We wanted to give you a quick update of the goings-on at Escape Pod. It’s the first of what we expect to be many positive developments in 2016, so hold onto your socks!
about the author… Aside from my philosophical essays, I also write short science fiction stories. Some of these have been published in anthologies.
The Hunter Captain
by David John Baker
“The sign for the survivor’s species is ‘human,'” said Kyber, “although I am unsure of the exact pronunciation.”
Hunter Captain Sra examined the data feed, zooming in on an image of the human’s brain. “Have you discovered anything in her nervous system that might function as a seat of consciousness?” said Sra.
“There is one promising organ. An intersection here, between the two hemispheres of the brain. But we’ve found such things before, in highly developed animals. I see no particular reason for optimism.”
Although he knew it was naive, Sra was optimistic. For once his hunter’s skills might not be needed–if the human was in fact a sentient alien being. Although it meant Explorer Captain Kyber would retain command of the ship, the prospect of true first contact spoke to a dream Sra had cultivated since his infancy.
Sra was old enough to recall an earlier age, when no one believed that the Nampranth were alone. A time before their race journeyed outside the home system–before they found a galaxy infested with intelligent animals and bereft of sentient life.
Already this mission seemed different. Sra had never heard of a more auspicious contact. They’d found the alien ship alone, disabled–apparently by a freak collision with a cosmic string. Its single passenger was recovered still unconscious, its computer’s artificial animal dormant but intact. The animal’s architecture had so far resisted interface with Nampranth computers, but Kyber’s explorers had already learned much from the ship’s markings. It was a perfect opportunity for slow, cautious study before beginning the delicate process of contact.
“When do you plan to revive the human?” Sra said.
“Perhaps very soon. We can’t learn much more from noninvasive scans, especially given the number of cybernetic devices operating within her brain.”
about the narrator… Carl Allery has sold a couple of stories (Farthing Magazine, Killers ed. Colin Harvey), had a couple read out loud (BBC local radio, Escape Pod) and had a couple placed in short story contests (Jim Baen Memorial, Heinlein Society Centennial). He lives in Somerset, UK with 2 Feline Overlords and needs to write more.
Williams perceives a world of hazy reds and angular grays. He sees through smoke and through walls. He sees the fury of fires and the sparks of life in survivors hundreds of yards away. He sees every crack and buckle in the structure around him.
Most importantly, he can’t see Chicago’s burning skyline as it would look to his own eyes.
The bulky door barring him from the interior of Waldron Arcology shudders as Williams’ gauntlet-mounted saw tears through its hinges, then falls outward. McIlrath, Principe, and Armstrong catch it, lowering it to the ground while Williams’ saw retracts. Team Leader Garcia shouts commands.
The room beyond is an inferno. The five step aside, and a great blast of fire-retardant dust blasts from the Vertical Take-Off/Landing transport on the landing pad.
They advance into what had been the terminal for the 150th floor’s south landing pad. Williams takes the lead, metal ringing under his 500-pound weight with every step. There’s no need for anyone in full Evac Team Armor to wait for the fire to go out; extinguishing it isn’t for their benefit.
Fire-choking sodium chloride and melting thermoplastics spread across every surface, covering everything but sparing Williams nothing. He sees through it as if it were air, sees the skeletal ultrasound reflections of every person who died here.
They died very quickly, Williams reminds himself. One of the floor’s main corridors runs straight through the center of the building to here. The shock wave of superheated atmosphere and debris had been channeled towards this place unimpeded, crushing and incinerating them before they could have registered what was happening.
He hopes. He hopes most of the 150,000 people living here died that way.
about the author…
Beth Goder worked as an archivist at Stanford before becoming a full-time mom to wonderful twin girls. Now she enjoys writing speculative fiction stories about archives, memory, records, and the relationship between the past and present. She has a degree in information science from the University of Michigan and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
about the narrator…
Andrea Richardson is a British singer and actress. With extensive stage and film performances to her name, she began narration and voice over work fairly recently, but enjoys using her existing skills in a different way. You can find Andrea at www.andrea-richardson.co.uk and www.castingcallpro.com/uk/view.php?uid=507734
After just three years, most of Gurt’s downtown was nearly unrecognizable. Roldan Street boasted a new tea shop, and the roads had been repaved with greenish eco-tar. Even the old sign at Marta’s Bakery, which had been shaped like a pink cupcake, was replaced with sleek blue lettering.
Score another one for the prophetic soup.
The library sported new windows, stained glass whorls of teal and gold, while Grocery Plus had removed the panoramic window which used to overlook the river. That was the first thing I noticed when I came back, the windows.
I’d spent a lot of time looking out of windows, back when I lived in Gurt. I couldn’t go outside during the dust storms, because of my asthma, so I’d waited inside wherever I happened to be when the storm hit. But dust is all the same, just one blank, swirling vortex, so instead of watching the storms I started looking at the windows. Marta’s Bakery used to have the most beautiful violet windows, circular, like a morning bun with icing on top. Not that I eat morning buns, anymore.
I promised myself when I moved away from Gurt that I’d never come back, not after Sara left me at the altar. On the day of our wedding, I waited for hours at the church window (clean, but with the latch rusted off), fingering the beading on my beautiful white dress, while all of the guests snuck out, except for my family, who had transported in for the ceremony. Dad enveloped me in a hug, while Mom said that she had never liked Sara anyway, reminding me of the time Sara had ruined our trip to Seldar by whining about the swamp smell. It helped, but not very much.
about the author…
Alanna is an upcoming science fiction and fantasy writer. She has worked in a variety of mediums, from short stories to novels to audio scripts, and across a range of locations, stretching the span of the country from New York to Minnesota to her current location in the Bay Area of California. She is always looking for ways to expand her repertoire and get involved in her next project.
Follow her work on Twitter at @AlannaMcFall, or on her website, alannamcfall.wordpress.com. And keep an eye out for her upcoming short stories with Mad Scientist Journal (http://madscientistjournal.
about the narrator…
Aisha sighed and stared down the pile completely obscuring her in-tray. Maybe if she glared at it long enough, it would shrink under the full power of her frustration. She could see scraps of different alphabets scrawled across the pages, everything from the swooping curves of Arabic to the dots and jagged spikes of Ortaxaben. A small cube on the top of the pile was a form written in three-dimensional Kem script, and would take over an hour to get into English. If she had to translate it into Sssstip it could take all day, taking concepts with a million shades of grey built into the letters themselves and synthesizing it into a language with less than two hundred words.
It was days like these that she dreaded even coming into the office. Everyone had told her that she was crazy to take a job at the Extraterrestrial Community Outreach and Legal Assistance Bureau, had told her that she could get a much better job somewhere else, but had she listened? No, she had been all starry eyed, almost literally, about helping the visitors to Earth and representing her planet. Five years later, she was tempted to shove everything that wasn’t strictly confidential in a box, take it home, and do her work in her pajamas while eating cereal. She hadn’t entirely ruled out that option for the day. But for the moment she was here, and there was nothing else to it but to buckle down and get to work.
Near the top of the pile there was a notice on a Shess Global Languages refresher course being held in two weeks; Aisha rubbed her temples. She couldn’t really complain, when being even just familiar in SGLs would guarantee her bills were always paid. But the reason almost no other translators bothered with them, the reason there were such frequent refresher courses, was that the languages changed on an almost daily basis. In a sentient, advanced species with a lifespan of little more than a decade, the Shess youth learned fast and made their own indelible marks on the dialects in the few years it took them to reach adolescence. Dialects shifted and melted together and moved apart, slang came into and went out of style before it could be studied, and at best estimation, the SGL set contained at least four hundred different languages. Aisha could just barely claim fluency in the three most spoken on Earth, and it was a fight to keep up.
But she knew it was an important fight. So many of the cases she was brought in to translate for were a complete mess. Humans gouging Shess at every turn because they knew the legal proceedings could drag out over years. Why charge your Shess tenants a fair rent when they could literally grow old and die in the time it took to cut through the legal jargon of the alien amnesty laws? Anything that could make matters go faster was a godsend to the legal aids.
Aisha just did not want to think about this today: about unfair practices and abuses and the mundane worsts that any species could offer. She looked at the pile of paper and all she saw was a mess of trouble, waiting for her to start to untangle it. Even if she wasn’t the one to deal with the next steps, even if she would be handing it over to the social workers and paralegals once it was translated, it still tired her. She was so, so tired.
about the author… Tade Thompson lives and works in the UK. He writes crime, speculative fiction and general fiction. He is an occasional artist, enjoys jazz, but cannot play the guitar to save his own life.
about the narrator… Suyi Davies Okungbowa lives in Lagos, Nigeria and loves stories in all forms. When he’s not at the day job or goofing around on the PS4, he writes suspense and speculative fiction (sometimes when he is at the day job). His work has been published or is forthcoming in Lightspeed Magazine, Mothership Zeta, Jungle Jim, Omenana and other spaces. Suyi also narrates fiction when the mood kicks. He lives on the web at suyidavies.com and on Twitter at @IAmSuyiDavies.
“Being desirous, on the other hand, to obviate the misunderstanding and disputes which might in future arise from new acts of occupation (prises de possession) on the coast of Africa; and concerned, at the same time, as to the means of furthering the moral and material well-being of the native populations;”
General Act of the Berlin Conference on West Africa,
26 February 1885
There is a story told in my village about the man who fell from the sky. The British also tell this tale in their history books, but it is a mere paragraph, and they invert the details.
In October 1884 I was a Yoruba translator for a British trading outpost. This man from the sky, we called him Budo. He was in the custody of the English, who questioned him. They tortured him with heat and with cold and with the blade, but they did not know what answers would satisfy. I know this because I carried their words to him, and his silence back to them. His manner was mild and deferent at all times, but they held him in isolation. For good reason they considered him dangerous. I will explain this later.
One afternoon while most of the English were sleeping a white man arrived at the gate demanding admission. One of the Sikh sentries told me he was a scout, and appeared bruised, half-naked and exhausted. He was too out of breath to speak, although he seemed keen to give his report. Kenton, the NCO of the military contingent, asked one of my brothers to bring water while he soothed the scout. The man took two gulps, splashed some on his face, then looked up at Kenton. He said one word.
The scout vomited over the floor.
about the author… Evan Berkow lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and their two enormous gray cats. He writes speculative fiction when not lawyering. “Stoop Sale” is his first published work of fiction. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Evan_Berkow.
about the narrator… Kate Baker is the Podcast Director and Non-fiction Editor for Clarkesworld Magazine. She has been very privileged to narrate over 250 short stories/poems by some of the biggest names in Science Fiction and Fantasy.Kate has also read for various other audio venues such as StarShipSofa, Escape Pod, Nightmare Magazine, Mash Stories, The Drabblecast and Cast of Wonders.
Kate is currently situated in Northern Connecticut with her first fans; her three wonderful children. She is currently working as the Operations Manager for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
The morning of the Winter Festival, I woke to the dull pounding of hammer on nail on wood. The Michigan winter made the sounds thick and sluggish, as if even noises needed to keep bundled.
My brother Joe was already up, tugging idly at his eyebrow ring and staring out the window.
“You keep pulling that, it’ll get infected.” I corrected myself. “More infected.”
Joe laughed. “Thanks for the warning, little sis.”
I swiveled out from under my covers and tested the bedroom floor. Even with footie pajamas it was frigid. I danced over icy wood to my brother and stood beside him at the window.
We lived in a February Town miles north of the Detroit ruins. Our home was just townhouse in a larger block, about twenty of them arranged in a ring facing outward against the world. The block was a closed loop, a circle of wagons defending a raggedy little park where a swing set slumped in trampled winter grass.
The park was full that morning, the block parents all working together to prepare for the evening’s festivities. I immediately made out our father. He was hunkered over a long slice of lumber in a way that seemed impossible given his chubbiness, his thick padded coat making him look like a yellow marshmallow. He was hammering a series of wooden triangles, like dragon’s teeth, into the plank. His face was flushed from exertion and the bite of the lake wind.
Other parents were equally busy. Some were painting slats, others were assembling a great iron skeleton in the middle of the park. No way to make out its shape, but it seemed so familiar, like something out of an almost-remembered nightmare. It made me shiver.
There were other faces in windows. My friends staring out at the work being done from the backs of their houses. I could see Kelly, a shy girl whose crush Joe tolerated with a cool reserve, making a tight ball of herself in a rooftop crook. She was recognizable only for the bright red hair that burst from beneath her cap. I tugged on some strands of my own mud-brown frizz, feeling just as jealous as every other time I saw her.
I don’t know how they found us. Beneath this eternal torrent of dust, our dulled marble shells should be hidden forever; and furthermore, it occurs to me to wonder how they even found this planet. But as the shining ship descends from the stars, my brother and sister and I look on in amazement before turning to one another.
Saphida’s voice is a hoarse whisper, her words echoing down my empty corridors and fading away in the false treasure chambers and dead ends full of traps. She says, “Why do they bother us? We have so much to do.”
“They should bow down in our presence!” Kalesh’s voice shakes dust from my ceilings. “Unworthy, lowly creatures–”
“We never reached other stars.” My voice silences his rage at once. “Whoever they are, they achieved far more than we managed to do. Be quiet. Reserve judgment.”
Beneath a sky of sand and a million years of silence, we await our visitors tall and proud. To my left, Saphida rears in defiance of the stars, her gargantuan funeral runes weathered to illegibility in the constant blast of grit. Her tomb faces the wind in death like she did in life, and she breathes sand as she once breathed the hot foundry air. Every so often a windstorm deposits a pebble or two at her golden gates. Enough time has passed that fifty men could not tunnel their way through to her sealed doors.
To my right, Kalesh broods. A column in his neoclassical portico has fallen down, taking a corniced chunk of marble with it. The lost marble weathered into dust a long time ago. His outlying temples and shrines are all worn away now, like mine and our sister’s. Behind the crumbling façades, the wind has whittled us all down to hemispheres with radii equal to the range of our repair nanorobots. Within this range, they’ve expunged every trace of erosion with fanatical precision. Beyond, there is only the sand. I can hardly see my siblings, a few hundred meters away through the grit.
from the author’s website:
Cliff Winnig’s short fiction appears in the anthologies That Ain’t Right: Historical Accounts of the Miskatonic Valley, Gears and Levers 3, When the Hero Comes Home: 2, Footprints and elsewhere. The twitterzines Outshine and Thaumatrope have published his very short fiction.
Cliff is a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and a three-time finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
When not writing, Cliff plays sitar, studies tai chi and aikido, and does choral singing and social dance, including ballroom, swing, salsa, and Argentine tango. He lives with his family in Silicon Valley, which constantly inspires him to think about the future. He can be found online at http://cliffwinnig.com.
about the narrator…
Marguerite is a native Californian who has forsaken sunny paradise to be with her true love and live in Merrye Olde England. She frequently wears so many hats that she needs two heads. When she’s not grappling with legal conundrums as a trainee solicitor or editing Cast of Wonders, she can be found narrating audio fiction, studying popular culture (i.e. going to movies and playing video games) with her partner Alasdair Stuart, or curling up with a really good book. You can follow her at her personal blog, Project Valkyrie, or on Twitter via @LegalValkyrie.
The army hospital’s underground floors reminded me of Pluto Base, a place I’d never actually been. I’d never even been off-world, but I remembered those claustrophobic beige corridors. Two years before, I’d synced with a bunch of my alts home on leave after basic training. Today for the first time I’d be meeting one who’d seen combat. More than that, one who’d become a hero, the only Teri Kang to survive the Battle of Charon.
We wouldn’t be syncing, though. Not this time. Not ever. Before she’d escaped the doomed moon — the moon she’d given the order to destroy — she’d been bitten. That’s what the G.I.s called it when Hive nanobots infected you: being bitten. Like it was a zombie plague or something.
Hell, it might as well be. Soon the only other Teri Kang in the universe would lose her fight with that infection, and the army docs would euthanize her. Under the circumstances, even coming home had been an act of courage. A lot of G.I.s who got bitten went AWOL rather than face the certain death of returning to base. Not for the first time, I wondered if I had such courage lying latent within me.
Flanked by MPs, I followed a nurse down hallway after hallway till we arrived at my alt’s room. Well, the room next to it, since she was quarantined. A smartglass wall separated me from the sterile chamber where the other Teri Kang would live out her last few hours.
about the author…
from the author’s website:
about the narrator…
Joel Kenyon is a veteran podcaster, writer, musician and artist. He’s currently a member of the 4 man comedy show, The Undercover Unitards and he also has a weekly independant music show called The Sunshine Happy Kpants Hour. When he’s not recording, he writes a movie review blog, occasionally draws an online comic, paints pictures, writes stories and attempts to make music with friends. Joel is not a fan, however, of writing in the third person perspective, so writing this bio was painful for him.
The End of the World Community College (EWCC) strives to assist the residents of Port Clinton and surrounding areas with all of their educational needs, including farming, construction trades, radiation decontamination, emergency medicine, fine arts, and artisanal bread-making. Dean Hendershot’s parents once owned a bakery. He treasures the sourdough starter that has been passed down through his family for three generations. Students who complete their courses of study are automatically gifted with a delicious loaf of fresh bread. Unless, of course, your name is Abdul Howard.
Paper currency is useless, but the Registrar gladly accepts silver coins, diamond jewelry, gold teeth, and unexpired medicine. Fresh food, canned food, charged batteries, ammunition, livestock, and freeze-dried coffee are also welcomed with open arms. EWCC does not offer financial aid. Despite these desperate times, please do not attempt to rob the Registrar. He and his assistants carry pistols and mace at all times.
Your professors will gladly barter for additional lessons. Professor Shawl constantly needs cat food, Professor Ohara manages a yarn bank, and Professor Pfister collects pornographic material. In the old days Dean Hendershot would not have hired Pfister, but it is hard to find good math teachers and Pfister generously loans out his magazines upon request. Colonel Fisher, our ROTC director, trades exclusively for knives. The sharper the better. He does not read Professor Pfister’s porn.
Enrollment dates are ongoing. Please apply in person at the Registrar’s Office during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Refrain from appearing late at night at the Registrar’s house and pounding on his door in a drunken stupor, lamenting the loss of the old world and all its convenient ways. In his former life, the Registrar managed a hardware store in Sandusky, providing the very best bait, groceries, and ammunition to tourists on Lake Erie. He is an excellent shot.
Regular attendance is highly encouraged, but some obstacles are unavoidable. Rotting zombies often block the road near the Ottawa County Historical Museum. Aliens from Planet X lurk under the Port Clinton Bridge. You never know when a malfunctioning robot might show up in your front yard, demanding oil for its rusty red joints. Sustained ringing bells from our campus chapel indicate a solar flare forecast; please take cover. Expired sunscreen will not suffice. Do not just throw yourself on the ground with your arms over your head, June Li. In case of catastrophic snowfall, we expect to see you after you dig out or whenever spring arrives. If spring arrives.
Medical concerns are always paramount. We require students suffering from superflu or other communicable diseases to stay at home and not spread your filthy germs everywhere. The Registrar may be called to remove you permanently; he considers this a necessary if unpleasant part of the job. The old Marblehead Ferry site was long ago converted into a convenient mass grave.
College is a commitment and an opportunity that should not be taken lightly. In the old days, many students drifted in from high school with a lack of direction and atrocious study habits. They texted or surfed while their overworked professors strived to impart knowledge. They smoked illegal drugs and drank while underage. They focused on romantic hookups, frequent and brief and poorly thought out, with no consideration of sexually transmitted diseases or unanticipated pregnancies. Professor Shawl’s own daughter Allison trusted the wrong boys and look what happened to her. Professor Shawl only has cats now, and a quiet house near the water that rattles in the wind.
Of course, not all of our students were impulsive or immature teenagers making questionable decisions. Many of them came to our halls as adults who had spent several years away from formal education. Struggling in low-wage jobs or left adrift by divorce and single parenthood, they showed bitter awareness of how arbitrary fortune can be. They also possessed many practical real-world skills such as how to fix an engine, nurse a sick child, loot a pharmacy, or defend a home from armed robbers. Statistically, they survived in greater numbers than teenagers after Yellowstone blew and poisoned the atmosphere with a thousand cubic kilometers of ash. Speaking of statistics, how likely was it that just twelve hours later, those brown cliffs in the Canary Islands would sheer off and send that mega-tsunami roaring toward the U.S. coast? The 8.2 earthquake that split California into two states was almost anticlimactic by comparison.
Whatever your age, gender, military status, or previous life experience, the Code of Conduct (see below) requires students to maintain proper decorum at all times. This ensures a respectful and healthy community. As Dean Hendershot reminds us, the good of the many outweighs the Constitution. Constitution Day will still be observed annually, however, and attendance is mandatory.
Our catalog changes frequently, but we offer several popular classes on an ongoing basis.
Construction Trades: Colonel Fisher was a Seabee for twenty years. More than anyone in Northern Ohio, he knows his pipes, wires, beams, and hoses. After that EMP pulse knocked out the world grid we all learned to live without electricity, but that does not mean you should suffer undue hardship. He will teach you to make an indoor light out of soda bottles and bleach, or a refrigerator from wet sand and clay garden pots. Whether you are building a new home or rehabbing an abandoned one, you’ll be able to keep it weatherproof, sanitary, and safe from plague-spreading bats. Colonel Fisher also leads our campus safety patrols for students who desire escorts at night. We have never had dormitories, but the RV trailers in the former faculty parking lot provide safe, affordable housing for students unable to find lodging after fire burned down half of town.
Apocalyptic Fashion: Certainly clothing is in no shortage these days. You can stroll into any former “supercenter” and pluck from bountiful piles of rotting goods. Armed with a willingness to scrub out the mold, ash, and insect feces, you can buy back into a dream of mass consumerism that no longer exists. Or, with the assistance of manual sewing machines that Professor Ohara salvaged from Rose’s Antique Nook, you can learn to make your own coats, baby blankets, wedding dresses, and burial shrouds. Professor Ohara also teaches knitting, embroidery, lacemaking, and lingerie design. The end of the world does not have to mean the end of feeling good about your wardrobe.
Astronomy for Optimists: Professor Ohara also teaches astronomy. On clear nights, she and her students climb to the roof of the auditorium and peer through old telescopes at whatever constellations still penetrate the ash and haze. How foolish, we tell her. She risks breaking an ankle or cracking her skull for the sake of a starscape beyond our reach. What is left to see since that rogue comet shattered the moon? More comets, she says. Like emissaries of heaven, bringing light and wonder to the huddled masses.
We know that Professor Ohara sometimes invites to the roof those sad, green aliens living under the bridge. She doesn’t blame them for the disastrous invasion of Earth. Her husband died in an overseas war long ago, and she understands that soldiers frequently pay a dire price for the follies of their political leaders. From the roof the aliens can maybe see a faint glimmer of whatever star they call home. They will never be able to return.
Arithmetic: Before the apocalypse, our students usually needed remedial courses in algebra. Whatever they learned in high school, it certainly did not include polynomials. They could only perform long division with the assistance of smartphones, and were unable to calculate basic interest rates on their exorbitant student loans. Sometimes it was better not to know. The select few who advanced to statistics and calculus were mostly taught by computer programs that engaged them in exciting video games or cartoon simulations. Math teachers like Professor Pfister bemoaned such technological coddling, but the software was cost-effective for the administration. We in administration liked to give ourselves salary increases each year.
These days, math exercises begin with correctly measuring wooden planks to nail over your windows and doors. Nothing says “amateur” more than mismatched boards. We calculate the effective ratio of water purification tablets to rainwater and convert prescription medicine into milligrams based on a patient’s body weight. Abdul Howard was expelled for sharing the formula and calculations for fertilizer explosives, but until then he was one of our sharpest students.
What we cannot teach you is how to formulate hope. We have no ways to measure fortitude, resolution, compassion, or any of the other qualities necessary for the rebuilding of civilization. We cannot number the dead. We can only educate the survivors.
Self-Defense: Speaking of survival, each of our professors can teach you a thing or two about defending yourself against rabid dogs, drunk neighbors, marauding raiders, wild zoo animals, and shotgun weddings. Our faculty was once much larger. Only the toughest and most resourceful made it through the tenure process. Job applicants these days are required to disassemble and reassemble a pistol, pass a marksmanship test, display proficiency in jujutsu or other martial arts, and do well on the obstacle course in Colonel Fisher’s backyard. Our faculty leads by example.
Music: Professor Shawl grew up in a household of pianists, violinists, and ukulele players. She no longer plays any instrument herself, but she knows by heart an impressive amount of folk music. She can teach you how to hit the high note in the former national anthem or bang Copland’s Appalachian Spring on empty oil drums. The student band’s handbell rendition of I’ll Be Home for Christmas had many of us in tears last Yuletide. Huddled around the town bonfire, watching the last municipal tax records burn, we sipped more of Professor Pfister’s moonshine and watched a golden comet blaze overheard. Some of us fired holiday bullets at it. Colonel Fisher bemoaned the waste of good ammunition but Secret Santa brought him an ivory-handled machete that made him smile.
Meanwhile, every spring Professor Shawl offers a class in making phonograph players out of recycled parts. Old vinyl records have proved surprisingly resilient to time. Come summer, the sweet scratch of music drifts from wedding parties, barn raisings, and very small family reunions. Sometimes you might see a malfunctioning robot alone in a barren field, clanking and swaying to Patsy Cline. You never see them in pairs. Mechanical people lead lonely lives.
Women’s Health and Midwifery: Students are often surprised to learn that Dean Hendershot teaches these classes himself. Even in these unusual days, we feel more comfortable with women as our guides to operating a vagina. Professor Shawl is extremely modest, however, and Professor Ohara is showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Some days she can barely remember her name or the name of the alien she is hiding in her basement. (Its name is Oooo4ooo. It’s handsome in its own tentacled sort of way.)
The most frequent medical complaint among female faculty and students is the common yeast infection. Dean Hendershot knows much about yeast. Not only the kind that ferments in his bread but also its cousin, Candida, which can so messily overrun a woman’s pelvis. If prompted correctly, he can lecture for hours on the resilience and history of organisms, including yeasts, molds, fungi, and mushrooms. For home treatment of Candida infections, he usually recommends application of vinegar, yogurt, or garlic. Female students, please do not allow Professor Pfister to show you how to insert the garlic.
Dean Hendershot also knows a great deal about babies. He and his wife Katherine have had three of them since our local nuclear power plant started leaking. He cradled each beautiful infant’s head as he or she debuted in the world and carefully tied off each pasty-white umbilical cord. Each child was swaddled and nurtured, their breaths counted as blessings until the blessings came no more.
Little John, the youngest, is still with us. He comes to school every day with his father, quiet and solemn in his stroller. You barely notice his hands. Any day now he will start speaking. The other infants are buried in Dean Hendershot’s yard, the tiny crosses visible from the kitchen window.
Dean Hendershot also teaches grave-digging. The secret, he says, is always go deeper than you think you need to. A proper depth keeps the wild animals from tearing things up, and dead things from climbing out of the dark, irradiated soil.
Code of Conduct
Students shall refrain from promoting, endorsing, or advocating for cannibalism. This means you, Avery Unger. Other students and faculty are discomfited by your graphic retelling of how you survived last winter, and no one believes your parents “accidentally” killed themselves with that emergency generator. You were a mean little kid to begin with and multiple disasters have not improved you at all.
Students shall refrain from publicly promoting religion. Certainly you can privately thank any deity you choose for your ongoing survival. Say grace in the school cafeteria if you wish, and a little pleading to the divine about your midterm grades would not hurt either. No one is going to make you take off the crosses around your neck, Angie Sawyer, but it is not kosher to bully Bob Gerstein about his yarmulke. Keep in mind that many of us harbor vehement feelings toward any Creator who either brought down so many disasters into this world or otherwise failed to stop them. We are surprised that locusts have not arrived yet, and we are waiting for forty days and night of rain.
Students shall not try to institute their own civics classes to promote the study of democratic ideals. We hope you are listening, Abdul Howard. The fact that your grandparents immigrated to the United States decades ago in search of democracy does not make you an expert. If you want a representative government of, by, and for the people, you are welcome to scoot on down to Columbus and see what’s left there. You think they didn’t have to make hard decisions, just like we did? You think they sit around every day contemplating portraits of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson instead of fighting for scarce food and other necessities? Maybe you should hike your way down to our new national capital in Houston. If you can make it past the barricades without being shot, perhaps you will find a kindly old judge with nothing better to do than discuss constitutional law. Until then, there is no mayor here in Port Clinton, no city council, no open town meetings. There is only the college, and we are in charge.
Students shall dress appropriately: we do not permit thongs, flip-flops, strapless bras, low-hanging pants or other symptoms of a youth culture run amuck. Do not make us put a sweater on you again, June Li. Refrain from any garb that promotes hate speech. Bulletproof vests, weapons belts, and helmets are welcome but rarely necessary. That incident last spring during Career Day was an anomaly: usually our barbed wire fences do a better job keeping out starving golems.
EWCC does not allow any discrimination based on gender, orientation, or sexual proclivities. Surely Professor Shawl was once a man. She wears scarves around her throat every day and her hands are abnormally large. We think she is beautiful. Colonel Fisher lives with our town dentist, Dr. Slater, in a charming colonial they remodeled themselves. Dr. Slater is the only man for a hundred miles who can fill a cavity, extract a tooth, or fix your dentures. We don’t care what he and Colonel Fisher do together as long as we get our annual cleanings. The Registrar keeps a trunk in his bedroom filled with lacy red nightgowns. Students watching his window from below have seen him strap on a garter belt and silk stockings. Does this make him any less qualified to protect the assets of the college? Certainly not. As Professor Pfister often insists, creative exploration is a healthy part of the human sexual experience.
Bookstore: Our campus bookstore carries EWCC mugs, T-shirts, and key chains, along with a limited number of textbooks salvaged from libraries and houses and the Book Barn before it flooded. Otherwise we expect students to furnish their own supplies: pipe and solder for plumbing workshop; seeds and dung for fieldwork; flour and yeast for bread-making; scalpels, bone saws and strong stomachs for the required lab on flesh-eating bacteria. You will need paper of any kind for your cursive-writing classes. Sometimes we teach calligraphy. It’s a dying art, but what isn’t?
Refunds: Tuition is nonrefundable. The learning you acquire within our hallowed halls will last you a lifetime. Even you, Abdul. When Dean Hendershot found you, you were a muddy teenager starving in a ditch. He gave you a bed in his attic and food from his table and tried to channel that anger inside you into something productive or useful. You repaid him by fomenting discontent and rebellion. You wanted elections. You demanded a voice. What you failed to get, you decided to take. He had no choice but to send you away. Isn’t exile a finer fate than a midnight walk with the Registrar from which only one of you would return?
Campus Alert: Astronomy students would like to inform the community that based on their latest observations, Jupiter has recently shifted its orbit. According to Oooo4ooo, the most likely cause is a traveling black hole skirting the Kuiper Belt and pulling the outer planets toward infinity like a pizza pie stretched too thin by overeager hands. This would also explain the number of comets hurtling overhead these days.
We hesitate to bring it up, as the death of our world is not necessarily imminent. The supermassive collapsed star may zoom by quickly, with only fractional effect on the inner solar system. Or it might hurl itself toward Earth so quickly that we will barely feel our own deaths as the planet rips apart beneath us. Who can say? Rest assured that there is nothing anyone can do against a black hole. You cannot shoot it, blow it up, set it on fire, fill it with cement, or board up your windows against it. Still, it always pays to be prepared. Hug your children tight tonight. Make love to a person or robot or alien, if it will make you happy.
Final note: Dean Hendershot appreciates your concern about the rumored death of his sourdough starter. Just before this brochure went to press, he trudged home from a hard day’s work to find the lamps unlit, the nanny distracted by her boyfriend, and his wife Katherine still huddled in the bed she rarely leaves these days. Young John had managed to free himself from his playpen, climb up onto the kitchen counter, and break open the large glass jar that Dean Hendershot’s grandmother kept in her own kitchen for so many decades. The pale and watery starter was everywhere–the sink, the floor, the walls, Little John’s hair. It was dirty and sad, utterly unsalvageable.
But Dean Hendershot didn’t despair. Any dean of a post-apocalyptic community college must be resourceful and strong. He fired the nanny, cleaned up the kitchen, and fed Little John his supper before tucking him in bed with his mother. Then he walked on over to the Registrar’s house. He was surprised to find Professor Shawl there, her cheeks flushed and neck scarf loose, but did not worry much about it. More important to him was the small plastic bag that the Registrar had stored in his pantry since summertime. Dean Hendershot thanked him profusely and cradled the treasure all the way home.
Alone in his clean kitchen, he added flour and water to the dried starter in a new glass jar. He wrapped the jar in a battery-powered heating pad and carefully carried it upstairs to where Katherine and Little John lay sleeping in the darkness. He kissed them both. Katherine’s sad eyes fluttered open.
“It’s all right,” he told her. “Everything’s going to be just fine.”
All night long he sat in a rocking chair, the jar warm and secure in his lap. Through the window he could see the white perimeter lights of the campus and hear the occasional shots as security guards warned off zombies. A comet burned a bright arc across the sky. Dean Hendershot thought about the doula class he would teach in the morning, and how to nurture life despite the grueling odds against survival. He was glad to be a teacher. He felt strangely lucky. He wished he could feed the whole world with fresh and sour bread.