The Other Side of the Portal
Speculative Fiction in The SunDavid Mahaffey, Associate Editor • September 15, 2023
As part of our ongoing celebration of The Sun’s fiftieth year in print, we featured Debbie Urbanski’s 2016 short story “The Portal” as our September issue’s Dog-Eared Page. In my introduction to the story I noted that several other writers of science fiction and fantasy — too many to list in print — have also found their way into the magazine. But here in the more generous confines of our website I can share some of my other favorites from our archives.
I think all of the fiction in The Sun helps us imagine what it feels like to be someone else. Stories in any genre can transport us, can shift our perspectives enough to teach us something true about ourselves. When it comes to speculative fiction, the doorway into our hearts just happens to be, on occasion, a portal between worlds.
The moon casts a pearl-colored path, and I, ducking into shadows, carry a platter of beef roast, so raw I can smell the blood, to the edge of the backyard swimming pool. Already Dad has reached the shallow end, and my younger twin brothers, Michelangelo and Leonardo — my mother had a passion for art — are not far behind. I coo to them; their tails move from side to side in anticipation.January 2010
I don’t believe in anything mystical, Ms. Freedman. Not even God. You made us build that diorama of Mount Olympus, and you made us paint that mural with unicorns and butcherbirds and sand toads. You said it was to show that books transport us to different worlds, where there are different rules, and there’s magic in everything.September 2011
I have trouble remembering my past. Sometimes I remember something having happened to me, but my sister says it actually happened to my brother. Sometimes I wonder if she is working with them to try to abscond with my memories. Like the time one of us lost his shoes rolling down a hill, or the time our dad rescued a goose from the median of the highway. Ever since the accident it’s been like that. Everyone wants to move my memories around. But I remember everything about that summer in Sherwood when Lou and Chaz and I saw those flashing lights in the sky.July 2016
At the count of three, they closed their eyes and each selected a pebble. They looked at the pebbles and at each other. The outcome was clear: the sow and the first hog would make a ramp of their bodies with the trough and the rain barrel, and the second hog would climb to freedom. The chosen hog felt the sweet thrill of relief, though he did his best to hide it. The hunger had turned into a claw. Soon he would be outside the pen. No one spoke.May 2017
We were losing parts of ourselves. A reporter discovered a trove of ears in a burlap sack. The leader said the papers were lying, and we weren’t sure what was rumor and what was fact. What happened to me, what happened to my neighbors — that wasn’t enough proof of all we had lost.January 2018
The next day we woke up early, we gathered our televisions, speakers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, bracelets, earrings, alarm clocks, electric drills, action figures, lava lamps, blow-up sex dolls, board games, hedge trimmers, we piled them in wheelbarrows, in the boots of cars, on the backs of trucks, on sledges, we took them to the fields at the edge of town, the fields were covered with a light mist, they looked mysterious, we felt lucid and peaceful as we stared at the dark hedges and the pale grass, we had lumps in our throats, we looked at each other with shining eyes, then we dumped everything into the fields and went back to our houses and started to dismantle our furniture.February 2018
We’d dried these men off, fed them. We’d mended their bodies, if they were still mendable. We’d fished so many different kinds of men out of the Duvallis over the years, but this man in front of us was our favorite kind: relatively unhurt, a good amount of wisdom in his face, a grateful surge of adrenaline coursing through his blood. These men were always generous in bed, chatty, happy not to have lost their ability to touch.July 2018
Haru Jenkins’s husband has been abducted at 3:23 AM every Thursday for six years. The first abduction occurred a month after their youngest son went away to college. Haru’s husband was returned to his bed at 6:18 AM, well rested and still in his striped pajamas. The same has happened every time since.January 2023
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