Author: Mishal Imaan Syed

I woke to a ceiling gilded with stars.
“She’s awake,” someone murmured. I rubbed the dreams from my eyes, trying to make out the fluttering form of someone.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“A creature of the night.” The voice was pure velvet and silver lace.
I remembered the night vaguely—I’d fallen into a deep sleep, exhausted from the daylight, as vampires tend to be.
“The ceiling,” I said blearily. “Stars.”
The velvet voice laughed. “Oh, Eiliyah. That’s not a ceiling. This is the Otherworld.”
“I’m…in the Otherworld?”
“Obviously.” It seemed amused.
I smiled. A visit to the Otherworld was the highest honor bestowed on
a vampire
But the creature wasn’t done talking. “Eiliyah, love, it’s not what you think. The Otherworld is a place of dreams. You create it yourself.”
“You mean…this ceiling, this room…it’s all a product of my dreams?”
“Of course.”
“So…” I didn’t understand. “It’s not real?”
“Oh, love. Dreams are always real. Here, let me show you.” The velvet creature materialized in front of me, violet eyes fringed with rose lashes. The room lightened and the stars in the “ceiling” turned to swirling nebulae.
Suddenly I realized what the creature meant. “Ceilings are limits,” I said. “But dreams don’t have limits. And that’s why it looks like a ceiling—but it’s not.”
“Precisely,” said the velvet creature. “It’s illusory. The Otherworld contains many illusory facets.” It coaxed me out from under the covers, leaving trails of wispy smoke in its wake.
“Am I in another dimension?” I asked as I sat up.
“Yes. You lived in a gated world. I simply opened one of the gates.” The velvet creature traced one icy long finger along my forehead. “Other dimensions are a trust. You must take care of them. And this…this is the dimension of dreams. Be careful which dreams you choose to handle. Ask permission.”
The air turned thick with vapor. Golden rays shone from the broken ceiling.
The velvet creature pointed to the rays. “That’s the manufacturing center.”
“Dreams are manufactured here?”
“Why, yes. And packaged. See?” It pointed.
I looked. “Oh my God.”
Silver snowflakes packaged the dream and wrapped it in lavender and tied it with a satin bow.
“That’s a good dream,” the velvet creature explained. “But there are bad ones.”
As if on command, a ribbon of black snaked around the edges of the room, which (I now realized) were expanding. If ceilings could be broken or cease to exist, then why not walls?
“Bad dreams expand more quickly than good ones,” the velvet creature whispered. “That is why you must be careful what you release when you break open the gated realms.”
“Why do bad dreams expand so fast?” I asked.
“Because we trap ourselves in them. We mire ourselves in nightmarish fears with no basis. They expand, and they envelop us and suffocate us,” replied the velvet creature. Its voice had taken on a tone of unbearable melancholy. “Such is the fate of humankind—and of vampirekind. We lose ourselves in bad dreams with no understanding of the good that awaits us.” It turned its luminous eyes on me. “I brought you to this realm so you would not make the same mistake as those who came before you.”
I was starting to understand now. “So this is the dimension to which we escape when we sleep.”
“Yes, Eiliyah, and when you find yourself drifting off on a lazy summer day, and when you happen to fall asleep as the teacher drones on in class, and when you imagine yourself a vampire. This is that dimension.”


Author: Mandy Szewczuk

We saw it coming, our apocalypse, through binoculars. It didn’t burn out our eyes, the way movies told us it would because it wasn’t a mushroom cloud or column of incandescent fire. What we saw, standing on top of our apartment building because when the news says to get indoors my instinct is to get the hell outside, was more of a rising, something that in the dimness of nightfall was like something blooming up out of the earth below it, though its emerging point was blocked from our view by other apartment buildings and squat, spreading concrete shopping blocks. All at once, I felt impossibly tired and that sense seemed to spread out from me to everything around me. The entire city seemed tired, but then, the city had always seemed tired, along with every single person in it. The workdays were long and the groceries were expensive and the roads were cracked and the buildings were ugly.

It was really ridiculous that we’d thought we were the only things living on a world as big as ours. The deeps were deeper than we pretended to understand, and history showed us how we built cities over older cities every time someone tried to dig a new basement and found graves filled with objects we analyzed and put into a museum with guesses about what they actually were. There was something even deeper, under all those layered cities, much bigger than a grave. It bloomed, sending fleshy shoots up into the sky, bioluminescent in shades of pink and seafoam green, the kind of colors you wanted for your yoga pants or your day planner, and it just kept rising up into the sky. Beside me, Warren started talking again.

“The street’s going to be totally fucked. They just repaved last summer, and we’re going to be right back in construction hell,” he muttered, watching through his binoculars.

The long fleshy leaves, plump and watery like a succulent, lit either from inside or from all the police cars on the ground, rose up with slow, weird majesty, a nature documentary on crack, and we couldn’t have been the only ones staring. The fear drew back like the water before a tsunami, and all of us idiots, raised on CGI excitement, rushed down to the beach to see what the commotion was.

“Isn’t it weird?” I remember asking Warren a second before our apocalypse happened.

“Isn’t it weird?” Warren asked me the first time we felt the ground shake from the gripping and turning of roots beneath us. “Isn’t it weird?” I asked when we found what looked like a garden but figured out it had been a playground with little bones gripped and lifted by stems that rose from the ground and twisted around rusted chain swings and monkey bars. “Isn’t it weird?” I heard a flower whisper next to my head before I knew better to dart away from it.

Our apocalypse is quiet, like the human race going to bed early after a really rough day. A few birds still shriek above us and sometimes there are rats, but otherwise, the world is resting as the vines rip it apart. Isn’t it weird, the way you can lose something you considered yours but turns out it never really was? The moss rolls over the city like a deep green glacier, and the air is the purest its been in hundreds of years. Warm-blooded just isn’t in style anymore, and we don’t have enough chlorophyll to relate. Isn’t it weird? Isn’t it weird?


Author: Richard M. O’Donnell, Sr.

To: Four-Eight-Nine
From: You Know
Subject: Last Request

Dear FEN,

Pour my ashes under the face-down headstone.

You know the one. The one we pushed over that night and danced on, the one in the Last Woods on the forgotten farm we all remember because it is still green.

Bribe the West Gate guard. His designation is Two-Two-Five-Four. Follow Dignitaries Trail to Real Pond, where water is still allowed to evaporate. Standing next to so much potable water is in itself worth the risk, but don’t touch it. This will set off an alarm. Don’t linger. The pond is patrolled. Just enjoy the moment. Feel the humidity. That is what Two-Two-Five-Four thinks you are there for. An old soldier’s reminisce of the Time of Water.

Crawl behind Executioner’s Rock. Wear gloves, jeans, and hiking boots. The prickly brushes still snag, a place no finely dressed bureaucrat would tread. Beyond, under the oak boughs fifty-five years older than last time, you will find the headstone where we left it, covered with twigs and leaves. The other markers are gone, pulverized like the ones we helped the Party to destroy worldwide.

I know all this, because yesterday after I used my last vial of insulin, I visited the site. I lifted the headstone up, scrapped the dirt from the letters with my trigger finger, exposed the name, and defied the Party by documenting it here:


The other people we killed were anonymous cords of wood stacked in mass graves, all records deleted, but not our first kill. She rests near the Party’s most sacred spot, safe from excavation. Her name survives.

As you know, last week the Party Elders voted unanimously to deny health care to anyone too selfish to commit suicide “for the good of the State”. The young people partied in the streets as if it were Purity Day. Out with the Old! In with the New! An old slogan reborn to rid them of the last generation to have read a bible, a history book, to know propaganda is not the same as truth.

As soon as all the diabetics like me and those on dialysis die, it is only a matter of months before the blue-shirts will purge the rest of the seniors. You remember how excited we were when the Chairman turned us loose. We couldn’t get to the farm fast enough.

Maybe I have always known the State would demand the ultimate sacrifice, but to let a pureblood like me wither on the vine is a betrayal of the revolution. I wonder if we were wrong, that the infallibility of the State is a myth. I don’t know anymore.

Let’s let time decide, old friend. Let’s leave Ruby her name. I’ll be the anonymous ashes in her grave, the cord of wood, an offering of my regrets to their dead gods. After all, the humans were here first. No one will notice if we let one name slip by.

Inhabiting Jolene

Author: Franco Amati

It took nine dates for Jolene to let me inhabit her mind. With a woman as intriguing as her, it’s tempting to sneak in without permission. But trust me, it’s always more enjoyable with permission.

I snuck into the head of the last girl I dated, and boy did I regret it. When you’re uninvited, the experience is so much darker and more intrusive. No one wants to be wandering around in a place they’re not welcome.

But this girl Jolene. Her mind is luscious. Her thoughts reverberate with richness and clarity. She’s self-conscious, sure. And she dislikes a lot about herself, especially her body. But the incisiveness with which she perceives other people is extraordinary. It’s almost as if she can see into them as well as she sees through them.

In the time she gave me to explore her depths, I borrowed her amethyst eyes. I used them to view my own friends and family in a new light. For the first time, I was able to dissect them and expose their superficiality. From Jolene’s perspective, I could see how selfish they all were. What a revelation it was to unveil their true intentions.

Jolene was five feet, four and weighed one hundred and twenty-five pounds. But when I looked in the mirror using Jolene’s eyes, I saw exaggerated proportions. Her breasts, which I had come to know quite well after our first date, were much smaller from Jolene’s point of view. And her hands and feet, which had the finest digits I’d ever seen, looked knobby and grotesque.

The longer I inhabited Jolene, the more I learned about her fears and worries. Jolene’s father abandoned their family when she was four years old. He chased another woman across the galaxy, leaving her mother insecure and alone with two children to raise. Jolene saw how loneliness destroyed her mother. And she was afraid it would crush her too.

But Jolene, being the perceptive person that she was, knew that chasing other people wasn’t a cure for isolation. Instead, she examined others, learned about them, analyzed their motivations, and so rarely let them in without the deepest of scrutiny.

Call it a shield or a buffer. But I admired Jolene’s skepticism of other people. Unfortunately, the side effect of developing such a critical eye for others is the incidental turning of that critical eye onto yourself.

Jolene may not have my ability to inhabit other people’s minds. That cognitive talent doesn’t exist in her people. But she is wise beyond measure. And I’m thankful that she’s allowed me to get this close. I’ll be lucky if she allows me to love her. And it’s a relief to me that I won’t have to make a good impression on her father.


Life Sentence

Author: Marlin Bressi

Souls don’t have asses, but the courtroom has wooden benches just the same because God likes it that way, likes things just so, and in His Infinite Wisdom has decided that this place ought to look like the set of a Perry Mason rerun.

Like the others gathered here, I was a bad soul.

Not as bad as the one before me, who took the punishment like a champ (not a single tremulous whimper) and was sentenced to seventy-five years as Stanley Hopper, who would someday become a Jersey City cab driver and succumb to cirrhosis of the liver.

All I did was poke fun at an archangel’s golden, gauzy raiment. I’ve been here twenty-six thousand millennia and had no idea that such a thing was against the law. Frowned upon, sure, but not illegal. Color me shocked.

The first soul sentenced today had it even worse. Eighty-seven years in Milwaukee as Delphina Owens, destined to become an illiterate scrubwoman with arthritis, bad breath, and chronic vaginitis. Even the defense attorney winced as the sentence was pronounced.
I had taken my attorney’s advice, plead guilty and waived the preliminary hearing, hoping for a slap on the wrist. Aside from a few snarky comments I’ve made through the ages, my record is pretty clean.

Sixteen months in Vancouver, He finally decreed. I would be named Veronica. I would pass away in my sleep. Suddenly. Painlessly. Softly and mysteriously. A very lenient sentence indeed, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything but come on now– just between you and me– don’t you agree that Uriel’s new raiment is pretty damn tacky?