Below is a comprehensive (well, getting there) list of stories with a teaser.
There are times when my world is filled with darkness.
There were whispers in the trench as night descended.
We were ripping out decrepit pre-war cabinets, sixty plus years of dust, food preparation grime, and critter debris freed from the interstitial spaces, exploding out, when fear washed over me.
At three in the afternoon, local time, a text message was sent out. It was time.
Miss Elizabeth Smith adjusted the buttons on her dress. She patted her neat, practical skirt releasing a billow of fine dust. It was everywhere. It was from the road, and the hills behind the town; it swept in with each breeze, it covered windows and fresh laundry and food just laid out for supper. It was always in your teeth and nose and eyes. It swirled in just-drawn well water.
Hugh slowly turned the large steering wheel. He loved that turning the wheel involved using his back muscles. It reminded him of his days working at the mine where he drove comically massive dump trucks all day, happily hauling up the Earth's innards to be sorted for zinc.
The black shiny casket sat above a strip of plastic grass. The man inside was wearing his favorite jeans and and a Who concert t-shirt
A man and a woman sat at the counter. The counter stretched out into the dark end of the restaurant. Behind the pair the wide windows, steamed up from the intense summer night rain humidity looked out onto an empty wet street. Beads of condensation connected and snaked lazily down the glass. Outside a blue crosswalk man blinked out to an orange hand. Numbers counted down. The light was blurred and fragment on it's way in. The proprietor busied himself in the back. Dishes clinked. Water ran.
"Halt!" bellowed Cobraman, huffing. He was chasing a man named Jacob Healy, a young ruffian in blue jeans and a black jacket, and Jacob held in is arm the bejeweled City Sceptre, the most valuable object in all of Cityville.
"Zemlya krasivoĭ," said the woman, Akulina, looking out the window as they tumbled. An hour had elapsed since the explosion.
The Oldsmobile, engine knocking, slowly rolled to a stop all on the deserted Nevada highway.
He stood in a crowd. The bars were letting out and people were laughing, teeth exposed, carousing, stumbling, and rushing on their way to further parties abnormally fast. Faces blurred by him, unnoticing, their features hardly distinguishable. He tried to move forward, but the Earth pulled him back.
Lola laid half-asleep and naked in the pitch black room. It so small it was humid from her own breath. She was on the floor, a mere few feet from the ceiling. Her wrists were tethered to one of the walls by a cord made of a material similar to plastic. Her back and hips ached from the confinement, and her skin was covered in healed-over sores.
The oars slapped the calm dark water. The canoe moved slowly towards a tiny island in the middle of a lake. The canoe had four occupants, a small family. The father paddled steadily, quietly. The mother looked back, examining the shoreline they had just left to the south. The sky above the trees glowed red.
The auditorium style classroom was filled mostly with exhausted, disheveled students. It was near the end of the semester. A fluorescent light flickered above the long desk on the dais in front of the whiteboard.
At opposite ends of the dead-end road two groups stared at each other in the waning, unnumbered hours of a summer evening.
"Aaaaaaaaahhh!" then jagged sobbing from the next room. Martina woke up to the sound of her young daughter in pain. She lay looking at the pattern of early morning light ceiling, trying to determine if this was another nightmare or something more serious. Her husband Cliff rolled over and snorted into the pillow. The sobs stayed at a constant pitch, then "Momma! Momma?!"
Maggie looked up at the sun through the water. It was broken into a dozen shimmering, waving patches. Leaves floated darkly on the surface like the hulls of tourist fishing boats in the Florida keys. She was a shark, laying in wait on the bottom, placid, for unwary, amateur scubaistas to plunk over the side, little meals drifting down, like the grainy, smelly fish food she gave the guppies at school. Little meals.
He died at his work table and was discovered by his mother. He was forty, and she was seventy at the time. In his right hand was an exacto knife. The work table was covered with various bits of construction paper, little pots of paint, brushes, glue, and other ephemera. The table and floor was wet with blood.
Detective Penelope James entered the room. The police photographer was snapping photos of the two bodies, splayed out on a bed in the middle of the room. The flash went off rapidly, schizophrenically lighting the dark room.
The TV screen was black. The set was on, there was power, but the news just stopped. Melissa clicked through more channels. Black, static, colored bars, an infomercial selling a countertop grill.
Three billion years ago magma cooled and formed land. Wind and rain and biota swept across it. The land pushed up, it eroded down, soil deposited, soil washed away. Plants grew up and died on it, animals walked and mated and fought over it. Man came to it during a chilly long winter, walking over frozen rivers and snow, following mammoth, giant sloth, and horses--for eating, shelter, and tools.
The ancestor road rose up ahead. A doe and it's fawn were wandering up to the apex, following the sedges growing from the deep cracks. Elisia knew that there was a drop-off just at the apex, where the ancestor road had rotted away years ago. Its pillars still stood, but at the base was a pile of grass-covered rubble. The ancestor road continued after a large gap of several hundred feet, and curved down, and back into the earth and under the trees of the forest.
"Did you bring the camera?" asked one of the sisters. I didn't know if it was Greta or Gabrielle; I couldn't really tell them apart.
The hexagonal columns of graphite towered above Anders. He ran towards the great mound--naked, covered in greasy soot, feet bleeding. His visible ribcage heaved, and he grunted in pain with each breath. He hadn't eaten in days, ever since he woke up in this barren, charred world, cold, and with no memory of his arrival.
She pressed on the brakes and stopped the wheels but the car kept moving forward. A thin layer of water covered a layer of ice over the road that went down the hill. The car started turning to the left. She pumped the brakes, but they did not catch.
Just like every morning for the past three years, Louis opened the dealership at seven thirty in the morning. He cleaned the bathroom, made the coffee, and checked the overnight voicemail. At five to eight in the morning he unlocked the door for the salesmen, then he took his seat at the reception desk and tried not to fall asleep.
"Who are all these people?" asked Hodge.
"People with money," whispered Gillian. The two were each nursing glass of wine in the corner of a packed gallery.
The tip jar remained empty all day. Patience adjusted it every so often, making sure that the label could be optimally viewed by customers. She wasn't even supposed to have one out, but she knew her boss, an older cousin named Jeb, was down at the lake drinking, and every time he was gone, she knew she could get away with the tip jar.
Brother Umfrey sat in his carol nodding off. The wood was uncomfortable but warm from sitting there all afternoon. His fingers were blotched with ink, and a quill rested precariously atop his thumb. His fingernails were caked with dirt from a morning spent pulling up onions in the garden
It inched it's hulking body forward through the sewage, trailing a thick swath of mucus. It was getting to be a tight fit now, its black rotting scales scraped against the sides, filing them down into a shiny patina. It was trailing a pack of rats interested in part of a dead cat that had fallen through one of the drainage openings. It slithered closer, as quietly as it could.
Up above them was the slowly rotating blue neon halo. It adorned the facade of the local Blue Madonna outlet, a post-modern glass and black stone edifice. Housed inside was a spacious salon. The front sold lower quality entertainment gadgets. The back hosted rows of immersive experience chairs. The upper level was were you could get more permanent options. George had avoided the place for years.
Electron kicked electron and got kicked back. Light traveled barely impeded through glass tubes. The conversation was established.
The bags chinked and crackled against the metal coils as they were inserted rhythmically, efficiently into the vending machine. Irving made it a point to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Luckily now all the vending machines were digital and took credit card or PayPal so he didn't have to empty any cash boxes or refill the change box. Marco stood silently guard a few feet away. He would look from side to side, confidently, his hand resting over the large gun slung around his larger chest.
"The usual please," he said, head down, eyes peeking up.
Thunder rolled and cracked and rumbled. Rain spattered down on the magnolia tree. The air was dark gray and depressed. Agnes surveyed her her backyard from the safety of the enclosed veranda with a forced bitter grin. She brushed a lock of white hair from her forehead. The radio crackled and hissed from the other room. She was waiting for a tornado. She always waited for tornados each spring. She was hoping one of them would take her away someday.
On his first day of school, Jeremy was optimistic. That sentiment soon dissipated.
Five minutes after getting onto the freeway, red taillights lit up and traffic started to snarl.
Cold, white winter sunlight shone obliquely through leafless trees. Cole's hard breath hung heavily in the air. He pushed a wheelbarrow up the hill that stood behind the town he had spent seventy years living in--most of his life. HIs chest ached with the cold air. Only three houses in the town had smoke coming from their chimneys. So few left, he thought.
Runt pushed against the loose white tile at the bottom of the shower. He slid it an inch to the side and squeezed out of the hollow in the wall. He blinked up at the bare lightbulb in the middle of the room. That's strange, he thought, usually Foodbringer is asleep by now. Runt padded through a tiny pool of water ringed with a coil of Foodbringer's white hair. He stopped to take a sip, then sat up on his haunches sniffing the air. The neighbor's dog is or was recently outside. The nasty smell of it wafted through the cracks around the bathroom window.
The orientation room was decked out in gray carpet and maroon plastic-seated metal chairs. There were no windows. There were a few other new employees milling about, looking defeated already.
Something heavy landed on his abdomen and he awoke coughing.
"When is this going to stop?" asked Sharon. Her throat and mouth were parched. Her teeth felt loose.
"It's going to be a hot one today," said Rhonda, fanning herself with her hand. She was walking and window shopping with her boyfriend Vincent, who was more interested in the various spots of gum on the sidewalk than spending a day in and out of stores.
"Did you see last night's episode of Singer Castaway?" said a large man, both in height and girth, as he wrestled trying to get his oversized and oddly shaped baggage into the overhead compartment.
"You brought this into our house!" screamed Nicole from the top of the stairs.
"I'm not working on that kid!" said Wendy the dental hygienist as she stormed through the hall towards Dr. Thompson the dentist, who was studying another patient's dental x-rays.
It was a quarter past one and the post-lunch carbohydrate langor was setting in. Ruthie stared down at the open spelling book on her desk. The letters were all squiggles, and she fought to keep her eyes open.
The Kamisuru complex sat squatly just off shore. It sat in the ocean so it could suck up cold filtered sea water to cool it's reactors and processing columns, and spat it back out warm. The local fishermen had protested its installation but the local government was in the pocket of Kamisuru. It didn't really hurt the ecosystem under normal operation, but when it comes to the end of it's lifespan, in a hundred years or so, it's going to be a monumental nightmare. Not that anyone will still be around by then.
The world was quiet, mute with a thick layer of snow. It still fell, in large clumped flakes. The sky was gray above black limbed naked trees. There was a figure curled up in a blanket with a dusting of snow, next to a stand of cattails sticking up from the frozen-over pond's edge.
"Oy my God noooo--" someone screamed.
Leather booted feet crushed wet grass--they marched a path through a fallow field to a large tree. The men wore coarse black cloaks and the flames of their torches did little to hold back the starless overcast night. Under the tree lay a stack of brush and cut wood. The woman they carried was hooded. Her face was crusted with blood. Welts were swelling up on her cheeks and chin.
"Get the hell out of here!" yelled one of the kids. He swung his baseball bat menacingly.
"There's no way we're going to win," said Woodrow, looking around the gymnasium. It was filled with rows of tables and topped with various entries in the science fair--mostly creaky duct tape and poster board affairs, with a few three dimensional constructions of higher craftsmanship here and there.
Howard cut up the fish with practiced efficiency. The belly was slit, and the organs were separated out in to different bowls. The gills were sliced off and went into another bowl. The fins and tails went into a big bowl. The eyes were scooped out and went into a small bowl. The head was slit and the brain extracted to yet another bowl. The spine was pulled out and broken up. The spinal cord was put in the same bowl as the tiny brains. They usually curled and slithered to the bottom of the bowl. Finally he scraped all the scales off into yet another bowl.
"Excuse me sir," said the young man. He was about twenty-five, bespectacled, with tawny hair and a little shorter than expected. He wore a rumpled gray suit and strode across the maroon carpet of the hotel lobby. The man he was speaking to was leaning on the concierge desk. This man was older, looking to be in his thirties though he was not. He had an air of casual confidence, a man with the appearance of complete command of his life and circumstances. He wore an ivory suit with a silk magenta vest and a wide pink tie. And a short cape, made of the same ivory material as the suit. Even in Las Vegas, he stood out.
The lights turned dark, and with them the almost imperceptible buzz from the spiral bulbs ceased. The mass under the blankets breathed softly.
"Na na na na na na na!" droned Bunny. She stood in the top floor hallway under the the hatch to the attic. Her eyes were squeezed shut and she had her fingers in her ears. Her normally porcelain complexion was ruddy with fear and anger. She was surrounded by gleeful siblings. Bobby and Bertram pulled on knotty hanks of her long red hair.
"We're all puppets of Master Mind!" yelled Sugar as she laughed.
Ash was still falling. The winter air was warm. The boy, a teenager, but looking younger than his years, pushed open the metal doors. He shuffled out from the dark cavity, through a foot of gritty ash. In his hands he held the neck of a guitar. The soundbox was hanging in splinters and the strings were swaying loose. He walked out into the road.
Alexander stood at the door, and licked at the tiny space between the door and the jamb. Miriam watched him and sighed.
A woman, Eileen, middle-aged, dressed in a skirt and brown heels, walked rapidly down the street, down the incline of the hill. Her hair whipped in front of her face. Her hands grazed the dull metal parking meters. She looked back. There they were at the top of the hill--dark figures. They moved quickly, circling in. She walked faster, tried to jog, but didn't know where to go but to keep going down the hill.
"What do you think they did here?" We paused panting, looking up at the tall crumbling building.
It was a beautiful afternoon, and the ferryman sat back in his chair with his feet up on the railing. His hat sat low on his forehead and a long pipe stuck out of his mouth. He puffed lazily, and he held a fishing pole with a line in the water. There were no fish to be had but the ferryman didn't mind.
"No other animal gathers clutter around it like us," said Mark. We were in his backyard, sipping beers and gazing into the fire pit.
The checkout clerk looked glanced furtively at the man at the end of the conveyor belt, then glanced at him again. Traveling toward her were several packages of tripe, a tub of pig's kidneys, several beef hearts, tongue, several livers, and two tubs of cow brains. A knot rose in her throat. It was the cheap meat that really frugal people bought, even so, no one ever bought that much.
The pair lumbered across the street; the protector and the girl. He was a segmented conglomeration of self-building, self-repair robotic parts, who ate ancient asphalt for energy. His body was a fortress of welded rebar and chunks of concrete; all steel wheels and steel legs and a matrix of interlocking levels that the girl lived within.
"Do you have any batteries?!" a middle-aged woman screamed in my year. She was yelling at a harried cashier and my head was just in the way. "Do you have any left? Did you hear me mister?"
The mosquitos were out and thick as I walked to down the path to the big shack. The lights were on and a crackly old radio was playing. I paused on the path. Shadows moved around behind the windows. There was laughter. Around me the dark of the forest was pressing in. I could feel the fractured eyes of a mosquito on my back. A chill danced up my spine and all the little hairs on my arm stood at attention. I didn't want to get needled so I quickly walked to door and knocked loudly.
The man in the white suit plunged in, little populations of bubbles frothed desperately upward. His ears burned with searing pain. He clutched a large river stone, and his face was frozen in fear. Looking up he saw a viridian light through midnight waters. It got smaller, and he wondered where bottom was, if there was one.
"I've got a friend in Jesus," said the man striding across the platform. "Do you?" He pointed his microphone towards the crowd assembled before him.
Mrs. Clifton turned off the lights and turned on the projector. The lightbulb shone through the film and she started to collect it on the second, empty reel, using the tip of a pencil. She attached the reel and started the projector. After some reference marks flashed by, the sound started in a warped warble. There was a little jingle, then the title:
"Today's Oil Industry"
"Where are we?" I asked.
The mouse twitched under the cover of dead leaves. Jezebel leapt and struck the mouse. It struggled and screamed.
"I'll be right there!" yelled Mrs. Richards. The real estate agent was already at the door. She was hoping to have a cup of tea before they arrived. It was so cold in the house now. She made her way achingly down the staircase and into the foyer, holding the railing as tightly as her frail swollen fingers would allow.
"Stop it!" yelled Terri. Her daughter lobbed a feather pillow in her general direction. It hit the door jamb and bounced down. Whitney was huddled in the corner of her room screaming. She was tearing at the carpet with her feet. Her mattress and dresser were overturned, and all her clothes were strewn about, some in shreds.
Above the sky was a pale pink, like it was painted by the art director for an early episode of Star Trek. The sky was framed with leafless white branches.
"Where am I?" asked Edna when she awoke, laying on her back on the ground. No one responded.
The man was breathing with mechanical assistance--splayed out underwater unconscious. His breaths rasped. The surgeons swam around him, in an antibacterial fluid that contained cellular nutrients and narcotics. The pulled apart his skin, then muscle, then bone, then organs. They were teased apart ans spread wide, slowly, over days, so the intervening tissues could heal and grow.
"It's time, grandfather," she said. I wasn't her grandfather, not by a longshot. It was supposed to be some sort of term of endearment. I was not endeared.
"What's wrong with me?!" she screamed. "Why don't you want to be with me anymore?"
The man scowled at Norman, who was hanging upside down from a stop sign next to a road in the desolate scrubland. The man was short and thin, sunglasses and leather-suit clad; he vigorously smoked a cigaretted as he pounded the stop sign with tennis balls in an attempt to dislodge Norman. Each of the endless tennis balls came from a hole in the air--the man would reach back to a spot five feet above (or below, according to Norman's perspective) the ground and pull out a new scruffy ball, before taking a suck of nicotine and carcinogens and lobbing the projectile. After hitting the sign, the balls would fall up into the air in parabolas.
Gregory turned on the kitchen tap and hopefully placed a glass beneath the spout. A slight hiss of air squelched out. He sighed and slumped down onto the floor, rumpling up the rami kitchen rug.
"Are you ready?!" yelled the mayor of Las Vegas to the assembled crowd of reporters, casino workers, conventioneers, and tourists. He was on a raised dais around a building sheathed in smoked glass. He was flanked by several pose-hitting showgirls colorfully clad in ostrich feathers. They stood next to a large pipe painted red. It was 3 A.M.
A young girl, about seven, sat down on the curb in front of her house, which looked out across a large verdant park. Her bob of blonde hair was unkempt from a day of outdoor activity. Her freckled face was stained with dried popsicle juice. Dirt lined her fingernails and dusted her knees. She chewed pensively on gum that had long lost it's flavor.
"Is it time yet?" asked Daria. She looked at her father and mother, huddled in the crowd of drawn faces, pores filled with dust. The dust was everywhere, even inside the airlocks. There was not enough water to wash it away. Her mother listened carefully to the transmission from the approaching ship.
Wicket lay belly up in the fresh cut grass in the back corner of the lawn. She basked in fat morning rays and watched insects float above her. She snapped at them, occasionally and lazily. Her eyelids began to droop when the meter reader came by.
Aaron swayed towards the railing, dizzy. His legs pricked and felt heavy. His heart struggled in the center of his chest. He pulled the oxygen tank up a step with a wobbly hand. He took another step up. He pulled on the tank. Sweat broke in beads across his forehead. Pain shot through his arms and he cried out, but there was no one left in the house but him.
The boy ran down the cobble path barefoot. Blood streamed from this nose, mouth, and ears. A bruise was welling up over an eye. His bare arms were gashed and his clothes were shredded. He feet slapped the cobbles and the sound reverberated dully against the hillocks that path was cut into.
The end of the whip, the thong of braided leather recoiled back, spraying dots of red into the air. The man with the whip in hand grunted, and stepped back. Sweat beaded on his forehead in the noonday sun. He was no longer a young man, but not yet old. His name was Joshua. He lacked a bride and held a black anger in his heart. He reared his arm back and struck out again.
The walls of the room were covered by drawings of horses. Horses in pastures mainly. All riderless, some in colors of pink and purple and pale blue. They all had big eyes and black lashes. They stared out at the man in the white coat. He clicked a retractable pen again and again and again.
Claire sat on the beach in her wetsuit. Her bare toes dug into rain soaked sand. The wind fluttered against the curly blonde/white hair that framed her face in a frizz. She held a kelp bulb in her hands, rolling it back and forth between her palms. Its long frond stretched back into the ocean.
The TV babbled at the periphery of Simon's consciousness. The weatherman droned on about the heat and humidity. Simon lay spreadeagled across his easy chair, shirtless. He wore worn jeans. The cat shifted to lay on her stomach, her legs sprawled out, using the hardwood as a heat sink. Simon's wife Pauline stood in front of the open freezer door in the kitchen.
"Oh my sons," she said, her voice velvet. Bullets streaked by, criss-crossing over her head as she rose from the ocean, between the amphibious troop deployment vehicles. Men yelled frantically, and grenades boomed, blasting up cones of sand and liberated parts of men. "Oh my sons." Her ample lips did not move, but were slightly parted enough to frame a glint of ivory. She was naked except for a film of seawater glistening on her timelessly young skin.
A line of men and women walked carefully in a line through the underbrush. Somewhere in the middle was a boy of twelve named Cadogan on his first time into the ravaged forestlands. He was sweating even though it was just after dawn and still cold. He gripped his rifle tightly with grimy fingers. He had been talking excited about going on the expedition for many days, driving his mother to distraction. But the previous night he fell silent, worried about the tree-eaters.
The frogs in the lake at the end of the road sang their droning song. Edward stood in the dark, under an oak tree dripping with dew-covered moss. Across the street was her house. He could hear her laughter, talking with her sister, as they played a jazz record. Her bedroom was at the front of the house. The light of a oil lamp shone through lace curtains. Her shadow draped the window. Edward flexed his fingers then balled them into fists.
The front door to the brownstone opened. Deirdre stepped out, naked. Her cheek gaped open, the plastic flesh hanging down revealing hard plastic molars. Her flesh was torn in places all over her body, in five fingered rips. Her nylon hair was mostly ripped out. Blood stained her knees, mouth, and hands. She started down the steps.
The doe bent her head to sniff a tuft of green sprouting up through the crust of snow. Ulla pulled back on her bow. The bow creaked with the strain. The doe looked up and saw Ulla. Ulla released her arrow. It sailed between bare trees, shushing the air.
The faucet dripped steadily. Gene stood with his toothbrush stuck in his mouth, silent, staring. He tried a third time, twisting, to turn it off. The drip ceased, then slowly started back up again.
Prometheus rose up above her. Alexandra shoved her crampon into the side of the volcano and put her weight on it. She tugged on her rope. It held. The radio crackled. It was just static now. She couldn't look back--not out of lack of desire, but it was physically impossible in her suit. The low oxygen alarm dinged gently in her helmet.
Rifle reports crackled through the forest. Lyle jumped a rotten log, landed, fell, twisted his ankle. Shot spattered the log above him. He ducked instinctively, panting foggy breath, and peered through the space between the log and earth, back behind the way he came. He saw her dirty feet and her tattered nightgown. She had stopped running.
"Are those your brother's shoes?" Jo Ann glanced back at her daughter in the back seat. Carol looked down at her feet and scrunched her mouth. She turned back to look out the window and the expanse of blue with patches of cottony white. "Answer me, dear," said her mother.
"You must endure the pain," they said. "It's not more than what Christ endured on the cross," they said. I was five. They castrated me and tattooed my face. They had me pinned down, no drug to dull the pain. I screamed of course. I fainted. Most unfit boys do. The girls aren't so lucky. The unfit ones are killed just after birth, their eggs harvested and gutted of their DNA. Shells.
I was drinking Peruvian coffee when the bell to the door rang. The coffee was lukewarm and I was itching for a cigarette. The coffeeshop used to be a place where you could sit and smoke cigars. That was before smoking bans. I itch, but I don't mind. I haven't smoked in years.
Dominique curled her fingers around the lever to the red fire alarm. She pulled, connected with the glass bar, pulled harder, shattered it, popping it apart, then the lever eased toward the floor.
An engorged body floated down the gray river. The factory whistle blew plaintively in the distance. The sky was velvety gray and the wind had a bite. The surface of the water was undisturbed; the river moved slowly.
Allison placed the bucket of warm milk on the kitchen floor and closed the back door. The milk was steaming slightly. The fires hadn't been lit yet and the house was could.
You could hear the wings of moths slapping against the lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling in a string. The crickets and bullfrogs droned in the fields in the night beyond the tent. Ivan Blythe lay face down in the dirt, a barbecued chicken wing still in his hand.
In the torus there lived a man, a woman, and a small dog--a collie/mutt mix. The torus had three levels. In the top, fresh water was stored and processed. It also housed the CO2 scrubbers. In the middle was the living habitat. And in the bottom was the waste water treatment area. The torus spun--very fast, though it accelerated very slowly so as not to crush the three occupants. It spun for months that stretched to years. On the inside.
Weightless. The plane bucked. Elliot looked at the man seated next to him. The man was shaking, his facial features extreme behind the yellow oxygen mask; his skin was reddened. The man clutched Elliot's forearm but Elliot shook him loose. He looked out the window. Trees rose up, scraping the belly of the plane.
"The bridge is out up ahead." The state trooper wore a clear polyvinyl poncho. Water slithered off it in the drizzle.
"You're insane." Those were the last words.
"It's a swell day, isn't it kids?" said Peter Jellybean as he passed the village green.
There he was on the other side of the stacks, reshelving books. Well-groomed fingers but manly; nails cut up to the quick--no room to harbor bacteria.
"Saw, boy, saw!" said the Mr. Theodore Riley, the old casketmaker with nails between his teeth.
It was a month's journey. I think. We were packed into one large room. Hundreds of us. It was mostly dark. My eyes adapted. I think they saw in ultraviolet or infrared. Who knows what those big eyes took in.
"You going to draw all day?" asked Connie. She stirred a ragout on the stove and took a long drag on her cigarette. I sat back in my chair and sucked on my own. I watched the kids laying on the shag carpet watching Sesame Street. 'M' was the letter being discussed.
"What? I was just saying that humans won't be around forever!" He said it half-jokingly. He was lounging in the corner of a booth in a dark restaurant--a gastro-pub as they used to say. He wore a Trilby hat, slanted back on his head, thick-rimmed glasses though he didn't need a prescription, a tweed vest over a battered t-shirt, black denim, straight-legged. There was a light fuzz of dark beard. He'd be brooding if there wasn't a twinkle in his eyes and a smirk about his mouth.
The bear grabbed Joe around the waist.
"Hi friend," said the bear in a sing-song voice. Joe gurgled and his eyes bulged. He dropped the carton of milk he was holding and it spilled all over the floor. The bear nuzzled Joe's neck with his wet nose.
Gabriella stood in the entrance of the grocery store. The late afternoon sun warmed her back while cold air rushed across her face. A young man pushed past her from behind, then glanced back at her with narrow eyes and shucked hair out of his face. Gabriella moved forward and the door closed behind her. She reached for a plastic basket but retracted her hand and held it to her lips
"Yes. Beautiful, don't you think?"
"I guess. In her own way."
"No. In every way."
Uncle Teddy's face turned purple. His sister-in-law, aunty Jane just finished speaking, and from the look on her face we all knew she immediately regretted opening that can of worms at Thanksgiving dinner. Aunty Jane looked intently down at her plate and scooped up a forkful of marshmallowed yams.
There was a dim brown light. Ray's head pounded.
"I'm not going away," whispered Felicia. A faint whiff of her perfume lingered in the air.
The feeding tube itched against Brian's parched lips, but he couldn't adjust it. The late afternoon sun shone directly at his eyes but at least he was still able to close his eyelids. The warmth made him sleepy. Cartoons on the TV chattered on, unaware of his presence. His mother shifted in her chair and cleared her throat. She was reading a novel to herself, thinking that Brian had fallen asleep.
A lone figure stood at a city bus stop. Rain pounded down in a comforting haze of white noise. Her dark hair matted against her head; a car drove by and a wake of water leapt up to drench her further. She shivered.
When I woke up I didn't remember anything about being a pilot. I guess I was knocked out pretty good. All there was above me was the cracked window of the cockpit and a bright blue sky. It gave me vertigo, like I was looking down instead of up. I was lying on my back still strapped in, like they did in the space shuttle when they were waiting for take off, but I wasn't going anywhere.
"I'm sorry for your loss," said an old woman to the widow. Sean looked on from across the room. He slugged his glass of wine and turned towards the wall and it's bubbled-up wallpaper. He rubbed his eyes with the cuff of his sleeve. When he turned back the widow looked at him, glaring.
A fine grain of ash floated above the city, summoning water molecules to it with static attraction. A drop formed, with the grain in the center of the globe. The light from the explosions below shot through the globe, turned, bent, flipped, exited, like a camera obscura.
Three cocooned figures walked down the ramp. Rose colored alien sedges rose up around them, almost to the full height of the tallest two figures. The air was filled with spores and pollen floating lazily on the breeze.
The letter read:
You have been sentence to indefinite imprisonment. Please use the form on the back of this notice if you wish to file an appeal.
The deer looked up. Her nostrils widened. Her front knees trembled. She turned her head to eye the rusted, overturned logging truck covered in moss and fallen trees, not know what it was. The forest on this side of the mountain became quiet. The deer's heart beat with fury even as she tried to still her trembling, to be invisible.
"He's still warm," said Joe. He looked down at the body, emaciated and pockmarked with weeping sores. A bat cracked and the and the half-filled stadium crowd on the television roared. The Nationals were playing the Rockies.
Ice crystals shimmered from the tree limbs in the winter morning light. Pasha laid shivering in a hollow where an oak tree's roots met the frozen forest floor. He clutched his face, staunching the flow of blood from the bite into his jaw with the end of his scarf. Pasha saw a patch of black fur pause between the trees.
As it approached, the eagle circled lazily, above, with warm curls of air filtering through it's feathers. It came, attracted to the towering column of dense gray smoke. Prairie sod was ripped up; a black flaming trail led to a white-painted tube, the ones from the sky. The scent of blood. Animal screams.
"What's the price of your soul, son?" asked the Sheriff. He brushed away the bottom of his coat to rest his hand on the carved ivory handle of his gun. He chewed brown liquid under the canopy of his large mustache and stared his steely eyes down at the young man who stood before him in a heap of torn clothes and dried mud.
A man, scruffy, tall and lean, clad in a gray sweatshirt and jeans from a decade ago, slurped on his Coca-Cola and stared hungrily at the teenage girl who worked the counter at the truck stop.
Mr. Spindle was twelve feet tall and most of his length occurred in his glass-like, diaphanous lower limbs. He seldom spoke and seldom blinked.
It's like I'm standing in front of a mirror just before it happens. The mirror flexes and shifts and distorts my face. My nostrils get big and my eyes get small. My chest feels tight. And then the mirror explodes and I'm released.
"Come along now," said the small, bundled-up figure. Behind her, stretching into the ash gray gloom of the blizzard was a string of twenty-seven little beings, small sheep to match the girl's own stature, the same white as the snow, strung together with a red rope.
Tom sucked in a deep breath, as if he had never breathed before, and realized there was a heavy weight pressing down on his chest. His headed pounded out the beat of a funeral march. His eyelids fluttered open, partially impeded by the accumulated sleep in the corners of his eyes. He was facing up, in a dimly lit room, somewhere in the vicinity of dawn.
The heart started beating with the empty needle still plunged deeply, pumping the violet inllux fluid through the semi-transparent body, shaped roughly like a human woman but much taller than average. The sacs and cavities in the body filled, and glowed pinkly in the darkness.
Sara slept in her yellow penguin pajamas, in a tangle of sheets and blankets, on an Ikea bed, in a darkened room without any discernable interior decorating and littered with discarded clothes, when it happened. The clock by her bedside, with it's red staring digits, read 11:53pm. The room burst with light and Sara shot bolt upright.
"Go away woman! Let me sleep!" Lord Avarice Smelting, fifth Baron of Castle Widowframmeling, deep in the mountains of the high country, pulled his black satin sheets up over his head and closed his eyes tightly, willing the last shards of evening twilight back.
"I have a question," he asks. He stands there, on the cleanroom floor, in his blue paper jumpsuit and booties, his fingers twitching at his sides. It makes me think that maybe he really wants to take a smoke, and I'm annoyed, because I explicitly told my grad students to filter out any smokers. I don't like their breath.
The room smelled of pizza boxes, stale coffee, and sweaty socks, and Senator Johnson was snoring loudly, reclined in his chair with one arm folded over his ample belly and one with his knuckles touching the gray berber carpet at the nadir of each exhale.
I don't think the world has room for me. When I see a pregnant woman, I think of the snakes that give birth to live offspring--a tangle of ropey bodies sliding against each other inside mucus and membranes. There is something off-putting about the human body, the corporeal form and the transformations it must make as it lives and then dies, and ends.
Three young men stared at the device, lying on the floor of their dorm room, atop a tangle of electrical cords, her naked limbs straight and rigid.
"Ms Farber, let me be blunt. Your son is a severe depressive. He's been institutionalized on and off since he was twelve. He's made three, legitimate attempts to take his life. Compared to the risk that he will eventually succeed, the risk of this surgery is very minimal."
Ziva sat on a bench, lacing up rented skates with sparkles in the wheels, almost disappearing beneath a thick halo of black curly hair and an oversized sweatshirt handed down from her brother.
Mike stared at the bed, with his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. He was still. The bedcovers were unwrinkled. The room was dark, but the bed, dressed in white, shone in the light from the bathroom, and taunted him.
"NO!" he said, removing his hands from his face overly-dramatically. "I'm not, repeat not, going for a skinny dip in an unknown ocean, with THINGS in it, on an alien planet!!"
In January of 1756 Mr. William Frost, just a day new to the colony, undertook a survey of his newly acquired patch of land twelve miles outside Concord accompanied by his indentured servant Bramwell. After walking arduously through three feet of crusted snow for an hour, Frost came upon a small opening to a cave.
Kenneth pulled up on the hand brake and rested his left boot up next to the driver's side mirror. He listened to the engining ticking as it cooled before he spoke.
"It's still there you know," he said.
Araka wove with her twenty appendages--existing beyond and between all the dimensions of time and space, she stitched together all the universes in the multiverse wherever they threatened to come apart. For each universe that came into existence, she replicated herself and remained forever entangled with her children. Darkness lurked at the edge of the multiverse.
Robert, a man of six feet three inches, stood in front of his living room window, dressed in blue sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt that were a size too big for him, which is the way he liked his clothes. He wore one loose sock, and the other foot was bare. He emitted a high-pitched humming noise and rocked gently back and forth as he tapped his forehead with his fists. The other side of the window was covered with the dead little bodies of thousands of blue butterflies.
Sally woke up, floating on her back. She stared at the kitchen ceiling. The florescent lights above her hummed vaguely.
Richard Smith stared up at the blue-dotted letters that floated above him:
PLEASE WAIT. A DOCTOR WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY TO CURE YOUR ILLNESS. IN THE MEANTIME, PLEASE ENJOY OUR COURTESY PROGRAMMING.
The saw-buzz of cicadas tore through the air, and the church in front of me rose in a ramble of crumbling sandstone. I unholstered my gun and stepped forward, grinding my foot into the gravel. Was it here? Was it really here...
The mud was eight inches thick and Archibald Colton sank into it, gasping, his left hand caught on the razor wire, preventing his head from sinking all the way into the mud. A bullet tore through his exposed hand and he screamed. There were drums in the distance, and the smell of sulphur hung in the air.
The edge of the forest loomed up in the night, like a row of dark sentinels.
"Run for the shadows!" shouted Rafe, laughing, drunk, naked. He stumbled, fell, went silent, then burst into another round of laughter.
Tires screeched, a blaring horn--then thudding impact. Dean Roam, a man of eighty-five years fell forward into the steering column of his Chevy Impala, knocking out his breath and cracking several of his ribs, and expelling his dentures onto the dash. The car skidded to a stop and Dean stared out at nothing through fractured glass.
A lone figure in a tan leather sheepskin coat cut a path through the snow in metal-framed snowshoes. The day was gray and featureless--stray flakes of ice flew aloft on the biting wind. Ossian Sato pumped his legs in a steady rhythm and progressed towards the single tree on the horizon--a dwarf black pine manipulated into a cavernous bush with wire and sticks, and which was now dead. Ossian slowed a few hundred yards from the tree and visually scanned it for movement. The tree was still.
The smell of burning things hung in the air. Pollux stood on his back feet, his hands curled into balls, sniffing, his whiskers twitching. He looked out over the fires and adjusted his vest. Something tiny pinged against the town bell in the clock tower behind him and he flinched. He dropped down and continued his scamper along the ridge line of the roof.
On the corner of Wood and Vine in the bedroom community of St. Vincent lay a fallow empty lot until the 20th of May when a house appeared.
The glass reflected the world at that moment: the spitting rain that was just starting, a yellow cab cruising by, a woman in a green coat stopping to unfold a pink umbrella dotted with tiny white daisies, a man in low-slung tweed pants and suspenders furiously smoking the the shortened stub of a last cigarette before giving up the habit for the fifth time, the silver body of a full plane about to land at Thurgood Marshall, and the dull stone edifices of the refurbished nineteenth century local architecture.
When Nathan Smith returned to his apartment late on a Friday night with a girl in a tight dress whose name he couldn't remember, he turned on the light to see his kitchen cupboards writhing with a thick layer of lime green aphids.
Across the grid of low lying cubicles, someone was riding a mechanical scooter and giggling. Cody Steele shrunk further behind his computer screen, pressing his earbuds dangerously further in his ear canals. He stared at the blinking, accusatory cursor. You have work to do. You are lazy, it blinked in imagined Morse. Cody broke his stare and opened his desk drawer--inside were three identical ballpoint pens, lined up, a nearly empty box of paperclips, a pack of stale gum, and a handgun.
The panel above Vikrama's station blinked red.
"Fuck. That's the fifth faulty eyeball this morning." He plucked the tiny eye from it's socket and brought it swiftly to his loupe. He mashed his lips together as he examined the part intently.
The room rumbled with several progressive percussive concussions as the grinders landed. Erica shook awake--the lights of the grinders burned through the venetian blinds--she flung off her covers and ran for the closet. The window burst in a shower of glass--the metal-organic arms of the grinder shot through and found her waist. It pulled her back violently, scraping her leg against the bed frame, tearing it open; blood ran freely and created a trail to the lawn as she was pulled screaming and writhing into the mouth of the machine, into its belly with her frightened, incoherent neighbors
The shoes hung at eye-level. Detective Hunt tapped the toe with back of his pen. The light fixture creaked, plaster cracked, and the light dropped an inch, dragged by the weight of the body, pulling out tense wire.
The ship rumbled with turbulence as it descended through thick thunderheads. Lightning cracked, illuminating the infantry bay and its stark plethora of faces--old vets and fresh hires alike. They were mostly gaunt, nervous, ghostly, though some where sleeping, or chatting, or smoking languidly. Gator Knudsen, a freshie, clung to the worn black straps that bound him to the interior frame of the bay as the ship bucked.
Jenny pulled her tin box up to the sink, stood on it, and stretched to reach the tap. She turned on the cold water and it chugged and creaked before exuding a thin stream of brown, flaky water. She let it run until it was as clear as it was going to get, then filled a pitcher covered with a piece of cloth secured with an elastic band. The dirt collected on the fabric, though the water in the pitcher was still cloudy. She turned off the tap and looked over at her grandmother, snoring in her chair, with needles still in her bruised arm.
The bell rang and the yard quickly emptied, but Clint did not move. He pressed his eyes tighter, then balled up his fists. The air began to shimmer around him. He started to become transparent, and within a minute he had completely disappeared.
The restaurant reeked of reused grease and childhood disappointment. The tables were covered with hamburger bun crumbs, salt grains, and finger smears. The seats were affixed to the floor. Judith sighed and watched her son Kevin mutely munch minuscule bites from a french fry. He was humming to himself. The rest of the restaurant was empty and rain slathered thickly down the windows.
It was conceived by a thousand humans, and finally stood tall, braced by scaffolding that soared a mile into the air, overlooking an expanse of clear turquoise sea.
I work nights as a parking lot attendant. It's boring and the pay is awful but I do get to read a lot of pulp novels. The garage is just down the block from my building and I enjoy the walk in the cool evening air and I often get to see the sun set.
"Eight minutes. That's how long it takes for her photons to leave her and bombard my feet."
"Goodbye," she whispered, her lips trembling but her eyes sparkling. "I'll miss you."
No you won't, he thought as he accepted her kiss.
"Are you're sure this will work?" asked Daphne, looking at the contraption spread between them. It had a large metal ring connected to white wires, which were connected to a wooden box that was badly planed.
Patrick laid on his back on his cot, muttering and gnashing his teeth, staring up at the stick and thatch ceiling and dismembered dragonfly wing that dangled and twisted from the end of a thread of spider silk. He pulled his robes closer around him, trying to fend off the invading cold. His breath coalesced above him as the dawn light began to seep in through the open window of his sod house.
Jared observed the Palace from across the road. Reflected tape ringed the burnt out building. Police carried out the milk machines and put them in their vans. A vacant child circled around in the road next to the vans, on a bicycle with training wheels. Fat women in robes and slippers nattered away.
The rain came down heavily, pooling and swirling towards invisible drains. Haven walked the street, looking at any face that would glance back at her. She adjusted the hood of her blue neon raincoat and stopped in front of a shirtless boy with drenched long hair snaking around his shoulders.
"Dr. Jensen, I'm glad you could meet with me."
"Not a problem. Is this the patient here?"
"Yes, our Jane Doe. Comatose. She was found that way. There's no evidence of trauma, and we can't find any symptoms that might indicate how she came to be in that state."
The sky was cerulean blue and streaked by ice crystals high upon it. Underneath this canopy was an island, alone in a dark and calm sea, the moon having left a century ago, excavated and rebuilt, and leaving the ocean without its tides and the life they brought. But the sea was already long dead, carbonated. The island rested, an oasis in the deadness, but even it's life had mostly left or died. Bacteria and lichens remained, adhered to the rocks, and the stone ruins.
Tall and slender, Minnow Smith ran across the beach, gliding over pebbles and barely touching the foaming surface of the water. He was an ephroy, the bastard spawn of the invading humans and a creature that occupied the same ecological niche on Earth as predatory insects such as wasps, and which reproduce through pollination. It is this pollen that embedded in the skin of the first colonists, mating with human stem cells in the epidermis, producing pregnant boils that erupted after six weeks with ephroy nymphs. Most were killed or excised, but since most of the colonists were also scientists, many were curious to see what they developed into.
Fabian Theodotos Ratti stood partly hidden behind his locker door. A clump of greasy dark hair concealed his left eye, sunken into his unearthly pale, shiny skin, and out of his right, he stared at his French teacher, Beth Blenwyth, who stood at the other end of the hall chatting with another student. He watched her lips moving, reading her words as she clarified the pronunciation of 'susmentionné'; he mouthed along, sounding it out in his head, in her voice. He closed his eyes in ecstasy, imagining what the skin of her throat would feel like as she said the word, over and over, inches from his ear.
Tobias Walton, a man of seventy years, lived on twelve acres of land farmed by his grandfather but which sat fallow since the end of the Second World War when his father returned from the Ardennes with shrapnel in his brain. The locus of the farm was the original homestead, built in 1872, a small cottage with peeling paint, a leaking roof, and several outbuildings. The area between the house and the barns was littered with rusting appliances overgrown with grass and creeping morning glories, car parts, ceramic odds and ends that held small mosquito breeding pools, and rotting upholstered furniture.
"You've got to get up sometime," I said. I stood over the bed and watched her, entangled in sheets that need washing, as she stared at the wall.
She shook her head ever so slightly. Her wings trembled, then she spread them to cover her face and block me out.
Jeremy woke up one morning with a terrible toothache. He shuffled blindly to the bathroom, and turned on the light, squinting in it's harsh fluorescent glare.
"Gnnunnnng!" he screamed upon seeing his face in the mirror.
Ren faltered and tripped down the sidewalk--the window of a specialty meat shop pitched towards him--his head hit the glass and he slid into a heap below a row of red duck cadavers. He sweat profusely; his head pulsed and his nerves were aflame. Cars passed, grinding gears because it was fashionable, their electric engines humming, their tires sloshing up stagnant rainwater. Passersby ignored him, walking in their rubber suits and folded neon umbrellas, hiding behind augmented visors that gave them all the information they ever wanted but shielded them from what was right in front of the
Tom slid his finger against the nap of the green felt and flipped a chip between his fingers so it rested on it's narrow edge. The chip was made of clear plastic, with a mechanism ticking away inside. It was a live thing, attached to his account, counting, seeping away.
Pamela Stubbins peeked from behind the gauze curtain veiling her kitchen window as she washed dishes in water hand-pumped from the well.
"What are they doing over there?" she asked her husband Jedediah who was pouring over an old twenty dollar bill he was trying to duplicate with homemade linen paper, vegetable ink, and a single boar bristle.
The lawyers of the defendant, a pharmaceutical company that had interests in seventeen countries, surrounded Imogen in the courthouse women's lavatory. One of them snickered at her disheveled appearance and the obvious fear on her face.
"Thank you for coming down Dr. Jensen."
"It's my pleasure, Dr. Hornbluth, but I'm a bit confused as to why you asked for me--I'm not a specialist in mental health."
"This is ah, an unusual case. You've been a great help on some previous rather mysterious aliments, so I thought it would best to consult you on this one as well."
"When are the night people coming?"
"Soon. Hurry up."
The two boys, brothers, one sixteen and the other five, Keith and Liam, gathered up their haul of catfish and ran barefoot up the muddy bank, along the path back to the settlement.
The maid had just vacuumed the beige carpet leading towards the oval office when a flood of shoes trampled across the V-shaped marks on the nap. the door burst open and three panting aides attempted to enter at the same time.
The room smelled faintly of wet wool and fabric cleaner. Luther sat on the white leather couch, not quite letting his spine touch the cushions, and held a mug of rapidly cooling herbal tea. Dr. Harrison sat across a short distance of beige carpet from him, in a white leather easy chair.
Bertram slammed his cell mate Russell against the cement wall, pressing his fingers into Russell's mouth.
"I'm not sharing," said Bertram in a low, nicotine soaked voice.
The pen hovered above a half rendered sixteenth note. Denise stared into space as her hand trembled. Her left eye rolled back slightly. She tried to scream.
The phone rang at 3:14am. Constance rolled over and sighed. She stared at the LCD screen. His number. She pulled a warm hand from under the covers and crossed the cold air to the receiver.
They cruised slowly along the road looking for the perfect house. Ronnie drove, nervous that his grandmother, Cybil, would criticize his driving, but she gazed out the side window of the van, stroking her minature poodle Mitsy, who snored on her lap. The day, just beginning, was gray and tender--there was a coolness in the air, but not yet brisk. Autumn was being hesitant.
The bell over the shop door jangled. The pair entered sending up a mini-maelstrom of dust. The door slammed shut behind them and they surveyed the shop's offerings.
"All the fruit is moldy," said Caitlin. She scratched underneath her braids then leaned over the counter by the register. "I'm so hungry."
Adeline first noticed it when she was three years old. At first it was just a shift in the pattern in the wall paper. She went over to the discrepancy and traced her little fingers over it. It vibrated out slow beats. It was warm.
"It was just there. I couldn't believe it. It had the look of a dying puppy, the look Forrest would have had if he never married Jenny. Just...sadness. Who does that? Who puts a huge stone statue in the middle of a field, lying down as if it's just about to die of the weight of the world? Statues are supposed to be magnificent, leaders on pedestals, men marching, benevolent Buddhas, leaping lions and the like."
I really liked the meadows. That's what they were in the beginning, but it's all changed now. Just rolling hills covered in uniform green grass as far as the eye could see in any direction. I loved to just lay down in it and look up at the cloudless blue sky. If I tamped down the grass around me, I could see only blue and the sun and it felt like I was just velcroed to the Earth and if I got up I'd fall away into space.
The room was surprisingly small, cozy perhaps, if it wasn't white, with textured wallpaper at one end, that had soaked up the sounds of hundreds of patients dying, screaming, bleeding, whispering urgent last requests, and regretting youthful choices.
Clyde woke several seconds before the alarm began to chirp. The lights slowly brightened the gray, cement walled room and he pressed the off button on the alarm. He rose, washed, and dressed in his worn work-clothes, all in the space of the eight foot by eight foot apartment. He ate his allotment of morning carbohydrates standing up over the sink, then brushed his teeth with peach-flavored toothpaste. He checked the time, then left hurriedly and joined his co-workers in the hall, on their way to the staircase. They walked down five stories in single file. On the ground floor was the airlock.
The large room was filled with people and flowers. Leola's brother stood at the podium, narrating a slideshow, and cracking jokes about their shared childhood. Grace sat in the back, having slipped in a few minutes after the proceedings began.
I love the city streets in the evening. At least the good streets, the ones with the independent restaurants and little boutique shops where the people who make more money than they know what to do with shop at. On a night like this, without rain, the air is clean and smells of baked foods. A coffee shop is calling out to me now I do believe. It thinks I should drink a mocha, and I'm half convinced that I should, but I want to linger in the street a bit longer.
"What's he doing?" asked Jen, looking at her sister Viv with concern. "You didn't tell me he was wealthy!"
"I didn't know! I swear. I just thought he was a guy in a band. They never have any money."
Jen and Viv looked at the man writhing naked on the bed, sweating, and twisting his leg in the soiled sheet.
The crew was spread out on lawn chairs around the portable campfire, which blazed blue and orange and flung light out across what could be called a veldt. There were ten of them, loyal and free, and ranged in age from fifteen to sixty-six. Some smoked, some drank, and they had all just finished off the ribs and potatoes. Janelle, the captain, examined the back of her hand against the bright splash in the night sky that was the Milky Way.
"Will I dream?"
"Oh it's so much more than a dream," said the woman in a mint green uniform with navy piping and a yellow and blue cravat.
"You're very...vivid...am I unconscious already?" A young woman leaned back in her plush blue chair, her eyelids drooping.
The rumblings of unrest finally emerged on a hot August day.
The first round started on Titan and the champions were fully automatous. Humanity's champion landed with retrorockets that flamed white, igniting the oily sludge the covered the icy surface. Methane rained down on its flanks as it settle and waited five hundred years for its foe.
If anyone had ever been compelled to write a biography of Caleb Jenkins they would have noted that he had experienced family tragedy as a child and as a consequence, was obsessed with death. His most successful book was 'A History of Taxidermy', which was followed by a slim volume on modern preservation techniques used on humans, which preceded his favorite project, a coffee table book filled with photos of the recently dead, in their hospital beds, being mourned by their loved ones.
There they were again, those footprints with the long second toe, in the drying sweet sand. Albin crept to his hands and knees and sniffed the footprint. There was nothing he could smell but the faint scent of something between vanilla and coriander. He traced his fingers along the inside of the arch, tamping down slightly. He surmised that it was made less than an hour ago, just after the tide had retreated out into the bay.
We were both watching the projection of the fire on the wall when the pump signal failed. Teddy looked over at me with a crooked smile.
At sunset, when the sky was bruise purple, we were racing across the salt flats, digging intense grooves in the white crust, making our own track. The trains were a recent addition to the races and ours was ten cars long and outfitted with nitrous oxide rockets.
I was shown into an empty movie theater by a tall man who looked like he could be a Bond villain's henchman. He actually wore black leather gloves and a scowl. He directed me to a row in the middle of the theater and motioned for me to take a seat and so I did.
In the middle of it all, the occupation, a series of of posters appeared on the old telephone poles around the city. Nita, under the cover of an intense rainstorm that occluded the view of the cameras, stopped briefly and looked at one of the posters. It was hand drawn and the ink was running.
People come and go.
Are you okay with that?
A skinny calf stared back at him, big brown eyes, a weepy glue-like substance rimming her lids. She snorted out breath into the cold morning air of the barn. George tapped the edge of his keyboard. He was thin too, and tired, so tired. He pulled his tattered sweater closer around himself, but nothing ever really kept out the cold that had crept across the earth.
I had insomnia all my life but it got worse when the others started sleepwalking. Well, it wasn't sleepwalking per se, but it was some form of it. It's what I call it anyway. I'll give you an example.
Poor Zordop the Magnificent. He is very frustrated and apparently now a bit nauseous.The melusians are getting under his chitinous overflaps with their incessant queries about his views on social issues such as harem limits, crop culling and hormone supplementation.
They were pinned between the tanks and the river, and twenty feet separated them from the path to the makeshift hospital, across the edge of the bridge with deep bombholes that showed rebar. A flashlight signaled to them from the other side.
James closed the door to the cabin with his foot. He carried an armful of carefully cut wood in his arms and went to the potbelly stove and opened its door, shoving in wood. He kept his eyes down, careful not to look at his mother Juliette. She shifted in her chair, itching. Her dirty corset strings strained across the voluminous rolls of pale exposed flesh on her back as she struggled to reach the offending spot.
Audrina Millicent Fairfax the 3rd lived in a nondescript house at the end of a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a small hill in a town that lacked a library. She was not old, nor young, but had lived an average number of years. The carpets in her house were beige and the walls were painted a hue called 'eggshell'. She owned a clock that ticked loudly in her kitchen, but she never heard the ticking since her brain had long since tuned it out. Quietness sat in the house like an important, imperious guest. Audrina herself often dressed in khaki 'slacks', and wore sports socks. Her shirts always had buttons. She parted her hair on the left side, and got it trimmed every three months, and while it was being trimmed, she enjoyed the sound of the scissors snipping. It was one of the few things she truly enjoyed.
Her voice echoed in the walls, if ever so faintly now, a memory folded into the house. Her sneakers lay cold by the front door, the left one on it's side, with frayed laces once wet and muddy and now glued to the floor in dried gray dirt. Henry didn't have the time or the inclination to clea
The light swept through the inky dark, igniting a blizzard of tiny lifeforms into into shimmering iridescent snow. The capsule was at its limit, groaning with the pressure of three thousand and six hundred atmospheres. The two people on board stared out the bubbled windows, searching and entranced.
Pu-PONG. Pu-PONG. Pu-PONG.
The twin princesses of the inner kingdom of the third Maryland dynasty, known as Arabeth and Cozumel to their coterie of sycophants, were playing tennis in their obscenely large bathroom because they liked the sound the ball made against the marble tile.
Myramex, blushed in the beautiful translucent amber of youth, followed in the footsteps of her sisters, keeping close, drinking in their smell that escaped their pygidia and washed against their carapaces. There was food and her sisters were excited.
Rain pattered against the window, behind the curtain. The sun hadn't been up for what seemed like days. Mariko lay in bed, in a cocoon of covers, just a patch of skin around her mouth exposed so she could breathe. The whole house seemed to sigh in the thick darkness.
The hand scrawled map glowed in Cara's palm. It was set to fade in a few minutes, to protect the drawer, so Cara rushed down the street following the blinking dots on her hand.
I always take the stairs--elevators mute the signal. Faraday cages. Mind prisons, and I feel lost and trapped inside them--like most of my brain, most of my memories, are cut off. I have great calves because I live fifty-five stories up.
Felicity was in the shower brushing her teeth. She started doing this as a habit after her boyfriend Chad got up in the middle of the night on a Thursday two weeks ago to use the bathroom but instead started vomiting a clear fluid that turned out to be liquified silk, attached the globby end of it to the ceiling, then proceeded to spin himself into a cocoon.
The mansion was painted a painful shade of Swedish flag blue, including the windows. Cleo, an arts blogger from Miami drove up the meandering driveway in her black Ford Galaxie Skyliner, a classic car bequeathed to her on her sixteenth birthday by her grandfather. The mileage was hideous but it had style that suited her--dark and gleaming and irreverent. Cleo wore dark sunglasses, copious sunscreen, and a sheen of white powder makeup that intensified the effect of her bottle red hair. Lounging unseatbelted on the passenger side was her boyfriend of eight years, Aureliano. His hair was longish and ruffled and he wore the same pair of black jeans he'd worn all week, along with a fresh gray t-shirt with the image of a stabbed and prostrate teddybear on the front drawn in white.
In December 1962, Donny and his little brother David ran through a train car running along an elevated track in Chicago. Businessmen traveling in from the suburbs to their office jobs looked at them with disdain. Donny chased David and they were both laughing, their cheeks and noses blushed red from the cold. They skittered to a stop in front of the door to the next car.
"Go on, open it," said Donny.
The bird, a raven, stood atop the woman's bloated, sunburnt body, staring at the boy, Randall, five at the time, as he weakly reached towards his mother. The raven opened its beak, head following the boy's fingers; it tilted its wings forward, and ruffled itself up. Randall went limp, defeated. The raven squawked, then looked up, in the direction of a distant noise.
The outside of the building was non-descript, perhaps built in the 1920s but no later, of cement and granite and glass. Juno stood in the rain at it's front facade, under a white umbrella with a broken rib, her bright eyes examining the stone surfaces.
Arthur typed by the light of his laptop screen--his office was otherwise dark and it was deeply night outside, with rain pattering the windows in gusts of wind. He looked up periodically, at nothing in particular, rushing to complete his work and drive home to his apartment and it's comforting blackout curtains.
David woke to the sun on his smiling face. He yawned and stretched, then got up, showered, dressed in a thousand dollar suit and left his house via the three car garage he shared with his wife and teenage daughter in his slick black sedan that was all shined up by their maid Rosita.
In the distant sky a murder of crows squawked and cried as they fought a valiant aerial battle with a troop of flying monkeys. The sky was turning purple as the once perpetual day threatened to turn to night, and the air was dotted with the blood-red petals of the poppies now gone to seed in an euphoric haze.
No one knew quite what was wrong with Claire. As a child she was taken to see several psychologists and other assorted doctors. She would sit in a chair, on the edge of the cushion, her feet dangling, clutching her stuffed toy cat (black with blue plastic eyes and the tail ripped out, permanently lost), or on a examination table, naked underneath a gown, her socks slumped around her heels, and her back unnaturally stiff, staring blankly ahead.
The town of Sanderson had a population of five hundred. It had always had a population of five hundred since it's founding and never wavered. It had a post office that nobody used, a dancehall no one danced in, a picture house with one screen, a general store that carried unbranded merchandise stocked on Sunday mornings, a barber shop next to a beauty parlor that reeked of ammonia, and a gas station with unlabeled pumps. All the windows in all the buildings were covered in perpetual sheen of dust, and it rarely rained. The elderly shuffled along the sidewalks, the adults busied themselves with leisurely errands, and the teenagers smoked in the backs of buildings and gave each other smoldering looks. There were no children in Sanderson.
There she was sprawled on the sofa, draped really, reading a book, laughing.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
I remember sitting on the floor across the room from her, with a calculator, but I don't know what I was doing with it, my body and actions judged to be irrelevant by my memories. I just remember her, that day, vividly. She was carefree, barefoot, dressed in summer clothes though it wasn't yet quite warm enough for them, but we were indoors and had the furnace running in order to make our own personal summer in the apartment we had shared for two years. I remember her slender fingers wrapped around the worn book she held, and how she flexed the spine of the book each time she turned a page, as if she was making sure each unruly page knew it was being read and the book itself was being disciplined.
A heart in a resting adult body beats seventy times a minute. Cordell's beat twice that, at one hundred and forty, as the other boys beat him with sticks and fists. He was sprawled out of his wheelchair, and face down on the sidewalk, his arms crumpled under him, and the withered legs he could not control exposed completely to the assault.
Every afternoon he pulled on a pair of snakeskin boots. He swung his guitar over his shoulder, and left his small apartment for the streetlamp below. He set out a cup and began to strum.
The ice moaned hauntingly, the ghost of a whale song, as the capsule ascended carrying two fully suited people. Jeong's eyes lingered on his companion. She looked past his shoulder at the wall of the capsule. He activated his radio.
Carl was never alone, and tended to press himself against walls, sidling along them to travel between rooms, and once at his destination, kept close to the floor. He was terrified of playing outside, especially in the early mornings and evenings when his shadow was long. He spent nights weeping into his quilt, immersed completely in shadow, until he fell asleep, exhausted. His only relief, which was mild, were cloudy days. Carl was afraid of his shadow.
Footsteps echoed across the metal grating of the catwalk. The guard, Haytham strode imperiously over the plexiglass-topped cells.
It was Nemontemi, the last week of the year, the unlucky days, and Naylay washed the corpse of an old man with a rag and a bowl of water by the light of the evening fire.
The two women, who could hardly be called that since their development had been stunted and twisted from a young age, resided inside a dark container that fed and bathed them automatically, and provided a constant suffusion of drugs that kept part of their brains active and stimulated and other parts suppressed and asleep.
Jack woke up standing in front of the hotel room mirror. He was farsighted and did not immediately see his own face, but beyond him, behind him, the room was asunder; the bed was sawed in half and the chainsaw responsible lay strewn across the floor in greasy pieces.
The heart of the kiln glowed white in two thousand degree heat. A man stood in front with a metal tube inserted into it, rolling it, picking up glass. He wore dark glasses over his prescription glasses, and watched the material accumulate, his face starting to sweat. He pulled out the glob of glass. He was joined by a woman, his daughter, similarly dressed, who placed a graphite paddle under the glass to support it. They walked together to an almost complete figure made of glass.
It should have been sunny the day the house was sold, but the rain dripped down pattering the leaves of the big maple tree in the yard, the one that Amanda yearned to climb, soaking into the lawn that was overrun with moss. Linda stood in front of the big window that looked out into the backyard and the dark forest behind it, as the real estate agent talked at her. Linda hadn't been out to the very back of the yard in six years. Her face was placid, relaxed, but her eyes pierced into the unspecified green gloom.
Zinovia tied her thick curly hair back into a hasty braid then pressed her slender body into the rock seam. Her horse snorted steamy breath a few feet away as if admonishing her.
"I'll be fine," she said to the mare, but more to herself. She was otherwise alone.
The urban canyon cut twelve stories deep at its highest point--it was a segment of street, half a block, hemmed in by bollards and a pedestrian promenade on one end, and a busy cross street fronted by a serious and dour looking bank at the other.
It's another perfect day on this char. The smoke from the piled-up bodies is choking, the air is bitterly cold, all the plants are burnt, rotting, or dead, and I haven't seen another living creature all week. Yep. Perfect.
The sidewalk was littered with hippies. They were like cockroaches, attracted to the neighborhood by an increasing number of news articles that reported on pie-eyed college and high school students flocking to the scene, to be somewhere, feeling something, feeding a new hunger, at some edge of a revolution. The story fed on itself like an ouroboros. Along the sidewalk scurried a middle-aged man with thick glasses named Aidan Ogden. He used to be an accountant but hadn't been employed in any taxable capacity for some years. His hair was balding and gray at the temples. He wore a decade-old suit that smelled slightly of mothballs, but without a tie. It was his one concession to the comparatively outlandish fashions that surrounded him. He carried a small paper bag carefully with two hands. The bottom was wet.
The forest was dark and quiet--just the drips of condensation from the high fronded branches of the trees broke the silence. The humidity pressed in and was absorbed by the omnipresent mosses that had grown wildly out of control and covered the entirety of trees and suffocated the ground. Everything was dead except the moss.
"I'll call you back," said a woman happily as she waved me down. "I'm ready to order."
I nodded. She was dressed in a coat that was half a size too small for her, but she didn't know this yet. I didn't quite see her face, or I did, but it didn't register. Just her lips, smeared with pigment, a little of it on her unnaturally straight teeth. She spoke, I wrote, transcribing her words without absorbing them.
"When's it coming?" asked Paula. She stood wobbly in the alley, in a silver evening gown with half the skirt ripped off. She teetered and leaned on her two companions. The men, who both wore formal suits, Shane and Kazimir propped her up against a brick wall. Shane, rubbed his eyes and tried to read his watch. Kazimir looked up into the sky.
The inside of the hut was smokey. Killian woke up under a warm layer of bear furs. His father poked at the fire burning in the center of their home, it's plume of smoke rising up and out of the hole at the apex of the hut. His mother tended to his baby sister.
"I don't murder humans for revenge, and not for sport. It's because each human is a puzzle, and I'm building a mythology." The voice was calm and measured.
She looked at me from the ground, with a silent plea in her eyes that contradicted her words. But she couldn't say much more now. Olivia clutched at her abdomen. Her legs were stained with blood and her boots dug into the recently tilled earth as she writhed in pain, panting, trying not to moan audibly. The frogs in the creek were singing; the ground was damp and there was cold in the night air.
Sawdust mingled with the shit of the halves on the corral floor--the afternoon had grown hot and the aroma attracted thick clouds of flies. Only the hardiest buyers stuck it out, with handkerchiefs at their noses and mouths.
"When do you know when you're finally dead? How many times can you be brought back before you're no longer the original you?" said Lazar, just before opening his eyes.
The great ship Gabriel 57 landed just before noon, on the planet Tango, just outside the only mapped settlement, a small town covered in fine dirt, with most of its buildings buried into the ground to protect its inhabitants from the unrelenting thirty-five hours of searing daylight.
Atahua fought to stay awake. She bore several wounds; her muscles periodically shook and her skin shivered. She was dressed in a thin skin, her jewellery absent--it was bequeathed to her younger sister in case she did not return.
At noon, during the fifteen minute lunchbreak, a man jumped from the sixth story of the computation building. His impact with the pavement did not result in his immediate death, and the passersby watched his wretched gurglings with an exhausted and not-so-surprised sort of horror.
"Don't answer the door!" hissed Winston from behind the sofa.
The stone cottage stood in a clearing in the forest, with gardens unkempt for the past two winters. The roof leaked and mice infested the eaves. The old woman who lived inside wailed in pain during the depths of the night.
A calculation was off. It might have been the atomic clock miscalibrated by a fraction of a fraction of a second, or a few extra protons from the interstellar debris attached to the hull of the ship like barnacles, a quantum error in the navigational computer, or a misaligned gravitational sensor. Perhaps even it was sabotage. The detail of the fault was irrelevant.
The sun was high, crickets were chirping, and the air was thick with pollen. Maybelle strode with angry purpose between the wheel ruts on the dirt road towards the next town. She wore boots, caked in mud, that had belonged to her dead father and were far too large for her. Her arms swung like clock hammers, with fists balled. Her face was scrunched, and her nose was red with allergies. Under her disheveled skirts and a concealing sweater her belly was six months in bloom.
The dog didn't bark as Thanh unlocked the door with the stolen keycard. She slipped into the dark with a bag slung over her shoulder. The dog slapped its tail against the hardwood floor. Thanh pressed her finger to her lips but the dog did not recognize the gesture and only wagged harder.
The floor was white, vast, and gridded, the ceiling was black, suspended just seven feet or so from the floor, and the space was studded by low walls of ancient humming, reeling, chattering computers.
"You have to be the wife," said Ted. He was my second cousin--one of the pitfalls of living deep-rooted in a small town, you can never quite avoid the relatives--and slicked his hair back with gel and he always touches it to make sure it's thoroughly adhered to itself. Every time he does that I want to smack his hands.
Dirt and wood splinters sprayed up with the axe.
"We shouldn't be doing this," whispered Francesca. "We'll get caught."
He walked halfway down the bowling lane in mismatched sneakers--one shoe belonged to his Amazonian older sister and the other he found on the road next to a burnt-out car. He carried a sparkly pink bowling ball in one grimy hand and a handgun in the other.
It was cold and there was frost on the bars of the cast iron gates that led into the mill. Martha adjusted her scarf and breathed on her fingers to warm them. The steam stacks billowed and puffed--the boilers were always kept heated during the night even though the mill was not in use those hours. The mill workers shuffled around her, mostly silent, hungry, and cold.
It was early spring when he died numbly in his sleep, on a mountain pass during a blizzard. He had a broken femur and the layers of fur, reeds, and skins didn't deter the onset of hypothermia.
Joey, wrapped in black bedsheets, stared up that ceiling, his mouth dripping saliva. The bedside alarm clock had been buzzing for the last hour and finally gave it's last shriek before shutting itself off. He blinked and tried to move his fingers, but the sheets weighed down on him as if they were made of lead.
Have you ever opened a hundred year old book? Two hundred years old? Older? Often they're in better condition than than books only fifty years old. The twentieth century was all about mass consumerism. Books were often printed as cheaply as possible without them actually disintegrating in your hands the moment you purchased them. They was slightly more care in their manufacture than nitrate film stock.
They usually came via Fedex, and the delivery person would eye the box and then eye Roger, because there were biohazard labels on the box. After Roger would scribble his angular signature they'd scurry off, glad to be away from whatever harm those boxes potentially possessed.
The red sun refracted through the ancient glass bottle, transforming it into a stellated jewel. Zephyr ignored her old bones and laid on her stomach, across the wind worn stone and plastic gravel; she steadied her arm and aimed the matter gun. The glass bowed inward, the jewel flexed, and then was replaced by a gray smoking pop.
"And we call this specimen 'Skip'," said Uda motioning towards the enclosure behind her. Next to the window on the other side stood a naked man with a bushy beard and a spear glaring back at the assembled group of school children who were receiving a tour of the historical zoo from Uda. "He is a Homo Sapiens, which is two full species from us. He's also from the historical breeding group, which is contiguous in human ancestry, so he has not been reconstructed from our DNA like the Neanderthals we just saw in the last display."
The Virago sat in a nondescript pink stucco building at the forgotten end of Pico Boulevard. A Corona sign beckoned in the noonday alcoholics. A muscular man in a black wool suit and carrying a metal briefcase stopped in front of the entrance and double-checked the location on his Blackberry. A seagull landed on top of a lamppost across the street and stared down at the man, who turned around to meet it's gaze.
"You can watch me all you like, but you can't stop me," said the man under his breath. The seagull screeched but didn't move from its perch.
The Earth was ripped open to make way for a massive, thinking artwork. Layers of trees and loam, rock and gravel, even fossils, were torn up and pushed aside; drills bore down three kilometers and recirculating water pipes were installed to capture the heat product of Earth's mildly fusive core that would power the device.
The room was hot and stale despite the breeze that waved the lace curtains in auntie Mimi's parlor. Pauline sat rigidly in the lumpy old armchair opposite her aunt who was slumping into the sofa and into her starched high black lace collar, with the elderly persian cat purring away in her lap like one of those new electric can-openers. Pauline took a sip of the hot sweet tea then clinked the cup back into its saucer.
She shook in her cage when she saw him enter the kitchen accompanied by a flick of the light switch. She hid her eyes from the light--her pupils were unable to dilate closed.
Do you remember when we first met? I was small and you were happy. You hugged me and patted my fur and scratched my ears and I licked your face. I like the way you tasted. You don't taste like that anymore, not for awhile.
Please wake up.
Bjarne silently stood in the middle of the living room filled with chatty people half-listening to the recordings of independent and obscure musicians. His friend Kevin stood next to him, scanning the room for more interesting people to talk to. The red cup of beer Bjarne held to the center of his chest began to slip from his grip as his eyelids fluttered.
The two technicians rolled a large table into the sampling room, the walls of which were completely covered in loudly ticking clocks. On the table was a massive rectangular slab, which was frozen and giving off vapors into the higher temperature room. The larger of the two technicians, who was called Larger, wore a white pillbox hat with a ring of black brocade, but otherwise they were dressed the same in black lab coats and black overalls. Their faces were sallow, oblong, and dusty white. Their eyes were small, round, and beady black and they wore thick cylindrical goggles on their foreheads.
It was an honor to live inside the temple of Gidebato. Cynric, tall and lean, wore the mantelletta of a third year acolyte, which was always getting in the way of climbing ladders and crawling through tight corridors as he made repairs to the infrastructure of the temple. It was said to be, in ancient times, a luminous place and a conductor of thoughts, but now the lights were constantly winking in and out as the wires leading to them rusted away with the constant flow of drip water from the humidity trapped inside. But as much as the endless chore of repairing wires annoyed him, Cynric found the solitude, the gentle patter of water droplets, and the too frequent mild electrical shocks, to be a salve from the regular business of the temple: the singing, the praying, the kneeling, the reading, and most of all, having to listen to the abbots in their constant high-pitched debates over doctrine.
"I can't stop," said the girl with green eyes.
"Guards!" screamed Eva.
The room was plushly furnished, with stacks of priceless paintings piled in the corners, and lit with a roaring fire to fend off the winter night. The girl and the woman faced off, both terrified. The girl cradled a machine gun in one hand and a grenade in the other with the pin pulled; her thumb held down the lever.
You can get it over the counter now. It comes in a red box with stylized poppies on it as if it's whispering to you that what you'll experience is equivalent to striding carefree through a springtime field. The last time I went in to get some, the clerk at the checkout counter touched my hand as I slid the box over to her to scan.
The earth under the farmhouse was cool in the summer and Sal and Dory hid out there, lying on their backs staring up at the underside of kitchen floorboards and being watchful of Daddy's feet as he stumbled around the front yard chasing the nameless dog that came to beg for scraps and harass the cats.
The Aimak women were busy cooking, faces uncovered, when Macs came back in. Joni was standing guard among the women, not protected others from them, but them from the men who were still learning their place in the settlement. Macs had a grin on his face, the one that made Joni uneasy. The women furtively glanced up at him. He nodded to her and she nodded back, then he patted the dust off his uniform and one of the elderly women fussed over it, reprimanding him loudly in her language for getting the floor dirty. He smiled and cupped his hand to her chin then kissed her fully. She froze and Joni looked away. When he was finished he strode to the table in the middle of the room and the old woman cast her gaze down, silent about his muddy boots.
Under the tortured sky that rained ash and ember stood the army of Phaisto, sick, starved, exhausted, but advancing on the citadel of Kastri, now set to ruin by the Eleuthan hordes, a species that crawled from the cracks that were a result of an earthquake in the nearby mountains a decade ago. The blood of the citizens trapped and captured in the citadel now ran down the hillside and under the feet of the volunteer soliders, their elephants, and the war machines they pulled inch by inch up the treacherous incline.
The wheels were still spinning on the overturned Firebird when Walker woke up. Blood dripped down to the ceiling of the car from his forehead. He squeezed his eyes open and shut a few times, trying to focus on the purple twilight horizon. He unbuckled himself and slid down. He extracted his legs from the steering column and crawled out the open window. His ribs pained him sharply and he stumbled himself upright. His head pounded and he looked at the deer trapped partly under the car. Its skull was bashed on a rock and its tongue hung out.
"I'm angry," said Mrs. Moon as I asked her to sit down. We were in my office in the police department.
"Would you like coffee or anything?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I'd like to have a smoke."
"There's no smoking in the building Mrs. Moon."
"That's fine," she said, "but you have a window. I'm going to open it, and I'm going to have a smoke."
The doctor's office was painted a disconcerting shade of gray, like storm clouds on a summer day, or wet pigeon feathers. It didn't help that the room was cold. Annika was fully dressed and sitting on the exam bed facing doctor Ivory who stood and smiled back at her. Annika was disconcerted by that smile. He kept varying it ever so slightly, as if thoughts were racing through his head that wanted to be spoken aloud but some greater part of him felt the need to censor those thoughts.
The doll came in a shiny pink cardboard box that Thalia unwrapped at her fifth birthday party. Children on a sugar high were running around and screeching, and her parents looked at her, seeking a reaction. The doll stared back at her with painted eyes and a wide toothy grin. Its head was too big for its body which was made of pliant plastic. It was dressed in a mesh tutu.
"Her name is Cherie. She's a ballerina. Just like you," said Thalia's mother.
"She's a doll," said Thalia.
"Yes," said her father. His smile was fading as he saw none appear on Thalia's.
Rain dripped down the inside walls of the house in the quiet of early morning. Insects stirred in the softened wood beneath the buckling paint and wallpaper. A closet that used to contain a wedding dress encased in plastic now was home to a family of raccoons, curled up together, sheltering from the constant wet.
The night was cool as agent Knight slipped into the harbor at Vladivostok. He ducked under the surface and tested his rebreather, then pushed down through the murky ocean, his wrist computer beeping out the location of the submarine. He found it quickly, touching it gently so as not to be heard from the inside, then followed the curve of the black hull down to the underside of the ship.
"But I love him mom!" screamed Bella with tears streaming down her purple face.
Pio awoke clinging to a pine tree. He shivered from the cold and the dew that saturated his thick coat of midnight blue fur. He unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth and swallowed the bitter taste of sleeping through the night.
"What do you think it is?"
I waited for professor Darvnell's reaction but he just stared quietly at the fossils in the drawer I had pulled out. He poked at one, the piece of jawbone, with a pen then quickly resheathed the pen in his inside coat pocket.
"Close it up," he said. There was irritation in his voice.
The office was untouched by sunlight, perhaps for a decade or more, and stank of food gone to rot while pollen and dust swirled in the air. Margaret held the edge of her tattered scarf over her mouth and nose and watched the banker for a response. He sat picking his castorine teeth and did not look at either her or the application that laid beneath his greasy fingers.
In the darkened room, Jacob slumped over the desk, his face lit by the incandescence of the two wide editing screens. His chin was in his hand and there was a sheen of saliva around his mouth. He fought to keep his eyelids open as he wheeled to and fro through the footage. Then the room flooded with light, and Jacob shut his eyes tight to the painful stimulus.
Those were days of freedom, when mothers didn't know where their children were or what they got up to and didn't care, before video games and stranger danger closed down the wide world to us. Breathing was like snorting pin needles, and the sharp cold seeped into our layers of clothes, but we were impervious, playing out on the ocean ice, oblivious to the threat that the ground beneath us could calve away from shore and float off into the gulf stream.
The father cleric crept barefoot across the broad carpet, with switch in hand, watchful of the rows of students to make sure they kept reading. Sebastian sat cross-legged by the window. He struggled to keep rhythm with the rest. The letters that made up the mantras of purity flashed past on his screen without his comprehension. His gaze was drawn to a raven outside that was tottering around and listening to the movements of bugs in the grass.