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THE GIFT • by Dustin Adams

They came for our water.

They asked for two centimeters off the top of our oceans. In exchange, everyone would receive a gift.

The world united in its disagreement. If they’d pointed a weapon at us, we’d have complied. But they asked, so we debated.

We nearly fought — but voted instead. The yeses won out. Above all else, I surmised, we wanted the gift.

They took only what they said they’d take and not a drop more. On their way out, a peaceful voice spoke into everyone’s mind. “In sixty seconds, you will sleep for three. Stop your machines.”

I fluffed the pillows on my couch, stared at the TV broadcasting the giant ship in the sky, and waited.

Then I slept — for exactly three seconds.

Ten thousand four hundred fifteen people died in the moments following the sleep. I knew the number because I knew each of their names. Why hadn’t people just pulled over?

Anger surged within me. What kind of gift…

I heard my neighbor Phil crying. Over the years he’d suffered the losses of his parents, two brothers, and a newborn daughter. I’d known about his daughter but the others I’d discovered during the sleep.

I stepped out into a sunny day, walked down my porch steps, and approached. He’d pierced the ground with his gardening shears, laid his arm across the handles, and buried his face. Tears fell onto the grass.

“I’m so sorry, Phil.” I said what I thought I should.

He looked up at me, his face a mask of anguish. “Oh, Jessica. What’s happened?” He extended a gloved hand. I held it in mine and patted it. Poor Phil. He’d had a rough life, and thanks to the gift, I remembered every minute of it.

But why was he crying? His own memories were nothing new.

Ms. Atkinson approached us. She was a kindly old neighbor who wasn’t very social on an individual level but was always on time for our yearly block party. She’d sit on her ancient, scraggly lawn chair and watch the kids play, the men barbeque, and the women gossip.

She’d lived through the Holocaust. She was very young at the time and no longer remembered much, but I did — now. Every horrifying moment was in my memory as if I’d been the one screaming for my parents.

Phil wiped his nose with his arm. “Ms. Atkinson. Jean. I had no idea.”

Oh. That’s why he was crying. Her memories.

She tucked in her dress and sat on Phil’s perfectly manicured lawn. “I don’t speak of it. Happened several lifetimes ago.”

“Not for me it didn’t,” said Phil.

I nodded in agreement.

“I’m so sorry for your losses, Phil.”

Phil’s face screwed up, but he seemed to push his rising emotions down. “You remember little Rebecca?”

Jean placed a wrinkled hand on Phil’s shoulder. “We do, because you do. She was a good girl.”

Phil sniffed. “Remember how paranoid Marcie and I were after Sandy was born that she too would pass in the night?”

I laughed. “You each pulled twelve hour shifts, watching her every minute.”

“Now she’s in college.” Phil cracked a proud smile.

“She loves you very much,” I said, because I knew.

Phil stared at me and frowned. There was nothing hidden between us. He and Jean Atkinson knew me as I knew them, as I knew all seven billion people on the planet.

Jean glared at me.

The gift, as it was given, were the shared memories and experiences of all humanity for all of humanity. The gift didn’t bestow others’ abilities or talents; it shared where we’d been, who we’d loved, who we’d lost.

And what we’d done.

To their credit, Jean and Phil remained in my presence. They were good neighbors.

Perhaps that was a part of the gift, being able to see others’ pasts without going mad. Or perhaps humanity had a greater level of acceptance than I gave us credit for. Hopefully.

Phil retracted his hand from mine.

Damn.

Humankind had been permanently and irrevocably changed. We should’ve said no.

What was missing from the gift was motivation — the why we’d acted upon the choices we’d made.

That’s why Phil and Jean were staring at me like I was a monster. They didn’t know how long and how valiantly I’d struggled with my decision.

I couldn’t stop the cold sweat. I couldn’t slow my heartbeat. They knew, which meant everyone knew.

One of them still had to ask.

I waited. I debated if I would tell them. Probably. I mean, I still had to live next to them.

“Honey.” Jean braved the question. “Why’d you do it?”


Dustin Adams is a U.S. Customs broker and currently owns his own brokerage business. He writes in the wee hours of the morning, in the dark, when no one else can see.


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THE GIFT • by Dustin Adams, 4.1 out of 5 based on 77 ratings
Posted on November 2, 2012 in Science Fiction, Stories
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  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Wonderful. Just enough information for a memorable story and not a drop more. Five stars.

  • http://www.leahsaylorabney.com Leah Saylor-Abney

    Yikes! That’s one of the scariest stories I’ve read in a long time. There’s no way I’d want everyone in the world to have all MY memories, but to have the memories of others too… *shivers* Great story, Dustin! Off to share it with others.

  • Rose Gardener

    I suspect none of us would be exempt from a few ‘why did you do it?’ questions. It’s a little unsettling. Well done for provoking some deep thought, Dustin.
    Now, imagine the sequel; how quickly we’d all reach emotional burn out and stop caring. The fall-out from that would be scarier still…

  • http://www.jmiklos.com Johanna Miklos

    Great idea very well written. This story will stay with me for a long time.

  • Pete Wood

    Five stars. You packed quite a bit into a thousand words. The opening words grabbed me and then I kept wanting more.
    And you pulled off the rare twist ending that doesn’t seem tacked on and flows naturally from the premise.
    Good work.

  • http://www.interiorpassage.com Erin Ryan

    I love this story. Five stars.

  • http://ktranatx.wordpress.com/ Renn

    What a great piece. November is such a pensive month, and your story was both poignant and thought-provoking. Bravo!

  • JenM

    Great ethical story, not too preachy and with just enough drama.

  • Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

    Great story, Dustin! Five stars.

  • http://www.helenamallett.com helena mallett

    Great story.

  • Rob

    Ooooo. Thought-provoking and creepy. A good idea. Well executed.

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  • Douglas Campbell

    Great concept, well-written, and a nice twist ending that doesn’t depend on withholding crucial information from readers. Well done!

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    I found myself wanting a further hint of what the narrator had done.

    That aside, a solid tale.

  • Carol

    Really great story. chills ran up my spine as I read it!

  • http://georgenikolopoulos.wordpress.com/ George Nikolopoulos

    Great story, Dustin!

  • Tee Ways

    This is one of my favourite stories on this site. So well written, so intriguing. The star-rating system here confuses me no end, as 5 stars seem to be handed out like water at restaurants, but this is the first time I’m compelled to use those stars to show my enthusiasm.

    This is the kind of writing I save up to read on long trips–stuff you get lost in. Tons of kudos.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    Dustin, you make me pull my hair out by the roots. Why? The eternal question. A great story. Thank you, sore scalp and all.

  • http://www.innattheridge.com Yer Mom

    I read this so fast, wanted to learn more and more from each character, to see where the words took me…the end was perfect…..then, I went back to the beginning to read it again. Outstanding Dust!

  • Jeanette Sanders

    Loved it, Dustin! Five stars!

  • SarahT

    The real gift here is that no one would ever have to write a resume again!

    Uncovering the only question that really matters… “WHY?”

    Loved this, reading it felt like an early birthday gift.

  • http://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/ Gretchen Bassier

    Such a cool concept. I wonder if the world will be better after receiving “the gift,” or if the knowledge will be too much to handle, as Rose Gardener (#3) predicted. Great, thought-provoking stuff.

  • http://conboyhillfiction.wordpress.com/ Suzanne Conboy-Hill

    Phew! That’s all, just PHEW!

  • Jim Joseph

    That was something pretty awesome..

  • Bridget Davis

    This was terrific. I didn’t want it to end. But I think I’d definitely say no to receiving “The Gift!” Absolutely 5 Stars.

  • http://thestoryshack.com Martin Hooijmans

    Beautiful, but scary tale. Imagine everyone knowing your deepest secrets. Guess they really would’ve been better off saying no…

  • Sonia

    I find myself wondering what the motive was for the aliens in offering the gift.

    Sonia

  • Simone

    I wonder if the ayes would have outnumbered the nays had the people known what the gift was.

    I loved this story!

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  • http://www.copyeditproof.com Camille Gooderham Campbell

    This story has been nominated in the Short Stories: Science Fiction & Fantasy category of the Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll.

    http://www.critters.org/predpoll/shortstorysf.shtml

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