Last

Author: Ed Nobody

The last day goes by unfelt. No change. Time turned glacial under rubbled roads in thick tar, sticky black thick leaking sun of dead summer.

I didn’t breathe and felt nothing.

Wind stopped bothering; leaves not leaning, unswayed by final wind to grace God’s grey earth, before all turns rot-orange, stand-still, decay in place.

I’m flat ground, inert, weathered. No illness, ceasing, death felling each blade of bad grass past hollow trees and fields uncut, shaggy seeds split off fallen flat in mud, unkept, unloved—song of sick birds—wheel waiting to topple.

Can’t feel—breath stuck—blanked thoughts—dry sponge—brittle break—There! A hint of wind sweeping moldy panes dirty grey with grease and stains, bitter coffee tang, lukewarm tongue, morphing garlic gag swish mouth bitter bad and then blank.

A plain van streams a slippy-line swiiii then gone into more ghost lost to who knows where—
Fading.

My spoiled in ground corpse won’t be found in this fallow field, yielding last living cells to promise of new day—new smell, new chirping birds flitting through woods of willow, chirp drowsy and mellow, life once more before last end, don’t let go, heat turning to chill—
A small shiver up spine, ground’s or mine? Ah, ache, pain, reminds.

Tight vines cover lost parts—red death shroud covers broke bones, blood-blemished clods of dead clay, some resting place. Who cares? The earth, stopped turning, lies flat.

We once kept the will to fight, dreams of war, delusions bored and unaware of terror—forgot or didn’t know the worst this land has to offer—woke up with blood in gutter—
Then too late to matter.

There. Maybe sweat, stale weeds, low rumble grunt of aching tree to weep tree, shadows blot out sky greyed regret, poor souls not knowing what hit—en masse grumbles, sky-liquid liquor not quelling whine of wind—still there, waiting to whistle through empty streets when the earth breathes out—
Will it?

Grand visions traded for frustrations, gurgled constipations of desire, once wild blazing fire now feckless ember throbbing in leaky guts, whining bellyaches of thousand slaughtered men shakes through clouds, raining on my rotten body stirring wake from death dreams, sweet death uncoming, mute non-death stretching out pale white blades, taunting me with specters of what was.

No raging waves thrash within—flat horizon, sun not coming—all red shadow—lumber to land—scraping behind—Rabbit? Or wind giving last blow, shake of the limbs before it goes—
Or a rabbit that wants grass still green to root, cawing rooks happy harping, creatures scurry squirming, trying, no denial, no need to convince themselves the world’s more than a ghost-shadow, doubt—
But maybe, unknowing, works. Turn into a worm beating happy fat tail in dead mud. Dirt feeling. Wake up to dirt air, sooty smoke of clogged chimneys, dry rain, numb ground, still wind, nothing, nothing, nothing, no vast mirage, no pining, ignoring now’s gnawing, forgetting rusty rot eating through to the bone. Here and gone.

The Adjoining Door Conundrum

Author: Don Nigroni

Twelve years ago, during the first year of the Ultimate Crisis, the Special Problems: Organized, Researched, Explained and Solved (SPORES) think tank was presented with the perplexing Adjoining Door Conundrum. Our scientists knew about a spot near Mars where there was a curious portal to a parallel universe that was thought to be very similar to ours.

But it was an adjoining door between the two worlds. Advanced civilizations on both sides would need to unlock the door for either to gain passage through the portal. All the Prime Speaker of the Assembly of the Solar System wanted us to do was recommend whether we should unlock our side or not.

We discussed the risks and rewards. If we unlocked but the other side was locked then nothing would happen. However, if the other side was already unlocked then angels or demons might rush into our world. Also, the matter and energy or whatnot from the other world might be incompatible with our dimension with unknowable consequences.

You must appreciate the situation was dire, our solar system was on the brink of a quark subnuclear war between the Red Faction and the Orange League that might have destroyed most of humanity. Worse than the subnuclear threat was the Horrific Blight, a novel fungal disease that was spreading throughout our solar system, destroying all plant life in its wake.

Animal species were going extinct at an alarming rate. It was estimated that the total human population would fall below a hundred thousand in just nine years and be virtually extinct in less than fourteen years. Famine was already a problem on the poorest planets and moons and even on Earth food was already being rationed to prevent hoarding.

Eleven of our members thought the potential reward outweighed the very disturbing risks. We were despairing of any salvation and unlocking offered a glimmer of hope. Only Emma objected. She believed we could somehow solve our problems by ourselves, and unlocking would only divert urgently needed resources and bring down certain ruin on humanity.

Emma was put to sleep yesterday, and I’ve opted to be euthanized tomorrow. It’s important to understand our decision to unlock was made out of sheer desperation. To our surprise and relief, the other side was unlocked also. Probes were dispatched to make contact with any advanced civilization in the other dimension and request their assistance.

Based on excavations and atmospheric chemistry, we estimated the last advanced civilization in that parallel star system died out about a million years ago. Perhaps they unlocked their side in the hope that we’d save them. Apparently, they were disappointed too.

The Quantum Prop Room

Author: David C. Nutt

I pressed “play” on my digital recorder.
“See doc, I wasn’t always a hoarder. Yeah, I know what my place looks like right now, but if I didn’t have clutter, I’d have nothing at all.
I was up late watching a classic movie from the 80’s. I noticed during one scene, they had the same mug as I did. I laughed and went to get a cup of noodles thinking I’d use that same mug. But I couldn’t find it. No big deal. Moved four times since I got that mug. I didn’t think too much about it. “Three moves equals a fire,” as my Auntie always said.
About two weeks later, I was watching a stupid sit com re-run and noticed they had the same platter on display I had. I got up and went to where I keep that platter and it was gone. Thought I’d drop a load right there but shook it off ‘cause even I knew what I was thinking was crazy.
Then all sorts of things went missing- a pen holder with pens, and hole punch. Wound up on an episode of “The Office,” on the receptionist counter. A framed Currier and Ives print from my hallway. That one I saw in a bar scene on “Law & Order.” Then my Mom’s sewing basket disappeared. It went to “Golden Girls”. My Grandmother’s silver tea service- “Downton Abbey.” I was getting desperate. I moved all I could out to the shed, especially the real valuable stuff, heirlooms and the like. That worked for a while. Until I went to put more out there, and everything was gone including the plywood flooring. Two days later the shed was gone. Saw it on a “Brady Bunch” episode, exterior shot.
Finally, I figure out if I just stacked things in jumbles around the house, they couldn’t find things to take. They didn’t catch on… for a while. Then stuff started disappearing again. I had to get even more complex and disheveled. You know the rest. Nieces and nephews dropped by and now here I am in the looney bin. Can’t say I blame my family. Actually, I’m glad to be here. The stuff I took with me is safe, and I can breathe easier.”
I pressed “stop”. Now, after his death, I was here to help the family process their feelings as they emptied the contents of his home. I was first to be at his house, secured since his committal. A 30-yard dumpster in the driveway, another set for delivery the following day. Taking a deep breath, I unlocked the door and walked in. The air left my body as if I had been punched in the gut. The place was empty. I ran from room to room in the entire house, including the attic and basement. Nothing. No furniture, curtains, bedding, paper goods, not even cleaning supplies under the sinks. Nothing. When his relatives arrived, all of us shared our shock, our utter disbelief. Thieves. Obsessive-compulsive ones, at that.
Two days later I reported the theft of a family heirloom to the police- my great-grandmother’s wedding veil. It was set in a display case on my mantel. I filled out a report. Gave them pictures. Never thought I’d see it again.
But I did.
Last night, 1939 B&W classic, “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.” The Queen herself, wearing great-grandmothers veil. To her left on a table, the display case. I began packing stuff into boxes, hoping I wasn’t fighting a losing battle.

Garbage Day

Author: Chris Preston

I just turned six years old and, for my birthday, Dad gave me a grown-up mask. It was supposed to be Mom’s, but she didn’t come home when she was supposed to. Before the sirens started.
I was only four years old when we went into our hideout under the basement. No mask fit me so only Dad could go back up into the dirty air outside.
Life in the hideout is boring. At first, there was a lot to do because Dad was very prepared. He worked as a scientist and his boss told him that something bad was coming. When it looked like we would be in our hideout for a long time, Dad even made rules for the different days of the week.
The weekend days are a “free-for-all,” as Dad says.
Mondays are cooking days. I don’t like the smell when Dad burns our soup, it stinks for hours.
Tuesdays, we read the whole time. My books, adult books, even some magazines. Sometimes, Dad thinks I am reading but only because I know which words always come next.
Wednesdays, we run the generator extra long to watch many shows and movies. Sometimes, we don’t if Dad hasn’t found any new gas.
Thursdays are grooming days. I always like the taste of minty toothpaste because Dad ran out of real mint a long time ago. We also trim our nails, wash ourselves with new water, and Dad cuts my hair. His hair is all gone. Mine is falling out too but Dad says that happens when you get older. After, I use a broom to collect the little bundles of blonde hair off the ground and put it in the trash can.
Fridays are my favorite day. Garbage day. Well, they used to be scary. Being alone is always scary for me. But now, it’s different. Dad made this new mask tight, as tight as it could go, so it fit my face. It was what I needed to leave our secret bunker again.
My heart was racing when I first left for my first garbage day with Dad. To get out, Dad as made a path through our house that fell over. It was daytime, but I wasn’t used to the sun anymore. I have what my dad calls indoor eyes. After I didn’t need to squint anymore, I remember saying, “what a mess!” Everything was different, like a big storm came through and knocked the whole world over. Our neighbours were all gone, it was just Dad and I left. Nothing like my television shows.
Since I started helping, almost our whole street is clean again. Dad says if we pick up all the garbage, and pluck all the weeds, people will come home again. Maybe even Mom too.
We would go out more, but Dad says we can only go once a week without getting sick. Our medicine would be gone if we did more.
I asked Dad when we can start cleaning up the next street.
“Next year, honey,” he said.
It will be a big job. There’s rocks and paper and bags everywhere. There’s even two people always asleep in the middle of the road. Dad said they’re just big plastic dolls. I don’t believe him.
I can’t wait until next year.

New Friends

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“A different feeling since you’ve been gone.” Yeah, that’s it. Too many times I catch myself looking down and back, only to find some scrub looking horrified, or empty air because one ran off.
“Ten, left.”
This one has a different feel. She’s got this lilt to her voice. Fluent in some old language, too. Well, the swearing bits. Yet, when we’re in the thick of it, her accent disappears. Just this monotone that delivers what I need, when I need it.
“Seven, centre.”
Incoming. I rest my assault rifle against a building, taking the essential pause to make sure the building can take the weight, then crouch down, wind my arms back, preload my pectorals, and wait.
“Five, centre.”
I glance back.
“Take three steps left, miss.”
“Call me Riley.”
“I’m Olaf.”
She nods, then moves as instructed.
“Two, square.”
It’s coming right at me.
The shadow of wings flashes over us and I unwind, my arms swinging in so fast the air screams. I time it perfectly. The Gakdarbu is where it needs to be. My fists land on either side of its tubular head like gigantic hammers. Brutally effective: even if I get it wrong, I’ll stun it, maybe paralyse it.
I get it right. The skull compresses, then explodes. Purple brains, green flesh and pink blood spray everywhere as shards of black bone strafe the area like a warm rain of obsidian daggers.
Amazing mess. So pret-
Something slams into the back of my left knee. I stagger that way and the hurtling body only clips my shoulder, instead of hitting me square in the chest. Even that love tap knocks me flat. I might be a bioengineered war giant, but taking five thousand kilos of headless alien raptor dead centre will spread me like chunky salsa.
There’s a lot of incomprehensible swearing. I hear her take a huge breath, let it out, then something pounds on the side of my calf.
“Do you pause to watch the rain of bloody shite every time, or do you only indulge when it’s likely to get you killed, Olaf?”
I look down. She’s pinned under my leg, beating on my calf armour with the butt of a pistol. I can see sparks where her impact field is having trouble keeping my leg from squashing her like a bug. Looking closer, I see her right shoulder is dented, and lower than it should be.
“You tackled me?”
“Yes, you gigantic idjit. Can’t have you dying on my first day as your spotter. Now could you puh-leeze get the feck offa me?”
Oh, yeah. I move my leg.
“You need something for that shoulder?”
She nods, rolls to her knees, and shucks the shoulder plate.
“I need you to straighten that while I deal with my wandering joint.”
Grabbing her right arm, she twists it, and then slams her right shoulder into my calf armour. There’s a wet ‘pop’. I feel a little sick. She screams.
I pick the armour plate up and carefully squeeze it back to true, then offer it to her.
She wipes her eyes and takes it. After locking it back into place, she grins.
“Nice job.”
“What next?”
“At least being nearly crushed kept me mostly free of shite. There’s a lake over in what used to be the city park. Wanna rinse?”
“Good idea, Riley.”
“Too right it is. I’m stinky. You reek.”
What? I take a deep breath and get a whiff of myself. Oof. The lady holding her nose and laughing at my expression has a point.
I like her.

A Quiet Night At the Bar

Author: Barry Boone

I could see Damian’s girlfriend wanted to sock me, but she knew she’d break her fist against my brass jaw. So she held back. Which I knew was hard for her. She was even more kickass than Damian. Damian might be her first love, but a good fight was a close second.

“Admit it,” she said. “You’re in love with him.”

She’d asked me to join her at her favorite dive to hash things out. My drinks were lined up in front of me — three martinis, untouched — my way of renting the barstool. She’d already downed hers and was onto a fourth.

“Impossible,” I said. “I’m a robot.”

“Then he’s in love with you.”

“Yeah, that’s why he waited a year to reinstate me from backup.”

She looked at me sideways.

“He didn’t know you were in the file system. You idiot.”

After I’d sacrificed myself to save his stupid life in the Milky Way’s ongoing skirmishes with Andromeda, it had taken Damian way too long to pour my historical copy into another shell. I had to say, though, I liked the improvements since my last self — especially the new weaponry in my fingertips.

“Catherine…”

“Don’t you dare call me that. I don’t even know your name.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off.

“I know, I know,” she said wearily. “Robots don’t have names. As a way to keep your kind from gaining citizenship.”

I wouldn’t know about that; I wasn’t up on politics. Anyway, who cared about a name?

Still, I was starting to understand. She was jealous. Just like she was jealous of his new cat, who always hid whenever she stayed over. A cat, a girlfriend… I guess Damian really HAD missed me when he thought I’d died. He’d been looking for substitutes.

“Hey, if it isn’t a dish and her boyfriend!”

This from some creep stepping between the two of us. If I hadn’t been distracted by this ridiculous conversation, I’d have noticed the five of them crowding us.

“Don’t you know the rules here?” said a second, putting his arm around her and looking me over. “No mixed race couples.”

What came out of my mouth was, “Don’t you touch her!”

I know. It was a cliche. And I’m sorry. But my mind was still foggy from being archived all that time.

By way of reply, two of them lifted Catherine and tossed her behind the bar. I heard bottles smash as she fell out of sight.

“You’re gonna be sorry you ever thought you could be a loverboy, robot,” one said, raising a crowbar. “Better scram.”

As if. Have you ever been attacked by five thugs with metal pipes, broken bottles, and a baseball bat? Me neither.

My new fingertips were very useful, though, sending back electric shocks when they smashed at my face, and shattering the bottles in their hands via sound waves. Cool! There was a bit of blood, and some crunching, and I thought I’d gotten the better of them, when one of them pointed a reverse-ion-shooter at me.

Just when I thought I was about to be de-energized, Damian’s tabby was literally on his face, scratching his cheeks off. Where had SHE come from?

The guy reeled, screamed, then ran from the place.

Catherine knelt next to me. I guess I had a LOT of cobwebs to shake off. It just dawned on me she was a shapeshifter.

“Well, boyfriend,” she said. “Thanks for saving me, I guess.”

“It’s okay, Catherine. It’s what I do.”

“Call me Cat,” she said. “All my friends do.”