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.’
‘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.
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.
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.
Author: Hari Navarro
I found a way into tomorrow but when I got there it didn’t care. Though I burrowed deep through caverns cold and waited patiently for the drugs to take hold this newest of days it took no heed, no, for me this day it could care not one bit. For days they shun all those who fail to wake, those who slight the augmented rays of a sun dying but not yet dead and they who fall deaf to the piped chatter of sill birds now long since burnt and gone.
I am the traveler that never moves, laying here beneath pristine sheets so taut and so true, so swaddling tight that I could not stir even if I wanted to. Even if my cleavered spine spontaneously fused, its fleshy gape becoming closed and neat, even if my toes suddenly took it upon themselves to bash out a bed-end rendition of Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes, I could still not shake this the grip of my night nurses most hermetic of wraps.
My eyes are taped shut but look, see the numerals that magically project onto those surfaces that may just require us to remember our place and our time. The shaft of the pen in your hand, the spine of the notebook, the paperwork that stacks; how ingenious and helpful. A calendar, a watch, an inescapable reminder that seconds they snap off and float in the light. Everything shearing away.
I feel the cold but I am not cold. I shiver but know that my skin does not bristle, nor does it quake. Powder it falls as I walk. Perfect red snow beneath a dome so high, securely screwed on and protecting us so. I taste the cola as flakes settle sticking to my lacquered lips, how did they make Christmas this perfect? I hear me behind me and I become a dog. One that walks upright with cane and with hat, one that nods respectfully unless it’s a rat. My fingers retreat and become padded and pawed and I frown and I wonder just how it was this morning that I managed to button this most splendid of vests.
I can hear your voice but I cannot feel your touch, are you touching me? Is my hand cupped into yours? I feel the man’s touch, as he scrubs and he cleans, as he sandpapers at my body with such detached and workmanlike vigor. I ask him to stop, its private you know, I scream but the words they do stick. They haunt as they tingle and dance in my mouth, please wrench open my jaw, break it if you have to and see for yourself.
I wish I could eat. I wish I could slide a pill-feast beneath my tongue and suckle its luscious gravy between teeth clenched just so. Wondrous hints of chicken or is that pork that I try to pick from the gaps, though I know it is true not a scrap can be wedged. The flavors so perfect, so divine as I chew only on air and feel the hit of the carcasses tender juices and crunch. A feast for the mind where not a single calorie need be counted, so slim and so perfect are we.
I found a way into the overmorrow, but yet again it does not care. So, I sit here and wait, and I wait and I wait. And I wait and I hope for my health to become as important perhaps, as the sugar-free flavoring that infuses the falling snow.
Author: John McLaughlin
“Will it hurt?”
“No, just feels a bit weird. Like your veins have turned to ice.”
The tech switches on the IV and they hear the gentle hum of the pump kick in. She’s correct; a deathly cold is already gripping his extremities. Hayden lays back in the foam recliner and shuts his eyes.
“I’ve heard the treatment is quick.”
The woman smiles as she tidies up the medical waste. “Yes, our new CRISPR process is fast-acting. Your DNA should be completely scrubbed by the end of today’s session.”
That was good.
Hayden knew he had made mistakes in his career. Thankfully he was a careful man, so those errors could be counted on one hand. For instance, there was the guy in Vienna–a rush job, to be sure; too many bone fragments. And another in Caracas. All told, only a few, but still–one misstep could be one too many in his line of work.
The woman pulls a clipboard from inside her coat. “Standard consent form,” his one open eye follows her finger to the bottom of the page, “please sign here.”
Hayden scans the summary section. “Somatic DNA Spoofing: Hypervariable regions are randomized in every cell of the body; prevents the possibility of forensic DNA tracing.” He dashes off his signature and the woman tucks away the form.
She gives a warm smile. “How do you feel, Mr. Bunting?”
The Bunting identity had been quite expensive, but he had been more than willing to pay. Oscar Hayden would die for good, today in this room–thanks to the treatment.
He gave a weak grin. “Fine, I guess.” He imagined the tiny synthetic droplets being buoyed along by his bloodstream, their cargo of modified RNA now latching onto his cells and deleting his trace.
“Please do let me know if you need anything. At Anonymous, Inc., client comfort is our top priority.” Yes, yes, that’s fine; he shoos her away and she takes a corner seat from which to observe his vitals. Though she does have a lovely body, yes indeed. If only I were 20 years younger, I’d…
A hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Bunting, wake up.”
His eyes creak open. “Oh…how long’s it been?” He pulls himself upright.
“About five hours. The treatment is complete.” And before he can react, she’s swooped down with an injection into his right shoulder.
“Oof! What was that?” he asks, rubbing the site.
“Immune booster: vitamins and interferon. To speed the recovery,” she taps into her palm display, “Excellent news, Mr. Bunting. 99.98% penetration! You are officially a ghost.”
“Glad to hear it.” He smacks his lips, his mouth tastes like rubber. “So I’m ready to go?”
Her back is turned while she fidgets with a set of gloves at the countertop. “Take a few minutes, Hayden. The procedure can be rough on a man your age.”
“Excuse me?” Yes, his limbs do feel like concrete at the moment. Perhaps a rest would do.
“As usual, your instincts are spot on. Spoofing was the correct play; you were just a bit too slow this time.” She packs away the last of the equipment. “So now I’m cleaning up after you, instead of the other way around.” A crooked grin: “Boethius sends his regards.”
She hoists him over her shoulder like a limp sack of laundry. Damn, she’s strong.
“Ya know, if I was 20 years younger…”
“Shh, Hayden. Don’t wear yourself out. We’ve picked a nice spot for you: a meadow, with patches of flowers all around.”
She exits the clinic, carrying a man without a trace.
Author: John Xero
“The storm is upon us,” Barrett states grimly, finally looking away from his monitor, finally acknowledging the absence of hope.
“How bad?” As if I need to ask.
“Bad enough.” He shakes his head. “If we’d just caught the edge of it… If we could still access the lower levels…”
“If neither of us had volunteered…” I add. “But we knew what we were getting into.”
“Have you transmitted the data?” I ask. Duty first.
“It’s gone, my interpretations attached. For all the good it will do them. These things are too damn unpredictable. I’m live transmitting anything we get until we lose the equipment or the dish, hardly think power drain’s a big concern now.”
I stand and walk the few steps to the back of the small dome, thumbing my personal locker open. Tucked at the back is a slender bottle of golden brown liquid. I hold it up, show it to Barrett.
“I thought that was all gone to the nu-rats, spoils of their victory – the great annexation of bunker gamma two niner’s subsidiary levels.”
I feel the edge of a smile tugging at my lips, despite the situation. “Is that what you’ve been calling our infested wreck of a basement? Shame about the ice and glasses situation, but I guess that’s the least of our worries.”
“The lack of ice and glasses situation?”
I take a disrespectful swig from the bottle, an injustice to the vintage and craftsmanship within, closing my eyes as it scorches my throat and drips fire into my gullet. I hand it over with a bittersweet sigh.
Barrett regards the bottle. “Are you religious? I always thought the truth of the old world, the above world, the work we do, would make me stop believing. How could He let this happen?” He takes a swig, grimaces, and passes it back. “I think I wanted to stop believing, you know, but it’s too ingrained.”
“No, I don’t believe in a higher being, or beings. But I did come here to escape.” We’ve never talked like this, all the time we’ve been stuck here together. “There was a guy, back home. I couldn’t…” My turn for a slug, and I need this one. “I couldn’t stop going back to him. I was trying to save myself, requesting this posting. Looking for a way to stop thinking about him.”
“Did it work?”
“As well as you forgetting your god.”
He takes another gulp, growling as he swallows. He coughs. I don’t think he can ever have been a drinker. Another thing I never knew about him.
I hear it now, worrying its way in at the edge of my consciousness. At first, I think it’s the nu-rats again, misfortune and doom doubling down on us, catching us in a terrible vice. A scratching like inch-long claws on concrete, like cracked crystalline teeth in overgrown jaws gnawing at the walls. I remember their pearl white eyes, glimmering in our torch beams, blind from a life below ground.
It’s above us, this new scratching, and nothing lives above ground anymore.
Barrett looks up too.
This is the greystorm. Sand and steel, dust and concrete, cities whipped into particles that rage in never-ending hurricanes across the surface of the world. Our dome, our reinforced home is wearing away, eroding beneath a fury our ancestors wrought.
We say no more, listening to the steady increase in noise, the approaching end, passing the bottle back and forth, the two of us spending our last moments thinking about everything we came here to forget.