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Dale E. Lehman
Image copyright K.S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

“That’s so cute!” Carly squealed. She tugged Baxter’s sleeve and indicated the lime-green alien offering shopping baskets inside the MegaMart entrance.

Baxter snorted. “That balloon probably costs a hundred dollars.” The balloon looked miffed, like it resented having been draped with faux feathers and pressed into service offering baskets instead of superior technology or alien medical experiments.

He shouldn’t have said that. Carly’s eyes widened with glee. “Is she for sale?”

The huge alien eyes blinked. The thin alien mouth grimaced. “No. She is not for sale!”

“Ooo, it talks!” Carly clapped. “I want it!”

Baxter scrutinized the balloon with…

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A blemished grapefruit of a moon hung in the orange sky beyond lines of mountains surging like ocean swells frozen in time. The orange was everywhere. It dripped from the clouds, tinting grass and trees, houses and cars, children’s faces. Everything.

It had been that way two years running, almost as long as the scent of wood smoke had permeated the town. Just as everything reflected a touch of orange, everything smelled of smoke. Air and water, food and clothing, even the trash. But nobody much noticed. You got used to it after two years. You could get used to…

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Okay, look. While it’s true the experiment was my idea, what happened is not my fault. I merely suggested throwing a pot of boiling water into the air. The rest was Orson’s doing.

Partly, anyway. Mother Nature provided the inspiration, slapping us with that cold snap. The temperature hit minus thirty Fahrenheit. How could I resist? The wind notwithstanding — it was blowing a pretty good clip — it was perfect weather for a science experiment.

I didn’t even have to talk Orson into it. Orson always loved science experiments, ever since we were kids. He still shuffles over the…

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To increase my name recognition, I’ll be launching one hundred seventy three distinctive new publications in the coming two weeks. Maybe one hundred seventy four if I can think up a topic better than wombat husbandry. Honestly, I prefer round numbers and was aiming for two hundred, but the old brain gave up before I got there.

Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah. New publications.

I need submission guidelines for all these publications, and since I’m too lazy to wr . . . that is, since it’s a big job, I’m putting out a call for submission guidelines. All writers…

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“Join me in the hot tub.”

Other new arrivals laughed at the greeting, but she and I had a history. The words were a jab, not a tickle. It had been eight years, seven months, and sixteen days since we parted in the Florida sun. Another time, another world, almost literally. Then was Kennedy Space Center, now Mars-on-Earth, Devon Island, home of Haughton Crater and the Haughton-Mars Project, where for half a dozen decades international teams had tested and trained for red planet excursions.

Which wasn’t why she was there. Nor was I.

The “hot tub” had been gouged into…

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The sound woke Jordan Hall near four-thirty in the morning when a few errant rays of sunlight stealing over the horizon grayed the sky. It whirred and whined as though a great metal wheel were spinning, spinning, yet neither slowing nor approaching.

Jordan’s wife Maggie slept at his side, oblivious to the noise. Emulating her, or trying, he turned over and closed his eyes, but to no avail. The sound filled his head. There ought to be a law against operating heavy equipment this early in the morning. Probably there was. He should look it up, write a complaint to…

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An explosion filled his ears. His chest burned as a dark shade began to fall over his blurring vision. He felt no surprise, only a curious confusion: this wasn’t meant to happen. It was all backwards.

“Sorry, Nate.” Karyn spoke the words as she pulled the trigger, and there might indeed have been sorrow in her voice. But for what? They had won, hadn’t they? Erik was dead, the money was theirs, happily ever after beckoned. Why had she turned the gun on him?

Somehow during his tumble into death, he had time to watch it all again: Erik clutching…

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He stood before the television cameras, tossing aside his white cowboy hat, unpinning the star from his chest and dropping it on the ground, and — most unbelievable of all — untying and removing his famous black mask.

“The CDC says it’s okay,” the Lone Ranger told the reporters wearily. “And it’s the end of the trail. I’m retiring.”

A tornado of questions swirled around him, but he waved them off. “Look, folks, I’ve had a good ride. I’ve busted a billion bad guys by now, and while that ain’t as big a number as McDonald’s hamburgers sold, it’s a…

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It was a long way down. Brian tossed a rock over the edge and counted the seconds as it plummeted toward the white water rushing through the gorge. One, two, three . . .

The stone, tumbling end over end, vanished from sight, its pale surface blending into the background of the rapids. He had no idea how long it fell. All he knew, really, was the drop was too long and steep to climb down, which was a shame because his Rolex was down there somewhere. …

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Between the sirens and the crackling of flames and the bellows of firefighters, the reporter had to holler to make his news heard. He fit the scene well: chiseled features, teeth sparkling in the lights, voice overflowing with grim. He conveyed such pain, anguish, and gravity that it seemed a crying shame Olivia had eyes only for the pile of pennies she’d splashed onto the kitchen table.

Seated at her side, her husband Ethan flipped a page in his Field Guide to Western Mollusks. “I’m sure it was a Cinnamon juga,” he said. “If it was…” Thick paper swished back…

Dale E. Lehman

Award-winning author of mysteries, science fiction, humor, and more. Get “The Fibonacci Murders” free:

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