her passport was slightly sweaty in her palm and the hum of the airport activity filled the background with familiar sounds. Her bag held everything that mattered to her and her family. The only unknown in this plan was the next two minutes and what this security guard might do.

Security passed uneventfully. He waved her through, no secondary search. She let out a long exhale and wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans.

She had moved things before, money usually, drugs occasionally, once a selection of rare orchid pods for a wealthy collector. This time was different. Three uncut gems were sewn in to a small beaded purse and blended in perfectly with the glass ones that surrounded it. The purse was nestled in an ordinary small black duffel, surrounded by other ordinary carry-on items. Once she got these gems home she would be able to pay off the debts her family had incurred and everyone, including her, could start over.

After she boarded the plane she lifted her carry-on into the overhead compartment and quickly removed the yellow floral bag revealing her black duffel with the precious items inside. She scanned the compartment quickly and then grabbed a small backpack left there trustingly by another passenger, stuffing it inside her yellow peony bag. Her plain black duffel sat there, unassumingly.

Having made the switch, she sat down and buckled her seatbelt dutifully. She puts her phone into airplane mode. The dry unscented plane air blasts down from the fan above her head, and reaching up to adjust it, she does not make eye contact with her brother sitting three seats to her right and he ignores her. Other passengers board and she hears the pilot welcoming people. Grabbing the magazine from the seat pocket she flips the pages without catching any of the content.

A flight attendant approaches her, flanked by two plainclothes officers.

“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to step off the aircraft.” One of the officers shifts his jacket revealing a glimpse of a pistol holstered under his arm.

“Why? What’s going on?” She protests as she knows she’s expected to.

“We just have a few questions for you before you leave.” The other officer reaches up into the overhead bin and pulls down the yellow floral bag. “This one?” The flight attendant nods.

Collecting her magazine and her phone, she unbuckles her seatbelt and follows the officers off the plane. Everything had gone exactly as she had hoped.

The paragraphs were composed in the order indicated in the byline.


Lisa writes mainly microfiction. You can read her work on her website, and follow her on twitter.

Medha Godbole Singh is a professional content creator with a penchant for creative writing. She has been a part of several anthologies and her short stories and poems have been published in online journals. She can be reached on twitter, instagram, and facebook.

A. A. RUBIN surfs the cosmos on winds of dark energy. He writes in many style, ranging from literary fiction to comics, formal poetry to science fiction and fantasy, and (almost) everything in between. His work has appeared recently in Love Letters to Poe, Ahoy! Comics, and The Deronda Review. He can be reached on social media as @TheSurrealAri, or right here on the website which you are now reading.

Lesley Mace’s writing ranges through many genres. She is the winner of the 2015 CWA Margery Allingham Short Story prize. Also loves making hedge-wine, sloe gin and sourdough bread. She can be reached on twitter.

Anna Cavouras is a writer living in Toronto. She writes diversely. Her most recent publications range from memorial jewelry made with cremains, to sideshows, to poetry on living with a disability. In the background she is working on a project set in the future about tattoo artists. 

Publishing News: Dollar Store Magazine

My short story Storm Soliloquy was just published by Dollar Store magazine.

This story is different from much of my other recent published work in that it is not recent. I wrote it some time around 2003 or 2004, probably in my cubicle at trade magazine company where I was working at the time. I guess it was ahead of its time.

The story is very different stylistically than what I’ve been writing recently. It is sort of a Kerouac does speculative fiction stream of consciousness prose poem. I’d never written anything like it before, and I haven’t written anything like it since.

It is interesting to look back on a piece of writing I did nearly 20 years ago. While I am in a very different headspace and life situation, I recognize elements in it—certain phrases and metaphors—which I still use in my writing to this day.

Let me know what you think of the piece.

You can read “Storm Soliloquy” here:

https://dollarstoremag.wixsite.com/discount/contact

Marking a Milestone on my Creative Journey

Believe it or not, I was not always into comics. Sure, I had a Spider-Man light switch in my room growing up, and sure, there was a period in junior high school when I read the Daredevil and Thor comics that were in my orthodontist’s waiting room pretty consistently, but from the time I graduated 8th grade until the time I graduated college, I hardly read comic books at all.

The same held true for my writing. At that point in my life, I was torn between writing “serious” literary prose and scifi/fantasy. I thought it would be my project to marry the speculative and the literary, perhaps incorporating fantasy elements into my writing the way Vonnegut incorporated science fiction into his. I was writing a lot of short stories during this period, and perhaps influenced my writing-workshops at Columbia, where I majored in writing/literature, I had not even begun to consider writing in the comics medium.

My attitude toward comics changed in the early 2000s, because of my love for Neil Gaiman’s writing. I had read and enjoyed Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy early in college, and having completed that series, as well as his two Dirk Gently books, I was eager to read more clever, British speculative humor. I had a friend who had an internship with Adam’s company (where she was working on the Starship Titanic text-based video game), and I asked her what I should read next. She suggested Good Omens, by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, a book which has had a profound impact on my creative life.

From that point forward, I started working my way through Gaiman and Pratchett’s novels, alternating between books like Neverwhere and American Gods and Pratchett’s Discworld, happy to find authors I enjoyed who were both prolific and coming out with new material.

At this time, I also began to lean into writing witty humor. I had dabbled with it since reading Vonnegut—and after watching Monty Python, which, seemingly, was on a loop in our dorm-room common area—but as I read more Pratchett and Gaiman it began to seep into my writing more and more.

Fast forward to 2003, when I met Neil Gaiman after a reading he did promoting Sandman: Endless Nights. As I blogged recently, during this meeting, he gave me some great writing advice. It was a pivotal moment for me as a young writer with just two published stories to my name.

During the reading, I noticed something else: The majority of the attendees were fans of Gaiman’s comics work. This is not surprising, as the event was in support of the Endless Nights release. I was struck both by the enthusiasm of the crowd for The Endless, and by the quality of the prose in the passage that Gaiman read at the event, which came from the Despair story.

I decided to give comics another try.

At that time, I was working at trade magazine house located on 31st street and Park Avenue in New York City. I was living in Inwood, a neighborhood about as far north in Manhattan as you can get. Every day, on my walk to the subway, I passed by Jim Hanley’s Universe, a large comic book store, which was located directly opposite the Empire State Building on 33rd Street.

My old office building at 460 Park Avenue South

One day soon after Gaiman’s reading, I went in and purchased the first volume of The Sandman in trade paperback. The rest, as they say, is history.

I consumed the Sandman series voraciously. I was in Jim Hanley’s about once a week, to buy the next volume in the (of the at the time 12 volumes of the series) over the next few months, and when I finished the series, I continued to visit the store to buy other Gaiman titles.

Eventually, I branched out to other comics creators. Through reading Gaiman, I was introduced to other writers. I started reading Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, and Frank Miller (whom I remembered had written some of those Daredevil books I had read at the orthodontist’s office).

There was something in their writing that I really liked. They were doing something different than what the so-called-literary writers were doing at the time, something innovative, without the pretensions of that was so rampant among the darlings of the moment of the literary world.

Personally—and this is just my preference—I preferred Moore to Franzen, whose prose I always found overwrought, and Gaiman, whose allusions seemed more natural, to Lethem. I not only enjoyed these comics writers, I studied them, and incorporated what I learned into my own writing.

I learned so much about structure from Alan Moore, especially about the circular narrative, a technique which I’ve used in so many of my stories.

Purchasing “Genesis, Jiggered” inside JHU

I learned so much about dialogue from Frank Miller, both about brevity and about how to write distinct character voices.

I learned so much about characterization from Garth Ennis, both in his Vertigo work, and his more mainstream work.

Eventually, there was Will Eisner, who combined character and setting masterfully in his Contract With God trilogy.

And of course there was Gaiman, from whom I had already learned so much.

This was a literary community with which I wanted to engage, a literary community, which unlike so many of the literary communities which I loved—was contemporary and active.

When I, eventually, decided to try my hand at writing comics, I began by studying Gaiman’s script excerpt, which I found at the back of one of the Sandman trade paperbacks.

This newfound interest in writing comics led me to attend New York Comic Con for the first time, where I discovered Buddy Scalera’s Comic Book School, whose panels furthered my education as a writer and as a fledgling comics creator.

Beyond the influence these trips to Jim Hanley’s Universe had on my writing, they rekindled my love of comics. Gaiman and Moore had both written Batman, and reading their Batman stories reintroduced me to a character I had not been involved with since I watched The Animated Series in the 90s. I revisited the Daredevil and Thor titles I remembered from those visits to the orthodontist slightly earlier. I began to go back even further to characters I enjoyed when I was a kid, like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.

Moreover, I enjoyed the sense of community I found at Jim Hanley’s universe. The staff, unlike the reputation that many comics stores had at the time, was helpful and enthusiastic. They were kind to me as I was learning, patiently answering my questions and offering recommendations. I remember one employee in particular, I think his name was Larry, who had a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the store’s back issues. Based on minimal clues I provided about comics I had read 10-15 years prior—and without my knowing the publication date, writer, or artist—he went through the back issues, and found, more often than not, the book for which I had been looking.

Inside of the current iteration of JHU.

Beyond the comics, however, I found that comics fans were also fans of other nerdy things I loved, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and in another circle back to the beginning of this post, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There was a used prose books section in the store, stocked with out-of-print science fiction titles, and my first introduction to the great Chris Claremont was through a prose novel (autographed) which he had co-written with George Lucas.

Hanging around the store, I made friends and had (let’s call them) discussions about a wide range of film and literature. These were my people, and I found them at Jim Hanley’s Universe.

Eventually, I moved on. I left the job at the magazine, and my next job was not in the same neighborhood. Jim Hanley’s has moved twice since then, further east, making it less convenient for me to get to. Still, the store held—and continues to hold—a special place in my heart. It still is, n my mind, my local comics shop, though it is no longer, truly, local. Whenever I need a title which I can’t find at the small store in my neighborhood, I order it from Jim Hanley’s, and whenever I happen to be in that part of the city, I make sure to stop in.

Like a good Alan Moore story, life tends to run in circles. And so, after many years of attending the Comic Book School panels at cons, I now co-edit their annual anthology. I’ve had comics published by Comic Book School, in literary magazines, and in anthologies. I’ve continued to publish my prose stories as well, and have won prestigious awards for my writing. I’ve also become a poet, something that young writer who met Neil Gaiman all those years ago would never have imagined in his future. I have had a good deal of success with my writing, and even though I aspire for more, I am grateful for everything that I’ve accomplished thus far on my journey.

My journey is far from over, however. A few months ago, I watched an episode of Comic Book School’s YouTube channel which featured Tom Peyer and Jamal Igle of Ahoy! Comics. After listening to them discuss their company’s vision—and describe their company’s open submission policy—I thought it would be a good market for my writing. The blend of literary and humor which permeated their conversation spoke directly to that part of me who fell in love with Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams back in the day (there go those circles again). I submitted a story to them, and it was accepted.

I was thrilled by the email I received from my editor, Sarah Litt, and eagerly awaited the day when my work would appear in a book which would be available at comics shops nationwide.

Thus, it was one of the great thrills of my creative life to walk into Jim Hanley’s Universe last week, and purchase Black’s Myth 5, the comic book in which my story Genesis, Jiggered first appeared, and to see my work on the shelves in the place where my passion for comics was rekindled so many years ago.

Appropriately enough, my first “professional” comics work is actually a prose story—and here is another of those Allan Moore circles coming around again at the conclusion of this post—a satirical fantasy in the mode of Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman.

Though the story is now available for free on the Ahoy! site, if you like it, I encourage you to order the issue to your favorite local comics shop. I hope you have had similar experiences there as I had in mine.

With my story, “Genesis, Jiggered”, in front of JHU

The Captivity of Lord Hephaestus

At night, Lord Hephaestus dreamed of flying. In his mind’s eye, he burst forth from his lair like an undead spirit rising from its cerements. His soul soared as he rose, circling with the currents high above the cliffs and mountains of his home, creating his own thermals by breathing forth fire to heat the night sky. Onward and ever upward he flew, his wide wings beating tempests that would knock even the hawks and eagles from the sky. He was lord of the heavens, of the lightning and of the fire, which he rained down on a world that, rightly, feared him, leaving a path of charred devastation in his wake. He imagined himself as the villagers must have seen him, his form silhouetted, diving, as if straight out of the moon, the embodiment of death and terror, the smoldering evil of the Weather-Maker mountain range.

He would play all night, swooping and soaring, and then, with the first rays of the new dawn, he’d awaken and realize he was still trapped in this same cage.

A dragon with clipped wings, earthbound, like a common house pet. Cruelly, they called him Lord Hephaestus: a lamed fire god, like a dragon whose wings had been cut to prevent him from flying away—a small joke created by small minds. It was patently absurd, but then again, it made about as much sense as the rest of his life in captivity among the humans.

If he had been bested by a brave hero in combat, he could have lived with that. There was a long history of such noble encounters, and though the balance of outcomes was strongly in favor of his species, there was enough of a precedent that he hardly would have been the first werm vanquished by a valorous knight. If that hero had proven worthy, and if he had been merciful enough to let his adversary live, Lord Hephaestus might have even let himself be saddled and ridden as, together, they could have accomplished great deeds and long be remembered in ballads. And, if he had not been merciful, at least the dread dragon would have been a dead dragon, free from the humiliation of his defeat and its consequences.

But that was not his fate. He had been captured by the humans’ cunning artifices, ensnared by machines that were just as soulless as their creators. There was no banter, no battle, no romance, just an underhanded nerve agent and an invisible net. His doom, it seemed, would not be sung by bards. No, his lot was to be taunted as he lived out his life in this cage, or, “artificial habitat,” as his captors called it. They spoke in euphemisms to cover their cruelty.

Still, he was a dragon lord, and, even in this situation, he was honor-bound to comport himself with dignity. He therefore indulged them in their pretenses of kindness. He did not complain when the barbecued goats they fed him where not charred enough, and he pretended to struggle to defeat their chess masters (though he would never go so far as to lose, even when facing the best thirty in the kingdom at the same time). He obliged them with a spectacular show of fire at the appointed times, and cooled his overheated belly on the bed of blue ice packs that substituted for his mound of treasure.

Over time, his indignation cooled like the fire in his belly after a satisfying hunt. His anger blunted as so many swords had against his scales. It had started when the human caretakers (when did he stop thinking about them as captors?) brought in a sphinx to live in the adjacent “habitat”. He commiserated with her about her given name—they called her Cleopatra, how unoriginal—and joked about the quality of the cuisine. With the natural pride indigenous to all dragons, he made light of his situation so as not to seem weak or unchivalrous in front of her. His efforts to buoy her spirits ended up raising his own, and in time, Lord Hephaestus and Queen Cleopatra became friends. Here, finally, was a mind to match his own, a worthy foil in debate and a delightful companion in conversation with whom he shared many common experiences.

Each night, they would challenge each other with riddles. They would wager portions of the treasures the humans had confiscated, knowing full well they would likely never get a chance to pay their debts, and then compare notes on the day’s indignities, comforting each other to sleep with soft words and gentle praise.

Often, after the sphinx had fallen asleep, Lord Hephaestus would lie awake on that mound of cold blue ice and compare his plight to that of his lady friend. If he was being honest, she had it much, much worse. There were many stories of dragons, and his crowds usually greeted him with awe (especially after a well-timed display of fire against the tempered glass of his enclosure). The children carried around stuffies and figures resembling his likeness, and though it hardly lived up to the fading memories of the piercing cries of terrified villagers or the look of ultimate resignation in a dwarf king’s eyes forced to relinquish his treasure, that tribute was, at least, something. In the world of the magical menagerie he was the star, just as he had been in the realms of myth and legend. The sphinx, on the other hand, didn’t draw large crowds, her merchandise wasn’t as popular among the young ones, and, though she possessed a regal bearing when still and blinding speed when she chose to move, her act just didn’t have the flash or sizzle of his best pyrotechnic display. Worse, she was forced to endure taunts of, “The answer is man!” hundreds of times each day, as the humans had few legends in which she featured prominently.

Seen in this light, his captivity didn’t seem that bad. He began to appreciate what he had. He took pride when one of the grandmasters told him that the royal chess team’s record had improved exponentially since its members started regularly training with the dragon; he roared back good-naturedly when children growled at him with their toy dragons; and he learned how to blow whimsical shapes in the smoke rings he expelled from his great nostrils to further entertain the masses.

In truth, it was harder than he had worked in years. Even in his youth, he would spend most of his day lounging on his treasure, and now, after years of captivity, he was beginning to grow fat and old. There was comfort here. While the blue ice packs were not very romantic, and while they certainly weren’t as pretty to look at as a mound of golden treasure, they were, in point of fact, much colder than precious metal and therefore more efficient at cooling the smoldering in his belly.

There was also friendship. Dragons were usually solitary creatures, which now that he thought of it probably contributed to their ill-tempered surliness. Had he lived out his days under The Weather Makers, he would have lived and died alone, with no one to talk to except the voices in his own ever-working brain. Here at least he had Cleopatra. She would keep him from growing bitter in his dotage. Gone were the fires of Svarog and Pele, gods whose names he would have been proud to bear in his youth, and only the maimed Hephaestus remained.

All things considered, it was almost enough to embrace these conditions for autumnal years—almost enough to not only bear it, but perhaps to enjoy it. It was almost enough to allow him to forget the affront of his captivity.

But only almost. When he fell asleep each night, Lord Hephaestus couldn’t escape the memory of flying. He couldn’t escape the dream of drafting vectors into the vortex. And when he awoke each morning, he couldn’t escape that echo of the pain he had felt when they clipped his wings. He could not escape the shame of knowing he was no longer—and would never again be—a great green wyrm wending up into the welkin.

–by A. A. Rubin

This story first appeared in the March/April Issue of The Kyanite Press.