A Cold Glow

A story by Kris Bowser.

“Computer,” he said, imitating the clear and commanding tones of the station’s adults, “I would like the following items: one pumpkin, one black marker, one knife, one spoon, and one candle.”

Scanning the open book clutched in his hands, he made sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. “Oh! Matches.

“Matches for what?” asked the station’s computer. “I can correlate numerous databases, including astrophysics, hydroponics, and assorted historical archives. Are you looking for a person, place, thing, or article from the station’s help database?”

“A thing. Wooden matches.”

“State justification. Items in your request are contraindicated against station rules of safety and sterility.”

“Oh, it’s for a jack-o’-lantern.” He held up his book. “Computer, please cross-reference The Awesome Kid’s Guide to Traditional Earth Holidays.

“Resource indicates that requested items are associated with Halloween, which contraindicates station rules of safety and sterility due to fire, violence, and malarkey.”

“Can I have a pumpkin?”

“Within the parameters of station safety, I can offer you an autumn-spiced protein bar in a festive foil wrapper and a cut-out decal of a curly-stemmed pumpkin with a coy smile.”

They materialized, unasked for, on a surgically shiny chrome end table.


The fire came to frustrate him the most. Every time his family’s quarters faced the planet, the cold glow of Saturn lit up the decal’s coy smile from hundreds of miles away. That was when he made his requests.

“Computer. I will need flint and a magnesium rod.

“Items may create sparks. State justification.”

“Never mind. I will need a curved piece of wood, a length of string, a pointed stick—

“Items can be used to create a bow drill. State justification.”

Finally, he tried, “Computer, I will need wax and twine.” Hastily he added, “Cross-reference macramé, beading, and bookbinding.”

“Previous requests indicate that items will not be used for macramé, beading, or bookbinding. I can offer you a faux-hemp bracelet suggestive of friendship and rough fibers.”


Years passed, and the pumpkin decal curled up at its edges.

“Computer, display available on-station employment.”

“Records show pyromaniac tendencies. This precludes many options. Show remaining?

“Yes.”

Security officer, non-career. Custodial technician, cargo bay. Custodial technician, residential wing. Custodial technician, hydroponics bay. I can offer you a guided meditation on the depressing reality of your options and the blackness of space.

Could I have a candle to go with it?”


“Computer. Turn off fire suppression systems in hydroponics bay.”

“State justification.

“Revised station procedure for harvesting and processing pumpkins. Cross-reference The Awesome Hydroponics Bay Manager’s Guide to Safety and Sterility.” Imitating the coy smile of the curly-stemmed pumpkin on the cover, he watched the bees—requisitioned as necessary pollinators—flit around their hives and the wild spaces where sterile rows of leafy greens had grown on metal shelves.

With a firm downward strike of his garden knife, metal on metal, a spark caught on his crude beeswax candle.

The jack-o’-lantern glowed.


“A Cold Glow” was read on the first annual Halloween Special of the Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast.

Copyright © 2018 Kris Bowser

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