by submission | May 13, 2023 | Story |
Author: Shelly Jones
“The witch tricked me,” I explain to the wardens of the bog as my feet sink further into the muck. The bog witch has wandered back to her hut. She needn’t watch me drown in her trap. There is no escape; my fate is set. But still I plead to the wardens.
“All things must die,” a voice gurgles from the mire.
“And here you will be preserved, become part of us,” another voice moans through the reeds.
“How did you all die?” I ask, the mud now up to my knees, my toes unable to move.
There’s a roiling in the mire beneath me. The water chills as the wardens confer with one another, preserved brows permanently furrowing.
“Many of our lives were taken by the witch,” comes a voice.
“Sure lured us in with promises to teach us – but instead we were tricked, forced to enter the bog like you.”
“Giving her more power,” I realize. The bog is her archive, her grimoire. Each warden preserves a spell the witch taught them long ago, magic pickling in the peat.
The muck is up to my waist now. My mind races through the witch’s lessons, combing through what little I’ve learned about the nature of the bog. I close my eyes and feel the thick, cloying mud closing around my ribs as I breathe. I listen to the thrum of a frog, the soft flutter of a thrush shifting in the sedge, the whine of a fly as it whips by me. I open my eyes and search for a plan. Tendrils of green twist up from the fen like the witch’s own crooked fingers.
“Wardens, will you help me defend the bog before I die?”
Bubbles break along the surface of the muddy waters, and I wonder if there will be enough time.
I peer up from the bottom of bog, the acidic water burning my eyes, my lungs. In the distance I see movement along the bank: the witch inspecting her work, scanning the bog for my preserved body. My arm is raised in a final plea, the tip of my finger still breaking the water’s surface, exposed. And it is enough. The wardens surround me, all their knowledge preserved, concentrated, and suddenly a surge of magic crackles through me. My finger points to the unsuspecting witch and with one last spasm of my body, I cast my first and only spell. My eyes close as death swells over me. But a new sight takes hold, connecting me to the wardens. We watch as the witch shrivels, her bones cracking, wings unfurling. The tiny fly panics and flits unsteadily to the nearest plant: the sticky tendrils of a sundew. Feeling the delicate pressure of the fly on its limbs, the bog plant begins to secrete its sticky mucilage.
From below, we can hear the witch-fly scream, struggling to free herself from the carnivorous plant, until at last there is silence, and the bog is still once more.
by submission | May 12, 2023 | Story |
Author: Sarah Klein
It comes to pass that at a certain population level, investing in the health of the working class makes “sense”. And this had come to pass. The natural disasters and diseases from climate change had truly whittled us down. But nobody wants to come down from the top, right? So they figured out some magic cheap food pastes that the plebs could afford, and gave them all healthcare. Except those poor fuckers actually had to work. You stop showing up to your assigned job, bam, no more pills for you, honey. They’ll check the records. The rest of us, of course, don’t. My daddy made sure I wouldn’t, just like his father before him. The only trouble is, how could we truly differentiate ourselves from those suckers who had to work for a living. And the answer, as always, is fashion.
I spent about three hours before the premiere of the new play getting ready. Jaundice was in this season. A subtle yellow tint to most of your exposed skin, but mostly your face will do. My spider angiomas? Belong in a museum. They’re artwork. I’ve spent hours working on bruises, but for whatever reason they’re a little trickier. The yellow tint really brings them out and helps with that, though.
I ran into my good friend Annie afterwards, who was looking a little unnaturally pale. I was wondering if she’d used makeup for it when she started speaking and her voice broke in despair. “Brianna, I have cancer,” she spluttered, before heaving a sob. “Breast cancer and they say that it’s probably treatable and they’re optimistic but apparently it’s already in some lymph nodes and they can’t tell me it’s 100% -” she broke off and covered her hands with her face. “Hey,” I said, and she sniffled and took her hands down to look at me. Definitely no makeup on, it would be running.
“What an opportunity! You are going to be a HIT in the fashion scene! Maybe a modeling contract! Think about it. If they’re going to do chemo, yeah? You will look so realistically sick because you’ll BE sick!” Annie appeared horrified, and I didn’t understand why. “Come on, you can afford all the best treatments, I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” I said, slapping her playfully on the arm. I reached over to lift up her chin. “You know, I never thought of it before, but bald could really suit you…”
I was shocked when she batted my hand away. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She yelled, and I looked around to make sure we weren’t making a scene while shushing her. “I have CANCER! The treatments are going to fuck me up! They’re going to be miserable! I could still die!”
I kept my cool while checking the tips of my fingers to make sure the red tint was still evenly applied. “Beauty is pain, they say,” I opined, tossing my hair and looking her in the eye.
“I cannot believe you,” she spat, and strode away. Good lord she was uptight. Good old Annie.
I guess I could’ve been a little more sympathetic, but she’s still so young, it’s TOTALLY possible she ends up on the cover of a magazine. And hey, what was that old saying, live fast die young and leave a good-looking corpse? Anyway, I’m thinking of making it up to her by showing her this place that will tattoo astonishingly accurate rashes. I’m thinking one on my shoulder and a little one on the underside of my wrist, what do you think?
by submission | May 11, 2023 | Story |
I’m the biggest real estate mogul you’ve never heard of, and I like to keep it that way. I own over three thousand parcels in the greatest cities on earth: Beijing, Jakarta, Tokyo, New York, Rio, Paris, Mumbai, Cape Town, London, Istanbul, Karachi, Lima, Moscow, Cairo, Sydney, Mexico City, Berlin, Montreal, Madrid, Kinshasa, Rome.
I could go on, but you get the picture, or at least enough to stand back and marvel at the extent of my portfolio. At first glance. I certainly don’t want you taking a closer look, a deeper dive into my real estate holdings. Yes, I’ve purchased over three thousand global properties, but I’m not a billionaire, not even a millionaire. I’m a janitor. The sole custodian for the last seven years at an obscure tech research company that likely won’t stay unknown for much longer.
Gulliver’s Travels may sound like an odd name for a tech research start up, but just remember how deep tech nerdom runs. Gulliver’s Travels is not named after Lemuel Gulliver of Jonathon Swift’s satirical invention, but after Gulliver Foyle from Alfred Bester’s crafty sci fi novel. The upshot is that Gully Foyle can “jaunt” across vast distances. Humans have learned to teleport themselves to specific portal sites around earth. Gully (spoiler!) just happens to take it a step further in a most unexpected interstellar leap of faith.
Unbelievable, right? Just like a janitor who owns thousands of properties in the most expensive cities in the world. Maybe I’ll seem more plausible than Gully Foyle when I tell you that the total area of all 3,131 properties I own is 76,042 square feet. A little less than the size of an official soccer field.
That’s right. I basically own a soccer field split into tiny parcels littered throughout the most populous cities on earth. I’m a gutterspace tycoon. I find interstitial real estate: municipal plots squeezed between buildings, hemmed in by busy streets, dark alleys, graffitied walls, rusting fences, odd little footprints of city property most would consider too small and random to have any practical use, and I buy them on the cheap. To most investors, these patchwork parcels hold little promise of development, and so had minimal commercial value.
Had. Had. Had.
Not so now as Gulliver’s Travels is set to announce its breakthrough technology. I may just clean the labs, but I’ve kept my eyes, ears, and mind open the last seven years, and I know when something big–really big–is brewing. I quietly witnessed the company’s entire evolution: from atoms to elements to gasses to soil to minerals to amoeba to plants to insects to fish to birds to reptiles to mammals to us. Human teleportation. Beam me up, Scotty, for real.
The most revolutionary form of transportation ever. What will it mean? Well, if you consider other great advances in conveyance, each required a certain type of real estate to make it viable. Ships needed ports and docks, trains needed railways and stations, cars needed highways and parking lots, airplanes needed runways and terminals. Seemingly worthless land became suddenly prized.
Teleportals, too, will require real estate. But not a lot of it. Compact spaces, convenient interstices, throughout major cities where these first teleportation hubs will surely be located. A real estate gold rush for portal space is about to begin, and I feel it only fitting that a janitor like myself is ready to clean up.
Gutterspace is about to become my new goldmine, and I like to believe Gully Foyle would find that a most jaunty thought.
by submission | May 10, 2023 | Story |
Author: James Moran
“So tell me,” Damien says, “how are things goin?”
We’re having our monthly coffee at Naima’s Café. I want to cruise through my part quickly so Damien can vent. Last month was a tough one. He and Charmaine moved in together and he pushed her too hard while they were hefting the couch up the stairs and she dropped it and broke her foot.
I say, “With me it’s always the same—”
My phone interrupts with a chime and notification. Ronaldo, Tatiana’s brother, says “Agora!” on Tatiana’s family Whatsapp group. The group has been blowing up since news broke this morning that someone had assaulted Mauro Hassan, Brazilian model, food show celebrity, and general “It” guy. Tatiana hated that guy and had been saying she wanted to punch him in the face. Apparently someone just walked up to him in a gourmet market in Rio de Janeiro and punched him in the face. Her family is having a field day with it.
I put my phone on silent and flip it upside down.
“Like I was saying, it’s always the same with me. Married to the hot Brazilian scientist in the process of inventing teleportation who makes all the money. I can’t complain. I just wish I wasn’t relegated to the stay-at-home husband role.”
That’s it. Like I said, it’s always the same with me. I don’t need to dwell on it. I’m not here grabbing coffee with my friend to process something that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. I’m about to say, “How about you? How are you and Charmaine?” But I don’t say that.
Damien is distracted. Not distracted. Uncomfortable. He keeps looking around then at me like he wants to say something. “Are you happy?” he finally asks.
“As happy as anyone,” I am in the process of saying when Damien says, “I did it.”
“Did what?” I ask.
“I punched him.”
“Rick, Tatiana and I are friends, right?”
It’s true. They’re good friends. I don’t mind that. “Yeah,” I agree.
“I did it.”
“But he’s in Brazil.”
“I did it…I punched him.” Damien is excited now.
So people can do this now? Just appear in a different country and punch someone?
“Do you mind?” Damien asks.
“No,” I say. “That’s amazing.”
“Good.” Damien looks more relaxed now.
Yet over the course of our conversation he keeps asking if I’m ok with it.
Not until I’m walking to my car do I realize I am stunned. And the most surprising part isn’t that Tatiana has achieved her life’s goal of teleportation. It isn’t even that she shared her real-world deployment of said goal with Damien behind my back. It is that Tatiana and I are over and I hadn’t even realized it.
by submission | May 9, 2023 | Story |
Author: Aubrey Williams
I’m such a lousy pilot— I really shouldn’t be given the responsibility of flying a ship ever again. And don’t for one minute think I’m kidding, because I’ve had a few scrapes before, and I know the big one’s coming. I’m not exactly sure what the deficiency is, but I have a feeling I get distracted by things. I also, and this is kind of funny, I also don’t realise how fast I’m going. It’s like I can’t quite appreciate the speedometer.
Should I tell you about my last two flights? So the first one was hauling cargo to one of the new mining rigs on Mercury. Most people assume that’s an easy flight, but the diagnostic system kept interrupting me, and every time it reported a fault, my attention went there. I can vouch for the other pilot’s flying skills, but he tends to leave things to me after take-off and before landing on most routes. Anyway, I’m flying the ship, and suddenly Diagnostic starts going off on one about an imbalance of cargo in the rear-right quarter, and how it’s increasing the drift. So of course, I start telling Diagnostic that they can shut the hell up because it’s not overloaded and I can compensate. But then Diagnostic says the course has been planned to use only a certain amount of fuel, so I have to talk to Course and tell them I’m changing things. And then Course makes such a big deal out of it, and wants my colleague to confirm. Look, we’re both pilots, right? I have authority over Diagnostic and Course, but no, I need to ask Mr. Smooth Landings over here if I can steer round a tiny bit so as not to make the sirens moan. Meanwhile, I barely miss a pleasure skiff that’s doing the big solar tour, and cause a fuel tanker to go into a barely-controlled dive in order to avoid me. They shouted at me a lot after that!
Now flight number two— the last one. For this we’re doing survey work, so it’s long and boring, and we have to keep the speed right down. The thing is, when you go that slow, the lift isn’t so good, and the anti-grav system goes into overdrive, which has a tendency to make the whole place too hot and smell of bad seafood. Don’t ask me, I’m not Mechanic. Anyway, once more Mr. Bigshot goes to relieve himself, because apparently he has to do that all the time, and tells me to deal with it until we get to Hubble Point. All these notifications and buzzers and bells, I feel like the fairy on top of a malfunctioning Christmas tree. So let’s go a little quicker, I say, and get to Hubble Point maybe ten minutes early— no one will know the difference. Of course, accelerating significantly after a lift drag like we had means the ship lurches, then gets a bit hard to control, and next thing I know we’re in the middle of Hubble Point. Literally. The old space telescope that’s now a marker. I’m told it was expensive.
I’m still here, though, so clearly there’s a use for me despite everything. The worst part is I’m doing a transport run, so there’s all these people in the back. We’re going to Mars, and that means the Asteroid Belt. Oh boy, I am not going to have fun with this. And guess who Mr. Top Gun put in charge because he drank a few too many mojitos?
And humans think they have it eas—