Category Archives: Dusk

Oranges for ET

FF182 Jan Marler Morrill

copyright Jan Marler Morrill

Traitor.

That’s been my nickname for six months now. Hey, I’m just a fruit seller, making a living. Maybe even a profit.

“Morning,” I say to the first alien. Twenty are lined up behind him. He slings his rifle, holds up twelve fingers, and I bag up a dozen oranges in exchange for a glowing cube which I guess is money. I’ve got 518 so far.

Later when the aliens all die, scientists discover that the Vitamin C was slowly poisoning them. Suddenly I’m a hero.

The government is really curious about those glowing cubes.

Now the real profit comes.

 


Prodigal

FF181 Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Night sleet timpanied against the café windows. Jenny sipped her last two dollars in coffee form.

“He’ll come, hon,” the barista said. “He’ll get your message.”

“He wouldn’t want me back. It was a stupid thought.”

“Just wait.”

Jenny stood. “Thanks anyway for using your phone.”

The door banged. A man in soaked clothes hurried in and spotted Jenny.

“Listen, I’m sorry I ran away, Dad. I’m so sorry I took the money—” Her words were cut off by the man’s crushing hug. Cold tears like night sleet ran down his cheek onto hers.

“Thanks for calling,” he said.

 


Spring Break with the Merry Maidens

FF178 Piya Singh

copyright Piya Singh

The sun sets on twenty drunken college students dancing in the cabin, with bass deep enough to shake the stone circle nearby.

It’s a great success. It’s my cabin after all, an inheritance from my grandmother, the one who gave me this old necklace.

The party spills outside around midnight. Dozens, then scores of men and women gyrate among the stones to the pounding music that is now coming from the ground itself.

The sun rises on me, naked except for Grandma’s old necklace. I’m alone in the stone circle, beer cans mingled with mead cups and carved drinking horns.

 

Read about the real Merry Maidens


At Least We Share the Same Sun

<message sent 10:34:04 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> How are you these days?

 

 

<message sent 11:18:23 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> I’m okay. Busy, as always. You?

 

 

<message sent 12:04:39 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Busy too.

 

 

<message sent 12:50:08 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> When do you think you can come visit next? Everyone keeps asking about you. The kids keep growing like weeds. Harris is walking now, you know.

 

<message sent 13:35:56 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> He is? That’s great. I don’t know when I can come back. We opened a new mine last week. The new crew’s a bunch of morons. Gotta keep them in my sights or they’ll end up blowing up the whole moon.

 

<message sent 15:02:43 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> Yeah. I understand.

 

<message sent 15:49:12 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Are you mad? Look, I’m doing my best. This is better than Alpha Centauri.

 

<message sent 17:19:00 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> I know it’s not ideal, but I’m literally 99.9999% closer to home than I was there. There are shuttles every month now instead of every three years. You can get a message here in 45 minutes instead of 4 years.

 

<message sent 19:33:45 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> We just miss you, that’s all. But please don’t feel like I’m judging you. You’ve got a great job there as mine supervisor. You are doing great things, I’m sure.

 

<message sent 20:19:55 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Actually, to be honest, I feel like I’m in exile here. Europa is fine, but it’s lonely. I moved to be closer, but I feel further away than ever. Now I’m just far away from everything. Also, there are no butterflies here. It’s a minor point, I guess, but you should have seen the butterflies we had on Alpha Centauri. They were beautiful enough to make you tear up. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures, but pictures, even videos, don’t do them justice.

 

<message sent 20:21:13 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Sorry for that. Just getting things off my chest.

 

<message sent 21:29:51 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> Sorry you feel so down. If it makes you feel any better, I do like having you in the same solar system. After 4 lightyears, 390 million miles seems like just down the street. Gustav even wanted to get a telescope, so he could see you. I told him we could try.

 

<message sent 22:16:21 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> I’ll wave sometimes, in case he’s looking at me. 🙂 Well, even if I can’t come by for dinner every week, things are improving little by little. At least we share the same sun now.

 

<message sent 23:03:49 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> Yeah. 🙂 Maybe someday we’ll even share the same moon again.

 


Synesthetic Sundae

The ice cream tasted like Bach, with a hint of rainy day mornings. Alicia savored each snow-day-ecstasy bite and let it slide down her throat like rosy melodrama.

“It’s not your fault, you know,” her father said.

Alicia picked a jazzy green sprinkle out of the chocolate syrup eruption and ate it delicately.

“Honestly, it’s totally my fault. I realize that now.” His voice was blushing, Alicia noticed. She picked out another green sprinkle, this one not quite so jazzy. “Are you listening to me?” She nodded into her sundae.

“It’ll be hard at first, I’m sure. It always is. But we’ll get through it, right?”

She plucked the maraschino cherry from its cozy pillow of whipped cream. It smelled like white clouds in blue skies and bees bumbling through tall grass. She smiled.

Her father smiled back, encouraged. “I knew you’d understand. For now, you’ll stay in the house with your mom. Once I find a place, you can come visit on weekends. We’ll have fun, I promise.”

Alicia’s head snapped up. She saw the sickly-sweet cough syrup look in his eyes. Her stomach suddenly felt pop quiz.

He smiled again. “Eat up, kiddo. It’s going to melt.”

She pushed the sundae away. “It tastes gray,” she said.


Not Your Average Plane Ride

The world looks peaceful from up here, the irregular polygons of the old fields and forest divisions looking like they’ve been cut by a toddler with a pair of stolen scissors: straight lines, weird angles. But this is the exclusion zone and the people have gone and left their straight lines behind them. And if I fail in my mission, all of them, every road and boundary line, are doomed to be a circle in the end.

“How far out are we?” I ask the pilot through the headset.

“We’ll have visual contact any moment now,” she says. The plane shakes and I look at her questioningly.

She sees the anxiety on my face, shakes her head, smiles. “Just normal turbulence. We wouldn’t feel anything this far out.”

Of course. I know that, but I’ve spooked myself. I look out and there it is like a brown smear on the horizon, the outer edge of the accretion disk.

Over the next few minutes, the edge of the circle gets larger until I can see individual objects in the whirling maelstrom. They look like grains of sand from here but I know they’re probably rocks the size of cars, houses, maybe even the size of battleships.

“My grandparents had a record player,” the pilot says. “We used to put gummy bears on the records and bet how long they’d stay on. Every time I fly out here, that’s what it reminds me of.”

“Yeah, except when you were done, the record player didn’t eat the gummy bears,” I say. She smiles.

“You don’t seem scared.”

She shrugs. “I was in the Marines.”

“Yeah, but this is a black hole we’re talking about. It seems a bit more, I don’t know, existential.”

“Slipping in the bathtub can be pretty existential for the individual.” She brings the plane up higher and the black eye of the accretion disk comes into view: the event horizon.

“They say it’s slowed its expansion,” the pilot says conversationally, as if talking about the economy. “Down to a few feet a day.”

I think of the single missile we carry in a special mounting under the right wing, wonder if this one—this particular hair-brained idea of some engineer in some windowless lab will finally save the world.

“You said you’d been out here before,” I say.

She nods. “Ten times.”

“I heard, you know, that some planes got trapped by it.”

“That’s classified.” Then, “four of them. I knew the pilots.”

“Sorry.”

Shrug.

“Do you have any hope that any of these will work? To stop it, I mean?”

“I have to,” she says. “We all do. I feel like we’re those gummy bears. We just have to hang on, hang on to the spinning record with all our might until somebody stops it.”

“What if no one can?” I ask. She doesn’t reply.

We are approaching the edge of the accretion disk and I ready the missile that will take this latest Hail Mary gadget into the heart of the black hole: science desperately trying to fix what science has wrought. I have no idea what the device does, just how to deploy it.

I glance over at the pilot. I wish I knew her name. It seems like if you might die with someone, you should at least know their name, but it seems awkward to ask now.

The screen in front of me starts to blink with a digital countdown. Ten seconds to go. I ready my hand, praying an indistinct prayer for success. The computer buzzes and I press the button. The missile streaks away, a fiery arrow headed towards that terrible bullseye.

The pilot banks and we’re away, speeding back towards civilization.

“Aren’t you going to wait and see if it works?” I ask.

“What’s the point? If it does, we’ll know soon enough and if not, it’s a waste of fuel.”

I strain my neck to look back. “Wait! Something’s happening.”

She banks hard and the black hole comes back into view. It is shrinking now, the accretion disk flailing and collapsing back to earth. Dust rises like burnt offering prayers.

The black hole evaporates. The pilot flies us over what is now a massive crater. At the bottom, a mega-volcanic column of ash is rising as magma touches air for the first time.

“Go ahead,” she says. “Do the honors. Radio back that you saved the world.”

“We all did.” I pick up the radio, then hesitate. “My name’s Tod.”

“Emmy.”

We shake hands, grinning, then Emmy turns the plane and we head back to hope.


Burn Table

Burn Table

The mayor was here a week ago. News crews scurried around, getting the best angles and making sure the audio was clear as the mayor stood on cracked and weed-strewn concrete and talked about urban revitalization. He used the word “rebirth” nine times in his thirteen-minute speech.

The thing about birth is that everyone thinks of the end result. No one thinks about the labor.

A week later, and it was just me and the soot boys, getting ready to burn down 1300 abandoned houses. It’s funny how ‘R’ words like revitalization and rebirth sound nice, but raze, ruin, and rip out really don’t, even when they’re two sides of the same coin.

“Go down Derby Street,” I told the soot boys, consulting the burn table. “We’ll take down the left side this morning, numbers 34 to 68.” We had to check each house to make sure they were empty, then Ronnie and Jimmy went in with what were basically commercial flamethrowers and physics did the rest. We didn’t have a firefighter crew on standby. If the fire ever did spread, that would just mean less work for us further down the road. We were at least five miles away from any property worth saving.

“Got a squatter in number 44,” Andy said over the radio.

“So make him move,” I said. “He’s got ten minutes.”

“He won’t go.”

I sighed and walked down to the house. The man looked like a typical squatter: long, unkempt hair and clothes whose time between washings was probably measured in years.

“I’m sorry sir, but you’re going to have to move,” I said. “We’re burning this house this morning.”

“You don’t understand.” There were tears in his eyes. “I live here.”

“I understand, but you can move to another house.” No point in mentioning that we’d be burning them all down eventually.

“You don’t get it. I bought this house fifteen years ago,” he said. “The bank took it after we’d been living here for ten years. My kids were born here!” He was crying now, but didn’t try to wipe the tears away.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said again. I hated to see the human face of the job I had been contracted to do so I put on my best mask of professionalism. “The bank has sold this property to the city revitalization trust. They have contracted me to remove all existing properties. This particular property is on the schedule for today.” I showed him the burn table.

“This used to be a thriving neighborhood,” he said, throwing out a skinny arm to encompass the morgue of broken-windowed, sagging-roofed houses that surrounded us. “You know, the first weekend we moved in, all the neighbors came over and helped us move. John Grant, over there at number 55—”

I didn’t want to hear any more. “I’ll give you until this afternoon,” I said. I picked up the radio. “Change of plan, guys. Switch to the right side for this morning.” I walked away before I could see if this pitiable creature was grateful or angry.

There were no squatters in any of the houses from 29 Derby Street to number 59 and soon Ronnie and Jimmy were walking down the street, spewing roaring, smoky destruction onto the decaying embodiments of failed dreams. I wonder how they thought about it, but knowing those two, it was nothing more than x dollars per hour. The whole row was a wall of flames by 10:30, and we retreated back to the truck to eat snacks and watch the fire do our work for us.

“I think it jumped,” Andy said, pointing down the road. There was smoke rising from the left side of the street.

“Crap! He didn’t, did he?”

“So let him. Less work for us.”

“What if he’s inside?” I said. They didn’t care; he was just another squatter to them, but to me it was an investigation and possibly a reprimand if someone died on my watch. I didn’t want to get the truck that close to the fires, so I walked as quickly as I could down the left hand sidewalk, knowing there was nothing I could do if the squatter had set the house on fire with him inside.

The man was sitting on the sidewalk, watching as greedy tongues of fire snaked out through blackened glass and out from under the eaves. He was not crying any longer, but the look of pain on his face was worse.

“Sorry, it just didn’t seem right to have strangers do it,” he said. “Will I get in trouble?”

I shook my head. “Be careful, though,” I said. Then, “You want something to eat?”

He nodded and stood up. With one last look at the doomed house, he turned his back and we walked away.

burning-house2

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