They brought you back because they want something from you. Maybe one day they will bring people back because they can or because it’s the right thing to do — but for now there’s you and there’s them and there’s the unspoken obligations that lie between you both.
The IED blew your body into pieces: bone and brain and blood, sprayed in the sand with the twisted shell of your tank.
Maybe you weren’t always happy with your body; maybe your breasts were smaller than you would have liked and your toes reminded you of tree roots and there was that one mole right in the middle of your back that you always managed to catch with the hook of your bra; but it was your body. Your history was written in scars and tattoos. And you knew it, inside and out.
You made it yours over the years — the shaved sides of your head accenting the bright shock of magenta hair spilling over the top, the solid black contact lenses that made pupil and iris indistinguishable, the ornate scrolling ink that wrapped your ribcage.
This hunk of flesh you now inhabit is foreign. It is devoid of scar and ink and memory. It bulges or dips in all the wrong places. What it is is wrong, just as what it isn’t is wrong. It’s ten kinds of not you and you’re helpless under this skin.(Continue Reading…)
People call Matt a librarian, but he doesn’t mind. He takes care of the books, so the name makes sense, even if most of that care involves cleaning up their shit and piss, and feeding them nutritious glop in those moments between hits. If he can convince them to eat. If they aren’t so taken over by ledge they don’t move for months at a time, muscles withering like grapes on the vine.
Matt feels more like a drug dealer, even though he is, at best, an enabler. The libraries spit out blue wedges of ledge for anyone to pick up. He’s tried to get rid of the the libraries before, herding them away from the centers of human population, but no matter how far he drove them, a few days later they’d return to where they’d been, their stubby little crab legs clicking on the concrete. And because the libraries follow demand, the streets outside Heyman’s are littered with the little fuckers. He’s just thankful they don’t come inside—some latent biological programming keeps them from entering buildings.
Matt stores the books in what used to be Heyman’s Department Store, a four-story monstrosity which probably took up an entire city-block on Earth, in whatever city it was taken from, but here it’s lost among randomly scattered skyscrapers, row houses, suburban nuclear-family homes, churches, clubs, and sports arenas. He thinks of it as a temple. Or a museum. He tries not to think of it as a tomb. Most of the time, he’s the only non-ledged human there. (Continue Reading…)
Have you ever wondered why park rangers are so deliriously happy with their job despite the crap pay? The easy answer is that they just really dig nature. But pull back that mossy curtain, and you’ll find a slightly less pleasant explanation. Here’s a hint: It has a tentacle tongue, about three feet on Shaq, and sometimes leads to the early and unfortunate demise of hikers.
Okay, you might need a more terrestrial hint for this one, so in the words of my idol, John Muir: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” You see, during a trip I took to Yosemite National Park in my mid-twenties, I discovered that the opposite also holds true—that the forest wilderness is the clearest way out of the Universe. So let me pick up where my boy Muir left off and tell you exactly what I came to find out about the forest and its rangers on that fateful trip.(Continue Reading…)
The Kingdom Coffee Missionary Handbook tells Paulo that he should always put his guns away during a door approach. He’s heard this hundreds of times before, but the Handbook speaks with a voice of authority, deep like a luchador’s, strong like a drill sergeant’s, calm like his abuelito’s. It slides in just under his ARgog’s selectively amplified environmental audio. 450 bonus points if the contact is completed without violence, calculates the Handbook, 900 if there are no deaths. Each death harms the public image of the Kingdom, the Handbook tells him. Paulo nods agreement. Way better to spread the faith on the no-kill difficulty setting.
Still, Paulo is not stupid, so he pauses to load Rambo, his ancient and lovingly modded M4A1 Carbine, before slinging it across his back. Looking bad-ass is his favorite violence prevention technique. The Handbook says nothing about tear gas, and he decides not to mention the CS smoke grenade in his left pocket. His last couple of leads had ended with tense stand-offs. Goddess, yo creo, he prays silently. Help my unbelief. He fingers his mala of Robusto beans, sniffing hard to catch its fading aroma. (Continue Reading…)
At the end of the show, there were excerpts from a speech given by President Barack Obama 4 days after 49 people were executed in a shooting rampage in Orlando, FL, USA which you can see in full here: https://youtu.be/QMvxpyeq6xU
about the author… My fiction has been published in Nth Degree, Amazing Journeys, the anthology Unparalleled Journeys, Tabard Inn, State of Imagination, The World of Myth, and Everyday Fiction. Thank you for considering my work. I have degrees in physics, molecular biophysics and medical science and I work as anesthetist. I am a female, and have been acutely aware of that my entire professional life, including attempts at writing hard science fiction.
about the narrator… Nicola Seaton-Clark has worked professionally as an actress for over fifteen years in TV, film and radio. She started her career as a jazz singer and later a singer in a rock band. Her voice-over experience includes TV and radio advertising, singing jingles, film dubbing and synchronization, training videos, corporate films, animation, and Interactive Voice Response for telephone menus. She is also a qualified TEFL teacher and has extensive experience as a vocal coach specializing in South African, Australian and New Zealand accents. http://www.offstimme.com/
Joolie and Irdl
By Sandy Parsons
The first time Irdl heard Joolie sing his pollinators stiffened under their leathery sheath. He’d had to switch from his walking legs to his squatters to remain upright. She was oblivious as he fell in behind her. She sang a human song, logical enough, being a human. He recognized the words, even though she added extra syllables, as if she’d sucked the words down her windpipe and divided them into their component parts before sending them back on achingly sweet vibrations formed from her full lips. As she sang, she plucked dry bits of moss from the grassy wall and disappeared around a corner.
He began to look for her after that. He’d catch sight of her hair first, because it rose above her. She carried a basket and a small set of silver tools, tweezers and scissors and a scoop, and he soon realized that he was jealous of them, for they were caressed by her dark fingers. He did a little searching and discovered that her job was to maintain the moss that kept the station’s gas balance in check. He petitioned Pung to let him change his lunch hour so that he might better align his schedule with hers. She didn’t always sing as she clipped and tugged and sprayed the furry walls, but the damage had been done. Irdl was smitten.
He squeezed in behind her on a gyro-shuttle. The shuttle was full, so the usual rules about personal space could be forgiven a little. He let one of his overhanging appendages rest so that the tip floated amongst her crown of wiry ringlets. She turned around, more inquisitive than annoyed.
“Excuse me.” He intoned the words with as much human inflection as his mandibles allowed, and retracted the arm. She nodded as if mollified and started to turn back. He added, hastily, “Your dreadlocks are lovely.”
“I don’t have dreadlocks.”
“Pl- Please forgive me. What do you call them, then? I am unfamiliar.” He winced inwardly at playing the alien card, at least so soon. He usually waited until he got them back to his hammock.
“It’s just my hair.” She gave her mane a little shake, and the flesh of her arms and the swell of her breasts shook where they were not confined by her cleensoot. She must have seen something in his gaze, although he couldn’t be sure what, or even hope, but she said, “You can touch it if you want.” (Continue Reading…)
Hello and welcome! My name is Merc Rustad and I’m a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker who likes dinosaurs, robots, monsters, and cookies. My fiction has appeared in nifty places like Scigentasy, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. (More at the Published Fiction tab at the top of the page.)
I’m mostly found on Twitter @Merc_Rustad and occasionally playing in cardboard boxes. The site is updated with publication announcements, completed short films, and occasional blog-like essays. (For more semi-regular blogging, I hang out on LJ and DW.)
about the narrator…
Originally born in Texas, Tren eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.
OF BLESSED SERVITUDE
A. Merc Rustad
The sacrificial cross threw a long shadow across the road at Bishop’s dust-caked boots. He halted sharp at the sight of it. Wind hummed through wildseed bushes strung along the ditch, yellow buds as bright as radiation seals. Bishop clenched his jaw and looked along the shadow to the cross itself. It gleamed in the sunset, a steel post with a fused crossbeam, packed dirt the color of old blood at its base. And the cross wasn’t empty.
_Well, shit. _
The offering was a pretty one—young, work-muscled body, a day’s stubble scuffing his jaw. He’d been shackled naked to the cross, arms spread against the top beam. The dusty wind tugged unkempt hair across his eyes.
Bishop slapped the film of red dirt from his duster, his shoulders tense, and checked his knives from habit. He knew he shouldn’t have traveled past Providence Circle. If chokevine hadn’t overrun the only bridge across Unrepentant’s Canyon, he’d never have come near this territory. He’d never have come within sight of the town of Blessed Servitude.
He hadn’t been home in ten years.
“You should get off the road, stranger.”
“Mighty courteous of you to warn a man,” Bishop said. He shouldn’t look at the man chained against steel, shouldn’t stir up old memories. He never saved the offerings, and he didn’t try. (Continue Reading…)
Lia Ardith Swope Mitchell is a writer of literary fiction. Sometimes speculative, sometimes not. Real world with a twist, let’s say. She has lived in Minneapolis all her life, except for a couple years in Wisconsin and France.
Lia is also a PhD candidate in French literature at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation is currently titled Scientific Marvelous: Technologized Experience and Speculative Fiction in the Third Republic. Someday, she swears, she will finish it.
about the narrator…
Amanda Ching is a freelance editor and writer. Her work has appeared in WordRiot, Candlemark & Gleam’s Alice: (re)Visions, and every bathroom stall on I-80 from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis. She tweets @cerebralcutlass and blogs at http://amandaching.wordpress.com.
by Lia Swope Mitchell
The aliens come in peace, as they always do, bearing gifts and a banner printed with hopeful messages. Universal understanding, sharing and collaboration, the usual thing: three-hundred-year-old language cribbed from the Bebo time capsule. We install them in the quarantine tank and let them alone. We’re still processing the previous group.
The predecessors were large, their plump thigh muscles well marbled with fat. We’re dressing them in herbs and slow-roasting them, and the flavor is good, rich and unctuous, the fibers softened by their long voyage in low-G. The rest we’re making into sausage, confit, and stock. We’ve been lucky this year, with three groups since spring. Sometimes we go a long time without meat; at least real meat, better than the crawlers and birds, tiny dust-flavored things full of bones.
These new ones aren’t impressive, as aliens go. Maybe reptilian: small and sweet-fleshed. Ten forlorn figures in blue smocks, they sit on the sterile-sheeted beds and do not speak or gesture much, exchange only occasional glances. From this we conclude that they communicate telepathically. After a few hours, though, one falls ill, probably from some unfamiliar bacteria. Greenish saliva drips from its mouth onto a pillow. Soon enough they might all be infected, and already this is no great harvest.
The first gift is plants, miniature trees bearing sour marble-sized drupes. Alien plants are rarely hardy enough, although we try. Under our red-eyed sun they wither quickly, and even within the shade and cool of the Complex they give too little in exchange for the water required. Our own plants have adapted to heat and dust. They stand tough and proud in bristling rows, radiating out into the dustplains. Most years they’re enough, as long as our numbers are controlled. But any supplements that arrive, while they last, are welcome.
They brought another gift, too: squares of a glass-like material, several thin layers pressed together around dull silvery skins, about ten centimeters across. Close examination reveals no obvious function, but they’re not particularly decorative, either. The inner material is metallic but not metal, not a mineral at all. Normally we refrain from extended communication with aliens, but given the possibility of new technology, we decide to see what information they can offer.
After some discussion, Reception selects an ambassador. Sub-engineer Tres is the smallest Reception tech, physically unthreatening even to these small aliens. We dress her in a white robe and place metal circlets around her waist, throat and wrists, a tiara on her head. Worthless old-world trinkets, but aliens often interpret them as signs of importance. She looks right. A good-enough representative for us, the collective remainders of the human race.
Rich Larson was born in West Africa, has studied in Rhode Island and worked in Spain, and at 23 now writes from Edmonton, Alberta. His speculative fiction received the 2014 Dell Award and 2012 Rannu Prize for Writers of Speculative Fiction, and has been nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Prize, while his literary short work has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Journey Prize. He was a semifinalist for the 2013 Norman Mailer Poetry Prize, and in 2011 his novel Devolution was a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Alongside writing, he enjoys soccer, basketball, foreign languages, travel, sketching, and pool..
about the narrator…
Nathaniel Lee is Escape Pod’s assistant editor and sometime contributor. His writing can be found at various online venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and all of the EA podcasts. He lives somewhat unwillingly in North Carolina with his wife and son and their obligatory authorial cats.
This story, like teenagers, contains copious amounts of profanity.
Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about music, magic and Mexico City, was released in 2015 by Solaris.
Silvia’s first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, was released in 2013 and was a finalist for The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her stories have also been collected in Love & Other Poisons. She was a finalist for the Manchester Fiction Prize and a winner of the Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Competition.She has edited several anthologies, including She Walks in Shadows, Sword & Mythos, Fungi. Dead North and Fractured.Silvia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press, a Canadian micro-publishing venture specializing in horror and dark speculative fiction.To contact Silvia e-mail her at silvia AT silviamoreno-garcia DOT com. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.
Silvia is represented by Eddie Schneider at the JABberwocky Literary Agency.
about the narrator…
Dani Cutler last narrated for EP in 454: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. She has been part of the podcasting community since 2006, hosting and producing her own podcast through 2013. She currently works for KWSS independent radio in Phoenix as their midday announcer, and also organizes a technology conference each year for Phoenix residents to connect with others in the podcast, video, and online community.
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Leonardo says that the Americans are going to fire some rockets and free us from the tyranny of the aliens and I say: who gives a shit. Lemme tell you something: It wasn’t super-awesome around here before the aliens. At least we get three meals every day now.
I used to live in a cardboard house with a tin roof and collected garbage for a living. They called my home a ‘lost city’ but they should’ve called it ‘fucked city.’
Leonardo talks about regaining our freedom, ‘bout fighting and shit. What damn freedom? You think I had freedom in the slums? Leonardo can talk freedom out his ass because he had money before this thing started and he saw too many American movies where they kill the monsters with big guns.
I’m not an idiot. The cops used to do their little “operations” in our neighborhood. They’d come in and arrest everyone, take everything. They weren’t Hollywood heroes out to help people. They were fucking assholes and I don’t see why they would have changed. As for American soldiers saving the day: You think they give a rat’s ass ‘bout Mexico City? You think they’re going to fly here in their helicopters and save us?
I say fuck that shit. I never had no freedom. Leonardo can go piss himself. (Continue Reading…)
Hello, my name is Erica and I hate writing introductions. But hey, when in Rome. I have published over a dozen short stories in such venues as Shimmer, Clarkesworld Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and PodCastle. If you want to read some of my fiction, check out the “Stuff I’ve Written” tab. I am an active member of SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) and am a member of the Codex Writers Group. I am currently at work on a novel for which I will be seeking representation. I work as a freelance editor, and teach classes on SF/F writing at Portland Community College.
I used to live in Pittsburgh, then in Baltimore, and now, Portland (Oregon)! I have three cats and a spouse named Rob, who writes the review blog Panel Patter. When I’m not writing/editing/teaching, I enjoy riding my bicycle, knitting, playing outdated computer games from the early aughts, and adding to my collection of tattoos.Twitter:@ericasatifka E-mail: satifka at gmail dot com
about the narrator…
I am an American voice talent living in Norway. When not admiring mountains, I can be found recording for a variety of projects at home.
The Silent Ones
by Erica L. Satifka
The year travel opens up between alternate Earths is the first year you fall in love, with a strapping farm boy from one of the rural worlds named Paul. He takes you to a barn dance thrown by his people, where you learn to smoke a corncob pipe. His sister, a tiny girl with saucer eyes and dirty hair, steals your purse. You’re too hammered to mind.
You get drunk on apple wine and fuck Paul behind a haystack while a band of his cousins screeches on their fiddles and moans in that unintelligible alternate-world dialect of theirs. At the pale green Formica kitchen table, Paul gives you a stick-and-poke tattoo of his initials inside a heart.
But when your six days are up, it’s back through the travel gate with you, and no more Paul. You mope for weeks, watching but not performing the calisthenics exercises on television, alternating handfuls of candy and amphetamines. Finally, your two best girl friends drag you from your home – “Don’t be such a drag!” – and bring you to the club.
And that’s when you see your first silent one. With the robes and everything. Shit. He’s sipping a martini, looking totally out of place, bopping his head to a spastic electroclash beat. Club soda rises up your nose, coming close to spilling out.
“Hey, get a load of that,” Sydney says, poking you in the ribs.
You laugh. It’s pretty hilarious.
“Rocks pretty hard for someone who dresses like a Druid.”
“Shut up,” you say. “He’ll hear you.” But when you look over again, he’s already left the bar area, his martini abandoned.
“Beam me up, Scotty,” Sydney jeers through gulps of rum and Coke.
You’re disappointed. You wanted to watch him more; it’s a new thing to you. But already you can tell that the band’s as weak as the club soda. No wonder he left. Bum scene.
“Hey, I’m out of here. Tell Randa.” You escape Sydney’s talons and light up in the parking lot. Thirty yards away a glowing red orb that pulses like your cigarette’s tip hangs at crop duster level. You turn away, vaguely ashamed. It’s like when you were seven and accidentally spilled milk into the aquarium, becoming an instant murderer. Your parents didn’t really care, but you did.
Not everything happens all the time, everywhere.
That’s the first line on every bit of literature dealing with the alternate worlds. Want to visit a world where the triple World Wars never happened? You can. Want to see a place where computers run on steam power and even the horses wear corsets? Go for it.
Or you can just muck about in a world full of beautiful hillbillies or debauched Atlanteans. That’s more your personal speed, anyway.
Most of the planes open for travel aren’t that different from your world. The atmosphere has to be breathable, at least, and it’s helpful if the inhabitants are roughly human, and mostly your size. Nothing will destroy a plane’s Yelp rating quite like a tourist crushed by forty-foot-tall giants.
Nobody stays in an alternate world for long. The languages aren’t remotely learnable, and the social structures are often even denser. But it sure beats a week at Grand Cayman!
You keep the glossy travel brochures in your nightstand. Sometimes you fan them out, a little universe. And only fifteen days of vacation a year, you think wistfully.
The following autumn the government finally decides to do something about the widespread cultural cross-contamination propounded mostly by visitors from the more religiously-inclined planes. Cops catch saffron-robed adherents of a syncretic faith wheatpasting suras onto the sides of subway cars; a Ming vase with a detailed depiction of the Crucifixion shows up in the Smithsonian. Big deal, you think. Histories are made to be broken.
You are given the opportunity for a sabbatical, but you can only afford to go to one of those really crappy Central American commune worlds that don’t even have bathrooms, so you postpone it. You think of Paul every morning when you layer foundation over your tattoo. His sister took out a credit card in your name that first month. It was a bitch to cancel; you’re glad he’s gone.
Sydney and Randa take you to the beach instead, and you lose two weeks’ salary in a slot machine. A little peeved, you lounge on the pier in your sheerest camisole, watching the red lighted orbs dart and scatter along the darkened shore.
They’ve been showing up more frequently now, eliciting a minor amount of concern by the tinfoil hat crowd. On the beach below, teenagers lob beer cans at the orbs, which scuttle away, only to be herded back to a central location. You watch as a baker’s dozen of red lights are forced into congregation, then look back at the teenagers on the sanded ground.
“Blast-off!” yells a jock in a white cap. A firecracker shoots from a puny metal stand, and you remember, yeah, it’s Independence Day. The orbs flicker wildly and scatter like birds at a shot. One falls, and another teenager rushes to intercept.
“Ow, fuck! It’s hot! My hand!”
“Serves you right, idiot,” you say, loud enough for everyone on the beach below to hear you. It’s not loud enough to reach the teenagers, who have already dispersed to pick on a tribe of old people foolishly walking the beach after dusk.
A deaf man hands you a card with three globes and a squiggly line printed on it.
“Sorry, I don’t have any money.” As if your camisole had pockets or something.
But as you look at him, really see, you realize it’s a silent one convincingly dressed as a beachcomber, in a rumpled tee shirt, red visor pulled low over his eyes. His eyes are a light purple that just doesn’t exist in your world’s genetics.
“Well, what do you know.” Except for the eyes he’s not a bad-looking guy, a bit flabby around the middle, fitting in better than the one in the club a year ago. You hold up the card. “So what does this mean, hmm?”
He smiles with all his teeth, points up.
“You’re from space, is that it? You come from those red things?” He shakes his head no. “Okay, I give up. What are you doing here?”
Another grin, and a sound from his throat that sounds like a grinding gear. He flaps his hands frantically and spins in a close circle.
“You want me to buy you a drink? Hey, I’ve got some friends with me, how about we all go out for some drinks, big guy?” You’re taunting him, and it makes you feel sick, like you’re no better than those teenagers on the beach. But the guy’s almost asking for it. You cock a finger. “This way.”
He follows like an eager puppy, his pointless visor attracting attention. There’s no real code of etiquette for the silent ones, but you have the feeling that what you’re doing is so totally wrong. They’ll serve him, of course. But this kind of thing just isn’t done. You halt, and he collides with you.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was doing. Stay here.” His eyes glisten, quizzical. “Don’t follow me in.”
He understands. He starts to pace away, but then breaks into a full run, diving off the pier onto the beach, the weirdo. Only a few people have gathered at the edge. You look down and there is nothing there.
You are cold in your camisole.
That autumn, a red lighted orb runs for Congress on a write-in campaign. It doesn’t win, but it’s a step forward. So say the major television commentators, anyway.
Randa takes a long weekend in an orgy world and never comes back. Rumors spread that travel between planes is being severely restricted. You wire Paul, no response. It’s hard not to think of the alternates as being fake worlds, their inhabitants somehow lesser. You wonder if maybe that’s the reason you slept with Paul.
At the grocery store, you wait in line behind an orb with two small satellites circling it. Children? You think you should know more about these things. After all, you’ll be working for them next week; they bought the firm. But what do you do? Tap it on the shoulder and say hello?
You feel, for a moment, hunted. Like something small, furry, and endangered.
In the parking lot you spy a hooded woman kneeling next to your car. She is siphoning the gas with a black hose.
“Get out of here!”
But she just watches you, blank-faced, the siphon hanging out of the side of her mouth like a piece of black licorice. With a gulp she swallows a mouthful of Texas tea, then reaches into her pocket, hands you a card.
One word, scrawled in ballpoint pen by a childish hand: GO.
“This is my car, psycho.” You take her by the shoulder and pull her to her feet, rough. Her thousand-yard stare is directed at the grocery store. Looking behind you, you see the family of red lights, the small planetoids of children spinning around their mother. You look back to your car. The silent woman opens her mouth wide, as if screaming. Her face glows with rage. You realize that she is screaming.
The silent woman takes the opportunity to wrest herself from your grip. She uncaps the bottle of gas and launches it at the largest of the red lights, the mother. Within five seconds, she’s removed a match from her pocket and struck it. You slap her wrist.
Her face droops in disappointment. Shaking her head, she walks behind your car, of course disappearing as soon as you think to follow her. The orb family drifts away, gasoline dripping from them with a pat-pat-pat.
A family of red lights moves in across the street. It keeps you up with its constant glowing, like a burning brand.
Be more tolerant, you tell yourself. It’s how they communicate. Or, so it would seem. What other reason?
You keep the two index cards gathered from the silent ones, the card labeled GO and the card filled with chickenscratch, in your wallet. You don’t know why. Maybe they are the last silent ones you will ever see. You haven’t seen a single one since that hooded woman attempted to burn the family a month ago.
I should have let her do it. The thought comes unbidden, unwanted, and you hate yourself for it. An alien species comes to Earth for the first time ever, and you want to kill it. Some shining example of humanity you are.
Still, as the light on your cigarette’s tip reflects in the curve of your wineglass shaped like a woman’s torso, you think about a dead culture inhabiting some shitty South Pacific island, stringing broken beads around their conquerors’ necks, not realizing that it was too late to do anything until it was, in fact, too late.
Slowly, your neighborhood becomes a red light district.
As the red lights move in, the city is remade. Doors are widened, then dropped altogether, in favor of three-sided buildings open to the elements. It’s November and you freeze in two layers of clothing and three scarves. When you ask the super why she’s done this terrible thing, she just shrugs.
But thank the heavens above, television still exists. You flip through the three hundred entertainment options until you find some news, any news, you don’t care about the slant.
It’s a Presidential press conference. In the three-walled White House, the President stands bundled in four coats behind a thicket of fungus-like microphones. Behind him, the White House dog roasts on a spit.
Well, that’s weird, you think, until you see how gaunt the President is. No surprise there. You haven’t had a decent meal yourself in a week.
He opens his mouth for a hearty my-fellow-Americans, but nothing comes out. He grins sheepishly and shrugs. You throw a stiletto heel at the television, expecting it to crack, but it doesn’t even make it halfway there.
You attempt a test. Leaving your house you turn to the sky and scream. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you! Get off our planet!” Nothing comes out at all.
Well, that settles it. You go back inside. The president warms his hands over a burning pile of papers. Enough of this. You pack. You prepare. You wait.
You’ve Amtraked it to a travel gate they haven’t yet shut down, somewhere in a Dakota, similar to Paul’s version of Earth. You didn’t know places like this still existed, cut away like this. All the houses here still have four walls.
You touch your stick-and-poke tattoo, and smile.
Standing on a street corner, you take out the small pile of cards you assembled on the train ride. Writing them was difficult. You can still speak your name and the phrase “Here’s my ticket,” but when someone asks you what you’re doing here, even that is glued over.
No matter. You have the cards. And some of them are even legible.
FIGHT. FIGHT. FIGHT. FIGHT. FIGHT.
There must be Earths they haven’t yet reached, planes still untouched. You remember what the glossy travel brochures said about the alternate worlds when they were first discovered: not everything happens all the time, everywhere.
In another place, people are free. All you have to do is get to the gate. Just get to the gate. It’s a golden half-moon, like a giant dull penny sticking out of the prairie. Just get to the gate.
The attendants, clad in super-serious black and silver uniforms, aren’t saying much either. As you go down the line, into the barely-used travel gate, you hand each of them a card.
FIGHT, you say to the man with cornrows who hands you the ticket.
FIGHT, you say to the old woman who punches it, her lips puckered tight like a coin purse.
FIGHT, you say to the young woman who hands you a sack lunch. Not all alternate worlds have food that you can digest.
Almost as an afterthought, you raise the hood on your parka, shielding your face from detection. It’s not as good as a robe, but maybe you’ll get that in the next world, if it’s still untouched by the invaders.
The gate’s set to random, and that’s just the way you want it. You feel the familiar slicing sensation, like a cheese grater being taken to your skin, and then another plane of another Earth opens up before you like a vista on a transcontinental flight after you’ve broken through the clouds. There’s a street, and a bus stop, and an orange sky, and not much else.
The people here will mock your stolen voice, sure, and the way you act and the clothes you wear, but enough will pay attention. You’ll devise new ways of communicating without writing or speech. Sidelong glances and interesting smells, perhaps.
This time, this world, it has to be different. You shoulder your bag, ruffle the cards in your pocket, and start walking.