Fallowbound

Author: Ian Hill

Farmer Hoggins stood bent in his field, working over a particularly embedded knot. Sweat dripped from his brow and mixed with that of the ground as he repeatedly scratched at the sinuous snarl with the jagged end of his plow. The fibers before him were so terribly intertwined, and already he could feel his tool protesting; the cable that ran from his plow’s handle back to the house pulsed with quick trembles, and each scratching strike to the knot felt stiffer than the last.
Then, with a terrible rending sound, one of the tool’s four prongs snapped. Farmer Hoggins swore and straightened up. A withering sigh escaped him. The sun was high overhead, and he could already see the flabby lowlands beyond his property flooding. Soon, the ground on his hill would be too wet to work at all. The farmer bent his eye to and fro, scouring the lumpy hills about his estate. Plenty of puffy red lines indicated that the tilling process had seen some success, but it still wasn’t enough.
After he had rested enough, Hoggins hefted the plow and brought the working end close to his face so he could appraise the damage. The poor tool had convulsed into a fist, and it remained spasmodically clutched, digging nails into its own seized meat. Drops of blood trailed down the bony handle, and the sustaining vein that snaked back up the hill was weak, almost dry.
“Alright, then. Easy does it,” Farmer Hoggins soothed as he teased the hand open. Slowly, his coaxing prods and kind whispers relaxed the overworked muscles, and the plow opened up. The farmer winced when saw that one of the four fingers had been denuded of its nail, leaving an inflamed, soft bed behind–totally incapable of disentangling the cramped knot of flesh at his feet.
“That’s no good,” Hoggins murmured. The fingers twitched before him and then, as if eager to prove his disappointment unfounded, returned to the crooked-knuckle plow posture. The farmer was impressed with its tenacity. Still, it would never do.
“More like this,” Hoggins said, holding his free hand up. He made a claw with three of his fingers, but bent the pinky to his palm to protect it. After a moment, the tool matched the shape as best it could, shielding the raw, nailless appendage against its palm.
“Hold fast there,” the farmer encouraged before hunching back to work. With greater caution, he lowered the rigidly bent plow to the unruly sinews below. He carefully maneuvered the three tearing points between two sheaths of meat, twisted, felt for the hooking bite, and then tore out with a great heave. All at once, the bunched node broke apart with a rupture of mucus and sweat. The farmer reared back as the swollen flesh at his feet voided and paled to match the rest of the field.
“That’ll do,” Hoggins said at length. He held the plow aloft and admired its drained, slack hand, all smeared with blood and pus. A muscle along its heel twisted painfully, and ribbons of shredded flesh dangled from its almost dislodged nails. It hurt, but the farmer was pleased.
As the irritated lesion continued to damply unwind, Hoggins set the plow down and watched as its innervating vein retracted back up the hill to his bony house. The tool slid wetly over the humped ridges of his property before disappearing into one of the many pores at the sloping, skin-stretched base of his home. Hoggins mopped his brow. It was hot work, but someone had to do the planting.

Empyrean Chalice

Author: Rick Tobin

Tight bindings held her fast to something upright and cold. She stood blindfolded before her captors. Sweat trickled over her eyebrows, infiltrating throbbing eyes, and then eroding mascara into rivulets over her black cheeks and paralyzed quivering lips thwarted from screaming. Her flash memories were of a comforting living room couch beckoning after a trying day delivering news headlines from a national broadcast center in New York. Unusually vicious August heat had exhausted her in a short walk from a parking garage to her air-conditioned apartment. Everything was going to hell, providing red juice for blenders drawing violence voyeurs. Her ratings were skyrocketing.

“You may speak soon.” A mechanical voice filled her like an implanted speaker in her head. It shook her body with bass and authority. Was this death? She wondered in agony.

“No harm will come. Be still.” A new woman’s voice soothed her, like her grandmother’s solace on an Atlanta porch when summer lightning rumbled windows.

The male voice took over. “This place is far from Earth. We will return you, but you have a task to perform. You are chosen above all others. Listen carefully.”

Sarah Jefferson did not listen. She shook her head violently, mumbling, cursing and pleading. She prayed to Almighty God. She felt her bladder failing until something warm touched outside her waist. She calmed. She breathed normally.

“Sarah, you are heard by many people on your planet. We could interrupt every radio, television, and phone on your sphere, but it would simply be called a hoax by your governments. That would leave people unprepared.”

Sarah felt drugged as her inner terror dulled…but these kidnappers, whoever they were, knew her name. That alarmed her, but she soon sank back into a dull swamp of buffered fright.

“Here is what you must do, dear one.” The gentle voice returned. Sarah could feel granny’s hands on her neck—safe and soothing.

“In early December of this year, a comet will appear. Your scientists call it 46P/Wirtanen. It will draw attention to the Pleiades. Visible first at night, it will later appear brightly even in daylight. People worldwide will be watching skyward. Then, on December 24th, our mother ships arrive. There are hundreds of them waiting now beyond the planet you call Jupiter. There will be no doubt then that we, as many others before us, have been among you. Now you may speak.”

Sarah felt her lips free. She was still bound and blinded. “How dare you…bastards! Let me go!”

Disturbing silence was the only response. Another feeling of warmth filled her mind as something rubbed against her forehead.

“We anticipated your fear, Sarah. Let us continue, please.” Again, the soothing tones of a female voice gathered Sarah’s composure.

“Your role, child of Earth, is to communicate to your audience that we are coming. They need to know our intentions to help after the chaos they will experience starting now in August. We can bridge their passage through the coming changes. We are embedding words for you to share. You will remember later. You will speak for us. You will do this to help your people be ready for a new Earth.”

Sarah woke on her settee, soaked in sweat and with soreness around her mouth, eyes, wrists, and ankles. She did not know why, but she felt she had something to do…something urgent. Her widescreen TV was on with her station colleagues covering something about multiple massive quakes across the U.S. and in other countries. She rushed to her bathroom to vomit after realizing her blouse and dress were on backward.

Maybe Tomorrow

Author: P. T. Corwin

He had to bring her back. Even now, so close to the end.
When the smoke from the machine parted Grace rushed out wearing that strawberry dress he had bought her for her sixth birthday. And Victor scooped her up in his arms – his Gracie – and held her, inhaling that sweet scent of her hair.
“Did you sleep okay, baby?”
She giggled into his ear. “I had a dream about you, daddy.”
“Was it a nice dream?”
Of course it was. He had chosen the scenario himself, had learned how to program the neuro-modulator. Anything to make his little girl happy.
Grace looked around. “Where’s mummy?”
Victor had created a replica of their flat in East London, complete with the sofa Marie and he had sat on, watching the speeches, the assassination and the detonation of the first bomb. The sofa he had slept on after their argument, before she had taken Grace to her mother.
He could tell Grace all this. His final confession before…
“She won’t be back until tomorrow, remember? It’s just you and me today. But we’ll have fun together, I promise.” He kissed her cheek, so warm, so alive. “I’ll take care of you for as long as I can.”
How much longer would that be? How long had it been since he had taken the final food pill? And water? The only water left now was in the machine. Maybe enough to keep him going for another couple of days. Enough to give him a chance to figure something else out.
Or enough to bring her back a few more times. His Grace. His little strawberry child.
“Can we go to the swings, daddy?”
“Not today, berry. The weather’s still not better out there. Maybe tomorrow.”
He still hadn’t gotten used to the disappointment on her face. She should be out there, playing in the park, screaming with joy as he pushed her on the swings, like back before the war. Was it fair to bring her back every day, only to keep her locked up in here?
“Maybe tomorrow,” he said again. “I promise. Mummy will be back, and we can go together.”
“Oh yes!” She jumped up, wrapped her tiny arms around his neck.
In moments like this, it all made sense. Bringing her back every morning. It all made sense when she put her arms around him, her warm breath against his neck.
But was it fair? To her? Her little body collapsing after just a few hours, the water drained out of it because he still hadn’t figured out the process and never would. Was that fair?
“How about we stay in today,” he said. “I need to ask you something.”
“What?”
They sat on the couch. Grace snuggled up against him.
“Gracie, what would you say, if you and mummy went away for a while?”
“Like a holiday?”
“Yes.”
“When?”
“Tonight. When mummy comes back.”
“Aren’t you coming with us?”
“Daddy still has some work to do here.” He put an arm around her and drew her close. “But I promise I’ll join you soon.” He kissed her forehead. “Maybe tomorrow.”

Youngbloods

Author: John McLaughlin

“Children are a protected resource!”

The nine-year-olds repeat the Camp Haven creed and then take their seats, gaze never wavering from the flag.

At the head of the class, a strapping man swells with pride at the sight of these glowing youth. “Hi boys and girls! My name’s Sergeant Wallace.” He waits with an expectant grin.

A smattering of mumbles returns: “Hi, Sergeant Wallace.”

“First, I want you all to know: your parents love you very, very much–” he places emphasis on each syllable,
“–and that’s why you’re here at Camp Haven.” A blank smart-board buzzes on the wall behind him.

“Would anyone like to share their story with the class today?”

A boy in the front raises his hand tentatively: “Well, uh, one night I woke up in bed–and my Gramma was there in the room with me. And she had a big needle and she was about to stick me with it and I screamed and my Dad ran in. And then my Mom and Dad said I had to come here for a while to stay away from Gramma and the old folks and–”

“Thank you, young man,” Wallace bends to pat him gingerly on the shoulder, “what a great start to my story! Today I’m going to explain why it’s so important to protect kids like you.” He clicks the device in his palm and the smart-board blinks to life.

“Has anyone ever heard of Professor Kuruwaza?”

A girl in the second row shoots up her arm: “My Uncle said that he took a really old mouse, and he put some blood in it, and the old mouse got young again.”

“That’s right! He drew some blood from a young mouse and put it in the old one, and that reversed the old age. And that’s why we call it the Kuruwaza effect.”

Wallace summons the next slide onscreen. “And then he tried the experiment on real people like you and me, and you know what? The same thing happened!” Two panels: on the left, a woman in her mid sixties–wrinkled and frumpy, wearing a vacant expression; and on the right, after treatment, looking thirty years younger.

“After that experiment, a lot more old people wanted to try it out too. They wanted to be young again like the lady here. So the government–you guys know what the government is, right? The government made special laws to protect kids like you. Because you’re very special, and you deserve to keep your blood all for yourselves.”

“Eww!” drawls the redhead in row three.

Wallace smiles. He can see a sentry fidgeting nervously in the doorway but ignores him; he’s on a roll.

He spins on his heel and jabs a finger at the next image: an ancient crone, his sly grin revealing a snaggletooth. “Now what should you do if you see one of those?”

“Tell a Guardian!”

Wallace’s grin widens. “That’s right, boys and girls. You just tell me or anyone else here at Camp Haven.”

The young guard finally musters the courage to step over the threshold, marches up to Wallace and stammers into his ear: “Sir, we just took down a pack of Boomers outside the fence.”

“Okay, double our men on patrol. I want–”

When the propane bomb shreds the gates of Camp Haven–triggering the klaxon alarm and a general lockdown–the men don’t hesitate before throwing themselves into battle. There will be carnage, but their mission is sacred.

They know that young blood is too precious to spill.

Clean Slate

Author: Mina

Excerpt from Dr Harriet Walters’ report:

We can confirm that the new procedure has been a resounding success from a physiological point of view. The subject has not reported any headaches or other adverse physical symptoms. Psychologically, the subject seems stable and has integrated the loss of targeted memories well. There are no signs of adjustment problems: no anxiety, psychosis or any kind of emotional distress. The problem seems to be coming from an unexpected direction. It appears we have underestimated the link between memories and character development. Please refer to the transcript of my recorded session with the subject’s husband attached to this report:

“- Doctor, is there any way to reverse the procedure?
– I’m afraid not. But why would you wish to reverse it? Everything went well and your wife seems happy and relaxed. We have been closely monitoring her for three months and she herself has not reported any ill effects.
– You’re absolutely right with that but, you see, she doesn’t know what’s missing. She doesn’t know she’s not herself any more. The traumatic memories of the years of abuse and neglect in her childhood are gone. The night terrors have stopped but… I suppose I never realised how much my wife was shaped by those horrendous experiences. She’s like a sweet and biddable child now. She reminds me of a… Stepford wife.
– So you’re telling me your wife is now, um, too perfect?
– No, yes, I don’t know… I guess I’m telling you I miss who she was – she used to have a core of steel, such determination and, well, balls. Wouldn’t take any shit from me or anyone else. God, I even miss our arguments!
– So your main complaint is you don’t argue any more?
– No! My main complaint is that this procedure killed the vibrant, brash, irritating, bull-dogged and adventurous person she once was. I would never have supported her in this if I’d known it would be tantamount to killing who she was.
– I see. What do you intend to do now?
– My wife is gone but I will look after her shell because I once promised for better or for worse. And I want your personal assurance that no one else will undergo this procedure without being informed of all the effects of targeted memory deletion. I don’t have any illusion that this procedure can be buried, but I want your promise that you will ensure that others benefit from our loss. Otherwise I will sue you to hell and back.
– You have my word.”

I recommend further research into memory and personality. I also recommend that we proceed more cautiously, perhaps targeting a key memory or two rather than a block of years, in the next procedure. Finally, I would recommend using a subject who is perhaps more isolated and less well-connected than the wife of a popular judge.

Black Snail

Author: Hari Navarro

My daughter was raped as a baby. Does the fact that she was nine and not a baby make me a liar, does it take any of the sting from an opening sentence surely designed to shock and pull you into the tawdry undertow that sweeps through these words?

But you see I’ve always scorned those you refer to their children as babies when they are not, to label them such is to deny them growth. It belittles the struggles overcome as they claw to a crawl and stagger from cradle to ash.

But she was my baby.

An infant led into a filthy warm cellar by those she trusted and loved. Sibling neighbors, who stroked her long hair and locked the door shut as they pushed her down to the floor. She had been bad they said, perhaps even evil as they warned of the wrath that was visited upon all those who spoke of the punishment they dealt.

So that’s why we took her to the clinic, that place where gastropods had run up behind cognitive neuroscience and shoulder barged it into the future. We sold all that we owned to finance this wonder of science; this harnessing of the engram, epigenetic modification beneath the snap-crack of a ribonucleic whip.

We paid for the ability to peel away memories, to hack out those things that haunt her, those things that compact her teenage mind and stuff it into the dark. The pit where she cuts and she spits at the mirror. Where the wallpaper it peels and lays the truth bare as she scratches away at her skin.

It’s been six weeks since the procedure. The day they nudged aside her synapses and plucked instead from the shriveled and blackened neurons that stored each wretched second of that day in the cellar. And then, it wiped it clean from her mind.

Listen as she sobs alone in her room. Though now she has no idea why. It’s her spirit, the essence of what it is that makes her who she is, that now mocks inside her head.

Her mind cant play for her the images but the blood in her veins, the integumentary system that again feels the dig of her nails and the razors slit edge, it remembers.

It’s her strength, this overriding connection of body and mind, it is this she can mine to rebuild the childish things that she lost.

If I could I would put back that pitch darkness we took. It’s part of her. I’ve stolen from her the key. I’m so sorry, for how in the world can you now own that which you no longer have?