by Craig McGeady
Across the road from where we lived there was an abandoned lot. Overrun with wild raspberries and weeds taller than I stood. Somewhere beneath the ferocity of nature there had been a garden.
Someone had wanted to build a home. A stack of timbers lay sagging. Scattered cinderblocks tripped unwary explorers. In the midst of the turmoil, half obscured and succumbing to rust, was a shack of corrugated iron.
This was my frontier. Saturday could never come soon enough, it gave me time to reach deeper and bring me closer to the dream of becoming lost.
When a bright sun reached between the gaps in my curtain I couldn’t get out of bed fast enough.
I raced across the road and starting hacking at regions yet to be exposed. My target was the distant side of the shed. An area cast in perpetual shadow and filled with the thickest mystery.
I made it to the corner but immediately I felt deflated. There was little to see but more weeds, more flowers and more insects clouding the air.
There were however further piles of discarded building materials including unused sheets of corrugated iron. And that was when I heard it. A small pip of noise, a tiny squeak. Exactly like the meow of a kitten.
I pushed my way ahead, pausing and giving time for the plaintive cry to return. There was no doubt, when I reached the edge of the corrugated iron, where the sound was coming from. I reached down and pulled the metal free.
There, trapped from birth, were a cluster of kittens. Those that could fled quickly and were lost. One remained. It’s leg had been pinned, a collection of tiny bones. It’s body limp and lifeless. I fled too. A harrowing reality replacing my naive daydreams.
by Alex Z. Salinas
Day and night Mr. Hurley wandered around the restaurants and the dollar store in his dirty faded blue jeans, yellowed undershirt and rainbow suspenders. He had done this for as long as I could remember.
Sure, Hurley wanted your money. He’d accept pity change, all right. But what he really wanted was to tell you your day was coming.
“You don’t know how hot it is ‘till your shade tree’s gone,” I heard him say to people over and over again, flashing his green-brown teeth.
He looked at me one time. He didn’t say anything, just smiled, but there was something pulsating beneath his murky blue eyes.
I was a good little boy just like you once.
Then one day, Mr. Hurley was found in the fetal position by the church, dead. Heart attack, they said.
Life went on. The cement quarry and the bank and restaurants and the dollar store still shut down for Friday night football. Even the church was locked up.
The men still went home drunk every night to their wives they married too young and to their children they occasionally beat.
On Sunday morning, everyone still went to church. The local lawyer was probably somewhere rubbing his fat greedy palms since his billboard was just across the church where everyone could see.
And when it rained down hard on the town – it often did – you could sometimes see a rainbow in the horizon past the quarry and the hills.
I often thought at the end of those rainbows, Mr. Hurley was there, flashing his green-brown teeth and letting us know our day was coming.
The Green Truth
by Stephen Shires
The world outside the snowtank’s window is monochrome. Only the grey sky twists and moves. Miller’s radar stays silent; he is alone but shouldn’t be. All the government had to do was follow his tracks.
The radar? Nothing for a whole rotation. The GPS flashes, he’s arrived. The tank’s thermal suit is a size too big for him. He never checked before he nicked it. He did check the drill worked. Heavy, he slings it over his shoulder.
Outside is only cold. The ice looks no different. All Miller cares about it is what is underneath. The tank door shuts with a bang. A deep beep echoes inside.
The ice boots crunch for a few steps then the drill is slung into the ice. Two revs and the metal cones digs in, spraying hail. Miller counts the seconds until he’ll know.
Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop.
The whispers echo out of the grey clouds, from what direction he doesn’t know. He knows he should go. Come back later yet he is only moments from the truth, proof he and the rest of the Greeners were right about life under the ice. Thirty centimetres, twenty, ten. The world goes bright, spotlights and booming voices telling him not to move. Thwack of black ropes on ice. Whoosh of abseilers, all guns and covered faces, slamming Miller to the ground, drill off. He can’t see his answer. They pull everything up but the tank, that departs with a new driver. Only the drill hole left. Inside, through a thin layer of crushed ice, blades of green truth.
A song forgotten, inscribed
by Paul Gray
You can see the pillars rising from the dusty plain. In the heat they shimmer and move like ghosts and you turn to the bare sky and remember ribbons of white from another time.
There has been no rain since you descended into this place. Gone are the streams that danced and spilled over stones not yet smooth. The air here is burnt dry and keens with an energy that makes your fingers hum.
You’re hungry, but more importantly you’re dehydrated. The pack you carried across lands is almost empty. There have been few places to scavenge. Passing the remnants of a town yesterday, you briefly inspected some buildings before recognising you were being watched.
The wind springs up, swooping and spinning, casting faint vortices that seem to herald your arrival.
The gateway is marked, just as it was foretold. There is a chill in the metal unlike anything you’ve ever known.
With every step downwards you spill a story in dust, an echoed breath of beasts that once reigned. You don’t know how far this pathway descends, or what waits within.
You left your pack on the surface, along with your mask and your cloak. It is warm here, and you can taste moisture in the stillness. There are noises too. Perhaps stirred by the winds above. Sound races through the pipes and doorways, slicing through grates and vents.
It whispers to you in words that are yet to have meaning.
You listen and you repeat. You will trace the sounds across your lips until their symmetry is shaped. There is a dreaming in these words that you will use to shake the very world.
by Philip Berry
Other people’s children. The way they look up from their mobile thrones and throw quizzical rays. Are you friend or foe? Nice or nasty? But we reciprocate, analysing their soft features for signs of developing personality. Shrewd foreheads, malign eyebrows, sulky lines around selfish mouths, generous smiles beneath intelligent irises that track your approach and hold you in their gaze. I used to guess their futures through those misty windows.
On a narrow street near my home an elderly lady on a bench called me over.
“Bend down dear… I’ve got something to say.”
I did as I was told. She lifted her chin and whispered,
“There you go.”
“There what goes?”
“You’ll see.” Her hand rested on my wrist, just below the watchstrap, and as I walked away the skin hummed with unnatural warmth.
I began to see clearly the products of their rising imaginations and burgeoning potential. Stories in tableau peopled by fairies, warriors or wizards; a football team surging forward; a bridge partly built, the engineer sat in its shadow; a caring hand on a hospital bed. I wanted to stop the parents of the children whose projections I saw, and tell them what wonderful bundles they escorted. Instead I paused and smiled.
A week ago I looked down at a young boy with thick brown hair. He was looked at everything, taking it all in. His eyes met mine, and the familiar wave of insight followed. But his face dissolved and his torso faded. The happy mother continued to chat away at the empty space as she passed me. I watched her back with its slight stoop, pushing a son whose innocent body would not outwit nature’s cruel caprice.
I don’t look down anymore. Instead I seek the old lady, but have yet to find her.
by Shirley-Anne Kennedy
Inside her car the heater roared and the tape in the cassette player strained to be heard. She was never certain which song had been playing, possibly Terrence Trent Darby’s, Sign Your Name Across My Heart. It was hard to separate what she remembered from what she had imagined.
Pitch black trees, branches laden with snow, bore witness to their escape and smoky cottages, decorated with golden porch lights, flashed the crawling vehicle along. The ice-clad air seeped through the bodywork to mingle with his aftershave and her Chanel No5. It was warm enough to turn the fan heater down by the time they reached Shawclough Road. Her lip gloss, freshly applied before they left the party, dried. A windscreen wiper occasionally scraped, leaving a smear on the glass.
Though the conversation was lost to her, she was able to recall the precise moment she changed gear as the car struggled on the thickening river of snow. Her fingers brushed his outstretched leg and the musky chant of his voice overlaid the music and whoosh of wheels. She had known they would be lovers.
With his love she would be bold and sing Wild Thing at karaoke nights. He would introduce her to gin o’clock and chopsticks. One afternoon, in a pub foyer, he led her in a slow dance.
In the early hours of the morning she remembered their conversations. His legs wrapped in hers, her head resting on his chest. When she attempted sleep she saw his wristwatch and downy arms. She felt the thickness of his rugby shirt, the weight of his body and the suspension of time as his lips touched hers and snowflakes fell. All the heartbreak, loneliness and tears were a price worth paying for that one kiss alone.
The would-be leader
by Myrto Zafeiridi
“I don’t belong here”, said inmate 24587 as they were pushing him in his cell. His bright purple jumpsuit was a tell-tale sign he was new.
The guards locked him up and left. The moment the door closed behind them, he started sobbing.
“Don’t cry, pal”, I said, trying to comfort him.
“It’s just unfair” he replied between his sobs. “All I did was help my friend. I didn’t know he was a fugitive.”
“They want to make an example out of you. How else will they discourage people from helping the Resistance?”
“Is that why you’re in here too?”
“Sort of. I was actually in the Resistance.”
“How did they get you?”
“I traded myself up for my son. He was only 5. They caught him and his mother as they were trying to escape a round-up. I heard that she got killed trying to protect him.”
“I don’t understand how this has happened. The Resistance was winning the war. How did they lose all of a sudden? And were did J.D., their leader, go? ”
“I guess they were only as good as their leader. Once the leader disappeared, they were unable to organize. I should know, I witnessed their panic first-hand.”
“And then what happened?”
“The second-in-command turned himself in, when he realized that he would never be able to lead them. He had no future as a leader.”
“The damned coward.”
“They offered him a peace treaty, but it was actually a lie. They just threw him in a prison cell. It was all in vain.”
Soon, inmate 24587 fell asleep.
I sat on my bed and took out the only picture I had of my dead wife. She was holding an ice-cream cone. I smiled. J.B was so beautiful on our first date.
by Jack Koebnig
Charlie Buckle discovered he was allergic to bee stings while waiting patiently on his train.
It surprised him more than anyone.
‘How could I have not known?’ He mumbled, clutching his swollen neck and trying to force a tiny gulp of saliva down a throat which was quickly clamping shut.
As a child Charlie had never been particularly active. He preferred reading to playing outside with the other neighbourhood kids, and his mother; a manipulating, controlling woman, was happy to keep him indoors where she could see him.
She’s dead now; long dead and buried deep, thought Charlie.
He removed a spotless handkerchief from a pair of impeccably pressed trousers and swiped it rapidly across his face.
His breakfast took a heavy tumble then took off like a jet plane. He opened his mouth and sprayed bacon, eggs and coffee in every direction.
This isn’t going to end well, he thought.
In the far corner of his fading vision, he saw her: Sharon Hill. Dear, lovely Sharon Hill. She was walking towards the office kitchen at the end of the corridor, cup in one hand, tea bag in the other. She looked at Charlie, smiled then faded into the darkness. That was that, thought Charlie. It’s too late to offer to boil her kettle now.
In the distance he could hear his train approaching. ‘Late again,’ he whispered and smiled.
Charlie leaned forward and the stone bridge he’d been sitting on slipped away.
Was someone screaming? he asked himself, then prayed it was coming from one of the smartly dressed female commuters waiting on the platform.
What does it matter? he thought and closed his eyes.
He was dead before he hit the tracks.
by Daisy Warwick
Years ago, when the old State installed C.C.T.V, or corrupted vocabulary to denigrate freedom of speech, George Orwell was remembered. Even now, in 2050, his prophecies are remembered by those who resist The Control.
But, Orwell wasn’t quite correct in his vision. There is no need for cameras now because we have microchips embedded into our necks. The chips monitor location, health, heartbeat and if we have taken their pills because, decades ago, it was decided that freedom couldn’t be entrusted to individuals and that enforced chemical control could better bring about equality.
The pills are my biggest gripe. Taking them makes me a slave to The Control – nothing unique or special, just an ordinary and uncritical worker. But, not taking them results in an imbalance in the chemical composition of my body, and then they ‘visit’ to make me swallow.
‘Forgetting’ to take the pills many times has resulted in some being found criminally negligent of society. A crime they used to call Treason.
In a week’s worth of pills, I have twenty-one meal tablets and five exercise inducers. We also get seven sleeping pills for eight hours sleep a night (twelve if you’re a minor), and five obedience pills for work to prevent urges for toilet breaks and procrastination. However, The Control say they are generous because they supply two ‘orgasm’ pills.
Now, my life is lived for two orgasms a week. How will I ever forgive my parents for this?
I must go now. Two guards are crossing the office to remind me to take my obedience pill. Same as last week. But, it’s hard to want to be obedient after having ten seconds of semi-rebellious ‘liberation’.
“Miss Jones, we are authorised to remove the Adrenaline Inducers from your prescription. They appear to cloud your rationale.”
Boom and Bust
by Jill Hand
There’s an alligator on the floor in front of the receptionist’s desk in the sales office at The Enclave, where the lovely Miss Fun ‘N Sun 2006 used to greet prospective buyers. The alligator is eating something that’s either a possum or a large rat. It’s hard to tell, as it has swallowed everything but the long, pink tail.
Miss Fun ‘N Sun left when the housing market tanked, back in ‘08. She now resides in Miami, with a former third-baseman for the Marlins. She’s taken to drinking in the mornings and is no longer the bright-eyed beauty she once was. The Enclave, once the Gulf Coast’s premier gated community, has undergone a similar decline. The houses, once brand-spanking new, are deserted as the tombs of the pharos. The copper wiring and plumbing has been carted off and sold by the type of people who sneak into abandoned properties and rip out wiring, plumbing and even marble floor tiles and granite countertops. Everything is fair game for the looters, which is fine with me. I no longer care about The Enclave.
I saw it coming, just as some old Roman must have seen the fall of the empire coming after the decline set in. My family’s been in Florida real estate since the nineteen-twenties; we have invisible antennae that can sense the inevitable bust long before the general public does, or even most of the lenders.
So I skedaddled. Filed for Chapter Eleven and abandoned the U.S. to sink or swim. I live on an island now, with my tax-free dollars, and I wait, like the alligator in the sales office waited, for something tasty to come along. Because there’s always another real estate boom. On that you can rely.
by Cath Barton
It was all being recorded. Of course. For posterity, whatever that means. But they didn’t reckon on the fish. Their erosive power, rubbing on the supports, day after day, curling their bodies through the water. To be fair, I think the eels had the edge. The literal knife edge, with their rough scales. Even metal gets worn down under water, given long enough. And it was a long time coming. Though in the scale of things, no time at all.
That cutting-edge technology doesn’t sound so hot now. Cutting-edge, there’s an ironic term! Rub, rub. You know how it is with fish knives. They don’t look sharp at all. You’d give one to a child, I’d bet. Ha, big mistake! The children know so much more than we did. And now those great off-shore cameras are rusted and teetering.
They sent their people in to get the tapes. Of course. They weren’t going to let all that work, all that investment, go to waste. Never under-estimate the power of money. But. Oh yes, a big but. The writhing underwater mass rose up. It was ugly. I was one of the few to witness it. A privilege, you might think. Though I would rather not have seen what I did. It ruptures my dreams. Gone is the restoring power of sleep for me.
I would have preferred ignorance. To have continued to think of fish knives and forks with ivory handles as something innocent. Genteel even. Something given to every bride, and passed on to future generations. Passed on. Ha! That has a different meaning now too. Trust nothing. And keep alert. They are at your back. You may yet be forced to crawl along a knife edge. And they will have new means of recording. Don’t you ever doubt it.
THE BURDEN OF DEATH
by Edward Carney
Contrary to popular belief, the Angel of Death’s appointment book is written mostly in pencil. Few human beings have their times fixed at the moment of birth. Were it not so, the Grim Reaper’s work would be far simpler than it is.
But what reason would there be, then, for anyone to face that final confrontation before clasping the bony fingers of the dark-cloaked figure who is tasked with leading them to their final rest? If they had no choice, Death could come always like a thief in the night, snatching them away while staying deaf to their protests.
But instead, Death faces the eternal burden of balancing the scales of life on the Earth and in the Beyond. His thankless task is to judge the fate of every individual who has stepped to the edge of the void and now struggles to remain in a world of light.
Every moment is a choice from among possible futures. Arguments and counterarguments are presented through countless millions of dreams and regrets, and the Angel of Death pours over them all. He beholds the suffocating child’s desire to begin, for at least one moment, to comprehend the world around her before she must leave it. He weighs it against the elderly man’s hard won appreciation for life and his earnest need to embrace his wife just one more time.
He hears the pleas of those who planned their futures step by step and realized too late that they hadn’t lived while there was time. And he hears them mirrored in the self-recriminations of those who lived too much, too soon, and found themselves suddenly teetering at the edge of the grave.
And frequently unable to reconcile it all, Death closes his eyes, swings his scythe, and resolves to let fall what may.
The Helter Skelter
by Bibi Hamblin
They turn their victim’s chair to face the window, a deliberate tactic to enlist fear, expressions hidden beneath their masks. Her eyes wander across the rusty tower. She listens, but the birdsong has long vanished.
Tiny specks of dust had fallen like confetti from the sky. Curious children poked out their tongues. They all agreed that it tasted of lemon sherbet. Soon the coughing began, a dry tickly cough…
Funeral parlours did a roaring trade.
Terror turned to panic, panic to chaos, and for those with foresight – opportunity. The haves of course never had it so good, and the have nots, well not everybody can be a winner can they?
The self appointed leaders – mostly young men used to living their lives through a screen, took pleasure in this chance to perform what once they could have only imagined. In this new utopia women were retaught their place. They didn’t have time for hairy armpits and mouthy ideals, a good slap administered when necessary. For the more stubborn of Adam’s ribs, drowning seemed the ideal way to weed out the non conformists. So far, no one had survived the Helter Skelter.
The gag around her mouth is undone, but her hands remain tied. The lanky boy bends down and scoops up a handful of rocks. He drops them, one by one into her pockets, boyish giggles erupt from behind his mask. His eyes search hers but she refuses to give anything away.
He nods. Hands begin to shove her forward towards the slide. Her feet reach the point of no return.
Whoosh. She hurtles around the bends.
She inhales a deep breath before hitting the water, praying they will be there to meet her down at the bottom.
The Earth and Other Habitable Zones
by Abigail Van Kirk
The city is all green again. An Earth winter has passed by again, and flowers and leaves are budding and new.
-Don’t you want to go see the stars?
-But I can see them from here.
The city is not just green because of the season, but because of the number of inhabitants in it—one. One, as far as she knew, and that was not counting little Ari. Well, Ari isn’t so little now, she supposes. She is a German Shepherd, after all.
-There is nothing for you here.
It’ll be desolate, once the rest of us leave.
-Can’t you see? It’s almost beautiful here again!
Desolate, as in devoid at least of humans. They had all shot for the stars, the ones they had hypothesized as habitable. But she thinks “they” who were to take them away was always so vague, and so untrustworthy. Not many other people had believed her, or even thought her sane.
-I’m going now, Marie. I thought, if you really loved me—
He’d gone with them, too.
In the end, for as bad as the planet they had abandoned seemed like, Gaea flourished. But that was only after almost everyone had gone, the ones who would try and “make something better of themselves.”
At least he had let Ari stay.
Wood-smoke and Goat
by Lee Hamblin
Mr Ishelwood left before sun-up. That was three suns ago. Dr Usui said to forget him, she was sure he’d be long gone by now.
‘But he took the rifle,’ I say.
Dr Usui embraces me. Her furs smell of wood-smoke and goat. She spits into a callused hand and smooths my hair over my scalp. I close my eyes. She sings in a tongue I don’t understand, but it makes me feel less frightened.
I can’t sleep when nights are so cold. I lie staring into black, and shiver, wondering why the train tracks ended here – in the middle of nowhere – and why we can’t go back.
Mr Ishelwood told us of dangers back there far worse than freezing to death. To escape his thoughts he would set off alone in search of wood and food. He was a big strong man, but always his eyes were full of fear.
I heard the rifle shot twice, when five of us became three. I didn’t need to ask Dr Usui, and she didn’t need to tell. I preferred not to speak to Mr Ishelwood from then on.
Now we are two.
The days have grown shorter; the firewood damper, and soon there will be just berries to eat and melted snow to drink. We share a bed, Dr Usui and I; it’s not so cold this way.
On a day we think near our last, we hear a rifle shot; the same sound as before. Dr Usui wipes a window free of mist, and through a circle we search the horizon. The light is strong, blinding and painful. We blink it better.
They are coming, four of them – on horses – galloping through the snow, kicking up a veil of white.
I smell wood-smoke and goat, and hear a familiar song.
The end of the world
by Mileva Anastasiadou
After despair killed all people around, he thought he was the only human alive, but he was wrong. A young girl stepped closer.
“Are we the last persons on earth?” asked the boy.
The girl shrugged. There was no way for them to know, but they were indeed the last humans on the planet, doomed to carry the weight of humankind on their shoulders.
“All I want, before I die, is to fall in love,” she told him.
They kissed and made love with the amount of passion that always accompanies the first, as well as the last time. Many people consider love, instead of life, as the opposite of death. It certainly seems as the opposite of despair anyway. For a while, for a very short while indeed, they felt like nothing else mattered. For a moment, as long as a powerful feeling lasts, even the universe itself wondered. Even the wheel of time stopped spinning. This wonderful, almost completely forgotten feeling did not last long, though. Not even love managed to overcome the overwhelming, unbeatable sense of futility.
They stood ecstatic for a while, watching a building collapse in flames from a distance. There were no firemen to run and extinguish the fire, or people running around in panic. Entropy in its great splendour, undisturbed, finally emerged as the big winner, as all transformed into chaos, without any resistance whatsoever. It was not certainly the ecstasy that follows the destruction of the old that makes room for the new, or the ecstasy of hope, or the remains of it.
It was the ecstasy of despair, the exaltation that precedes the final end.
Embraced, they jumped into the void.
And that was the end of the world as we know it.
by Leara Morris-Clark
For a moment, the still lake looks deceptively beautiful. I focus in on my reflection; it’s very rare I see myself. A two-headed fish breaks the surface suddenly distorting my observation. I sigh and wonder if I could eat that. My stomach grumbles. I see my frown and hollow eyes in the rippling water.
I hear the bird-like call of the hunting party leader signaling us to reassemble. I wish I had more to show for my day’s efforts.
We gather our kills into the wagon and return to camp. We are still low on food. There are so few things we can safely eat.
I wash myself in the collected rainwater reserve. The natural water sources are sick and may cause death, though I am not sure that what falls from the sky is any better. I boil some to drink and think of my departed family.
Before he went on to the great sky kingdom, my father told me stories passed on to him of fantastic structures, safe water, and food, and transportation machines to reach vast distances in short times. It is all fantasy to me.
Reality is here in front of me. The bleak sky reflects my mood, defeated.
I don’t think much of a future. I stopped wondering about the past. I mostly feel betrayed by my ancestors for destroying the world they left to me. I see the lost potential in what surrounds me but find it hard to imagine making much of it in the short span of life this wasteland now affords us. My present is the future, so few before me cared to consider. They abandoned me long before I was born.
I think this planet will heal itself in time but only after the human parasite has long been gone.