Author: Irene Montaner
Seventeen days. Alana made another straight line beside the previous sixteen.
The faint light of the first sun rays already filled the kitchen. The kettle whistled. Alana poured herself a cup of tea and watched the milk swirl in the brown water. Soon milk and tea combined into one appetizing beverage. Alana sat down to enjoy her morning cuppa and scribbled some words in her diary. Feeling fine.
Alana looked out of the window. There was no one to be seen. Only the sun rising over the horizon reminded Alana that the world was still spinning, That and the seagulls. Soon they would start squealing their histrionic squeals, the only sign that life went on in the outside world.
The seagulls had always been there. Living on the seaside, Alana was used to them. She used to enjoy watching them hover over the ocean and diving in the waters to catch some food. She even liked the distant sound of the squawking. But that was before confinement. As people shut themselves into their homes, or whatever other form of shelter they could think of, the gulls took over their place in the village. First, they owned the pier, then they conquered the beach line promenade, finally, they made home all over the houses of the tiny village and Alana’s front porch was now inhabited by scores of seagulls.
The beep of her smartphone brought Alana back to reality. She swiped her index finger across the screen, desperate for news. But no news of Shane came, only the daily report on the virus’ death toll. Shane had gone to out two days before the lockdown and never came back. Alana had hoped that he’d returned soon after the bars shut down. But as the days passed by and life died out in the village, Alana began to fear that Shane’s life had also ended somewhere far from home, infected by that mysterious virus that made pariahs of all sick people.
Every day Alana tried to take her mind off those scary thoughts. She journaled, she drank her tea, she gazed at the sea from her window. There was not much else she could do when locked inside her house. But lately, whenever she looked outside all she could see were seagulls. And their cry was piercing her skull and infesting her brain with a different disease. Fear. Madness. Her memories of Shane often merged with her view of those screeching birds and in her mind, she would see dozens of gulls feasting on his corpse. She was going crazy. She had gone crazy and for the first time in seventeen days, Alana opened the door and went outside.
The warmth of the spring sun greeted her, the salty sea breeze made her feel alive. She closed her eyes and inhaled and exhaled. Inhaled and exhaled. She opened her eyes and watched the seagulls fly away. None of the birds had cared to peck at her until no skin was left on her bones. None of the birds would care about Shane. She sat down and watched the sunset.
The phone didn’t ring that night either. The sun rose once more. Eighteen days. Another straight line, another cup of tea. Alana jotted some more thoughts. Still feeling fine.
Author: David C. Nutt
I watched the wifihead bounce into the door. I Love clueless look they all have when they realize they’ve lost connectivity. Next comes the part I love even better, when they swipe their finger across the door to open it. None of them have been off-line in their lives. The experts are saying this might go on for years. I watch as his panic starts to build, then I step in.
“Get you in the building for five bucks.”
“You want in? I can get you in. All it will cost you is five bucks… cash.”
“That’s outrageous! I work here.”
“Sure. And I don’t. Five bucks.”
“I don’t have cash… nobody who is anybody carries cash. That’s so… dis.”
Dis. He said it with a sneer. As in disconnected. As in me and roughly .17% of the population who for one reason or another cannot be directly connected to the net. Can’t have info downloaded to our noggins, can’t run the internet of things from our brains, can’t even make a phone call or watch a movie by tapping our temple. That part I could live without. But I can’t work in any kind of office, can’t get service in a restaurant, bank, or laundromat. Even worse, the new stuff they’re making doesn’t even have chipcard access anymore. Sure, I have an access port wrist set to get me some limited connectivity; looks like an old timey smart watch, but as soon as they see me use it, or find out that I’m not “jacked-in”- it’s to the back of the line. Even if I was first in line.
I looked at the wifihead. I smiled. “Yeah, so dis. 20 bucks. Unless you can go and get the cash.” I pulled back my sleeve so he could see my “smart watch.” He tapped his temple. I shook my head. He sighed and pulled out his chip card and tapped my wrist set. Twenty dollars was credited to my account. I smiled. I pulled the recessed handle and the door slid back.
The wifihead shot me a look of contempt. “That’s it?”
I bowed dramatically and looked up. “Sir, you are paying for your ignorance. I have given you a life lesson you will remember forever.”
“Dis freak.” He said under his breath. He walked into the vestibule. There was another door. He walked right into it and comically bounced off it. I let go of the outer door. It closed behind him. He was rattling the inner door. “Help! Help! Let me in!” I shook my head.
“Just push on the brass plate that says ‘PUSH’.” He pushed instead of pulling as he was previously doing, and the door opened. I looked past him into the building where my friend Angela was standing. She smiled and waved. It would be another five bucks to get on the elevator.
Oh, the next few weeks were going to be busy ones! What used to be our support groups for the “Dis” were now union meetings more-or-less. No need for us to be too greedy, or too smug. There’s plenty of opportunity for all of us now where we used to be marginalized as “Dis.” Appliances have to be turned on, thermostats adjusted, machinery re-set, phones dialed… and so much more! So much that they need us to do. And when the government steps in and legitimize us because they have to, well, then we’ll be national heroes. As for now… I’m just finally making good money and having the time of my life.
Author: Evan Whitbeck
Light . . . warmth. It’s far, but what I begin to feel rouses me.
Where am I? I guess if I’ve woken, I must be someplace again.
A sound? A sound! And I felt something! Something hit me, flew into me — I crashed into something, but I know it because I felt it. I felt it! It has been a long time since I last heard or felt: the warmth of the radio and then the growing brightness, the sound of being hit and the feeling of it. It has been a long, long time. But there is still more time yet, I think as I doze off again. I want to move, to stretch my limbs. But it’s too early, though the temptation is great.
I take small naps as I move forward, rebuilding and conserving my strength. I wonder if I’m here or if I was thrown off during my rest. I will know soon. But . . . I have to be here . . . if something happened, if here isn’t where it should be . . . the time wasted — the time is nothing — means everything.
I’m moving faster every moment. Happy to be getting closer. Closer to where I can know if I’m actually getting closer this time. I’m pushing myself more, staying awake longer. I’m gaining strength. As I warm, I know I am close enough to save my strength and rest before I am there. I am glad, I am awake, I am warm, I am the pop and snap of the sails unfurling. These sails . . . I feel these sails warming me, catching the light, and a shudder built from joy, anticipation, and dread runs through my body. As I shudder, as I feel these sails pull, I know soon that I will know.
I get closer still, and I have woken up enough from my long sleep and warmed while planning and waiting. I am strong enough now to look and to listen. I slow down to better see through all of my open eyes; I keen my ears, I turn and look and listen.
I am not in the wrong place. The dread is gone and the anticipation fades. There is only joy. This is here. I pick up speed, trying to keep myself from rushing. I arrive as the star crests the horizon and the sails come in. I turn and feel the heat of the atmosphere as I drop, faster and faster, before slowing and putting myself on the ground. Ground. The ground here, I am here.
How long has it been? There were stops and mistakes and sleep and isolation. I am awake, I am here, I know I am here. The signal is unmistakable; it fills my eyes and ears and body as it thrums out. We had decided, we knew it was right, here was where we will be. The preparations were made for here to be what it needed to be and I left.
I have found the spot. I dig into the ground, drinking deeply from the prepared, from the reactor and the refineries. I grew stronger yet and become the ark, the mother I was been before and will be again. I was ready. My life and my machinery intertwined and soon, after a season of growing and worrying, we were. We are here. We were again. I am again.
We are here. I am home and we are.
Author: Mark Renney
The road is becoming much more difficult to follow and there are places where it disappears entirely and each time it does the road becomes a little harder to locate. Davis is now spending most of his time meandering back and forth, searching for it.
He is stalled on the edge of the plain and if he is to continue, to keep making for the centre, toward the point of impact, Davis will have to abandon the road and venture out there. Although the debris is still plentiful, here he can see quite clearly that on the plain it begins to lessen, to thin out.
On the road he hasn’t had to stray very far in order to find what he needs, taking what he wants as and when he wants it. Food and drink, of course, and there is still an abundance of cans and cartons and packets and bottles or a change of clothes or a new pair of boots.
On the plain, it will be necessary for him to carry provisions. Davis searches for something with which he will be able to do this. A rucksack would be ideal, or a suitcase, one with wheels. But he is unable to find either of these, or even one of those sturdy carrier bags the supermarkets used to sell: ‘A BAG FOR LIFE’ had been the motto. Davis remembers how he had always forgotten them and so whenever he visited a store he would have to purchase another until, eventually, there were so many kicking around the house he had been forced to gather them up and throw them in the dustbin. Now, when he really needed one, there were no Bags For Life, not out here.
Davis considers constructing something himself, anything with ropes attached would suffice. A makeshift sledge he could drag along behind him. But it doesn’t feel right to use something he has cobbled together. No, it has to be something from before, something still intact, still useful.
Author: Janet Shell Anderson
I’m driving up 34, but no one’s on the road. Tractors sit in the muddy fields; nothing’s planted. Where’s everybody?
Usually they’re on I-80 anyway, so that’s probably the reason, plus it’s Sunday morning, and except for church traffic in maybe say Aurora or Utica, little towns, I wouldn’t expect anybody because they’re young out here on this flatland and they sleep in. But still.
The Rainbasin’s awfully full of birds, snow geese mostly, but I see in a shallow pond, in the middle of what ought to be a newly planted cornfield, a pair of swans. I’ve never seen swans out here before, though they migrate through sometimes.
Clouds have been hanging about eight hundred feet off the ground, wooly bunches like somebody forgot to do wash in heaven. Not normal. I haven’t seen a star at night for weeks. A cold funnel came over, never touched down, poked down like some bizarre tendril.
I’ve called on Skype, Portal, texted; none of my family’s answered. Social media’s down. TV’s a mess of static, blizzard of digital goofs. No radio, not even the station on the rez that broadcasts every bit of local news.
I see crows in all the trees. Big ones. We don’t have ravens out here, but, man, these look like ravens. I roll down the car window, because ravens mutter, “jerk,” but these are silent. No cawing. No nothing.
It’s a colorless world. Nothing’s come up out of the wet fields. The trees are still bare. The few yards I’ve passed are mostly beige. No robins. I saw a black cat sitting on a white porch of a very weather-beaten farmhouse.
Off in the distance, I see a huge swirl of birds near a horizon that’s flat as a pancake. The birds look like smoke. Sandhill cranes. Thousands of them. I should be getting near the river soon. Still no traffic. Five mule tail deer cross the road in front of me. I’ve never seen them out in the day like this. Then six or seven more come out of a farmyard. Over by distant railroad tracks, in the mist, I spot not cattle, but muleys. A really big herd of deer.
This landscape isn’t right; there should be somebody, driving, walking, opening a door, light on somewhere, sounds of people. The sky’s grey, the land’s grey, the swirl of cranes in the distance, a smudge of charcoal. I think maybe I better not go on. Just an instinct. The twenty birds sitting in the farmstead trees where I pull up are each glistening black.
People thought ravens were messengers from the gods. Not likely. Anyway, these are not ravens, just ordinary crows. The people are somewhere around. Everything’s just a little weird. The horizon’s filling with darkness, fog, low cloud. I pull up on a gravel drive, beside a peeling, unlighted house, stop the engine, roll down the window, listen.
Author: Katlina Sommerberg
Soft red-violet and indigo flog floats off the floor, obscuring my body beneath glittering colors. The fingers that held my boyfriend’s are drenched in sweat and water vapor, clammy in this cold tank. There is nothing but the fog. My body drifts behind me, outside my vision, and I can’t tell anymore when my eyes are opened or not — the colors are the same.
Have I ever felt my body? I hit the ground running during cross country training, but had I ever felt the blades of grass beneath my soles? I listened to the pain, obeying its screams and waiting for a whisper to flare.
Yet the colors swirl. Water vapor collects on my naked skin, running and dripping as I spin. I remind myself that this is zero gravity, but I still expect the steam to act like a shower back on Earth. Back home, where he waits for me and my amputated leg sits in a pickle jar.
Why? I can’t remember now why I wanted to save the flesh. The phantom sensations shrieked for attention whenever I glimpsed the dead piece of myself. Maybe I wanted to remember what it was like to have muscle and skin where there isn’t anything anymore.
In the fog, I’m free of the expectation to see non-existent flesh. Phantom pain becomes indistinguishable from any other.
I float in the sea of shifting red-violet and indigo plumes until all of the pain melts away. Chemicals in the gas, they explained to me, a two-pronged strategy of mindful meditation and medication.
Now I see. I was never whole.