The Constant

Originally published on /r/writingprompts, you can read the original post here.

My journey began two hundred and fifty six years ago when I was a mere graduate student at the Academy. I spent a decade working on my thesis, a rigorous study on the rise and fall of civilizations. Funding was plentiful, as the Overseers gladly sponsored any sort of study to help them maintain power. After civilizations reach a certain level of maturity they begin to reflect on their own past and future by looking at those who had failed before them, and after a hundred thousand years the Overseers had conquered nearly ninety percent of the galactic plane, their crusade slowly dwindling. They had accomplished what they had set out to do, and funding began to divest from the military towards things to keep their grip stable and strong, such as the police forces and non-military research.

Why had so many empires lost themselves to the same fate over and over again? That was the question I set out to answer. In every empire that came before us, spreading their tendrils across the galaxy like roots wrapping and constricting themselves around a boulder, squeezing it until cracks erupt across its surface, and overtime the very foundation that had supported the expansive and intricate root system crumbled beneath the roots own force. My research took me down a particular path, a path I couldn’t foresee.

At the end of their reigns all civilizations fell to just one man, over and over again. The Plague Bringer, the World Eater, Apocalypses Incarnate, Oblivion, Atlas, civilizations had lived and died under his command as long as he lived. Entire nations had fallen because of one bad day he had within their boarders, he destroyed empires stretching across the galaxy because he felt like it. New life would arise to build the universe to how they saw fit before he grew bored of them. Legends say that even the gods themselves fear him, the antimatter to all creation. There were only two constants in this universe: the fundamental forces, and him. A Constant.

I presented my findings before my peers, I was laughed at but granted my professorship anyways because of other useful findings I had uncovered. I took up a job at the Academy in the anthropology department and taught brilliant young leaders the mistakes of our forerunners, imbuing them with knowledge to keep the empire’s roots. I told them everything they needed to know, except for the Constant.

After a while I began to believe that maybe the Constant was nothing more than an honest mistake. My colleagues would share my crazy theories at dinner parties after one too many drinks to poke fun at me, I would laugh along at the foolishness of my youth, and yet the idea hung in the back of my mind, and like the Constant himself it bided its time until it was ready to strike.

The idea grew in my head until it became the only thing I could focus on. My lectures grew shorter, and my nights in the office longer. I began taking unannounced trips across the galaxy to libraries and archeological sites to look for any traces of the Constant. My peers grew concerned and my superiors irritated. Eventually the Academy cast me aside, distancing themselves from me research. They didn’t know it, but that severance was the best thing they could have offered me.

Now free of my obligations I could focus all my time and energy towards my life’s work. I became a nomad, traveling the galaxy in search for the Constant, and after a hundred and forty seven years of searching my journey has taken me to a small mining settlement among the Frontier planets.

I expected the Constant to be a hulking beast, his flesh made of brimstone and his veins filled with fire. A simple sneeze from him as strong a fusion bomb. Instead my journey brought me to a tall and lanky man with a five o’clock shadow and sleepy eyes. His hands calloused from working in the mines, nothing substantial.

“Been a while since I’ve had one of you stop by,” he said greeting me at the threshold of his small company issued capsule.

“One of what?” I asked.

“A fan,” he said. I suddenly became self conscious of my appearance, I hadn’t shaved in quite some time, my beard was disheveled and down to my chest. My hair past my shoulders. I probably smelt of the small freighter I took to reach the settlement, a mix of piss and tar. I should had at least showered before exposing myself to the most powerful man in the galaxy. “Come on in,” he said. I obliged.

The interior of his capsule was cramped yet cozy. Paintings of landscapes lined the sterile glossy white walls, the standard maroon padded seats that came in capsules like this had been replaced with wooden chairs with white cushions. Lavender filled the air, overpowering the scent of burning sulfur that filled the atmosphere of the settlement.

“Can I get you anything? We got coffee, tea, beer.”

“No thanks I’m good,” I said. “May I?” I asked pointing to the chair next to me.

“By all means,” he said.

The chair creaked beneath my weight. My heart sped up, I began fearing for my life, for the lives of others, what if the chair were to break beneath me? Would the Constant abandon his friendly demeanor and topple the very civilization I had sworn to protect? I held my breath.

He walked to the table beside me and placed two glasses of water on the table. I took a sip, not because I was thirsty, only because I didn’t want to offend his hospitality.

“So what brings you here professor?” He asked, his voice relaxed, like he was speaking to an old friend who had popped in because he was in the neighborhood.

“H-h-h-how do you know who I am? Can you read my mind? Have you been watching me?” I placed the cup down on the table gently.

He laughed. “Not at all. Once you’ve been around as long as I have you just develop a knack for picking folks like you guys out of a crowd. To be honest,” he said taking a sip of his water, “I kinda like it. I can let my facade down around your types. Do you want an autograph or something?”

I shook my head. “I’ve been studying you for over two hundred years, I just needed to see you with my own eyes. So you really are the Constant?”

Another small chuckle. “So that’s the name you’ve given me? You know, I like it. Better than the last guy before you, he called me the Downfall. Constant has a nice ring to it.”

“Why do you do it?” I said, immediately regretting my question.

“Do what?”

“End things.”

He shrugged. “Why does a star burn? The star doesn’t know what it’s doing, but it does it anyways because the laws of the universe compel it to.”

“But you’re human, you’re conscious,” my leg began to shake.

“Are you aware of controlled burns?” He leaned forward on the table.

I nodded.

“That is my purpose, I don’t know why I do it, I just know that if I didn’t things could be far worse. I’ve seen futures where empires had stretched themselves too far, too thin, they starve out. Civil war breaks out and in due time, they blow each other up, eradicating all life in the galaxy.

“In other futures,” he said tracing a line on the table, “man and machine do not live in harmony like you’re civilization had managed to do. Which is something you should be proud of,” he looked at me and smiled, “it is not easy reigning in god like intelligence. In those futures their very own creation grows beyond their control, and in due time it too wipes out all organic life.”

“S-s-so what do you do?” I asked.

“I keep watch,” he took a breath. “I keep watch until those who control the galaxy begin to mutate and grow cancerous, and when the cancer had begun to spread out of their control I step in and reset the balance.”

“But what are you doing here, on a Frontier planet?” I asked looking around me. “You could have anything you want. You could use your powers to build a more prosperous future as benevolent god, ensuring you’ll never have to burn it all down.”

He chuckled. “There are many things I’m good at, but being a leader has never been one of them. My very nature makes it impossible for me to lead such an empire, trust me I have tried but no matter what my men either turn against me or nobody listens to me in the first place. And these powers you speak of, I do not have them at my disposal to do so as I wish. They’re like a bucket of water, after every use I need to go back to the faucet and let it fill up. Right now I am just a mere miner, and father of a lovely young daughter, biding my time until the tumors of your society grow too strong.”

Hearing that made me relax a little. “Do you know when you’ll be fully replenished?”

“I feel them growing within me, but don’t you fret,” he smiled, “in due time they will awaken again, but not until you’ve grown bored of your life and retire yourself.”

“I don’t plan on retiring for a long time,” I said.

“Then you have plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of your civilization. You look like a mess,” he said standing up, “want to wash up in my shower?”

I nodded, he guided me to the small cleansing station in the back corner of the capsule. As I bathed I felt the warmth of relief flood my body.

A Thousand Years

A thousand years of life, handed to me in the form of a prison sentence. Not even billionaires get this lucky. I would be rendered invulnerable for generations. No empire lasts that long, I shall remain patient until the prison wall’s have fallen and make my escape. After all I had plenty of time. How foolish of him to give a crook such a generous gift. How foolish of me to think those thoughts nearly a millennia ago.

Three hundred years of torture, not a single day went where my body wasn’t mutilated, burned and seared, lacerated and mangled by the so called peace officers. My arms were restrained out and up, and my legs anchored to the floor, like some sort of medieval torture victim. I didn’t eat, I didn’t drink, nor did I see the sunlight. My body no longer needed substance to function, it took care of that all on its own.

Every day the guards would come in at random intervals and unleash the furry of the state upon me. I had seen their faces change through the decades. Ever changing, like faces in a dream.

They It was so I could feel the pain and suffering I had inflicted upon others, but by the time it had all ended I had forgotten why I wounded up there in the first place. My life as an outsider faded to the back of my mind like the memory of a story I had read long again. Was I Prometheus after he had given light to the mortals, forced to suffer until the end of time for his rightful deed? Or was I a forsaken soul, banished to the ninth circle of hell doomed to be tortured next to Lucifer himself for my unforgivable deeds? I no longer knew.

And then the day of the roar came. It began with a deep roar, like a stampeded on the horizon. The guards grew anxious and made haste with their punishment to me that day. The grumbling grew louder and more ominous through the session, the guard’s face began to sweat. He dropped his tools and dashed out of the room, the power to my chamber cut, leaving me in complete darkness. A crescendo of roars and screams hit a fever pitch moments after he had ducked out, the walls began to rumble, more violet than any earthquake I had seen before. The noise outside of my chambers shrilled like the winds of a hurricane! How long the roaring lasted I cannot tell you, somedays I remember it lasting just a mere second, and others decades. But, it did die down, leaving me with nothing but silence, and the abyss.

I hung there in the abyss for many lifetimes. I no longer remembered who I was, hanging there in the void. I was nothing more than a thought in the deepness of space. I had begun to wonder whether if the world around me in which I had remembered, with all its colors, sounds, and textures, was nothing more than a reality I had dreamt up to keep myself busy as I just existed. Something to keep myself sane. I began envisioning other realities, ones in which I was an explorer conquering unknown lands; others where I was royalty, imposing my rules about the land, and punishing those who dissented; sometimes I saw myself living a simple life, in a quite little town working in the mills. No many how many realities I dreamt up, they never met the vivid elegant world I had once remembered. And then the light returned.

It was an expedition to the lost plant, an archeological crew had ventured into the the caverns of the Empire’s supermax, deep within the forgotten mountains. I could hardly believe it when I saw their faces, and they as well when they saw a living breathing human in the cell.

Unlike my previous caretakers, they meant no harm, in fact it was quite the opposite. They wanted to know everything. What life was like within the Empire, what they ate, what they watched, how they dressed. The Empire I had once belonged to had been wiped from the face of the planet, erased not by an exterior threat, but through their own hubris of their weapons program. What had been a simple weapons test had lead forth a cascading explosion, incinerating the breathable atmosphere of the planet, and rendering the capital uninhabitable.

I was taken away from the inhospitable surface of the planet, and given care by my rescuers. That was a century and a half ago. I am now at the end of my sentence, a sentence of a lifetime in pain and isolation, but I am proud to have found a new life within the culture of my rescuers.

Wrong Number

Truth be told, I’m not sure why I answered the call. When my phone vibrated aggressively on the surface of the particle board conference table like a small creature had been trying to break free from within the black rectangle, I checked the screen. I hadn’t recognized the number, some 777 area code that I had never seen before. I let it ring for a second before I excused myself from the meeting to answer the call.

“-‘inking, about another visit. What do you think?” the voice on the other line said. It was deep full, but distant and muffled. Like a whale’s call deep in the ocean.

Somebody answered the caller’s question, a woman’s voice. She was too far away from the microphone for me to quite make out what she said.

“I told you Julia, you’re brother’s too busy to go.”

She spoke up, her voice still inaudible.

“I know, I know he promised he’d go again, but he’s too busy with work to go. He won’t be free not for a, let’s see here…” his voice trailed off, a series of gentle clicks and clacks followed it, “…three and a half millennia. Wait a second, where are my readers?” he paused, “Ah here we go, eight and a half millennia. I need you to fill in for him. Who knows if the place will even be around by then! Can you do me this one favor? Please?”

The call went quiet for quiet a while, I checked my phone to see if had cut out. It hadn’t. I contemplated hanging up, clearly this was a private conversation and I had no business listening in. But my curiosity had been piqued when the man used the world millennia. Plus I really did not want to return to the meeting. It was one of those meetings that could easily be an email, but the project manager insisted on the meeting anyways. So I stayed on the line.

Finally, the woman’s voice answered. I was still unable to make out the words.

“Oh thank heaven!” The man said. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down Julia. What decades work best for you? Last time your brother went he stayed for just over three.”

She answered.

“Oh really, five? Trying to one up your brother again I see. I’ll see where I can fit you,” the clicking and clacking resumed. “Ah, how does twenty sixty seven to twenty one eleven work?”

She answered again, this time brief. No more than a word.

I felt an itch in the back of my throat, I fought against it.

“Great! See that wasn’t so ba-“

Before he could finish his sentence I coughed.

“Oh my self,” the man said. He sounded startled. On the other end of the line I heard the sound of shuffling. “Excuse me, which child of mine am I speaking to?” His voice was much clearer now, and closer.

“Ugghh, don’t call them that. It’s creepy.” I heard the woman groan on the other side of the line.

“Uh what?” I asked, not entirely sure how to respond to being addressed as a child, nevertheless his child.

“Your name, what is your name?”

“Jaime,” I said. “I think you butt dialed me.”

“Butt dialed? What does that even mean?”

“I means exactly what it sounds like,” the woman answered. “Your butt dialed them.”

“Don’t be outrageous,” the man said, “my butt can’t dial anything. That’s why I put the fingers on the hands.”

“You know, if you would just get a smartphone like everyone else up here this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I know it’s policy to adapt our technology with the times, but these humans just innovate so quickly now it’s hard for an old man like me to keep up. I’m so sorry you have to hear this Jamie.”

“Look, clearly you two are working out some stuff,” I said. “I’m going to go, and just pretend that this never happened.”

“Wait, before you go. What did you overhear?”

“Nothing, just some dates. That’s all.”

“Alright, good to know. If you heard anymore I’d consider smiting ya,” he laughed a hearty laugh. “Alright child, have a blessed day. You take care now, bye, bye.” He hung up, and I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

The Two Minute Rule

Prompt from here.

My mother had always lived by the two minute rule, “if it’ll take you less than two minutes to clean, clean it!” She would say. I had grown out of it over the years, getting lazier with every rotation of the Earth, sometimes you’re just too dang tired to clean. However, I might have stuck with it longer if she had told me that putting off cleaning a minor mess would lead to ripping a hole in reality.

It was just a small scruff, a streak of red from dried up pasta sauce from last night’s dinner. Nothing more than a sliver no wider than a grain of rice and no longer than the top half of a thumb. Wren and I had just finished out dinners, full and ready to collapse on the couch I took both our plates in hand while she wiped down the table. One of the forks, my fork, fell out off the plate and tumbled down towards falsely tiled kitchen floor. The fork hit the white vinyl surface leaving the small red mark across one of the thin gray lines, like a teacher’s red pen on graph paper.

The words of my mother echoed through my head, it won’t take that long to clean up anyways. But I didn’t want to, that could be a problem for future me. Plus it had been a long day at work, my energy no longer the roaring fire it had been that morning, but exhausted down to nothing but embers.

Too exhausted to handle the minor mess I figured I’d get to it tomorrow morning when my body and mind were fully rested and recharged. I picked up the fork and placed the bowls in the sink, I’ll handle those tomorrow as well. (Take that mom!) Wren and I spent the rest of the night watching Parks and Recreation until we grew tired.

I woke up to Wren still asleep, as usual. On autopilot I slipped from under the covers and made my way towards the kitchen to prep the coffee pot for the day’s work. I loaded the Mr. Coffee and went to finish last night’s unfinished work. I started with the dishes, which cleaned easily. (See mom, no big deal!) A quick rinse and into the dishwasher they went. Next was the red stain across the floor, I wetted a paper towel, dabbed a little dish soap on it, and got down to my knees and began scrubbing.

Like an erasure to a white board the stain went away, mostly. A tiny finger nail sliver remained, hardly visible unless you were looking for it. But I couldn’t leave it so. The burnt orange mark of the pasta sauce stood out too much on the white flooring, and the scorn of my mother grew louder in my skull. I pressed against the stain and scrubbed away.

The stain remained there, unchanging. As if it were mocking me for not abiding by my mother’s rule. If only I hadn’t been so lazy this task would have been over within a second or less. (Dammit mom, you were right!) I pressed all my weight into the red scare and scoured that pesky mess.

Like the mouth of a rabid dog, a white froth formed on the surface of the floor. I scrubbed until the surface had given way. My thumb slipped through the damp towel through the flooring and into a hole. I halted my mad scrubbing and withdrew myself from the situation. Where the remnants of the sauce had laid now sat a small crack, no larger than my thumb, and as dark as the mouth to a cave on a moonless night.

Had I put too much of my weight into it that I had ruptured a hole in the cheap flooring? God I hoped not. I leaned over to the hole and peered. It was too deep for any sort of the overhead lighting to reach the bottom. I got up and searched the kitchen drawers for our flashlight.

Light in hand I went back to the rip and switched it on. Odd, not even the beam of the flashlight could reveal what lied beneath. The light’s beams seemed to just stop at the edge of the hole, unable to travel any deeper into the void.

I stuck my finger in. I could not see past the threshold where the flooring met the hole. Using my free hand I switched on the light to see any traces of my finger. There were none. I withdrew my hand from the hole, and sighed in relief upon seeing my index finger fully in tact.

I spent the rest of the morning experimenting with the strange abyss. I stuck forks in it, then butter knifes, which were longer, and later a tape measure to see how far the tunnel went. At least twenty five feet, the length of the tape measure, perhaps more. I hadn’t realized the time until Wren had dragged herself into the kitchen. She asked me what I was up to, I told her reconsidering my cleaning habits. Then got up and told her to watch out for the hole in the ground. Groggily she said “sure.” And poured herself some coffee.

This will be the last time I ignore the sage advice of my mother.

A Minor Accident

“Hey hun, I’m going to be a bit late,” Todd said, his voice came from the car’s Bluetooth as I pulled into my parent’s driveway. 

“Is the traffic that bad?” I asked.

“No,” a scuffling sound followed his answer. I presumed his bearded face scratched the side of his phone’s mic as if he were shaking his head at me. “Just a minor accident.”

“A minor accident? Like a fender bender?”

“Not quite.”

“Well, what happened?” 

“Well you know, with the traffic and all I took my little scenic detour – you know, through the hills – no rush hour traffic there, plenty of cyclist though, saw a large group of a dozen or so on the shoulder.” Leave it to Todd to beat around the bush and say in a million words what could have easily been said in ten. I loved him, for all his strengths and despite his flaws, but his habit of burying the lead was so annoying.

“Yeah, I know the route,” it was his preferred route to my parents, traffic be damned. It was a beautiful route over the hill side, just on the outskirts of the city. You could see the city’s beautiful skyline from there, as it bobbed up and down like a buoy in the sea. It was better than sitting traffic, but it always took half an hour longer than the highways, regardless of the traffic. Sometimes I wondered if he did it just to spend less time at my parents’. “What happened? Did your truck break down? I can come get you. I don’t want to keep mom and dad waiting.”

“No, no, the truck’s fine. Although the grill’s a bit dented up,” he banged on something, the hood I assumed.

“Can you just get to the point?” I snapped, my fingers gripped the steering wheel as if to strangle it. I began to regret agreeing to take different cars to my parents, I should had just waited for him to get off work instead of rushing home, but I wanted to cherish the house one last time before it left me forever.

My parents had invited us out to help them with prepping the house for the market. It broke my heart seeing them abandon my childhood home. If those walls could talk they would tell stories of my childhood, from my first word “Doggy” (we didn’t have a dog, Tara, my older sister was allergic, but my neighbors had a puppy named Walker who I apparently had taken a minor obsession towards), to my first time drunk (Tara had returned home from college while my parents were out of town, she invited her friends over and threw a party. I hardly remember that night, and I’d rather not hear what the walls remembered from it). Even though I had changed within the walls, the walls themselves remained the same dull shade of green. And now my mom wanted to give them a new paint job to “spruce it up.”

“So,” Todd continued, “I passed by the scenic overlook, you know the one that gives you a clear view of downtown?” Of course I knew it, it was the only scenic overlook on the drive. “And the lighting was just perfect, the sunset shone through the cracks between buildings, reflecting off the glass like a warm light behind a diamond.” (Todd fancied himself a writer, trying to sneak in metaphors and similes where they didn’t belong. He was amateur at best, but I still enjoyed his stories when he didn’t pester me to read them.) “I knew I had to take a photo.”

“I slammed on my breaks,” he continued, here we go I thought, “and pulled a youie right there on the road.” I expected him to say he got rear ended or accidentally hit a passing car, Todd and situational awareness were not two things you’d find in the same room. “I rushed towards the overlook, trying to beat the sunset. Right at the entrance to the parking lot I saw this woman, her hair was a glowing strawberry red like yours. She was on a bike, focused on climbing the last few feet of the hilltop. I slammed on my brakes,” oh god, I thought, “they whistled behind me, and then suddenly bang!” A loud popping noise shot through the speaker, I jumped.

“Jesus Christ Todd,” my hands pulled at my hair, I wanted to rip it out. “Is she okay? Did you call the ambulance?”

“She’s fine,” he said, “got a little red on the grill though.”

“A little red? Do you mean blood?” I asked.

“I think so,” he said. 

“How is she fine if her blood is on the grill?” I saw my mom step out of the front door, she waved. I waved back and feigned a smile, not wanting to alert her of my husband who had just presumably committed manslaughter.

“Relax, she told me she’s fine. Do you want to talk to her? She’s in the bed of the truck.”

“Sure, I guess,” I wanted to reach through the mic and strangle him.

I heard the crunching of gravel beneath his feet as he walked around the side of the pickup. His pace was slow and gentle, like a leisurely stroll.

“My wife wants to ask if you’re alright,” Todd said, his voice further from the mic.

I heard a woman’s voice on the other end, I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. The car filled with a rustling sound as Todd passed the phone to the injured woman.

“Hey there,” a woman’s voice said on the other end, her voice was smooth and yet rough like frosted glass. It sounded new yet familiar. “I’m alright, how are you?”

“Fine, I guess,” the tension relaxed a little from my body, just a little though. “I’m so sorry about everything. My husband can be oblivious sometimes.”

“No need to apologize,” she continued, “I was trying to lose some weight anyways and your husband here helped me out.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I mean I wasn’t that overweight, my ex always said I looked beautiful, but Renee, I could see her giving me side eyes whenever we went shopping. I could see it in her face, it was all like ‘Girl, those leggings are too tight for you. Those jeans really bring out your muffin top. Aren’t you a little heavy for a two piece?’ I mean classic Renee, am I right?” She paused, as if expecting me to agree. My mom walked closer to the car. “Hello?” She said. “I mean am I right?”

I didn’t say anything at first. I didn’t know what she wanted from me.

“This isn’t Renee is it?” She asked. Then her voice grew softer. “You’re wife’s name isn’t Renee is it?”

Todd answered, his voice a soft inaudible muffle. My mom stood at the passenger side window waving at me. I rolled down the window.

“What’s your name?” She asked.

“Everything okay Wren?” My mom asked.

“Wren,” the girl on the phone said, “such a beautiful name. Did you know my middle name is Wren? Who are you talking to? Are you with Renee?”

“Who’s your friend?” My mom asked.

“It’s nobody,” I said. “Everything’s fine, just something came up at work. I’ll be inside soon.”

I rolled up the window and my mom walked back to the house, glancing over her shoulder back at me every few steps. A quizzical look upon her face. 

“You mom sounds sweet,” the-woman-with-my-first-name-as-her-middle-name said. “Do we work together?”

“I didn’t see she was my mother. And no we don’t, at least I don’t think so,” my fingers began rapping on the steering wheel. Was this one of Todd’s ridiculous excuses? He’s done stunts like this before to get out of seeing my parents, usually with over scheduling stuff at work or with friends, but never once anything like this. I mean my parents were fine, but high opinionated at times, which Todd had made perfectly clear he found annoying. But they were my parents, his in-laws, he had to at least put up with them for me.

“Where was I?” The woman asked.

“You were talking about losing weight,” my fingers increased in tempo. 

“Oh yeah. So, like I said, Renee was judging me, but I didn’t let it get to me, I was like ‘No way Renee, my ex loves me just like he always did I don’t need your judgement in my life.” I mean I said it to her with my face, just like how she talks to me. Well things were fine and dandy until New Years Eve when my ex, was like ‘I’m sorry but this is over. I can’t be with you anymore. It’s not you it’s me, I mean you’re body is defined with three dimensions and I’m just a geometrical shape defined by two perpendicular lines running at forty five degrees to the x and y axis and intersecting at the origin. We aren’t even in the same plane.’ Men, am I right?” 

She left room for an answer from me.  I didn’t know what to say, this woman was clearly insane, or Todd had gone off the rails with his excuses.

“Are you telling me that your ex was literally an x.”

“Oh did I say ex? I meant ex,” she laughed, “I get those mixed up all the time.” She literally said the same thing twice, no change in inflection or anything. “So anyways, I was like ‘Don’t be ridiculous, we’re still defined in euclidean space, we have so much in common. I mean fuck the z axis! I didn’t choose to be born with a third dimension.’ But whatever, his mind was made up and all, so he just left the party. I spent all night drinking my sadness away and crying on Renee’s shoulder. She’s just the sweetest

“When I woke up I felt so lonely, and tired, but Renee was there by my side. She looked at me and I could just see it in her face, ‘I told you so,’ it said. I sighed and decided right then that it was time to take her comments seriously. I figured I’d start a new years resolution to lose some weight. So here I am, not just a day into the new year and I get some unexpected help from your husband. Funny how that works out right?”

“It’s not the new year,” I said.

“What?” She asked.

“It’s the middle of July, it’s not a new year,” I said.

“I must have stayed up really late,” she chuckled. “You know, me and alcohol. I just never sleep when I’m drinking. You have to give me a horse tranquilizer to put me to bed.”

“Well I’m glad you’re alright,” I wanted this to end quickly. “Look, T-” I cut myself off. I didn’t want to say Todd’s name, just in case she decided to stalk us. “today,” I corrected myself, “is a busy day for my husband and I, and I really need him with me. If you’re okay I’d like to talk to him now.”

“Wait,” she said, “I haven’t told you how Todd helped me lose all that weight.” Fuck, he told her his name. 

“Alright fine,” my fingers tapped erratically on the steering wheel. “How did my husband help you lose all that weight?”

“So I was climbing up the hill, thinking of my x, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I was so in my head I hardly knew where I was. I didn’t even hear the sound of your husband’s pickup skidding to a stop to take his photo. Well, as fate would have it his truck ran straight into me. The world began spinning, I felt my torso fly into the air, up and over his truck, like I was going little cartwheels across the air. And then thud,” another loud popping sound came from the speaker, “I landed straight into the back of his truck.”

“Did you break anything?” I asked.

“I mean kinda,” she said, “less of a break and more of a shear.”

“A shear?”

“Yeah, his truck ripped straight through me. Like a weed eater cutting through grass, my torso just popped right off my legs and tumbled through the air. And just like that I loss like two and a half Todds. I mean life hack, am I right?”

“Did you say you lost two and a half Todds?”

“No not Todd like your husband silly, I mean tod with one ‘d.’ It’s a very common weight measurement. Do you use stones? I think it’s like 4.7 stones.”

“Well you sound awfully happy for someone who just got cut in half,” I said really leaning into the sarcasm in my voice. I was really not having it anymore. “Can I speak to Todd now?”

“Todd’s out looking for my legs,” she said, “he should be back in a few minutes. Oh wait, speaking of the devil there they are now. Hey legs, long time no see! I don’t know where Todd is though.”

Great, now I had to worry about a missing husband while talking to a crazy woman on the phone.

“Aren’t legs so cute when they don’t have a torso attached to them?” She giggled. “No, no don’t go over there. I’m over here silly!” I heard a thud, followed by a giggle. “Silly legs, they ran straight into the side of the car.”

“Can you just let Todd speak,” I said.

“I would if I knew where he was. Hey legs, have you seen Todd? Oh they’re shaking yes. Okay legs, go find him!” She said as if she were addressing a dog. “So since we have some time to kill, what do you do?”

“I’d rather not say,” I said. “Just stay on the line until Todd gets back, please?”

“Fine,” she said, “you’re no fun.”

My fingers rapped and rapped on the steering wheel, until I grew tired of it.

“Awe, why’d you stop?” She asked.

“Stop what?”

“Playing music, I was really digging that tune. Better than most hold music to be honest.”

“Are you talking about this?” I began tapping my fingers again.

“Yeah, I love it!”

I kept tapping my fingers to entertain the crazy woman, wondering if this was the right idea. What if she had murdered Todd while we were speaking? My fingers tapped faster and faster, I started to think of ways to discreetly tell my parents to call the police.

“Oh, very tense, I love it. Like a movie soundtrack right before the climax,” she said. “Oh there he is! Hey Todd, Wren wants to know if you’re okay.”

I heard the crunching of gravel approach the mic, then a little shuffling through the speaker. “Hey honey, sorry for the scare,” he said, “I got lost looking for her legs. Turns out they found me,” he laughed. “Hey, I’m sorry for the delay, but I think we’re good here. Are you okay?”

I heard the woman’s voice in the background, muffled by the distance between the mic and her.

“Hey Wren,” Todd said.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“I was thinking, since she doesn’t have any legs anymore maybe she should join us for dinner, I’m pretty sure your parents won’t mind. Or if you’d rather I can take her to her place. I know your parents are looking forward to having us, but you know…”

“Jesus Christ Todd,” I shouted, “if you didn’t want to come you could have just said it. You know this is a hard day for me.” I banged the steering wheel, the horn let out a little honk. “You know what, just don’t come, I don’t even want to look at you after this stunt. I’m staying the night here, I’ll see you at home tomorrow and we’ll have to talk about your bullshit.”

“I’m serious,” Todd said. “I’ll send you a pic.”

“I’ve had enough,” I said. “We’ll talk about this at home.”

“Wr-” I hung up and fell forward. I wanted to reach through the mic and strangle Todd. This could be my last time home forever, and he had to fuck it all up with his elaborate and insane excuse.

My phone dinged, a new message from Todd appeared on the lock screen. I didn’t open it. I left the car, putting my phone out of sight and into the glove box. I spent the rest of my night at my parents, making excuses for Todd, and making up reasons why they should leave the walls the way they were. When I opened the glove box the next morning I finally had enough composure to open the message. It was a photo, a photo of a woman on the ledge of the scenic overlook, I could only make out the top of her torso. Behind her the sun shone brilliantly through the skyline, he hair was a strawberry red, just like Todd had said. Beside her stood a pair of disembodied legs.

The Road to R-Day

On March 18th, 2067 in the suburbs of Toronto humanity made two major breakthroughs, one in science, the other in religion.

A small start up known as TSD Biotech1 had come about with a revolutionary way to clone anything with a DNA strand, they called their patented process DOPPLE, because they claimed that their cloning process, unlike their competitors such as Ringwald Biotech, or ClearHealth, and even the aptly named DoppleU2, could create a perfect cell to cell copy of a specimen. But despite the proclaimed revolutionary technology TSD had created, most of the hype went under the radar, at first.

The cloning industry at the time was relatively young, only really catering towards cloning individual body parts for transplants, pets for those rich enough to afford it, and animals for consumption3. At no point had anyone successfully cloned a human being as we do today, either due to technical issues, or legal reasons the cloning of a full human was unheard of until TSD changed everything.

However, across the Niagara River, just north of the DoppleU’s headquarters in Buffalo, the Canadian parliament had just passed a law in 2056 (colloquially known as the Deus Act) allowing the cloning of a human being if (and only if) the person had been legally declared dead, and that the revived body had to be brain dead. It was a revolutionary piece of legislation that was wildly criticized. Why had the Canadian parliament pass such drastic legislation? Well to understand that we have to look at the state of cloning at the time and the state of neuroscience. First off, the cloning.

As previously mentioned, cloning at the time was in its early stages, there were a lot of issues and complicated problems that now, with the benefits of hindsight, seem trivial to us. One of these issues dealt with cell division. You see, at the time cloned organs failed a lot, and I mean a lot. You would only ever get one if and only if there were no organ donors available or your body repeatedly rejected organ transplants over and over again. A cloned organ either would grow cancerous or just stop functioning altogether.4 Even the best cloned liver had an expected lifespan of just five years. A patient with a cloned organ had to be kept on constant watch, either through remote monitoring, weekly checkups, or a live in caretaker, just to ensure they could be taken to the nearest hospital in case something failed. Once they arrived, they would be kept on life support until another one of their cloned organs could be delivered and surgically inserted. When you bought a cloned organ you were literally buying time. This issue of longevity of cloned organs was becoming a major concern for the industry and was one of the many reasons why lobbyists had fought so hard to get Parliament to consider fully cloning humans. The theory at the time was that if they could clone a full body, they could grow the organs wholesale and thus allowing people to have a fully functioning liver, heart, kidney or whatever they were in need of. The US Congress was the first to debate this topic, but it kept on being shot down by the more fundamentalist members, so the battle was brought to their northern neighbors. In Canada maybe they couldn’t save the original person, but they could grow a brain dead body and allow their family members access to their closest living relative’s organs. A martyr for the family’s good health.

The second breakthrough at the time was in neuroscience. Another revolutionary procedure had been completed in the winter of 2053, the first ever successful brain transplant. In a lab in Beijing, a team of neuroscientists and surgeons had successfully transplanted the brain of a mouse to its cloned body. This was beyond revolutionary and took the world by storm. Another push of human cloning legislation made its way through the US Congress, it cleared both chambers this time, but was shot down by President Sophia Tucker, who was strongly against “unnatural” medicine5. Despite this setback the research continued on mice and other small mammals. If a fully grown cloned body could show to sustain the brain of another’s then this could open up the doors to immortality.

After the Deus Act was passed a whole new slew of biotech startups boomed across Canada. Many failed, but one succeeded, TSD.

Taylor, Syracuse, and Darwin left their jobs at DoppleU to get in on the excitement. They, like the many other optimistic startups encountered many hurdles along the way, both legally, and scientifically. Legally, they couldn’t find just any dead person to clone, no they would need to find someone who’s family was willing to sign over their deceased relative’s genes and likeness. Plus there was the additional rule that prevented no one person from being cloned more than once after their death. This led to somewhat of a bidding war between companies and put a premium for deceased people’s DNAs. Those who sold their relatives to the highest bidder could make an additional few hundreds of thousands of bucks just for selling away their relative’s DNA. This led to some rather serious unforeseen consequences. It didn’t take long for people greedy for a quarter of a million dollars to grow eager to get their money sooner than later. An epidemic of “unexpected deaths” flooded the nation, in 2058 the total number of unnatural deaths increased by nearly fifty percent. Parliament facing the struggle between the immoral behavior they had perpetuated, and not wanting to lose the lead in the cloning business, quickly amended their law and made it legal to clone a human being if they died, only if they allow it in their will and if their death was declared a natural death. This only caused a “tolerable” spike in deaths afterwards.

Scientifically there were many hurdles as well, mostly on the process of growing and aging said clone. The first wave of clones had been implanted within surrogate mothers, then after their birth immediately placed into a medically induced comma and underwent many treatments to rapidly age the body. After artificial wombs were created in 2060, the surrogacy went away overnight, and the industry went through a “Second Renaissance.”

The development of artificial wombs actually made it easier to experiment with the aging process, and after a major breakthrough by CleanHealth aging the normal way became a way of the past6. This was fine and all, but there were a few hurdles: most notably, the bodies were aged, but without any sort of external stimulus the muscles and organs were severely atrophied and unable to function in a fully grown body. Enter TSD.

TSD, for the most part, was well behind the curve. They had less funding than other startups at the time and didn’t exist in any sort of fancy office building. In fact, TSD was based out of a former fast food chain’s storefront. They managed to convert the kitchen area into a lab, keeping the fridge and freezer to store specimens, and turned the front of the house into a small cubicle farm. But, despite all their setbacks they cracked the code in 2064, they were able to not only grow a full sized human in a vat, but also create one with a perfect cell to cell ratio of the one who passed. After they had cracked the code it was off to the big leagues.

Their revolutionary new DOPPLE tech allowed a human to be grown in a vat but with enough artificial stimulus to have a functional human body. This opened up so many doors, however they were soon shut on the fateful night of March 18th, 2067.

On March 18th, 2067, now more commonly known as R-Day, one of TSD’s clones had been released for “harvesting”7. As with standard procedure the body was removed from the tank once it reached the peak physical age of the previous owner’s life, and was prepared for surgery. Typically the body would be placed under general anesthesia as was common at the time for all sorts of surgeries, however this time the anesthesiologist had been lacking sleep from a bachelor party the previous night and had made a miscalculation in the dosage. Before a single scalpel had been placed upon the clone’s skin the clone shot up off the table and gasped. The clone, as you might know her today, is one Mindy Breaker, the Second Lazarus.

Mindy had died nearly a decade ago due to a brain tumor at the age of sixty eight. Although it was in her will to have her body donated to science, her widower denied it over and over again, it wasn’t until he had passed that the surviving family was able to sell her DNA rights for science. So you must wonder what it was like to have suddenly returned to the world of the living ten years later and in a body forty four years younger.

Having never encountered this situation before the doctors panicked and attempted to subdue the woman, but she resisted, and managed to escape. She was eventually apprehended by the police and brought in for questioning.

She claimed that she had returned from the afterlife. She had spent a decade with her parents and siblings who had passed once again. And after ten years of waiting, she had finally seen her husband once again. They were dancing together in their old living room, until she had been suddenly dropped through the floor and into a deep void, only to wake up in a cold sterile lab. She didn’t understand what had happened, and if it wasn’t for her renewed energy and younger physique, she would have thought it all to have been a dream. Mindy was let go and returned to her closest living relative, her son who was now thirty years older than her.

Her resurrection had been a nuclear blast upon the moral, religious, and legal world. Morally, was harvesting organs wrong if that meant they were bringing back people from the dead? Now after millennia of religious debate there appeared to be proof of an afterlife, but which one? Nobody could agree, but it had opened a whole new world of study: the spiritual world. Scientist started having people consensually agree to die and be brought back to life. And legally, legally who “owned” Mindy and the others who had sold their DNA to TSD and the like? Mindy fought for years trying to regain ownership of her genetic code, and eventually won, even if it cost her family everything. She eventually died of old age, again, and made sure her will did not include any language regarding cloning this time around.

Thanks to an unfortunate mistake made by a hungover medical professional8, humanity had made their first jump to discovering immortality. Either through the afterlife or cloning here in the physical world, the future looked bright.

Footnote 1: TSD officially stood for Taylor, Syracuse, and Darwin, the initials of the three cofounders, but to those in the industry it was a bit of an inside joke. TSD also was short for the very campy action movie The Sixth Day staring the late actor turned politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which in itself was named so because of the Biblical verse “on the sixth day, God created man.” The film was a bit of a cult hit among biologists specializing in clone tech, mostly for its horrible science.

Footnote 2: DoppleU would later go on to sue TSD for their usage of the word “Dopple”, but would later be shut down by the courts as DoppleU never officially cloned a single human before the TSD breakthrough. Ironically, DoupleU eventually had to change its name to Replika in order to avoid being confused with TSD.

Footnote 3: Although given the general concern about cloning at the time, most people would avoid eating cloned meat due to its unnatural origins, and falsely spread rumors that it would cause cancer despite plenty of studies showing otherwise. But there were a select few who indulged in it, otherwise the cloned meat was given out as animal feed for dogs and cats.

Footnote 4: This often brings up the question of pets. How could cloned pets live much longer (proportionally speaking that is) than a cloned human organ? Most cloned pets tended to live up to three quarters of the original pet’s life expectancy, meanwhile these organs would fail after just 6 percent of their theoretical lifespan. Well, that question is one reason why the Canadian Parliament spent years debating the legalization of fully cloned humans.

Footnote 5: For those not in the know, Misses Tucker had previously found her fortune in the alternative medicine industry at the now defunct Woop, a brand touting treatment to cancer with things like honey water with sprinkles of vitamin, along with “healing” stones. During her time in the House as a representative from California she frequently fought against pushing for more conventional healthcare funding. As president she swore she would “keep a close eye on the cloning industry.”

Footnote 6: Unlike what we know today, the technology at the time only allowed for aging forwards, it would be another one hundred and sixty two years until de-aging could be done cheaply and reliably.

Footnote 7: A now outdated term for taking the organs out of one clone and placing them in storage for future use.

Footnote 8: The anesthesiologist, despite being the one who had triggered this new discovery, was later disciplined and lost his license, and fined severely. He still had to be made an example of to deter any reckless medical practices.

Midnight Bus

Prompt: Your bus driver is a burly man with a mechanical leg plugged into the vehicle. The bus roars at each shift of the transmission. A vulture the size of a building is picking at freshly dismantled cars in the middle of the road. You hear the bus driver shout, “Time for battle!”


Casey shivered as a chill breeze rolled by. A few cars rolled through the sleepy street, their metallic bodies reflecting the orange tint of the street lights that lined up and down the road. He checked his watch, half past midnight, the bus driver sure as hell had been taking their time. Down the road a pair of bright headlights turned into the gas station he had left half an hour ago. He watched as the driver’s little silhouette materialized from the car. The driver went through the usual motions one does at the pumps: open door, close door, slide card into machine. Before the driver could grab the pump his bus drifted to a stop. The doors opened, Casey entered.

Casey didn’t recognize the driver. Six nights a week Casey took the same bus from the station to his stop four blocks away from his apartment, he didn’t usually see the same face every trip, but it had been a rotating set. The elderly frail man who had no chill with annoying passengers, and the plump middle aged woman with the silver hooped earrings, were his usual public transit chauffeurs for the past two years. Of course there were the occasional substitutes. Casey reckoned this man was one.

The substitute driver reminded Casey of an old pirate. He bore a bushy gray beard on his face, his hands were worn and calloused. He even wore a red do-rag and a matching tattered red shirt. Fortunately for him the substitute driver wore glasses instead of a eye patch. The driver’s lower half was absent of a right leg. In its place a mechanical prosthetic descended from the driver’s hip towards the gas peddle.

“I didn’t realize it was Halloween,” Casey said to the driver. “What took you so long?”

“Been busy,” the driver answered.

The usual crowd had been absent in the passenger section of the vehicle. What day was it? Oh yeah, it’s Sunday, Sundays were hit or miss with the witching hour crowd. A few times a month the bus would be empty for the half hour journey back home. He cherished those nights as they came. Now to hope no one boarded between his work and his home.

Casey walked to the back of the bus and popped in his headphones and opened up Overcast. He loaded up the latest 99 Percent Invisible and began listening to Roman Mars explain how things work. To be honest he couldn’t hold all his attention to show, half his brain still fixated on the substitute driver.

Ten minutes into the show the driver came to a stop. Casey looked out the window, they had arrived at a vacant bus stop. The engine idled for a good minute before his patience could take it no more.

“Common man,” he shouted, “nobody’s here.”

The driver remained silent, the bus answered with the revving of it’s engine.

“Hey!” Casey stood up. “I said nobody’s here.”

He crossed the empty cabin, his reflections in either windows marched in time with him. The substitute’s body leaned over the steering wheel. For a half second Casey thought the old man had keeled over, his concern alleviated when he noticed the man drummed his fingers in the wheel. The engine revved again.

“Some of us need to be home before sunrise,” Casey said approaching the driver. The substitute paid no attention to him, he kept his torso forward and his fingers drummed to the beat of the pulsing engine. “What is your problem?”

“Shhh…” the substitute finally answered. He pointed his calloused index finger forward. Casey squinted his eyes. On the road a few hundred feet from him beneath the orange rays of a streetlamp sat an empty car. A small sedan, perhaps a Toyota Corolla based its grill and size. Orange specs glistened off the hood, the windshield had been smashed.

“It’s just a busted window,” Casey said the engine’s roar grew louder and louder, Casey had never heard a bus so loud. “If you’re worried about crime just call the cops and let’s get out of here. You know I can report you for th- Holy shit, what the fuck was that?”

Gravity pulled the man towards the dirty bud floor. His heart raced from zero to sixty in a millisecond. The engine grew louder and louder, drowning out his obscenities his mouth shouted for him. His mind raced to put everything he had witness together. A giant claw descended from the abyss above, took hold of the top of the little sedan and in one swoop the car glided down the street and into the air. Sparks jumped out of the streetlights as whatever carried the car away struggled to gain altitude knocked them over.

The engine reached a deafening pitch, it had reached beyond just noise anymore, it became everything. Through the wall of wall of sound that consumed Casey he heard with clarity the voice of the bus driver. Full and boastful, like a viking ready to die for Valhalla Casey heard the bus driver say, “Time for battle!”

The world turned ninety degrees, Casey’s body fell towards the rear of the bus, tumbling all the way like a ball in a pachinko machine. His decent came to a sudden stop when his body made contact with the back wall of the bus. Empty soda cans, bags, lost keys and wallets all descended upon him.

A battle cry came from the front of the bus. Casey stabilized himself on the rear seat he had left moments ago. The orange lamps dashed by outside like fireflies in a wind tunnel. A knot grew in his stomach. With uncanny timing a small brown trashcan slid from the front of the bus towards him. He lurched at the little bucket and emptied his dinner into the white bag.

He took hold of the standing rail, pulled himself up on his feet and grabbed the ceiling straps. Casey swung himself against the backwards force and caught the next strap. The familiar bus had become a jungle gym. His feeble forearms burned, beneath his weight. He hadn’t done a pull up since grade school nearly ten years ago, and it showed. Finally he reached the bow of the bus. The driver roared and yelped with excitement. Casey pulled himself up behind the driver.

He looked out the window, the claw hung in the air, the silhouette of the Corolla danced across the horizon firmly grasped in the claw.

“Lad,” the driver said, “about time you showed up. We got ourselves a biggun tonight. How’s your aim?”

Casey blinked. “What?”

“How’s your aim?”

“What?” Casey reiterated.

“Here, take this,” the driver passed him a long tube with an arrow shaped object pointing out and a handle and trigger on the rear. A harpoon gun! “I’m going to need all the help I can get.”

“Dude,” Casey lifted his hands up and shook his head, “I just want to get home.” He looked at the substitute driver and noticed his right leg again. It was not a prosthetic like Casey assumed. From this angle he had a better view of the strange mechanism. The leg had no joints except at the hip, a long cylinder rod descended into the floor of the bus. The white florescent of the bus rippled off the rod. The rod was spinning like a transmission shaft. This wasn’t real, this couldn’t be real.

Alright Casey, just take a deep breath, you’re having a bad dream. It was an unusually long and stressful day at work, you nodded off in the back of the bus and this is some strange stress dream. Roman Mars was probably explaining how cars work in his earbuds right now and that’s why the driver’s leg appeared to be made of metal and was spinning.

“Suit yourself,” the driver holstered the harpoon gun away. He cranked the shifter, mechanical whirling came from beneath the floor. Outside the front windshield a series of four glistening tubes rose from base of the machine. Inside the cabin a mechanism unfolded itself from the ceiling, stopping at eye level with the driver, like a periscope. The driver looked into the mechanism with one eye, grunted. The bus swayed, Casey felt another knot.

“You’re lookin’ a little green,” the driver said without looking at him.” Gravity shifted again, this time forward, like a car slowing down on a highway when the car in the lane right next to you cuts you off.

The brown trashcan slid from the back of the bus and stopped right at Casey’s feet.

“Don’t you go hulin’ over my floors,” the driver said, “I just got them cleaned last month.”

Casey picked up the trashcan and hurled into it. “I think I’m going to die,” he said.

“A little road-sickness never hurt anyone,” the driver looked back into the periscope, the bus continued to accelerate like a rocket. “Steady… Steady… Fire!”

A loud bang shot from the front of the bus. Casey jumped, he caught himself with the railing before he lost his balance. He looked towards the back of the bus, it looked so far away. He did not want to make the climb again.

“Dagnabit,” the driver grunted. “Steady… Steady…. Steady… Fire!”

Casey looked out the windshield. A streak of orange left the front of the bus, a puff of white gas trailed behind it. The streak traveled through the air towards the dangling car and the claw that carried it.

“Gettin’ a little rusty. Haven’t seen a Booster this big in a looonngg while. It’s been nothin’ but Cleaners for the past few months here, I tell ya,” he looked at Casey like he knew what he was talking about. “You sure you don’t wanna help?”

Casey shook his head and hugged the little brown can.

The driver looked back into the periscope, he readied himself again. Another loud boom pierced through the windshield.

“Whew,” the driver said, “nearly blew it.”

“Is it over?” Casey moaned.

“Just gotta reel her in,” the driver pulled back on a lever. The periscope ascended towards the ceiling.

The driver pulled another lever, this time to his left. The bus rattled, grime and dust on the floor hoped and skipped around like little fleas. Casey held the hand rest tightly. He looked out the window, the little Toyota had grown larger in size, along with the enormous talons that held it above the roadway. Streetlamps continued to pass them at speeds well above the limit.

A screech yelped from the front of the cabin. The dust and grim halted their little dance, and the rattling stopped.

“Dangit,” the driver said.

“Oh god, are you telling me this nightmare isn’t over yet?” Casey pressed his fingers against his temples.

“No sir,” the driver answered. He produced the harpoon gun again and extended it to Casey.

“No,” Casey shook his head, “I am not indulging this nightmare anymore.”

The driver answered with a nudge of the weapon.

“Fine,” Casey said snatching the gun out of the driver’s hand. “What do you want me to do?”

“My bow’s wench is jammed,” the driver said, “I got a back up on up top, but no harpoons to go with it. I’m gonna need you to tie this here harpoon to it and give it a shot.”

“By give it a shot you mean?”

“Shoot the little vehicle up there,” the driver pointed towards the Corolla.

“Can’t you just cut the line?”

“And have some poor sap wake up with his craft gone? No sir,” the driver shook his head. “I haven’t lost a craft since seventy-six. I ain’t gonna lose one tonight. How good’s your aim?”

Casey shrugged. “I was in Boy Scouts, I shot a bit back then, but it’s been over ten years.”

“Better than nothin’. You ready?”

“Do I have a choice?” Casey asked.

The driver pulled a lever to his right, the front door of the bus opened. A gust of wind blew in, the trash on the ground began dancing in little eddies. Casey shivered.

“There’s a ladder right out there on your port side,” the driver said, “climb it and screw that little nub end to the wench.” Casey looked at the harpoon, a strand dangled from the front of the barrel, at the end of the strand hung a threaded base. It reminded Casey of the base of a light bulb. “Once the little bugger is secured, shoot at the car. You don’t want to nick the booster, unless you’re lookin for a fight you ain’t gonna win. You got it?”

Casey nodded.

“Once you got the vehicle just stick your hand down over the ledge and give me a signal. You got it?”

He nodded, faced the open door and gulped. This was just a dream, he thought, just go with it. The worst that can happen is you’ll wake up, maybe screaming and covered in sweat in the back of the bus, but nevertheless you’ll be awake. With the harpoon gun in one hand and the handrail in the other he inched himself outside.

His teeth clenched as he entered the blistering cold wind. He felt his jaw begin grinding them instinctively. The ladder strobed from the rapidly passing streetlamps. He gripped the ladder with one hand and slowly shimmied his feet over to the bottom rung. With one hand and two feet the young man began to slowly climb the ladder like a sloth.

Finally he made it to the roof of the bus. Knelt over crawling Casey dragged himself towards the outline of the wench. When he had enough range he took the threaded segment of the harpoon and twisted it into the socket in the main axle of the device.

The talons, the booster, were much larger out here. The hung from the sky like the claws of a dragon. The void above him obscured the form of the beat, but Casey swore it looked like an bird larger than the bus itself. Like a sniper perched atop of roof, he laid prone on the bus’ roof and readied his shot. The roof of the car sat directly in his site. He clenched his teeth and fired.

The harpoon departed the cylinder and flickered in the air, the steel cabling trailed behind it like a bolt of lightning. Beneath the whooshing of the wind he heard a dull thud. The cable stopped moving and hung in the air like a power line. Holy shit, he got it!

He dragged himself over to the ledge and stuck his hand down in a thumbs up. The bus driver honked his horn three times and the wench line grew taut. Casey pulled himself over to the top of the ladder and climbed down, this time was much easier with all of his limbs in use. He entered the bus and the door closed behind him.

“I knew I picked ya for a reason,” the driver smiled and stuck one arm up in the air.

Casey collapsed on the first seat he could find and laid down. “Is it over? Can I leave this crazy ride?”

“You kids these days are so impatient,” the drive said. “Alright, she’s in.”

The bus decelerated at nearly the same rate it had accelerated. Casey had no time to react, instead his body tumbled off the seat’s cushion’s and onto the grimy floor.

“Ow!” He shouted. “Would it hurt you to give me a little warning?”

“Come ‘er lad,” the driver said. Casey pushed himself off the floor and wobbled up. He walked to the front of the bus to join the driver. The street lamps no longer passed by. The driver pointed out the windshield, Casey looked.

The Toyota sat beneath the orange glow of a streetlamp. Everything had been returned back to normal, except the windshield of the little sedan had been magically restored.

The driver patted Casey on his back. “That’s all thanks to your hard work,” he said. “You know, you remind me when I was young man like you. I didn’t think I had it in me for this line of work, but I gave it a shot like you and loved it. So what do you say?”

“To what?” Casey asked.

“We got a few job openin’s available, I want you to apply.”

Casey shook his head. “I think I had enough for a lifetime tonight. Can I just go home?”

“You impressed me so much I’m gonna take a shortcut.”

“A short cut?” Casey asked.

The driver sat himself up and shifted the bus into gear. The orange lights of the lamps shot pass the bus again, the sudden change in momentum sent Casey tumbling down the asile all the way to the back of the bus.

“We’re here,” the driver said. Casey got to his feet and looked outside. Yep, this was his spot.

“Please,” Casey panted, “please give me a warning.”

“Ar, you’ll get used to it in no time,” the driver said. He opened the front door. Casey walked to the front.

“I don’t know who you are or what we just did, but I want nothing to do with it,” he said.

The driver reached into his pocked and pulled out a business card. “I said the same thing when I was your age. Here, take one.”

Casey took it, if only to make the nightmare end.

“Later,” he said walking down the stairs onto the sweet solid stationary ground.

“Look at your time keeper,” the driver said.


“You’re phone or whatever you kids call it.”

Casey looked at his phone, the time read fifteen minutes past twelve. “How did you?”

“Like I said, shot cut,” the driver said. “Give me a shout when you’re ready.” He pulled the a lever, the door closed and the bus drove down the road and rounded the corner.

Community Meeting

Prompt: You live in a world with a giant angry ball of energy that floats around in the sky. If you look at it, you go blind. If you have exposed skin, it burns. Everyone, except you, just accepts this as “normal”


The community center smelled of dust and cheap pizza, residents shuffled through the double glass doors and began forming a line around the flimsy plastic tables that held an assortment of pizzas from cheese to meat lovers to Hawaiian. The sun outside had began to set, turning the sky to a warm red.

“The community action meeting will be beginning in five minutes,” a woman’s voice said into a mic on a small stage opposite of the glass doors. “Feel free to hang your coats on the coat rack, we just installed adaptive glass.”

The people who still wore their thick fire retardant jackets formed a line besides the coat. A few more cautious people kept theirs on.

The residents began seating themselves, chatting casually about their days or neighborhood gossip.

Dorris and Emmy talked about Emmy’s new job at an upstart marketing firm. The firm’s major client had developed a fashionable fire proof jacket that seemed very promising.

Michael and Nathan discussed how the pool schedule had changed this summer after the giant fireball in the sky had adopted a new route this year for its first time in three years. No swimming between the hours of 3pm to 7pm now, which had taken an unfortunate blow on pool attendance and subsequently ice cream sales.

“If everyone will take your seats we will begin momentarily,” the woman at the stage said.

The rest of the stragglers moved towards the plastic folding chairs and took their seats.

“Thank you all for coming to the July Marigold Neighborhood community meeting,” the woman resumed once the room had settled, “for those of you who don’t know I am Becky Kiev, acting president of the board. For those of you who don’t know, elections are in August, so if like what I’m doing be sure to put my name down. If not, then that date doesn’t matter to you.”

A few mild chuckles came from the audience.

“I see a lot of new faces,” Becky continued, “well welcome I hope you enjoyed the pizza. I mean who doesn’t enjoy free pizza?”

Nobody reacted.

“Anyways, tonight is out annual open floor night. Instead of the usual structure we’ll be opening the floor to you all for questions, comments, or suggestions. Myself and the board will be taking note and answer your questions. Of course anyone in the audience is allowed to chime in too if they’d like. For you new folks the board is myself along with Daniel Smith, our vice president of community engagement, would you please stand up Daniel?”

A man in the front row dressed in a white and blue striped golf shirt stood up and waved.

“Thank you Daniel. Next is Julia Frederick, she is our vice president of education, she works directly with our schools, would you stand up Julia?”

An elderly woman wearing a turquoise necklace stood up and waved.

“And last but especially not least is our vice president of protection, Anthony James. Would you please stand up Anthony?”

A man still wearing his jacket stood up and waved towards the crowd.

“Do you still have to wear that Anthony?” Becky said. “I mean it was you who installed the new adaptive glass. You’re not really inspiring the most confidence in us.”

Anthony shrugged, “I’m a cautious man.”

“And that caution is why we love you, but I think it would be best to let that caution aside for this evening to help our fellow neighbors relaxed. Is that took much to ask for?”

Anthony sighed, unzipped his coat and hung it on the back of his chair.

“Thank you Anthony,” Becky continued. “Now before we begin I’d like to go over a few community updates.” Becky pulled out her phone and reviewed her notes. “As you all know, the pool hours have changed due to an unexpected change in the fireball’s route, and unfortunately pools will now have to be closed during peak hours. Any questions?”

The room remained silent, a few members shook their heads.

“Because of that our annual luau has been postponed until further notice. Any questions on that?”

A woman raised her hand.

“Yes Hilary?” Becky pointed towards her. The woman stood up.

“Could we do it earlier in the day? My kids look forward to it every year and it’s a shame to have to cancel it. I mean the late mornings are good pool temps, we can have it from ten to two.”

“That’s a brilliant idea, could you make not of that Daniel?”

“You got it,” Daniel said.

“Next on the list are the bus stops. As y’all probably know we’ve been fundraising all school year for new protective waiting pods and I am proud to announce that we reached our fundraising goal.” Becky clapped, the rest of the room joined. “The new bus stops will no longer be those eye sores of lead and steel doomsday bunkers on every street corner and will be changed out with adaptive glass much like the windows of this building. Any questions on concerns?”

“I have one,” another woman stood up. She still bore her coat.

“I don’t recognize you, could you introduce yourself?”

“I’m Regina, I just moved here last April with my husband and my two daughters. They’ll be starting kindergarten this school year, so as you might expect their safety has been on my mind a lot lately. Are we sure this new adaptive glass is safe? I mean where I come from we’re still using the lead line walls and port holes.”

“Anthony?” Becky asked.

“Yeah,” Anthony stood up. “I understand your concern Regina, but I assure you that this is the top of the line stuff. We don’t squander on investments in this neighborhood. I work professionally in the fireball protection industry and trust me this stuff is the top of the line.”

“Then why did you wear your coat? Didn’t you say you were being cautious?” Regina asked.

Anthony smiled, “I like to give Becky here a hard time, I’m sorry if I caused you to fret. Plus the AC in here gets a little chilly for my liking so I like to keep it on during meetings. If you want more information we can talk after the meeting. How does that sound?”

“Sure,” Regina said.

“Anthony, can you please try to mess with me outside of meetings?” Becky said. “Thank you for your question Regina. That is all for our updates this meeting, before we begin does anyone have any more questions on comments?”

A man in the back raised his hand.

“Yes?” Becky asked.

The man stood up, he wore a white button down and khakis. “Is anyone as sick of the fireball as I am?”

“What do you mean?” Becky asked.

“Every fucking day we have to put up with its chaos as it flies around the sky setting fire to anything within a three hundred meter radius of it, and to be honest I’m getting pretty tired of this shit.”

“Could you watch your language sir?” Becky asked. “And could we have your name?”

“Yeah,” the man continued, “I’m Calvin Harrison, just moved here a month ago because I heard this little community had the fireball under control and I’m not getting that vibe. Why can’t we get rid of that goddamn nuisance? I mean we can build bombs that can level cities, why can’t we shoot one up into the sky and blow it to hell and back?”

“Calvin,” Becky said, “this is a neighborhood community meeting. We only focus on the things we have control of, if you want to discuss nuclear warfare I’d advise you to call your local congressperson or join the army. And if it is any condolences we do have it under control here, our neighborhood’s blind rate is only at 2%, that’s better than any community in the southern states, and we’ve only had three major fires in the past year. If you’re concerned about your safety I can assure you that you can relax here in Marigold. Do you have anything constructive to say or are you done?”

“I’m just so fed up with everything,” Calvin sat back down.

“Are you done?” Becky asked.

Calvin nodded.

“Alright, well that concludes our opening portion of the meeting now let’s move on to community feedback. Daniel, would you mind taking the mic?”

Daniel stood up and walked towards the stage, Becky sat down on the audience. Calvin sat in the back the whole meeting sulking.


Prompt: You meet a monster straight out of a Lovecraftian horror novel. Except it isn’t Cthulu or any of the more well-known ones. Instead, you meet Bob! The happy-go-lucky tentacled horror that loves going on adventures and havong a nice cup of tea! (source)

Behold a floating obelisk, and its spirit, dread! The vantablack pillar descended from the heavens towards the frozen wasteland beneath it. Miranda held her breath, her fingers grasping the locket around her neck. The obelisk continued its decent towards the icy ground.

She closed her eyes and clutched the locket firmly, had it all come to this? Not two hours ago she had lost her entire team within the frozen ruins, she had only been so lucky to have outlived them. Anthony, Migan, and Henry, they had met swift deaths, or so she hoped.

Anthony had been the first to go after opening the chamber door to the frozen cathedral, a formless abomination of what she could only describe as a whirlwind of teeth, tusk, and eyeballs charged him. The team did not stick around long enough to see what had become of Anthony.

Migan went next, after the formless beast had bested them they had been pushed into the unexplored depths of the ruins, into the catacombs. With only a flashlight among the three remaining crew members, the catacombs were far from the ideal place to be. Henry had taken the lead, Miranda held onto his shoulders and Migan onto Miranda’s. It had happened so swiftly. Migan’s grasp left Miranda’s shoulders, she heard a loud thudding sound right behind her. Reflexively Miranda turned around towards the void behind her. Migan’s voice shrieked from the darkness, it grew deeper and further in tone, until her voice was no more. By the time Henry had pointed the light towards the void Migan was no more.

Miranda and Henry ventured deep into the catacombs for what felt like hours before they had seen any natural light. With miraculous luck, the tunnel had ended at a wooden ladder, illuminated by the sunlight above. Henry went up first, once she had been given the okay she followed suit. When Miranda surfaced Henry was nowhere to be found.

The ladder had brought her to a frozen wasteland, behind her stood the impossibly tall mountains that had housed the frozen city. The sky above her was whited out, without the sun she had no way of telling which way was north. Would it even matter at this point?

She closed her eyes and sat in the snow, and began to cry, grasping the locket of her mother she had worn for protection.

A low rumble came from above. Had the research center sent out scouts? She opened her eyes and looked towards the sky. Instead of a helicopter a giant pitch black pillar slowly descended from above. She clutched the locket tighter, accepting her fate that her expedition was no more than another mysterious antarctic disappearance.

The obelisk ceased it decent a meter above the ground. Miranda sat still with the pillar, her anxieties were no more, she had accepted her fate. She stood up and touched the dark pile. As terrified as she was her first and foremost mission was that of a scientist, and with that she had an an obligation to understand what had descended before her.

Visions had shot into her mind’s eye. She saw an enormous beast like an octopus, except it had no body, its entire mass had been composed of nothing but tentacles. She saw herself with the creature across space and time. In one the beast chased her across the barren wasteland, but instead of terror she saw herself laughing and smiling as the monster pursued her. In another vision she and the tentacles beast had strolled the streets of Manhattan together, laughing and smiling as she showed it memorable sights like the Empire State Building, and The Statue of Liberty. In another vision she and the beast enjoyed a nice quaint cup of tea on the English country side.

The visions ceased, and the pillar was no more. In its place the giant tentacles beast stood. Its tendrils twisted and turned, a low purring noise came from within its tangled mess.

“What do you want?” She asked.

~Hey there!~ The beast, answered? She wasn’t sure, the response appeared to have both come from within the abomination, and within her own head at once. ~I’m so sorry about your friends, I wanted to save them but my vessel has been banned from the city limits for a millennia. My name’s Bo’ub, and you are?~

“M-M-Miranda,” Miranda answered.

~Happy to meet you M-M-Miranda,~ the thing called Bo’ub said.

“What do you want?”

~It’s been a while since I’ve been to Earth, last time I was here humans had just invented the wheel.~ the tangled mess called Bob rolled towards her ~As you could tell from the visions I presented to you I’m looking for an easy going human to be my tour guide. Can you be that guide for me M-M-Miranda?~

A harsh wind picked up, Miranda shivered, her teeth clenched.

~You look cold, let me help you.~

Miranda blinked, when she opened her eyes she was back at base camp, in her hands she held a warm cup of hot chocolate.

“Welcome back Miranda,” she heard a voice behind her. She turned around, it was Victor her commanding officer. “Did the rest of the crew make it?”

She shook her head, and looked at the steam as it drifted upwards gently from the hot cup of coco. She took a sip. A wave of warm pulsed through her body, she took a sigh of relief.

“That’s a shame,” Victor said. He sat next to her. “Well good news for you, you’re tour here is over. We’ve already packed your things and loaded it on the helicopter, you’ll be back on the mainland in no time.”

“Thank you sir,” she said taking another sip of the coffee. The warmth flowed through her again, this time stronger and heavier, like a weighted blanket.

“You’ll be joining Bob back to the mainland, he’s already at the helipad,” Victor said, “common, let’s go.” He stood up and gestured towards Miranda. She followed him, hugging the cup of hot chocolate like a precious gem.

They rounded the base camp and arrived at the helipad.

“Who’s Bob?” She asked, she did not recall any fellow researchers with that name.

“The intern,” he said, “he’s been helping you with your research since you arrived. Are you okay Miranda?”

She took one final sip of the hot chocolate embracing the warmth as it filled her once more. Sitting on a chair besides the helicopter sat a young man she did not recognize. She approached the man.

“How do you do M-M-Miranda?” He asked, extending his hand towards her. She shook it. Despite his hand being covered with a glove, she swore she felt something limp and slimy on contact. “I am very excited about our adventures to come.”

Let the World Hurry By

Writing Prompt: As long as you are inside your house, time doesn’t pass in the outside world. As long as you are in the outside world, time doesn’t pass in your house. (source)


It had been three months before she returned to the outside world. She checked her her pocketbook which sat on the counter besides the front door, and flipped to the latest entry. “You left the party to ‘check on Philip’ everybody knows why you really left, but they’ll play along with you anyways.” She placed her hand on the doorknob, closed her eyes and filled her lungs with air.

She forced herself to remember what had happened, the gap between her exit and now had been filled with books and movies, with a few stories of her own she had created herself, but never written more than a page or two before she returned to the couch to watch another Harry Potter movie for the thousandth time. She liked staying indoor and she loved her house.

The house had been her grandmother’s, it had been a place that no matter how much she and the outside world changed it had remained the same. The sleepy country town became consumed with the urban sprawl. The farmers cut their last harvest of corn and planted a new crop of cement and rebar. The old water tower dismantlement and in its place a beaming new twelve floor building. Her childhood school razed and replaced with a brand new shopping mall. The town had moved on, and yet her grandmother refused to.

Stephanie would spend her summers at the house, she would swing on the tire swing in the day, at night she’d read by the fireplace with Philip in her lap. When she felt adventurous she’d play in the farmer’s field just down the road until the farmer had noticed and chased her off. She even had her first kiss on the porch swing, to Anthony, the son to the farmer who had chased her away many times. She would not see Anthony again when she returned to her grandmother’s the next summer. The crops all had been reaped and in their places sat strange raised lumps of dirt with wooden frames and white pipes sticking through them.

When it was time for her grandmother to move on, the house had been bequeath to Stephanie. “May you enjoy the timeless treasure of the house,” the note read, “and may it comfort you in times of need.”

The house had become a safe haven for her whenever she felt her lungs grow tight and needed a break from it all. Awkward dates, parties with too many people she didn’t know, a hard day at work, no matter what it was she knew she could always come home and take as much time as she needed before returning to the outside world. She didn’t have to work about food, the pantry and fridge were always well stocked. She’d return home, watch a movie or two, sleep through the night, write in her journal. She’d stay as long as she needed before she returned back to the outside world, sometimes it was minutes, other times it was years. Once she felt the time was right she’d return to the restaurant, bar, movie, theater, office, or wherever she was last, and they’d always ask her the same question, “How’s Phillip?”

She made she to keep her pocketbook with her at all times, and jot down the last thing that happened before she left. A habit she had learned after she had returned to a meeting that had go awry. Her boss had blown up at a client and she had felt the same tight sensation within her chest, she had asked to leave, and when she returned four months later her boss was still yelling at the client. Her boss had blown up at her that evening for going home and changing clothes. She never wanted that to happen again so she bought a little magenta pocketbook that she kept notes of what she had worn the day she had left, and later filled it with details of the moments before leaving. She returned home that night and didn’t leave for a whole year.

This time she had returned home because the party had grown too big, too many people she didn’t know. It was supposed to be a friend’s surprise party, but Stephanie had been the one most surprised with the shear number of new faces. The crowd had grown overwhelming, so she told her friend that she had to go check on Philip. And so she left.

Stephanie exhaled and opened her eyes, a soft soothing sensation of delicate fur rubbed against her feet. She leaned down and gave Philip a nice pet behind his ears, the cat purred. “I’ll be back,” she said and opened the door, and returned to the party.