Billowing clouds of steam rose straight up from the black and white swirling liquid. The white rim of a coffee mug held in the contents precisely and the words ‘Chug Your Mug’ curved around the sides. He sat in the dining room chair staring at the words and trying to remember why they seemed so quaint when he saw them in the faint fluorescent light of a convenience store a year before. Nothing about those words seemed quaint anymore. They just reminded him that life sped by too fast, that every morning he had to chug his mug of coffee before rushing out the door. That morning was a bit different, however. That morning he was waiting on a very important phone call. A phone call that could mean future morning coffee breaks would be a lot lonelier, chugged or otherwise.
Picking up the mug in his gnarled hands, he sipped at the contents. He couldn’t remember who said it just then, but someone somewhere had once said waiting was the hardest part. At that moment he couldn’t agree more. The ticking of the clock on the wall behind him seemed to echo through his head. Tick tock, tick tock. He lowered the mug to the table once more and looked through the window in front of him. Outside he could see the fire orange of Peruvian lilies growing in the flower bed. He’d planted them there for his wife a couple years before. Every year she would tend them, carefully encouraging their growth. As he watched them blowing gently in the breeze he could almost imagine her kneeling down, elbow deep in dirt, caring for them. He picked up the mug and took another sip, noting the fact that the coffee was growing cold.
A weary glance over his shoulder at the clock told him that the morning was going to be a bust. He would wait there however long he had to, though, and he wouldn’t budge until that phone rang. One way or another he had to know what was going on. So he sat there staring out the window, sipping his coffee and listening to the ticking of the wall clock. Eventually the sound of cars started streaming in through the open window as more people woke up and the road out front became busier. He listened to the familiar sound as if he were a newborn having never heard the sound of an engine before. Somewhere deep inside he was hoping one of those cars would pull into his driveway to deliver the news. As he allowed the hope to rise up, he lost track of everything besides the sounds of the cars speeding past.
Almost as if it knew of this hope, the shrill ringing of a phone filled the air, jerking him out of his thoughts. With the coffee mug held tightly in one hand, he picked up the phone with the other.
“Hello? This is Curtis.” A pause and then, “Mag, calm down a bit, please. I can’t understand you.” His voice was strained, tears obvious in his voice. He stood and began to pace as he listened intently to the phone. “I knew I should have come with you, honey. Please try to calm down. Is there anyone by you that can tell me what’s going on? Did they get the test results back?”
A longer pause filled the room with silence. Suddenly his face turned into an expression of pure shock and the mug slipped from his hand. It crashed to the ground and sent glass and coffee flying everywhere. “You’re pregnant?” he exclaimed, oblivious to the coffee soaking through his overalls. “Honey, you’re too old to be pregnant!” It was the only thing he could think to say but he instantly regretted saying it. Not only did she not have cancer but he was going to be a father again.
Mandy Moore is a married mother of two from Oklahoma. Her hobby of writing spans almost two decades and she has been focusing on creative writing as a career for eight years. She is currently attending the University of Central Oklahoma and is majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. She prefers writing prose in any genre.
Listen to “Alien Alley” by JR Hume, read by Alexander Jones:
JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.
Alexander Jones lives in the Pacific Northwest, where he works in video game development and indulges his love of good food and fine drink.
“Alien Alley” by JR Hume was originally published on February 17, 2014.
Teens are gullible, too tempted by careless acts and stupid stunts. Don’t be stupid, Halley.
“Yes, Mom,” I would say. “Right, Instructor Morris.” “Yes, Counselor Blackford.” To all: “I’m a smart girl.”
Yet here I was waiting for Marco, who was late. Probably not coming. Stupid me.
A mag train shooshed to a stop at the tube platform. Two people stepped off and hurried away.
I decided to take the next mag home. Enough was enough. Today Smart Halley banished Stupid Halley forever.
My medimplant chimed and throbbed. I tapped Suppress on my wristpad then Allot. Across the deserted platform the public dispenser disgorged my midmorning nutrition. Three gelcubes, two reds and a green. I gulped them as another mag arrived.
The train’s doors parted. I stepped on then jerked back around into Marco’s chest.
“Miss me?” he said, releasing my blouse.
I might have squealed. A little. Since I loathe appearing weak or frail, I covered for it accordingly.
“You turd!” Thwump went my fist on his ribcage. “Where’ve you been?”
It worked. “Where do you think?” He backed off, looking sufficiently apologetic.
That’s when I spotted the canvas bag slung over his shoulder.
“You got it?” I sucked in a breath. Held it till he nodded.
He patted the bag. “One Levitt special.”
Hearing the name we’d been secretly whispering for three months, I cringed. I glanced over my shoulder to check the mag car (it was empty) and shoved Marco toward the platform exit.
“Shhh!” I said. “Are you crazy?”
“Nobody’s here except me and you.” He stuck his hand out. “Come.”
His clammy fingers squeezed mine. Again he yanked me around, back into the mag. We stood inside the door.
“Where are we going?”
“You mean: went. As in, off the grid.” He held up our clasped hands. A pale green band dangled around his medimplant. “Blocker. So nobody can track our movements.”
I frowned. “Isn’t that an — ”
“Infraction? One of the worst. Decades in rehab if you get caught. So don’t.” The mag surged underneath us. “And don’t let go until this is over.”
“Take the blocker off my dead wrist like I did Javier’s three months ago.”
This was the majorly stupid part. “You can’t die, Marco.”
“Probably will. Only Levitt hasn’t.”
“Maybe he did. Maybe not.”
That’s when his medimpant squealed and shuddered. I almost flung his hand away, the pulsation was so intense. He silenced it.
“Critical nutrient deficiency,” he said.
“You skipped taking nutrition?”
“Since yesterday. No more gelcubes. So no turning back now.” The mag glided into the next station. “We don’t have much time though. The blocker can’t prevent my medimplant summoning an emergency evacuation.” The doors parted. “Hop off.”
The station squatted on the fringe of an industrial zone, empty and still on a dreary Sunday morning. Great place to commit severe infractions.
I eyed his bag. “What brilliancies did Levitt offer when he gave you that?”
“Not Levitt. A guy named Cookie. Instructions printed on the inside of the blocker led me to him. He said he followed something called a recipe — same one Levitt supposedly used — which came from some banned ancient transcript called Southern Living.”
My skepticism sizzled.
“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe he did. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter though.”
Hand-in-hand, canvas bag between us, we settled on a dusty maintenance road tucked behind the desolated station.
“Together,” Marco said.
From out of the canvas bag, we tugged a bulky paper sack. One after another we tore through four sealed sacks. By the third one, my nose wrinkled at the pungent, earthy aroma. By the last, my mouth felt strange — moist and gooey like never before.
In his palm he held a paper-wrapped wad stained with wet splotches. Inside, the Levitt special waited.
“Ready?” he asked.
No, but I nodded anyway.
We both leaned in and unwrapped. The wad produced a small stack of mushy objects, different sizes and shapes all smashed together into a fist-sized pile.
“Wow, see that?” He pointed to the darkest object. “That’s the cooked flesh. It’s supposed to be bovine but when was the last time you actually saw one of those outside a museum?”
He patted the top spongy part.
“This is the bun, one of those yeast-based pastries people used to contain all kinds of other strange materials. Sandwiches, they named them, a really creative way to turn anything they wanted into so-called food.”
He lifted the bun’s edge and revealed a pale, yellowish paste.
“That’s the cheese. Made from animal lactation fluids, usually bovine. Underneath the cheese is where the various plant matter goes. I’m not sure what these are supposed to be,” he said, frowning at the puckered clumps draped over the charred flesh. “Mock produce of some kind.”
“Mostly. People would sometimes spread other creams on the buns if they wanted stronger sensations.”
“I don’t know. Seems like plenty enough,” I said, uncomfortable with my mouth’s sensations just from watching this.
“So… what do you think?”
“It’s ugly. Messy. Nasty. Want more? How about: I can’t understand why you’d put it into your body.”
“Because it’s no gelcube. It’s a personal choice. All mine.”
Again his medimplant screeched.
“Which millions enjoyed long, long ago.” He raised the wad to his mouth. “Remember the blocker.” Then, his teeth ripped away nutrition like some extinct primate’s might.
Within moments, his medimplant detected a new life-threatening condition and summoned help. To no avail. None of the kids who’d attempted this had survived the resulting toxic shock. Save one, apparently.
That’s when I left Marco, the blocker draped over my own medimplant. I should have flung it away. Ended this. Let enough be enough.
But I didn’t.
Too many lives coiled around that band, all craving what Marco had yearned for. Was it worth it? I must know.
Until I’ve found and confronted Levitt though, dutifully I’ll gulp my gelcubes. Every impersonal one.
I might be crazy but I’m no longer stupid.
In the micro-slices of free time permitted by his high-tech job, Todd Thorne tries to be a decent family man and a writer of dark, disturbing tales.
The Sun was setting far away in the ocean’s horizon, without me having a chance to enjoy a surfing moment. From morning until then, there was not a single wave to see or feel.
It was a man resting under a coconut tree who made me lighten up. Asked what was his secret in maintaining a glowing smile without the Sun and waves, his smile became broader.
“It is the fish! They talked to me. They told me sweet things…” he managed to say, his first words. At that moment, it was self-control that kept me from bursting out loud with laughter. Respecting other people’s opinions about their world was part of me.
It was after screening for any traits of ridicule on my face with his keen eyes, that he went on with his story.
The story’s plot involved a miserable man, who went to have a deep swim in the afternoon ocean, in search of shells and pearls to sell. When the assignment was almost complete on the ocean’s floor, a shoal of zebra fish came swiftly, only to halt a meter away from where he was. “A man from this ocean will bring you a chest of gold and precious stones, right on your doorstep,” one of the fish said to him.
Probably as a sign of concluding the story, the strange man lit a roll of weed, and lazily fixed it between his cracked lips. It was at that moment, when his broad smile changed into wild laughter, that I left him to wait for the imaginary treasure man.
As I stared across the beach on the main road, a figure of a man appeared from the full-moon’s reflection on the ocean, carrying what appeared to be a chest!
Teddy Kimathi writes poetry, news-stories, quotes, and short stories. He has poems published in Leaves of Ink, Three Line Poetry (Issue #25), Shot Glass Journal (Issues #11 & #13), and Every Day Poets. His first poetry-book, Painting of Life in Poetry, was published by Lulu Press.
Clarice was the kind of child who enjoyed picking out the soft insides of a bun. That’s what made her ideal for performing autopsies. The human body is rather like a hot dog bun, she used to say. The skin is the slightly denser crust of the bun. But once you slit it down the middle, the softer, more delicious parts are revealed, in all their juicy glory.
She remembered her first experience dissecting a bun. She had found an encyclopedia showing the entire human anatomy, and had been so entranced that she studied it for hours. She wished for a cadaver of her own, to play with. When she asked for one for Christmas, her parents laughed at the silly games their daughter loved to play with them. So she took a hot dog bun and, drawing a face with a sharpie, proceeded with the Y incision on its sternum. A Y incision doesn’t work overly well on a hot dog, but she managed to pry it open, and began removing small pieces. She would pull it apart piece by piece, shaping each into a tiny organ. Later, she put the whole bun back together, each little organ in its appropriate spot, except for the liver. She returned the bun to the bag.
When she asked for a cadaver again for her 11th birthday, her parents grew concerned.
It didn’t take long for Clarice to graduate from autopsies on buns, to autopsies on small animals. She never killed them herself, mind you. She only took ones that were already dead, and tried to figure out how they died. She soon became quite good, and the neighbourhood kids would bring her any critters they found, to watch the master at work. She would dissect them, make her pronouncements, and put them back together, stitching them up with her mother’s needle and thread. None in her audience knew enough about anatomy to check that all the pieces were present.
When she reached university, she began to study forensic science with gusto. Her professors were amazed at how fast she learned, and how adept she was with the scalpel. Years of training do help one.
Graduating top of her class, she was offered a position straight out of university, working for the local police department. She took it. Being the last person to open up the dead bodies, no one ever noticed how few healthy livers made it out of her workspace.
And still, Clarice slices opens her buns. She makes a single vertical incision now, rather than the Y. But always, she reaches in, and pulls out a small piece. She shapes it in to a liver. She places it in her mouth, before greedily attacking the rest of the bun, devouring it whole. Her cravings are getting worse, and this delights her.
Martin Chandler is a writer and composer from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is currently dodging cars in Monterey, California.