Author: Roger L. Wang
Erik fumbled about in the bed of his echo chamber, knowing it would be a restless night. He eventually got up–not literally, but rather with his mind–and entered the studio.
There, he obsessed and went through every detail of the dream he would later submit in the Test, which was overseen and administered by the high council. His submission would be heavily scrutinized before a final verdict determined his fate: he would either be deemed worthy enough for the title of Crafter or he would be cast away alongside the rest of the Insipids. It wasn’t a literal death sentence, but he knew the rest of his life would be utterly miserable. The Insipids were in charge of menial maintenance tasks upkeeping the facilities, where contempt for them was anything but concealed, their prospects bleak and hopeless. Erik shuddered as he imagined himself hidden down below the depths of society, the glares of guards watching his washed-out jumpsuit silently mop the floor until the day of his death. The worst part was that since Insipids were labeled uncreative, protocol forbade them from ever dreaming. Never mind the constant surveillance, he had no idea how he would survive the shameful nights of fitful, empty rest.
In a futile effort to stop catastrophizing, Erik used a state-sanctioned breathing exercise to no avail. When that didn’t work, he desperately loaded up his rankings to convince himself he was too high up to worry about being sent away. He tried not to notice the fact that he had fallen four spots since the last time it updated, nor how his placement was average at best to begin with. Erik lifted his hand and began the starting sequence of his dream. A few seconds in, Erik frowned and began revising. No, no no, how did I miss this before? he thought, I will surely be deemed unworthy with such banal blues. He shrunk the bed of flowers to a vibrant violet, but after a moment of deliberation decided it was too pedestrian and opted for a prickly purple instead–hoping it would evoke the intended mystique and ambiguity in the eyes of the high council.
Opening one of the expensive hologuides he recently purchased, Erik skipped through redundant and platitudinal advice before landing on a helpful list describing what the high council is likely to find original; he checked through half the symbols but worried any more would make his craft appear trite or gauche. He then proceeded to spend an hour and a half redesigning the garlands in the girl’s hair and perfecting the way they twirled in the wind, eager it would all come together to accentuate the irony and subversion in the end. Finally satisfied, Erik stretched and yawned, beckoning himself to sleep after all he had accomplished–lest he allow poor rest squander his performance for the remaining portions of the Test.
Lying down, Erik smiled as he envisioned himself at the Creative Ceremony, acolytes esteeming him with the title of Crafter. “Creative Erik…Crafter Erik,” he whispered, delighting himself with how it sounded as he drifted off into the darkness.
Author: Rachel Handley
“Ok, now, before you see it, just-”
“Just what, Terry?”
“Just stay calm, be calm I mean.”
Terry opened the door and pointed at a pink creature on the lamppost.
“There’s nothing there, where is it?”
“Look up” Terry said, jabbing his finger in the exact same direction as if that was helpful.
Adam moved closer to Terry’s arm, “I see it. You absolute bell end, how did it even escape?”
“Well, the specimen seemed inert, so I just popped to the kitchen for a coffee”
“For a coffee.” Adam was expressionless.
“For a coffee. And before I knew it the bloody thing was crawling up a lamppost.”
“Well. What did you get me here for? Just capture it!”
“That might be a bit tricky” said Terry
“Because, well, um, it’s eaten already.”
“You let it eat. You let it eat?”
“I didn’t let it do a fucking thing, it scampered past me like a shitty little rat ok?”
“So, it’s eaten a few lampposts already.”
Adam looked at the specimen. Its pink gelatinous body, now bloated and round, was starting to curl around the lamppost and nibble the top of it.
“We are fucked” said Terry
“No” said Adam “You’re fucked, I’m off for a pint”
“It’ll eat your pint!”
Adam walked off; the single finger raised on his hand signalled his goodbye.
Author: Jolie Lindholm
Broque’s earthly ensemble fit like a glove, so comfortable, in fact, that he decided to leave it on for the entirety of our rendezvous. I followed suit. Feeling green and anticipating my first report, I’d already begun peeling at the pale flesh covering my left index finger. I hoped he didn’t notice.
My eyes settled on cheaply painted black bedposts as he spoke, chosen in lieu of real wood.
“Aza? Are you listening?” Broque said.
The aroma of a potted palm tree crept like a vine from behind him. “Yes — yes, I heard you,” I said. “Have you brought it?”
He slid an oversized, tanned appendage into the pocket of his loose powder blue slacks. His greased bangs sprang forward as he leaned in – his right arm outstretched.
There it was. A tiny, unassuming vial that glowed violet from within its glass. It was the Extinction as it became known to us.
Its chill shocked me. I secured it under the elastic of my platinum bouffant wig. I sipped Scotch Whiskey and winced, glad it affected me the same as it would the natives, dulling the blow of what came next.
“You’re on your own now,” Broque said. “I’ve been ordered home. You’re to do this singularly.” The aluminum chair frame bent and creaked under his weight.
“You what?” I said. “This was to be a dual mission. I was promised a partner to help see it through.” The bottom of my khaki bell-bottom caught on the leg of the patio table for a moment.
He squirmed and loosened the galaxy-patterned fat noose around his neck. The white blazer he chose may as well have read “Dr. Broque”, but his bedside manner was terrible. “This wasn’t my choice, but you’ve been prepared for this.”
“I simply refuse to do this alone,” I said.
“Mrs. Beauregard will be the wick,” he said. “Her next office joe will come with a dash of death. Let her gabbing start the spread.”
The scratchy, pink and pottery bedspread was strangely inviting.
“You left for a moment,” he said, tapping his fingers rapidly on the tabletop. “Do you think you can handle this?”
“I—this wasn’t part of the program,” I said. I could feel the words exiting slower than intended. The second glass made things easier to swallow, but I didn’t like my options.
“It’ll have to do. Guard ‘The Extinction’ with your life,” he said. “You have just one chance to lay waste. Think of our kind and what we can build here. Shirley is the perfect host.”
Broque stood abruptly to leave, and I joined him, but my beverage caused the watercolor clouds to shift. He caught my arm as I felt something slippery hit my cheek. We watched in slow motion and gasped in unison as it crashed against the concrete, spilling my one shot at this.
My aqua, saucer-shaped eyes met his, void as night, as I uttered my favorite human expletive, “fuck!”
The sun instantly went out. An alarm blared. My skipping heart was dunked in bile.
“Aza, next time make sure the elastic is tight enough to hold,” Xam said, reduced to a brassy voice in my earpiece. “We may need a smaller wig for that tiny head of yours. Solid, Broque, but more confidence for the next one. There won’t be second chances for the real thing.”
I tore the skin from my natural form and yanked the itchy locks, tossing them aside. I downed the rest of the foreign amber liquid, stars circling, hoping it would help me dream. Tomorrow’s dry run would have to be just that.
Author: Brooks C. Mendell
Every few days, I tote a pail of apple cores, carrot peels and coffee grinds to the steaming compost bin at the far end of our grassless backyard. The chore takes twelve minutes roundtrip.
“That’s a minor inconvenience in the name of sustainability,” I said, delegating this task to my son. “And it will count towards your allowance.”
“Deal,” said Daniel, staring out the window at the darkening sky.
Minutes later, four inches of rain muddied our yard. To save Daniel from wading to the bin, Mom tossed the rotten cabbage from our fridge into the bushes alongside the garage.
I heard her talking to Daniel in the kitchen. “Your Dad isn’t going to like this,” she said. “If he sees it.”
The aliens living in the back of the fridge didn’t like it either. Ever since we picked up the compost bin at a yard sale, we halved the veggies lost to neglect by cycling out old produce. This kept the fridge from smelling like a rent-by-the-week kitchenette. It also cut the food supply to the Meagerbytes thriving in the shadows.
“Eh, Mischa, the mother took your favorites.”
“Aye, Moska, perhaps it’s time we move to the suburbs.”
“Yes.” Pause. “How do we get there?”
“The boy will take us.”
“Look, I don’t pay your allowance so Mom can throw old greens in the yard. Will you please put these in with everything else and haul it to the compost bin like we agreed?”
“Sure thing, Dad,” said Daniel, looking down into the pail. He winked at Mischa and Moska before dropping the rotten cabbage between them and carrying out the moveable feast.
Author: Mark Renney
Dean was amazed that he had managed to hold off for so long. He had decided to languish with the minority, but not because he was in any way pious or had some overly zealous agenda. Dean was a user, had been for all of his adult life, for as long – no actually, it was for longer, than he could recollect.
He remembered the illegal and addictive substances and had been a part of that world. It was a hard place and survival was a constant struggle. It was a shady and murky world and Dean did not want to go back.
For him the transition, like of most of his generation, was effortless and there had been no withdrawal. At first he had to buy the State sponsored substances but once he was working and earning enough they became part of the package and substances were simply something to which he was entitled. That gut-wrenching pain, the all consuming need, quickly became a part of his past and Dean was thankful and appreciative.
But the Grade was different and although not sponsored by the State it was not illegal. Almost everyone was using it and it was accepted. There was no stigma attached to it and no risks involved. It was just adding another pill to the State sponsored cocktail.
Perhaps Dean had held off for so long because to begin buying again felt to him like a step back toward the dark world from which he had managed to escape.
Dean was in the Works canteen, his colleague sitting directly opposite stretched out his hand and nestled in the centre of his palm were two pills.
‘Go on,’ his friend urged, ‘take one, what have you got to lose?’
Dean reached out and snatched one of the pills almost without thinking. He knew of course that it was the Grade. There wasn’t anything else it could be, that a friend could hold out in his hand and proffer.
‘Go on,’ his friend repeated. ‘Try it, you won’t regret it.’ Dean popped the pill into his mouth and swallowed.
But he did regret it, instantly. And throughout the day he became increasingly more anxious about how the Grade would affect him, what would he feel? Would it be something new? Different? Or would it be something old that he had forgotten?
Dean thought about the life he had managed to carve out for himself. The tiniest of slices in the largest of pies and for so long he had felt safe and secure. And then the Grade began to take effect and it did feel like something new and he felt different and he began to forget.