Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal and teaches a poetry course at Temple University OLLI. His fiction has been published in periodicals such as Boston Literary Journal, Innisfree, and The Moon. His latest work is an experimental novel—half prose, half-poetry—Twenty Years on Graysheep Bay.
THE ROSE AND THE CHAIN
Porter glanced around the humble apartment as the man opposite him read. Some minutes passed, too quickly he thought. Then the man looked up.
“You are mistaken. I didn’t write this book.”
“What do you mean, Bill? I was your editor. I remember every scene. The Rose and the Chain was so powerful I cried at the end. That was your break-through work. Now it’s called The Pink Velvet Sky which misses the entire point. The author I never even heard of. But it’s a runaway best seller, breaking all records! I can hire attorneys—it would be worth a fight to prove you wrote it.”
“This is not my writing.”
Porter sat down and noticed Bill’s glazed eyes. “You were in agony when you lost the manuscript. You retraced each step that day. You went to the bus company. You put ads in the paper. You didn’t sleep for weeks.”
Silence was heavy in the room. “I was a newspaperman for many years,” Bill said. “It was grueling work but I made a living. Writing fiction was just a sideline at which I was not nearly as successful. Now that I’ve retired, all I want is peace and quiet.” He slowly stood up.
Porter was slumped in his chair, drained and dazed. He felt like weeping.
Joel Evans is the biggest Philadelphia Eagles fan you’ll ever meet. In his free time, he likes to fish and play video games. He really enjoys to write crime related stories. Follow him on twitter @jje1999
Three years after the infection spread to the entire world we were driving down an overgrown highway for what seemed like days. All around us were trees with vines as tall as telephone poles around them. There were broken down, rusted cars all along the side of the road. Most of the cars were scavenged.
“How long did he tell us it should take?” asked Tony.
“About a day,” said Laura.
“Feels like we’ve been driving forever,” said Tony. “Did you mess up the map, Fred?”
Tony was never really a fan of me from the beginning. He’s a buff Italian guy. I didn’t know him before it happened, but he’s always angry for some reason. The only reason he’s with us is to hopefully find his sister. “No, I’ve been paying close attention,” I said.
“Better not have messed up,” he started to get frustrated. “I swear, if you did, I’m kicking the shit out of you.”
“Lay off him, Tony. We’re all hot and miserable don’t need you making it worse,” said Laura. “How are we looking on water and food?”
“Two bottles of water and five more cans of whatever this shit is,” said Tony.
Laura was like our mom. Every time he would come at me she would stop him. I knew her before it all happened, we grew up together. Our families were together in the beginning, but we lost them to the infection. It’s horrible to see someone slowly die, especially someone you love. That’s why we’re going to Philadelphia, it’s the last standing city. “Yeah, lay off me. It’s not my fault I haven’t seen a street sign in like two hours,” I said.
The car came to a screeching stop. “What did you just say?” asked Laura.
“It’s almost like all of the signs got lost,” I said.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” said Laura.
She was staring right at me like she was going to kill me. "I don't know what happened to them, so I've been trying to judge where we are off of landmarks," I said.
“Just what we needed like we haven’t been driving long enough,” said Tony.
“Where could they have gone?” asked Laura. “There has to be one around here somewhere.”
“Let’s just keep going and see if we see any,” said Tony.
He was pissed now more than ever. We drove around for about another hour and still didn’t see one. Finally, we see a post where a sign should be. “Right there, what’s that?” I said.
“Where? I don’t see anything,” said Laura.
"The signpost right there. Pull over." We got out and inspected the pole.
“It doesn’t seem like any damage was done, so it was probably taken off,” said Tony.
“Ok, everyone walk around a little and see if you see anything,” Laura took control of the situation.
We walked around for about ten minutes, but then met back up. We can’t risk leaving the car alone too long, someone could take it. Ever since it started, most people are savages, they don’t care about other people.
“Anyone find anything?” I asked walking up to the car.
“Nothing, except this bag,” Tony said while dumping the bag on the hood.
A box of batteries, a canteen, a mini tool set, and a map fell out. We looked at the map and there was a bunch of different writing on it. Take a left at red. Straight for one mile. Right at green. It was directions of some sort but it didn’t make any sense to us. We heard a tree branch snap and that was our cue to get back on the road.
“Where do you think those directions lead to?” asked Laura.
“No idea,” I said. “We need to figure it out fast. We can’t make these supplies last much longer. Also if those were scavengers back there I don’t want to deal with them.”
“Who cares where it leads to? First, we need to figure out how to read it,” said Tony.
“Maybe the colors mean the colors of cars,” said Laura.
"That doesn't make any sense. There are lots of red cars," said Tony.
“No, Laura might be right. Turn here,” I said.
After that, all the directions added up. Every single street you could turn down had a different colored car. It took us about an hour until we pulled up to the destination the map took us to. The only thing was it took us to a toy store.
"This is where it took us? Seriously?!" Tony said. "Well, this was a waste of time."
“Let’s go check it out. Maybe there’s something inside,” said Laura.
Right before we walked in, a voice greeted us from the roof, “Welcome.”
Tony reached right for his knife, not knowing it was from the roof. “Who said that?” he screamed.
"Don't worry we're not here to hurt you. We're here to help you," said the man.
When we got in, Tony recognized that one of the women there was his sister. I’ve never seen him happy until that moment. The man explained to us that they were one of a couple outposts for Philadelphia.
“We can’t just let anyone in any more. People are different now, I guess you know that,” the man said.
He also told us the map was a test. They took all the signs within fifty miles down to confuse people. They hide the bag near the post to see if people will really try to get here. We slept there for the night. In the morning, we were ready to leave.
“I’ll see you guys around,” said Tony. “I’m going to stay here with my sister.”
We said our goodbyes to him. When we were done, they put us in the back of a car. We drove blindfolded in the backseat for about forty minutes. When we were finally allowed to take them off, we could see Philadelphia straight ahead.
McKenna Sharrer is an aspiring Young Adult Fiction novelist. She is earning her BFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. Her flash fiction, "Trying to Change", was published by Scarlet Leaf Review in March of 2017. In her free time, McKenna enjoys painting and playing with her dog.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
It had been two years since this cave fell upon me. Two years of me trying to find a way out. Two years of failure. The walls were jagged, the floor cold, and the darkness overwhelming. Why am I in this cave, I thought. I had never asked for it, but maybe I did something to deserve it. Either way, there I was in a seemingly endless cave, alone. I sometimes heard the voices of other people in the cave but I never saw them. It was reassuring to know I wasn't alone in the cave. Will they ever get out, I thought.
I had such a little amount of food, I mainly survived on the insects that crawled around me. There were puddles and little pockets of water here and there, but not much else--just darkness. It wasn't a calming or relaxing darkness, either. It was the kind of darkness that makes you feel as though it is cradling you in its arms and each day the grip gets tighter and tighter.
I packed up my bag and headed down a tunnel that curved left. I was so greatly hoping it would lead to light. I could feel each ridged rock under my feet from where my shoes had worn down. The cave spilt again and this time I followed the right path. It didn't look any different from the left until I got a couple of yards in. It opened up a bit and I could see a small stream flowing down. My eyes lit up and I followed the beautiful little water stream that seemed to go on for miles. Each turn the water took gave me more and more hope it would lead out. I followed the stream for days until it got to a point where I had to kneel down to make my way under a low ceiling and that's when I felt my heart almost give out. It ended.
I took off my pack and just cried. "Is this fun for you. Is it? All of this teasing and torturing," I yelled to nobody. It seemed like the stream of water that had become my stream of hope was placed there just to tease me. That night was the first night I felt like giving up.
And that's how it was for months on end. I would keep walking and walking through the monotonous cave. I would sometimes see something that would get my hope up, but it never lasted--until I got to another split. I almost fell to the ground when I saw what it was. Light. It was so dim, so far away, but I saw it, nonetheless. The first real glimmer of hope in two years. If you were to see my face, you wouldn't think I was excited at all, or even happy. It's just that the years spent in this cave have taken a toll on me. I knew I shouldn't get my hopes up, but how can light fool me? My legs were unbelievably weak and my eyes so heavy, but I ran.
I ran and ran and ran and kept running towards the light. The light must have run away from me just as fast because it looked to be no closer. My running slowed, my mind still hopeful, and I continued towards the light. It was there; I saw it. And so I continued, even though the light never seemed to get any closer, it was all I had to hold on to.
I kept track of how long I followed the light. I had no way of knowing when night fell or when the next day started, but I knew I had been following that light for months. That little glimmer of hope was the only thing that kept me going.
Even though the light's there, and it seems so close, I can no longer continue. And that's why, now, I am writing this, so when people find me, they know I tried. And I know they'll say, "But it's right there. The light's right there. Why would you not continue?"
The thing, that they don't understand, is I have tried to continue through this treacherous cave for so long. It has beaten me, belittled me, and tore my soul away from me. That is why I cannot reach the light out of this cave. Maybe there'll still be a chance for someone to rescue me, but for now, I cannot do this on my own.
Jake Hatch can reach the top shelf. He likes long walks on the beach. He likes to spend his free time taking pictures and writing stories. Follow him on Twitter @jakeshatch.
I slammed the hood of my car shut and threw my wrench at the ground. How could this hunk of junk already be broken? I thought, I just bought it last week. I ran my hands through my hair. I used all of the money I had to my name. I walked begrudgingly over to the road and stuck out my thumb. I’m going to be out here for hours. No one is going to be out this late. Then, at that exact moment, a car came flying around the bend and pulled onto the side of the road about twenty feet in front of me. I jogged up to the open passenger window and said, “Thanks for stopping.” I swung open the door and hopped inside. Smoke was hanging in the air and the backseat was jam-packed with overstuffed gym bags. I thought it seemed like an odd thing to have, but I was too glad for a ride that I didn’t ask about it. “My name is, Carl, by the way,” I said.
The driver gripped the steering wheel and muttered “Name’s Mason.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. I got a weird feeling about him, but I figured I was better off with him than on the side of the road. We continued to drive in silence for what seemed like an eternity. I finally decided to break the silence and asked, “So, having a good day?”
Mason chuckled and said, “Oh yes, I’m having a great day.”
That wasn’t funny I thought, but decided to keep up the nice guy routine and said, “Well, that's good to hear.” I looked at the gym bags in the backseat and asked, “Are you moving? You have an awful lot of bags.” Mason was beginning to fidget in his seat.
“You could say that,” said Mason.
In the light from a passing streetlamp, I saw a flash of green. Upon closer inspection, I saw a bundle of crisp hundred dollar bills. I raised my brow and said, “Whoa, you have a lot of money there. What do you do for a living?” Right before he could answer three police cars flew down the road with their sirens blaring. Seconds later we hit a bump and I heard a loud thud come from the trunk. Before I could even ask Mason what that was, two more thuds came from the trunk. I turned to him and asked, “What are you hauling back there?”
Mason got stone faced and said, “That’s private.”
Right at that moment, two more police cars rushed by. I tried to clear the air and said, “Wow, something big must have happened.”
Great conversation, I thought. The car started to slow down.
“Shit!” yelled Mason.
“What’s wrong?” This can’t be happening again.
“We’re out of gas.”
“There is a gas station up ahead.” He looks really worried. It’s just gas. It’s not hard to get.
Mason handed me a twenty and said, “You pay and I will pump. Be quick about it.”
I nodded my head and walked quickly into the store and towards the clerk. I handed him the twenty and a few extra dollars and asked for a pack of smokes. While the clerk was turned around getting the cigarettes, I noticed the cash drawer was still open and grabbed a few twenties. He started turning around, so I tried to act natural. That's when I noticed that the radio was playing. It dawned on me that the whole time we were driving Mason never turned it on. That’s odd.
The voice on the radio said, “The New Town Bank was robbed earlier today. The thief ran off with all of the cash in the vault. When the police arrived, he took the bank manager hostage in his getaway.”
That’s when it hit me. I grabbed the cigarettes and marched back to the car “What the fuck is in the trunk?!”
Mason sighed, pulled out a handgun, pointed it at me, and said, “No more questions. Get back in the car and shut up.”
I thought about fighting back. I could take him. Then an idea popped into my head. We both got back in and started driving again. We drove for what seemed like years. I saw a sign that said Now leaving Kansas. Finally, we pulled off onto a lonely dark road surrounded by the overgrown forest. We drove down that road only for a few minutes before pulling off into a clearing. Mason demanded that I get out and I complied. He went to the trunk and threw a shovel at me.
“Start digging,” demanded Mason.
I reluctantly agreed and started digging. I could see Mason moving around by the trunk, but I couldn’t see what he was doing. Suddenly, another man came stumbling out from behind the car. His hands were tied and his mouth was gagged. Mason pushed the man to the ground and ordered him to kneel facing him. As the man was struggling to get back onto his knees, I saw a flash of silver on his jacket. I took a harder look and saw the words New Town Bank. The man finally got to his knees and Mason pointed the gun between his eyes. I looked away, but I heard the loud echoing gunshot. I stepped out of the grave and Mason started to drag the bank manager’s body into the grave. I saw my opportunity and hit him over the head with the shovel. Mason fell face first into the grave and the gun flew out of his hand. I ran over, grabbed the gun, and pointed it at his head.
Mason looked up at me and said, “You aren’t going to shoot me, son.”
I smiled and pulled the trigger. Quickly, I put both bodies in the grave, threw the gun in with them, and drove off into the night.
Shem The Pen is a writer and musician in Pittsburgh, PA. Twitter: @dropthemichaiku Blog: shemthepen.com
The upstairs window was darkened with the gray flashing of the television. It was probably near eleven. I always visited at the worst times. So drunk and careless that I'd wake her up. Her sleepy eyes and sweet forgiving face in the doorway. Once I banged on her door well after two AM carrying a boombox blasting Redman's "I'll Beee That." It just seemed like a good idea at the time. But it woke her kids and her neighbors. I sent her flowers and some toys for the kids the next day. I was always buying her stuff - I'd take the train to NYC on my day off to look for records or candles or trinkets, just something to surprise her. I cared for her. I suspect that deep down I must have felt unworthy of her friendship, that I had to either keep proving myself or just making up for my mistakes.
I knocked and listened for her feet on the stairs.
"Hey there," she said.
She was radiant in cloth pajamas open at the top and bottom so you could see her belly. Her eyes were pink and I could tell that she was a little high too. She was funny when she got high, cursing with gangsta tough talk to strangers. She didn't take any shit.
"What happened to you?"
"It's nothing. Those hippie kids, Danny and Grant and them, started some trouble." We hugged and kissed and she looked at me suspiciously as she held my arms. "And you had to finish it? Since when do you fight?"
I started to say something but just trailed off, shrugged, tried to smile. My high had kicked in with skipping frames so these kinds of tough questions tripped me up.
"C'mon silly," she said.
"How're the kids?" I asked, but my drunken voice was so loud she shushed me and I switched to a whisper mid-question.
"They're sleeping. But Krissy's a little brat. She's a diva already. Allen is the man of the house. He helps load groceries, cleans up after himself. Sometimes. He tries his best."
Her living room was a healthy sort of mess - toys strewn all about, a playpen in one corner. Crayon drawings pinned up on the walls. There was an old gray pullout couch across from the TV cabinet full of children's DVDs. All kinds of mystical decorations - little buddhas, jade elephants, exotic candles. A rug with an ancient Indian design hanging from one corner. A counter with baskets of fruit and stacks of mail, opening up to the little kitchen.
"Allen just made me a calendar in school. He drew all the pictures himself."
The TV was showing an episode of the old Monkees tv show. Silly stoner sitcom
humor. "Okay you caught me," she said. "They show these at night and I can't help it."
"No it's cool."
Stuff like that was never on my radar but it's why I loved her. One night we'd gotten really high and watched the Monkees Head film. It's a cool flick, a real gonzo art piece. Even old Frank Zappa is in there. I was impressed. She was always into something unexpected, she made the mundane seem cool. She'd get some recipe for a pie which she'd mess up and it would turn out all wrong with dark misshapen crust, or she'd build and paint a misshapen toy box, a coat rack that would fall from the wall. I just admired how fearlessly she jumped into anything, on her own terms.
"Look at your arm," she said.
"Ah, it's not that bad."
I sat down on the couch while she went off to get some wet paper towels. I felt something sharp and found a toy truck underneath me.
"Here we go," she said.
I tried to focus on her as she carefully cleaned the scrape on my arm.
"Thanks. It's good to see you."
When she was done, she headed across the room for her rabbit, Davy Jones. Cradling it like a baby, she sat down on the couch under her crossed legs. It was comfortable in her arms, nose twitching.
"Here he is," she said. "Who's that? Who's that crazy guy over there?"
I reached over and pet its head. "Hey, Davy."
"This is my buddy. I have to be so careful. They chase him all around. It stresses him out like crazy."
"I'm really sorry I barged in like this."
"No it's fine. Dude, what's with the outfit?" She tugged at the frayed ends of my makeshift shorts. "No, actually I think I can figure it out."
"I went straight to the bar after work. 'Give me a shot of Jack and a pair of scissors.' One of those deals."
"I remember when you used to wear that UPS uniform you found at Goodwill. And you colored on the back."
"It said 'Dutchie's Bud Delivery.' That was kind of goofy."
She got back up and went off to the kitchen. I watched her pour wine and ice in two plastic cups. I held out my finger to Davy Jones. He was sniffing a dried spill on the couch. My high had settled in nicely, a warm numbing glow. It seemed better to be stoned and well behaved than too drunk and sloppy.
"So what happened?" she said.
"Ah, it was kind of Bison's thing."
"Oh fuck that guy."
Bison was friends with her ex-husband Josh, another local burnout musician. Their band was in a perpetual state of flux, mostly just drunken hangouts and house party gigs. That's fine when you're in your early twenties, but they were all in their late thirties. Like me.
"He's a snake," she said.
She reached across to put the rabbit back on her lap. She wasn't wearing a bra, and I couldn't help a peak at her breasts. She was pretty uninhibited anyway. The aroma of burning joss stick on the table permeated the air. A few old roaches in a decorative opium ash tray.
"Hey, have you ever been to the little reggae shack up Water Street?" I asked.
"Yo Irie? Yeah, all the time. I get shirts and stuff there. They have a DJ booth in the back and the guy is always spinning some crazy shit. They're chill as hell."
"You know what? Every store should have a rasta DJ spinning. I'd love to go to the bank or the supermarket and hear some Lee Perry or something."
"Hell yeah. I've taken the kids there before, they love it. Those guys all know me over
"I bet they do. Pretty little white girl. Praise Jah."
She got up and found a CD from a tower in the corner. "Remember this?"
"Kaya. That's a good one."
"Remember when we played this over and over when we drove out to the Pine Barrens? We all took mushrooms and built a fire."
"Yeah, I was bugging out on that fire. I kept saying, 'Fire was caveman television.' Like that was some big revelation."
She laughed. "It was. You know, I just talked to Paula the other day. She's a dental assistant up in Westfield. She's doing good."
That wasn't so great. I would have rather heard about old friends in trouble, in decline. This was not out of malevolence but just for my own ego. Everyone passing me by. And by staying the same, I was falling further behind. I'd put my focus in all the wrong places. There was a time when it seemed perfectly acceptable to be a mad drunken poet wandering the bars. But now – not so much. Can it be that it was all so simple then?
"I've been working on lots of poems and stuff lately."
"That's good," she said. There was some pity in her flat smile. "What about school? Are you still thinking of going back?"
"The way you always talk about your reading and stuff, you'd be such a good teacher. Do know how cool you'd be? I would have loved to have you for a teacher."
"I love you too," I said. Took a big gulp of wine. "Maybe I'll open up my own school. I'll teach classes in Finnegans Wake and Wu Tang solo albums."
"How's your work going?"
"It's okay. They're pretty cool at the office. It's better than waitressing. I don't miss that at
"I don't blame you."
I stared out blankly at the TV. The Monkees were cleaning their apartment in fast motion.
"I can't believe you got in a fight," she said. "I almost wish I could have seen that. Remember that time outside the Beach Club, we got away from those guys you pissed off. They wanted to kill you."
"They were marines or something. I got into this anti-war trip with them. Being a real asshole about it too."
"You ran pretty fast out there. You were ready to leave me behind. And then when we get to my car, you start yelling back."
"Yeah that sounds like me. I swear I didn't even want to get into this fight stuff tonight. I just went out to watch or help or whatever. And I got blindsided, this guy knocked me down like a truck."
"I'd ask if you want to smoke but you look pretty lit already.”
"Yeah." I was focusing on the jagged reds in one of the crystals on the table. It looked like half a grapefruit glittering with frozen stones. "Hey, you're still into this crystal shit, huh? Does that really help?"
"'This crystal shit?' Yeah, I guess that's one way to put it."
"No I didn't mean it like that."
"I know, I'm kidding. Yes, I am still into that stuff but every time I try to explain it, I can see you working on some smart ass response. There, you're doing it now."
"I really want to know."
"No you don't. You're sweet for pretending though."
"I don't know, I just feel like I need something like that in my life. Like I'm missing what everybody else has. That stuff probably wouldn't work on me though. Nothing does."
"You know, I started seeing this psychologist," she said.
"You did?" My heart sank. I just hated the idea of her getting involved in a relationship.
"Some of it's covered by my insurance so it's not bad. My mom watches the kids most days anyway."
"Oh," I said. "Wait, why are seeing a psychiatrist?"
"Psychologist. I don't know. Lots of reasons."
"Lilly, you know you're perfect already, right?"
"Right," she muttered. She looked down. "I don't know. It just gets hard sometimes."
"Are you sad?"
"I'm not sad. I'm just alone here. I want something better for Allen and Krissy. I want them to have a house and a yard, all that stuff. It sounds corny, but whatever, it's important. I'm still borrowing from my mom for my bills as it is. And Josh is barely half a father. Like singing Black Sabbath songs in the bars a couple nights can support anything but his own bullshit. The kids know he's bullshit too. Allen does, I think. He needs a father. They both need so much more than I give them."
Her voice sort of cracked. She looked down at her cup. I wanted to her hug her but I had the sense it would come out wrong.
"I'll always help you if I can, Lilly."
She just kept nodding. There were tears in her eyes.
I felt this helpless longing fall over me. I saw with absolute certainty that there was a world somewhere where we had a life together. Where we lived and breathed each other. I think she saw this too. Or she had at one point and had since abandoned that dream. Now my presence was just another man in her life who would keep letting her down.
"'You know, 'Life just goes on and on, getting harder and harder,'" I said. "That's from the Stones song. 'Indian Girl.'" Silence. "Good song on a bad album. Emotional Rescue.”
Her expression was flat, as if she hadn't heard me. She was almost talking to herself. "You don't know what it's like. You don't have all this hanging over you. The kids and
everything. You could do anything, you're free. You don't have to stay around here."
The wine was gone and I felt a heavy sadness in the room. It was oppressive, beyond my control.
"Look, I'm sorry for bothering you. I shouldn't have come here so late."
"You're not bothering me, but you just pop in at some crazy times. I mean, I love you but you're like a little vampire. How about normal hours once in a while?"
"Oh, please don't do that. That guilt shit. Allen's started doing it too, he got it from his father. I'll put up with a lot but I don't need another martyr in my life."
"I'm - I mean I'm not sorry."
The room was spinning. That's the problem with wine, you gulp it down like beer and you're in trouble. The worst hangovers too. I sort of swayed and almost felt like passing out.
I took the cup to the kitchen, rinsed it. Then put my face under the faucet, wet my eyes, sipped some water. The fridge was covered with pictures of the kids, her and her friends. Little magnets of cartoon animals, silly phrases.
She was there behind me and we hugged and I kissed her cheek. Then her ear, then her
"Okay, okay," she said. She smiled sweetly. "Get some rest please?"
"Yeah, thank you." I started to say something else and then just turned to leave.
I descended back down the staircase. After I got outside, I stopped and took out my little notebook. I ripped a page and scribbled: "You are the river of the world. I see my true reflection when I look into you. Thanks for the water and wine."
I folded it up and slipped it under the door. Then went out into the night. I had to piss like crazy and I didn't want to ask to use her bathroom. I unzipped openly at the bushes just down from her place. The parking lot was full now, even those places that were empty when I arrived. Everybody settled in. No space left.
Robert E. Donohue writes short stories and novels. After forty years in international business he quit to focus full time on writing. He received an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2009 and is currently at work on a novel. His stories have appeared in Dual Coast Magazine and Down In The Dirt Magazine. Robert lives with his spouse and their extended family in Bolton, MA.
Summer nights, Marcie Grant looked forward to unwinding from work and escaping household chores. She loved picnic dinners at Cove Beach Municipal Park, especially gossiping with Lynne, her best friend, and watching the boats return home from a day on the Long Island Sound. Her cares seemed a long-distance from the park atmosphere: the green marsh grasses rustling in the breeze, the fresh air off the water, and the shrieks of children on see-saws and jungle gyms nearby. On evenings like this, her work responsibilities drifted away; she savored the company of friends and the balm of a carefully selected summer wine.
Marcie’s job as a nurse practitioner in Bridgeport Hospital’s Post-Op Care Center was fulfilling but stressful. Her income went straight to the mortgage of the house in the tony suburban town where she and Adam chose to settle.
Adam called from the golf club to say that he would join her at home shortly. He would change clothes, and they could leave for the cove together.
Marcie and Adam had argued that morning. They had argued daily for a month, or so. Had it been that long? The lessening she always felt after each argument was dreadful. This morning they had fought about which of them would meet the Town Assessor later that week. Adam had insisted the brass would be traveling the Mid-Atlantic States for the full week and that he needed to join them. She thought, How is it he never plans? How is it I don’t insist upon it? I never know where he’ll be―or when―and he rarely bothers to tell me.
Shortly after Marcie and Adam arrived at the park, her friend Éva drove into the parking lot with Lynne and her husband, Gary Hathorne. The group had met weekly for picnics during the summer for the past five years. Only the numbers had changed due to Éva’s recent divorce, from her husband, Roger.
Together they prepared the table for their picnic dinner. Lynne and Éva helped with the table cover. After Marcie arranged five place settings, she stood—hands on hips—satisfied with the look of the table.
Adam carried food and cooking utensils from the car. He placed a variety of salads on the picnic table. Gary set a cooler, with bottles of wine and beer, near the spot where Marcie assumed he’d sit. He uncorked several bottles of wine and set them about. She saw Adam fill one of the park braziers with charcoal, strike a match, and stare wide-eyed as the flames rose. She noticed him gaze at Éva. He looked away as Éva turned toward him.
The women chatted as they worked. Éva spoke of finding a better-paying job in another town.
“I just couldn’t afford living here any longer. I must have looked at twenty places. The rents were absurd. I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said.
“Norwalk is close enough,” Lynne replied. “You’re in easy visiting distance for us. Besides, there’s not one of us who’s pleased with her salary.”
Marcie nodded in agreement as Lynne continued. “As the patriarchy crumbles that may change, but for now it’s a gender cross we all bear. By the way, dear, I think your place is lovely.”
Éva laughed and high-fived her.
“You go, girls,” Marcie said.
She briefly wondered what life would be like if she and Adam separated. Would she remain close to Lynne? How would she get by financially?
The odor of charcoal lighter fluid irritated her nostrils. Band music drifted from the weekend entertainment vendors on the opposite end of the park.
Lynne suggested, “Let’s walk down and see if they’ve scheduled fireworks tonight.”
“Sure,” Marcie said. “I’d like to see who’s performing at the bandstand, too.”
Marcie watched the sun ease into what she imagined was another world to the west. As she shielded her eyes, she called to Adam, “We’re off to check the park directory for fireworks. Back soon.”
As they walked, Marcie spoke of her patients. She made light of situations that were often anything but buoyant. She told a story of a man with gout who bothered the nurse station constantly, insisting someone attend his tiniest need. Staff referred to him as “Buzzer Bill.” Her friends laughed. With this nickname in mind, she said, she giggled whenever she entered his room to check his chart.
She felt guilty making fun, betraying him in a way. Then she realized the moniker lifted her spirits. Plus it allowed the staff to deal more kindly with his discomfort and more expansively with his demands.
Marcie wanted to know more of Éva’s divorce story. She wanted to hear of the bits in Éva’s marriage to Roger that hadn’t fit and how she had managed to leave him. Maybe this wasn’t the time or the place, but she felt she had to know.
“Are you doing okay?” she asked Éva, tentatively.
Marcie could see that Lynne was watching and listening. Her brow was furrowed. Lynne stared at her and raised her eyebrows, folding her arms at her chest.
“When’s the South Norwalk Arts Festival?” Lynne asked abruptly.
Marcie got the message. “Yeah. We should go together. Just us. No men,” she said. The words hadn’t left her lips when her stomach soured. Too much probing, she thought.
“Third weekend in August,” Éva said. “I’ll be out of town. Going to Maine for the month.”
“Well, maybe next year then,” Lynne quickly added.
They crossed the crushed seashell parking lot and followed the dry scrub grass path to the park directory board. Lynne read aloud the names of the bands scheduled to perform, and they decided that none seemed interesting enough to stay late at the park this night.
Éva said, “I’d like to stretch my legs a bit longer. Mind if we walk along the beach for a few minutes before we return to the men?”
“You won’t have to twist my arm,” Lynne said.
“Sure,” Marcie added.
As they continued along the shoreline, the weather took a turn. Out over the Sound, thick cumulus clouds gathered and took on troubling shades of gray. Marcie seemed to be the first to notice.
She pointed. “Check out that weather. Probably won’t come ashore from the look of it, but best we get back to the boys,” she said.
They re-crossed the parking lot. As they approached Adam and Gary, the clouds thickened further. Marcie felt the excitement. Just before they reached the men, she raced ahead, waving her arms. “There’s a thunderstorm coming,” she shouted.
The weather mass crept east across the sky, parallel to the land. Black clouds, with hues of light gray and violet streaming from their edges, covered the horizon. Showers bounced like hail off boulders in the nearby shallows. Neither rain nor hail reached shore. Marcie stood, facing the storm. She felt the excitement dissipate as the threat passed, and an odd sadness followed.
Adam was busy at the brazier poking and turning the steaks.
“Did you uncork the wine?” she asked him.
“Yes I did. The bottles are on the table.”
Gary glanced at Adam. He reached for a bottle and filled glasses for Éva and Lynne. Éva sat, her hands on her lap. Adam stood at the grill. The others settled at the table and began passing salads, pasta, and cheeses.
“Éva, dig in. You could use some heft, girl. Someone pass the coleslaw. Everybody have what they need?” Marcie said.
Marcie noticed Adam look Éva’s way; Éva glanced at him and quickly looked at the table fare.
Across the river, a sail caught Marcie’s eye. The small craft seemed to struggle in the doldrums. It soon caught wind and headed upriver.
Adam doled rib-eye steaks to outstretched plates. He held Lynne’s before her for a moment before placing it gently down. A smile spread across his face.
“I’ll bet they’re not dining this expensively at the shelter tonight,” he said.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Lynne asked.
His smile disappeared. “Forget it,” he said.
“Are you talking about the homeless?” she said.
Adam stabbed at a thick steak on the grill and wrenched it from the grating.
“The way we treat them perpetuates their failures. It’s enabling. We’ll be feeding generations of those people,” he said.
Marcie tugged at Éva’s belt loop, smiled, and pointed to the bread basket.
“Marcie, how do you tolerate him?” Lynne asked.
“He’ll change when he finds himself living at a shelter,” Marcie said.
Lynne said, “Consider yourself warned, mister. No dallying at the office, or your woman will have you living with those whom you so disdain.”
Her voice rose above nearby chatter. Marcie saw that people stared.
A flock of ducks swept over, landing in the trough of a swell on the river. They immediately struggled to gain flight again, threatened by an oncoming cruiser.
Marcie watched as Éva got up, abandoned her plate, and walked toward Lynne’s car. She took a cigarette from an enameled box and faced the harbor. The others remained, focused on dinner.
Lynne whispered, “Christ! What’s wrong with me? She’s not done with the divorce, emotionally . . . Roger’s secretary . . . I’m an idiot.”
“I’ll go,” Marcie said. She wrinkled her brow, never taking her eyes off her husband.
“Let her be. She’s a big girl. It’s ok to feel like shit sometimes,” Adam said.
Marcie continued to stare at him. The others returned to the food. She left the table and approached Éva, placing her hand on her friend’s arm. Éva smiled and tossed her head back, releasing billows of smoke. Marcie was struck by her graceful neck and lustrous hair. Odd someone that pretty should know such pain, she thought.
“Fine. Just needed a smoke.”
When Marcie and Éva returned to the table, Marcie handed Éva a bowl of strawberries.
Adam and Gary were arguing.
“You’re asking why he should behave with more decorum?” Gary said.
“That’s right. I am,” Adam said.
“Because he’s President,” Gary said.
“Jack Kennedy had the Secret Service deliver prostitutes to him. Johnson chased interns.” Adam said.
“Still, he’s a husband and a father,” Éva interrupted.
Adam’s voice lowered. “People deal with things like this. Everyone’s got themselves in a twist over something that’s none of their business.”
“That’s too easy,” Éva said.
“When you cheat, or lie, someone suffers. Should we ignore what’s happening, or look the other way as people are hurt? Where’s the compassion?” she added.
“The President’s wife is a grown woman. I’ll accept the boy is off limits, but how do you know she was wronged? They may have an arrangement.”
“What? What the hell . . .” Gary said.
Marcie felt frantic to stop the argument. Adam had gone too far. She held her hand, palm up, to end it. The bench pinched the backs of her thighs. She stood and busied herself with empty plates and table debris.
“Listen,” Gary continued, “ I don’t know where you’re headed, buddy, but I think Éva owns the high ground and you’re off base. His wife and kid have been hurt. He’s the cause. If there’s any twisting going on, it’s your doing.”
“We know that the guy roams,” Adam said. “He’s always roamed. Let’s say he does because he has to. I don’t know what’s going on inside their bedroom, do you? Suggestion: mind your own business.”
Lynne said, “What would this country be like if everyone thought like you?”
“Less noisy and less litigious,” Adam said.
“That’s absurd and mean,” Éva said. “There’s no evidence his wife was aware.”
“She’s complicit, or stupid. The guy’s been in the tabloids for decades. Does this all the time.”
“You’re pathetic,” Éva replied. Her eyes seemed wild.
Marcie watched, speechless. She took a cigarette from Éva and lit up. She tapped her fingers on the table repeatedly, certain Adam knew details of Éva’s divorce and afraid he would not stop until he’d brought her friend to tears.
“What’s pathetic is pretense,” Adam said. “Did you ever refuse Roger?”
Éva drew back from the table. Marcie felt a sickening grip at her throat. She wanted to tear into Adam, but she feared more of a scene. She stared at the lolling sailboat masts in the marina and wondered how this all came about.
Christ, why doesn’t he lighten up? she thought. Éva’s forty-three and lost just about everything because of that pig of a husband.
She dropped the cigarette inside a soda can.
Lynne took hold of Éva’s hand and signaled Gary. Lynne, Éva, and Gary packed the Hathorne car in silence and were away in a blur.
Marcie and Adam sat alone.
“We’re leaving!” she said.
They loaded the car. He started the engine and backed onto the parking lot. Riding in silence, Marcie placed her hands to her face. My God, she thought.
They rounded a bend near the water’s edge. Waves crested against the shore, sending spray across the road. Odors of decayed marine life at wooden pilings and cooking oils from Café Camille filled the car. Adam rubbed his neck. He mumbled something she could not hear as he scanned the radio channels.
“I’d like quiet,” she said.
The radio clicked off.
“You alright?” he asked.
“What happened back there?”
A gull flew past the windshield, a mussel in its beak. Mollusk meat twisted in the wind. The bird pitched perpendicular and soared over the water.
“You mean with Gary?”
“No! Éva. How could you treat her like that? You go on about a politician’s right to hurt his wife and child, knowing Roger stole Éva’s home and lied to get custody of Ashley. And you knew he slept with his secretary.”
“It was Gary’s hypocrisy. You don’t know the half of it. Tonight he’s all about the sanctity of marriage. Did you ever wonder where he goes and what he does on those so-called business trips to Thailand?”
“No, and I don’t want to. What I would like to know is why you treated Éva so cruelly.”
“Cruelly? I did not. It was Gary. He pissed me off.”
“You abused her. If he angered you, why not go after him? You chose her. Why is this always the way you guys operate?”
“What, you guys?”
“Stop it! You know what I’m saying. You’re pissed at Gary, and you take it out on a remark a vulnerable woman makes. It was ridiculous. Frankly, it felt like something else was going on—God knows what?”
“It had nothing to do with her. She joined in with Gary. I responded to his sanctimony by answering the subject she raised.”
“Oh, that’s crap and you know it is. First of all, she didn’t raise the subject. Lynne did. You went after Éva because in her current state you believed she was the easier mark.”
His fingers tapped the steering wheel.
Pastel Japanese lanterns shone from the yard behind Fox’s Beach Deli as they drove past. Marcie saw outlines of grapevines in their glow. A girl and boy, inside the store, pulled at baseball card packages. Red-white-and-blue-ribbon-festooned bicycles leaned against a pair of spindly maples near the curb.
At the Greens Farms Road, they turned. The exchange between Éva and Adam played over and over in her head. What was it about this that was more than rude—more than troubling? She felt hot discomfort—sweat—at her neck and underarms. She feared continuing her line of thought and groped for distractions. She conjured grocery lists and imagined her refrigerator calendar, with birthdays, anniversaries, and doctors’ appointments scribbled over it. She opened the glove box, removing a pile of auto service bills and notes. A receipt—hotel bill—labeled “Hagerstown Inn” caught her eye. She set it among the other papers.
“What are you after?” he asked.
She switched the vanity light on and spread the papers on her lap.
“What are you looking for?”
She didn’t know. She ignored the question. He was faced forward. She examined the papers slowly, not certain what she was after. She piled them on the owner’s manual. She slid the bulk into the glove box and looked ahead, wondering how close to home they were.
She sat back and stared out the side window at the passing dark and the distant lights in homes. Turning toward Adam, she gazed at his right cheek. Small scars she’d grown used to over the years seemed new. A cluster of black hairs sprouted from his ear. She felt a sharp ringing in her ears. A thought of possible purpose--why—came. She held it for a moment and let it pass. Adam began mumbling.
“When we get home, you call and apologize.”
He pressed a dashboard button; his seat slid nearer the steering column.
“Say that we argued before we arrived at the marina and you were still upset―you weren’t yourself. Tell her she didn’t deserve what you subjected her to.”
“I think it’s better that you call,” he said.
“Because you were the one who ripped her head off, not me. Anything I say won’t make up for what you did, and it won’t make her feel better. Good God!”
He raised his window as they turned into the driveway. She glanced to the back seat, gauging how many trips to the kitchen the food baskets and utensils would require. Skies cleared. Against the new moon dark, rhododendron leaves at the front edges of their lawn reflected the harsh glare of a halogen streetlamp. The car crept forward. She stared at Adam.
“The telephone call. The apology.”
“I’ll need time. I’m not good at that kind of thing. Besides, she’s leaving for Maryland in the morning. I’ll wait until she returns.”
Leaving for Maryland? she thought.
A bitter taste of wine and food seasonings bit the back of her tongue. Her neck muscles stiffened.
She stepped into the driveway. Her pocketbook fell to the ground, its contents spilling onto the macadam. As she gathered it all in, she dropped to one knee, and the top button of her blouse came undone.
She gazed at the early summer, stained petals of the dogwoods. She saw that a night animal had toppled the garbage can. Orange peels were strewn across the lawn. Empty plastic bags drifted past her. An aluminum bake pan, its moldy contents, like road kill, lay nearby. Her body felt liquid. She raised her head, but could not recognize home for her tears.
Callum Colback is a Scottish born writer based in Bedfordshire, UK.
He writes across all genres, although Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror are closest to his heart.
When not writing he can be found sketching, playing guitar, and chipping away at the ever growing to-be-read pile of books stacked around the house.
One night, five days before departure:
“I’m not staying for you,” Andrew says.
He lies next to me in bed, his eyes aflame, half-hidden by a lock of hair fallen across his brow. A bead of sweat carves a shimmering trail down his chest.
I prop myself up on one elbow.
“Then why? Soon there will be nothing to stay for.”
“The people, Sarah. Are they not worth staying for?”
I roll my eyes.
“Of course they are, but you've already done your part. It’s time to go."
"Maybe if I was a doctor..."
“But you’re not. Besides, you’ve already done more than your part in this war.”
“What’s that, the part of a nurse?”
He sounds hurt, despite the playful look in his eyes.
“You know what I mean. If you stay, I can’t guarantee you’ll be on one of the later ships.”
He stands and stretches, the scars that criss-cross his back stretching too. Our bathroom is inside the bedroom; standard layout for Imperium quarters. He turns on the sink’s tap, but only a sputter of fetid looking liquid comes out. We haven’t had running water for two days. Electricity still works, for now, powered by the ancient cables running under the ground –kept as a backup measure should our solar shields ever fail, or be destroyed.
Andrew climbs back into bed and lays a hand on the side of my face.
“Of course you can,” He says, “You’re orbit exit co-ordinator; you basically decide who goes and who has to stay.”
“How can you say that?”
“What?” He asks.
It’s my turn to rise from the bed.
“If it was up to me no-one would stay! Anyone left on this planet will die. You say it like I’m condemning those poor souls.”
“Sarah, you know I didn’t mean it like that.”
“No, and yet that’s how you said it.”
I retrieve my uniform from where it lies crumpled on the floor and step into it. He watches me, silently, searching for the words.
“A simple I’m sorry, will suffice,” I say, pulling my boots onto aching feet. The chaos of the last two weeks has seen me on my feet up to sixteen hours a day and left them swollen and sore.
“Sarah, I am sorry.”
I lace the boots and turn to face him. He looks like I’d hoped he’d feel. Awful. I lean over and place a kiss on his stubble-covered cheek. His eyes are deep-set, bloodshot, and lined by heavy bags. We’ve both been working ourselves into the ground. He’s got a heart too big and you’ve got a mind too small, my mother once said.
Andrew pulls me close and kisses me long. When he pulls back I can see the fear behind the tiredness.
“I’m sorry, truly,” He says.
“I know,” I repeat.
“Andrew, don’t make me leave this planet without you.”
“I won’t,” He says, “I promise.”
Two days before departure:
I have gone to find Andrew in one of the pop-up medical tents on the outskirts of the Capitol city. It won’t be long until the Antioch horde is swarming over this land. I can almost feel the vibrations of a million insectile legs hammering across the wastelands towards us. A shudder passes through me. The tents are glorified morgues, so few are the people that emerge from them with their hearts beating. Our enemy’s attacks have been brutal, with only one goal. Eradication. The light dome that protects us from aerial bombardment arcs above, painting the evening sky amber. The noise coming from inside the tent only adds to my headache. Lately I seem to be suffering them more and more frequently.
Inside the makeshift hospital that is the medical tent, it is carnage. The stench of death is overpowering. I have to force down the bile rising at the back of my throat and wipe my watering eyes. Men and women run through aisles upon aisles of pod beds, shouting instructions and waving frantically to other, similarly frantic women and men. Their shouts are just more noise in the cacophony of wails and screams coming from the padded cylinders. The one nearest to me holds a man who is missing both arms. Nanobots are furiously reconstructing the limbs in front of my eyes, but not fast enough. The yellow ooze of rot is visible within the stumps. All they are doing is sealing the infection inside of him.
“Hey,” I say, grabbing a women as she runs past, “This man is riddled with infection.”
“Then it’s too late for him,” She replies.
She pushes me away and heads for the tent’s exit, shouting to someone about getting more sutures.
“Do you know where I can find Andrew?” I call after her, “Andrew Barnes?” But she is gone.
In the next bed is a woman with a heavy bandage around her temple. A man kneels next to the bed, clutching her hand, crying.
“Helena,” he says, “Look at me. Darling, look at me. It’s me, Joseph. Say you remember me.”
Helena doesn’t look at him; she just stares up at the canvas ceiling. Nonsensical words tumble from her mouth. Her eyes are glassy.
“Oh god,” Joseph weeps, “Come back to me, Helena, come back…”
The third bed holds another woman, reduced to nothing but a corpse in military garb. Her face is entirely gone, melted to a bubbled crust by chemical burns. On her wrist is a bracelet, a chrome band with an inscription scrawled upon it. I fight back the sickness swelling in me, resenting myself for feeling it, and lift her wrist to study the inscription closer. It reads, To Jane, my dearest sister, so you may always have a piece of me close. A pit forms in my stomach. I’ve seen enough. I duck back out of the medical centre and consign myself to waiting for Andrew to emerge. Eventually he does, almost running straight into me.
“Sarah! What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. You missed your flight out this morning.”
He sighs and spreads his arms.
“Do you want to be left behind here, Andrew? Do you want to become just another casualty in this…this holocaust?”
“They need me here. I mean, have you seen in there?” He asks, gesturing towards the tent.
I nod silently. Andrew sees the lack of colour in my face and his features drop. He pulls me close and we embrace, tension flowing out of both of us. Then he pushes back and looks me in the eyes.
“The woman I sent?” He asks.
“She got on a ship.”
“Thank god. When I found out she was pregnant, I had to try.”
“I understand, but Andrew, she was lucky. The ship rejected two people carrying diseases, leaving two spaces; one for her and one for the unborn child inside her. If it hadn’t rejected those two people…”
“I know,” He says, “Thank you.”
He cares far too much about people he has no attachment too. It’s one of his weaknesses, and one of the things that drew me to him.
“I’ve got you on another ship,” I say, “With me, two days from now.”
“Good. That’s good.”
“It will be the last ship to leave the planet.”
“The last ship? You told me this morning there was still almost fifty percent of the population left to evacuate.”
“There is. 46% now.”
His shoulders slump a little lower and he sways on his feet.
“They’re leaving so many behind.”
I reach out an arm to steady him and press my head against his. We stay like that, forehead to forehead for several moments.
“I’m so sorry, Andrew.”
“Me too,” He says, “Me too.”
He inhales sharply and our private moment is shattered. The sounds of shouting and screaming from the tent rush in and pull us back to the here and now.
“I need to get back in there, Sarah.”
“Any that can be made stable enough to travel are to be moved to the docking station,” I say.
“And those that can’t?”
I cup his cheek in my hand. Fresh tears roll onto it as he squeezes his eyes shut. When they open again there is composure there. He squeezes my hand, holding it against his cheek, before placing it back at my side.
“I’ll see you tonight,” He says, and kisses me lightly, before disappearing back inside the tent.
The morning of departure:
Three transport class ships sit on the landing strip outside the docking station. A metallic voice is counting down over the speakers. It reaches ten and the closest ship’s thrusters ignite, rippling the air below them. Anyone failing to board by designated take off time is left behind; a fully automated ship waits for nobody. Thankfully everyone has boarded successfully this time. My contact lens interface shows the time turn to 09:00 and the ship lifts into the sky. I’m still waiting for Andrew.
I turn my attention to the Antiochs pressing at the border of The Capitol. Their insectile bodies are not visible from this distance, however, the device they use to break down our light barriers is - a colossal, five-pointed piece of machinery, lying like a starfish on the outside of the dome protecting the city, draining energy from it until the shield is weak enough to be broken through.
At the edge of the docking station, a horde of people not lucky enough to board one of the two remaining ships is gathered, surging against the fence that stretches for miles around the station. Them, I can see. Their faces will haunt me forever. Those we chose to leave behind. Because, at the end of the day, it was a choice. We could have chosen to stay, fought the invaders to our last breaths. We would have lost, every possible calculation run by the computer systems told us that, but we would have lost together. That was not the choice we made, and while my head said our leaders were doing the right thing, my heart disagreed.
Andrew’s voice cuts through my brooding. I turn to see him being escorted to me by a service droid. At the sight of the droid, I feel a pang of sorrow. Nobody is carrying guilt about leaving behind our ever-faithful droids.
“You made it,” I say.
Andrew can’t tear his eyes away from the mass of people gathered at the fence. His mouth is set in a grim line.
“Is that everyone we’re leaving behind?” He asks.
I feel for his hand and take it in mine. The crowd is huge - a sea of people - but it’s not even close to everyone left on the planet. A cold wind blows and we both shiver.
“Andrew, our ship leaves in under an hour.”
He turns to look at me.
“I had to abandon over half the people in the medical tent. There were only three of us left to care for the injured there this morning. They died all around us, one every minute. And those that didn’t, they died the moment we walked out of there.”
“I almost couldn’t bring myself to leave them like that. But the pain it caused me to walk away was only outweighed by the pain of imagining being without you, Sarah. I don’t think I can live without you.”
I have no words. I feel breathless.
“Nor me without you,” I say, and squeeze his hand tighter.
10:50 – Ten minutes until take-off.
The last ship that will ever leave this planet is readying its engines.
We file onto it, one by one, through the screening door– a translucent, crimson rectangle of light. Andrew and I will be the last two to board. A man approaches the screening door, several people in front of us. The scanners fitted on either side of it move over him, head to toe.
“Daniel Martin, Male, 31,” The ship’s vocal modulizer says.
“Infectious diseases– none. Board now.”
Daniel Martin, Male, 31, steps through the rectangular door of light and into the ship. The ship speaks again.
“Ship is at 98% capacity. Capacity for six passengers remaining.”
I glance along the line of hopefuls waiting to board. A man with his child, two women, then myself and Andrew. Nine minutes left, we’ll be boarded just in time. Still, I can’t help feeling nervous. Andrew massages my shoulders from behind.
“It’s okay,” Se says, “we’ll be on in time.”
I shoot him a quick smile.
“I know, it’s just I’ve seen how ruthless these ships are with their timeframes and regulations. I can’t help it.”
The man and child pass through the light screen and onto the ship. Seven minutes until take-off.
My stomach is churning again, and the headache is back.
“Did you pack the chocolate?” I ask Andrew.
“Yeah, in the bag. You want some now?”
I shake my head. I do, but I feel too nauseous to eat.
“Maybe once we’re on board and the nerves have calmed down.”
The first woman has boarded and now the second one approaches the scanner. Five minutes.
“Lila Lortenza,” The ship says, “Female, 24. Infectious diseases– none. Board now.”
The woman does as commanded, and then it is my turn. I step up to the scanner. Its light sweeps up and down my body. Did it stop on my stomach for a moment longer than usual? I start to panic, thinking of every infectious disease I could be carrying that would make me ineligible to board.
“Sarah Holborn, Female, 29.”
I’m holding my breath.
“Infectious diseases– none. Board now.”
I exhale loudly and turn to look at Andrew. He smiles at me and nods. All my worries evaporate. It’s going to be okay. After a few days of cryosleep we’ll be landing on the ring world Helios-III, able to start our new life together. I smile back at him.
“Board now,” The ship repeats.
I step through the light-screen door and into the belly of the ship. Rows and rows of seats filled with passengers stretch as far as the eye can see up its inside. Many of them are already plugged into the cryo-machines, induced sleep washing over them.
The ships voice comes loudly over the inside speakers.
“Ship capacity at 100%. Preparing for take-off.”
A cold fist punches me in the chest. I spin round. Andrew is standing outside of the ship’s light-screen door, confusion smashed on his face.
“No!” I shout, “Andrew!”
I run at the door, but the light-screen is impenetrable. Andrew is banging on the other side of it with his fists.
“Sarah!” He shouts, “Sarah what happened? Why am I locked out?”
“I don’t know! I don’t understand, I don’t…hey!”
I grab one of the droids standing ward near the door.
“Open this door, now!”
“That is an impossibility,” The droid says, “This is a fully automated, class three, transport ship. All control resides with the ship’s intelligence system.”
“Sarah,” Andrew shouts, “Tell them to open the door, tell them to let me in!”
I hit the droid and scream into the metal plate of its face.
“The ship’s made a mistake. I was the second-to-last passenger; there should still be room for one more.”
The ship’s thrusters kick in. A low rumbling signals that take-off is imminent. The droid looks me up and down, scanning.
“You are with child,” It says, “You, plus your child, equals two passengers. Ship capacity is therefore at maximum.”
With child? I feel the nausea again. My headache. My swollen feet. Oh god. I turn back to Andrew. He’s no longer banging at the door.
“Andrew,” I shout through to him. “Andrew, it won’t let anyone through. It’s locked down.”
“You’re pregnant,” He says.
Tears fill my eyes. I nod and they overspill, running down my cheeks.
“It’s okay, Sarah. It’s okay.”
Andrew smiles and presses a hand against the red light of the door. I place mine on the opposite side, against his. I’m sobbing now, uncontrollably.
“I love you, Andrew.”
I can see tears running down his cheeks too, crimson through the light of the door. They touch the corners of his smile.
“I love you too, Sarah.”
The ship lurches and sways as it lifts from the ground.
“No,” I shout, “No, Andrew, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” He shouts back, “Tell our child…” His words are lost under the roar of engine thrusters.
The ship moves upwards and gains speed. Andrew stands alone on the landing strip, smiling up at it.
I lose sight of him as we climb higher into the sky, towards the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. The pain in my chest is unbearable, the emptiness I feel overwhelming. I slip down the ship’s wall, curling into the foetal position on the cold floor. I stay like that until two droids come to escort me to my seat. Even then I can’t find the strength to walk. The droids drag me to the seat and deposit me on it. They insert the cryo-machine’s tubing. I place a hand on my stomach, where Andrews’s child is growing, and hope to slip into dreams of a life that could have been.
Mehmet Ali YAZAN was born in 1970. He graduated from University of Istanbul, Department of History in 1992. He completed his masters’s degree in University of Sakarya in 1997. He wrote a master’s thesis about The Dardanelles War He served as a history teacher for 6 years in various schools. He is married and has a son.
OPERATION VALKYRIE 2
David Harris leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes for a few minutes. He would soon be on the way to fulfill the final phase of the project which was a top-secret governmental project. In the light of the information obtained in the last successful trial, if the experiment that they would do on that day was positive, they would have the greatest scientific achievement that history had ever seen.
His technical device’s name was Quantum Time Tunneling Oscillator, which was also known as the “Time Machine” among people. He invented the machine using a much more advanced version of the electromagnetic generators that had been designed by Nikola Tesla. The working principle of the machine was to bring controlled tears in space-time by producing extremely strong magnetic fields and benefit from these tears to travel back and forth in space or time.
Now it was time to send a group of people. A scientific revolution was taking place, one that would open up new horizons in history and physics. When he looked at the watch in his wrist, he saw that the scheduled time for the experiment was approaching. He turned off his computer, quickly left the room and rode down the elevator to the garage. He got in his Land Rover and headed for the site, which was about twenty kilometers away.
After the fifteen minutes journey, he parked his car in front of a run-down building on the right side of the highway. He approached the building, passed through the veranda and walked through the door. He went a few steps, stood in front of another door about two meters in front of him and looked up.
“Welcome, Professor Harris, please come in” he heard a soft voice.
Harris entered a very modern elevator, which automatically moved down after the doors closed. The elevator stopped a few seconds later, and the door opened. There was now a large room in front of him that there were many modern devices and uniformed military personnel.
Colonel Hudson greeted him, squeezed his hand and said, “Welcome, Professor, we were waiting for you.”
After thanks to the colonel, Harris placed on the seat in front of the console with a variety of buttons and two 40-inches UHD screens. The Colonel sat in the seat next to him.
Hudson turned to face Harris and asked, “Are you ready for the great day, Professor?”
Harris responded with a smile. “I guess yes; I cannot hide that I am extremely excited.”
“You are perfectly right, Professor. I would feel the same in your place. If this experiment succeeds, you will write your name in science history with gold letters. In fact, it can already be assumed.”
“Yes, that's correct, Colonel.”
While the conversation continued, Captain Derek Johnson, who was selected as the subject, came to their side. Harris stood up and shook Johnson's hand. “Hello, Captain. Are you excited?”
The Captain, a bald-haired, energetic man, took a chair, saying, “As much as I can be should be for such an experiment, Professor.”
The Captain's clothes caught Harris's attention. He was wearing a SS uniform.
“I did not know you were a secret Nazi fan, Captain” asked Harris.
Smiling, Johnson said, “If you take this rank into consideration, you need to address me as a Major, Professor. I will be a Major of SS troops from Reich Security Headquarters. But you are wrong in your assumption, because I'm going to wear these clothes as a matter of course.”
At that time, six other people wearing Nazi uniforms appeared. One of them was a Lieutenant, the others were Sergeants. They were holding Nazi machine guns in their hands and German Lugers in the holsters on their belts. The sight he saw shocked Harris. Turning to Colonel Hudson, he said, “Colonel, I hope you have an appropriate explanation of what this is about. I see that this stuff has gone beyond a scientific research dimension.”
The Colonel said with a troubled expression in his face, “We apologize for not informing you in advance, Professor. But we were worried that you might resign if we shared the details of the operation with you.”
“Who do you mean by 'we'?”
“Those at the top.”
Harris' astonishment was magnified. “So you have planned this operation with the approval and directive of the President personally? But why? Who is the target? Wait, wait a minute…”
Harris tilted his head and closed his eyes. “As indicated by these clothes, you want me to send you to the Second World War. You probably want to kill an important Nazi leader and change the course of history. Or is this the person I think?”
“It's true what you think, Professor. We intend to kill Hitler and change the course of history. This way, many people's lives will be saved.”
“Now I understand why you did not explain the content of the last experiment. You anticipated that I would oppose it. True, if I knew from the beginning what you wanted to do, I would not have accepted this task. As a man of scientific ethics, I can not approve of it. But I realize that my moral concerns do not concern The Pentagon. There's a point you do not understand, Colonel. Traveling to the past is another thing, changing the course of history is something else. Even if I honestly accept your offer and cooperate with you, based on my research, I can tell you it is not possible to change the past. You endanger your soldiers’ lives in vain.”
“Why do you say that, Professor? If you mean the grandfather-grandson paradox, the person we want to kill is not one of our ancestors. So it does not directly concern our existence.”
“You did not fully understand the situation, Colonel. What you want to do will lead to another paradox. Imagine, if you succeed in your plan, because Hitler would have died before his time, we will not even have to be here. Then, how are we going to explain how we were here right now? So this operation is doomed to failure.”
Colonel was confused. He grimaced and thought for a while. Then he said, “Professor, whether or not it sounds logical to me, I am a soldier, and my mission is not to discuss the content of the given orders, but to apply them in the best way. So, all your attempts to discourage me, unfortunately, will not change my actions. Decision makers want to test every possibility, no matter how crazy it seems.”
“I understand you, Colonel. Well, what are the consequences if I refuse to participate in this operation?”
“Legally, we can not force you to do such a thing, Professor. We cannot even acknowledge the existence of such an operation because it can lead to a major international scandal. But you should know that your rejection will not be welcomed by the government at all. This answer may cause you to have serious troubles in your future life.”
“I understand the message you want to give, Colonel. Now that I do not have much choice, can you tell me exactly what time and place you want your soldiers to be sent?”
“Are you aware of the Valkyrie operation?”
“Wasn't that the assassination attempt on Hitler? But was it not already a failure?”
“Yes, it was. The reason for the failure of the operation is that despite the fact that the bomb-equipped bag prepared to kill Hitler was placed very close to Hitler at the beginning of the meeting but it was noticed by Colonel Brandt and he put it on the other side of the table leg.”
“At what stage do you want me to help you, Colonel?”
“The assassination failed because Colonel Brandt was aware of the presence of the bag and changed its place. If this had not happened, Hitler probably could not have survived the explosion and the flow of history would have been changed. Here's our plan; we must not let Colonel Brandt notice the presence of that bag. If he does see it, he must be prevented from changing its position.”
“Well, how do you intend to achieve this?”
On this question, Captain Johnson pointed to the bag in the hands of personnel. “It's a miniature digital plant, you see, Professor. We will use this to connect to the Nazi communication line and reach the meeting hall. When the time comes, we will call Colonel Brandt for an urgent call and prevent him from interfering with the bag. The entire team selected for this mission, including myself, can speak German fluently. When Colonel Brandt leaves the room for a phone call, we will provide him with a fake emergency information and make sure he does not return to the meeting before the blast in the meeting hall.”
“Do you have a plan B if this plan does not work as predicted?”
“No plan, except begging God to save us from there unharmed.”
Harris shook his head. “Even if I did believe to the contrary, I wish you success on your mission. I hope that the desired result is reached and humanity witnesses that this meaningless war is over sooner.”
The Colonel agreed with him. “It may not even be necessary to throw two atom bombs on this.”
“I hope not, Colonel, I hope not.”
“Anyway, let's start our business now.”
Along with the members of the Colonel's team, Professor Harris headed to the special glass-paneled area where the operation was to take place. After entering the password on the keypad on the door, they went in. The Colonel attached the transmitter devices to all the team members.
Harris said, “These devices are necessary for you to return. We will use the signals sent by these devices to retrieve you exactly fifteen minutes after we send you.”
The Captain asked, “Do you have the opportunity to keep the system open after you have done the operation, Professor? So you can follow us online and take back in a troubled situation.”
“I would love to, Captain. But unfortunately, the tear in space-time will close few seconds after you are gone. The energy we need to spend to keep it open for fifteen minutes is equivalent to the energy that a nuclear plant would spend for a year. According to our calculations, which do not have a guarantee because atoms at this stage are unstable per the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it will be impossible for us to follow you. Therefore, we will open a new door to the space-time coordinates we send you fifteen minutes after the space-time tear spontaneously closes. Thanks to the devices on you, we can detect your location and instantly get you back here.”
With a painful smile, the Captain said, “I hope you're right, Professor. Otherwise, this may be our first and last encounter.”
“I hope, Captain.”
Professor Harris and Colonel Hudson squeezed the hands of the team members one by one and wished them good luck and then exited from the glass pane. After the partition door was closed, they started to make final checks by going to the command console. At that time, the soldiers were standing in the stands with equipment bags in their hands. After Harris had completed the last checks and entered the required coordinates into the computer, he said, “I will start counting backwards from ten.” After saying “zero”, he touched a button on the console. The glass pane was covered with a blue light. Light and sound were cut off after a brief whining sound. The glass pane was now empty. Colonel Hudson set the chronometer on the console to fifteen minutes. All staff in the command room began to watch the countdown of the giant screen chronometer with great tension. Colonel Hudson said in a voice that everyone could hear, “God help you, guys.”
When the Captain and the staff opened their eyes, they saw that they were on the edge of a motorway. The captain looked around. “Is everyone okay?”
After all team members answered that they were good, the Captain surveyed the area. The wooded area was about a kilometer away. They needed to reach there in order to be able to carry out the operation safely, but that would take too much time.
“Damn it, we've fallen to the wrong side of the road!”
When the Captain looked at the chronometer on his wrist, he saw that one minute had already passed. Nine minutes left. They did not have enough time to reach the wooded area.
He ordered the team members, “Guys, set up the device right now. We do not have time to reach the forest.” The staff fulfilled the command. They moved the device about twenty meters inside of the road, got it out of its bag and fixed its metal feet in the ground. The sergeant who was responsible for communications activated the device by pressing a button and began to listen, placing a headphone to his ears. The device, which was attached to a small dish antenna, soon caught the phone signals of the headquarters.
Sergeant Tuckleberry shouted, “Bingo, I got it!”
“Connect the line immediately and listen to the channel. Call the headquarters in a minute and ask for Colonel Brandt. If we call earlier, he may return to the conference room and take the case from where it is before the explosion.”
“Roger that, sir.”
Tuckleberry started to listen to the channel. The Captain was constantly checking the chronometer. It was thirty seconds to connect, and they saw that a car was approaching from the rear.
“Call the headquarters immediately!” ordered The Captain
Sergeant Tuckleberry immediately dialed the number. But no one answered. He kept repeating the number again and again. Meanwhile, the car was close to them. There was an officer in it, two motorcycle guards drove in front, and eight full-equipped soldiers followed in a military truck behind. At that time, A soldier in charge at the headquarters in Wolfsschanze answered the phone and Sergeant Tuckleberry said that he was Major Klaus Steinberg of Reich Security and said he wanted to talk to Colonel Brandt immediately. But now the car stopped, and an SS Colonel approached them. The Captain stepped in front of Sergeant Tuckleberry to block the Colonel from seeing him. He clasped his hands behind his back, slightly raised on his fingertips and made ‘cut off communication’ sign with his hand to Sergeant Tuckleberry
The Sergeant who took the message immediately cut off the communication and placed the handpiece in place on the device. When the Colonel was in front of Captain Johnson, the captain extended his arm forward, clicking his heels and gave a Nazi salute, saying, “Heil Hitler!” All the staff greeted him in the same way. The Colonel greeted him and asked Captain Johnson. “What are you doing here, Major—?”
“Steinberg, Klaus Steinberg, Colonel. from Reich Security Headquarters.”
“Yes, Major Steinberg, I repeat my question. What are you doing here?” When asking this question, the Colonel's eyes wandered over to Johnson and the team members, and eventually settled on the device that was behind the staff.
“At the command of our Führer, we are conducting the trials of a new Telephone power plant, Colonel.”
“A telephone power plant? This is the first time I have seen a telephone exchange brought to such a place for testing. What is the reason for this? Show me the Führer's written orders!”
“Yes, Colonel.” Captain Johnson pulled out the orders from his upper left pocket and handed them to the Colonel. The Colonel carefully examined them. In the order, it was stated that Major Klaus Steinberg was authorized to test a new type of military telephone exchange and could choose the desired space for this purpose. The Colonel carefully examined Adolph Hitler's signature. It was clear that it belonged to Hitler. While he was studying the document, Captain Johnson was praying that the CIA had forged the signature perfectly.
The Colonel gave the document back to Captain Johnson and said, “Yes, that is undoubtely the Führer's signature. However, I would still like you to explain what exactly you are doing.”
“With pleasure, Colonel. This switchboard is a very new model and connects to existing telephone lines without the need for a cable. Not only this, it also allows you to listen to all known phone lines. If our experiments here are successful, we will send the device to the front for use on enemy lines. But let me tell you that this information is highly classified for now.”
“Yes, yes.” The Colonel seemed satisfied. But Johnson and the team was uncomfortable because their time was almost up. Suspiciously surveying all of them again, the Colonel said, “Well, Major, I wish you success on your mission.” And with that, he gave his greetings, turned and walked to his car.
After the colonel got in the car and moved away, Johnson ordered that the headquarters be called again. Sergeant Tuckleberry fulfilled the order immediately. As they listened as the handset was lifted, they heard an explosion in the handset. The line went dead. The Sergeant stared at the Captain. The whole staff was dumbfounded. After a moment of astonishment and frustration, Johnson ordered the device to be settled in its bag and get back into the forest.
While the staff was fulfilling this order, they saw that the vehicle of the Colonel they had just spoken to was back, quickly approaching them with escorts. When Johnson looked at his watch, he saw four minutes remaining. If they could stand for four more minutes, Professor Harris would get them back. Johnson had to make a quick decision. They would have admitted they were guilty if they ran away. So he canceled his order to withdraw to the forest and told his men to stay where they were.
The Colonel got out of his car and approached the Captain.. Johnson immediately gave his Nazi salute and asked, “What's going on, Colonel? We heard a violent explosion while we were communicating with Wolfsschanze.”
“When I arrived at the first check point, I learnt there was an assassination attempt made against the Führer; I don’t know the details. Thankfully, however, our Führer has survived this attempt with only slight wounds. Major Steinberg, I am arresting you and your staff for investigation. I order you to give me your guns and the device next to you.”
Johnson looked at his staff for a moment, turned to Colonel and asked, “But why? As you see, we were trying to perform a test here. What do we have to do with this assassination?”
“You’ll learn when we arrive at the headquarters or what is left of it. Obey the orders immediately. Otherwise, I will have to use force. Oh, by the way, I just met a Captain at the checkpoint who was stationed at the Reich Security Headquarters. He told me there was no officer by your name there.” The colonel said his last words in a cynical manner.
Johnson, who had no change in his facial features, took out his gun and gave it to the Colonel. He also instructed his staff to do the same. After all the team members had delivered their weapons to the soldiers who came with the Colonel, they put the switchboard in the trunk of the Colonel's car. As everyone was getting in the cars, all of a sudden they were surrounded by a blue and bright light. The Colonel and the soldiers covered their faces with their hands for a few seconds to protect themselves from this bright light. When they looked back, they saw with amazement that Johnson and his team had disappeared. The Colonel yelled, “Look everywhere, they can not have gone away!”
Then he remembered the device, and he opened the trunk of his car. The device was gone, too.
While the Colonel was wildly searching for the team and the device, Captain Johnson and his soldiers were happy to return alive. When they reappeared at the lab, Colonel Hudson opened the glazed compartment door and first asked them if they were okay. After they told him they were fine, he asked if the operation was successful.
The Captain said, "Unfortunately, no, sir," shaking his head negatively.
When the team came out, all the staff in the room congratulated them for returning alive. Captain Johnson dismissed his team and then sat in front of Colonel Hudson. He told him what had happened to the finest detail. Professor Harris, who listened closely with Hudson, turned to Hudson and said, “I told you this operation would fail, Colonel. Be grateful that your staff has come back alive.”
After the Colonel thoughtfully shook his head, he reached for the phone at the desk and dialed a number. “Get me the Defense Minister right now.” A few seconds later, Defense Minister George Mason answered. The Colonel gave his report, concluding by saying, “I am waiting your orders, sir.” After listening for a moment, he replied, “Yes, sir. I understand,” and hung up the phone. He turned to Johnson and Harris, sitting opposite him and said, “The minister wants the team to be ready for a new assassination mission after a few days of rest.”
“Is it a new task? What task? Did the minister not understand that this attempt was doomed to failure?” Harris asked.
“Sorry, Professor. But the Pentagon insists that this task should be done at any cost and they do not think like you. They still believe that history can change.”
Harris replied, “I'm sorry, Colonel Hudson, because fighting with destiny is impossible. The Pentagon will certainly understand this fact, but I'm afraid this will cost them.” He stood up and left the room.
Annmarie Lockhart is the founding editor of vox poetica, a literary salon dedicated to bringing poetry into the everyday, and the founding publisher of Unbound Content, an independent press devoted to poetry. A resident of Englewood, NJ, she lives and writes two miles east of the hospital where she was born.
PHOTO CREDIT: Caitlin Riggsbee, 2017
Mission Report 1479-02
From coordinates Alpha 6, Epsilon 83, plane Delta 285
[to be transcribed into Proceedings of Convocation 3600: Operation Shoshenq Restoration]
Tidings from Romeo’s on Main, Soccer Shop Par Excellence, Hackensack, New Jersey, USA. It pleases me to provide this update.
First, thank you to the Technological Committee for the improvements made to the ansible. I can report interference with the neurochip signal has been reduced greatly. There may be no way to completely eliminate cross-talk, but at least now I’m only occasionally plagued by the energetic but distasteful sexts between Tony and Lisa Romeo. Also, I believe my transmissions are being received exponentially faster [please confirm].
I am ready to receive the next shipment of presolar grains. I’m happy to report my colleague, Aramis, has reformulated the product and we have seen a significant increase in sales (much to Tony’s delight). At launch, Stardust was given the snappy catchphrase: “A STAR is born!” It’s a finer powder, mixes better with water or milk, and comes in the standard vanilla and chocolate flavors. Aramis is finalizing testing on three new flavors: strawberry, mint, and, my personal favorite, salmon. Surely you can understand the delight I felt when I first tasted that one. It renewed my commitment to our noble cause.
Now, friends, you may be wondering whether such superficial improvements can be linked to true performance enhancement. Which brings me to the next, and potentially most promising, section of my report. For I believe we are already seeing the benefits of Stardust. Before I continue, let me refer you to the report submitted for review at Convocation 3598 [autolink found here]. Note that we have recorded steady progress toward Goal 2b over the past three convocations. And keep in mind, since Tony Romeo’s rose to prominence, the American men’s soccer program has produced a dozen top-flight, world-class players. Now consider our timeline and prepare to be convinced.
Little Joey Benson, the buck-toothed kid who comes here to buy cleats and to hear Tony ramble about his glory days, has been transformed. He grew eight inches and gained twenty pounds [refer to Scale Chart 9 for Per-Bastet measurement equivalents]. The boy has filled out impressively. Also, he’s under the care of an orthodontist and now has braces on his teeth. The overbite improvement is dramatic. Tony’s taken to calling the boy Little Joey Benson. The emphasis on the “Little,” is an ironic nod to his increase in stature. And I’m pleased to report here, he has been picked up by the Red Bulls U-18 team where he’ll be an attacking midfielder. He is a real playmaker, creating opportunities and scoring when the shot presents itself. The boy’s journey from awkward kid with big dreams to top ten scout pick has generated an atmosphere of electric excitement here at Romeo’s.
Obviously, we cannot successfully execute our plan on the back of one Boy Wonder. How do we get from here to Qatar, you ask? The key is distribution. Fortunately, our network of agents is in position and we have effectively placed Stardust on the shelves of sporting goods stores, soccer clinics, and, thanks to Fluffy at the New York Cosmos Academy merchandise program, an online outlet as well. For more details on this development and the timeline for the national rollout, refer to Fluffy’s report [autolink found here] and the evangelist target list from Commander Morris’ addendum to Convocation 3599 [autolink found here].
In short, friends, we are well on our way to successfully positioning a US Men’s National team to win FIFA’s World Cup 2022 in Qatar. I look forward to the reports from the Gaming Committee Chair and the Dynastic Redeployment Team in the full Convocation Proceedings. In light of the team’s abysmal failure to qualify for the upcoming 2018 Cup, our Qatar gamble will reap staggering rewards, and fund the operations necessary to bring our main goal within grasp for the first time in nearly 3,000 years [refer to Scale Chart 4 for Per-Bastet time equivalents].
When we reveal ourselves as the power behind a dominant US soccer team, the humans will have no choice but to acknowledge our supremacy and bow down in worship. We will restore the luster of the ancient Egyptian 22nd Dynasty, beginning with a return to the recognition of feline deity. Art, culture, and advancement will follow, as it did in those glorious days. Friends, we are closer than ever to true dominion over this Earthly kingdom. Hallelujah!
Lest we become careless in our quest, let us not celebrate our victory prematurely. I implore those of you at home on Per-Bastet, to rededicate yourselves to your respective roles, to support the Marketing Team’s efforts on our collective behalf, to adopt the training regimens issued by the Strategic Council, and to be ready to move when it’s time to launch the charge. We will achieve what no other species on this frail planet has: the stewardship of an enlightened and progressive global utopia. And we will follow that triumph by colonizing all habitable planets in Per-Bastet’s image—planet by planet, galaxy by galaxy, dominion over dominion. Friends, it is our feline destiny.
In closing, let me again express my gratitude to the Technological Committee for their hard work. Thanks to their toil, I have been able to complete this report, unmolested by humans, in record time. The efficiency of this system allows me to lie in apparent slumber upon a windowsill, while communicating via neurochip a message of progress and hope to my fellow felines at home on Per-Bastet and here on Earth. May the great goddess Bastet bless our endeavor, and may the beneficence of feline rule become the universal standard in the approaching dimension.
Beloved Orange Tabby of Romeo’s on Main
craigslist north jersey > personals > missed connections
Overpeck Dog Park, Saturday afternoon, around 3:30 – m4w
You were gorgeous, trying to manage your rambunctious Yorkie. I showed you a technique for discipline and ended up bitten. You kissed my boo-boo, but left before I could get your name and number. Where did you kiss me? What did you say? Answer correctly and there’s 10 free sessions at Must Love Dogs for you and your wild fur-child. ;-)
Yo, I got a German Shepherd, but I’ll call it a Yorkie if it’ll get me 10 free sessions at that dog clinic. I didn’t kiss you at the damn park, but shit, I’ll kiss you, cook for you, and mow the lawn for you if that’s what it takes. Hit me up!
Well, Must Love Dogs has a great track record with German Shepherds, so come check us out! I can’t give you the 10 free sessions, but I can offer you 15% off the price for our introductory course. Thanks for your interest!
Massage on the table or off. Extra charge for extra fun. Message me for relaxation.
Hey, I saw you at that dog park! You were the trainer guy, that Cesar-looking guy from TV! I don’t have a dog. I was roller blading, but I even turned down my Donna Summer jam when I saw you to be sure it was you. I don’t need sessions at a dog training place, you know, cuz I don’t have any dogs. But I’d love an autograph. Let me know when you’re in, I’ll come by that dog shop, have you sign my yearbook or my abs or something.
Thanks for the compliment, but I’m nowhere near as famous as Cesar Millan. You don’t want my autograph. But if you’d be so kind as to tell all your friends with dogs about Must Love Dogs, now open on Main Street in Tenafly, I’d really appreciate it! Thanks Roller Blader!
OK, so, yeah, my dog bit you. You was cute. I kissed you on the lips, even though you was bit on the arm. I said you tasted like vodka, yum, yum. Let’s do this, baby boy.
Brother, you gotta give up on that park chick. Take it from me, leave it behind. Ain’t nothing but problems trying to follow that lead. Get yourself a real woman and get off the internet. I’m not steering you wrong, brother. I got your back. God bless.
I don’t really know what to say to this other than God bless you too.
I’m telling you man, stay true. Don’t be led astray by some sweet thing with a dog or a cat or a fish or nothing. You just follow the way and God will get with you, baby. Praise be.
Oh how the stars align to cross our paths once more! This time, my Romeo, I won’t let you run off into the ill-fated night. No more doubts, my love. I, Juliet will leave my treacherous family, marry you secretly by twilight, swallow a poisonous draught for eternity’s gain. We must find our way to the Friar and consummate this blessed, misunderstood union. Come for me anon, Romeo. Let me not wander this wretched earth without you for another minute more.
I love that play too, but I am not your Romeo. I am, however, a dog trainer with a new shop on Main Street in Tenafly called Must Love Dogs. So if you and Romeo have a dog, come by and get 15% off our introductory course to avoid some typical new pet problems.
The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks. Romeo wherefore are thou Romeo?
Yeah, no. That’s from Hamlet.
Bobby? Why are you playing these silly games? You had me convinced it was real. We shared our hopes and dreams. You know I want seven musical children and I know you love chess. I don’t understand. Why did you stop answering???
I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy. I’m not Bobby. But I hope you find him and it all works out.
Seriously? You’re going to keep playing me like this? All I ever did was love you and try to be the woman you wanted--no, needed--me to be. Sue me for trying, Bobby.
If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain; if you’re not into health food, if you’re into champagne; if you like making love at midnight in the dunes on the cape, then I’m the lady you’re looking for, so message me and escape.
At a bar called O’Malley’s … on second thought … <<delete replies>>
I can’t believe it. My friend, the one I was at the park with, told me you posted this. I thought she was making it up, she’s that kind of friend, haha. I AM SO SORRY about the bite!! I swear, Rhonda never bites!! I don’t know what came over her. Maybe it was the excitement of seeing the other dogs, or great weather, or maybe she was hungry?? I really am so sorry. She’s healthy, no rabies or anything, so don’t worry about that. I hope you didn’t need stitches though. And I have to wonder how you typed this because you must have a massive bandage on that finger at the very least, no??? I’m sorry about the kiss and the “There, it’s all better” comment. I wasn’t thinking. It’s just the way I react when my nephew (he’s 6) gets hurt. Of course I was mortified when I realized what I had done, so I just grabbed Rhonda and ran. You seemed nice and I felt bad about ruining your demo and all. Let me take you for coffee to make it up. I mean, coffee doesn’t make up for something like that, especially not if there’s stitches involved, haha, but it’s the least I can do. My name’s Tiffany, by the way.
Oh wow! Tiffany! I’m so glad you found your way to my post! I’m so glad your friend found her way to my post! Your friend was a she, right? I can’t remember, I’m sorry. I was really only looking at you. And your Rhonda, once she chomped down on my finger. You named her right, she really is a little Rhonda Rousey. Yeah, writing’s a little bit of a challenge, but I was never a great typist in the first place, so no major loss. Listen, I’d love to take you out, get to know you a bit. And I want you to take the free sessions at Must Love Dogs. I think we would both agree they won’t go to waste, hahaha. OK, so, can I call? Give me your number? Please? Oh, and my name’s Nick.
Yeah, so, again, I’m really sorry about the bite, Nick. I don’t know what went wrong there. Rhonda is usually a sweet girl. Actually, I didn’t name her for Rhonda Rousey, I named her for my aunt who died from a parasitic infection she picked up working for the Peace Corps in Rwanda. About the free sessions though, I’m kind of getting the feeling that maybe this is really all about the business. Which is fine, I just thought that maybe it was a little more than that. Not a whole thing or anything, you know. Not like wedding bells and all that, but just a “hey, you’re nice, let’s just get to know each other” kind of thing. I’m sorry if I misunderstood. I guess I should just take the sessions and shut up now.
Oh! I’m sorry to hear about your aunt. That is so sad. I’m so sorry for bringing that up. I really do want to get to know you. The whole free sessions thing was just a way to seem kind of casual and off-handed when I wrote the first post. Bad idea, I guess. Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s no real way to make that seem off-handed. Especially in light of the typing with one hand, haha. Don’t worry about the free sessions. That was just stupid. Please, let me take you to dinner. I know a great Italian place in Cresskill. What do you say?
OK. It’s good to know I wasn’t reading into things. Italian place in Cresskill sounds great. I love Italian food. I’m Italian on my mother’s side and we still have family there, so I could eat pasta pretty much all the time. Of course, if I do that I’ll end up big as a house like my Nonna, haha. Does this mean I don’t get the free sessions though? I’d really like a date with you, but I’d really like the free sessions too because I guess Rhonda really does need some help. I don’t mean to be rude, but maybe we can do dinner and the free sessions?
Wow, the more I write the worse of a mess I make! I totally want you to have the free sessions! And I totally want the date, so, yes, let’s do both. Rhonda definitely could use a little training (maybe a lot of training!) and, you know, that’s what I’m all about. So let’s say Saturday at 8? Can I pick you up? Maybe get reacquainted with Rhonda?
A lot of training? Look. I told you she doesn’t bite. That was the only time she’s done that. Alright, it was maybe the third time she’s done that. But it’s not like it was out of nowhere. You were kind of all over the place bouncing around and the other dogs were worked up too, so it’s not a real surprise that one of them bit you. I am very sorry it was my Rhonda, of course. I guess Saturday at 8 sounds great. Let’s hold off on seeing Rhonda again so soon though. I don’t want to end up having to take you to the hospital instead of dinner if things go badly again. How about you tell me where the place is and I’ll meet you there?
OK. I should quit while I’m ahead. Let’s start over at Prosecco. It’s on Madison Avenue in Cresskill, just across the street from the Post office. I’ll meet you there at 8:00. Thank you for giving me a chance. More like 3 or 4 chances, I guess. I’m just a little nervous and kind of in shock that I actually found you. I mean, you should see all the weird propositions I got in response to my post. You’d think I had written a straight-up sex ad. I’m still wondering about some of them.
You’re still wondering about all the propositions you got? Well don’t let me stand in the way of your curiosity. You want to look into some other offers, by all means, go for it. I don’t even know what made me think you’re a nice guy. Go to hell, Nick.
Oh my god, no!! No! I did NOT mean I was curious about the propositions!! I just meant, they were all so weird, like maybe you’d find them funny and it really was funny that after all of that weirdness, there you were and I really can’t believe I’m messing this up. Please, Tiffany, let’s just meet for dinner, in person, and see if this can work.
Whatever. Fine. I guess we can try. It can’t be any worse than the last few dates I went on. Can you just try to not creep me out though?
Gee, Tiffany, I don’t know. I can try to not creep you out, but maybe to be extra sure you should go to dinner without me. Take Rhonda with you. Maybe she’ll bite a waiter this time and maybe he won’t creep you out. Good luck with that.
<<turns on Netflix>>
Alex Seifert is a screenplay and novel writer. His hobbies consist of biking, watching movies, and managing his own Youtube channel called AdventureJedi24. You can follow him on Twitter @Alex38033504.
Junk in the Trunk
“Where… where am I?” I asked.
As I opened my eyes all I was able to see around me was the same thing as before I opened my eyes, pitch black. Understandably startled and confused, I tried to get up to see where I was exactly only feel my head collide with a hard surface.
“Ow, my head!” I said.
It dawn onto me at that particular moment that I was in some kind of confined space, I was someplace where I didn’t have anything in the way of legroom as I felt my legs. I decided to feel around my limited area space to see if I could find anything that could help me see where I was. As I was reaching around, I felt something tall, silk-like and seemed to be made out of some kind of metallic material most likely an umbrella.
“No, that can’t be it.”
I tried to move around to get closer towards harder to reach places like the corners of this little prison I was in. Suddenly, I felt an immense amount of excruciating pain when I pressed my hand down onto something sharp as I cried out in agony.
“Son of a… what did I just grab?”
I could feel my own blood dripping down my wrist, it felt like there were crystals embedded in the palm of my hand and all over my fingers. This time, I cautiously felt around the area where I landed my hand onto and found what felt like a fractured glass bottle.
“Who put a beer bottle in this… this coffin? A better question would be who put me in here in the first place?”
I decided to leave that question for later as I threw the bottle to the side or there lack of. After salvaging around blindly for a minute or so, I was finally able to get my good hand around a small, plastic cylinder.
“Finally, now let me see where I am exactly.”
With the press of a switch, the flashlight illuminated to life. I could finally see what was around me and where I was trapped in. The place was angularly shaped with a black carpet like ground, the top was only about two and a half feet tall. Blood from my hand was stained all over the caperting, the cracked bottle was to my right, and an umbrella was right in front of my feet. I finally found where I was right now.
“Oh god, I’m in a car trunk! Help, is anyone out there?”
As you could probably tell by now I am a little bit claustrophobic but then again, who wouldn’t be in this kind of a situation? I started banging on the sides of the trunk hoping to get someone's attention, but to no avail.
“Why am I here? Was I kidnapped? I’m not even that important enough to consider kidnapping in the first place.”
I tried to remember what happened before I woke in this car trunk, I decided to have a guys night out with my friend at the local bar. We were having fun, then everything just goes black. I thought that someone could have drugged my drink and put me in a car trunk.
“I hope my friends are having better luck than me right now.”
Without warning, the flashlight completely ran out of batteries and I was once again enveloped in the black void.
“No, no, no, no! Come on, you’ve gotta be kidding me!”
It took me a minute to stop bashing the flashlight against the top of the trunk, though that was the moment when had remembered that car trunks nowadays have an emergency release to get people out these kinds of situations the only problem was that I didn’t know where it was located. I was fumbling around, trying to grab onto where the emergency release was until finally I found it. When I opened door I launched myself outside of the trunk and onto the hard pavement. I immediately got up looking out for anyone who might want to attack me, though nobody was in anywhere around the car. I looked at the license plate and found that was actually my car. I began to look around to find car parked on the sidewalk with many beer bottles surrounding the area, a stop sign up rooted, and a mailbox on fire. I remembered my friend was with me last time.
“Mitch? You around here?” I called out.
I heard a groan coming from behind garbage can near by and found Mitch lying on his back unconscious, I slapped him awake as he recognised me.
“Jake? What happened?” Mitch asked.
“Well I believe we had a little too much, ran over a stop sign, somehow light a mailbox on fire, you probably locked me in the trunk of my own car, and the glass is still embedded in my hand so I might get an infection from it,” I said.
“Wow, we had crazy night.”
“Yeah, and we are probably going to jail for this.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Probably because of that cop car coming our way.”