Tick Off

Author: DJ Lunan

I know these are my earthquakes. My greed, guilt, and responsibility. Fair dues. But I am not learning a lesson. Earth is being terminated.

With each tremor, our house groans like a war-weary galleon. Imperceptibly minute specks of rubble, wood dust, and alien guano shake free and float gently down.

It is sunny. But I am haunted, selfishly, by fear or guilt. Arms hugging myself tightly, shirt drenched with sweat, gazing out of the window with bloodshot eyes at the neighbourhood’s children at play.

They no longer yelp, scream or cheer each tremor; instead, their focus is on badminton and squealing at sporadic returns of serve.

“Their spirit gives me hope”, utters Judy crouching under our kitchen table.

“Why didn’t you stop me?”, I retort accusingly.

“I didn’t think you’d break every law we held dear!”, she snaps, “I thought you’d make a little extra currency from trading moondust”.

“It wasn’t about the money”, I sob, falling hard to my knees.

“My mother said, never trust an astronaut….”

“Well, she was right!”, I shout, unconcerned that our kids may hear their divorced parents arguing again.


Acne planets are common to countless galaxies but no less a phenomenon: lifeless, craters too deep for asteroid impact and sporting inhospitable dust-choked atmospheres.

Even at lightspeed, Ayrton and I were awed by our first surface of one, resembling an enervated cancer cell under a microscope.

“What makes that acne planet twinkle, Jack?”, Ayrton asked each time our shuttle zipped past.

“I don’t care, I need to go home, hang with my kids, get promoted”, I repeated.

“A little off-the-books detour, buddy? Come on, maybe its treasure!”, urged Ayrton.

We detoured just the once, building slack into our schedule through practiced lies about routine maintenance.

On landing, the planet was indeed ablaze with thousands of tiny light points refracting and intensifying the dull shine reflecting from an orbiting moon.

In my cumbersome spacesuit, I struggled to pick one up. A translucent amulet in the shape of a four-legged beetle with large pincers, the size and shape of an eyeball.

“Who’d forge thousands of glass beetles, and scatter them on a barren planet?”, I asked, but Ayrton was on his knees shoveling handfuls into his knapsack, excited to satisfy Earth’s inexhaustible appetite for anything alien.


“They’re ticks, not beetles, Dad, gross!”, informed my children, “Bloated ones, full of blood”.

Dropping the knapsack on the floor, the children ran outside to enjoy Earth’s final summer.

“I thought you’d like them….”, I called softly after them.

The summer heat roused the aliens. Famished crystal teeth swiftly chewed the knapsack, floorboards, and foundations. They tunneled swiftly down, spawning billions of minuscule glass eggs in their wake, transforming thermal energy into transparent life and organic death.

With each millimetre deeper, discharged compression forces equal to one million neutron bombs reverberate around the globe, spawning new sinkholes, swallowing towns, oceans and mountain ranges.

This subterranean militia voyaged along groundwater highways and mantle tracks, encircling the Earth, and gnawed a trillion eyeball-sized shafts through tectonic plates, exposing the mantle’s thermal forces to the Earth’s surface.

Our air was incrementally blackened by lava ash and alien guano and baked with the ferocity of the Earth’s nuclear core.


The tremors were gaining strength, our house was grumbling louder, crumbling faster.

“We are all going to die, be sucked back into the earth, whence we came”, I remark poetically.

Judy shakes her head, her eyes suddenly sparkling like a billion glass beetles attracting fools to floating rocks. She took my hand comfortingly, “Come on, let’s play a final game of badminton with the girls”.

In Fire He Shall Rise

Author: Amanda Hard

Scarlet and orange leaves, chips of autumnal tree paint, fell on dry grass as the phoenix in my bird bath lifted his tired eyes.

“Damned,” he squawked, before flashing bright white, a blur of sparks and feathers of gray ash that floated to the ground like an early snow.

He’ll rebirth in a few hours under the ginkgo tree, in a soft nest of banana yellow fans and pink fruit that smells of feces and decay. He’ll drag his top-heavy, round-breasted chick body over to the concrete bath and peck drops of water and forgotten seed. I’ll sit in my chair watching the rising of Orion’s stars as they mark out the approach of winter, wondering where the phoenix roosts and what he does in the darkness.

Last year, as he burned, he took out a cardinal, its brilliance obliterated in a blinding instant of heat; its bird thoughts extinguished, leaving behind nothing but a sour, sulfurous odor that remained in the leaves for weeks. The bath stayed empty that year. Even the pigeons found more cheerful places to be.

Once, I caught him in the early hours of his renewal. I thought I saw him watching me from under a bush, his forward-facing bird eyes unblinking. I crawled slowly closer, on aching knees and calloused hands, and rested my chin in the cool dirt to look at him. To really look at him.

Curiously, where his beak should have been was the same dead nose hole as on my own skull. In that moment, before his regeneration began in full, I saw us reflected in each other’s eyes, mirrored in perpetuity, an infinite regression of one image: he the chick and me the old man, nothing but flesh-wrapped skeletons, one and the same. The fluff of down he wore now, before his adult feathers could come in, was my skin, row after row of soft wrinkles in paper-thin tissue. Both pairs of our eyes were hard and cold, the fire of our passions tempered by the repetition of years.

I told myself one day I would fill the basin with gasoline. End this stupid seasonal ritual. Maybe I’ll do it tonight, standing quietly by in the early morning with a cigar, my own spent years before me as a shield. Burn the little bastard’s soul before he can flaunt his youth in the brilliant lights of his self-immolation again.

Yes, I’ll burn him tonight, I decide. While he’s still a chick. Then I can go back to feeding the blue-gray pigeons who dumbly bob their way across the yard to the bath, as constant as the seasons; hatching and dying, getting old and fat, all of us sharing the same puddle of memory in a shallow concrete basin.


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.