By Ally Chua
“There’s a monster under my bed,” my son said, stifling his yawn.
I looked at Timmy, his sleepy eyes hidden beneath a mop of messy hair.
I ruffled his head and nodded. “I’m sure.”
“It keeps kicking my bed at night, Dad. He wants to play.”
“Oh, yeah? Is that why you’re yawning?”
Timmy shrugged. “Sometimes I throw paper balls for him to catch.”
I thought about the crumpled paper balls I had seen in his room recently. “Well, tell him I don’t like messy rooms.”
Miss L pulled me to one side when I picked Timmy up that afternoon. He’s been sleeping in class, she said.
I messaged my friends for advice on the ride home. I did not tell my mum. News of Timmy not sleeping was sure to go back to Lina.
Tire him out, a friend suggested. So that evening, I gave Timmy free rein at the playground. He clambered up the tubes like he was immune to gravity. He ran across the bridge so many times I was sure he left grooves. I dissuaded him from jumping off the swing. When we got home, I was exhausted.
Timmy showed me a drawing he’d done in class. A crayon-outlined bed and beneath it, a circular mass of squiggles with two bulbous eyes. It was eating an ice-cream cone.
I decided to sleep in Timmy’s room that night. I read to Timmy and watched as his eyelids turned droopy. When he was asleep, I retired to my makeshift bed.
I was almost asleep when I heard an unmistakable thud.
It came from the gap below the bed. I jolted upright, listening hard. No other sound except for the ticking alarm clock. My heart was pounding.
Was I mistaken?
Then a crumpled ball shot out, rolling to a stop near my feet. There was a scrambling sound and another thump, and this time my son was roused from his sleep. He looked at me groggily.
I moved. I took a tennis racket from Timmy’s closet. I swept the racket below the bed. Nothing there but dust. I heard what sounded like whimpering.
The following night, Timmy slept in my room and I took his room instead.
I waited for ages, but the room remained silent. Finally, I climbed down onto the floor. I looked under Timmy’s bed and threw a paper ball in.
Nothing happened for a few seconds. Then there was a scrambling sound, and the ball shot out onto my lap.
On the third night, I brought Timmy back to his bedroom. When he fell asleep, I sat down and played catch with the crevasse beneath his bed. After a while the balls stopped rolling back. If I listened hard, I could hear two sets of snoring.
I set a sandwich underneath the bed before I left the room. Ice cream was not a healthy snack, even for monsters under the bed. The plate was empty the next day, with a curious layer of dust.
How the Demigod Albert Einstein Stole Nuclear Power from the Physical Gods
by Aleksander Wittkamp
Put away your chains and razorwhips, children. Unbolt your steel mohawks, drop your voltfists, and come away from the nuclear radiator. Gather round. Let me tell you how Albert Einstein stole nuclear power from the gods of the physical realm.
This was millennia ago, when wild F-22 raptors hunted dinosaurs in the Himalayas. It was a time when a person fended off a sabertooth tiger in the morning and gave birth to mutant octoplets in the afternoon. They were days when people dressed in the skins of dead elephants, packed themselves into rooms the size of shoeboxes, and raved to the screamings of metal boxes. Dark times, they were, but grand. However, over those halcyon days loomed a threat far greater than any land-orca or rogue panther tank—powerlessness.
The people had burned every tree on the planet. They’d sapped the wind from the sky and drained the light from the sun. Out of options, the last inhabitants of Neo Toronto, Old York, and Forever Tokyo bunkered down to wait out their remaining days before pitch-black war consumed them.
But there was one man who saw light through the darkness: Albert Einstein.
Hair like a woolly sheep, he had, and a chest like the cattle-catcher afront my killmobile. A man of titanic appetite, he once cooked a blue whale over an open volcano and ate the sea-mammal in a single sitting. They say his eyes could spy a crack on a smartphone screen from over the horizon, and his ears were so refined that he could bow-hunt mammoths with his eyes closed.
When word reached him that humanity was at death’s door, would you believe he laughed? A deep, hearty, meaningful laugh, like if a thunderhead could laugh. Then he delivered his line that would go down in history: “e equals mc my fist.”
With that, the great man of action sprang into action. He took up his bladed calculator, wrapped cords of dagger chalk around his waist, and strapped his blackboard of power to his back. Thus equipped, he called upon the spirits of those mighty warriors of old—the White Wolf Mary Currie, Reimann of the Double-Fisted Peril, and the Cyborg Hawking—to come to his aid.
Together they traveled through a rent in reality’s veil to the upside-down madness of the physical realm. There they clashed with the physical gods. The Cyborg Hawking laid cover fire on Brownian Motion, The White Wolf bit Magnetism in half, and Reimann double-handedly pummeled the Quantum Uncertainy Principle into quivering probability mass.
Alone, Albert Einstein descended to the physical core. He ripped Nucleus apart with his bare hands and emerged triumphant, holding aloft a glowing rod of plutonium, and with it the power to revitalize civilization. This is why we thank Albert Einstein every Doomsday when we kiss the nuclear radiator.
Now go forth, children, to your afternoon tasks. The hellcats are nearly through the sunset door and you must lay waste to them lest they eat our herd of ratcows.
When the Head Comes Knocking
By Sylvia Heike
As usual, it’s the head causing most of the problems. I’m snuggling on the sofa with the Headless Horseman, when his missing head knocks—or thumps—on the front door.
“I want you back,” he says, his deep voice carrying through the thin walls.
Both me and his body freeze like someone’s pressed the pause button on us, and I’m not sure what to do. His arm tightens around me, pulling me closer, but for now, I must resist his blazing warmth.
I nudge him gently. “I think he means you.”
The Headless Horseman shows no sign of getting up, and why should he—it was his head who left, and it’s hardly the first time. Floated out the window on a bad day, saying he wasn’t good enough, that he was ruining everything. I think the head expected the body to follow, but well, that didn’t happen. It’s always been a fraught relationship, much more so than ours.
His head’s wrong, of course. It’s just his anxiety talking. If only his head could see how good his heart is, what a great boyfriend the rest of him knows how to be. He’s always hugging and holding me, doing the dishes or baking apple pie, and taking me for romantic horse rides. At night he carries me to bed.
“Trina?” Nearly a whisper, but I hear it. “I miss kissing you.”
Likewise. I’d say it loud, but I don’t want his body to feel bad, less, somehow. It’s enough for his brain to be plagued with such lies.
“Should I let him in?” I ask the Headless Horseman, receiving no response other than the steady rise and fall of his chest and a shrug.
“I just want to be happy and not worry about things,” his head says.
“I know.” If only inner peace would come as easily for the man as it does for his pale horse eating apples in the garden.
I can no longer fight the pull of my feet, wanting to take me to the door. As I get up, the Horseman’s arm slides off me easily, and I realise he wants me to go. His heart holds no grudges, forgives as easily as it loves.
“I’m sorry,” the head behind the door says, sounding eternally tired. “For disappearing like that. It didn’t help anything. I’m back now, if you’ll have me.”
When I open the door, his floating head can’t find the words in his mouth. As he tries to speak, I hold a finger to his lips. Shhh . . . There are plenty of words left to say, but it’s his body that needs to hear them, and embrace them, much more than I do.
This isn’t really about me, after all. I love them both. All of him. Even his stupid head.
I kiss the Headless Horseman on the forehead, touch his approaching body softly on the arm, and leave the room.
“I’ll let you two work it out.”
By Drew Czernik
There’s a T-rex stalking me. I keep catching glimpses of it from the corner of my eye. It’s trying to hide behind a houseplant, but there’s only so much cover a dying Ficus will give you.
I’m ignoring it. Sometimes they disappear before they . . .
Not this time.
It’s racing across the carpet towards me. Well, racing might be optimistic. One of its legs is shorter than the other so it’s kind of hobbling. I watch it, wondering what it plans when it catches me. It’s not quite two inches tall and its mouth is stuck halfway open. I can’t see any teeth in there. Maybe it’s going to gum my shin to death?
“Abby,” I call upstairs. “Are you drawing dinosaurs again?”
There’s a long silence. I know she heard me.
“Abby,” I call again. “I thought we agreed, we only do dinosaurs with the outside chalk.”
There’s a sound like a toilet hiccupping and now there’s a black spot on the carpet by the T-rex. Smoke curls from the singed fibers.
She’s figured out fire.
That mark isn’t going to come out.
“Abby! Come here!”
The T-rex has reached me. It’s headbutting my ankle and squeaking angrily.
Small feet thunder down the stairs and then Abby’s in the doorway. “Sorry, Mom.” She’s clutching a piece of green construction paper with a drawing of the T-rex on it. She looks too gleeful to actually be sorry. “I gave this one some fire! Did it work?”
I point to the dark spot on the carpet, and she squeals.
“It worked!” She bends down to examine the dinosaur, who has given up on me and is now gnawing on the couch. She looks up, grinning. “Can I keep it?”
I smile despite myself. I remember the first fire breather I drew. I was six, the same age as Abby. I wanted to keep it too. My Quadricorn charred Dad’s briefcase before he made me erase it.
“Abby,” I tell her gently, “you know the rules. The longer we keep it, the more real it gets. It’ll keep growing. We can’t have a fire-breathing dinosaur running around the neighborhood, can we?”
Her grin fades. “I guess not.”
“Besides, as long as it’s around, you can’t draw anything else. Isn’t there something New you want to draw?”
Her grin reappears. “Julia just got a puppy; maybe I can draw her!”
“Sounds good,” I agree. “But no fire, ok?”
Her shoulders slump, but she nods. “Ok, Mom.” She unceremoniously rips the paper in half and the T-rex disappears with a small pop.
She starts to leave, then turns back to me. “Mom?”
“How come you never draw anything New? Grandad says you’re really good.”
I pause, thinking of the drawing in the fireproof vault upstairs. The one I drew six years ago. The one of the baby.
It’s true; I was pretty good.
“Who needs something New when I’ve got you, sweetheart?”
She smiles and runs back upstairs.
About the Authors
Drew lives in Ottawa, Canada. This is his third Escape Artists flash fiction contest win, having been among the winners of previous Pseudopod and Escape Pod contests. When he’s not working on his next contest entry, Drew can be found exploring Ottawa with his family. He can be found online at www.AllofAlgonquin.com where he writes non-fiction stories about paddling in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park.
Aleks Wittkamp is out there every night making moves. People wonder how he can possibly kill it so hard, and the only answer he can give them is that he was born to slay. On the rare occasion that his body is tired, he guzzles down a gallon of pineapple juice and dashes off an atomic narrative bomb before getting back out there to crush it some more. He lives his massive life in Toronto, Canada.
Ally Chua is a Singaporean writer. She works for a botanical attraction, and writes when she’s not replying to emails within seven working days. She is the 2019 Singapore Unbound Fellow for New York City, and a member of local writing collective /s@ber. Ally has been published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Cordite Poetry Review, and Lammergeier Magazine.
Sylvia Heike is a speculative fiction writer from Finland. Her stories have recently appeared in Flash Fiction Online and elsewhere. When not writing, she likes to go hiking and looking for birds. She tweets at @sylviaheike and you can find her online at sylviaheike.com.
About the Narrators
Lalana Dara is Thai American, was born in New York, and spent 20+ years in life sciences and information technology.
She is a gamer girl, a foodie, and a wanderer. Usually not lost.
Lalana is also known as Piper J. Drake, bestselling author of romantic suspense, paranormal romance, science fiction, and fantasy.
Andrew K. Hoe practices Choy Li Fut Kung Fu and Tai Chi in Southern California, where he also writes speculative YA fiction. He has been a high school English teacher, an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, and is now a college professor. He is an Assistant Editor for Cast of Wonders. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Cast of Wonders, Diabolical Plots, Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Highlights for Children, and elsewhere. Follow him online or on Twitter.
Sri is a graduate student hailing from near Toronto, Ontario, who is (metaphorically) wandering the world, searching for purpose. She is deeply fond of reading and writing speculative fiction, especially fantasy, and has work published in Cast of Wonders; she hopes to publish more soon. Outside of writing, she is learning how to play the guitar and piano, practicing the violin, daydreaming, and trying to motivate herself to finish any of the numerous projects she has going. You can find her on Twitter at @sriative, where she rarely tweets but lurks in the shadows, casting her judgmental yet benevolent eye over the world.
Graeme has been involved with Escape Artists for many years, producing audio, hosting shows, narrating stories and keeping the websites going. He was born in Australia, although people have identified him as English, American and South African, amongst other nationalities. He loves the spoken word. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and beautiful boy dog, Jake.