People say there’s never enough time, but they’re almost always lying. It’s all about priorities. The gutter doesn’t get fixed not because there isn’t enough time, but because there’s I Love Lucy to watch. Gutters are work. Lucy is fun. So there’s no time for gutters.

Something like this went through my head as a 60-foot Ghurrlach thrashed its tentacles across the train tracks a few miles ahead of the train I happened to be riding, the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr overnight to Chicago. “If only,” I thought, “I’d had time to work on that growth serum.” But the lab was work, and there had been a Lucy marathon.

I grabbed my hat and leapt from my seat as the dining car erupted in panic around me. The train’s brakes screeched and only a quick grab for a door frame saved me as the other travelers tumbled about. I instinctively reached for the trusty atomizer in my coat pocket, but stayed my hand. Ray guns wouldn’t stop that monster. Something larger was called for. I started working out the math in my head.

I moved swiftly from car to car toward the front of the train and the sleeper car where Joan napped with our…larger luggage. Porters struggled to keep screaming flailing people in their seats, and in the chaos I had no trouble slipping past them. The Ghurrlach, an impatient beast on even a good day, heaved its gargantuan gelatinous bulk atop the tracks. Moonlight and its own green glowing eyes illuminated a sharp, gaping beak set in a wet scaly body. It grew larger and larger as the train squealed inexorably toward the monster, framed in passing windows like some grotesque slideshow.

Joan looked up sleepily from her berth as I slowed to scoop a small, round device from my luggage. “You’re doing math, George,” she said. I must have been muttering aloud again. “When are you coming to bed?”

“Just a moment, dear!” I called, already stepping through to the next car. In moments the train would crash into the Ghurrlach at an alarming speed. I didn’t need math to describe what would happen then.

I burst into the engine and found the conductor hanging half out the window. He froze for a second, then was gone. The engineer remained, leaning against the brakes with his eyes squeezed shut. I shook him.

“I’ll need your help!” I shouted. “On the roof!” I held out my device, a metal sphere featuring several lights and buttons and a switch. I triggered the switch, and one of the red lights began to blink. The man nodded hesitantly and pried stiff fingers from the brake lever. He followed me up the ladder, and together we crouched on the roof of the shuddering train. Beyond the column of smoke rising from the engine, the Ghurrlach raged. I handed the sphere to the engineer and produced the atomizer from my coat.

“You see,” I explained, not sure if the engineer could even hear my words over the cacophony of wind, failing brakes, and roaring gigantic monster, “the Ghurrlach is, as you may have guessed, not of our world.” I pried open a panel on the side of the atomizer and made a simple modification to the circuitry. “It is a denizen of the macroverse. Brought here, no doubt, against its will, it straddles the tenuous borders between quantum states.” I held out my hand, and the quivering engineer gave back the metal sphere. I affixed it to the end of the atomizer’s barrel. “Contained within this sphere,” I continued, “is a pocket universe. It appears tiny, but is in fact a miniaturized macroverse—hold me steady, please—a macroverse which contains but one object, a number, if a number can be said to be an object. Ten raised to the power of, well, quite a lot. I call this my googolplex device. The G-Bomb for short.”

The Ghurrlach was quite close now. A fetid stench, something like a cross between egg salad left out on a hot summer day and ammonia, overpowered the smell of the train’s burning brakes and smoking coal. I had to stop myself from counting the scales bulging and twisting at the edges of its beak. I squeezed the atomizer’s trigger, and the G-Bomb launched. The darkness within the beak quickly swallowed up the tiny silver sphere. A small flash, and the monster vanished. The train clattered roughly over the indentions in the tracks and ground to a halt just past the point where it would have become Ghurrlach food.

The engineer looked up at me with wide eyes.

“See,” I tucked the atomizer back in my coat. “A googolplex can’t even be written out in our universe. We don’t have enough atoms. The Ghurrlach’s universe, however, has ample space. The nature of physics being what it is, the googolplex shifted itself and the Ghurrlach back into the macroverse. I won’t bore you with the details.”

The engineer appeared to be at a loss for words. I patted his shoulder and returned to the train.

Still in our berth, Joan yawned and peeked out from behind her blanket. “Professor Monocle again?”

I nodded and eased into the lower bunk. “Always with the Ghurrlach. He must still be sore about that business in New York.”

“Mmm.” She tucked the blanked under her chin and closed her eyes. “Are you going to fix the gutters when we get home?” she asked, drowsiness slurring her speech.

The Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr huffed and lurched, resuming its journey through the night. “Won’t have time, I’m afraid. Got to fix the atomizer. And work on my growth serum.”


# # #

Big in Ak-Sar-Ben by Alexander Burns
originally published October 7, 2009



Alexander Burns lives in Fort Worth, TX. He writes because he doesn’t have a basement in which to build robots or time machines. His work has appeared at Every Day Fiction, A Thousand Faces, 10Flash, and The Future Fire. Visit Alexander online at

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Big in Ak-Sar-Ben


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