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LATE BREAKFAST • by Jacey Bedford

A musician was on tour in the south of England and played a little folk club gig in Eastbourne. As often happens that night he was invited to stay at the home of the organisers, an Australian couple, Jayne and John. He knew them slightly from previous gigs at their venue, but he’d never had occasion to stay with them before. They seemed like nice folks, however, both vegetarian, health-food, fitness types, but none the worse for that.

After the gig he drove to their house, following their tail lights through winding country lanes.

As they walked in through the front door they said the words that no night-owl musician ever wants to hear, “We have to be up early and leave for work at six a.m. sharp.”

His heart fell. It was already past midnight.

Jayne must have seen the look on his face. “Don’t worry.” She smiled kindly. “You don’t have to be up early. Here’s a key. Get a good night’s sleep and get up when you’re ready. The kitchen’s over there. Help yourself to anything you like for breakfast. Just lock the door and post the key back through the letterbox when you leave. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks at Cambridge Festival.”

He was so relieved.

***

A couple of weeks later, as planned, he met John and Jayne at Cambridge, in the festival bar. After exchanging pleasantries and chatting for a while,  Jayne began to look uncomfortable and said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’ve been worried. That night you stayed with us… why didn’t you have any breakfast before you left?”

“Oh, I did,” he said. “I had the muesli.”

Jayne looked puzzled. “We don’t have muesli,” she said.

But they did have a parrot.

Afterwards he realised that for the last couple of weeks he’d been singing much better. But he had begun to long for a blanket over his cage before he went to sleep at night.


Jacey Bedford is a British writer, very excited to have a novel (Empire of Dust) due in November 2014 from DAW as part of a three book deal. She has had short fiction published on both sides of the Atlantic, the most recent being in the Futures 2 anthology (Tor) and in translation (Galician) to Nova Fantasia in Spain.


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Posted on January 24, 2015 in Humour/Satire, Stories, Surreal
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PERFECT GAME • by Pam L. Wallace

It’d been quiet for several minutes when the “All Clear” siren blared. Sue crawled from under the table and scanned the bowling alley. Bob and Ellie lay under their table in lip-locked passion, arms and legs entwined. Most everyone else was emerging from under tables, faces studiously nonchalant. Down at the far end of the alley, a colonel in battle fatigues blithely bowled on, as if there weren’t a war going on outside.

Did she hear a scream?

“Sue? You okay?” John asked.

“Do you hear screaming?”

He cocked his head, concentrating. “Nope, nothing. We’re good.”

“Should we head over to the hospital and see if they need us?”

“And piss off the Captain after he ordered you to take a forty-eight hour R&R?”

“But — they may….”

John shook his head and pulled her toward the alley. “Doctor’s orders. Go on, you’re up,” he said. “I’ll get us another beer.”

She watched him make his way across the room before picking up her bowling ball. She checked her position on the boards; made sure her thumb was pointed up. She shook her head to clear it.

Her form was magical today. Nothing but strikes. Three more to finish the game.

Three more for a perfect game. Wash away the memories. Allow everything to fall into order.

The ball rumbled down the lane. The pins all fell down.

She wanted to pump her fist and scream in triumph. She couldn’t muster the enthusiasm.

“Right on, Babe,” John said, coming up behind her. He set the beers on the table and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, nibbling on her neck. “Mmmm,” he mumbled. “Whaddya say we make like Bob and Ellie and finish this game later?”

She pushed him away. “You just don’t want me to beat you. Besides, ‘later’ there’s the USO show.” She grabbed a beer and took a big chug. It was ice cold, a welcome change from the tropical heat. “Go on, you’re up,” she said. “I think Bob and Ellie are out.”

“Hey you two, get a room!” John yelled. His ball went airborne, dropping to the boards with a thud. It careened down the lane, crashing into the far left pins and sending them flying. A strike.

“Sheesh, John. You didn’t even aim, and you got a strike.” While she must worry and fret, plan and meditate, never waver a millimeter from her position or form.

“Pure power, Babe. Pure power,” he answered, curling his arm in a muscle salute.

From faraway, she heard a faint, high-pitched scream. “Shhh!  Did you hear that?”

John cocked his head to listen. “Nope, nothing.”

It sounded like a child — a terror-stricken child. “No, I hear her. I hear her!”

“No one’s screaming. It’s okay,” he said, rubbing her back. “You’re okay. Come on, let’s finish the game.”

She concentrated on his eyes, steady and reassuring. “Yeah. Finish the game.” Two more frames. She focused on the lane and the ball. Perfect game — that’s what she needed.

Strike!

She moved her mind to a quieter place, where there was no screaming. No distractions.

One more strike for a perfect game. Perfect. Where nothing was broken. Nothing was wrong.

Another scream, rising in pitch and volume. Then, a breath of silence, a soft hiccup of indrawn air, before the wail resumed with a harsh screech, grating, shattering the walls she had so carefully built.

She clamped her hands over her ears. She couldn’t shut it out. Her game wouldn’t be perfect at all, but wrong, wrong, wrong.

Wrong as a little girl, no more than five, carried into the ward, her body covered in burns, her pain and terror so intense even morphine couldn’t touch it. She’d screamed until her throat was as raw on the inside as the flesh covering it.

There was nothing Sue could do — couldn’t hold her, because a touch would only bring more pain to that ravaged body.

She’d honored the girl by sitting as close as she could. She listened to each cry until her soul was scored and imprinted.  She’d stayed, enduring because the girl had to.

Finally, hours after it started, the scream faded with a last harsh breath.

Sue took the little hand in her own until the orderlies came to take the body away.

Empty and drained, she hadn’t been able to cry for that little girl.

With the noise of the bowling alley echoing around her, she swallowed down the lump in her throat. She would not cry.

She would not cry because once started, the tears would never stop, and others needed her attention and healing. Maybe later, much later when she returned to the States, leaving war and destruction behind, she could afford to let go.

From the corner of her eye, she saw John hiding behind a pillar, downing a straight shot. The familiar twinkle was gone from his eyes, replaced by a look that darted around the room, never settling on any one thing. Bob and Ellie snickered their way into the restroom where they’d no doubt lock the door and turn on the spigots, trying to drown the sounds of their wanton sex.

All of them had their walking nightmares, and some of their crutches were more dangerous than others. Bowling for perfection wasn’t so bad, was it?

She sighted down the lane and released the ball. It clattered into the pins with a crash.

Strike!

For a second, there was blessed silence.


Pam L. Wallace lives in California. Her stories have appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and Abyss and Apex. This is her fourth story published by Every Day Fiction.


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Posted on January 23, 2015 in Literary, Stories
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AN ENGINEERED PRODUCT • by Shane Halbach

To: Cal.Whitcom NutriGene 084.1353.29785 Gamma Sector
From: Del.Manu NutriGene.GenEng 324.9093.092 Epsilon Sector

Cal,

I agree, the news is dire. With the further degradation of the central data banks and the failure of the East generator, we risk not being able to produce enough food for the colony. What’s worse, NutriGene’s profits are down!

As you know, there is an ongoing project in GenEng to comb through some of the older sequences in the FoodCubes for possible expression of enhancements. We both know that expectations for this activity are low; however, I’m pleased to report that I have located exactly the type of potential gene we were looking for, locked in the FoodCube genome.

We may never know the original purpose of the sequence, but I believe we can express to produce a sort of shell or covering around a growing Cube. Shell is not quite the right word, nor is skin exactly (Can you imagine the FoodCubes with skin? Ha ha!), but maybe the closest thing to imagine is more like a scalp.

My hope is that, with the addition of an innate protective layer, NutriGene may be able to cut back on some of the clean room procedures, thus displaying a significant cost savings. I don’t need to tell you this is a significant expense in the production of Cubes.

Early tests look good, and I’d like official approval to go ahead with a full-scale trial.

Thanks,

Del

***

To: Cal.Whitcom NutriGene 084.1353.29785 Gamma Sector
From: Del.Manu NutriGene.GenEng 324.9093.092 Epsilon Sector

Cal,

I’m delighted that our successes with the FoodCube Protective Layer have brought more attention to the art of expressing dormant and forgotten genes, something that has been sort of a hobby of mine for a long time. The additional resources will aid immensely.

Already they are paying off, as the team you gave me has found a way to express a Nutrient Extraction System for the Cubes. The Nutrient Extraction System connects a Food Receptacle via a tube to an Absorption Chamber, which allows the nutrients to enter the Cube internally. This has the potential to revolutionize the Cube market, as it may allow us to use a more abundant (cheaper) feed supply than the old, intravenous method.

Naturally, not willing to leave well enough alone (ha ha!), the team managed to express not one Absorption Chamber, but four, for added efficiency!

As I like to say, it’s not what’s in the genes, it’s how you use it!

Del

***

To: Cal.Whitcom NutriGene 084.1353.29785 Gamma Sector
From: Del.Manu NutriGene.GenEng 324.9093.092 Epsilon Sector

Cal,

We have indeed solved the bulk feed transport problem with good old fashioned GenEng science! Bot Taley managed to express four Mobility Posts on the bottom of the FoodCubes, which allow us to bring the Cubes to the food, instead of the other way around. That’s thinking outside the Cube! (Ha ha!)

In fact, we are currently running a trial to see if the Mobility Posts combined with the FoodCube Protective Layer and the new Nutrient Extraction System will allow us to actually bring the Cubes to a cultivated NutriGrass grid outside of the NutriGene facility!

Imagine the possibilities!

Unfortunately, Bot Taley was carried off in this morning’s food riots, and we haven’t seen him since. Also, one of the replicator robots has developed some kind of blinking light. We think that either means it’s overdue for some kind of maintenance, or possibly it is trying to illuminate the area, now that some of the overhead lights are going out.

Del

***

To: Cal.Whitcom NutriGene 084.1353.29785 Gamma Sector
From: Del.Manu NutriGene.GenEng 324.9093.092 Epsilon Sector

Cal,

GenSafety is just finishing the report on the investigation now. Long story short, NutriGrass causes an excess of stomach gas in the FoodCubes. There is a gene for an exhaust port, but we did not express it.

I take full responsibility. In my excitement, I forgot the gold rule of GenEng: haste makes waste.

I hope this minor (but messy!) setback will not diminish the enthusiasm for this project.

Del

***

To: Cal.Whitcom NutriGene 084.1353.29785 Gamma Sector
From: Del.Manu NutriGene.GenEng 324.9093.092 Epsilon Sector

Cal,

The Central Processing Unit over the Food Receptacle is now complete, and the FoodCubes (or should I say FoodRectangles these days? Ha ha!) are now able to perform food gathering and waste removal tasks on their own, almost as alive as any robot. It is truly a triumph of modern science!

No matter how many times I have seen it, watching our little black-and-white babies totter back and forth to the NutriGrass on their Mobility Posts, I am struck with a deep sense of awe over what we have wrought.

I am truly grateful to have helped bring such a futuristic creation to the NutriGene product line. I hope it is not out of line to say that I feel I have contributed positively not only to the FoodCubes division itself, but possibly even saved NutriGene as a whole (to say nothing of the starving colonists!).

My services are now in great demand, but I will always remember my time in the Nutritional FoodCubes division. There is some talk over in Sweeteners that we may be able to grow a plant that actually produces High Fructose Syrup! Can you imagine? These are amazing times we live in.

Anyway, thanks for everything.

Sincerely,

Del


Shane Halbach lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids, where he writes software by day and avoids writing stories by night. His fiction has appeared on Escape Pod, Redstone SF, Daily Science Fiction, and elsewhere. He blogs regularly at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.


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HOPSCOTCH • by Jeff Switt

I sneak down the stairs and hope she’s passed out in her chair. She awakens in a coughing fit and glares at me. “Get me a beer, girl.”

My name is Jenni. She hates me. Calls me “girl.” Whips me when she can catch me.

I hate being “girl.”

Some days I’m Ruth when I need to be naughty. Other days, I’m Zanna when I have to be brave.

Today I’m Tabatha. Just for fun. A famous ballerina that everyone loves and admires. I turn on my bare feet and dance to the kitchen. I grab a beer from the fridge and prance back into the living room. I spin, trying to imitate a ballerina jump I saw on TV.

She jerks the beer from my hand. I try not to snicker as she struggles to pull the tab. She’s fifty. Had me when she was forty. Regretted it ever since. Lets me know it every day.

Beer bubbles out and down the side. She lifts the can to her lips and licks the foam. Her t-shirt stinks of beer and sweat. She scratches a scab on her fat arm and curls a bloody fingernail to her face.

“Get me a rag, girl.”

I dance back to the kitchen and get a rag.  She wipes her blood.

“You gonna fix your momma some dinner, or what?”

“Or what?” I reply.

“Or you’re grounded for a week.”

“So what?” I taunt.

“Don’t smart-mouth me, girl.”

“Or what?” I feel “girl” building inside, ready to hurl.

“Or I’ll whip your ass, that’s what.”

She lunges. Her pudgy hands push up on the arms of the chair. Her wet hand slips, and her butt plops. The beer topples from her fingers onto the floor. Foam belches over once-pink slippers.

“Damn you girl. See what you done? Now you’re gonna get it.”

I turn to the screen door and jab it with my hand. It swings into a galvanized bucket overflowing with crushed cans and sends them scattering. I’m off the porch.

My feet dance across my hopscotch game chalked on the concrete.

1, 2, 3-4, 5, 6-7, 8, 9.

Her bellowing continues. “Get your ass back here right now, or I’m gonna call your father.” She waves her cell phone at me like a weapon.

I yell back, “He ain’t my father.” I feel Tabatha fading.

He’s just Robert. He told me that the first night he touched me. That made it okay.

My real father’s the king of some small country. Europe, I think. I looked for it on a map. His people love him. He’s going to send for me soon.

I’m standing on the nine-spot.  I turn and watch her bloated body teetering. Her tattooed leg reaches for the second step.

“Hey,” I yell. “Got you something else.” I shoot her the finger.

She looks at me, and her foot misses. She tumbles to the concrete. Head first. She doesn’t move. I stand like a statue. My finger’s still in the air.

9, 8, 7-6, 5, 4-3, 2, 1.

I skip toward her. My arms stretch like wings. I give her a bow and look at one open eye. It doesn’t look back.

“Can I get you a beer?”

“Can I get you a rag?”

I dance in circles around her body to a tune in my head.

“Ashes. Ashes. We all fall down.”

A neighbor points at me and rushes into her home.  A shiver crawls my spine. Reality sets in. My mom’s dead. It’s just me and him.

I reach for her phone and punch seven random numbers. I need to talk to my real father. A voice answers, “The number you have reached is not a working…”

I hit the red button and try seven different numbers. A kind voice answers, “Hello?”

“Daddy?  It’s Jenni. Come get me. Please?”

The voice replies, “I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.” Then, silence.

A distant siren wails. The neighbor’s called the cops. I run inside to the stairs. Two steps at a time. Then just one. My legs shake. I slam my bedroom door as I run through. It bounces back. Its latch got broken the night Robert kicked it in.

I climb through my open window onto the flat roof of the carport. It’s our private place. Jenni. Tabatha. Ruth. Zanna. Where we hide from Robert. And get away from “girl.”

I hear yelling from the sidewalk. It’s Robert. He’s home. He’s angry. He’ll hurt me. Do things to me. I have to change.

“Hi, Robert,” I taunt, as I dance along the edge of the roof. I am now Ruth. If I’m nice to him he buys me presents. I lift the hem of my dress and show him what he likes.

“You little bitch. What did you do?” He turns toward the front door and begins to run.

It didn’t work. He’s going to hurt me again. I know it.

White clouds float high in the blue sky. If I can reach them, I’ll be safe. I shed my dress and stand naked, now Zanna, the fairy warrior. My winged horse nuzzles me. Her anger starts to show. Her eyes glow red as I mount her back. Fire shoots from her nostrils.

Heavy boots echo across the hardwood floor, up the stairs.

I nudge my horse to the far corner, and we turn. I grab her mane with both hands and give her my heels. Sparks fly from her hooves as they strike the metal roof. In four steps we are at the edge. At the fifth, we fly.


Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. His words have been featured online at Every Day Fiction, Out of the Gutter Online, Dogzplot, Boston Literary Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and several other sites.


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Posted on January 21, 2015 in Literary, Stories
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THE FISH EATERS • by Sean McLachlan

The scum on the water was thicker today. It glistened iridescent in the sunlight as it frothed on the surf, giving off a metallic tang. Another container must have burst over in Toxic Bay and the current had brought its contents up the coast. Bill shook his head. They were three miles away and it didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

He stood waist deep in the ocean, keeping his mouth and good eye firmly shut as waves crashed into him. His bad eye he left open. The infection made everything a blur, but he didn’t dare risk his good eye. Maybe he’d be lucky and catch enough fish to trade for a pair of goggles.

Yeah, right.

Bill cast his net. Margaret had dug up plastic bags from a dump dating to the Old Times, twisted them into cords, and wove the cords into nets. She was just pulling hers in a little further along the deserted shore.

“Catch anything?” he called to her. He couldn’t see well enough to tell.

“No, we’re too close to the bay.”

Bill shrugged. What could they do? Only half a mile north, the shoreline took a sharp turn and was sheltered from the current. The shallows were cleaner up there but the Galvers clan had staked out those waters. Those folks used their harpoons for spearing more than just fish.

Bill pulled in his net. Nothing. A wave hit him in the chest, sending up a spray that stung his nostrils. Bill winced and cleared his nose. People thought fishermen got used to this shit.

They hadn’t caught anything all day. Yesterday and the day before, they’d barely gotten enough to eat.

Last week, before this latest injection of toxins from a foolish, fallen civilization, fishing had been better. Twice they’d caught enough to walk to the market just outside New City’s walls, into the shantytown called the Burbs where a couple thousand farmers, scavengers, herdsmen, and traders eked out a living. They weren’t allowed inside New City itself, but none of its few hundred citizens ever deigned to eat fish. For them, “fish eater” was an insult. They feared the toxins in the ocean. Not that the land was much cleaner.

Going to the bustling market was a treat. People traded goods excavated from the ruins for crops grown on the few patches of clean land. They’d carry their catch dangling from long poles slung over their shoulders, calling out “Fresh fish!”

Many sneered and turned away. Others laughed and shouted, “False advertising!” But some came to trade. They’d get a handful of corn meal or some nuts or maybe a bit of cloth. Enough to get by.

But today they hadn’t even caught anything to eat themselves.

Bill tossed the net back into the water. Although it was finely woven, not even the smallest fish were swimming through this gunk. He’d build a boat and go further out if all the trees on unclaimed land hadn’t been cut down.

“Still nothing,” Margaret grumbled.

Bill felt a tug on his net. He pulled. Something pulled back hard.

“Got one! A big one!”

Bill hauled on the net. Panting, he backpedaled towards the beach as Margaret waded over. As he got to where the water was knee deep she made it to his side and helped pull. The fish splashed into sight, fins sticking out of the plastic weave. Margaret stumbled as they dragged it ashore.

It was a fat one, as long as Bill’s arm, but not big enough to have fought so hard. Bill realized they were getting weak.

“She’s a beaut,” Margaret said.

Bill kissed her. “You’re a beaut.”

They were naked. They didn’t want to ruin their clothes in the seawater so they hid them in the dunes. Bill looked at her. Despite Margaret’s visible ribs and patches of red skin, she was still attractive. He kissed her again.

“Let’s eat.”

As Margaret built a fire, Bill gutted the fish with their knife. The insides didn’t look bad. No cancers or infections. He cut open the stomach and scooped out the contents, a gray goo sprinkled with colorful bits of plastic from the Old Times.

The gleam of metal caught his eye. Scraping away the sludge, he pulled out a gold ring.

“A wedding ring!” Margaret gasped.

Bill slipped it on her forefinger. It fit perfectly.

“You look wonderful,” he said.

“I look like someone who’s going to trade with some rich chick in New City!” Margaret laughed.

Bill felt hurt. Margaret put a hand on his cheek.

“Don’t be silly, we can get lots for this.”

“It’s not food and can’t be used to get food.”

Margaret shook her head. “Not everyone needs to think that way. You’ll see.”

That evening they sat at a food stall in the market, sharing a whole roast chicken. Their satchel was filled with cornmeal and beans. They’d gotten some herbal cream for Bill’s eye and Margaret’s skin, plus a new blanket.

Still, Bill wasn’t happy. Margaret deserved that ring. They’d been married a long time and the only thing he’d ever given her was half his catch. And the trade goods wouldn’t save them for long.

Margaret looked pensive. Was she thinking the same thing? Suddenly her face brightened and she looked up at him. She saw his expression and kissed his cheek with greasy lips.

“We’ll find another,” she said.

“Yeah, right.”

“The fish was a bottom feeder. Probably scooped the ring up from the sand.”

“It could have drifted from anywhere.”

“No. When I was helping you I tripped over a line of stone that didn’t move when I hit it. I just realized now what it was.”

“Stone? Out there?”

Margaret smiled. “Felt like concrete.”

Bill perked up. “Ruins?”

Margaret nodded. “Covered by the rising seas and never scavenged.”

Bill gasped. “There aren’t any untouched ruins within a hundred miles! Think what may be down there.”

Margaret hugged him.

“We’ve caught ourselves a new life.”


Sean McLachlan is the author of numerous novels and nonfiction books. He’s currently expanding two series: Toxic World (post-apocalyptic science fiction) and Trench Raiders (World War One action). He’s also dipped into Civil War fiction with the novel A Fine Likeness. You can find him at his Amazon page.


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Posted on January 20, 2015 in Science Fiction, Stories
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