Author : Kirstie Olley
My name is Leila and I used to be the queen bee at school. If I curled my hair, all the girls curled their hair. If I cut one side short and left the other long, everyone did. If I shaved the Queen of Hearts into the short side of my hair, my class became a deck of cards.
Then Dad got promoted. The generous pay rise was off-set by a massive move. We relocated, and I changed schools.
I thought I’d just swan in, gorgeous as always and charm everyone, but they all stared at me like I was a freak.
At first I thought it was the Queen of Hearts still shaved into the side of my head, so I let my hair grow out, but they didn’t stop avoiding me.
I noticed everyone at school was bald. So hair must be out here, I’d heard of the trend before, so I shaved my head, waxed off every hair I could find. They stopped staring but no one talked to me.
Everyone was pale too, so my Californian tan stuck out. I begged Dad non-stop for a week, total ‘are we there yet?’ style torture until he agreed to pay for a procedure that bleaches the tan out of your skin.
He was still nervous when he took me to the cosmetic surgeon.
“This procedure isn’t unusual, particularly out here. People just want to fit in, not just teenagers, but children and adults too,” the nurse assured dad, her eyes on his ever-jiggling leg as he sat beside me. “And it’s not permanent either.”
Dad’s lips twitched in a way that said he knew that was more a plus for the surgeons than for the patients.
The next day at school I swanned in with my lovely new pale skin, my scalp freshly shaved, but still, no one talked with me.
I don’t think you really get it. This is agony for me. Sure it can’t be easy being the outsider all the time, but imagine if you’d had a taste of being not just in, but being the trend setter.
I spent the next week in my room. I didn’t go to school. I couldn’t.
Then the internet gave me the solution. There were other procedures.
It took longer to convince Dad of these ones. These ones were permanent. He thinks I don’t know, but he looked into getting transferred back to California, but his bosses refused. I even heard him discuss with Susan quitting and finding another job, but in this economy, with unemployment rates so high, they agreed it was too risky.
It’s a weird sensation going under general anaesthetic, the creeping in vagueness, the world misting away.
My recovery took months, but now the bruising is gone and the scarring is hidden.
I look perfect: silvery pale, hairless, my features elongated, my big dark eyes, my nose so small and flat it’s barely there.
Finally I’ll fit in with everyone else on this planet.
Author : Tyler Hawkins
I only just missed you this time. Five millennia in the timescale of the cosmos is a needle in a haystack and then some. I was only 5 thousand years away from you but it seemed like it very well could have been any of the other times I arrived before the Milky Way collides with Andromeda. We were long gone, I was surprised to find. The stars looked identical to when I left, it was so reassuring. But the Earth didn’t. Pity, I had higher hopes for humanity.
Not really any of my concern though, the Earth will be there for us. I have the tools to reach you, just not the luck. Time travel was so new for us, but it was agony waiting for every minor breakthrough we had perfecting it. I needed more accuracy, but by the time we could have hit that small window where you lived your life, I would have been long gone so I had to risk it. I’ve been traveling for 2 years now, with each jump I use more energy. With each unsuccessful jump I age that much more, my machines wear that much more and I become that much more desperate.
Even if I deplete the stars, even if I destroy these machines and my body, I will reach you. 20 years now, so many parts have failed, machine and body alike. Each jump now uses more than a whole star, but lucky for me the universe has billions and we only need one. I think back to the closest I’ve ever been to you, and realize it was before all this started. When I was born, it was only 150 years since you had died. I met you through your writing, I loved you through your photographs and I will find you across the universe.
Author : Roger Dale Trexler
They found it. In the most impossible spot, in the most unlikely location, they found it.
And the scientists were baffled.
On the edge of explored space, Henry Frisk stared out the porthole of the survey ship. The nearby star was just close enough that its light shone on the insanely improbable object. It reflected for parsecs. It was easy to find because it shone so brightly.
A hand touched his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” the intruder said. He turned to look Trudi Maines in the eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes that shone brightly, but not nearly as brightly as it did.
“It’s all right,” he said, smiling. “It just fascinates me, that’s all.”
“Me, too,” she said. “Have they found out anything?”
He shook his head. “Not a thing,” he told her.
“Why do you suppose they did it?” she asked.
He chuckled lightly. “What?”
“They….whomever they were….put a perfectly round hundred mile wide sphere of gold—pure gold—in the middle of an asteroid belt….why do you think they did it?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You have to have a theory? You’re the authority on extraterrestrial life.”
Frisk let out a laugh. “That’s like saying someone is an authority on God,” he said. “It just isn’t possible.”
He looked into Trudi’s troubled eyes. “Listen,” he said. He turned and pointed. “Whoever made that, whoever took the time and made that, wanted it found. They wanted us to find it.”
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“Because,” He said. “It has a message.”
He nodded. “Carved in the gold.”
“Carved in the gold?” Trudi backed away a step. “I don’t understand?”
Frisk let out another chuckle. “No one does,” he said. “All the great minds of Earth have pondered it. They are as dumbfounded as I am.”
He paused, then added: “But, I do have a theory.”
“I knew you would,” Trudi said. She took a step forward again.
There was a long silence between them as they stared out at the glistening ball of gold. “All right,” she said. “Tell me.”
He nodded. “Imagine,” he said. “Imagine those ancient astronauts that everyone says helped build the pyramids and Easter Island and gave the Mayans their advanced science. Imagine that they saw mankind’s bloodlust. Imagine how simple, how petty we looked to them.”
He turned to her. “That’s why the left. They knew that we were unworthy of their assistance. They weren’t like us. They were civilized.”
Trudi let out a disappointed gasp of air. “But what about U.F.O.s?” she asked. “What about alien abductions?”
He shook his head. “Who knows? Maybe they were just checking in, hoping we had changed?”
“And we didn’t?”
Frisk shook his head again. “It’s our nature.” He chuckled again and pointed out at the golden sphere. “That sphere,” he said. “They put it here because they knew we would find it. They knew we would find it, and they wanted to see what we would do with it.”
He turned to her. “It’s pure gold. The purest gold ever known to man.”
“It must we worth…..”
“Its worth is incalculable,” he told her. “And that’s why they put a message on it.”
“What does the message say?” she asked.
He shook his head again. “They haven’t translated it yet.” He drew a deep breath. “But, I know what it’ll say.”
“That money isn’t everything….Love is.”
He turned to her. “I love you, Trudi,” he said. “I always have….and I always will.”
Then, he bent forward and kissed her in the golden light of the orb.
Author : cchatfield
It took only a moment of eye contact for the stranger to change his evaluation from “boy” to “young man.” It was a useless habit leftover from before the outbreak: assuming a young body meant innocence or an unblemished mind.
Even the smallest child, a girl of four or five, glared at him with wary eyes until her father gruffly assured the children that the stranger posed no threat of infection. It took the better part of the first day he spent in the cramped (but, more importantly, warm and well-stocked) farmhouse with the rugged family of survivors before childish curiosity won over.
But even after the younger ones were sitting on his lap, enthralled by his leather gloves and the maze of hidden pockets sewn into his jacket, the young man would only scowl at him in passing, not letting the stranger’s presence interrupt the work of survival.
Nonetheless, the stranger knew that more often than not the young man was listening intently through the wall to the stories being told of journeys through deserted cities populated by nothing more than drafty winds and punctured buildings.
Of course, the children more interested in any survivors he’d stumbled upon. Stories with happy endings that to them, with humanity on the verge of extinction, had become just that. Stories. He obliged with tales of families and friends, communities and hermits living idyllic lives in empty mansions or on tropical islands. Always last, and always in a quiet voice, he told them of a mad scientist he’d met just before finding the farm. A forgotten genius who’d done the impossible. Found a cure. The children would gape at him, unable to imagine a life without infection.
Three children, one young man, and two adults, including the stranger. Pooling resources, they would have more than enough lethal dosages.
The mother had succumbed to the disease, lacking whatever immune fortification the children seemed to have inherited from their father. But even that, the stranger knew, would not be enough to protect them from the new wave of infection he’d seen crashing towards them on the wings of birds and insects.
The children’s father agreed to the plan with bitter resignation. He’d known the day would come. It was his decision to tell his eldest son and he asked the stranger to be present.
After, the young man’s eyes softened for just a moment as he searched their faces. “But…but what about the…” he gestured helplessly, unable to ask.
Gently, the stranger placed a heavy hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Stories are for children.”
Author : Rachelle Shepherd
There was a teal stained smile behind her plump cobalt lips.
“Tonight’s flavor is cotton candy,” She placed a coal chunk in the sticky pit of Haze. It flared red-hot. Potpourri purrs into plumes of purple breath. “Smoke responsibly.”
She went on to the next customer, repeating her mantra behind an inky grin. The warning never wavered.
Smoke responsibly. Euphoria expected. Euphoria imminent.
Haze was experimental air. Laboratory grown stink bud, infused with the flavors of the universe. There was a strawberry, orange, vanilla. Almond and walnut, golden honey, sea-salt and vinegar. All the basics.
Higher up the fusion chain lays the complex tastes. Cotton candy. Indonesian clove. Wormwood with licorice swirls. Flavors without description, without accurate representation. Outlaws. Illegal behaviors made smoke and mirror with the trick of laboratory liquids.
Cotton candy was a Smoke-Night special. There was nothing amateur about this carnival vintage. It was untested, even on rats. Straight to human species.
Who could spin sugar into smoke? Only Taffy. Taffy’s Tar House, home of less-than-legal flavors. Taffy with her rainbow color kisses, stained by the liquids that wove flavors into breath.
Taffy had her Smoker’s Lottery. Sign up for smokes today!
Not Liable for Side Effects.
The raffle ticket cost me a week’s salary. Only a little more than any other weekend smoke night in Taffy’s glittering parlor of forbidden fruits.
Legal Haze was just flavored paper and watercolor. Taffy smoked science. Matter made consumable. Matter made illegal, destruct on sight. It took straight to your head, rearranged the atoms there. I’d spend hours after a good smoke trying to find my thoughts. And when they came back again, they came with new hues. A glaze of sorts, a pot fired in a kiln. Watch the shadows break that tacky ceramic into jigsaw art.
We are the summation of the effects of our addictions.
The parlor filled with the suck and sigh of smoke. Each table glowed with its own private third eye. Taffy carried her brazier behind a silk screen. It rustled restlessly, closing behind her and clicking with the teeth of a thousand beads.
I inhaled. My mind bloated like my chest, thick with nausea and epiphany. The Haze had no weight. I was breathing thoughts, absorbing them into the very tissue of my body. I could see the carnival lights flickering on the backdrop of my eyelids, hear the clank of heavy steel machinery. Children were laughing, their mouths sticky with caramel apple juice.
In my mouth, the cloying aftertaste of cheap cotton candy. Pink and blue tongues fat with refined sugar. The Ticketmaster leered behind his booth, smears of black tar on his fingertips. Bubbles of blood nestled in the corners of his eyes.
The parlor coughed. Collectively we gasped, our nozzles abandoned on the table. Hookah cords hung like snakes, writhing.
Someone called out for some real-time fresh air.
“Open a window!”
The last bit of breath rushed past greedy lips. I ran my tongue over my teeth. Clumps of sharp sugar crystals bit into the soft flesh.
A smother blanket of Haze settled over the room. The light dimmed with the dying coals. A steady silence built as lungs hushed.
Smoker’s Lottery. Not Liable for Side Effects.
The fog swelled, sticky blue. One by one, embers melted into ash slag like winking eyes.