Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 6
Stories
Night of Falling Stars
by Steven Savile
Great Mother, Great Father
by William Saxton
The Price of Love
by Alan Schoolcraft
A Spear Through the Heart
by Cherith Baldry
From the Ender Saga
Ender's Stocking
by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
Lost and Found
by David Lubar
This is Only a Test
by David Lubar
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

This is Only a Test
    by David Lubar
This is Only a Test
Artwork by Lance Card

Kyle shifted his body slightly, which was no easy task, considering the assortment of casts and bandages that covered him like some sort of grade-school science-fair mummy. He groaned. Then he grinned. At least, the expression that appeared on the visible portions of his lips came close to resembling a grin.

"What?" I asked, looking up from the copy of Sports Illustrated I'd been reading. I'd brought the magazine for Kyle when I'd come to visit him. Well, I hadn't brought it far -- I'd picked it up at the hospital gift shop. But it was the thought that counted. I'd almost gotten him Car and Driver, but I'd figured, given his recent experience, that wouldn't have been a very good idea.

"I just realized something," he said.

"Don't try to ride a bicycle on a busy highway?" It was a reasonable guess. That's what had gotten Kyle here in the first place.

"Nope." He shook his head -- as much as anything could shake when it was wrapped in so much gauze and plaster. "I realized that piece of wisdom yesterday when I woke up in this fine little bed and breakfast. No, here's what just came into my semi-functioning brain. Do you know the six scariest words in the world?"

"There will be a test tomorrow?"

Another head shake. "No. Forget school. I'm talking real scary. I'm talking Biblical."

That was tough. Unlike Kyle, who had actually paid attention all through Sunday school, my Bible knowledge was on the sketchy side. I was doing well when I could remember that it wasn't Delilah who got the haircut. So I was definitely the person in the room least likely to fill in the blanks with a Bible quote. But one phrase did come to mind.

I shuddered as it floated up from the dark corners of my childhood. I'd thought it was buried safely in my dim memories. "There'll be wailing and gnashing of teeth," I said. I could still see the caption in bold black letters above a picture of tormented souls in hell. Lots of flames. Lots of little demonettes with pitch forks. One big bad boss, complete with horns and tail, enjoying the ambiance of the place. I couldn't have been more than five or six at the time. We'd had to color the picture for Sunday school. The class used up a ton of red crayons that day. It had spooked me so much, I'd gotten sick the next three Sundays just so I could stay home.

"That's seven words. And it's only scary if you're expecting to go to hell." Kyle lay quietly for a moment, staring up at the ceiling. I guess he was giving me a second chance.

"Well?" I asked, unable to dredge up any other quotes. "What are the six scariest words in the Bible."

He looked back at me and said, "Have you considered my servant Job?"

Okay. I knew the plot of that one. "That's where Satan drops in on God, right? And they make some kind of bet."

"Right. Do you remember the details?"

I shook my head. "No way."

"God says Job is faithful. Satan tells him it's because Job has a cushy life and everything is going swell for him. So God lets Satan test Job. Kapow. Job loses his family, his property, and his shiny clean complexion. Remember now?"

"Yeah." Once my mind was jogged, I could dredge up snippets from the lesson. "It's almost like a bizarre version of a disaster movie, or a Fox sitcom. Every five minutes, someone comes running up to Job with bad news. Hey, Job, your sheep just got killed. Check it out, Job, someone stole your camels. Bad news, Job, a house fell on your children. On top of all that, Job gets covered with sores."

"And it all starts out with those six words."

"I see what you mean," I told Kyle. He'd had a rather bad run of luck over the last couple of months. First, his car had rolled down the hill from where it was parked, and gone right through a guard rail above the Monocacy Creek. It was totaled. The same week, his girlfriend had ditched him. Now, on top of all that, he'd lost the battle of bicycle meets sports utility vehicle. Talk about a David and Goliath encounter.

"You're lucky to be alive," I told him.

"Or unlucky," he said.

"So what's your point?"

Kyle shrugged. Or tried to shrug. From the flash of pain that shot across his face, I figured the gesture was a mistake. "What if I've been picked? What if this is all some sort of test?" he asked.

"You're whacked," I told him. "You must have landed on your head. I don't think God cares about the details of your life. There are five or six billion people on the planet. Even if only a couple million are more important than you, that's still a pretty long line."

"But the very hairs of your head are numbered," Kyle said.

I stared at him.

"Matthew," he told me. "Chapter ten, verse eleven."

"Oh."

"God knows every blade of grass," he said. "He knows every sparrow that falls from the sky. I mean, he made everything."

"So God let you get hit by a truck? And he convinced Judith Messinger to ditch you for that idiot with the Corvette? And he smashed your car?"

"I think so. I mean, I think he allowed it to happen."

This tasted like a weird version of self-pity. Kyle was saying he'd been rewarded for his faith by having his life totally trashed. "I'll have to think about that," I said. I stood up and tossed the magazine on his bed. "It's getting late. I'd better be heading home."

"Okay. Thanks for coming by."

"Sure." I squeezed past the end of the bed, careful not to bump any of the traction ropes that had turned Kyle into a human marionette.

"See you tomorrow?" Kyle asked.

"I'll try to come. You know how it is." I waved and left the room.

Have you considered my servant Job? I couldn't believe Kyle could even consider such a crazy view of his situation. Maybe they'd put him on something for the pain and it had mushed his mind.

I hurried down the hall, feeling relieved I was just a visitor. Man, if people wanted to question the way things worked, there wasn't a better place to start. On either side of me, I caught glimpses of all sorts of sorrow. Broken lives, fading lives, interrupted lives. And none of it happened for any reason I could tell.

Well, maybe some of it did. I guess if I'd remembered to pick up Kyle on the way to school that day, like I'd promised, he wouldn't have been in the accident.

I went out the exit and walked to the curb. Yeah, nobody forced him to ride his bike, but I suppose I could accept some of the blame. And I guess, if I'd remembered to set the parking brake on his car after I'd borrowed it, he might not have needed a ride from me.

I mean, who knew how one thing would lead to another? I'm not psychic. Maybe I shouldn't have introduced his girlfriend to that other guy. I'd only done it for a joke. I hadn't figured she'd dump Kyle.

As I approached the corner, I heard an ambulance racing toward the emergency entrance. The wail of the siren grew louder as I though about those six scary words . . .

Have you considered my servant Job?

I sure hoped Kyle wasn't God's servant. Because, if he was, whose servant did that make me? As that thought sunk in, I clench my teeth. Or maybe I gnashed them.


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