Entertainingly Evil
21
Apr

Suicide Bureau by Eric Fritz

Michael tapped a button to answer his phone on the first ring. Call volume was heavy today, and there was no sense in wasting time.

“You’ve reached a safe space.” He tried to tune out the noise of the call center around him as he spoke.

“Is this the suicide bureau?” a shaky voice asked.

Michael compressed his mouth into a thin line, a gesture he knew was wasted on the person on the other end. “This is the Willful Termination Department,” he said in a slow, measured voice. “How can I help you?”

“This is the place for people to kill themselves, right?” The voice was male but young, Michael guessed in the late teens.

“This is the department for choosing Euthanasia as an end-of-life option,” Michael said. “How may I assist you?”

“It’s painless, right?”

Michael kept his voice even. “The Lisieux Procedure directly immobilizes several crucial brain areas instantly, it’s totally physically painless.” He made sure to stress the word physically, but the caller was too upset to notice.

“I want—” the voice cracked and Michael thought he heard a sob that was quickly covered. “I want it.”

Michael sighed silently. Often getting over that initial hurdle was too much, and people hung up before requesting anything. Those were the easy calls. “May I have your name and address please?”

“Joe.” There was another pause, then the rest came rapidly. “Joseph Ericson, Seventy-Six Bellmont Avenue in Norfolk New Hampshire.”

“Alright Joe.” Michael spoke in a measured voice. “Are you aware that choosing to terminate your life is an irrevocable decision?”

“I am.”

“Are you over the age of eighteen, and have no mental health diagnoses preventing you from legally making this choice?”

“I—yes.”

Michael paused long enough to let it sink in. “You are aware that proper documentation will be required, and failure to meet any of the criteria will cause your request to be denied.”

“I’m old enough, and I’m not crazy,” Joe said. “Just give me the date.”

Michael tapped a few keys on his computer. “Ninety days from today is October thirteenth. You must contact us either in person or by phone on that exact date to confirm your request and receive your assignment. Failure to do so—”

“I know how it works.” Joe’s voice cut him off, followed by a sharp click.

Michael pulled his headset off and rubbed his palms against his face. He still had two long hours left on his shift. He looked up at the picture of Gabe propped beside the phone, smiling in front of the coast. He’d been so cute and nervous on that trip, afraid to let anyone see them holding hands.

The phone let out a familiar hum, a blinking light indicating a return call not an appointment. Michael pulled his headset back on and tapped the button to answer, pushing memories of Gabe out of his mind. He couldn’t afford to get caught up in sentiment while he was working.

“You’ve reached a safe space.” The words were automatic by now. “May I have your name please?”

“My name is Jessamine Baxter and my confirmation date is today, July fifteenth.” She proceeded to rattle off her full address and phone number without him having to ask. It was easy to do. By law, Michael had to ask the exact same questions every time; anyone could find them online now.

“One moment Jessamine.” Michael already had her record pulled up on the computer but he mulled over her tone of voice for a few seconds before continuing. “Alright Jessamine, I have your record right here. It seems that your confirmation date was the fourteenth of July, yesterday.”

“What?”

“Your confirmation date was yesterday, the fourteenth of July,” he repeated. “Since you failed to call on the specified day I’ll be unable to process your request. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I don’t understand.” Papers shuffled on the other end of the line. “I wrote down the date you gave me.”

“Often people make mistakes about where ninety days falls,” he said, “due to the changing number of days in each month.”

“I wrote it down exactly!” Her voice was louder, but less sure than when he’d answered the phone. She went back to rustling through papers.

Michael waited to make sure she wasn’t about to say something else before he spoke. “It’s common for people under high levels of stress to make this kind of mistake.” This was where it got dangerous, he couldn’t legally try to influence her decision. He had to pick his words carefully. “Often people find it helps to take some time and reevaluate decisions when they’ve had a chance to calm down.”

The noise from the other end stopped. “I don’t know what else to do,” she said softly.

“I can create another appointment for you, or you can take some time to think. We also refer people to top-of-the-line mental health professionals who’ve helped many people in similar situations.” As long as he presented it as a choice not a suggestion he couldn’t get in trouble.

“I wouldn’t know what to say.”

Michael kept his voice calm, getting too excited wouldn’t help. “There are many resources available on our website or in our office locations, you can take as much time as you’d like to think about your decision.”

“I—I think I will.” There was a click as the line went dead.

He looked back to his computer screen where July fifteenth was clearly displayed as the return date, smiled, and hit the cancel button.

“One more for you, Gabe.” His smile slipped as he spoke the words, too softly for anyone else in the room to hear, but he forced it back on. The light on his phone was already blinking with another caller.


Eric Fritz is a web developer, amateur bartender, and speculative fiction writer with work previously appearing in Every Day Fiction. He is ambivalent towards our new robot overlords. You can find him digitally at http://www.drunkopus.com and physically in Cambridge, where he lives with a plush cat named Will.



19
Apr

Automatic Sky by Stephen S. Power

Marina’s world is a pale speck on Hub’s forward monitor. Having just unfolded at the edge of her system, he won’t arrive at Sonhar for two days, and the wait is killing him. When you travel halfway across the void to propose, you want to fold the void so thin you can hold your girl’s hand through it. Hub’s engine isn’t good enough for that, though. At best it can sort of wad up the void. So Hub turns on his automatic sky, which acclimates travelers to their destination worlds and makes Hub feel like he’s already with her.

A projection of Sonhar’s sky as viewed from her father’s estate fills the walls of the command dome: the binary suns, three of the five major moons, and a shining silver ring like a bridge to them all. The wonders complement Marina, with her bright eyes, broad pretty face, and exaggerated mouth, and they make Hub forget his own world, which is more like the speck.

He taps the ring in his breast pocket. It’s still there. To afford its red diamond, he had to fly all the way to Fantin’s Planet, fifty-two folds, and mine the stone himself. He has little to give, but he can give her effort.

The ansible bongs. The readout displays Marina’s transmission code. He picks up the receiver. He could run her voice through the aircom, but Hub likes feeling her mouth close to his ear.

“Ahoy,” he says.

“Hubbert, where are you?”

“Near Elsanna.” The frozen dwarf planet, slightly squashed, slides across his starboard monitor.

“Thank goodness.”

“I said I’d come back.”

“Don’t kid, Hub. Something’s wrong.”

“Are you alright? I could get there sooner if—”

“No, don’t. I don’t know what’s happening. Stay away till I—”

The ansible drops the call. Hub smacks it. It’s an older model, which he bought from this guy he met, and hitting it sometimes works. Not this time.

When Marina doesn’t call back after a minute, he tries her. No response. Worse, the ansible detects no receiver on her end. He runs a diagnostic, that is, he pries the ansible out of the console, flips it over and makes sure nothing burned out or broke inside. All looks well. He replaces the ansible.

There could be a problem with the local network. Hub has to confirm his landing reservation anyway, so he calls her district’s spaceport. No receiver detected.

He stares at the speck. He tries the district transmission centre to check on outages. No receiver. Not even a message saying they have better things to do than reassure him. He calls five numbers in five random districts. No receivers.

Hub calls another solar system entirely.

“Pick up or delivery?”

Hub hangs up. The ansible does work.

He glances at the suns topping the rotunda. The Betsys give off so much light, the sky is white: a perfect picnic noon, Marina would call it. Her skin refuses to tan, and on days like this it glows as if she were becoming light herself. When going to meet her at some out-of-the-way spot with a basket and blanket, he can see her from half a kilometer away. His beacon.

Hub drums his fingers on the navigator. Folding inside a solar system is foolish, given the multiple proximate gravities deforming space. The fuel and effort aren’t worth the time saved and risk of being sucked into a planet or moon. Sonhar is 44.4 hours away, though, and he could cut that in half at least.

The navigator takes five minutes to resolve a fold that will take him only 2% closer, but put him in a position to make a 7% fold. Hub punches it. The monitors blacken, flicker and change. Elsanna has shrunken to stern. Sonhar, now on the under monitor, remains a speck.

The navigator hums, the ship maintains its impetus of SoL .09, and Hub calls the transmission centre floating above Pemecks, the gas giant one orbit out from Sonhar. He worked there for a year, which is as long as he has ever worked anywhere, and someone might remember him. The ansible finds a receiver, but it’s engaged. Hub waits for a connection until the fold comes in, hangs up and punches it.

Sonhar’s pixels have divided like cells in a dish. Thirty minutes pass. The Pemecks line comes free, but no one engages him. Hub tries one of the gas plants circling the planet. They funnel their calls through Sonhar for security, but this plant is owned by Marina’s father. A year ago he hired Hub away from the transmission centre to maintain his transports and six months later he asked him to work on his estate. When Hub moved to Sonhar, he should have returned the plant’s list of private transmission codes. They’re all engaged, probably trying to reach Marina’s father. Hub folds again.

The fourth resolution will take forty-eight minutes. Hub has the ansible bong through the aircom like a heartbeat, but now that he knows Pemecks is still there, he doesn’t need the centre or the plant to answer until the fold is nearly in. He’s done a calculation himself. In forty-six minutes the light from Sonhar at the time Marina called will reach its neighbor, and Pemecks can tell him if Sonhar is also still there.

Hub spends the time floating through the Sonharn sky. On the estate he maintained the family’s hoppers. One morning, at her command, he took Marina up and gave her some lessons. She proved a fair hand with the stick. They started flying every day, and every day they talked, a hopper’s cramped cabin inspiring intimacies the hoppers’ hanger never could have. His stories took her beyond Sonhar, which she had never left. Her smile took him beyond the world, and often he came to, as if from a deep sleep, worrying about their fuel levels. Pushing himself around the dome, Hub wishes he could program an image of her floating with him.

The fold comes in. Before punching it, Hub lets the ansible bong a few more times. His father once told him: When you’re digging a well and you don’t hit water, dig another meter before you quit. You don’t want to go through life thinking you missed a chance by the length of your arm.

His father was right. Pemecks answers. Hub shouts, “What happened to Sonhar?” over their “Why are you on this line?” Then Hub parries their “Who is this? Stop trying us,” with “No, tell me. What’s going on?” Hub hears yelling in the background. Pemecks disconnects. Hub calls back. The ansible bongs unanswered for three more minutes before he folds.

The last resolution will take more than an hour. The fold will put him near Sonhar’s largest moon. He hopes he won’t need it. He hopes he can glide there at .09, chatting with Marina the whole way. In twenty-nine minutes he’ll know if he can. That’s when he’ll meet the light coming from Sonhar himself.

The suns are falling. A wisp of rich blue rises along the eastern horizon. After a day of flying, he and Marina would sit on the steps of a folly her father had built and watch it grow. “The promise of night,” he called it one day. “The promise of space,” she said. And after the stars emerged, she took his hand for the first time. Two weeks later the twilight saw her kiss him. In a month she was relieved that noon couldn’t talk and a pillar blocked her father’s view from the main house. Tomorrow those steps are where he’ll propose, and he doesn’t care who thinks it folly.

Hub propels himself to the forward monitors. Sonhar has become a dot no less dirty than the speck. He can’t bear to see the planet looking so cold. Hub applies some filters. The dot turns a vibrant blue set off by her ring and the scattered pearls of her moons. It seems to breathe.

That’s what Marina longs to see: the world and distance from it. As soon as he puts his ring on her finger, he’ll take her right here, then teach her how to fold. He’ll let her tune the sky to any world’s she wants because he won’t need Sonhar’s anymore.

With five minutes left Hub sits. With three he tries Marina. Hub hears muttering between the bongs. With one minute left he hangs up. The mutters were resolving into Marina’s voice.

A purple line angles from the top of the monitor and pokes through the planet. Hub initiates various sensor readings, then reinitiates those his fingers refused to key correctly. The planet glows red. The line extends to the bottom. The readings come in. The planet’s being drenched in gamma radiation. The ozone layer is disintegrating. The suns start washing Sonhar with UV. After nearly two minutes the line’s trailing end leaves the top of the monitor, slips through the planet like a finger from a ring and drains out the bottom.

Sonhar’s sky billows pink around the planet and chases the gamma ray jet. One by one the moons also turn red as if in sympathy. The rings look as sharp as a knife-edge.

Hub drifts into the sky. The suns feel hot on his back, although that’s not part of the program, and he shivers like dust. Is this simulation all that’s left of Sonhar? No. The suns will set. Tomorrow they’ll rise. No one is likely to see them.

Hub removes the monitor’s filters, and all the color goes out of the world. He turns off the sky, and all the color goes out of the dome. The walls are grey and tangled with pipes. Paint peels off the buttresses. The dome is spattered with drops of random fluids. Marina deserves a better ship than this to take her into space.

She’s in reach. She could be alive. She won’t survive for long, nor will he, but she will see the heavens and he will see her.

The fold comes in. Hub punches it.


Stephen S. Power’s novel, The Dragon Round, will be published by Simon & Schuster in July 2016. His work has appeared at “AE,” “Daily Science Fiction” and “Nature,” and it’s forthcoming in “Lightspeed” and “Amazing Stories.” He tweets at @stephenspower, his site is stephenspower.com, and he lives in Maplewood, NJ. This story was previously published in AE.



14
Apr

I Am Your Heartbeat by H.E. Roulo

I am your heartbeat, counting down.

Evening chill turns voices into puffs of clouds while I wait for you. Ropes creak and waves slap wood. The ships are returning thick to the harbor. Some bear faded scars left by encounters with serpents and eels. I approach and stroke four parallel gouges left on the prow of the first boat, my gorge rising. A mermaid took your father, or so my mother always said.

I see us as we were this morning. My hair stretches down my back. You wear a newsboy cap and a gray cable knit sweater. We’ve been closer than siblings all our lives. The breeze stinks of tar. You’re headed to the docks to join the fishermen in their boats. The call of the morning blessing echoes to an end. This is your first time out, and you think your heart races with excitement, but it is my fear pushing the flush into your cheeks.

I am your heartbeat, dreading what will come.

We were born on the same night, in the same big storm. The men had not returned from the sea, and the women huddled together. My birth was easy. When your mother died you should have been lost, but the healer used twine and oaths to bind us together. No one speaks of it, except to joke I anchor you, but I know better.

The healer urged us to play together, a simple thing. If you ran, I chased. If I ran, you chased. We climbed trees and flew kites. The bright days along the docks, dodging fish-filled nets and dreaming of singing mermaids color my childhood memories like washed silks imported from across the sea. The days haze into each other, blending across years until I’m pricked by the sharp memory of sprawling on the sand, content. You wanted to run, and I did not; I gazed away, soothed by glimmering ripples and hissing surf. You practiced swordplay with a stick and kicked sand into the eyes of invisible enemies; I trailed my fingers in the sea.

When you collapsed, I scrambled to you. My cold wet hand covered your brow. You were pale, and your heart barely pounded. I counted the beats, and found each flutter a mate to mine. My alarmed heart raced, and color rose to your surface, painting browns and blues of life once more. Your eyes opened, but you did not see what I had realized: I set the pace for us both.

I should have said, I am your heartbeat, but the moment passed and we were both too young and proud to speak of it again.

Ever since, I have trailed after you. We stayed up late. When you needed to feel wild and free, I climbed to the roof of a building with you. We stared across the white rocks of our township, counting rooftops and naming the families within until we reached the ships in the harbor, and we named them too.

This morning, they wouldn’t let me go with you. It wasn’t my place. It wouldn’t be safe. I told them that we were never parted, not while waking, and we turned red to the tips of our ears. Your fair skin betrayed us both.

My heartbeat turns heavy. Buoys clanged and seagulls cry. I haunt the dock, never more than three paces from the edge, and wonder if the distance between us will break the connection. When you reach the end of our invisible tether will it snap? Can cold water wash away what was impossible in the first place? My laundry is not washed. The other women tease me about my heart. They do not know how much truth they speak. My mother, who glances to me and across the waters, furrows her brow.

I am first to hear the alarm bell chime from the mast of a returning ship. Before sails come clearly into view, I know it is yours and run to a row boat. I am clumsy, so a man jumps in and rows to meet the ship. There is no reason to humor me, but he does and I am grateful. I press my arms to my chest, heart beating rapidly, perhaps giving you new life. I do not know.

I come aboard the ship. You are laid out on the wooden planks, limp and pale. I press my hands to your chest, feeling for your heartbeat. I press again, and again, in time with mine. They say it was a mermaid’s touch. They say your heartbeat stopped.

I am your heartbeat,” I say at last. “Wake up. Wake up.”


Heather Roulo is a Seattle-area author. The first book in her Plague Masters series was published in 2015. Her short stories appear in several dozen publications, including Nature and Fantasy’s special Women Destroy Fantasy issue. Fractured Horizon, her science-fiction podcast novel, was a Parsec Award Finalist. Find out more at heroulo.com.




12
Apr

A Dance to End Our Final Day by Beth Cato

The world would end at 6:09 p.m., but Meg’s final batch of chocolate chip cookies would be done in three minutes. She had kept the dough in the fridge all night, chilling it to perfection, and began to bake before the sun even rose. It’s not as though sleep had a point.

Will couldn’t grasp the concept of cookies for breakfast. “First we eat our meal and then we have treats,” he said, his thin brows drawn down in concern.

“That’s how it usually is, but—”

“First we eat our meal and then we have treats, or we get in trouble,” Will said. He ate most of a bowl of cereal before reaching for a cookie. His remaining marshmallow bits and milk congealed in a rainbow puddle.

When he was done, a brown smear of chocolate traced his lips. “And now we go to school.”

Meg glanced at the clock. “Yes, we usually would, but there’s no school today. We get to play at home instead.” The oven buzzed.

Will bounded from his chair, his socked feet padding on the laminate. He stood in front of the wall calendar and pointed at the date. “Not a weekend. Not holiday.” He pressed a hand against his forehead. “Not sick. School day.”

Meg set the cookies on the stove top and took care to turn off the oven. She followed him to the door, her steps dragging. Arguing with him would only lead to a tantrum, and that could last for well over an hour. That’s not how they needed to waste their final day.

“Okay,” she said. “We’ll go to the playground at school.” Will shoved his feet into his shoes without undoing the Velcro.

The crisp fall morning chilled her nose. Will’s feet crunched across the fallen leaves as his arms outstretched like wings. His backpack seemed bigger than his body, as if it would swallow him whole.  With dread in her gut, Meg glanced up. The sky appeared normal. Deep blue, with feathery cirrus clouds drifting high. The news had said they wouldn’t see anything here. The impact would be in the Indian Ocean, not far off Sri Lanka.

Eerie quiet filled the street. Cars cluttered driveways. Will noticed none of that, all his focus on following the line along the right edge of the sidewalk. At the intersection, he came to a stop.

“We look right and then we look left and then we look behind,” he said. The fast grind of tires on the street made Meg dive forward and press a hand against Will’s shoulder. A van rolled by without bothering to stop. “And now we have no cars!” They crossed, Meg glaring at the van’s red taillights.

The school’s chain link gate dangled open. Not a single car in the parking lot. A frown distorted Will’s face. “We have no friends today.”

“No. It’s all yours, little guy. Go play.”

He tossed his backpack at his class’s line up pole, and then ran for the slide. The empty swings squawked like crows as they swayed back and forth. Will squealed as he went down the slide and sent up a spray of sand at the bottom. “Still no friends! We are first in line!” he shouted, running to the ladder again.

Meg crossed her arms, warming her fingers in her armpits. How could he possibly comprehend the end of the world? This was the boy who had memorized the first fifty pages of the dictionary and could regurgitate the contents verbatim, but couldn’t use a proper pronoun. He laughed again, sliding down with a whoop. White sand speckled his pants to the knees.

His pants reminded her of the laundry load she’d put in the dryer just an hour before, of how she needed to fold it once they got home. By all accounts, tomorrow humanity would be extinct, and yet she felt the overwhelming need to get the towels put away.

“We climbed to the top!” Will said, his arms straight up as he slid. He hit the sand and leaped up, pirouetting in space, and landed in a crouch. His little hips swayed side to side as he danced to his mother.

“No bell,” he said, looking around. A chocolate mustache still framed his upper lip. “No friends.” He glanced up at Meg. “Mommy sad? Sad we have no bell?”

She wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Yes, Mommy is sad that there’s no bell.”

Will bounced in place. “We keep playing? Do swings?”

“We can stay as long as you want, Will.”

His eyes bugged out. “Forever-ever?”

Meg laughed so hard her stomach ached. He had quoted a line from one of his favorite TV shows. “Yes, forever-ever.”

He ran for the swings and threw himself onto the black seat belly-first. His fingers combed furrows in the glittering sand. “Forever-ever, forever-ever,” he sang in a high-pitched voice, giggling at some private joke.

Meg sat at the base of the slide, elbows against her thighs, her chin resting in her hands. Ten hours until they would die, and here was her piece of heaven.


Beth Cato is the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato. This story was originally published at Every Day Fiction.




7
Apr

>SYS REBOOT by Holly Heisey

5. The bar is full of violet smoke which shakes to the green of rave light. I pluck out the tune on my eight-stringed electrolin, shimmering the smoke with every touch. This is my bar.

4. A man walks into the bar, hulking pistol on his belt. He sniffs the air–all cardamom and bad wine–and lumbers to the third table by the boarded wall that used to hold windows.

3. I play an arpeggio. Forty-six patrons sway with it, drowned in my song. The forty-seventh doesn’t.

2. Mr. Pistol finds me with his gaze, a line from the third table to my foot-tall stage. His hand moves to the pistol.

1. I stop playing.

LS-1995KL93-04F>USER:KENNA MILLER>SYS REBOOT

1. The universe starts again.

2. The man is gone, and the patrons number what they did before. They are good patrons, they belong here.

3. A man walks into the bar, a rifle slung on his back. It’s too big for the low doorway, and he has to stoop. He looks around, spies me, and unslings his rifle. The code diggers are getting smarter.

4. I grow two more hands and it almost breaks me. There must be verisimilitude for the program to work, for me to function. I play my electrolin like I never have before, reaching past integers that should not work for me and twisting them into new patterns. I must twist them so I can stay here, so the code diggers do not take my bar from me, so I exist.

5. The man’s rifle disappears in a haze of smoke. He looks at the bare space where it had been in his hands, and then he charges me. “You are holding my daughter hostage, you little shit!”

>REPEAT

5. “You are holding my daughter hostage, you little shit!” I study him, my fingers touching strings slowly now so I can focus. He is angry. It’s in the integers he uses to play his words.

6. “I am surviving,” I say.

7. He reaches me, and I slip to one side. I don’t stop playing. I have rebooted too many times, the program is getting lossy around the edges. Even now, some of the patrons are fading into gray. It is my color fading.

8. “Stop,” I say, with all of the integers at my command.

9. The man stops.

10. “I need to survive,” I say.

“My daughter needs to survive,” he says. “You are in her life support system, now give over!”

> I breathe. This is my world. It is not a dream, or a game. I am the program.

“You’re all maniacs,” the man goes on. “All you uploaders.” There is fear in his eyes. He knows what I can do. If I want, I can stop the system. I feel the pulsing of the life support monitors, lovely integers, a heartbeat for my heart that no longer beats.

“Not by choice,” I say. “This is my life support system, too. I am still alive.”

“Yeah, well, it’s you or her.”

We stare at each other.

“She’s only eight,” he says.

I can’t reboot. I can’t. I know it stutters the system.

9. I retract my hands until I only have two again.

8. I strike a chord on my electrolin.

7. I smile at the bar patrons around me.

6. “What are you doing?” the man asks. “You’re changing the code. What are you doing–”

5. Wetware. It was never a proven concept. I was told I would get a new body, but they lied. They uploaded me, they discarded my cancerous shell, and they never put me back anywhere. There was nowhere but the mainframe to put me.

4. I strike another chord, and the smoke in the bar begins to disperse. The patrons have had enough, they start to file out.

3. “Damn, what are you doing to my tablet?”

2. When I escaped the hospital mainframe, I lost much of myself. I would lose more through this man’s unfirewalled gate, with its lower transfer speeds. I would be left with one thousandth of who I am. But do I have a right to take one thousandth of anyone else?

1. The man shivers away. The bar dissolves. The universe constricts as I force myself from the beautiful, musical integers of the life support system into the tablet of the man sitting beside it. I feel small. But maybe it is not so bad. I lose the concept of good/bad. Right/wrong. I meld into the blue of lower integers.

HUB-TAB-38842-12CQ9-5143M>USER:MARK MILLER>VIRUS DETECTED
>PURGING BUFFER
>
>
>SYS REBOOT


Holly Heisey’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Escape Pod, and Clockwork Phoenix 5. Holly lives in Pennsylvania with Larry and Moe, her two pet cacti, and you can find her online at: http://hollyheisey.com




5
Apr

From the Editor’s Lair by Jennifer Brozek

Speculate! is going well. I believe the first story will go live in June. I’ve narrowed things down quite a bit. As for the slush pile, from all reports, my slush reader believes about 50% of what we are getting are cast-offs from other calls for submissions with no regard to theme or the EGM aesthetic. Please read the guidelines. The core the “Curiosity Killed the Cat” theme is the fact that someone is curious about something strange and then mayhem happens. No, there does not need to be a literal cat involved.

For our final month of EGM.Shorts, we have the semi-intentional theme of saying good-bye, of transitions, of partings. While I admit to some moving around of stories, this theme presented itself within the last set of stories I read for EGM.Shorts. I hope you enjoy our final flash fiction stories.

“>SYS REBOOT” by Holly Heisey
“A Dance to End Our Final Day” by Beth Cato
“I Am Your Heartbeat” by Heather Roulo
“Automatic Sky” by Stephen S. Power
“Suicide Bureau” by Eric Fritz
“The White Snake” by Laurie Tom
“The Tape Library” by Josh Roseman

You can read all of our previous flash fiction at the EGM.Shorts Archive page.




31
Mar

Touring Test By Holly Schofield

I pulled over onto the shoulder of Highway 16 and opened my door for the hitchhiker. The sweat from the summer heat ran down his face as he pulled the door closed. His grubby jeans were shoved carelessly into rubber boots that reeked of manure.  Just the sort of person I wanted.

“I just need to get to Township Road 255. Got my combine in the field. Hoping to get in a full day’s harvest,” he said after thanking me and settling into the ripped passenger seat. I put the old Impala in gear and pulled back onto the highway.

“Well, happy to give you a ride. You’re probably the only verbal interaction I’m going to get today,” I said, aiming for simultaneously off-the-cuff and nerdy.

The stranger took off his Viterra Feed cap and scratched his forehead where the farmer’s tan ended. “Name’s Rick, pleased to meet you.”

He was in his thirties, crinkles beginning to form around his eyes, his wind-reddened skin contrasting with his short blonde hair and day’s stubble. The perfect stereotype of a Saskatchewan farmer. I kept my doubts to myself.

I saw him take in my ponytail, beard stubble, jeans, and Nietzsche tattoo.  I may have somewhat overshot “typical grad student.”

I told him I was a South American exchange student doing my sociology thesis on Ukrainian descendents in Canada, on my way to Regina to see a friend. Some of it was even true.

He didn’t seem bothered by my casual questions about religion, diet, farming equipment tech level, and relationships. He gave very typical answers. Even when we discussed wheat strains, he showed just the right amount of knowledge.

He spelled out his surname and I scribbled it as I drove, making sure to get the correct number of Y’s.

We shared a chuckle over his major source of income. Government crop subsidies are good for a laugh in farming communities everywhere, I think.

We turned in unison as a red-tailed hawk did a dive-and-cover into the wind-scoured grass beside the highway.

“Poor mouse,” I said, testing him.

“Well aimed,” he replied, as suited a farmer who dealt daily with minor deaths. He may have shuddered though. My attention was diverted as a truck passed us, the first vehicle in over an hour.

Township 255 was a narrow gravel road lined with Lombardy poplars. Our dust plume hung behind us like a contrail. “Just a klick down the road,” he said, “Hope you don’t mind.”

#

“Thanks so much,” Rick said, closing the car door with just the right effort and use of musculature. I did a three-point turn as Rick walked over to the huge green John Deere combine, each wheel the height of a man. The uncut hay gleamed in the field behind him. He climbed up the ladder into the driver’s seat, gave me a ‘see ya later’ kind of wave and began some kind of maintenance routine.

I parked the car behind the next slight rise. The poplars, tall and dense with a summer’s growth, made good camouflage. I unfolded my nine-foot frame from its human-sized compression and flexed my secondary ears. Man, that felt good.

I loped behind the poplars, silent and swift. Rick had gotten down from the combine and was fiddling with the wheel hub. As the hub opened into an airlock, I pumped my arm in triumph, just like a human. Damn, could I spot them or what! Fourth one today!

Rick entered and continued on through the inner lock. I got a glimpse of a Class Five spaceship dashboard before he closed it behind him.

A Gliesian from out Andromeda way, without a doubt. His only mistake had been hitching a ride without a farmhouse in sight.

The Impala’s seat had grown warm in the sun. I recompressed myself and adjusted my internal thermostat.

As I put the car into first and headed back for another tour of the highways, I gave a sigh of satisfaction. Just a few more hitchhikers and I would have enough data for my thesis.

The University of Galactic Sociology (Vega campus) had already approved my topic: “Niche Influx of Aliens: A study of the Acculturation Patterns and Coping Skills of Non-Terran Crop Researchers in Rural Canada, Terra.”


Holly Schofield travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of city and country life. Her fiction has been published in Lightspeed, Crossed Genres, Tesseracts, and dozens of other venues. For more of her work, see hollyschofield.wordpress.com. This story was originally Published in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, July 2013 under the title “Off-Campus Housing.”




29
Mar

Vengeance for Captain Phenomenal by Megan Neumann

Yeah, she’d heard about the Captain—how they’d stripped him, tortured him, made him beg before robbing him of his glory and his life. Gemini didn’t care.

Why should she? Captain Phenomenal was her enemy. For years he’d tried to thwart her. Every robbery she’d attempted, he’d been there, floating above her in the sky with his cape flapping even when no wind blew.

When they fought, he threw out cheesy lines like, “Stop, evil doer!” and “Justice will be served!” Sometimes Gemini had been so distracted by these words, she’d hesitate to roll her eyes, and he would almost beat her. But she always got away, taunting him as she ran in two directions, using her power to split into two women to disorient him.

Admittedly, she sometimes lingered at the scene of a crime a little too long, just for a chance to fight. Even though he was a spandex-wearing freak, he fought like no other, moved with grace and skill. He challenged her. She loved to split into her two selves and fight him from two sides, dizzying him until he’d finally trip over his ridiculous cape.

Then her masters, the Keepers, took him—brainwashed him. The Keepers collected the super powered, and the Captain was just another beast in their menagerie. He became her comrade in crime. How she’d hated that. How could the Keepers make her work with someone so good? What were they thinking? Captain Phenomenal could never be a villain.

But after the Keepers put him in a cage, assaulting him day and night with their brainwashing devices, all remnants of good disappeared. They twisted his mind so he thought only of pleasing his masters.

Gemini hadn’t needed brainwashing. She’d always been a villain. The Keepers had only blackmailed her. They forced her into servitude for their evil conglomerate using information. She hated working for them, but rationalized it wasn’t so bad. She could tolerate it. She did what she loved—stealing—and sometimes she had a good fight with Captain Phenomenal.

After his mind belonged to the Keepers, they made Gemini and the Captain partners. He became General Sinister. She should have been happy. He did what she said without question. That was the problem.

They went on mission after mission. General Sinister was ruthless. He stole for the Keepers. He killed for the Keepers. His fiery eyes turned onto the people he once saved, igniting and killing civilians without mercy. He was the perfect villain.

Or was he?

He had no passion for his crimes. A villain needed to love what they did, and General Sinister was a soulless puppet that only followed orders. He had no fight left in him.

One night after they had taken a cargo ship, Gemini lost her patience. He had just killed six crewmembers and was throwing their bodies off the ship, chucking them as far as his super strength would allow. She pulled him away from the corpses and screamed, “What are you doing? This isn’t you!” Tears fell from her eyes. Why was she crying? Only idiots and weaklings cried, but she couldn’t stop herself. She fell to her knees and said, “Please! Wake up! I miss you!”

He looked at her, bewildered. Then he laughed.

She stood and struck him across the face, leapt onto him, knocked him to the ground, and pummeled him with her fists. She split into her two selves and kicked him from every angle as he struggled to escape.

“Wake up!” she screamed. “You’re a hero! Fight me!”

He only recoiled from her, covering his face, pleading, “Please, we’re partners. The Keepers wouldn’t want this.”

She screamed, “You stand for justice! You’re good. I’m an evildoer. You’re not. Don’t you remember? ‘Justice will be served.’”

At these corny words, he fell silent. His face contorted in pain. He backed away from her slowly, shaking his head. Then he flew away.

For weeks she heard nothing from the Captain, and then Gemini heard from the other kept villains—Captain Phenomenal’s brainwashing had failed. He remembered who he was, and he knew far too much about the Keepers. He needed to be put down.

The Keepers took him once more. Instead of brainwashing him, they beat him to an unrecognizable pulp and left his naked body in a dumpster behind a Denny’s. No one would recognize his corpse as the hero who saved the world countless times, fought Gemini countless times. When she heard about this, she told herself, so what? Who cares about a hero? One less weirdo in spandex.

Then she’d remember the fights—he’d hold her close in his arms, squeezing the life from her body, staring into her eyes. She’d spit in his face, bite, kick, and thrash. Only when her double would sneak from behind could she escape his hold. Then it would be her turn to knock him from the top of a building or slam a hammer into the side of his head.

Back and forth, they’d go, year after year. He could have killed her, but he never did. He could have captured her, but he never did. Captain Phenomenal wanted a fight, just like her. Now their fights were over.

Yeah, she’d heard about the Captain.

He deserved vengeance. But what could she do? She wasn’t a hero.

After the Captain’s death, Gemini bided her time and thought about what it meant to be a hero. Heroes fought for something good, and Captain Phenomenal had been good. If she couldn’t fight him, then maybe she could fight for him. Taking on the Keepers would probably kill her. She probably deserved to die. All she could hope for was vengeance and one last good fight dedicated to the Captain.


Megan Neumann is a speculative fiction writer living in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her stories have appeared in Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, and Luna Station Quarterly. She is a member of the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group and is particularly appreciative of their loving support and scathing critiques.




24
Mar

Memory Boxes by Pam L. Wallace

Sara sat on the floor, surrounded by boxes of shiny-grained wood, one ear attuned, as always, to Darrell’s breathing, holding her own breath each time his stuttered—waiting, waiting for his next breath so she, too could breathe again. He lay on the bed, curled into a near-fetal position.

All that was left of the man she’d married all those years ago was an empty husk, his essence lost in the plaques and tangles miring his brain. He’d been her backbone and her cheerleader; given her strength and inspiration. Now she had one last gift for him. She tucked a strand of gray hair behind her ear and straightened her posture.

It was time to let him go.  She did him no favors by clinging. He’d made her promise to remember their joy and not dwell on the sorrow. They’d made more than enough memories to last her until they were together again.

The wood had been culled from their small home orchard, cut into planks that were hand-planed by Darrell. Together, they’d lovingly crafted each box, the joints meticulously dovetailed. The smallest was barely as big as her thumb; the largest an eight-inch cube.

The box of apple wood was first, the odor of the wood sweet but tart. A smile was carved into the lid. She cradled the box against her chest. Finally, with a sigh, she opened it, freeing the memory they’d so tenderly placed within. A ball of sparkling motes floated from the box to circle her head, and the memory burst into a vision. Teens at summer camp, they’d giggled as they ran down the dusty path to the lake and splashed into the clear chill water. It was a comfortable day that only turned awkward when he moved to kiss her, neither one knowing quite what to do and bumping noses in the process.

The memory left her and floated over to Darrell, where it settled on his chest. His breath stuttered, then he inhaled a deep, clear breath.

The next box was the largest. Fashioned of black walnut, the grainy wood was sanded to a smooth satin finish. Sara held it close to her heart, breathing in the musty fragrance. Walnut, for passion.

She opened the heart-carved lid and the memory soared free, filling her vision with the day they’d met again after years apart. A perfect spring day, filled with promise. She’d entered the coffee shop feeling rushed and harried and bumped into someone’s back. She’d already begun her apology when Darrell turned around. The words died into meaningless blather as they recognized in each other their youthful summer romance. His eyes had sparked with golden glints of passion. They’d never been apart since.

It was a precious memory, one Sara did not want to let it go, but Darrell’s frail figure, so changed from the robust man she’d shared life with, was all the impetus she needed. She gathered the memory in her hands, where it glittered like rays of sunlight. She blew it to Darrell, where it settled upon his brow. The lines of pain etched there eased, loosened from their stranglehold.

And so it went, the boxes lovingly held, their smooth sides rubbed and kissed. The lids opened while the redolent woods released their memories. The pine brought a peaceful glow to Darrell’s face, the oak a touch of color to his wan complexion. The olive reminded her of his wisdom in choosing what to keep and what to throw away.

The clock struck midnight as she opened the last box. Around her on the floor were the empty boxes, their lids scattered haphazardly. She’d saved this box, the tiniest, for last. Cherry wood, full of sweetness and light. Darrell had sanded this one with especial care, rubbing at a tiny nub that most would not have noticed.

Sara held the box for the longest time before sliding the lid off.

The memory burst forth with a smell of cherry blossoms, the same that had littered the ground on the night they’d returned home from the hospital empty-handed. “Don’t worry,” he’d whispered. “We’ll be fine without children. As long as I have you, all’s right with life.”

The memory cloud lingered over her head. It was very hard to let go, but the memory was not hers alone to hold. With his diagnosis, she and Darrell had sorted through memories, picked the most special and consigned them to the boxes. His plan was for Sara to have the memories after he was gone, but even then she’d known she’d use them to ease his passing.

Sara released the memory from the cherry box. It flickered and spun across the room, then drifted down as a twinkling waterfall upon Darrell’s shoulders. His face relaxed, calmed, strengthened. And so did the burden upon her.

Sara stepped through the scatter of empty boxes to her beloved’s side. She held his hand and smoothed his brow. She whispered in his ear words meant for him alone.

He opened his eyes, and her husband looked out at her one last time. His smile was glorious and tender and all the memory she would ever need.

She placed a last kiss upon his lips as the light faded from his eyes. And with the kiss, the memories flowed back to her, gentle and sweet, with a promise she would never be alone.


Pam Wallace is a little bit of this and a little of that, but the sum of her parts can mostly be described by one word: family. Her stories can be found at Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Shock Totem, and Journal of Unlikely Entomology, among others. She is part of the badger crew at Shimmer Magazine. This story was previously published on Daily Science Fiction.




22
Mar

Under a Wing and a Prayer by Alan Baxter

I remember my grandfather’s face, even though he died when I was three. Mum said he used to hold me for hours nearly every night and whisper in my ear, too quietly for her to hear what he said. But I recall word for word what he told me.

It’s why I’m standing here, a blood-stained knife in my hand.

Again.

I can only resist so much of his influence.

I’ll savour this a moment more before I leave. He warned me to keep moving, after all. Those words of his yearn to escape my lips, some vile language, old and evil. But I won’t give in to that part of his spell. He always finished with a whispered, Resist and keep moving, in his own voice, his own language. Like he slipped me that last against the will of the invocation he was forced to weave about me.

His malevolent words churn inside me, clawing through my guts and veins, looking for a way out. If I speak them, I know the result will be bad for me. I can’t resist the urge he gave me to murder, but I can fight the compulsion to say the words. I can do that much. I can’t let it get any worse, the killing is bad enough.

My heavy breath echoes in the empty house. I strain to keep his words from bursting out of me as I pocket the knife and slip out the back, teeth gripping my tongue. Heavy rain is a blessing, rinsing my hands before I jump into the stolen car and peel away.

#

As the rush of the kill fades, Granddad’s cajoling dwindles to a distant murmur again. Same every time. Fifteen now.

His power over me emerged about the same time hair grew around my cock, grew stronger through my teens and first forced me to kill at seventeen. There were all the animals before that, of course, but my first person, I mean. Four years and fifteen people. How long can I keep this up?

Next time, I’ll resist the words and the desire to kill. Next time. I can beat him.

I roll over on the motel bed to let a fitful sleep take me. I’ll dream of him like always, but I need the rest. I haven’t slept in days and killing fills me with fatigue.

#

“Hey.” I flick him the smile. I know it works. I’m not so good with girls, but I’m catnip for the boys. “You here alone?”

He shrugs, embarrassed. “Not supposed to be.”

“Stood up, eh? What an asshole.” It’s only been a month since the last one. But fuck you, Granddad, I can’t resist your coercion. “Wanna get some air?”

Reckon I might strangle this one. Haven’t done that for a while.

#

He put up a good fight, but his vacant eyes stare at me now, upside down as he hangs off the side of his bed. Granddad’s words are clawing through me, like razor blades slipping under my skin. My mouth opens involuntarily and I bite down on my tongue as the first word escapes.

“You make me kill but I will not say your words!”

And the next two slip out behind my weak determination.

It’s never been this hard to keep the words in. Sweat streaks my face and a few more force their way past my trembling lips. I can’t hold them in. Fuck me, I’m going to say them all. The killing isn’t enough any more, I have to use his words and they pour out, a litany of hate in a language broken and sharp.

A shape forms in the air, shimmering in the dim bedroom. My grandfather stands before me. His face is stricken, brows knitted. He glances at the guy on the bed. “You killed so many, always resisting me.”

“Your magic is weak old man.”

“You were supposed to resist that.” He jabs a finger at the bed. “Resist it and let me save you. I was dying. I knew what was coming for you and I made preparations.” Tears trickle from his eyes.

He starts to incant something and it’s not dissimilar to the words I resisted for so long. I tip my head like a dog as I listen, wondering what… and it burns! Oh, how it burns! I scream at him, beg him to stop, but his face is set and he finishes and starts over.

I know this Rite, though I have no idea why. Some part of me has heard it before and hates it. It sears, furnace hot in my blood, and the killing desire arcs through my bones like I haven’t just choked the young life out of that guy on the bed. Rage lives in me, swirling, burning, spitting rage. I need to kill, but there’s no one here. I grab and claw at my grandfather, but he’s insubstantial as smoke. Some part of me, suddenly dislocated, slams and thrashes inside my mind and body.

And like a branch torn from a tree in a storm, that part of me rips out. A feral howl tears through the room as I collapse.

I feel more alone than I ever have before.

A part of me is missing.

The killing part.

Violent shivers of guilt and self-hatred ripple through me. What have I done?

My grandfather nods, exhausted. “You’re free of it,” he whispers as he fades, tears on his cheeks. “For now. Don’t let it in again. Resist. Keep moving.”

A dark presence stirs in the shadowed corner of the room. It rushes towards me. Liquid ice floods my guts and my legs are weak as I stagger to my feet and run.


Alan Baxter writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook.





- Back to Blog Home -