Magazine: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, round 2

I’m out in the desert again, this time to talk to an old guy who, it is said, is the wisest of all the wise men.  His run-down trailer says “meth lab” more than “wise man”, but I figure that’s just part of his marketing shtick.  I remind myself of this again when he opens the door — he’s barefoot, wearing a swimsuit and a wife-beater undershirt.

He looks at my car, then looks me up and down.  “You’re a numbers guy.  An actuary?”  He stares into my eyes.  “No, you haven’t totally abandoned all connection to humanity.  Must be an accountant.  Not a lifelong accountant, though — a career changer.”

“Lucky guess.”

“I can tell from your accent that you went overseas.  I can tell from the tone of your voice that you thought you’d leave your problems behind, but they followed you, so you came back.”

“More lucky guesses.”

“And now you want me to tell you the meaning of it all.”

“Sure, why not?”

“To know the purpose of an accountant, you must know the purpose of accounting.”

“Yeah, they covered that in school.  It’s–”

“No, not that.  The purpose of accounting is to divide the accounts into smaller and smaller segments, categorizing and separating, separating and categorizing, until all meaning is lost, and only numbers remain.”

I throw up my hand in a dismissive gesture.  “That’s … ”  I drop my arm to my side as I consider his words.  “That … that’s it?  That’s why I lost sleep, spiked my blood pressure, and ate junk food at my desk?  That’s why I put off buying a home, getting married, and having kids, all until it was too late?”  I can feel my neck growing hot as my blood pressure spikes once again.

“Ah, you want to know the true purpose — the purpose behind the purpose.”

“Well, I sure as hell do now.  Spit it out.”

“The true purpose of accounting is, of course, to create the need for more accountants.”

I take an aggressive step towards him.  “Who would want that?  Nobody, that’s who!”

“The ultimate goal is Accounting Nirvana.  An exponentially-growing number of accountants creates the need for even more accountants, and a state is reached where everyone on Earth is an accountant.  We are all one people, united by accounting.  Accountants recording the accounting work of other accountants, auditors auditing the audit work of other auditors–”

“Stop!  That’s not all there is to my life.  I don’t work twenty-four hours a day.  The other parts of my life must have meaning.”

“I see.  Tell me these other things you do.  I will consider their meaning, and enlighten you.”

I run my hand through my hair.  “I … I … I write a science-fiction blog.”

The old man puts his hands on his gut, doubling over with laughter.  He laughs and laughs while I check my watch.  I look down at my shoes, but he’s still laughing.  I look up at the clouds, but he’s still laughing.

He stops laughing with a gasp.  His hands move from his belly to his chest, and he falls to the ground.  I rush to his side.  He grabs my shirt and pulls his face close to mine, straining to whisper.  “Thank you.  I can die a happy man.  Now, I have truly heard everything.”  He collapses and exhales his last breath.

I search his trailer for an address or phone number so I can notify his family, but there’s nothing.  I do find a shovel out back, and use it to bury the wise man in the desert sand.

It’s peaceful and quiet in the desert.  Maybe I’ll retire and move into the trailer.  Maybe I’ll answer questions when people visit.

Short Stories

Issue 247 – March 15, 2018

The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes by Siobhan Carroll.  A chef is captured by an invading army, and not-so-subtly influences their movements by describing the wonderful dishes he could make if they invaded this place or that place where he could obtain the ingredients.  If you’re not into cooking or exotic food, then the meal descriptions might be a bit much for you.

Braving the Morrow Candle’s Wane by JW Alden.  A very tense piece about an old woman sheltering a refugee girl.  There seems to be a flaw in the story regarding the placement of the candle, but if you ignore that, it’s a decent short scene.  I’m not sure I’d call it a full story.

Issue 248 – March 29, 2018

She Who Hungers, She Who Waits by Cassandra Khaw.  The main character is some kind of witch/priestess who can perform a procedure to see someone’s death and give them a new fate.  She screws up during a procedure, and makes a bargain with a non-benevolent goddess to save her client.  Then, she lets herself be impregnated by the goddess and dies, which was all part of her master plan to kill her sister, who was an immortal slave to the goddess.  She then ends up as the new immortal slave of the goddess.

Cry of Desire in a Shrouded Land by Talisen Fray.  A really long story with a tiny bit of fantasy, a whole lot of smut, and a bunch of childhood backstory.

Issue #251 – May 10, 2018

The Examination Cloth by Jonathan Edelstein.  A young man takes a Mandarin-style exam.  I was thrown off a bit because the setting was African, and off-hand, I can’t think of any sub-Saharan African civilization that had a writing system before contact with Europeans or Arabs or at least Egyptians.  Since it’s a fantasy story, maybe that shouldn’t have thrown me, but it did for some reason.

The Root Cellar by Maria Haskins.  A child, dismembered by her grandmother but reassembled by rats, dismembers her grandmother and throws her down a well, then tries to locate her dismembered brother before gramdma climbs out of the well.

After a strong round one performance by BCS, I expected it to beat out the other Magazine Quest competitors and grab a medal.  I haven’t run all the round two numbers yet, but I’m fairly certain BCS’ weak second-round performance puts them out of the running.


  1. “Beneath Ceaseless Skies publishes “literary adventure fantasy”: stories with a secondary-world setting and some traditional or classic fantasy feel, but written with a literary approach.”

    I would never have guessed that from your descriptions of those stories.

    1. They generally stick to medieval-tech worlds, usually with some fantasy element, but it’s hard for me to say on the “literary” part. To me, literary has come to mean boring and/or incomprehensible. For them, it seems to mean that they will accept things that I’d call fragments of stories rather than complete stories. They also like stories that are heavy on description, which is not my favorite thing to read, but it’s better than a navel-gazing internal monologue.

  2. Loved your accounting guru story.

    1. I was afraid I was getting too autobiographical.

      1. There is a trailer in the desert with your name on it.

  3. J. D. Brink · · Reply

    I still say you should collect all your short stories into a single volume and publish it. You tell me when you do and I’ll go buy it!

    1. When I get done with the Four Apes saga, maybe I’ll slap the stories together and see if the collection is long enough to warrant a 99cent price tag at Amazon.

      I have a few other short stories on the magazine rejection circuit, and may bundle a few of those together as well.

      1. J. D. Brink · · Reply

        “See if it’s long enough”??? Since it doesn’t get any cheaper than 99-cents and a Big Mac costs 3 to 4 times that much and gives you diarrhea, I’d say it’d be worth that easily.

        1. I suspect the McNuggets at the airport in Santiago may have done exactly that on my last overseas trip.

  4. […] via Magazine: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, round 2 — Planetary Defense Command […]

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