For the record, it was not my death but the death of my VPN that led to a drought of posting in recent weeks. For the last three weeks, I was only able to break through the veil of censorship for periods of at most a few minutes, which wasn't enough time to do much of anything. The downtime did at least give me an opportunity to wrap up one small project:
Cavalcade of Rejection: 21 Failed Short Stories Rescued from the Reject Pile is just what you think it is - a collection of the very stories you've been seeing here. Half of the stories are unique to this collection, so there is brand new material here.
Oh, but one thing: Don't buy it. This collection exists as another means to spread the word, in this case via Amazon. I don't want you to spend money on it. I'm posting this for two reasons: One, if you have access to Kindle Unlimited, then I invite you to read the whole thing. Two, I will do a giveaway soon (next week, maybe even this weekend) and at that time, I would like everyone reading this to download it and leave kiss=ass reviews. Oh, and the unseen stories in this collection are also Creative Commons (as is the collection as a whole) and the file is DRM-free. Spread it around, knock yourself out.
The catch is that now that these stories are on Amazon, I really can't post any more (I'm shocked they let me get away with this much). The "good" news is that I've been getting more rejections this whole time, and today I'm showing off one that I've been waiting out for a long time.
"Distance is a Fallacy" is fresh off of rejection number twenty, and this one has a naughty secret. It's an acid story (as was "The Ego Collector," featured in the collection), which means exactly what you think it does. My favorite bit about this one is that I can just forego this section and show you the story behind it - it's here.
Beyond that, "Distance is a Fallacy" is born from a type of narrative that I've always really liked - the "journal of a man slowly losing his mind" - but which is not terribly varied. These stories are almost exclusively horror, and as there's little variation in them, they've fast become a cliche. Why restrict it to horror, though? If someone can go crazy with fear, why can't he instead go crazy with love?
Looking over my stories, I've noticed that I've stranded a lot of astronauts in space. As a man living overseas, there might be some hidden meaning in that.
Distance is a Fallacy
We've finally done it. After months of sitting alone in this tiny remote outpost - has it just been months? It truly feels like it's been five years since I was sent to this isolated shed on the frontiers of oblivion - I finally have something substantive to report. I have received communication from a non-terrestrial source and, after many rounds of analysis, I can confirm with a <0.01% margin of error that the transmission was from an intelligent source. I have already broadcast the preplanned welcome message and am eagerly awaiting the response, which I will of course pass along to headquarters promptly as I receive it.
I'll be forthright - I received this communication many hours ago, but I hesitated before sending a formal report. Perhaps I overanalyzed this information, and I apologize for the time I may have wasted, but it came in such a bizarre form that I had every reason to doubt its authenticity. It wasn't an ordinary radio signal, or an optical one, or any other form of electronic communication common to humanity. Rather, it arrived as a sort of ripple in the cosmic background radiation. Not exactly a scientific description, I know, but it was only within the past hour that I was even able to properly define this phenomenon within our understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum.
There is also a subjective component to this report, and here I am truly hesitant because with an experience as alien as this one, I doubt my own perceptions. It began shortly after I identified the change in radiation around the outpost. I had begun to feel a warmth within my body, a potent sensation that started in my digits, flowed up my limbs and into my core. It was a terrifying thing, coming so soon after a detectable surge in electromagnetic radiation, and my initial assumption was that something had gone horribly wrong. But then I felt something far more pleasant - a rush of euphoria, like sparks of magical light dancing along my nerves and filling my brain. It was only a few seconds in duration but I tell you that it felt far longer. Once that sensation passed, and I could again control my body, I returned to my instruments and a message on my monitor informing me that the energy surge was of sufficient complexity to warrant further analysis.
I have included the electromagnetic signature. As of yet, I can't glean any meaning from the pattern, but the computer insists that there is something here. Future oddities will be directed to headquarters without hesitation.
My station has received another bombardment of energy, and once again the automated systems inform me that the signature is too complex to be attributable to simple chance. Per my last transmission, I have immediately forwarded the information from the computer and will set to interpreting it as soon as this communication is closed. The communication was much more complex this time, and as a result I can't give you an ETA on the follow-up, but I will send my hypotheses as I develop them.
As long as the lines are open, I feel I should send another subjective report. Surely these aren't as useful as the objective data and the analysis, but there is something so profound and novel about what I've been feeling that to leave it out would be a grievous error. Again, I experienced that wave of warmth and energy shortly after the radiation burst, but there was more to it this time. My thoughts changed in a very subtle way and didn't return to normal until that energy had faded out. I felt a sort of special empathy, a deeper connection to another person - yet there was no one here, and no one for at least six million kilometers. I knew this of course, but I felt a much closer presence.
I don't think that this is an effect of isolation. True, I experience a variety of interesting and terrifying delusions during my isolation training, but nothing as potent as this. It's possible that the electromagnetism is having some effect on my system. We may wish to schedule some neurological tests once I return.
This is an addendum to my most recent transmission. The meaning in this signature continues to elude me. It isn't random - there is clearly intent here - but neither is it as structured as any human language. This may be above my pay grade, as they say.
To be truly honest, this update was an excuse. While I've been working steadily on unraveling the meaning in this communication, I've been thinking about that subjective report I sent last time. I said that I felt a sensation of empathy, but the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that this is imprecise. I could better describe it as "bonding." For a few moments in the midst of whatever phenomenon seized my nervous system, I bonded with someone who wasn't there.
Actually, let's not lie with imprecise words. This wasn't a "bond." A bond is what happens within an atom, or between the atoms in the air and water. This was a feeling of love. Yes, I'm sure that my colleagues in the psychosocial arts will condemn me for using such a four-letter word, but that is the best explanation for it. And not just any love, but an ecstatic love, the kind that turns a genius into a fool and a warrior into a poet. I didn't recognize it because it's been such a long time since I've even allowed myself to feel something so ridiculous and intoxication - addictive, even. It's how I felt when I was thirteen years old, and I've restrained it ever since so that it wouldn't destroy me.
I don't know that any of this has any greater meaning, but there is a connection to the signals I've been receiving.
Whatever is trying to communicate with me is close by, this much I have gleaned. There is no noise in the signal at all - it's too pure, too authentic. This being is watching me and toying with me - with us, really, because it must know that I've been passing all of this along. I have no explanation as to why it hasn't tried to make direct contact.
Is "it" the right turn of phrase? I hadn't thought of the being's nature until now. He? She? They? Perhaps the being has no gender, and "it" is accurate, but it doesn't feel appropriate to speak of such a marvelous creature with the vocabulary of objects. I wish I could ask it, but it stubbornly refuses to answer my transmissions - and yet it still tries to speak to me. The most recent contact was brief (and I have included the signature for your consideration), but those feeling returned in full force. I was right - it was a feeling of bonding, that which laymen call "love." A potent brew - I felt almost drunk on it afterwards as the bliss lingered beyond that initial rush.
My dreams have been unusual lately. The last time I drifted away, I had a dream that I became partially unmoored from my body and began to drift into the void. While I was there, I became something else, while still connected back to me. My senses were split so that I could feel what was happening to my body, but also what was happening in a place far removed, yet there was no dissonance. Strange, isn't it? I've never had a dream quite like it.
It was beautiful, actually.
I have to apologize for those last few transmissions. Headquarters must think I'm slipping away from my good senses, and maybe that's true. The biggest takeaway from these space monitoring projects might be that people aren't meant to be alone. We know that, of course, we pay lip service to it, but so few of us have any opportunity to experience true solitude.
At least I have something to occupy my time now. I have the signal to analyze, and I have...the being. I've been trying to picture this life form, but I can't get past the old cultural stereotypes of child-like creatures with big heads or walking reptiles. Maybe it does look like us, but it could also be something far more alien and strange. I suppose that's for the xenobiologists to work out, but if I could just make direct contact with this being - even if only for a second - then perhaps I could nudge this science in the right direction.
That's why this is so frustrating. There's an answer to so many of our questions that's sitting just at the edge of my perception. It's this strange and wonderful thing just watching me, reaching out to me but never truly making itself known. Oh, what I would do to get even a glimpse of this being...
Is the being afraid to see me? Perhaps this is the explanation. It still taunts me with signals I can't fully decipher, always staying outside of the reach of my instruments. Is it shy? That must be it - if it was mortally afraid it would have remained silent, but if its fear is more emotional, then it would only watch.
It takes me back to my childhood, thirteen years old, being dragged along to my first school dance. I was never going to be comfortable in a setting like that, and I was prepared to skulk at the edge until the merciful end. Then...well, no need to include details, I'm sure that many people have experienced something like this. My point is that I fell prey to madness that night, and that madness would sting me many, many times over the coming years. It's why I shut it away, even though it was such a rapturous thing.
What if I'm intercepting some sort of stellar love letter? That would be tragic. If that is the case, I only hope that the intended recipient overhears our conversation.
The more I look into the electromagnetic signatures around the outpost, the more I see love. There are hearts in the visible light, fireworks in the fields surrounding nearby cosmic objects. Surely this must be intentional? Surely the message locked away in these strange ripples in the cosmos were meant to send a message of ecstatic passion? I don't know if you've ever tried to write while in the grips of such a potent feeling, but I have, and I found that words could not accurately describe what was inside me. Our language was inadequate to put across those deeper emotions, that sense of completeness that evaporates when the recipient is no longer around. Does it matter what the message says, or is it enough to understand it on that glorious intuitive level?
I've continued to have those strange dreams, but I'm to a point where they no longer frighten me. If anything, I'm somewhat disappointed when I return to this restrained flesh, because I've returned to being only one. When I'm awake, I'm just a body locked away in a metal box and wrapped under layers of nothingness. But when I sleep - or when the communications arrive - I am linked to another, experiencing this strange existence through the senses of another and offering my own in exchange. I am no longer alone, because to be alone is to be incomplete, and in those moments I am truly whole.
Why does this being not make contact? Why does it merely tease me with these agonizingly brief undulations? Whoever you are, I know you are listening to our communications. We all wish to understand you as you truly are - my colleagues of course, but especially me. There is no more need to feel fear, no need to fear being scrutinized and judged. We only wish to better understand you. If you comprehend these words at all, make yourself known. If only for a second, for a fraction of a section, for the whisper of a moment, make yourself known.
I received your last communication. These are your words, yes? If so, then there are few as lucky as I, for even your words are a hint of bliss. When you speak, it awakens my heart and the pounding reverberates throughout this pitiful husk pinned down in this tiny little outpost. When you speak, I feel that I could almost fly were it not for these physical bonds lashing me down. But my mind still flies, being, and it carries my heart and soul aloft. I wonder if you feel the same? Have you continued this discourse because my own woefully inadequate words are touching you on some deeper level?
This is all fallacy, I know this in my brain. I am a romantic soul, I've known it since I was thirteen, the first time those scintillating electric tendrils took my heart in their grip. Yes, my rational self knows that this is a delusion – but what a magnificent delusion! A delusion that must be shared, with everyone who has yearnings, but especially with you! And please do not speak of mistakes – certainly I've made them. I've been deceived, or deceived myself, or simply fallen victim to spates of bad luck, and I could've avoided them all had I just stayed at the edge, but even the pain that followed was a glory. Yes, I wish to live in that light, and I think you are no different than me or anyone else.
Now please, please make yourself known.
Why do you taunt me like this? I'm sure that you can hear me, and I'm more convinced than ever that these messages are meant for me. Not the patterns, though, the sensations and the dreams. That's it, isn't it? You are speaking to me directly through my nerves, to my neurons, to my heart and soul. So what kind of cruel game is this? You give me a glimpse of unalloyed joy and then you withdraw and listen to me beg? Is this your pleasure?
No - I shouldn't be angry, I can't. How can I have any animosity towards the being who made me feel like this? It's not anger in these words, it's frustration. Frustration that I'm trapped in here and you are somewhere out there, somewhere in this vast splendor. Every time I close my eyes, I whisper a silent prayer that you'll appear before me.
All I ask is that you make your presence known, that these human eyes can rest on you. Even if your form is terrifying to the rest, it will be the truest art to me.
I love you, being that I've never met. I loved you before I knew your flesh, before I knew your name, before I gleaned your very existence. I love you despite the terror of not knowing what you are, and I love you despite the frustration that I could not communicate with these grossly adequate tools. Would you understand if I said it a thousand times? A million? If I flooded the galaxy with honeyed words, would that be proof enough? Proof enough that you would make yourself known? Let's put an end to this charade. I know that it was you in my dreams, that I was connected to your mind and your senses and that this rush of emotional energy is something we share.
They'll say I'm mad back at headquarters. They'll call this a delusion, claim that I'm in some altered state and that my own sense of self has slipped away. Let them doubt! Let those who had never known pure love untainted by the strangling collar of culture, or those who had it and tossed it aside in the name of some soulless creature's conception of success – let them mock. I'm beyond what anyone back home thinks and I'm beyond the need for recognition.
Wait...I am feeling something new. Is it you? Are you coming to me? It couldn't be nothing else – it's you! Soon, my love! Soon we shall be together!
This is an automatic transmission from Outpost Delta-Phi-3, dispatched after a predetermined period of inactivity on the part of the operator. All functions are normal. No abnormalities have been detected since the last transmission. Operator life signs are currently unknown due to a system malfunction, code 511-A5. Thank you.
The Industry Responds!
"This was well-written, but we're not big fans of stories that work by concealing information from the reader."