Author: Kristin Kirby

You get coffee. You glance around. A dozen people sip beverages or talk or stare into their computers.
You sit. Then you spot him.
He’s at the counter. He looks at the menu board. You watch him order, watch him pay.
“Thank you,” he says with a smile. “Have a great day.”
You press buttons on your device.
He’s terse the second time. “Thanks.” No smile.
You watch him take his coffee and sit. He drinks his coffee, scrolls messages on his phone. His movements are fluid, natural. Whoever built him did a good job.
After a moment he raises his head and looks at the people in the coffee shop. His expression is open, friendly. He smiles at a mother and child sharing cocoa.
You press buttons on your device. His expression turns blank. He goes back to his phone.
Eventually, he stands, walks to the recycle bin. His hand hovers. You press buttons on your device. He moves to the other bin and drops his cup into the overflowing trash.
Outside, cars move like sludge, trapped by traffic lights. The sidewalk throngs with busy people, eyes straight ahead or on their phones.
You watch him fall into step with the other pedestrians, walk briskly. You follow a few feet behind. His gait is seamless, no noticeable errors there. You send a note to your supervisors telling them you’re impressed with his construction.
He walks by storefronts and gray towering buildings. Then he slows and swivels his head. There’s a bird in a tree, singing. He’s listening with a rapt expression. You sigh and press buttons on your device. He strides past the tree and doesn’t pay attention to the bird.
Ahead, the sudden blare of a car horn, the squeal of brakes. A shriek of pain cut short.
He hurries toward the growing crowd of onlookers. In the street, cars have stopped. Behind the wheel of one car, a woman sits dazed.
Partway under the woman’s car splays a little girl, bleeding, moaning. The onlookers pull out their phones, snap pictures, gawk, snap more pictures.
You watch him push through the crowd. He pulls out his phone. But he doesn’t take pictures.
You watch him rush to the street.
You watch him kneel beside the moaning little girl and punch 9-1-1 into his phone, talk urgently. He leans down to check the little girl.
You inform your supervisors this one will need a complete rewrite. He isn’t acting like a human. Then you delete him.

Father, Mother and Child

Author: Antoinette Constable

A three-year-old boy stumbles along the streets, long after bedtime, holding his
mother’s hand. They are skirting barricades, guns, uniforms. The mother longs to lie
down and sleep a long sleep somewhere safe, somewhere dry, yet she keeps trudging, pretending it’s not raining, pretending that soon, she’ll be home for dinner in her house, with her dark-haired child and his father. At dusk two days ago, the boy’s father suggested that she and the boy rest inside a covered cart on the road. Without warning,the cart was driven off with them as he tried to jump in. They saw him run, screaming to wait for him at the next village church, until the currents of the crowd absorbed him.
Three days and nights on church steps. Unwashed, with her unwashed boy sleeping,
nestled against her hip. She wants to go back. She has no map, no friends, nowhere to go.

Chaotically, people flee south, ditching cars that ran out of gas, discarding luggage,
pets, furniture pell-mell along the road, tramping ahead on foot away from advancing
armies rumored to slash women and children’s throats after shooting the men. When
Enemy planes or hail slash the asylum seekers, they take cover under planks, under
Cars, inside cars. In the next nearly deserted town, the woman and the boy who no longer talks. Late afternoon, she finds a church where an old priest says mass alone among candles. She rummages inside her purse and scribbles the boy’s name on a scrap of paper which she pins on his pocket, telling him to sit right there on the parvis and wait for her. He must be very good, she’ll soon be back. Wait, she says. Wait for me. Understand? Kisses both his cold cheeks. No looking back. No goodbye.

He can’t tell his full name or where he comes from. His parents have lost him, yet it is
he who must live in an orphanage. They shave his head against lice. No food is given him until he calls, “Mother,” a woman who never bore a child, “Father,” a celibate in black, “Sister,” hairless women with wings over their ears. At city hall, eventually, someone assigns him a last name, a birth date. At playtime, he draws planes, bombs, and people broken into pieces with blood spurting sideways. He sometimes draws houses, tongue protruding from his mouth. Houses with roofs and chimneys and walls of evenly stacked bricks and stones. Then school, anonymous in a dull uniform. Fights. Foster homes.Prizes. Scholarships. He’s an architect with a patient, consuming urge to build a house in which to live with two familiar strangers.

The Past is a Portal

Author: Mark Joseph Kevlock

“Why, sir, the past is a portal to happiness!” the interior re-decorator barked.

“I guess,” Smithfield hedged. “I’m just not sure about this anymore.”

“But the work is complete! Your living room, your entire downstairs, your upstairs, your backyard, even — all are redressed in sync with 1976 and ready for transport. With just the push of a button, you will be reliving your childhood memories once again!”

Smithfield surveyed the living room around them. He had to admit: they did excellent work at Timespace Incorporated. Every detail had been accurately recreated from the numerous photographs he supplied. The color of the rug, the texture of the paneling… even the holographic simulation of a typical day on Main Street that ran outside of the big bay window facing the front. Darned if his neighbors didn’t wave to him from across the street — computer-generated images compiled from public records such as driver’s licenses and various newspaper clippings. Even those who had died decades ago, like Old Man Feelaw, lived again!

Mortonson the re-decorator cleared his throat loudly.

“Ah, yes, your payment in full,” Smithfield said.

“Quite good, sir. Enjoy!” Mortonson departed.

Smithfield stood alone, cradling the control box. The refrigerator was stocked with 1970’s food. He didn’t plan on coming back for a long while. Life had gotten too tough for Smithfield. Too many disappointments. Too many of his family and friends no longer living. Smithfield pressed the button. The simulation fully activated. 1976 was his!

Later on, he could watch primetime TV. But for now, Smithfield stepped out into his childhood backyard. The gym set hadn’t been torn down. The walnut tree still stood. Even the sun in the sky was as he remembered it. Smithfield wept. The surrounding neighborhood wasn’t really there, of course. But Smithfield was. And that was all that mattered. Or was it?

Smithfield pressed the button again. 1976 deactivated. Smithfield called Mortonson back to the house.

“A problem, sir? Most unheard of! But rest assured — ”

“There’s no problem,” Smithfield said. “Not as regards your re-creation, at any rate.”

Smithfield handed the control box to the re-decorator.

“The problem is with me. I just can’t make the leap. I thought I wanted to escape. But not that completely. For a moment, as I stood there, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. You understand, don’t you?”

Mortonson nodded, suddenly more a psychologist than a salesman. “A very common reaction, Mr. Smithfield, just between you and me….”

Peace Offering

Author: Roger Ley

Riley signed for the package and came back inside the house.
‘What was the delivery?’ asked his wife Barbara looking up from her tablet?
He looked at the label. ‘Actually, it’s from Estella.’
‘Your ex-wife?’
‘How many other Estellas do I know? Apparently, she’s trekking in some National Park in Brazil at the moment.’
‘Been keeping in touch with her, have you?’ asked Barbara.
‘Estella stays in touch with a woman at the office and she told me,’ he said.
Riley understood her anxiety. The new younger wife needing to be sure he no longer had feelings for the mother of his children.
‘I expect she’s trying to walk off her feelings. That was the whole point of her taking a sabbatical after our divorce.’ Eager to change the subject he tore open the package. ‘It looks like a bulb or corm, it’s a plant, anyway. Hang on, there are instructions. We’re supposed to plant it in a pot of damp compost and leave it on a windowsill.’
Barbara grunted and went back to her tablet. Riley knew better than to expect her to do the watering. He planted the bulb, a shoot appeared within a few days and the tip immediately began to form a fat bud.
Two weeks later, he came down into the kitchen and found that the bud had opened and produced a strange and beautiful red bloom. He’d seen nothing like it, so he used the FlowerChecker app on his phone. Barbara came down a few minutes later, tousled from sleep and wearing the silk dressing gown he’d bought for her, looking lovely even without her makeup.
‘Where’s my tea, you said you’d bring me one up?’
Riley ignored her, he’d double bagged the plant and put it into their wood-burning stove. He was kneeling, adding paper and kindling from the basket at its side.
‘What are you doing?’ asked his wife.
He stood, picked up his phone and read from the screen. ‘I can’t pronounce the name but it says, “Proto-carnivorous plant. The flowers’ spores secrete an opiate-like psychoactive substance, which causes a rush of pleasure as they are inhaled. The spores lodge in the sinus cavities of the victim and develop filaments which infiltrate the brain and quickly kill it. They utilise the nutrients of decay in their growth cycle.” Nasty, very nasty Estella,’ he muttered.
‘That bitch, she tried to kill us,’ said Barbara.
‘Hell, hath no fury….’
‘Yes, but murder.’
‘Look, I’m not excusing her but she hasn’t got over our affair and the final break up of the marriage. She can’t accept the relationship was on its wobbly last legs and our affair was just the final push. Until she accepts that, she won’t be able to take the step from anger to acceptance.’
‘Yes, we’ve gone over this repeatedly. She just has to come to terms with it. You both changed as time passed, you weren’t the same people you were when you married twenty years ago.’
Yes, thought Riley, but we went through a lot together and now she’s alone.
‘What are you going to do about it?’
‘Burn this bloody thing first,’ he said as he knelt and struck a match, ‘and then send her an email.


Dear Estella,
Thanks for the bulb, it looks very interesting. Barbara and I are going on holiday for a month, so I gave it to your sister. It’ll be a nice little project for her and her kids. I’ll be interested to see what it grows into, something exotic I expect.
Thanks again, and I hope this means you’re moving on emotionally and getting over your feelings of bitterness towards Barbara and me. I hope that, in the interest of our sons, we can become friends eventually. Let’s move on like adults.
I’m sure you’ll find somebody to share your life with soon. After all, they say fifty is the new forty and you’re still closer to fifty than sixty.
Best regards,


RE: The Impending Invasion

Author: Abigail Hughes

Current Proprietors of Earth,

We are drafting this letter in response to the riots that took place outside of our headquarters, in the hopes of putting toxic rumors about our organization to rest. If your protest taught us anything, it is that it takes a lot more than bullets, barricades and head wounds to send you home.
It also highlighted aspects of our mission that have been lost in translation. We blame these misunderstandings on fraudulent news sources for their inaccurate representations of us. Depictions of parasitic aliens bent on world domination have plagued your news feeds. No wonder you are so angry!
Firstly, we are not aliens.
We have evolved alongside the human race since it was nothing more than a single cell. We have only been waiting for your population to grow large enough for us to justify integrating.
We also wish to remind you that we only fit the strictest definition of a parasite. If you believe it to be parasitic to assimilate to a lifeform with the eventual goal of increasing their overall productivity, then we advise you to rethink all negative connotations of the word.
As for world domination, our motives are not nearly as superficial. We do not aim to own earth, we wish to work alongside you to shape it into a habitat suitable for all lifeforms.
Unfortunately, we have noticed that the long-term benefits of our reign do not hold your interest. We assume that it is difficult to see the bigger picture when you fear change so strongly. In an effort to appease your single-mindedness, we would like to tell you the story of the body we are using to craft this email. Formerly, Joel.
Joel was the CEO of an important company where he made a fair amount of money. He attained what is considered the “American Dream”. Many assumed that Joel was content, but he had problems that the human eye can not see. Joel was miserable. He lived with the inescapable fear of dying alone. Joel’s entire social life was within the confines of his career, which he grew to hate more every day.
But once we slid into Joel’s spinal cord and took rest in his brain, he was connected to a collective consciousness that wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. He even used his skills in business and marketing to take our agenda to the next level!
Like Joel, your final independent thoughts should not be a panic-stricken “What are you going to do to me!?” but instead “What can I do to aide the assimilation process?”
We appreciate you taking the time to read this email. We understand that this is not an easy transition, but once it is over we will all collectively laugh and wonder what you were so afraid of. While you have no say in our uprising, we are still willing to hear from you. If you see our representatives patrolling the area, dressed in our signature empty eyes and slacking jaw, feel free to address your concerns. Our operatives are trained to make you see it our way.
Please keep in mind that the longer you run from us, the more painful this experience will be. Every hiding place you find will eventually be discovered. All relief you experience is temporary. .Planes must land. Boats must come to shore. We are everywhere, some of us are hiding in your brains right now, waiting until you bring us to a larger collective of unassimilated to activate.

Enjoy your weekend!
We will see you soon.

The Us