Dan Rice

The January Selected Writer is

Dan Rice

Please feel free to email Dan at: dcrphotography@gmail.com

dan rice

by Dan Rice

On a cold November morning, Charlie walked across the courtyard of Stadium High School where he taught. His breath steamed with each exhale. The school’s neo-Gothic towers were enveloped by dense fog. Perched atop a spire, a golden-crowned sparrow sang a greeting to the day.

Mounting the steps before the learning institution’s front entrance, Charlie allowed himself a smile of supreme satisfaction. Most of the time, he couldn’t imagine himself doing anything other than teaching history to young people, but sometimes in the middle of the night, he woke from the most amazing and realistic dreams.

In those flights of delusional fancy, he had green skin. Green! And, he was not a history teacher, but a secret agent working against humanity’s best interests. How incredible. Charlie couldn’t keep a secret to save his life and considered himself a humanist. He put those dreams off to his overactive imagination. During his summer breaks, he worked on writing a historical novel set during the American Revolution. Judging by his dreams, maybe he should try his luck at science-fiction.

He sat down on the top step and unslung his shoulder pack. From the side pocket of the bag, he retrieved his reusable coffee cup. Bringing the mug to his nose, he took a whiff of the aromatic steam rising from the container. There was nothing better than a delicious cup of coffee on such a peaceful morning.

He brought the mug to his lips, ready to take a sip when the ground started shaking with such violence the cup slipped from his hand to clatter against the stone. The shoulder pack overturned spilling graded history tests over the steps, and Charlie nearly toppled over. The reverberations didn’t stop but intensified. From somewhere in the distance, a woman screamed, dogs barked, and even more disturbing, from overhead came the loud crack of stone breaking.

“Oh my God,” Charlie said, struggling to his feet.

The ground vibrated like Jell-O.

This was the big one.

The one the scientists warned about.

What about Grace and Drake at home in the condo? Would the building collapse? Oh, my God.

Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

Above him, the building emitted a loud creak. He ran. He needed to reach Grace and Drake to make sure they were safe. His phone. He’d call them.

Reaching a hand into his pants pocket, Charlie lost his balance, careened a few steps, and fell face-first to the courtyard. Stunned, he lay there feeling the ground rolling beneath him, pushing up bricks, and bobbing him like a child in a bouncy house. In the distance, car alarms blared, and another crack came from overhead. Pushing himself up to his hands and knees, he heard a boom and looked skyward at the stone plummeting toward him.


The beep of the alarm clock startled Charlie from a deep sleep. Eyes fluttering open, he pawed at the bedside table until his fingers found the button to shut off the alarm.

The first thing he noticed was that the room was uncomfortably warm. Next he realized, Grace was not in bed next to him. He stared at her pillow.

“Must be feeding Drake,” Charlie muttered, the words mushy.

Still groggy, Charlie sat up and swung his legs off the bed. The alarm clock on the bedside table flashed 12:00 in red. He frowned. If the condo had lost power, how did the alarm go off? What time was it?

He smelled cinnamon. He wondered if Grace had made toast.

With his feet, he searched the floor for his slippers. He scanned the floor for his footwear with night adjusted vision. No slippers. He always left his footwear at the bedside without fail.

The least surprising aspect of his current circumstance was Grace not being in bed since Drake wanted to be breastfed all hours of the day and night. Sometimes, the infant slept in bed with them, but they must have put him in his crib last night.

“One day running into the next,” Charlie muttered.

There was nothing a pot of coffee and a quick jog around Wright Park before school wouldn’t solve. First, he’d check in on Grace and Drake to see if they needed anything.

Yawning, Charlie stood and stretched, trying to work a kink out of his neck. No luck. He’d feel better after a run. Rubbing the grit out of the corner of his eyes, he walked around the bed toward the doorway. He stopped when he saw the door was closed. They always left the door open to better hear Drake crying.

He noticed a strange, silvery glow outlining the door. He turned to his left, expecting to see the doorway to the half bath.

No door.

No doorway.

“What the hell?” Charlie said.

He needed to find Grace and Drake. He faced the door and grabbed the doorknob and screamed.

Charlie tore his hand from the hot metal and stared at his palm. The skin was bright red and starting to blister. The pain jolted his sleep-addled brain.

And then he remembered. What about the earthquake? The façade collapsing on top of him?

His breath caught in his throat. Jesus Christ! Was he dead?

“Grace! Drake!” Charlie shouted.

He listened for a response.


He shouted again. Incongruously, he smelled cinnamon.

“They can’t hear you,” said a voice from behind him.

Charlie spun to face the interloper and went slack-jawed when he saw it. The creature wore a white dress that left green legs from the knees down. He saw that the arms were also green. Its sharp, angular face appeared humanoid except for the emerald skin. Its lips were the same hue as fir needles, a darker shade than its iridescent epidermis.

“I’m dreaming,” Charlie said. The scent of cinnamon was almost overpowering.

“No, you’re not,” the creature said, blinking large eyes that looked like glistening pools of oil.

Charlie backed up into the door. The wood was hot, almost burning. Wincing, he scurried forward a step. The creature cocked its head to the side, its shoulder-length hair like green moss, undulated as if buffeted by a breeze.

“Where are my family?”

“You can’t reach them.”

“What? You said this isn’t a dream. Why am I even talking to you? Of course, this is a dream. I just need to wake up, dammit.”

“You’re not dreaming, but you’re not with the humans either. In fact, you’re not even on Earth.”

“Where am I then?” Charlie said and shook his head.

The creature took a step toward him.

“Stay back,” Charlie said, raising a hand before him. "Answer my question. Where am I?"

The creature's lips formed a facsimile of a frown. “You are in a simulation. Rather your consciousness is. You’re being extracted. Does any of this spark a memory?”

Charlie shook his head. “No.”

“Do you remember me?”

“Why would I?” Charlie said, but he knew that he often dreamed about green aliens very similar to the one standing before him. Then he remembered the earthquake. Maybe he was knocked unconscious.

The creature wiped at its cheeks. Black liquid dripped from its eyes like tears. “There was a mistake. We meant to extract the consciousness of our agent from your subconscious. Instead, we extracted you."

Charlie furrowed his brow. “What in the hell are you talking about? Extracted?”  He stared at where the door to the half bath should be. “There should be a door here to the bathroom.”

“The simulation is inexact,” the creature said, standing a little straighter and expression becoming stoic. “Allow me to introduce myself. You may call me Altaire. I think we will be seeing a lot of each other.”

Charlie faced the door outlined by the silvery light. He needed to get through that door.

“You don’t want to open that door,” Altaire warned.

Charlie grasped the knob, the metal searing his skin. He grunted then screamed as he turned the knob and opened the door. Silvery light assailed his eyes, blinding him. Throwing his hands in front of his apertures, he stumbled and fell backwards. The door slammed shut.

“That light. What was it?”

“That is the edge of the simulation, Charlie,” Altaire said.

“What about my family?”

“The building you lived in collapsed. The probability of their survival is low. Regardless, you won’t be seeing them again.”

“No,” Charlie cried, sobs wracking his body. “Is this some kind of sick afterlife? Tell me I’m dead. Without them, I don’t want to live.”

“Let you die? No. There is so much we can learn by studying your consciousness. Consider this simulation a petri dish, and you, Charlie, are the specimen.”

Charlie scrunched up his eyes. The room came into focus. He opened his eyes wider, and the room distorted. Squinting, he turned back to the doorway outlined by the silvery light. Was it the exit from the bedroom or the edge of the simulation?

He grabbed the door handle, the metal burning. Ignoring the pain, he shut his eyes and threw open the door and jumped inside. The sharp scent of burned cinnamon filled his nostrils. His skin melted and oozed like heated wax. Opening his eyes to slivers, prismatic color flooded his vision and lightning bolts of pain shot through his skull.

Charlie opened his mouth to scream. The inferno shot through his body and the cry died as his lungs burned. The fire consumed him, blotting out everything except the mild regret somewhere in the back of his mind that he should have listened to Altaire. Then, inexplicably he smelled the scent of cinnamon and even tasted the spice on his tongue. Slowly, the burning faded until he sensed nothing except the aroma and flavor of cinnamon.

His last cogent thought was that he was in a luminal reality between existence and the absolute zero of nothingness.


The buzz of the alarm clock startled Charlie awake. Groggily, he turned off the blaring device without looking. He rolled over in bed to gaze upon Grace. The alarm didn’t appear to have woken her. That was unusual since Grace was the light sleeper, but she must be exhausted from caring for their ever-ravenous infant son.

A fragrance lodged in Charlie’s nose. Leaning close to his wife, careful not to wake her, he sniffed her black hair. A hint of cinnamon wafted from her tussled locks. Charlie stared quizzically at her. When she woke up, he’d have to ask her if she used a new perfume.

When not entertaining a his two boys or pulling the 9 to 5, Dan Rice writes fiction, mostly speculative. His debut fantasy novel Solarflame will be released in 2021.

To read his thoughts on writing and view his complete bibliography, please visit