Thursday, February 14, 2019

Take Meme to Your Leader

Take Meme to Your Leader was originally published in Unidentified Funny Objects 7, edited by Alex Shvartsman. It's a great book, full of funny sci-fi and fantasy stories.
I'm posting this story for free because it's about Internet memes, and I recognize that the nature of memes means they're ever-changing and what's funny now will be old news someday, possibly very soon. I'd love to seek reprint for this story and get paid for it, but honestly? I just want as many people as possible to enjoy it while it's still relevant.

Take Meme to Your Leader

Jennifer Lee Rossman

I always thought when aliens invaded, they'd have giant ships hovering ominously over the major world cities. They'd demand to be taken to our leaders, right? Or skip that step entirely and just blast us to hell?

That's what they were supposed to do. And then Will Smith would come and say something cool and we'd all be safe, at least until the sequel.

But nope.

They pick me, Maddie Espinoza, Youtuber.

And they choose to invade in the middle of one of my makeup tutorials. This huge, hulking reptilian thing with giant eyes, just standing in the corner of my bedroom while I demonstrate the proper way to get the perfect smokey eye.

I scream, brandishing my curling iron like a gun and praying to Sephora, patron saint of cosmetics, that its planet doesn't have curling irons. It doesn't so much as flinch, just stands there like a cardboard cutout of a floppy-haired teen idol outside the FYE at the mall.

Wait. Is it a cutout?

It could very well be one of the xenomorphs from Alien, except with a few extra arms. And, you know, the pink pussy hat. I stand up straight, craning my neck to get a better look. It's just like my damn roommates to play this sort of prank but my dog doesn't usually growl at cutouts and OH GOD IT BLINKED.

What do I do, what do I do?

I decide my best option is screaming again and throwing a bottle of mascara at its head. In hindsight, maybe not Top Ten Greatest Idea I've Ever Had material, but it doesn't interpret my actions as an act of war, so I think we're good. It just waves one of its six arms and opens its fanged mouth in a gruesome attempt at a smile.

"Much hello," he says in a tiny voice not befitting his whole seven-foot tall murder-cicada aesthetic, "many peace."

I blink and lower my curling iron. "What."

"Much hello, many peace," he repeats. "I come to seek help from Earth. My planet is in danger from our tyrannical leader. He protec, but he also attac with nuclear weapons."

And just like that, the fear and wonder of first contact is gone. I'm talking to an actual extraterrestrial... and he's speaking in Internet memes.

"What," I say again.

"He protec"

"But he also attac," I mutter. "Yeah, I heard you." I hit record on my computer because no one will ever believe it otherwise, and pick up Cashew before she escalates from growling to biting. "Okay, fine. Let's pretend I buy that you're not here to kill us all. You're about a thousand miles from anyone important enough to begin to help with your problem."

He nods. Should I be calling it a "he"? It sounds like a male voice. Other than the hat, it isn't wearing a stitch of clothing, and its body is covered in a hard shell. Not a lot of visible genitalia.

Thank. God.

"Yes, but your queen has much security." At my blank look, he elaborates, "Queen Selena Gomez the First. I could not access her castle, so I went down the list and chose a smol duchess at random."

He produces a device that looks like a phone from what pocket of his nonexistent clothes, I don't even want to know and steps toward me. I step back, because that's what you do when an alien is walking toward you and you're all out of Reese's Pieces.

"Y u no trust me?" he says. I swear, I can hear the chatspeak in his voice.

"You're an alien," I say, trying to keep the fear from my voice. "Our culture teaches us to be afraid of..." I gesture vaguely at him. "Things like you."

He turns and stares helplessly at the computer.

"What are you doing?" I ask after a full minute has passed.

"Looks at camera like I'm on The Office." He does that awful smile thing again as he turns back to me. "We know all about your culture. Learned from your series of tubes." He indicates the phone, and shows me what appears to be a list of the most followed Instagram accounts. He has to scroll down quite a few pages to get to my name, but hey. If he thinks that makes me Earth royalty, I'm not about to disenchant him of that notion.

The alien bends down to look at Cashew. "And here we have a doggo," he says, sounding like a narrator in a nature documentary. "Notice its shiny wet boop-snoot, which is believed to serve the same function as a human nose."

I cover my face with my hand and take deep breaths, fighting back the hysterical laughter bubbling up inside me.

Aliens exist, they've learned English from social media, and they want my help to save their planet. Because Selena Gomez was busy. This is fine.


You know that thing where people say "It's quiet in heretoo quiet"? Well, it's way too quiet in here.

Alieny McAlienface (swear to god, that's what he calls himself) went downstairs while I changed into more professional clothes. Somehow I doubt my narwhal-print pajamas will make the security guy at the Pentagon take us seriously when we ask to come in and talk to [important person]. Then again, I'll be with a seven-foot insect in a pussy hat. No one will be looking at me.

But I haven't heard a peep since.

I head downstairs cautiously, half hoping it was all a hallucination from moldy eye shadow. No such luck.

I find Alieny McAlienface standing in the common room, his buggy yellow eyes closed in what looks like ecstasy. He's foaming at the mouth.

I cling to the banister, unsure whether I should help him or defend the planet. "What's wrong?"

His eyes snap open and he gives me a fangy grin. "Nothing wrong. I am partaking in an Earthly custom." When I don't respond, he adds, "I have eaten the Tide Pods that were in the laundry room."

Any fear I have of this thing invading the planet fizzles away, and I find myself wondering exactly how wrong it would be if I asked Alieny McAlienface to do the cinnamon challenge.

"That's great," I say. "Good for you. That's totally not toxic." How is this my life... "So where are you from?"

His face lights up. "Why not visit Zoltar VII? We have murder noodles! Sandcastle rubble! Fire boi! Meow birds! Sister Mary Catherine! Bleeding thermometers!"

Never have I been at such a loss for words. "Okay then. Are you ready to go"

Another alien appears in the room, just there in the blink of an eye without any special effects or anything.

This one's head scrapes the ceiling; he easily has two feet in height on Alieny McAlienface. And two feet in limbs, making the overall appearance even more buglike.

I should be afraid. I should be screaming my head off like Drew Barrymore meeting ET, but honestly. What's the difference between having one enormous alien in your house and having two? It's not like the day could get any weirder.

Pro-tip: I don't care how weird your day is. I don't care if you wake up to the sound of your pillowcases putting on a Hamilton parody called Shamilton, or if your betta fish suddenly develops the ability to speak in a voice that sounds uncannily like Patrick Stewart. If you value your safety at all, do not tempt the universe by saying your day can't get weirder. It doesn't like that, and it will find a way to turn the weird shit up to eleven.

In my case, that means Alieny McAlienface shrieks "He comes to attac!" while spraying detergent all over the room, and thrusts his head behind the coat rack.

The big one, for what it's worth, seems completely flummoxed by Alieny McAlienface's sudden disappearance, and whirls about dramatically shouting, "All your base are belong to us! All your base are belong to us!"

Now, I'm not the brightest lip gloss in the pack, but even I can take a hint. This is the leader, the one who protec but also attac. And now he's on Earth.

Rage surges in me, but I go and hide behind the coat rack because I'm a scared little cinnamon roll.

"This is good," Alieny McAlienface confides in me, grinning. "He can has Earth, and my people can be free."

Is he serious? "I'm not giving him Earth. It's the only planet with caffeine and Hemsworth brothers."

He blinks, his mouth drawn into a perfectly straight line. "Neutral face emoji?"

"No. Red face with symbols over mouth emoji. Besides, I don't have the authority to give Earth to an alien. You'd have to get Selena Gomez's permission."

Alieny McAlienface gives me a skeptical look. Out beyond the safety of the coat rack, if the crashes of broken glass are any indication, the leader has begun his conquest of Earth, starting with picture frames and tchotchkes.

I wonder if damage by alien overlords is covered by my pet deposit, but push the thought aside. "Why are we hiding behind a coat rack?"

"We do not have x-ray vision," Alieny McAlienface says, as if that explains everything. "He cannot see us through the clothes."

"Yes, but he saw us go back here" I shake my head. Don't question the things keeping us from being killed. "Okay. So going to ask the government for help isn't an option. We need a more immediate plan of attack."

Alieny McAlienface holds up his communication device. "I will call my friend and he will charge in and valiantly defeat the enemy."

"Hang on." If they learned about us from the Internet... "Is your friend named Leeroy Jenkins?"

He nods excitedly.

"No. Something else." I think back to what he said about his planet. "You come from a place with sandcastle rubble and bleeding thermometers. Is it a desert? Is it hot?"

"It is all the hot."

"Tell me more. What can hurt you?"

He thinks for a minute. "Venomous snakes."

"Something I might have access to."

"Oh." He thinks again. A curio cabinet crashes in the dining room. "Cold," Alieny McAlienface says finally. "Cold wetness. We freeze into special little broflakes." He licks a bit of detergent foam from his lip, and an idea strikes me.

I grab his phoneit has a Hello Kitty cover, because of course it doesand message myself so I have his number. "Wait thirty seconds and toss this to your leader." Another crash in the dining room betrays the big guy's location, and I waste no time running to the kitchen.

"Warning!" Alieny McAlienface screams as I fill a glass with cold water and toss in a few ice cubes. "He is sliding into your DMs! And also your kitchen!"

I hold out my phone and start recording. The fate of the world is about to rely on an outdated viral video campaign. "This is the ice bucket challenge. I'm tagging the big cicada-looking dickhead who's about to murder me."

The ice water is a shock to my system, but I hit Send just as the Hello Kitty phone smacks the leader in the back of the head. My voice replays, tinny and distant, and he stops dead in his tracks to watch.

His shoulders slump in an uncannily human way as he realizes I've tagged him, and he walks toward me. I hold my breath as the tyrannical alien leader steps up to me, but he merely meets my eyes and growls, "I am bound by your decree to perform this ritualized baptism of ice and buckets."

He wrenches the glass from my hand and fills it, never breaking eye contact.


"So what happens now?" I ask Alieny McAlienface as we scoop the remains of his leader into a very dignified garbage bag.

"Now my people must learn to govern themselves. Rebuilding the government got me like" He puts a hand on either side of his face and does his best impersonation of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. "but we can do it. There are probably many YouTube tutorials about starting a democracy."

"You might try looking up an ancient series of texts by the great scholar Schoolhouse Rock."

His eyes light up. "Ooh, we shall indeed. And should we ever require your planet's assistance"

"I know. You'll go to Selena Gomez."

"We will go to she with the most followers," he corrects, and points to my phone.

For a second, my brain refuses to acknowledge the number beside my name as an actual number, but it's true. I have close to two hundred million followers. I look at Alieny McAlienface, my mouth hanging open.

"Our population is numerous," he says simply. "It's over 9000!" He takes the bag o'dead leader and drops to one knee. "And now, Queen Maddie Espinoza the First and Royal Doggo Cashew the Floofiness, I must leave you with the traditional farewell of my people, which we learned of in your most sacred religious tome."

"Wikipedia?" I guess.

"The Urban Dictionary," he corrects. Alieny McAlienface takes my hand and Cashew's paw, and pauses dramatically. "Bye, Felicia," he says, and then he's gone.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Friendship -- An Essay

Did you know I wrote essays? Neither did I, but I went and wrote one anyway!


"Friendship" is part of Unbroken, a nonfiction collection of positive relationship stories about neurodivergent people, edited by Elizabeth Roderick.


I'm autistic. Friendship was never easy for me. But that isn't my fault.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Space Opera Libretti Author Announcement!

Space Opera Libretti, the anthology I'm editing with my friend Brian, has just announced the featured authors.

Our authors are...
K.G. Anderson | EDE Bell | Tom Barlow | Dean Brink | Minerva Cerridwen | Dave D'Alessio | Lizz Donnelly | James Dorr | Ingrid Garcia | Jean Graham | Cait Gordon | Larry Hodges | Julia Huni | Alex Kropf | Brian McNett | Jennifer Lee Rossman | Harry Turtledove | Bruce Taylor | Dawn Vogel | Spruce Wells
Welcome, everyone!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Review: Fall Into Fantasy 2018 Edition

Fall Into Fantasy 2018 Edition Fall Into Fantasy 2018 Edition by Andrew M. Ferrell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I hate giving bad reviews to anthologies I have stories in. I feel like I'm betraying them somehow, because we're supposed to be a team or a family or something, if that makes any sense. Am I not supposed to give reviews if they aren't positive? But that feels disingenuous, and I feel like it's my duty to honestly report my experiences to protect others from harmful stories.

(If I'm breaking some unwritten author code, please tell me.)

There are good stories in this book. One standout is Fluffy, about a pink werewolf. (Yes, it's super adorbs.) But most of them fell short.

Okay, some of them are definitely an "it's not you, it's me" thing. The subgenres of fantasy represented are vast and varied and I'm not the biggest fan of high fantasy, so it takes a LOT to keep me from skimming those in the best of circumstances.

But then there's the editing. Or lack thereof. Look, no one is perfect, but three typos on the very first page is not a great sign.

Finally, some of the stories were kind of offensive. In one, a man totally renames a woman rather than learn to pronounce her name. Ableist slurs (and some racial ones) are common.

One story (which was an intriguing concept, which is the only reason I read to the end, but content warnings for sexual assault would have been nice) features a bad guy who rounds up women and changes them into less desirable races so people will care less when they are raped???????[insert infinity question marks]

Like I said, I hate giving bad ratings to books that I'm in, but I'm not proud of this one and I'm not super duper glad I read it.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic FreakShow Giveaway!

Morning everyone! World Weaver Press and Goodreads are doing a giveaway for my novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic FreakShow! Enter to win a Kindle version of this fun space opera!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow

by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Giveaway ends February 13, 2019.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
Also, I'm not sure if I've shared this already, but here's a guest post I did about writing (fair warning, I throw a lot of shade at Star Trek Voyager character Tom Paris):

And now some random updates.

The stories for Space Opera Libretti, the anthology I'm editing with Brian McNett, have been selected! We'll be making an announcement soon.

I've gotten three stories accepted recently! One is a steampunk tale of queer girls, disability and autism, and dinosaurs that will be on a Glitter Ship podcast. I haven't gotten the go-ahead to announce the others but I will say this: if you like space and mythology, or if you've ever wished for a quirky story about fairy forensic pathology, I've got stories for you.

And finally, I crossed stitched some very good Rottweiler doggies named Ebony and Gunther:

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown was originally published in Children of the Sky, which is now out of print. I really love this story and want to share it. Please enjoy this tale of aliens and mysterious paintings.


Artist Unknown
by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Gustav's Pocket Watch had hung in the Gallerie d'Arte for decades before its theft, its provenance dating back to the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century. During its life, it adorned the walls of kings and presidents, was seen by millions, and had its brushstrokes scrutinized to identify its artist.

And in all that time, no one ever really looked at it.

They saw it from across grand gilded halls, from behind velvet ropes, or through a microscope. But if they knew it like I did, stared at it night after night until they could describe every detail by heart, it would change the world.

In a palette of rust and gold, Gustav's Pocket Watch depicts a manpresumably Gustav, though a museum curator named it after an uncle and its real name is not knownbent over a workbench. The clarity of his tools, his clothes, even the cobwebs strung between his chair legs, are reminiscent of a photograph. The face, serene but determined, is beyond description in its perfectly human imperfections.

He holds a pocket watch in his right hand, consulting it to see how long until he sees his beloved, or any of a thousand other theories people have suggested as to his thoughts in this captured moment of time.

Art critics debated the meaning of the watch, the symbolism of the time shown on it... but they never noticed the reflection in the watch's glass.


I walked the halls every night with my sweeping flashlight beam, pausing now and then to admire the art. It was better at night. Quiet, empty, only the dimmest of lights. My own private museum.

Each painting had a little plaque beside it with information about the artist. Gustav's was just two words: "Artist unknown."

Those two words held so much mystery. Is it by one of the masters? A Vermeer or Rembrandt? Or was it the single masterpiece of someone tragically unknown to history?

I always took the time to stop and look at Gustav's, more so than any other piece. How could we not know who created this? Why didn't they sign it?

The night I noticed the reflection started like all my nights. I came in as the last patrons filtered out, punched in, and began my rounds when the lights went out.

I don't know what drew my eyes to the watch. I'd seen it a thousand times but it was as if they'd gone in and added something so obvious that I couldn't believe I'd ever missed it.

The curve of the watch's glass distorted the figure, and even stepping beyond the ropes and putting my face right up to the canvas didn't help. I knew better than to risk damage the painting with direct light, so I refrained from using my flashlight and waited until morning to investigate further.

I hung around when the day guys relieved me, and as soon as the gift shop opened I went and bought a print of the painting, all the while knowing I was being ridiculous. It couldn't actually be what it looked like. Just a trick of the light, an optical illusion.

I'd get it home and look at it more closely, and I'd see a reflection of an old coat slung over a chair or something equally mundane.


It was definitely not a coat.

I'd cleared my coffee table and spread the print out, using every light and magnifying glass I owned. I'd examined it for an hour, hoping for a coat because the alternative frightened me.

But there was nothing else it could be.

I understood how people had missed it. A small part of a painting only two feet high, the black eyes kind of disappeared among the Roman numerals, and you had to squint to really see it. But my god, once you saw it the rest of the painting fell away into insignificant slashes of color.

Because reflected in Gustav's pocket watch, tiny but clear as a photograph, was a little gray alien.


First thought: The painting has been stolen and replaced with a really good quality forgery, and the forger added the alien as sort of a joke or signature.

So to the Internet I go, my heart pounding. Have I just uncovered an art heist? How long have we been looking at a fake and not known?

An image search comes up with photos from when the Gallerie obtained the painting in the sixties. Not the best quality, but in a promotional poster that duplicated the painting larger than life, I can see something there. If it's a forgery, it's an old one.

Second thought: That can't possibly be an alien. People didn't believe in aliensnot the little gray take-me-to-your-leader X-Files type, anywayin the 1600s. So I'm seeing something mundane, but because I think it's an alien, my brain refuses to see the pile of clock parts or the faithful dog or whatever.

The Internet proves helpful in this regard, as well. I post a cropped picture to social mediajust the face of the watch without context. On some sites I turn it sideways or upside down, just to see what happens. I title them all "What do you see in the reflection?"

I go to bed, but sleep eludes me and I end up staring at the random specks in the ceiling tiles, telling myself I'm imagining it.

The specks form shapes. A moose, a penguin, a screaming mermaid.

The human mind wants to find order in chaos. We see faces on Mars, men in the moon, warriors in the stars...

I cover my face with my hands and groan. Why do all of my examples have to involve space?

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I know, it's late afternoon and my alarm clock is screaming at me to get up and go to work.

Maybe working nights is messing with my mind. No rational person would actually spend this much time and energy wondering if an old painting shows an extraterrestrial.

And there must be no rational people on the Internet, because the picture has blown up.

"It's ET!"


"I don't see anything?"

"Why is the picture of an alien upside down? Is this a test?"

They're calling it the next "The Dress," that photo of a dress that went viral when people argued what color it was. Except there isn't much of an argumentsome see nothing, but the overwhelming majority see an alien. No one suggests an alternative.

I can't help but laugh. It isn't just me.


Every chance I get, I check on the steadily growing sensation. Thousands, maybe millions, are talking about it. A few dedicated art historians discuss what painting it was based on, but other than correctly guessing the Dutch Golden Age, they don't make much progress.

My footsteps echo in the empty galleries. How many other secrets hide in these frames, just waiting to be discovered?

I stop in front of Gustav's Pocket Watch.

"But what is it?" I say to myself, or maybe the unknown artist. "Why did you put an alien in there? Because it can't be an alien."

What did they have before aliens, before Roswell and popular culture implanted little gray men in our imagination? Demons and fairies and things like that, right?

I spend a lot of time examining the other Dutch Masters surrounding Gustav's Pocket Watch. Looking in every dusty corner of a room, behind every gnarled tree trunk. If there are hidden creatures, I don't see them.


By the next night, someone has identified the painting and realized I didn't Photoshop it in. Articles are popping up all over. "Does this 18th century painting prove the existence of aliens!?"

It's 17th century, but whatever.

I expect there'll be a rush of visitors in the morning, and a new investigation into the painting. Maybe this time they'll be able to identify the artist.

A crashing sound rings out through the halls, and every muscle in my body tenses. Great. A break-in. I had to bring attention to the painting, didn't I?

I rush to the east wing, flashlight beam bobbing ahead as it leads the way toward god only knows what. I don't have a weaponnever wanted one until nowbut I curl my fingers around my radio like a child with a security blanket. I don't call for backup, just in case a rat knocked down one of the vent covers in the ceiling or something.

As I round the corner, my gaze immediately flicks to Gustav's Pocket Watch. Still there, untouched.

A figure stands before it, a vague silhouette in the dim lights. It doesn't react to my footsteps, just stays motionless behind the barricades, staring up at the painting like every other patron. Casually, as if he breaks into museums all the time.

He's awfully small. A child? Maybe a very short person; much easier to crawl through the air vents.

I open my mouth to call out to him, but then I notice his head. Big and bulbous, making up almost half his total height. My heart beats faster.

It can't be.

I slowly swing my shaking light toward the figure. Its head is illuminated for half a second before I lose my grip and the heavy flashlight falls to the floor with a clatter.

Its head swivels toward me. Even in the near dark, I can make out those enormous, glassy eyes.

It regards me for a moment, as if deciding whether I'm a threat, and then it bolts.

I retrieve my flashlight and run after it, following the little slap-slap of its bare feet on tile. We pass a ceiling vent on the floorits entry point, apparently, and the source of the crash I heardbut it keeps going. It chooses halls at random; it doesn't know the layout like I do. Doesn't know it's trapping itself.

I corner it between the closed grate of the gift shop and the temporarily closed Impressionism exhibit. It's huddled against the wall, making a pitiful sound that can only be crying.

"Hey there," I say softly. I don't know if it understands, but this tone of voice works on animals and babies. And hopefully aliens.


I'm looking at an alien.

I try to keep my breathing under control. If I hyperventilate and pass out, we won't look too good as a species, will we?

"You okay there, little guy?" Is it even a guy? "Little girl? Little... genderless lifeform? I didn't mean to scare you."

And it does look scared. Terrified. If the old saying "they're more scared of you than you are of them" is true, then my heart goes out to the poor thing because my legs feel weak and I think it's only a matter of time until my stomach empties itself.

The thingthe freaking alienis curled into the fetal position, rocking back and forth. It peeks between the spindly fingers covering its eyes, and for a second I wonder if it was all a trap, if it's looking at the bigger alien standing behind me.

It has something in its hand. A ray-gun?

But then it scrambles to its feet. Slowly, hesitantly, never breaking eye contact. It blinks and I lower the flashlight beam from its face.

Its body, gray and naked and perfectly smooth, is covered in speckles and smears of color, and it holds up the object as if in offering.

A paintbrush.

I reach out to take it. The alien flinches but makes no attempt to attack. Heit looks like a helooks up at me expectantly.

"I don't know what you want me to"

He grabs my hand suddenly and yanks on my arm. I follow, marveling at the way his skin feels like porcelain and glue simultaneously.

He drags me to the Dutch Masters hall, and only now do I notice the tray of paints on the floor in front of Gustav's Pocket Watch, the colors mixed to perfectly match its palette. It's clear what he intended to do.

"No," I say with a nervous laugh. "You can't paint over the alien in the painting."

His little slit of a mouth turns upward in a petulant frown.

"Because that's vandalism. It's against the law, and it's what they hired me to prevent."

It's clear he doesn't understand, though whether it's a language barrier or the concept itself, I can't tell.

"You see," I say, trying again, "if something belongs to you, then you can do whatever you want to it. But this painting is not yours, so you can't."

He makes a disagreeable little grunt and drags me to another painting. A portrait by Frans Hals. Releasing my hand, he ducks under the rope and scales the wall with his sticky hands and feet. I grab him around the waist and pluck him away just before he can touch the canvas.

"No, don't touch the art."

Another dissatisfied grunt, and he points at the signature. He wriggles away and climbs up beside Gustav's, pointing at the alien but keeping his finger from touching the painting. He looks at me to see if his message got through.

I frown. "What, that's your signature?"

Emphatic nodding.

"You painted it?" I try to keep my skepticism out of my voice. I guess it's his size that makes me think of him as a child, but I'm talking to an alien. Is it really such a leap to believe he's been on Earth for a couple hundred years?

As if to prove it, he goes back to his paints, takes the brush from me, and begins painting directly on the floor. I consider stopping him, but don't.

Over the next half hour, he transforms the plain tiles into a gallery of masterpieces. Some are a little roughly done, but it's amazing for the amount of time spent on it.

The paintings tell the storyall in the realistic style of the Dutch Mastersof a distant star going supernova, and of the escape pod that carried the lone survivor to Earth.

"Why Earth?" I ask. "Why you?"

He shrugs.

The pod landedcrashed, reallyin the time of the dinosaurs. Ended the dinosaurs. And its sole occupant wandered for millions of years, watching species live and die. He adored humans.

When they still lived in caves, he lived with them. His people had no written language, so he taught the humans how to paint.

But like children outgrowing old toys, humans outgrew him. They learned to read, called him a demon, so he ran away to live in caves and wait for their species to die out like all species did.

When he thought enough time had passed, he emerged. But humans were still alive and thriving, and they had turned his stick figures into some of the most beautiful poetry he had ever seen.

They still feared him, but some people were more friendly. I recognize the next tile as a portrait of Rembrandt. They taught him how to paint, and that a signature represented the artist. Because he had no language, he added his own face to his work before going back into hiding. He observed us, followed our growth as a species, but never showed himself. He can only survive if we don't know he's there.

The last series of tiles show the future. People coming to the Gallerie to see his art, discovering his DNA in the paint, using it to hunt him down.

Poor guy. He just wanted to share his culture with our ungrateful species.

"But you can't just paint over it," I tell him. I show him my phone, though if he's here, he must have seen his painting going viral somehow. "There are pictures of it with your signature, and we can't paint over those. And people will think I did it. I'll lose my job."

I'll have to erase the security tapes, so maybe I'll lose my job either way. And how selfish can I be? I'll lose my job? He may lose his life!

"Look, even if we do it," I reason with him, "art historians are about to stampede in here to examine every inch of that painting. They'll restore it, and they'll see you in it, and they'll hunt you down anyway."

I want to help him. My heart aches for this lonely little spaceman. There's one thing I could do, but it's so risky that I can't believe I'm even considering it.

But he looks up at me, black eyes the size of my fists brimming with tears.

I read the paintings again; it's a tragedy in oils.

"All right," I say. "Cover your ears. Do you have ears? Cover whatever you use to hear with."

He puts his hands over two holes in the sides of his head. Okay, he has ears. Good to know.

I step over the velvet rope, up to Gustav's Pocket Watch and its little plaque that couldn't be more accurate. The alarms start to scream as soon as I touch the frame, bright red lights whipping across the walls.

I pull it down and start for the employee entrance, but the alien isn't with me. He's gone back to clean up his paintings.

"Leave them!" I shout, and shove Gustav's into his arms. "Back door, blue car!"

He toddles off awkwardly, the canvas nearly as tall as he is.

I look at the floor. Good art can change minds. Change the world, even.

With the end of my flashlight, I knock loose the plaque hanging beside the vacant space. I toss it to the floor, where in a few hours it will be discovered beside his greatest work of art. The one that, with any luck, will warm the human race to the idea of his existence.

A stolen painting.

A life story told in images.

The artist unknown.



Friday, January 11, 2019

The Man Whose Left Arm Was a Cat

My short story The Man Whose Left Arm Was a Cat is now published on Diabolical Plots!

Read it for free here:


This story is a long time coming. It was actually the first story I ever tried to submit somewhere, just over three years ago. I got six rejections for it before Diabolical Plots accepted it, way back in August of 2017!
(My story Jesus and Dave was also accepted by Diabolical Plots that day. I'm the first author to get two stories accepted in the same submission window.)

It's just what it says on the tin: a story about a man with a cat instead of an arm. Believe it or not, it was inspired by a commercial for the movie "Barbie and the Three Musketeers." At one point the characters were putting their swords together and saying "all for one and one for all," and I guess one of the musketeers was a cat? (Wikipedia says she dreams of being a "muscatteer"; how cute!) Well, the cat was sitting on someone's arm, and it looked like the cat was the arm. And my brain took over and turned it into a story where a man gets his arm replaced by a live cat.

From there, the idea became a very bad attempt at a Nanowrimo novel. The cat was named Nova, and was a superintelligent experiment at the lab where Tom worked. She could type on the computer, and one scene involved her ordering doll clothes from eBay because she wanted to dress up.

In that version, Wendiie (although I think her name was Nancy?) and Tom met in a chatroom and fell in love. Most of the plot was Tom wondering whether or not to meet her in person. But now the focus is much less romantic.



This story was published in Diabolical Plots: Year Four anthology and in DP's newsletter last year, in a slightly different version. I want to talk about why I asked to change two words in it.


Ableism -- the hatred of or discrimination against disabled people -- is ingrained in our culture and language. I strive to make my stories as harmless as possible, but before I was really a part of the online disabled community, I didn't realize how harmful some words were.

This story was written several years ago, before I had even realized the word "ableism" existed, there were some harmful phrases. Most were edited out, but two words slipped by unnoticed. "Lunatic" and "mad scientist."

These words get thrown around so casually that it's easy to forget that they have been used to harm mentally ill people, and that using them to mean bad or evil contributes to the stigma against people with mental illnesses.

Of course I meant no harm. I am mentally ill myself. I do not personally find those particular words offensive, but others do and I respect that. I was uninformed when I wrote it and must not have been on the top of my game during editing.

I didn't catch these words until the story had already been published in the anthology and newsletter. I apologize to anyone who was offended by their inclusion. That is not the type of language I want to be known for, and I believe the story is much better without them.