Herring rushed down the wet road toward the dock. Thirteen minutes till the grid went live. Thirteen, an unlucky number. Herring thought about knocking on one of the doors in the first class residential district, pretending to be a businessman trapped by his late hours. It would have worked before his counterfeit identification card had been confiscated. He paid good money for that thing and now it was a loss. No one would believe he was second class without identification.

This morning, the city had turned the season to winter, the big clock that dominated the North side displaying a snowflake for the seasonal shift. It was almost ten o’clock, curfew, and the temperature was dropping.

Nine minutes.

Herring ran past merchant quarter, and those dark windows, everyone already home well in time for curfew. The only people out now were the police, flying above the streets in their hover copters. Herring ran for a block and then stopped taking eight seconds to run back to the alleyway next to the Cookie Crumble store.

Seven minutes.

Herring remembered one winter night spent without protection, how before the morning he began to wish for unconsciousness, that he might slip under the water and just die. The memory of the cold and the wet made him shiver. At the bottom of the silver Cookie Crumble dumpster, under the oily boxes and burnt cookies there was a blackened tarp. The tarp smelled terrible, like ash and oil. Herring pulled it out of the dumpster and broke into a mad dash. The cold air flowed into his chest, cooling him from the inside with each deep breath. His face flushed, the wind smacking his cheeks, but he could not stop.

Three minutes.

The dock was in sight, He could see the little crowd gathered next to the only pier with a broken scanner, dark figures under glow lamp. They shuffled under the pier, slipping into the water. Herring balked. It was two minutes early! How could they go into that water a full two minutes early?

He felt the heat on the bottom of his shoes and cursed. His watch was wrong. Herring cursed the guy that sold him the thing, the shop it was replicated in and himself, for not double checking the time. He was running during the Hot Minute. The minute before the system went live, the city turned the heat up on the sidewalks. His shoes were melting, making sticky rubber marks on the faux wood boardwalk.

Thirty seconds.

His feet were boiling; he could feel his heels burning, his socks absorbing the melting rubber. The ground sparked, and Herring screamed, falling on one knee. Current ran up his leg and shook him violently. Herring forced himself up and forward. His mouth and eyes were frying; his bones were shaking inside of him. He screamed again. Nearly there. A few more steps. He leaped into the water, under the pier, the salt water burning his feet, bringing water to his eyes. He gasped for breath and stumbled, head slipping under the water. He found footing and forced himself up, splashing. The cold bit him viciously, and slammed into his wounds. The chill of the winter ocean hung around his shoulders. He heard grumbling in the darkness.

“Sorry, sorry.” Herring shook his head and touched the bottom of his feet, which burned his fingers. “Shit.” He stuck his fingers in his mouth, trying to suck off the salt.

“That tarp smells awful.” Said someone in the darkness.

Herring wrapped it around his body, waist deep in the water. “It’s all I got.”


It’s tough to tell when someone disappears. You always just figure they’re busy at work, or studying for finals, or on vacation, or something of the sort, so none of us thought anything was strange when we didn’t see Nodek for a while. Actually, to be brutally honest, none of us even noticed. I mean, he was kind of quiet to begin with, and only piped up when he had something to say. Half the time, you’d have to check the room list to know that he was even there. So I don’t know how long it took us. Maybe a week. Maybe two. But then, one day, this troll shows up and says something like:

NoobLOL42: star wars is for fagz!!!

We don’t get trolls very often, but Nodek was some kind of film geek, so he’d always rip them a new one in words that none of us understood. It was pretty funny to watch, actually, and it became kind of a running joke. So Jil says:

AdminJil4984: nodek? u hungry?

and there was no reply.

NoobLOL42: whos nodek?

AdminJil4984: whos nodek?!?!?!?!?!?

The last one to see him had been 3jane, who said she was in PM with him a few weeks ago, but when we tried to check the logs we got a server error. We weren’t freaked, though. Like I said, people come and go. We shot off a few PMs, but since we figured he was just on vacation or something, it took another week or so before we tried it oldschool with email. Mailerdaemoned.

At least a month had passed. A month. This is Nodek we’re talking about.

Admin3jane: does ne1 know his real name?

AdminJil4984: i got his mstracker number

Admin3jane: ??

AdminJil4984: 55772.0619.086/okl

We ran it. Nothing. Not just disconnected, either. It was like the hardware had never been MSregged. 3jane tried the chatlogs again, though, and this time, the request went through.

Admin3jane: its not here

AdminKack1: what?

Admin3jane: hes not in the logs. theres no profile either.

I checked. She was right. His profile was gone. When I went back over some of the logs, it seemed like he’d never been there. I remembered every conversation, but the lines I could have sworn he posted belonged to 3jane and Jil. Some of his stuff even ended up under my name. The funny thing was, I couldn’t be sure I’d never said it. After a few hours in a chat room every day for a year, you start to forget who belongs to what.

AdminJil4984: it must be a bug

Admin3jane: but were not missing ne conversations

AdminKack1: were missing a person!!

AdminJil4984: kack do u rememer nething he said? liek specifically?

AdminKack1: he said a lot of stuff. he liked books. he liked music. wtf? he was nodek. we all remember the stuff he said.

Admin3jane: well we need something exact to search

AdminKack1: thats why we keep logs in the 1st place!

I don’t know why it got to me so much. Like I said, people come and go. People change their names. But Google turned up nothing. AOL turned up nothing. It was like he’d never existed.

Time passed. Weeks, months. I mean, how long? How long do you wait for something like that?

AdminKack1: maybe hes dead

AdminJil4984: nodek?

AdminKack1: yeah. maybe he died and his family erased everything so they wouldn’t be reminded or something.

AdminJil4984: once he said he was going to join the army i think

Admin3jane: and they unregged his old pc? come on.

AdminKack1: maybe hes in the secret service

NoobSharick: who r u talking about?

AdminKack1: nodek

NoobSharick: ??

AdminKack1: he hasnt been around in a while, sharick

NoobSharick: ive been here months and i never saw him

AdminJil4984: this was before your time

Admin3jane: kack, jil, let it go. hes not in the logs

NoobSharick: ur making this up

AdminKack1: why the hell would i make this up

NoobSharick: maybe he never existed at all

AdminKack1: stfu noob, this is none of ur business

NoobSharick: im just sayin

AdminJil4984: he was here. we remember him

NoobSharick: but i dont

AdminJil4984: well have a cookie asshole


Admin3jane: wtf?

AdminJil4984: 3j, he was one of us even if hes dead or in the secret service or w/e.

Admin3jane: maybe he just had better stuff to do than sit online all goddamn day. maybe he erased himself.

AdminKack1: nodek wouldn’t do that.

Admin3jane: w/e. who knows. hes gone now and thats what matters.

AdminKack1: hes not gone, 3j. hes out there somewhere. people dont just disappear.

Sometimes, years later, I still Google him. I still email him. It’s always bounced, though. Absolutely nothing. But he has to be out there somewhere. People don’t just disappear.

Pile Of Dead Things

The surprise was ready. Melanie had worked hard to ensure that this November would be the most wondrous time that her daughter, Fawn, had ever experienced. She’d made all the right calls and had the work done in a forest around their estate. As the workers departed, she left them with thanks and heart-felt appreciation for their services. They even received a fresh coating of sunscreen on their way out.

The laborers exited with large mallets in their hands only minutes before young Fawn was due home from school. In the coastal town of Nashville it was hard to find trees in abundance, so Melanie had chosen an estate an overview of a small forest near the backyard. Still, the great melting pushed the ocean closer and closer to their home, and Melanie worried that one day, all of the trees would be lost.

When the bus pulled up and the doors swooshed open, Fawn smiled to all of her friends and exited the yellow vehicle. She swung her UV umbrella held over her right shoulder as she skipped up the driveway to her mother. “Mommy, it’s my birthday!” she announced with a grin.

“I know, sweetie! I know! I got a big surprise for you waiting out back, too!”

“Really!?” The little girl’s squeal could not be contained as she took off, almost dropping her umbrella in the excitement. She tore around the house with her mother walking slowly in her wake, and when Melanie finally passed the gate, the most glorious scream of joy echoed across the yard.

There, amidst the naked sun-scorched field of grass, a huge pile of brown, crispy leaves flew from her daughter’s hands. The girl had already ditched her umbrella to dash up onto the deck and climb so that she could jump upon the pile. “Mommy, are they real? Where did you get all these leaves!?”

Melanie smiled with her arms crossed and gave her daughter a knowing smile. It was easy to believe these were fake dead leaves. In the perpetual summer, leaves never even turned yellow. “I had some workers come by and kill a few trees a few months back.” she said. “They collected them today and brought them out here just for you!”

Fawn smiled broadly, and when her mother watched her dive into the pile of flaky brown shapes, she knew it had been worth the cost and effort. The crunching sounds of the leaves brushing one another filled the yard as the girl swam her way out then dove back in as soon as she had reached the edge. The neighbors were watching at this point, amazed at the pile of dead things strewn about the yard across from them.

The day continued until the searing sun began to set, and Melanie picked up her little one to carry her inside. “That’s enough for now, sweetie,” she said.

“But Mommy, what if they turn green tomorrow? They’ll all go away!”

Inside, Melanie laid the child in her bed and pulled the covers over her shoulders. “Don’t worry, sweetie,” she said with a warm smile. “They won’t be green tomorrow. They’ll be just as dead as they were today.”

This Year's Aristogiton

“Half-man, half-dinosaur!” A voice-over perfectly matched with the combination of human and tyrannosaurus genes that hovered above Zyi Izaiah Eizenberg’s holo snapped him awake. “The perfect candidate! He literally devours his opponents! Kennedy Rex wants what you want, and is not afraid to use his 4-foot long bone crushing jaws to get it!”

“You can’t believe the news today,” Zyi thought to himself, rubbing what sleep remained out of his eyes. “No one will ever take a Galactic Prime Minister seriously with those tiny little arms.” Then again, Zyi had heard that those diminutive appendages were apparently used for titillation during sex. The old boy may have shot in politics after all, depending on how quick his reflexes are.

Zyi smoothed out his old flight jacket so it looked less like he slept in it and strapped his goggles on. He had the holo set for a continual search on Kennedy Rex for purely research purposes; Zyi hadn’t counted on the man-lizard’s career being so boring that he’d fall asleep watching. Such was the inherent benefit and problem with having your political leaders grown from a lab: they had no real time to fuck up their careers. Not that it made Zyi’s job any harder, just more dull.

Zyi dialed his goggles for maximum visual pollution filter, blanking out pop-up displays and the sidewalk- and wall-embedded screens, leaving his only distractions the people in front of him and the cars on the street. Zyi had heard that the new implants don’t let you blank out that much, on the grounds that blanking out that much of the world made you unable to cope with the world around you. Which is why Zyi preferred his antique goggles. He liked to cope with the world as little as possible.

Boring as he was, Kennedy Rex was easy to find. When a six-hundred pound Prime Minister Candidate gave a press conference, there were only so many places it could happen. And a football stadium was out of the question. Not when the season had just started. The fans were already too used to the sense of blood, and, having camped out in the stadium for the duration of the season, they were eager for fresh meat. No, it would have to be outdoors. So Zyi took the mono to Fu Manchu Park, his goggles filtering out just about everything that would remind him of the era he was living in.

“See the Lizard King! Alive, alive, alive! ” Kennedy Rex’s press secretary was working up a good crowd. Early in her career she had speakers implanted in her chest, and those vocal mammories spewed forth sound bites in mesmerizing staccato. “Bear witness, folks, to the man, the monster, the future Prime Minister of the Galactic State! Forget what you think you know! Believe your eyes and your ears as this man, this monster takes your needs to heart! Truly, he is a symbol of the very times we live in!”

Kennedy made a benign gesture with his miniscule arms, but Zyi saw a look he recognized in the candidate’s eyes. A look of a predator, the look of hunger. Zyi had seen it enough on his own face.

Zyi closed his eyes and tried to recall the dream he always had, over and over, of a world he remembered but didn’t see anymore. He was pretty sure there were no mutant carnivorous reptile government leaders, but he wasn’t positive. The only thing he knew for sure was the job.

“I’ve got a question for the candidate!” Zyi shouted. “Do you know the times?”

Fire, holy vengeance, atomic blast, indignation. All these and several more erupted from Zyi’s raygun, leaving nothing more than a burned torso with emaciated arms and a cumbersome tail where the Possible Future Prime Minister once roared. Security was unsurprisingly useless, considering the might of the candidate. He was a part dinosaur, after all.

With the air thick with bar-be-qued lizard and the ozone of flash bulbs, Zyi removed his goggles and let the chaos flow over him.

Another job well done.


“So what you’re saying is that—”

“What I’m saying is that I want you to look at me when you speak!” Christie scowled at her husband. It was an argument they’d had at least a dozen times in the six months they’d been married.

“That’s what webcams are for.” Joel was stiff and tense, as he always was when talking in person.

“No. That is not the same.” Christie flung her arms out wide. “We spent two years in a long-distance relationship, Joel! Is it too much to ask that you talk to me every once in a while, not the words I write on your computer screen?”

“Christie… can’t we… calm down and talk about this like… civilized people?” Joel’s words always came after a delay in which he hesitated, going over them mentally, trying to make sure they were worded correctly before letting his wife see them.

“You mean talk about it over instant messenger!”

“No, no, I just mean—”

“You do! Don’t deny it, Joel Eric Stevenson. You don’t… you don’t love my body!” Christie used her Patented Wife’s Secret Weapon: the pouty trembling lip that threatened tears.

“No!” Joel was aghast. “Baby, no. I love your body. I could look at it all day…”

“On a computer screen! I want you to touch me, Joel! I want you, not some USB dildo! The Boyfriend Buddy was fine when we were just dating, but a wife deserves more! Don’t we have a marriage?”

Joel hastily crossed the room, awkwardly putting his hands on his wife’s shoulders and squeezing them. “Of course we have a marriage, sweetie,” he told her big brown doe-like eyes.

Christie sniffled artfully. “Really?”

“Really,” Joel promised her.

“Then how about you prove it to me, you big strong man, you?” Christie smirked, her eyes glittering with mischief, and slid her hand suggestively around Joel’s waist. Her husband’s eyes lit up.

“Great! I’ll go log on!”

Christie smacked her hand to her forehead. This was obviously going to take some work.