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The Secret Physics
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-341-5
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 202 Pages
Published: November 2016

From inside the flap

Meet Jonathan Norton, a mild-mannered mortician:

When you speak, the universe listens. That is, if you’ve been taught the right language. As an infant. By your family. Not excluded by them. Because no one else will teach you, certainly not the woman you love. Not even if knowing the language, being taught it, would explain your world, keep you sane, or make curing someone you love seem possible.

And Wendy Daily, a beautiful linguist:

When you have a secret, you keep it. There is not much else to say. In fact, the best secrets are so secret no one knows they are even being kept. Keeping the secret is the only thing that matters, keeping it from strangers, friends, and family if need be, certainly from husbands, if it has to be that way, and it does. No matter what or who or how dire the sacrifice, do not speak it. Do not speak of it.

They must survive each other and the plot to destroy them to defend a loved one from a deadly, poisonous transformation.

The Secret Physics (Excerpt)


Chapter One: Simon And The Whale

I am suddenly on a road, clearly a road, with one lane each way, yellow dashes down the middle, and it is such a relief to find something recognizable after everything I've seen. Or think I've seen.

It's a straight road, from horizon to horizon, under a sky of the slightest green. The road is flat black asphalt and my hot feet make me think of the yellow paint, which might be slightly cooler.

My steps push divots of road high into the air behind me. They fall with heavy thuds into the sagebrush.

This is unusual.

Standing on the paint, I carve my initials in the road with my bare big toe. Things I'd thought impossible obviously aren't here.

Something is moving toward me in the distance, though what isn't clear. It's difficult to see in the heat waves rising off the road. What are the rules in this place? I don't want to hurt anyone, but I have to find and stack the stones. I have to help the boy. Then I can get out of here.

The something in the distance has headlights, lots of headlights. Perhaps I can hide in the brush? In fact, the something seems to be a biker gang. My plan is to bolt off the road, but I see one of the bikers touch another and point toward me. It's too late. They surround me, circle me. It's not a low chugging, heart-beat noise like the motorcycles the boy has shown me. These bikes make a high-pitched screech, more electric than combustion. They move too fast to count and they look odd.

One of the bikers stops, and the others do the same immediately. The motorcycles mostly look like motorcycles and the bikers look like bikers: black leather, denim, the smell of grease and another odor, maybe cinnamon. The faces and hands, however, are all wrong. The closest biker has more fingers on one hand that on the other. And so does the one getting off the bike next to him.

Their faces have no order, no pattern. I can identify the eyes and they have mouths, which are usually on their chins, but on at least one face the mouth is between the eyes. All the mouths are long and wide. All the eyes are big black holes.

They make noises with their mouths but nothing I can recognize. It sounds like a mob of broken violins warming up. No change I can detect in tone or speed, but they are all off their bikes, all surrounding me. I hope it won't be considered a hostile gesture, but I lift my hands, open palms toward them.

"I don't want to fight you," I say. They don't quiet, trying to decipher what I've said. They don't seem to ask themselves what it means. Around the neck of one, I'll call it a neck though the proportions are off-it's thick as a thigh, thicker than the head above it-is a stone. One of the stones I need. The stones are all the same, smooth grey, perfect for skipping. I wonder what I've got to trade for it when the first one to get off a bike steps towards me. It wears a chain like a bandolier and shrugs it off its shoulder.

"I should warn you, I may be strong-" it slings the chain up high over its head, circling once, twice, I can hear the chain whistling, it steps toward me, and wraps the chain around my head. Which should kill me, right? And there is pain, but not much.

It is surprising to still be alive. The chain falls around my shoulders and something hits me hard in the back. I turn and find one of the creatures holding an ax. With two of its three eyes it stares at it. The other watches me. It must have just hacked at me, but the ax bounced off.

We are all surprised. I swallow. None of the other places were like this. They were all different, but none of them was like this. I'm Superman here.

"Trade?" I say. It pulls the hatchet back, one of its elbows pointing toward the sky, and tries to bury the blade in my forehead. It bounces off my head, but not out of the biker's grip.

I'm not Superman. Maybe it's just patience I lack, but I might not do as well against a gun, or whatever they've got like that here, and I tried to be nice, and I'm angry. I did nothing to them. I tried to talk. And there is a life I have to save. So I make a karate chop with my hand and drive it through the thing's torso, from right shoulder to left hip. The body falls in half, my hand covered in sticky orange and purple goop. The thing's insides.

For a moment, I stare at the two halves, twitching fast enough to blur and then they are on me, all of them without exception. I don't know what to do. I was an old man this morning and when I was young I was the beaten not the beater. I stomp and chop, don't even make a fist, and they fall and there are so many of them, I can't even see the sky at first, but I am flailing. They crush me, so many and so violent, I can't breathe, so many they pull my feet from underneath me and break their boots on my face and I'm just getting angrier, trying to stand up and inhale without sucking in the orange and purple goop. It's in my eyes, stinging. I spot another stone, somewhere, a belt buckle?

But my flailing kills them, destroys them, even as I'm pinned on my back I can chop and kick and they drop to pieces under my hands and feet until I stand up, covered in the foulest orange and purple goop and a black stringy sort of yarn that must come from deep inside them.

One of them tries to get away, stomping to start the motorcycle. It seems like more of them should have fled, but they died quickly and unity may mean a great deal to them.

It might have a stone.

Stepping toward a bike, I grab it by the engine block-I mean I put the fingers of both hands through the metal and lift the bike above my head, light, effortlessly. It's like grabbing a giant chunk of play dough, of clay, about that much effort.

The fleeing biker gets the motorcycle started. It's speeding away. I throw the bike. It doesn't arc up and fall on him. It flies more like a Frisbee, about a yard off the ground the entire distance toward the creature, fifty yards by now, and misses it, too far to the right.

I'm after it, running without thinking and gaining. Surprise mixes with determination-I have to have all the stones-and disgust. The pureed organs of those things dries on my skin as I grab the last one by the collar of its leather jacket, pull it off the bike, and let go. It falls on the asphalt, rolling, tumbling, leaving bits of clothing and flesh behind it. Once it stops churning against the road, it doesn't move.

Hands on my knees, I vomit up the scrambled eggs and bacon I ate, back in Salt Lake City, from it feels like forever ago.

What is all this turning me into? I'm not squeamish, but I'm not violent either. I don't even hunt. I go from never killing, to slaughtering a pack, a herd of these things. Not me. But I have to do it.

I flip open the biker's vest, pull the remains of its T-shirt up. The jeans seem to be a brand from Earth, though that can't be right. Rolling the body over, one back pocket is tight, full of scraps of paper covered in marks that make no sense, not even columns or rows and three pocket-sized images, groups of these things. Family units, I suppose, or friends or some social organization.

I taste sour vomit in the back of my throat again.

A quick jog takes me to the remains of each bike, but neither has a stone. So I go back to the gore. One of the bikers is still alive, struggling in agony, without legs. It claws me when I get close, so I end its misery.

Sorting through the viscera, the remains, is uncomfortable, though it is spread thick on the road. The goop is ankle deep in places. My profession has prepared me for that. But when I find photographs or when I hear what must be a phone ringing, the nausea comes back to me.

One stone is a belt buckle. One is a necklace. One in a jacket wore where the heart would be in a human chest. Buried in a bag. Fixed between the gauges on a handlebar.

Beyond the slaughter, I sit in the center of the road, wishing I wasn't coated in the blood and organs of these things I killed. I have to get clean somehow. Behind me, four-winged birds have begun to drop from the light green sky. In the clear space between the yellow dashes, I stack the stones until I hold only one. This can't go on forever.

I set the last stone on top of the others and I explode.

It all started with my mother.