Isotropes: A Collection of Speculative Haibun by TJ McIntyre

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© TJ McIntyre 2010

Artwork by Joni Mustone

Published by Philistine Press 

Promethean Petri Dish was first published in Scifaikuest.

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1.   Knots                                                                              

2.   Promethean Petri Dish                                                

3.   The Orphans in the Wood                                          

4.   Homecoming                                                              

5.   Birth on New Terra                                                       

6.   The Revolutionary Behind the Tavern                     

7.   Football Weather                                                          

8.   When We Moved Underground                                 

9.   The Widower                                                                 

10. Molten Uprising                                                            

11. Where Grass Faded into Sky                                 

12. Martyred                                                                         

13. The Sea Wife Retrieves Her Man                              

14. The Cabin in the Woods                                             

15. Time & Place                                  




When the winds first blew down from the outer tip of Olympus, it carried with it the dust of time, of loss, of empty years that went on for far too long without any meaning. There was an ache spanning the entirety of the crater itself. We did not notice at first, but that was all before things went bad.


the hanging bodies

swaying from cords in closets

blood lost in red dust


The winds battered the dome. The metal supports groaned as they bent and swayed. The Plexiglas, once so clear, grew pock-marked and stained a faint maroon. The storms raged over and around us. We watched digital displays from the weather satellites, but they were useless. It looked clear and clean on the screen, but we could see the funnel clouds overhead. Dust devils danced around the perimeter of our base, and all night long, the weather screamed.


suicide watches

psychological testing

there was no pattern

Olympus began to crumble in on itself. We watched, helpless, as waves of dust raced down the cliffs and came at us like a dirty red typhoon.  Soon all outside light was blocked. What little sunlight we obtained on this distant outpost dimmed and then faded away, leaving us in the dark. None of us liked what we saw when the lights went out, when the solar generators lost their charge and the windmills ceased turning. The turbines and ever present electric hum grew quiet. None of us knew if it was imagined or real, but we feared dust came in through cracks. We could taste another world, one very cold and very unlike our own.


when we faced our end

nobody struggled or cried

we tied our own knots


Promethean Petri Dish


At the microscopic level, the cells split, recombined, and danced a

dance invisible to the naked eye.  A tango of sorts, the cells altered

little by little with each gyration, becoming something more than they

were. When they started banging against the lids of my Petri dishes, I

knew I was on to something, and I still could have turned back. But

that was never an option -- I’ve always moved forward and thought this

time should be no exception. I added a little more heat, the glass

broke, and they were free.


the world lost itself

I was nowhere to be found

molecules devoured

The Orphans in the Wood


When our parents left us alone in the woods, we clung to each other for comfort. The wind swept around us, sending down torrents of twigs and leaves that crunched as they hit the dry earth below. In the morning we shivered with dew.


our breath fogging

frost glistening on tree tops

creek water murmur


So this is what it meant to be an orphan? To be alone, isolated and without protection in a cold world? What is a child without a parent? How could we be anything except prey?


devoured breadcrumbs

trails tend to fade overnight

the laughter of birds


The house on the horizon looked unreal. Candy glazes sparkled in the growing sunlight. A puff of smoke emanated from a licorice chimney, and we knew that inside there would be warmth. We knew it might be a trap. Anything too good to be true usually is, after all. But, by that point, we did not care. We just wanted to be warm.


a homely widow

lives among uneaten candy

her oven stoked high




It had been years since I’d been home. I left long ago, swore never to return, but, now, here I am. If not for her call I may have stayed away. But when Mother called, I felt compelled to come. I could never ignore her. Not after all she had done for me. Not knowing all that she could do to me. Despite our distance, my whole existence revolved around hers.


trees line the dirt road

a highway curving out of sight

into the shadows


The house stood on top of a low hill. It looked much like I remembered. The paint peeled back in more places than I remembered. The signs of rot and age appeared a little more obvious. One of the stone Grecian pillars had toppled over. Judging by the marble dust on the steps, the pillar had fallen recently.


I feel mother’s pull

the windows are full of eyes

and waiting   


Cousins greet me as I step out of my little rented Ford sedan. They pour out the entrance wearing smiles that bleed insincerity. I hear well wishes and questions about my exploits, but it is not for them that I am here. In fact, seeing them makes me sick. Seeing them is like looking in a mirror. Are they what I‘ve become?


cobwebs everywhere

scent of dust and emptiness

the filth of neglect


I hear chanting downstairs, a familiar song. It calls my blood forth and leads it to boil. There is worship here and wonder and life everlasting in that song. It is all I can do to not run directly downstairs. My cousin Kayden insists I must eat first. There is a feast laid out before us.


flies buzz over meats

a pig’s head centerpiece holds

a rotten apple


We make small talk. Reminisce a little, but always in the background I hear the chanting song. I hear the rhythm of drums, of life, of heartbeats. I wonder how her heart is doing. I never meant to break my mother’s heart. I’m sure none of us meant to hurt her.


excusing myself

he didn’t notice I left

Kayden’s voice echoes


It is moist in the basement. And hot. Orange flames lick up from candle wicks. I can see a fire in the center of our cellar through the crisscrossing pattern of long empty wine racks. My family surrounds the fire wearing hoods. Down here, we all look the same. In truth, we are the same.


Mother writhes in pain

we left her too long this time

her face fades


Mother screams out and we raise our voices in the ancient chant, in the ancient language of long ago. This is the language, these are the words that birthed us, and she was the conduit. Without Mother, none of us would be. She warned us to stay on the plantation. But we grew restless, we grew older and wanted more. The taste of rednecks grew sour long ago. We wanted to try the cities and left this land behind. Mother never left. How could she?


Mother asteroid

a gelatinous presence

from our home world


The door opens again as we chant. Mother might have life again, our lives might be renewed, but we were neglectful. No one thought to bring a sacrifice. No child, not even a bull or ram. We chant empty-handed as our stone mother melts into the ether, sucked away, leaving us mortal and frail.


our home collapsed

leaving only dirt and bone

when the vortex closed

Birth on New Terra


The hallways of the ship were always so cold. I could feel the chill directly through my slippers. Charles always complained my toes were like ice when I’d crawl back into bed with him, snuggle against him, and try to warm myself again. I grew tired of this new routine nightly escapade, but I understood I had something pressing against my bladder.


the bathroom trips

morning sickness and cravings

manic moodiness


I still had not told him. Charles was unaware. I knew I should have said something before we lifted off, before we left the world behind, but I was afraid. If I were to tell him, what would he have me do? Abortion? Out of the question. Delay the trip? Impossible. I had no choice but to remain silent.


I wanted a crib

to sew and knit some booties

my hidden nesting


Soon the bulge became noticeable, and I had no choice but to tell him. He wanted to turn the ship around, to reverse course. He wanted to go home, marry me, buy a house, perhaps become an accountant. But I wouldn’t hear of it. I married an astronaut, not a suit. When he notified mission control, they surprised me by agreeing with me. They were curious to see how my pregnancy played out. I must document. I must report. I’m a scientist, after all.


my charts were so cold

lifeless and empty and drab

my stomach fluttered


 New Terra loomed large on the horizon, clouds cycling over a world of green and blue. It looked so much like home, but different. Those differences were minor, and that somehow made this new world seem all the more alien. The continents were different. The hurricanes roiling over the oceans didn’t appear to swirl in the same way. I felt the baby kick.


the screams of childbirth

broken by roar of thrusters

a nervous descent


When I held the child in my arms, I saw she was like this new world. She looked like me, only different. Her skin was leather and her eyes were orbs of cloudy ochre, reflecting the twin suns of our new world. She cried out with her mind, not with her mouth, and then was silent. They had to pry her out of my arms.


while returning home

Charles refused to speak

about bones left behind


The Revolutionary Behind the Tavern


He entered Uriah’s Tavern with his chest puffed out. Turkey feathers stuck out from his tri-corner hat. The elaborate white curls of a wig spilled down onto his shoulders. Gold glittered along the lines of his red vest and around his pockets. Brass buttons shone in the amber firelight. I watched him and knew he was my mark. He was the very picture of pride. In fact, I laughed when I saw him knowing that pride always goes before the fall. A big specimen like him, he was bound to fall. And when he did, it would be hard. Besides, dressed like that, it was clear he was not from around here. The territories are no place for gentlemen of his ilk.


flasks of rum

jovial conversation

forced laughter


Once I became annoyed with his grating donkey bray of a laugh, I asked him if he would like to come outside to take a look at my new buggy. I told him it was hand-hewn of the finest local red oak. I made it sound absolutely beautiful, one-of-a-kind.  He believed me. They always believed me. It seemed to me there must not be much going on beneath those elaborate wigs. Imagine, a fur trader like myself owning a buggy! A lot of good that would do me on the trails.


knife in hand

moon scowling down from above

horses whinnying


Behind the tavern, I said. Just a little further. I took him into the shadows, beyond the reach of the thin light of gas lanterns. The ground was muddy behind the line of trees and small brush. Sucking sounds erupted from our heavy footfalls. The man stumbled once, ankle-deep in muck. I helped him up, friendly chap that I am. But once safely out of sight, I pulled the knife from my pocket. He never even asked why we walked in the opposite direction of the barn.


when the wig fell

he squealed like a tied hog

wallowing in mud



Football Weather


Jeremy tossed the football into the air towards me. It flew upwards, spiraled through the crisp blue sky, and I reached out to catch it. It fell through my hands.


a torrent of jokes

I pretended to laugh

my cheeks red with shame


“Smear the queer!” they shouted when I finally felt the pigskin cradled in my arms. The earth beneath me gave way just a little as I sunk in the mud. My clothes were heavy when I finally stood back up. I flung mud from my eyes so that I could see the other boys  more clearly. Their jocular smiles taunted me.



last one picked on the schoolyard



They just don’t know. How could they? I’ve hidden my powers so well. It could be so easy to let my mind slip into theirs, to drain them of their dreams. But I’ve been conditioned not to use this power. Mother would ground me forever if she simply detected the fact my thoughts had turned this way. She’d lock me in my head and not let me out. I’ve been locked there before; it’s a scary, messy place.


revenge fantasies

visions of bloody schoolrooms

screaming bullies



When We Moved Underground


When the bombs finally rained down from above, it was almost a relief. Months had rolled by in a constant state of waiting, of not knowing if today would be the day. The anxiety was almost too much to bear.


sleepless nights

looking up at empty skies

waiting for the end


We spent our time preparing, trying to keep our minds off the inevitable. We knew what would happen; it was only a matter of time. We reinforced our storehouses and prepared for our new lives underground.


cheery school rooms

a couple vibrant nightclubs

thousands of kegs


Some of us actually cheered when the first mushroom cloud lifted up and filled the sky. We knew our feelings of joy were sick and twisted, but we were so relieved. It was time. We rushed down the corridors and let the authorities lock us up.


weeks grew long

time lost all meaning down there

we missed the sun


While the world above was replicated below, it didn’t take long to realize how much could never be the same. The enclosed spaces, as wide as they were, were not enough, could never be enough. Not after living above. We realized how much we had taken the horizon for granted.


endless steel walls

the buzz of generators

artificial life



The Widower


I look around. I’ve lived here so long. Lived here alone. I can’t imagine any other life. There was a time when everything was different. There was a time when I understood what it meant to be alive, but those days are gone. I can’t go outside. I’ll never go outside again.


books on dusty shelves

fraying yellow newspapers

faded sunlight


The young woman comes around every day. A pretty young thing, and she genuinely seems to care. She brings me meals and asks how I’m doing. She’s asked if she could come inside once or twice before, just to use the bathroom or the phone. There’s no way I would let her in. Or maybe I would let her in, but she wasn’t alone. There was a brat holding to her legs and screaming. I never much liked kids. All people are covered in germs and contaminants, but kids are the worst.


empty meal trays

television always on

without sound


Once upon a time in my old office, people sat on my couch. They told me their problems, their traumas, their insecurities, and I soaked them up, pretended they rolled right off me (but they didn’t). I helped my patients on their way. I prescribed the occasional pill to kick-start the process. I told them to get out more, create comfortable routines. There is so much security in the routine, in the comfort of being among other people. We are naturally social no matter how unnatural it feels at times. I know I should get out, I should have been going out for years. I need to follow my own directives; I’m such a hypocrite. How long has it been?


sweaty black suits

a casket reflecting sun

stifled tears

year after year after year

and I still can’t let her go

Molten Uprising


Here in the South, we always joked about the day California would be sucked up by the sea. But when it actually happened, nobody laughed. It wasn’t funny. Not at all.


waves crashing

goodbye Golden Gate Bridge

Hollywood submerged


We were left terrified. Faded ripples of the quake worked their way eastward as far as Chicago. On television, while we still had television, all we could see was smoke and steam. The molten innards of the Earth spilled upwards along fissures.


volcanoes rose

ash suffocated cornfields

meteors fell


I locked up my family in the storm cellar. We still had plenty of bottled water and food after that whole bust of a Y2K thing. There was no television reception – it was impossible to get digital signals down there – but we had radio. We huddled around and listened as the world fall apart through a tinny little speaker. I’ll never forget what we heard at the end.


when radio died

a new language like thunder

unnerving static



Where Grass Faded into Sky


I agreed to meet her in the field behind the mall. She was a little odd, but I thought she’d be cool to share some weed with, especially if she was buying. I thought I knew what she meant when she told me she had found some “green.” It sounded a little odd when she said it that way, maybe a little dated, but she was from Europe or somewhere. Gawd, I’d love to have her complexion!. That girl’s olive skin was so beautiful and smooth. I could tan all summer and never get near that color. Her color was perfect.


by the light of day

while the world remained solid

before the shifting


The field wasn’t what I expected at all. She sat alone between a few granite boulders. Tall grass blew around her in a way that resembled the waves along a beach.  “Where is it?” I asked. She smiled at me. There was something in her smile I didn’t like, not at all. It was icky. The word “corrupt” came to mind. I could smell something rotten, it reminded me of the smokehouse, or, more specifically, the spot in front of the smokehouse where Daddy did his slaughtering, where blood pooled in the thick red clay, and the air was always clouded with flies. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be there anymore.


the grass was faded

her  face dissolved and ascended

a hole in the sky


Feeling sick, I told her not to worry about it, that I had to be leaving, and right as I was about to lift myself up from that odd space of grass and stone, she touched me.  My back arched and my toes curled.  At first, it was incredibly pleasant, way better than that time with Jim Callaway in the back seat of his shitty Matrix. The sensation swarmed through every nerve ending.  I shut my eyes and, for the first time, understood the meaning of the darkness behind my lids. It, the darkness, was heavy. I became lost for a moment, disoriented, so I opened my eyes. I never should have opened my eyes. It was all so green.


unhinged deities

the worlds we try not to see

the veil is so thin




The airships billowed overhead. The formation eclipsed the bright afternoon sun. I let go of my wrench, wiped the sweat from my brow with my grease-stained arm, and looked up. I saw the massive video grid displays. I saw a familiar face. Her face.


just this morning

we lay entangled and close

now so far away


Gerri told me to try and forget her, to go to work and remain silent. I did as she asked. Not out of cowardice but out of respect. She knew the risks, but, to her, it was worth it. She spoke of it all the time, read the forbidden books, studied the ancient encrypted sites on the Net.


forgotten knowledge

the holy books long silent

they meant everything


She said God spoke to her. At first, I was worried she was insane. No one believed in God anymore. It would have been laughable had she not been so sincere, had her eyes not had that sheen. There was something in her eyes. Whatever it may have actually been, it looked a lot like truth.


no words to dissuade

it meant everything to her

words brought new life


It was her job to spread the Gospels, she declared. I sighed, I shook my fists, and refused to hear her out at first. But soon, I saw her passion would not die. It overtook her body, her very being, and the woman who was my wife became someone else, someone better than me.


no more feuding

she would hug her enemies

win the world with love


“Through love,” she said when I asked her how she would do all this. “Through love.” I wanted to believe by then, really I did, but it all seemed so insane. The dusty old books, the encrypted files. It had all been discredited long ago, hidden away. The world had been promised peace then, but it did not take long to learn it wasn’t religion that caused the wars -- it was us.


with empty lives

nothing to look forward to

we all grew depressed


The wars raged on in spite of our beliefs, or lack thereof. The fighting, in time, actually increased. Corporations formed battalions. Bullets and bombs became the new currency as we all fought to control technology. In spite of all this, who was I to say she was crazy? Because of this, it appeared perfectly logical to imagine that Gerri might be sane.


she asked me to join

but it was her faith, not mine

I couldn’t believe


There were others who saw her eyes. They saw the light there and wanted to have some of what she preached. They wanted to feel what she had to offer: Hope. There was hope in her words and the words of those books. There was something in them that made sense, but I refused to believe. I am a mechanic. I work with my hands. I move a wrench, and the nuts and bolts lock into place. This is a simple thing, and I am a simple man. I like what I have and never asked for more. Her followers always wanted more.


her face in the sky

wanted for spreading false hope

police ships blaring


I know they will find her one day. The Euro-American Corps will track her down. They probably have already infiltrated her followers. There will be a corporate Judas at her last supper. Already I can hear them asking me if I knew her. I deny her already, just by not being there with her, and the proverbial rooster hasn’t even begun to crow.


unwavering faith

she was burned without a trial

saying I love you

burning tears wet my face

I fell to my knees and prayed



The Sea Wife Retrieves Her Man


It was a quiet night, like any other. Just Hans, Obediah, and I above deck. A flash of lightning lit up a mountain range of distant clouds high up in the western sky.


winds ruffling sails

under a moonless sky

cutting through the sea


Waves rose. Winds blew. Tiny drops of salty ocean spray pelted through my wool coat, making it even heavier than usual. Obadiah screamed something my way, but I didn’t hear him. I wasn’t really paying attention. My coat was too heavy. Despite the chill, I slipped out of my coat, only wanting to have that weight off my shoulders.


thunder rumbling

ocean and sky merging

a brewing tempest


When the ocean rises to meet the storm, when the air and the water join forces, there is little you could do but ride it out. We blew our warning whistles, drew the hands onto deck, pulled down the sails, and those of us with any shred of belief prayed. The crew called on the names of many gods. I just hoped that one of them would be the right god.


our ship lurched forward

run aground or into reef

splintering wood cracks


I saw it before the others, rising from the deep, but I would be the only one to recognize her. Seaweed trailed from her massive form, covering all of her except for her eye – that horrible eye. There in the center, in the horrid pupil, I could see the worlds beyond this world, and a song rang in my ears. A song I had almost forgotten; a promise I never kept. I never should have married the sea.


“love me” she said

and I had, to an extent

but I had to roam


The crew screamed. They threw harpoons into the massive eye, but they were deflected. The eye remained. It roved over the ship, looking for me. I stepped forward. The crotch of my pants grew warm with a fresh wetness. But I knew who she wanted; no more lives should be lost on my account. It was my forgotten vows which led us here. A tentacle shot out of a wave.


her salty embrace

I saw the world above waver

while drowning in sea



Time & Place


Time floundered until she found her Place. He was stunning in his way, laid out across the foundations, stretching on forever. She loved him at first sight, and the two of them came together.


ambient lovers

slipping through the light of suns

galaxies expand


When Place found Time, he marveled at her perfect curve. It wound around and around and around. No matter how much he touched her, studied her, loved her, he never knew exactly where she began or ended. She just was, and, to him, she was perfect.


explosions of touch

elements and energy

bursting from black holes

holding each other tightly

conceiving the universe


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