Author : Jennifer C. Brown a.k.a Laieanna

I was twelve when the world went mad. Mom saw it coming well before then and she prepared, stocking up on goods and drilling into me the importance of keeping secret our supply. At first the epidemic seemed to spread slowly, starting in third world countries, but soon after it grew at an incredible rate. The states, last to fall, were affected within three months time.

“Keep it hidden,” Mom used to whisper in my ear. I’d sit on her big lap, lay my head on her pillow breasts, and watch movies she had stashed under the floorboards of our trailer. “Never let them look at you closely and keep the warehouse to yourself. I’m trusting you, girl.”

And that’s how it was. Mom stayed in our secluded trailer. I continued school till I was fourteen. It was hard keeping the teachers and nurses from poking at me, but mom had an excuse ready for everything. When she died, I quit going.

She was hard to bury. It took me three days to drag her out of the trailer and far enough that the critters wouldn’t bother me. Later, I went to town with what money I had. Joggers, walkers, and bikers crowded the streets. Kids jump roped in parks and threw balls over traffic lights. Even the old were out. Every one of them fit and trim, barely breathing hard. Why she had to die in spring, I’ll never know. I drew my winter coat closer to my body. There were plenty of stares, but I still felt secure inside its linings.

I only had enough money for two bottles of bleach. I tried running back home, just to get away, but pain in my side stopped me time and again. When concerned people tried coming to help, I’d run again, just letting the air burn my lungs.

The smell and sorrow wrecked me. Tears never stopped rolling down my cheeks. It hurt to clean, my body tired. It hurt to see, eyes stinging from the chemicals. It hurt to think. I missed Mom. Fed up with trying, I took the secret key and headed for the warehouse. There was still plenty of food in the trailer, but I wanted to see what Mom died for.

After walking two hours, I could smell the sweetness wafting from the warehouse. Inside, I turned on the light and basked in the beauty. Mom had separated everything mainly by taste. Twinkies and ding dongs adorned most shelves. An assortment of Little Debbies lay in bins for surprise pickings. That world of health food and exercise didn’t know what they had when they started shutting down the factories. Mom did and she wasn’t letting them take that away from us. I pulled my shirt away from my stomach, scrunching up the hole that had worn through with the years and scooped at least fifteen twinkies from the shelf. Spreading my snacks over the floor, I sat, planning to eat till I puked.

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The Key

Author : KimBoo York

Tandoo sat on the steps, turning the key over in his hand. It was a silver stick, long and blank, and heavy. The door behind him stood solid and bright, just as without character as the key.

He held the key up and let the sunlight glint off the surface. The door would open onto a new world for him, he knew, but it was the key that had power over his life. His key. The key was a gift. It was not stolen. Still, he felt guilty, sitting on the steps with the key in his hands.

A hint of delicate, lacey latticework trim peeked over the top of the door frame. From that small bit of ornament, Tandoo constructed in his imagination a whole world – a whole life, in fact. It was full of white, clean architecture and lush, green gardens, and he loved to envision himself walking through those gardens in a light yellow pantsuit on his way to…

“You still here?” Mako walked up.

His sister was portly and kind, and worried. It seemed to Tandoo that she never stopped worrying about him.

“You need to go. You know the Corps will be grabbing boys soon for service. Off planet, right? Deep space. To fight the Unity.You need to go.”

He nodded. It wasn’t their war and no one wanted the village boys to go. He was lucky, as in blessed-by-ancient-gods lucky, to have the key.

“Go.” Mako turned and walked away.

He stood up and faced the door. The small square keyhole was in the middle of the door, so he reached up and slid the key in. He waited.

When Mako returned, Tandoo was gone. His key was sitting on the ground next to the door. She took it, even though everyone knew that once a key was used, it was worthless. She looked at the door, and stood on tip toe to view the lattice trim work that hinted at the other side. It was more like a garden fence, the wall that the door was in: 20 feet tall and running forever into the rest of the world. It was a division to be respected but not understood. Mako thought maybe Tandoo understood it now that he was on the other side, but then again over there it might be just a wall the same way it was in her world. She had her suspicions.

At home with the other twelve siblings, no one asked her about Tandoo. Their mother cooked stew and looked very tired.

Tandoo threw the key back over the wall. On this side, the door trim looked faded and unkempt. There were no gardens here, and no one to greet him, and when he realized that this world was the same world he just left, he threw the key back. There was no keyhole on this side to let him return, anyway.

“You made it.” Mako walked up, smiling and in a worn, dull dress he had never seen before.

“Mako? How…?”

“No, I’m not your same sister. I’m a different sister, the same, I guess, but on this side it’s all a little different.”

Tandoo, shocked, stood still. Mako shrugged.

“I’m sorry, but when the Unity takes our people to fight the Corps, we try to get a replacement from the other side. They drafted my Tandoo last week. But now you’re here, everything will be just fine.”

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We Are the World

Author : Grady Hendrix

Gaunt women in ankle-length gomesi bent over the stagnant pool and filled plastic buckets.

“There’s not much of anything in Rorongi. No electricity. No running water,” Walter Bennett said earnestly. “No hope.”

Emaciated children, feet swollen from protein deprivation, clung to their mothers’ skirts as they walked back to the village, buckets full of heavy, black water on their heads. Walter Bennett looked directly into the camera.

“With no other source of fresh water, they come here every day. An entire village dependent on this tiny pond for life.” He began to stroll along the bank.

“Water for washing, cooking and drinking all drawn from the same source. Disease is prevalent. Malaria is a – oh for Christ’s sake!”

He bumped into another spokesman, also with his suit jacket slung over his shoulder, also with his shirtsleeves rolled up, also speaking compassionately about the plight of Rorongi village.

“Look, mate,” the other man said. “We were here first.”

“I don’t care. I’m Walter Bennett.”

“I don’t care if you’re Bill Clinton, we booked the pond.”

Three of the emaciated women came over.

“What going on?” one said. “You need be finish by three o’clock cause Intergalactic Geographic come do b-roll for ‘Feed The Earth’ Telethon.”

“Screw this,” Walter said, ripping off his radio mic. “I’m a professional. I don’t have time for this rubbish.”

The director hurried over.

“We’ll sort this, man. Gimme ten, okay? You wanna go to your trailer? Have lunch?”

“Talk to my agent,” Walter said, storming off to his helicopter.

“Remind me never to work with these wankers again, Henry,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” said his pilot, taking off and heading South.

Below them the famine-wracked poverty zone gave way to the enormous, green suburbs of Capetown. Swimming pools, heliports, private casinos, backyard polo fields – the result of an endless stream of intergalactic poverty relief money. Most of the planet looked like this, except for the poverty reserves.

Walter videoconferenced the network president. An expensive call, but Walter was an expensive man.

“What’s the rumpus?” J.R. Moses asked. “Egos? Experience? Money? Is it a money thing?”

“I’m tired of doing this,” Walter said.

“And so you snapped. Happens to the best of us. Take a half day then go back tomorrow ready to care.”

“I don’t want to go back tomorrow,” Walter exploded. “I want to, I want to go out there and tell all those bloody aliens what’s going on. I want to bring one of them down here and show them what we’ve done with their money. I want to bust this whole thing wide open.”

He had J.R. for a moment, then:

“Jeezis, don’t scare me like that you crazy so-and-so. For a second there – “

“I’m an actor, J.R.”

“And a damn good one. Put your afternoon on our dime, whatever you want. Then go back tomorrow and work! The lifestyle to which we’ve grown accustomed depends on you.”

Walter turned to Henry.

“Set a course for the MGM Grand, Soweto.”

“Yes, sir,” said Henry. And they flew on into the glittering African sky.

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The Latest Model

Author : Jennifer Parsons

To any who watch television, the researcher’s setup should be plenty familiar, especially so to an old R&D man like myself. Two rooms, divided by a big sheet of glass; on one side sits a table loaded with datatablets and a control panel of various buttons and switches. On the other side of the glass is a car, yellow markers placed strategically all over its surface, a dummy belted into the front seat. There are straight lines painted on the floor and walls along with more yellow markers.

The only difference between this room and any other crash test facility is the two deer wandering in front of the car, looking scared and confused.

“What’s with the fauna?” I ask.

The guy in the lab coat smiles at my question. It’s a greasy smile. I don’t like it.

“They’re part of my demonstration.” He tells me as he tweaks a few more knobs.

After checking the status of a readout screen, he presses a button and speaks into the air.

“We’re ready, go ahead.”

Technicians in another room somewhere flip a switch and I watch helplessly as the car jolts forward, gaining momentum. The mother and fawn freeze in the headlights and a second later blood and bone fly everywhere along with crash debris.

My stomach churns and I turn away from the wreck in disgust.

“What the hell was that about?”

The researcher is checking his readout again, still smiling as if he knows something I don’t.

“You dragged me down here so you could prove how efficiently the Electro IV kills off wildlife?”

“Sir,” he fixes me with a steady, serious gaze. “I would never waste your time on something as trivial as that.”

The grin creeps back across his face as he points at the glass. “If you’ll please return your attention to the wreck?”

My curiosity is piqued. Bracing myself, I turned back to the glass.

Two bloody carcasses lie a few feet from where the deer once stood.

“Watch carefully, please.” The researcher says, his voice full of anticipation.

He pushes a button on the remote in his hand and the carcasses pull in on themselves, forming two ovoid shapes on the floor. A moment later a hard shell forms around the outside of each, their bright, red blood darkening to a rich black.

After another moment, the shells crack open and a pair of feet emerged from each husk followed by a head, then a torso and soon two beautiful deer stood side by side, glancing around the room nervously.

I turn to the researcher, a grin of sly knowledge now creeping across my own face.

“Impressive nano application you’ve got there.” He chuckles under his breath and I continue. “You know, there are some stretches of Route 287 where something like that could cause a lot of accidents.”

The researcher nods. “Disaster does keep the economy flowing these days.”

I return his nod. “Insurance rates would go up, hospitals beds would fill, car dealerships would have their hands full.”

“Not to mention the increased need for mortuary services.” He fiddles with a knob and waits for me to ask the question already forming on my lips.

“I think my employers would be most interested in any other models you might have to offer. What else have you got?”

He presses a button, opening a hatch in the wall. An adorable, spotted puppy trots out, wandering up to the deer. He starts sniffing their feet.

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Secret Agent World

Author : Grady Hendrix

John’s antenna went up, his senses clicked into hyperdrive, adrenaline slammed through his veins: grilled chicken breast!

“Really?” he said.

“I picked it up at Fairway. You want to eat while we watch ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’”

TV during dinner? Eating off trays? It meant a blind drop. Charts, diagrams, lists of coded gestures unfolded in his mind. His mnemonic devices were always old, heavy paper with brittle edges and the solid feel of starched linen. In his mind, the light was always the warm organic glow of candlelight.

“Sure. I don’t know why we’re watching, though. After Hok got voted off that show is dead to me.”

Mira heard his Hok reference: her ready message acknowledged, he was primed.

They continued to chitchat while he got plates: the red ones. On top of the Signal Language they both knew, there was their own private code. The chicken was skinless, a low fat meal, this meant she’d had personal contact to receive this mission.

“Do you want wine?”

“But use the old glasses.”

The old glasses, meaning the target would be revealed later. They talked to each other in gestures, and it was as clear as speaking. He thought it was as clear as speaking. But they’d never exactly worked out the meanings together because there had never been a time when they weren’t being watched. Watchfulness was eternal because machines never slept. The TV was always pumping your image back to the buried engines, the bugs had always been in the walls, their doorman had always been reporting on them, they had always been reporting on their doorman. So they had worked out their secret language through trial and error and for one vertiginous moment he thought: what if I’ve got it all wrong. What if the old glasses mean something completely different?

“Do you think Lacey’s got a big ass?”

“I think Lacey tries too hard,” he said, as they ate off the coffee table.

Mira paid close attention to the order of the contestants and which one was assigned which call-in number. At the third commercial break she said, “Did you return Netflix?”

He put his tray down.

“I’ll do it now.”

“You don’t have to. I just wanted to watch something tomorrow night and I think ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ is next in our queue.”

He grabbed the Netflix envelopes and an umbrella.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

He waved to the doorman and walked to the mailbox. Listening devices, video cameras, pressure plates in the sidewalk, they surrounded him, here in the heart of the city, in the heart of the enemy. He dropped the envelopes in the mailbox and on his way home, he opened the umbrella. It was broken. He left it, upside down, jammed in a trash can on the corner, sending a secret signal out into the city, waiting to be seen by someone he had never met, another soldier in the invisible army. He never looked back. You had to take this war on faith.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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