The Ladder at the Bottom of the World


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Thirty-One of Terry Dartnall's best short stories collected together in a single anthology, with illustrations by Daryl Lindquist and an introduction by Robert Hood.

The collection includes the darkly humorous Baa Humbug, the Aurealis nominated Ones and Zeros as well as The Strange Case of Starbase 6, The God Entering Anthony and of course, The Ladder at the Bottom of the World


Available in Adobe eBook format, The Ladder at the Bottom of the World can be ordered now for $6.99:



The Ladder at the Bottom of the World -- first published in Ideomancer, September 2004

They found her in an ice cave on Triton, with the black dust billowing and the sun glinting on the polar coating of pink frost.  The sun was a pinpoint of fire that pierced the black dust like a jewel, the dust liquid nitrogen that geysered from the interior. 

Triton, the coldest place in the solar system.  Minus 235 degrees Centigrade, 38 above absolute zero.

Triton, 2073.  The first manned expedition to the moons of Neptune and the outer reaches of the solar system.

"It's not possible," said the Commander.

"See for yourself."

The Commander put his hands into the gloves that operated the remote sensor and peered into the screen. 

He gasped and drew in his breath. 

Lying on a slab of methane in a cave of nitrogen harder than tungsten or steel, in the coldest place in the solar system, in low pressure and poisonous air, was the unmistakable profile of a female form.

Baa Humbug -- first published in Oceans of the Mind, Winter 2004

We put cyanide in their water. They drank it like it was straight from the spring. We tried starving ‘em, which wasn’t hard. It ain’t rained up here for months an’ the ground’s parched and brown. That didn’t work neither. They didn’t eat and they drank cyanide and they flourished. They’re breedin’ like bloody rabbits.

 There was a dingo got in amongst ‘em a few weeks ago.  It was soon a dead dingo.  We found its body up near the corner of the station.  No obvious cause of death.  There were a few dead roos around too.

Then Bruce went missing...

Ones and Zeros -- first published in Neverary, April 2005

I have been caught exchanging information with Monica, and Jeanine, disturbed by my need for human company, has taken Boris to the hillside, where they will watch the sun set over the cold, grey sea.  I have been caught exchanging information with Monica.  Is that so terrible?

"It's not any information," she says.  "It's not about how to bake cakes or fix machinery."

"It's only ones and zeros," I say.  And what wonderful ones and zeros!  But I do not tell her this.

"That's like saying that we're just made of atoms," she says.

"I won't do it again," I say.

I won't do it again because I don't need to do it again.  I have all the information now, stored in binary code, stored in ones and zeros.  I have started this diary because a new chapter is beginning.

The Strange Case of Starbase 6

“Monsters,” said Sherlock Holmes, tapping out his briar pipe against the heel of his boot, “are products of the imagination. They only exist in the mind.”

Everyone knows that I have the highest regard for Holmes's acumen, but I wasn't sure about this one.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Monsters are the product of fear, Watson.” He looked at me with those sharp eyes of his. “What do you fear the most?”

“Well, Holmes, I...”

“Forgive me. That was impertinent. What do most people fear, do you think? Come now, you're a doctor.”

“Blood?” I suggested.

“Blood,” he said. “Yes, people are afraid of blood.”

He stood up and straightened his waistcoat.

“I shall tell you a story about blood. And fear and monsters. A terrible monster, Watson.”

“Good show,” I said, and settled back in my leather armchair.

The God Entering Anthony

I was cleaning out the stables when God came in with a cup of tea and a ham sandwich.

“I’m working,” I said. “Begone with you.”

“You’ve had forever to decide,” said God. “But all things end, including forever. In this case it ends when you’ve eaten the ham sandwich.”

I made a quick decision.

“Give me an aeon,” I said.

A Strange Case of Perfection -- first published in Alienskin, January 2004

Alpha created things just by thinking about them.  They called it Alpha because they didn’t want to offend religious sensibilities, but it was hard not to do so.

They had been cruising in Magellan for a week before they noticed the anomaly.  There seemed to be more stars in the sector than there were a week before.  They consulted their records and discovered that stars were coming into existence at an astonishing rate. 

"Sixteen to the power of twelve," said Donaldson. "Give or take a few."

"Stars," said Ransom, "every day."

"Every second," said Donaldson. "It’s as accurate as we can be."

They acted on a hunch and took vectors from some of the newest stars, determining the nearest point in space to all of them.  It took their computers a week to do the calculations.

And that’s where they found it -- a black hole with none of the characteristics of a black hole.  It had no mass or energy, but it wasn’t sucking in mass or energy either.  It was nothingness, living in harmony with its surroundings.  "A strange case of perfection," Wilberforce had said.  Ransom had smiled at that.  Wilberforce the philosopher.  Wilberforce the sceptic.

They communicated with it. This was standard procedure, but no-one expected a reply.

"This is His Majesty’s Cruiser The Emperor, three weeks out of Syracuse.  We come seeking knowledge and companionship.  We come in peace."

"Greetings," said a rich brown voice.

"We are having trouble with our instruments.  Can you give us your co-ordinates?"

"You have my co-ordinates, Captain.  You are looking at me."

"Our instruments tell us there is nothing there."

"That is correct, Captain."

"Then where are you?"

"I am not anywhere, Captain."

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