I Ran

Author : Ken McGrath

My mother often said that before I learned to walk I ran.

I ran everywhere; probably why I wasn’t so quick at learning to read. I couldn’t sit still for very long, didn’t like having my feet parked beneath a desk you see. I’d an abundance of energy, that’s why I was always darting around the place, chasing everything from footballs to girls. Heck I even chased the odd dream.

And I caught a few too, like the one thing that got me through school. Relay races, the sprint, hurdles. I did it all, although I wasn’t so good at that last one. Seems I never was great at overcoming obstacles. The one minute mile however, that was what stole my heart. A stretch of open track, pure focus and immediate results. Sheer beauty.

When I went from my teens into my twenties I kept upping the distance, ticking off boxes. 10k, 20k. Even the big one a few times.

Then when I was 29 I ran into Bernadette Walters. Beautiful, slender, ambitious Bernadette Walters who had lips that would set you weak at the knees and a shard of ice for a heart. But I found that out much too late, because after we married I ran into a wall. Work, bills, the mortgage on a tiny apartment that went too quickly from bijou to coffin-box. It was too much. I ran myself into the ground.

The pounds began to slide on and, for the first time, life ran away from me. Yet somehow in the midst of it all we conceived and along came my little Suzie, my precious girl. And for a while she brightened everything up, but it didn’t last. We quickly fell back on old habits, staying together just for our little girl.

When Suzie was three I started to run again. Tentative steps in the park at night. Some men might have cheated on their wives but I did the only thing I knew how, I put one foot in front of the other and built up laps. Every night, always coming back to the same place no matter how fast or how far I ran, life had become a circuit of cold stares and bitter, poisonous words.

We were out on Christmas Eve pretending to be a real family when the first attack came. The blast dropped from the heavens like God screaming and tore the shopping centre we were walking towards into pieces. I grabbed Suzie, turned and ran. There were screams but I didn’t look back. I just kept going. I had to make sure my girl was safe.

Weeks have passed now. The snow is melting and buds are appearing on some of the trees. From talking to other survivors I’ve learned of the hundreds of simultaneous attacks around the world. They say those first blasts were an extermination front-wave, firing pulse after pulse and reducing our cities to rubble, disrupting humanity for the coming alien invasion.

They say there’s a Resistance coming together but I don’t want to be part of it. All I do is run. I have my girl and I teach her to run too.

So long as I have legs beneath me I’ll continue to do run. It’s all I’ve known since I was born. If my daughter is to survive she’s going to have to learn to run too and maybe then I’ll have done something good with my life.

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The IF

Author : Kraigher Lutz

They had first found it, there at the highway split. They had seen its design in the leaves and grass. The design spiraled out, burning the soil.

We had worked quick trying to contain it; cranes high overhead, holding harshly shining spotlights. Trenches were dug and cinder-block walls were built; clear plastic sheeting covered it, but the loose pieces of the vapor-lock blew in the breeze, spiraling upon itself and unfurling in the design.

They had tried to dig it all out, but it was still there; dry dirt crumbling out of the tines of the backhoe, falling, curling and twisting the design in the breeze.

At the lab, they tried to contain it. Locked away in Petri dishes, its design crawled through the agar.

It was then that we first started hearing it. A soft and melodious symphony of pulses and beats, flowing into each other and bouncing off of another; like a tribal rendition of Morse Code.

It was quiet at first, like an afterthought of white noise. Then it started to incorporate into everyday noises, the pop of the toaster, car horns, children’s songs at recess. It became all-encompassing and fully integrated into everyday life.

After forty-two years, there wasn’t hardly anyone alive who could remember a time before it; without it. Those who were older simply could not remember. Large chunks of memories spontaneously vanished.

But we are pattern seeking animals. Slowly but surely, the pieces were coming back together.

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Infectious

Lauren struggled to open her eyes, the lids heavy, the light in the room blinding. What time is it? It was evening when–

“You’re awake, good”

Darren. They were having dinner when she–

“The sedative will wear off shortly, you’ll be a bit groggy, and the epidural will make it impossible for you to move, but try not to be alarmed.”

She forced her eyes open, blinked as they teared against the bright light of the room. Darren stood facing her, stripped to the waist, one hand cradling the other elbow, idly stroking his chin with his free hand.

“The van I brought you here in is radio opaque, and this entire building is wired such that we’re untraceable. I don’t expect company.”

He moved to a chair opposite, still watching her. On the table beside him she could make out an array of tools, and a camera on a long articulated arm, which he pulled and pointed at his midsection while he continued to talk.

“It’s entirely possible that you don’t know why you’re here, and if that’s the case, I will be happy to apologize, but I’ve a nagging suspicion that you do, in which case – well – we’ll get to that later.”

She could see clearly now, a flat screen on the table beside him flared to life, displaying a high definition view of his lower right abdomen, each individual muscle clearly defined, sweat glistening on the olive-coloured, tightly stretched skin.

“You won’t remember,” he continued, “around my nineteenth birthday when my appendix ruptured. Messy business, rushed to the ER. Doctor went in through my stomach with what I can only assume was an axe, judging by the scar he left behind. Hurt to do anything for months while it healed. Sneezing, oh my god sneezing was exquisitely excruciating.”

He doused a cotton swab with dark brown fluid and scrubbed his right flank.

“Three years ago my body rejected the stitches they’d used, presumably they were supposed to dissolve, but they didn’t, and eventually my body took notice and an abscess formed around them. Messier still than the first round, rushed back into the ER, and another Doctor went back through the same scar tissue with, I’m guessing, a saws-all this time and cleaned everything out.”

He picked up a scalpel from the table, and paused, making deliberate eye contact.

“I’m pretty sure that’s when they put it in.”

She flinched and looked away, there was something about his eyes, a cold clarity that she wasn’t used to that frightened her more than the fact that he’d apparently kidnapped her and stuck a drip line into her spine.

“One summer as a teenager I spent a day out at the beach, it was overcast and I didn’t think about the sun but I burnt to a crisp. Do you notice the tan I’ve got now? Don’t you think it odd that my delicate white skin has become so resilient to UV rays? Last week I was at my barber and he complemented me on my hair replacement program, wondered who I used because he’d never seen a bald patch grow back in so quickly and completely.”

Still fingering the scalpel, he retrieved a number of gauze pads on their opened sterile wrappers and laid them on his lap.

“I can hear things far beyond what’s natural, and I can feel things with a depth and fidelity that I’ve never known before. I can feel this,” he waved the blade around his abdomen, “this foreign body in me, feel the virus it controls coursing through my veins. I can sense when they change its instructions and feel the ripple through my body, the newly versioned cells overtaking the obsolete ones as they die off and my entire being upgrades.”

“Have you noticed, the scar on my stomach?” He stretched pulling the camera closer and panning across the smooth flesh, devoid of any imperfections. “You never commented that it had gone, but you must have noticed. Didn’t that seem strange to you?”

Lauren studied him then, there was no doubt he was not quite the same man she’d first been introduced to, he was better in so many subtle ways, like a Darren that had been iterated over in design relentlessly.

“What do you want from me?” She sounded braver than she felt.

“Well, first I’m going to carve out whatever device they’ve buried inside of me, and I expect I should heal back up with alarming rapidity, and then we’re going to determine whether the virus they infected me with is contagious, or if you’re an observer, or perhaps this is just a double blind study and you truly don’t know anything about it.”

Lauren flinched. “What do you mean?”

Darren drew the scalpel across his stomach, blood welling out around the wound.

“Someone’s been following me, that much I know, and I’m curious, for example, how when I met you, you were blind as a bat, and yet you’ve been able to pay such close attention to what I’m doing when your glasses are right here on my table.”

Infectious

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Lauren struggled to open her eyes, the lids heavy, the light in the room blinding. What time is it? It was evening when–

“You’re awake, good”

Darren. They were having dinner when she–

“The sedative will wear off shortly, you’ll be a bit groggy, and the epidural will make it impossible for you to move, but try not to be alarmed.”

She forced her eyes open, blinked as they teared against the bright light of the room. Darren stood facing her, stripped to the waist, one hand cradling the other elbow, idly stroking his chin with his free hand.

“The van I brought you here in is radio opaque, and this entire building is wired such that we’re untraceable. I don’t expect company.”

He moved to a chair opposite, still watching her. On the table beside him she could make out an array of tools, and a camera on a long articulated arm, which he pulled and pointed at his midsection while he continued to talk.

“It’s entirely possible that you don’t know why you’re here, and if that’s the case, I will be happy to apologize, but I’ve a nagging suspicion that you do, in which case – well – we’ll get to that later.”

She could see clearly now, a flat screen on the table beside him flared to life, displaying a high definition view of his lower right abdomen, each individual muscle clearly defined, sweat glistening on the olive-coloured, tightly stretched skin.

“You won’t remember,” he continued, “around my nineteenth birthday when my appendix ruptured. Messy business, rushed to the ER. Doctor went in through my stomach with what I can only assume was an axe, judging by the scar he left behind. Hurt to do anything for months while it healed. Sneezing, oh my god sneezing was exquisitely excruciating.”

He doused a cotton swab with dark brown fluid and scrubbed his right flank.

“Three years ago my body rejected the stitches they’d used, presumably they were supposed to dissolve, but they didn’t, and eventually my body took notice and an abscess formed around them. Messier still than the first round, rushed back into the ER, and another Doctor went back through the same scar tissue with, I’m guessing, a saws-all this time and cleaned everything out.”

He picked up a scalpel from the table, and paused, making deliberate eye contact.

“I’m pretty sure that’s when they put it in.”

She flinched and looked away, there was something about his eyes, a cold clarity that she wasn’t used to that frightened her more than the fact that he’d apparently kidnapped her and stuck a drip line into her spine.

“One summer as a teenager I spent a day out at the beach, it was overcast and I didn’t think about the sun but I burnt to a crisp. Do you notice the tan I’ve got now? Don’t you think it odd that my delicate white skin has become so resilient to UV rays? Last week I was at my barber and he complemented me on my hair replacement program, wondered who I used because he’d never seen a bald patch grow back in so quickly and completely.”

Still fingering the scalpel, he retrieved a number of gauze pads on their opened sterile wrappers and laid them on his lap.

“I can hear things far beyond what’s natural, and I can feel things with a depth and fidelity that I’ve never known before. I can feel this,” he waved the blade around his abdomen, “this foreign body in me, feel the virus it controls coursing through my veins. I can sense when they change its instructions and feel the ripple through my body, the newly versioned cells overtaking the obsolete ones as they die off and my entire being upgrades.”

“Have you noticed, the scar on my stomach?” He stretched pulling the camera closer and panning across the smooth flesh, devoid of any imperfections. “You never commented that it had gone, but you must have noticed. Didn’t that seem strange to you?”

Lauren studied him then, there was no doubt he was not quite the same man she’d first been introduced to, he was better in so many subtle ways, like a Darren that had been iterated over in design relentlessly.

“What do you want from me?” She sounded braver than she felt.

“Well, first I’m going to carve out whatever device they’ve buried inside of me, and I expect I should heal back up with alarming rapidity, and then we’re going to determine whether the virus they infected me with is contagious, or if you’re an observer, or perhaps this is just a double blind study and you truly don’t know anything about it.”

Lauren flinched. “What do you mean?”

Darren drew the scalpel across his stomach, blood welling out around the wound.

“Someone’s been following me, that much I know, and I’m curious, for example, how when I met you, you were blind as a bat, and yet you’ve been able to pay such close attention to what I’m doing when your glasses are right here on my table.”

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The Final Performance

Author : Soo Kim

I had been taken.

Her hands clutched the bar across her lap, as the seat swung to some soundless melody. It hovered expectantly, like the next carriage of the ghost train at a macabre amusement park, waiting to lurch forward, through the chill, silent night.

Wrists aching from the bandages, ragged now where they hid the razor’s kiss. She turned to look at him, white beside her. Only his long hair moved, like sinewy gossamer waving slowly. She dared not breathe.

The chasm opened in front of them; a gaping toothless maw. At last with a jerk the seat propelled forward, and they entered the dark, ducking and weaving through the naked girders of the cavern’s supporting structure. The deepening black, spread beneath, like an oil slick, thick and sticky on their eyelids.

There was presence here. She could see the red blinks of tiring LEDs, that caught reflections off metallic bodies strewn like straw, limp over twisted mounds of junk. The fug of abandon twitched at her nostrils. It took hold of her, the still broken lives of the machines.

She knew that they were waiting, watching ready to rise up and take her; to strip her and change her into what they were. Empty broken things. She clutched the talktalk to her chest, afraid it would betray her, its pulsing light and vibration would be enough to wake those frozen limbs into clutching hands and desperate, wailing voices. The seat carrying them forward slowed. A raised service platform of punched steel plate appeared, dimly lit above the mechanical graveyard they were travelling through. She thought that it looked like a stage awaiting some kind of monstrous freakish act.

They stood, together on the platform, an island, surrounded by an ocean of malware. A still obidient audience, waiting the final performance. He turned. Behind her there was a flicker of movement in the dark; a strange grinding squeak as if from a rusted clockwork mouse. He pushed roughly. She fell towards the sound, tumbling to the feet of figure tainted with the glimmer of metal emerging from the dark.

Tall, breasts firm and high, her once golden skin tarnished with age and streaked with oil and grime. But she was still whole and strong. Her face hidden, hunched. The slow mechanical squeak was coming from her turning hand like a sour organ grinder. She straightened, the wrenching caught and her face exposed. The frayed jumble of optic fibres finished in empty sockets and her nose a collapsed bridge falling into a deep ragged hole from the middle of her head down to where her mouth had been. Her hand still clutched the arm of the mangle where what had been the remnants of her hair was caught between the massive rollers, her head mottled with broken stubble twisted chunks bleeding black from the roots, down the eyeless sockets, dribbling down her neck.

And she knew it was HER and that HE had brought her here and SHE was to be her tool. She heard a voice, still strong and deep and she felt the desire and the will of HER voice – what would it take to make me beautiful again…

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Stranded

Author : David J.Wing

Glen sat there, silently and watched as his star ship slipped backwards and at a slightly funny angle into the Black Hole. It was fair to say that being stranded, as he so clearly now was, would be a hindrance to his plans for a luxurious holiday, but given that he had managed to avoid being torn molecule from molecule, it had to be viewed as some sort of success.

The light from the neighbouring satellite planets shone defiantly in the face of the hole and while they were destined to slide one by one from existence, it was comforting to Glen that he wasn’t the only one left alive.

The ratty little creatures that scurried back and forth squeaked and cursed as they searched for safety, surely sensing their imminent end. The high pitched squeals that shot through the wind seemed to foreshadow the fall of the sky and the rising of the seas.

Glen scratched his thigh, the back of his head and finally his left bum cheek, then stood up and tried his communicator once more. The static was a welcome relief from the silence that had come before. He tuned along the mid-range, pressed the record function and called.

“Mayday, Mayday, this is Glen Charles IV. Sole survivor of the tour ship, Regal, addressing any ship within range. My vessel was caught in an anomaly and I am stranded on the Green planet. Mayday.”

Glen set the message to repeat and lay back on the sand. No point in not enjoying this enforced shore leave. The tour ship had been a disappointment from beginning to end. The catering was sub-par, the accommodation severely acute and the company, save for a rather lovely Anterran, entirely too foreign and while there seemed to be no opportunity for canoodling here either, Glen thanked these not-so-lucky stars that there were no Honushions with him. Their aroma, reduced to a manageable tolerance on board thanks to the scrubbers, would surely saturate and impregnate this little planet in minutes.

It was doubtful even the rattys would survive them.

The message tittered along and Glen opened one of the three bottles of Champagne he’d salvaged from the Galley before abandoning the ship. It was a little warm but the pop was gratifying and scattered a few insects that had sought to avail themselves of his booty. The hours passed and the lights in the sky continued to blink, three, then two, then one and gone. The sea rose in the distance and save for the debris washing up to his left and right, carried with it a calm devastation.

The communicator squawked into life.

“This is the merchant ship, Jalin, we received your distress signal and stand ready to assist you. How many survivors?”

Glen frowned a little and then hit the reply button.

“Jalin? From the Honushion nebula?”

“That’s right.”

Glen screwed up his nose and watched the tidal wave rush ever closer.

“It’s OK, think I’ll wait for the next one”.

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