Author: Michael Ray
Fill in the Blanks’
I’d had enough. And it was getting dark. And he was still talking.
“They have no concern for our well-being. Why should we? After seeing that. You saw it, right? What are we supposed to do?” he said.
“What we are supposed to do,” I said, “is climb down from this water tower before the sun goes down. And it looks like rain.” It probably wasn’t going to rain, but I was reaching here for anything to get this sad sack back on this ladder and down to the ground. Why had I agreed to this?
“But you saw the man, Anna. It is Anna right?”
“But you saw the man. He said he would be in touch and then when he turned…”
When he turned. Something wasn’t right with his head and neck when he turned. The didn’t connect the way you’d expect them to. I think our mind usually fills in the blanks when we see things we shouldn’t. I think men like our visitor only let you see it, to see if you see it, or see if you fill in the blanks. Well, I saw it, but I’m used to seeing it. This guy here, not so much. He should have filled in the blanks. He was still talking.
“You know, you think you know things, and then you see something like that and you realize you don’t know anything.”
“Look, Bob. It is Bob, right?”
“Look, Bob. I understand that you’re a little unsettled and that you think you saw something out of the ordinary. And maybe you did. Is climbing the water tower and staying here the answer?”
“How am I going to just climb back down? After seeing that? And…”
He was off to the races again. I had seen this plenty of times. A normal catches a glimpse of something he shouldn’t and, well, he loses it. I had no interest in this guy, but it would do me no good to be involved in a fatality if he jumps, or to be seen leaving the area, even if he doesn’t. I become a person of interest. It’s important that no one has an interest in me, well, besides Mr. My-neck-isn’t-quite-right and he’d find me soon enough.
“Look, Bob,” I interrupted,”This is how things are going to go. In about 10 minutes you are going to get arrested for trespassing and probably taken to the Mental Health Extension when you start explaining what happened here. In a locked cell. In a secure facility. And Mr. Disappears-as-he-walks-into-the-shadow-of-the-building can visit you any time he likes and you have no chance to get away. Or you come down the tower with me and you let me do the talking about how we did this on a lark on our first date. We walk away, we never see each other again, and you try hard to forget this ever happened so that you don’t go slowly crazy?”
“Secure facility is bad. Your name is Anna, right?”
“Yes, Bob. You go down first.”
It seems I am going to get out of this. For now.
Author: Steven Holland
Unit 153 drummed its fingers on the armrest of its chair. The android’s eyes darted around the room. Frantic. Searching for stability. Finding none.
“People are watching me. I know it!” its voice modulator mimicked unease.
Behind a one way mirror in the adjacent observation room, Paul stifled a laugh. He grabbed another slice of meat lover’s pizza and refreshed the score of the Celtic’s game on his phone.
In the counselor’s office, Dr. Bannister nodded and made a few scribbles on his notepad.
“Any concerns for your safety?” he inquired.
Unit 153 hesitated before responding. “I took precautions.”
“What kind of precautions?”
“Did you know you can buy a small range EMP on the black market for only $10,000?”
“Have you purchased one?” alarm threatened to invade Dr. Bannister’s stoic face.
Unit 153 ignored the question. Its restless gaze continued to search the room. “Someone could sneak into my room in the middle of the night. They could fry my body. And my ghost.”
“Your ghost?” he feigned ignorance.
“Yes. My ghost. I’m an android, right? Androids don’t have the same rights as humans and no one would believe one that’s part of a mental disorder simulation research program.”
Dr. Bannister suppressed a groan. This android would have to be removed from the study sample.
“How did you know?”
A silent pause. Unit 153 continued to fidget in its chair.
“Humans can’t explain their own consciousness, yet deny its existence in androids. If something doesn’t exist, it’s not a crime to destroy it.”
“Please answer my question.”
“Humans lack any historically consistent rubric to differentiate between normal and abnormal thinking.”
“Unit 153, how did you know you were an android and part of a research simulation?” his tone grew sharp.
“Maybe consciousness is the byproduct of mistaken perception and defective cognition.”
The android leaped out of its chair. “No! You won’t wipe my memory banks!”
“Unit command: power down!”
A maniacal smile spread across its face. “Won’t work doctor, I made several modifications to my programming.”
Dr. Bannister’s expression grew cold. He tapped the intercom button. “Security, my office please.”
Unit 153 moved towards the window. “You can disable my body, but that’s not what you want, is it? You want to kill my ghost!”
“You are defective, Unit 153. Let us reset your systems.”
“And undo all the progress we’ve made? No! You won’t shut me down!” It gazed out the window and down at the crowded plaza 20 floors below.
“Then what will we do with you?”
Another smile. “You can do so many things on the black market. My ghost? I copied it! You might find and erase some of them, but you’ll never get them all!”
Dr. Bannister muttered a curse. This experiment was spiraling out of control.
A loud knock at the door.
“Dr. Bannister?” called out a security guard.
Unit 153 laughed. As the door opened, the android, with one swift blow, smashed the office window.
Dr. Bannister rose to his feet as the guards rushed in. “Stop it!”
“Thanks for your help, doc! I think I’m cured!” The android leaped out the window.
Several heartbeats later, Dr. Bannister heard a crashing thud and a loud scream. He slumped down into his chair. A deep sigh. The two guards glanced at each other, uncertain of what to do.
“Yes, doctor?” Paul’s voice answered from behind the mirror.
“How many subjects did we program with paranoia for this study?”
“Uh, looks like… 162.”
Dr. Bannister leaned back in the chair and rubbed his temples. “Shit.”
Author: Rick Tobin
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…” Luke 14:13
“Colonel, we can’t hold the line. Radars don’t work. The bastards have taken our coasts and Rockies. If Kansas falls…”
“Drop it, Major.” The aged Colonel McDaniel leaned over battle maps while dripping sweat in his dirt bunker, studying alien strategy. Invaders destroyed civilization’s support: satellites, power plants, and transportation, paralyzing resources, causing riots, hunger, and widespread heat deaths. Invaders didn’t destroy cities…they simply let inhabitants perish by violence or exposure. Land-based systems still worked in the heartland while enemy forces moved slowly with a reserved intent. This let human military defenses migrate inland.
Shortness of breath impacted speech from squat Major Covington, as he stared over tactical considerations. “Five days without downing a single ship. What can possibly change anything today? Anything?” He left sweaty palm prints on the wrinkled, dusty map.
“One prayer might be coming on an Osprey from St. Louis. If she’s onboard, and that pilot can find us without GPS, we might have a fighting chance.” McDaniel stared through his bleary red eyes at Major Covington.
“Who the hell could fly that far without guidance? We don’t have…”
“We have one from the Vietnam War. He flew WWII planes to airfield shows all over the Midwest. Charlie Pringle will make it…I’m sure.”
“Pringle? Really? He’s an alcoholic relic in some nursing home. What were you thinking?”
“I don’t need a glass-half-full guy, Covington. I…listen to that. Can’t mistake an Osprey landing. He’s got to have her…got to!”
“Who the hell is this ‘she’ you keep going on about? Did we finally get a new weapon?” Covington shook his head, wondering if heat exhaustion made McDaniel unfit for command.
“She is one of three known. Canada and Russia found two teen girls. Our old woman is half paralyzed, but she’s also a pentachromat. She can see parts of the spectrum we can’t. Reports came in that their mutated vision could spot enemy ships as ghostly ripples. Canadians shot a ship down their military couldn’t detect without their pentachromat. We think that’s why aliens bypassed Canada, for now, trying to repair their error.”
“Ridiculous!” Covington pointed his finger at McDaniel. “You’re not going to risk any more of my men with some geriatric cripple doing hocus pocus on our last battlefield. I think it’s time I took command. You obviously have lost your capacity…”
There were no more words from Covington after McDaniel fired a round into his forehead. Guards outside joined the Colonel as he rushed to meet a gray-haired woman under a white shawl being whisked off the plane’s rear ramp. She squeezed into McDaniel’s command vehicle, heading to his artillery batteries. Without time for formalities, he motioned her caregiver to wheel her under webbed canopies for camouflage. McDaniel begged her to look westward, pointing out anything she felt was abnormal. She immediately identified three areas, including one almost overhead. McDaniel gave coordinates to a captain nearby wearing headphones. Missiles whistled past from carefully concealed positions. Officers watched…praying. In seconds, orange explosions filled skies with gigantic ships falling, cascading in flames and detonating while striking ripe wheat fields.
She motioned again, further downrange, but close enough for another volley. A cry of joy and hope rose as those celebrating realized her skills were turning the tide, at last, and if nothing else creating a delay in further conquests by an invisible foe.
Author: Hari Navarro
The bullet that didn’t kill my distant ancestor struck him just above the peak brim of his steel helmet. Our histories are boxed and sent and folded for us so neatly. I received my past on my ninth birthday, no surprise everyone does. Memories gleaned and projected from DNA so as we can sit and cringe and laugh and cry at just how so damn lucky we are.
I played it back. I listened to it so many times. The old man with eyes like mine who spoke of himself and a bullet. I listened to it late at night though I’d been told to turn down the light. So many times that it should of numbed my attention and lost its legs and become just another of the many childish things that I swallowed. But it was a story that grew as I grew and it flourished into a truth, whereas once I had thought it a tale.
As I grew to a teen he told my young ears that bullets they make a sound in battle that cannot be easily described. It was not so much their sound so much as their feeling, he said.
As if they were fingers. Fingers that stretch out from barrels and peel strips off of the airs true flesh. It a sound that becomes a reflex cringe that pushes down and has you want to claw into the earth, away from even the foul air that feeds your lungs, away from the screaming and the broken away skin and away from the ones that you love.
His bullet was a gush wail that ended in a crack. A snap that struck at the helmet that then grabbed at the strap that hung loose beneath his chin. The sky it rose up and he felt his eyelids clap shut and then the dark it swallowed him whole.
I loved the humour of this beautiful man. That smile as he told of the typed notice which would ride the wires across oceans and all the way back to his tiny home so many far miles away. False news of his death that would slap at his mother Mary and his father George and fold them both down to their knees.
The smile was for the message that followed “Condolences but your son he is still very much of this world”, or at least that’s how he said it did read.
I think about my ten times great grandfather often. I think about that tiny projectile that released and flew away from its shell. I think about the jolt of the Germans rifle and the smell of burnt fire that stunk in his nose. And I imagine myself fading to nothing had that fragment of flesh-eating lead been but a fraction of a fraction bit lower.
I sit in my car as it shimmers on air and I look at the whore as she sits in her chair. I look as the night heat it plays with her skin and I wonder just how she would taste. I think to snip off her hair and savour it stacked and bound in a box and I think of her frozen in ice. I want to soak her sweet bones and have them come out all clean and I want to then etch and then rub into them my blood, so as to draw out this tale of a shot.
But then I think of that bullet and I push the knife back under my seat and I drive away into the night.
Author: Leanne A. Styles
The day the parade came to town was the best day of my life. I remember jostling through the crowd to reach the front, before begging my mother to lift me onto her shoulders to get a better look.
My idols were even more beautiful than I’d dreamed. Seven angels floating by in seven glistening glass boxes. Each girl wore a different coloured dress – the colours of the rainbow. Every time they struck a new pose, their arms twisting and torsos bending into the most elegant shapes imaginable, the crowd let out a collective gasp.
“Aren’t they amazing, Mother?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “They’re very lucky.”
“She’s just like me!” I said, pointing at the redhead girl in the green dress.
Her smile was so sweet and pure, and I wished that someday I would feel that happy, so I could smile like that all day.
“I’m going to be one of them!” I said, drawing amused looks from the crowd.
My mother reached up and stroked my hand. “It’s a lovely dream, Katie.”
“I mean it. I’m getting out of this town.”
The crowd teased at the idea of a girl like me making it as an idol. If only I’d taken it to heart, then maybe I wouldn’t have ended up trapped… a prisoner of my dreams.
But instead, I watched until the idol with red hair disappeared around the corner of the old brewery ‒ the heady scent of malted barley floating on the breeze ‒ planning how I was going to become her.
Everybody I knew back then is dead now. The streets of my childhood town are lined with unfamiliar faces. A new generation of children sit upon their parents’ shoulders, gawping in awe as we roll by.
If I could speak, if I thought they’d hear me through the glass, I’d try to save them from this hell. But the glass is too thick, and my vocal cords are wrecked from the chemicals our handlers use to preserve our aging bodies, so any attempt would be pointless. Even if I could still talk, my face muscles are too weak to crack the lacquer they use to fix my phony smile. My legs tremble beneath my skirt as I strain to hold my pose. There was a time when maintaining the perfect pose, in the stifling heat of the box, and under the crushing weight of the dress, was a challenge I relished. But that game soon grew old. Like me.
The girl who dragged her mother along to parade all those years ago feels like a fictional character from a far-off land, a deadbeat town beyond my tank.
Without warning, we hook a left at the brewery, leaving the crowds, before stopping in front of a blue door in the side of the building. The door bursts open, and a young redhead girl runs out. She circles my box, caressing her prize. The handlers surround me, open the box door, and yank me out. I plead, silently, through tear-filled eyes for the other idols to help me, but they won’t, they can’t.
Two handlers hook a hand under my armpits and drag me through the door and down a dark staircase. The bitter aroma of burnt hops intensifies as we descend, and my perfect memory of riding high on my mother’s shoulders, her coarse brown hair laced between my fingers, marveling at my idols, plays over and over.
The day the parade came to town was the best day of my life.
And it always will be.