Entertainingly Evil
29
Apr

From the Editor’s Lair by Jennifer Brozek

I love flash fiction. A good story told in a thousand words will last a lifetime. For the past year, I have read, accepted, or rejected 510 submissions that I read between February and October 2015. This is a small set of submissions when compared to some of the more popular online fiction venues. But this was perfect for me. EGM.Shorts has been my project from beginning to end.

People like statistics. So, here they are. Make of them what you will.

Statistics – ACCEPTED, 90
Women, original: 27
Woman, reprint: 30
Women, total: 57

Men, original: 18
Men, reprint: 15
Men, total: 33

Statistics – REJECTED, 420
Women, original: 143
Woman, reprint: 47
Women, total: 190

Men, original: 184
Men, reprint: 46
Men, total: 230

Statistics – TOTAL SUBMITTED, 510
Women, original: 170
Woman, reprint: 77
Women, total: 247

Men, original: 202
Men, reprint: 61
Men, total: 263

It’s interesting to see that we had an almost equal parity between men and women submitting. I find it interesting that women submitted more reprints than men.

Statistics – ACCEPTANCE RATES
Women, original: 15.88%
Woman, reprint: 28.96%
Women, total: 23.07%

Men, original: 8.91%
Men, reprint: 24.59%
Men, total: 12.54%

I also find it interesting that, for the most part, I preferred flash fiction by women authors. One of the biggest reasons for this is the lack of following the submission guidelines. In specific:
1. Rape is not a plot point. Violence for violence’s sake is not a plot point.
2. Horror must have a clear, supernatural element.

These are the two guidelines most broken for EGM.Shorts and mostly broken by male authors. Female authors broke them as well, but not as egregiously as male authors. Unfortunately, according to my slush reader for Speculate!, the same thing is happening there.

Despite some of these issues, I very much enjoyed shepherding EGM.Shorts into existence. The Archives will stay up for at least another year. In the meantime, Speculate! is merrily in progress.




28
Apr

THE TAPE LIBRARY by Josh Roseman

Martha knows her career is ending. She’s known it for years. But when the meeting is called, and she sees that everyone in the conference room is over fifty, she knows she’s out of time.

“A generous severance package,” Mr. Walker says. “Mandated by the company,” Mrs. Butler says. “Gratitude for your years of service,” Mrs. Siglar says.

“Screw you all,” Leonard says. “I quit.” And he gets up and leaves, slamming the door as he goes.

Later, in her cubicle, Martha reads the informational packet they all received. The severance package actually is quite generous—thirty years at the station means sixty weeks of pay, plus the choice to buy medical benefits at the employee rate, means Martha will have plenty of time to find another job. And unlike some of her co-workers, she actually bothered to keep up with technology over the past thirty years. She knows she’ll be all right.

Martha freshens her lipstick and adjusts her sweater, then gets up from her ancient desk chair—she wonders if they’ll let her keep it—and walks down the hall to the ingest station. Downsized or not, she still has a job to do.

#

Martha’s last day of work is a Friday. Her co-workers throw a party for all the veterans who are leaving, and on the air that night, Brian and Henri say something nice during the 6:00 news. After all, everyone being downsized is a true veteran of the television business, with 25 years or more spent at the same station. Martha enjoys being recognized for her work in such a public way, and she appreciates that the parent company—going through quite a financial upheaval of its own—is going to pay her salary for an entire extra year.

After it’s all over, after Dave helps her bring her boxes out to her little Toyota, after hugs goodbye and promises to keep in touch, Martha walks alone, past the edit bays and the graphics suite, past the empty offices and the old training room, and stands at the door of the tape library. She can hear the shelves rattling.

The library is not happy.

Martha steps inside and closes the door gently. The automatic lights flicker on, illuminating row upon row of narrow walkways and high steel shelves. Up close to the door are small blue boxes, no bigger than her hand, with digital tapes. Farther back: containers full of beta tapes. Farther still are canisters with old reels. The station has been around for a long time, almost seventy years, and they never throw anything away. Why should they? There’s plenty of room.

The rattling dies down, but Martha can feel the heaviness in the air. “This is it,” she says, her voice soft. She steps into the nearest aisle and strokes the spine of a binder of DVDs. Her fingers tingle. “This is good-bye.”

One of the televisions against the wall flickers to life, and the deck below it glows softly as it powers on. A tape—an old beta, the date close to when she first arrived—floats down the aisle, and she reaches up to take it. She slides the tape into the deck, punches it up on the router, and presses play.

At this point in her life, Martha is no longer surprised by anything her library does—and it is definitely her library. The other editors are almost afraid to come in here, but now she supposes Dave is going to have to learn how to be a librarian. The library has helped her these past few years, as she’s grown older and more easily tired; on bad days, when her knees ached or the young reporters haven’t been respectful, it had picked up on her moods and left her little presents in the tape decks: stories about kittens rescued from trees, or the first baby born in the new millennium.

But this gift is something else. The library has never actually created something for her. This is definitely a creation: from the decades of file footage, the library has created a message for her. She watches, her heart breaking just a little, the thin veneer of “it’s all right” cracking around the edges.

When it’s over, after she’s dried her tears on the edge of her sweater, Martha dubs the tape onto a blank DVD. In her precise handwriting, she labels it “Library Farewell” and drops it into an envelope. When she ejects the tape, it floats back down the aisle, to its shelf.

“Thank you,” she says. She touches the door handle, then looks back. “Good-bye.”

The shelves rattle long after she closes the door. She takes the back exit out of the station, gets into her car, and drives home from her library for the last time.


Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia and makes internets for a living. His new collection, The Clockwork Russian, contains stories published in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, Fat Girl in a Strange Land, and StarShipSofa, among others. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.



26
Apr

The White Snake by Laurie Tom

You didn’t know me the second time you said “Hello.” You couldn’t have known we’d met before, because people don’t believe in spirits in this modern day. Everything is decided, neatly parceled into little bits of what is considered possible and what is not. I am just a myth. But when I look at you, gazing back at me from your seat beside my hospital bed, I know what is real. We are real, what we share is real, and I am dying.

You try to comfort me, fluff my pillow, and ask if you can get me something to drink, and I can’t help but feel touched by your compassion. You have always been a gentle man. That was what drew me to you the first time we met. You couldn’t have known what your actions had meant to a little white snake.

If you still have that gentleness in you, listen to me now. Please. I know you don’t want to believe, but you have to accept.

I was not born in this country of yours, but of a rushing stream in a land its people call the Middle Kingdom. My kind minds the ways of our common cousins and no man can tell the difference if he does not know us well. Most of the spiritfolk remained in the old country, but being a small and curious thing I sailed east across the ocean with the emigrants and landed here, on the land of your people.

At heart, people here are not so different from people there. You grow fields of wheat instead of fields of rice. That doesn’t matter. You still eat. But you do not have the history of believing in us. The people of the Middle Kingdom know us, in the form of superstition if nothing else. Your people have never heard of us at all. But I didn’t mind. I was only a snake.

You remember the day we met, don’t you? It’s only a childhood memory to you, if that at all. Some boys thought to make sport of the strange creature they found in the fields. White, but not albino, it didn’t look like anything they had seen before. Of course they were curious. Of course they wanted to catch it. Even back in the old country boys did such things, but I did not expect to be caught.

Then you came. You were only a child yourself and you drove them back, yelled for them to leave. They scowled and pouted, but they scattered, and you turned to look at me.

“Hello,” you said. “You can go now.”

You could not have understood the thanks in my voice. To your ears my gratitude was nothing but a hiss, but I basked in your compassion as readily as I would have the sun. Seldom does a spirit find itself indebted to a man, but never does one forget to repay what it owes.

I watched you as you grew from boy to man, and I made good on my debt. When you stayed up nights to study I was the one who gathered your things for you so they’d be ready in the morning. That day you wanted lunch but found yourself a quarter short—I placed that coin on the sidewalk where you would find it. A snake could not do very much, even one a bit brighter than the rest, but I tried.

The problem was I wanted more.

You see, I came to know you, your strengths and your faults, and I wanted to be able to be with you without having to hide in the cracks and shadows. I wanted to see you smile at me and know me for who I am.

So I shed my scales, coated my head with hair, and grew limbs from my body in order to resemble a human being. I thought you might not have liked me because I could only look like the people who come from my country, but you didn’t care that my eyes were brown instead of blue, or that my hair was black instead of straw. You were as kind to the woman as you were to the snake.

Though they seem brief now, I do not regret the twenty years spent with you. You cannot know the price my kind pays to maintain a human shape. We can never stay long, as if our lives must be further shorn beyond the longevity we have already lost. Disease has wracked my body in a way that would have been impossible twenty years ago. But I would not change my mind.

My only wish is that you would understand me. We shared so much; life, love, and children, and yet you will never know the whole of me. You don’t believe in spirits and think my stories flights of fancy. You, who have been kind to me in so many ways, are the source of the only cruelty I cannot overcome.

But love forgives, love forgets, and I have long accepted you for what you are. Soon, now, you will have to accept me for what I am.

I tried to tell you that I wasn’t an ordinary girl.

What will you say when I pass on and you see not the body of a woman, but a coiled little serpent with shining marble scales?


Laurie Tom is a third generation Chinese American. She’s been entranced by science fiction and fantasy since childhood and has never been able to stop visiting other worlds. Her work has also appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Galaxy’s Edge, and the Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. This story was previously published in Penumbra.



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.





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