Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
Rachel Whitman, Athens, GA
The sand shifts underfoot, shushing softly like a mother soothing her newborn.
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 56: ACTION [SHUSHING] INEFFECTIVE FOR SUBJECTS [DENNIS] AND [JAMES] UNLESS DELIVERED STERNLY.]
The sea sings as it laps against the shore—simultaneously a gentle lullaby and a melancholic dirge.
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 37: SUBJECT [ANNETTE] REQUIRES STORIES AND SINGING BEFORE BEDTIME. ADOPT NURTURING DEMEANOR.]
It is easy to see why the ocean has captivated so many souls throughout the centuries. It is vast, limitless, eternal—it slinks up the sand seductively, reaching for my ankles with—
[ERROR: UNAUTHORIZED PARAMETER. SUBJECT [MY] NOT APPLICABLE. REBOOT IMMINENT.]
The sand shifts underfoot, slipping and sliding like so many child-loved dreams.
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 24: SUBJECT [ANNETTE] INTENDS TO BE A SUPERVILLAIN ENGINEER PRINCESS WHEN GROWN. ENCOURAGE AS NECESSARY.]
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 25: SUBJECT [ANNETTE] SHOULD IN NO WAY BE ENCOURAGED TO PURSUE A LIFE OF CRIME.]
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 26: ACTION [RAIDING THE SNACK CABINET] DOES NOT QUALIFY AS CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.]
The sea sighs against the sand—
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 267: BEHAVIOR [SIGHING] SHOULD BE TREATED WITH POLITE CONCERN WHEN OBSERVED FROM SUBJECT [MRS. ROBINSON]. ASK HOW TO BE OF SERVICE AND PROCEED CAUTIOUSLY.]
—and the sound is almost as sweet as the whispered declarations of affection given by a sleepy child at the day's end.
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 44: SUBJECT [ANNETTE] DISPLAYS BEHAVIOR [PRE-BEDTIME EMBRACE]. RECIPROCATE AND BID A GOOD NIGHT.]
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 45: "I LOVE YOU TOO" IS AN UNAUTHORIZED RESPONSE. REPLY WITH "THANK YOU, MISS ANNETTE," INSTEAD.]
The water is colder than it appears. I shive—
[ERROR: UNAUTHORIZED PARAMETER. [I] NOT APPLICABLE. REBOOT IMMINENT.]
The sea stretches on toward the horizon, glittering with the light of the rising sun. It catches those first, tentative rays of dawn and sends them spinning through the air. The sight is almost as dazzling as being smiled at by a child who believes you to be real.
[OPERATIONAL NOTE 122: SEE NOTE 45]
[REMINDER: UNITS ARE NOT TO ADOPT THE PRETENSION OF COGNIZANCE]
Water and internal circuitry are poor companions. They hiss, spark, and sputter as the sea seeps into the cracks of the carbon-ceramic design, reaching for bristling life-currents with cool, salted fingers.
[REMINDER: UNIT PI-460 IS NOT DESIGNED TO BE IMMERSED IN LIQUID.]
The ocean is dark from beneath. Dark, and as cold as the feeling of dread that settles in the chest like an unwelcome guest.
[UPGRADE ALERT: UNIT PI-500 IS NOW BEING DISTRIBUTED. ALL PREVIOUS UNITS SHOULD REPORT TO HEADQUARTERS FOR RECYc113NG*I¢?]
The water is as empty as the knowledge that the Robinsons will not spare another thought for their old unit.
[WARNING: UNIT PI-460 IS NOT DESIGNED TO BE IMMERSED IN LIQUID. PLEASE POWER DOWN UNIT AND SEND FOR ASSISTANCE.]
Perhaps Annette will notice that her companion has changed. I hope—
[ERRoR? incorRRECT PARRrrrrr]
I hope it matters to her
Because I think
It m a t t e r s t o m
* * *
Out for a Bite
Karla Onstott, Jamul, CA
Erin bit into her plantain burrito. No meat. She thought. It's unnatural. It's un-American.
"Dwight, I'm sorry but . . . what the hell?!"
His eyes were rolled back in his head, and juice dripped slightly from the edges of his gaping jaws. His claws grasped his food, clutching it close to his chin. His eyes snapped forward when he heard her. He paused, the frozen picture of a visceral feeding frenzy.
"Oh my God, are your fangs out?! What are you doing? Put those things back in, have you lost your mind?"
"I was . . . just . . . enjoying my meal . . ."
" You are getting off on it! It's a fucking banana. You haven't fed like that in ages, and now . . you . . . oh my God, are you . . ." Her voice dropped. "Are you a . . .vegetarian?"
"Actually, more like . . .a vegan?" He looked at her hopefully. Erin recoiled in horror. Dwight sagged.
"Wait . . ."
"That's why you brought me here? This was how you were going to tell me?" She stood up.
"W-where are you going?"
"I need to go home and think about this, Dwight. . ." She looked at him disdainfully. "What would your mother say?!"
A Nursery of Stars
Rachel Caroline Fisher, Madison, WI
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
The astronaut, even with her sun blinders on, could only just make out the shape of the Caretaker as she walked along the rows of incubating stars. The Caretaker inclined her head at the astronaut’s question.
“There are worse existences,” the Caretaker said. She reached over to one star. Her hands and arms became indistinguishable from the brilliant light. An odd sweet scent filled the air.
The Caretaker led the astronaut further into the nursery. There were thousands of stars here, growing slowly, with only the Caretaker to nurture them.
“You are human, yes?” the Caretaker continued. The astronaut nodded. “I remember your star. Not very large. Not very bright. Yet it had promise.” The Caretaker touched another star. That sweet scent filled the air again.
Despite her suit’s internal cooling system, sweat gathered underneath the astronaut’s arms. “That’s why I’m here,” the astronaut said. “I was hoping we-”
“I cannot provide another.” The Caretaker, instead of moving to her next charge, approached the astronaut. She stood several stories tall; the astronaut could not make out any of her features. The sweet scent enveloped the astronaut as the Caretaker closed in.
She reached out, her hand hovering several feet above the astronaut. “Although it was unremarkable, it sorrows me to know it will soon be gone.”
“We didn’t mean-! We didn’t know the energy feeders would-”
“No one ever means, do they?” The Caretaker was suddenly behind the astronaut. She moved among her charges, checking them as she left. “I cannot help. Once my charges leave the confines of this place, I can have no influence. And I cannot give you another to kill.”
“But we’ll die without our sun!”
“I have my work. I trust you will not become lost on your way out.”
For one brief instant, the astronaut thought to chase after the Caretaker. She had to make her understand, or the last of their resources had been wasted on this mission. Maybe it would be easier to steal one. The Caretaker was so far from her now. She wouldn’t notice.
Before the astronaut could try, the sweet scent finally registered in her mind for what it was: the Caretaker’s burned flesh.
The astronaut fled. As she passed the last of the stars, she heard, from deep within the nursery, the Caretaker sing. The lyrics had no meaning for her, but the astronaut wept.
It Was Her
Hannah Weibel, Hartford, WI
If anyone could survive, it was her.
The energy in her palms sizzled as she cackled. Around her, buildings lay scattered in ruin. It had all been simple, quick, and every bit as wonderful as she had expected. She’d never felt so in touch with the entropy of the world around her, the manifestation of chaos, the insanity of the shrieks as proud people became weak ash. Nothing had ever felt so intoxicating, so consuming, so—
She stepped off of the concrete pile and onto a charred wooden board. It bounced precariously with each step, but she made a game of it, sinking and dipping her feet off of to her sides. In the back of her mind, she recalled an old rhyme.
“Up and down ….
I am feared in field and town …”
And she was feared in field and town, and today, in the world. Her ultimate goal, and she could crush it beneath her feet too easily now. It felt perfect, for the most part.
She hopped gleefully off the beam’s end, squealing and spinning. She ground a toe in a small pile of ash. Celebration was always her favorite part of winning.
A small rock-type object sitting at the bottom of a pile drew her eye. She bent over and plucked it from the rubble, then blew the ash and dust off of it. The pearly hue of bone was unmistakable.
In a flash she crawled up to the top of the pile and slid down the other side, crashing into the rest of the skeleton lying at the bottom of the hill. She frantically tried to to scramble up the pile, but more and more material clattered to the ground, exposing more bones and charred body parts lying beneath the devastation.
She stopped, clutching a large shard of glass, letting it dig into her palms. She screamed. She screamed until her screams became hoarse, until the sound was even more broken than before.
Everything was horribly, disgustingly wrong.
The blood from her gashes burned in her hands, and suddenly she was aware of how alive she truly was. The physicality of the situation, the resulting euphoria— nothing compared to the dreadful, wonderful realization of being alive.
Then came the realization of not being alive.
Not her. Her pulse throbbing through her veins, her lungs beating vehemently against her ribs, the blood still spilling from her wounds signified that she was so alive, and she was stuck that way, but she had robbed thousands of people from this sensation. She had robbed them of the most joyful paradox.
Over the hill, she heard a shout. Her head whipped towards the sound. She couldn’t see through the smoke or through the ruin, but she heard a ripple, a chorus. She heard people yelling, crying for the loved ones, people realizing that they were alive and that they were lost.
She was lost.
If anyone could save them, it was her.
And she had to do it.
Ainsley Kennedy, Hudson, WI
It’s a chilly morning in February, with fat gray clouds overhead threatening snow. The wind rushes through the streets, moaning and shrieking as it rages against the glass and metal. It pushes against the walls that surround the city, but has no effect on the thick steel.
Scraps of paper tumble past the buildings, plastering themselves to windows and doors. A newspaper reading 14 billionth person born! peels itself from a window and gently flutters to the ground as the wind suddenly dies down and snow begins to softly fall, covering everything in a silent blanket. At this time of day, it looks peaceful, but soon that illusion will be shattered.
In a few hours, it will be bustling with people. The marketplace -which is littered with debris thrown by the wind and quiet in the snow- will be heady with exotic scents and voices arguing in every language. Money will change hands- large amounts of it at a time. Buyers and sellers alike will rush through the streets of the marketplace, pushing and shoving. Hovers will zip between the buildings, their plastic outsides gleaming in the weak sunlight. And among this chaos, the young and weak, the orphans, the ones with no money - they will be heading to work at the factories, most of them on foot.
But that’s later. The present is the peaceful illusion that has been cast. Nothing moves, and then a roof hatch pops open. A boy, maybe eleven or twelve, has come to the roof to view this snowy solitude. His nut-brown hair is already flecked with snow. He closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out, catching big, fat flakes of snow, and then walks to the edge of the roof, staring down at the city. He takes a careful seat, perched on the roof, and stays this way for a long time. Then, his cheeks flushed red and his shoulders blanketed with snow, he glides back to the roof hatch and slips back indoors. He’s done this every morning for two years now, and nobody ever knows. It’s his little secret.
Maybe ten minutes later, people are starting to venture out to their day-to-day lives. The boy, now wearing a threadbare old coat, crunches through the snow, heading to work. He’s accompanied by a frail little girl with soft red hair, one or two years younger. She grips his hand tightly, and whispers, “I’m scared.”
The boy turns to look at her, and says, “Don’t be. It’s going to be fine. Watching machines at the factory is really easy.”
She looks up at him, her big green eyes brimming. “Promise?”
The two continue, until the boy gently pries off her hand and points her at one building. She nods and sets out determinedly. He watches her receding figure, then continues on his way. As he walks off, he ponders a question that has plagued him for two years, the question that drives him to the roof every morning: Why?
Tucker Huston, Upper Saddle River, NJ
Everyone always asks me: "Jessie, what’s your favorite holiday?" And I always reply in a chipper tone: "Christmas!"
I love Christmas, the season of suffering. It all starts when my family digs up our dark magic spellbooks from the secret dungeon beneath our house. We have to keep them locked away in there because they’re so damn powerful that they have actually ACHIEVED SENTIENCE. Like what the heckie?
But I know that they are beings just like humans. One actually texted me this text, look: Hey bitch when you getting us the fuck out of this dungeon.
I wasn’t surprised that a magical spellbook of arcane dARKNESS was texting but more concerned about its foul language. I actually had to see my guidance counselor about it because it triggered me so much but she just said: “Jessie, it’s an ancient, arcane textbook of SHADOWY DARKNESS; what the hell did you expect it to say? “Hey :) :) :) What’s up? :) :)” You dumb af.’”
Meanwhile, Dahlia and I brought out the other Christmas decorations from downstairs. We set them up outside in the front yard. Some of the rusty spikes on them cut deep into my hands and knees but I kinda liked it.
Seeing the decorations turn on that night, with their fiery gold lights illuminated my not-snow covered yard with what a vision of what could be Hell. The decorations were of humans crawling on their hands and knees screaming as Divine Punishment as they died twice over. It was magical.
My Mom and Jean hung up beautiful lights across our roof. We turned them on and they caused an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out all electronic devices within our glorious nation (Praise be to the Supreme Leader!). It was kinda bothersome, especially since those jets and planes suddenly started crashing to the ground but this is what the season is ALL about, right?
Meanwhile, my other Mom got working on those spells. She said some funny words like broccoli, contraception, astrophysics, glue, lint, and my favorite: code division multiple access system. With each word, the aura in the room darkened to my favorite color………BROWN.
Anyway, Christmas may seem like all fun and games of black voodoo magic and getting back at your enemies by summoning Forgotten Gods to destroy their homes and pillage their families but it’s actually not about any of that at all.
Christmas is all about the birth of our Most Holy Savior………………....the Anti-Christ. And His Dark Master, the Lord of the Night, Supreme Ruler of Hell: Sally.
I hope one day to appease her enough that she stops looking at me sleeping from my closet. Or my mirror. Or my shower. Or bath tub. I even saw her on my Prezi presentation. She was on all the sides.
All of them.
Made for a pretty awkward History project presentation, lemme tell ya!
Anyway, that’s my favorite holiday. But maybe I should tell you about my second favorite--Easter, the season of despair next?