Category Archives: Dusk

Factor-E

old factory

The rust-toothed hole in the factory wall smiled a tetanusy smile, hinting of adventure and rebellion.

“I’m going in.”

“Don’t do it, Mike,” Aaron said. “You can’t cuz—” Reasons escaped him, all but a lingering fear that showed as clear as neon on his face.

“I won’t be more than a minute. Relax.”

“There’s probably tramps in there,” Aaron said.

“Naw, this is the only way in, you know that. And grown-ups couldn’t squeeze in here.” They had spent the last forty-five minutes circling the ramshackle building, chucking rocks at the few remaining panes and beating sticks on rusty oil drums to hear the ghostly boom.

“Raccoons then. Maybe. Rats definitely. Definitely.”

Mike ignored him. Of course there’d be rats inside. He’d be disappointed if there weren’t. He squatted down and peered inside the holes, careful not to touch the tetanusy edge. He shucked off his pack filled with the last of the snacks his mom had packed for him when she thought he was going to Aaron’s to play down by his creek. Maybe he should bring that last apple and peanut butter sandwich in case he needed to distract any rats. He picked up a stick instead.

Aaron caught hold of Mike’s ankle just before he started into the hole. “Hey, careful!” Mike said. “I almost clipped my ear on the edge. You want me to get blood poisoning?”

“What if it’s haunted?” Aaron said. His face showed this was the ultimate terror, the one hiding behind all the excuses of tramps and raccoons and rats. Everybody knew this factory was haunted. That’s why the two boys had been drawn there, why they had spent forty-five minutes looking for a way in, even if neither said it out loud, even if Aaron had not admitted it to himself.

“It’s not haunted, stupid,” Mike said. He turned back to the hole and a small shiver went down his back. He hoped it was haunted.

Over twenty years before, when the factory had been recently abandoned, a girl named Katie had crawled inside, maybe through this very hole. There’d been witnesses. The other girls had waited for hours, crying and shouting Katie’s name into the hole over and over until they’d run and told their parents. The police had searched every inch of the factory, but no Katie. All the entrances had been sealed. Mike liked to think that even this hole had been welded shut, that it had opened up on its own after decades of slumber to show its rusted teeth once more.

“Look, I’m going in,” Mike said again. “Come if you want or stay here. I’ll be back in a second.” He ducked under the rusty teeth and eased his body inside.

“You’re stupid, Mike. Stupid!” Aaron smacked his stick off the side of the building, and the metal around Mike boomed and reverberated back and forth, fading off into eternity. Mike pushed forward, trying to ignore the damp mold that squished around his hand and knees.

He came out a moment later into the factory’s main room. Rays from the late afternoon sun invaded the room through the high western windows. The room was a gloomy graveyard of covered machinery and stacked crates. There was no sound from outside—Aaron had evidently stopped whacking on the sides of the building. Nothing moved inside the building. It was as if time had stopped.

There was a crash from nearby, and a stack of pallets fell over. Mike jumped. He took a step towards the hole when a flashlight beam fell on him.

“Who are you?” someone asked. Mike couldn’t see the speaker between the flashlight beam in his eyes and the cloud of dust that the falling pallets had kicked up. He put his hand up to shield his eyes and the beam dropped to the floor.

“Sorry.” It was a girl, Mike could tell. When his eyes recovered from being dazzled by the flashlight, he saw that she was about his age, with curly permed hair and a colorful jacket.

“Who are you?” she asked again.

“I’m Mike.”

“How’d you get in here? Through that hole?” She pointed to the small hole Mike had just come out of. “Are Tammy and Deborah still out there?”

A jolt of fear and exhilaration shot through Mike. He stepped back before he could stop himself. “Are you Katie?”

“Yeah, so?” Katie looked unimpressed. “Did they send you in to find me? I just got here, you know.”

He had found the ghost. She was standing right in front of him, and she didn’t even know she was a ghost.

“What year is it?” he asked.

“What?” She stared him down, then snorted in derision. “1993. Duh. Hey!” Mike had stepped forward and grabbed her hand. She jerked back, yanking her hand free and glaring. “What are you, some kind of pervert?”

She was solid. He had been expecting his hand to go right through her, but she was as solid as he was. He had smelled something from her when she moved back, fabric softener or shampoo or something flowery. Ghosts didn’t have smells, did they?

“We have to get out of here,” Mike said. A thought had struck him, a terrible, impossible thought more horrible than any he had ever had because unlike all his daydreams of monsters and ghosts and aliens, he had a feeling that this one was true. He scrambled into the opening and looked back. Katie hadn’t moved. “Come on!” he shouted and something in his voice made her move to follow him, grumbling a little.

“Keep going,” she said a moment later. “Why did you stop?”

“It’s blocked,” he said. Katie clicked on her flashlight and shone the beam past Mike’s shoulder. The exit was blocked with packed dirt.

“Those jerks!” she shouted. “I knew Tammy was mad at me, but this is too much!” She pushed past Mike to claw at the dirt.

Mike helped her dig, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. This was bad, really bad. A moment later, Katie’s hand broke through into open air. Five minutes later, she pushed herself out into the open and Mike followed, birthing himself out into a stand of ferns.

“What is this?” Katie asked. Her bluster had been left underground. Now she sounded like a scared little girl.

“It was 2017 when I went into the factory,” Mike said. He showed her his phone, and the date it displayed. There was no signal now, not even a single bar. He stood up and looked around. They were in an evergreen forest that stretched as far as they could see in all directions.

“We gotta go back!” Katie cried. “We need to fix this!” She rushed to the hole and stuck her feet in. A moment later, she pulled them out and started crying. Mike saw why; the hole was only two feet deep now.

“Time must have moved differently inside,” he said. “You disappeared ten years before I was born.”

“So what year is this?” Katie asked. She scrubbed her hands across her face, leaving dirt smeared on her cheeks like tribal warpaint.

“I have no idea,” Mike said.

*   *   *

I originally thought of this story for this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, but decided to do my own thing when I realized I couldn’t cram it into a 100 words. So what do you think happened? What do you think will happen to Mike and Katie? Should I continue it?

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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.


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