Tag: "post-apocalyptic"

EP538: The Starsmith

STORY: EP538: The Starsmith
AUTHOR: Jonathan Edelstein
NARRATOR: James Odcombe
HOST: Tina Connolly

about the author…

Jonathan Edelstein is 44, married with cat, and living in New York City.  His work has appeared in Strange Horizons and the Lacuna Journal and is forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  When not writing, he practices law and hopes someday to get it right.

about the narrator…

James Odcombe is a writer and storyteller who loves imaginary worlds and unusual characters. He’s British but grew up in Tanzania, East Africa. Now living in the UK, he pens tales of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror.

 

The Starsmith
by Jonathan Edelstein

It took two years for Faji Doumbia to travel from Madankoro to Mutanda on the free trader Mweshi: two years of sleeping in cargo holds fragrant with spices and scented woods, two years of waiting on each world as the captain concluded his business, two years of jumping through the ichiyawafu and dreaming of the dead. He worked his passage, and there was time enough to learn the dead language that the ship’s computers spoke and discover how to tend machines that no living person could build. There was time enough to contract two ship-marriages, and by the time Faji came at last to Chambishi Port on the forty-ninth day of the Year of Migration 30,891, he had given a son to the ship-clans.

What he found when he took his leave of the Mweshi was both more and less than what he expected. Ninety thousand people lived in Chambishi Port, far more than any town on Madankoro, but forty million had lived there once, and the new city seemed like a collection of villages amid its former glory. Some of the towers north and east of the port were four kilometers tall: the war that destroyed the Union had gutted them, and after six hundred years forests grew in their upper stories, but they loomed over the thatched houses that lay between them, and from a few, the remnants of the High Streets and High Gardens hung crazily.

It was minutes before Faji could bring his eyes down from the towers to the ships – the ships hundreds and thousands of years old, that the Union had built and that now served its children. By then, the dockmen were well started in unloading the Mweshi. He stopped one and asked where the numusokala was, and when he got no answer, he remembered that the people here used different words. “Where are the… washiri?” he asked, remembering the word he’d been taught. “The blacksmiths?”

The dockman turned to the north. “You’re one of them?” he said. “Yes, you’ve got the look of one. That way, through the old city. You’ll hear the place, and even before that, you’ll smell it.”

There was a hint of distaste in the dockman’s voice, and he walked away as if he couldn’t leave quickly enough. That, too, wasn’t what Faji had expected.

EP537: Honeycomb Girls

RELEASED 10.August.2016
AUTHOR: Erin Cashier
NARRATOR: Johnathan Danz
HOST: Norm Sherman

author Erin Cashier

author Erin Cashier

about the author…

Erin Cashier is fond of the unreliable narrator.

I’m dying to leave things at that, but —

I grew up in Texas but I live/work/play in Northern California, like all writers my cat loves me particularly much, and my husband is a fantastic man. I work as a registered nurse at a Burn Ward, which is amazing and challenging in equal measure.

The things that interest me most are Disneyland (not kidding), esoteric philosophy books, alchemy as it relates to Jungian theories, William Blake, and Super Paper Mario.

Things you should know about me: I made a special side trip to that Snake Farm between San Antonio and Austin on a recent trip to Texas, I have quite a lot of tattoos — the peacock feather images featured on this website are all actually from my backpiece — and I can eat my weight in sushi.

narrator Jonathan Danz

narrator Jonathan Danz

about the narrator… Jonathan Danz is a writer currently working on his next novel about the daughter of a coal miner who embarks on a journey across parallel dimensions to find her father who disappeared under mysterious circumstances two years ago. Jonathan lives in West Virginia with his wife, daughter, two cats and his mountain bike. jonathandanz.com

Honeycomb Girls
by Erin Cashier

Those were the days Geo couldn’t walk through the market without stepping on someone else’s shoe. If money wasn’t tied to waist it was zipped, and anything dropped — paper, panks, crumbs — zipped too. Geo sold junk there: stripped wires, sharp green-squares, transistors like pills. “Someone junk, someone treasure!” Geo call. Men come over to see what Geo had, comb over findings, and Geo with stick, ready to slap at zippers. Stand all day, stand half night, then walk home to hard mat shared on second floor. Kick junk man out, eat food, sleep, till day begin again.
Geo hunt for junk at old places when junk run low. Sometimes old posters hidden from rain. Posters show things that not there. Happy men, metal cages. Men touching screens. Men smiling. Like said, old posters. No smiles now.
And sometimes, girls. Some cut out, but see where shape was left. Cut here, tear there. Reach out and feel where maybe curve had been. Hold nothing in hand. Imagine, if no one watching. Geo knew girls. There, but not there, like the sun, Never touch the sun, and never touch the girls, neither.

#

Jon yell, “Junk, junk!” Geo with stick, watching men come by. Man comes to table. Leans over. Clothing new. Business man? Tinker man? Jon’s boy watches man’s back. Makes sure no one else steal his money before Geo can.
Geo sees glint in man’s eye. He like something he see. Geo step forward. Geo like what Geo see. “You like?”
Man’s head bows. “No, no, nothing.”
Geo knows glint. Geo knows lie.
Man scans table, sniffs. “There’s nothing here. None of this is worth anything to me.”
Geo grunts.
“I’m an artist. I can maybe use this.” Man picks up three metal bits.
Geo grunts again, waits. Watches man’s hand reach for first thing he like. Glint-thing.
“And maybe this too. How much?”
Geo point to first pile. “Four panks.” Geo look at man clothing, hair, naked chin. Points to hand. “That, too expensive for you. Put down.”
“But –”
Geo hold up zip-stick. “Too pricey! Put down!”
Man’s eyes narrow. Geo offend him. He think he can afford all junk here, all table, all tent. But he do what Geo say, sets glint-thing down. Geo pick it up: round, metal, cold. Geo ask for most expensive thing Geo can think of. “Worth one night.”
Man’s eyes widen. Anger blaze. But he cannot steal from Geo here. Whole tent junk men watching. Under table, Jon step on Geo’s shoe.
Man lean over table, snatch ball from hand. “Done.”
Geo blinks.
“Go to the third tower two days from now. I’ll let them know you’re coming.” Holds up metal thing from pocket. Light flashes. Geo is blind.
When sight come back, man gone. Geo works, goes back home, lays on mat. Feels junk man’s fear. Should Geo have bargained harder?

EP531: Bend Back the Shadows

by Michael Reid
narrated by Summer Brooks

about the author…

I am a 2015 graduate of the Clarion Workshop, but I have no other publication credits.

about the narrator…

Summer is a bit of a television addict, and enjoys putting her scifi media geek skills to good use in interviewing guests for Slice of SciFi as a co-host from 2005-2009. She was previously the co-host for The Babylon Podcast and host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas, before returning to Slice of SciFi as host in August 2014.

She is an avid reader and writer of scifi, fantasy and thrillers, with a handful of publishing and voiceover credits to her name. Next on her agenda is writing an urban fantasy tale, and a B-movie monster extravaganza.

Currently, Summer designs and maintains websites for clients and for fun in addition to the Slice of SciFi websites, does voiceover & narrations for StarShipSofaTales to TerrifyFar Fetched Fables, and Crime City Central, among others.

 

Bend Back the Shadows
By Michael Reid

Month 669, Day 10

When I was a little girl, Grandma used to tell me scary stories about the day the lights went out on Earth. Back then, she said, there were lots of people on our station. People would come and go from Earth all the time in little gray capsules. And then, one day, the capsules had stopped coming. Soon after that, the messages had stopped coming on the radio. Everyone on the station had hovered by the windows like ghosts, watching day after day as plumes of smoke erupted from the hearts of the cities, their trails snaking across the continents.

“But that wasn’t the worst of it,” Grandma would tell me. “Not by a long shot.”

“What was worse?” I asked her once, between lessons on medicine and aquaponics.

Grandma looked away when she spoke. “The worst part was watching the night sweep across the Earth and seeing that the darkness was empty. No more lights. Just shadows.”

Grandma used to live down on Earth, a long time ago. She was a doctor–a brain doctor. She said that one of the reasons she came up to the station was to see Earth from space with her own eyes. She loved the day side with its browns and greens and blues, but I think she loved the lights on the night side even more. I’ve seen pictures from back then, back when the whole Earth was covered with cities that glowed yellow at night. The pictures reminded me of the diagrams of neurons Grandma used to show me on her slate: nuclear cities connected to dendritic suburbs, all bound together by axonal highways. Then the end had come. Night after night, the web of neurons had disintegrated, like a brain consumed by Alzheimer’s. Grandma and the others had watched it all happen, watched each city flare brightly for a few seconds, then disappear forever.

Our station orbits Earth once every four hours: two hours over the day side and two hours over the night. Grandma said that, every time the station caught up to the night, she would go to a window and pray that there would still be lights. One orbit, she had gone to the windows and there had been only one light left on the whole dark side of the planet. One tiny light, smack in the middle of the big continent–Africa, it was called, when there were still people on it. Orbit after orbit, she watched for that spot, prayed the whole time it was in daylight that it would still be there when the night returned. She would wish on it like an ember, praying for it to spark and spread. But one day, less than a year after the last capsule had come to the station, darkness swept over the place where the light had been and the light was gone.

Grandma said that was the single worst day of her life. Worse than leaving Grandpa behind on Earth. Worse than watching the city where he lived go dark. Worse than watching all those plumes of smoke circling the planet. She said watching that last light be engulfed by the shadows was more fearful than losing all of the rest combined. “But it won’t always be this way,” she told me. “Someday those lights are going to come back. Someday you’ll see just the tiniest flicker down there, but that one tiny flicker will spread and soon it will bend back all those shadows.”

EP529: Of Blessed Servitude

by A. Merc Rustad
narrated by Trendane Sparks

author A. Merc Rustad

author A. Merc Rustad

about the author…

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 ScigentasyDaily 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.)

narrator Trending Sparks

narrator Trendane Sparks

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.

EP510: Them Ships

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
read by Dani Cutler

author Silvia Moreno-Garcia; photo by Shimon, 2015

author Silvia Moreno-Garcia; photo by Shimon, 2015

about the author…

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 ShadowsSword & MythosFungiDead 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.

 

narrator Dani Cutler

narrator Dani Cutler

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.

Them Ships
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.

EP505: Falling Leaves

by Liz Argall
read by Emily Hickson

about the author…

from the author’s website:

Liz often writes speculative fiction and interstitial work that explore spaces between genres. She is especially fond of gritty urban fantasy, thought provoking science fiction and fantastical literary fiction.

Liz carves out a diverse career as a freelance writer, working with organisations to build communities and running workshops. Liz has run creative workshops for a range of organisations, including the National Museum of Australia, Conflux and the Young Music Society. She works with organisations to prepare and acquit grants, and to build physical and online communities. She has worked on and off as an Artists’ Model for ten years. Before she became a freelancer she worked as researcher, union organiser, refuge worker, circus manager and provided consulting and support to the community sector.

Liz’s comics have been published in an array of publications, including Meanjin, The Girl’s Guide to Guy Stuff, Eat Comics, Something Wicked and her collection Songs, Dreams and Nightmares. Her anthology, Dreams of Tomorrow, won a Bronze Ledger Award for Small Press of the Year. In January 2009 her musical Comic Book Opera, written with composer Michael Sollis, was performed for the first time. Two of her short stories have been staged as plays.

She splits her life between Australia and America – some day she hopes to live in other parts of the alphabet. After serving as a Non Skating Official with the Rat City Rollergirls for three seasons she has transformed into skater and announcer. When she’s on the track you can call her Betsy Nails, when you hear her over the mic she’s Ichabod ‘splain.

about the narrator…

Emily Hickson is a newcomer in the voice acting world, an Australian student studying Fine Art and Illustration. Her techniques and past research endeavours include printmaking, sculpture, digging up dead languages and solving old codes. She once illustrated a book about Alfred Tennyson meeting the Kraken, and has always counted on sci-fi to inspire her when artist’s block attacks. Past works and future declarations can be found at thegrangerchronicles.blogspot.com.au

Falling Leaves
by Liz Argall

Charlotte and Nessa met in Year Eight of Narrabri High School. Charlotte’s family were licensed refugees from the burning lands and the flooded coast, not quite landed, but a step apart from refugees that didn’t have dog tags.

Charlotte sat on the roof, dangled her legs off the edge and gazed at the wounded horizon, as she did every lunchtime. Nessa, recognizing the posture of a fellow animal in pain, climbed up to see what she could do. The mica in the concrete glittered and scoured her palms as she braced herself between an imitation tree and the wall and shimmied her way up.

She had to be careful not to break the tree, a cheap recycled–plastic genericus — who’d waste water on a decorative tree for children? The plastic bark squished beneath Nessa’s sneakers, smelling of paint thinner and the tired elastic of granny underpants.

Nessa tried to act casual once she got to the top, banging her knee hard as she hauled herself over the ledge and ripping a fresh hole in her cargos. She took a deep breath, wiped her sweaty hands, and sat down next to Charlotte.

“‘Sup?” said Nessa.

“Go away.” Charlotte kicked her feet against the wall and pressed her waxy lips together.

“You gonna jump?”

“No. I’m not an attention seeking whore like you,” said Charlotte.

Nessa shrugged her shoulders, as if that could roll away the sting. Rolling with the punches was what she did. “You look sad.”

Charlotte bared her teeth. “I said, I’m not like you. Leave me alone.”

Nessa wanted to say, “Fuck you,” but she didn’t. Nessa wanted to find magic words to fix Charlotte in an impatient flurry. She couldn’t. Nessa scratched her scars for a while and felt like puking, but she didn’t think that would help either. Neither would hitting Charlotte’s head against a wall and cracking Charlotte’s head into happiness, although Nessa could imagine it so violently and brightly it felt like she’d done it. Nessa had banged her own head against walls to get the pain out of her head and chest, but it never worked — or rather it never worked for long enough, leading to a worse, moreish pain.

Nessa didn’t know what to do, so she just sat there, feeling chicken shit, until the bell summoned them into class.

EP504: End of the World Community College

by Sandra McDonald
read by Joel Kenyon

author Sandra McDonald

author Sandra McDonald

about the author…

from the author’s website:

  • Writer, speaker, instructor
  • Lambda Literary Award for Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice, ALA Over the Rainbow book, and Rainbow Award win for Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories
  • Silver Moonbeam Award for Mystery of the Tempest
  • Former commissioned officer, USN
Narrator Joel Kenyon

Joel Kenyon

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.

End of the World Community College
by Sandra McDonald

Vision
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.

Tuition
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.

Registration
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.

Attendance
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.

Course Offerings
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.

EP496: Falling Through Creation

by Mark Robert Philps
read by Christina Lebonville

author Mark Robert Philps

author Mark Robert Philps

about the author…

Mark Philps is a writer and video production professional who lives and works in Vancouver, BC. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop. His writing has appeared in such publications as Vancouver Magazine, AE-The Canadian Review of Science Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk.

about the narrator…

Christina Lebonville is known by the online moniker, Evil Cheshire Cat, a tribute to her sense of sarcastically dark humor and toothy resemblance to the re-imagining of the classic Wonderland character in American McGee’s video game, Alice. She has done voice work and writing for skits and songs played on the now retired comedy podcast, The Awful Show, and is the co-creator and former co-host of the podcast Obviously Oblivious, a nearly four-year running comedy podcast with a science twist. Christina has since retired from podcasting to pursue a doctorate in Behavioral Neuroscience.

narrator Christina Lebonville

narrator Christina Lebonville

 

Falling Through Creation
by Mark Robert Philps

_HD 168443 b — Extra-Solar Terrestrial Planet, Silicate Core, Active Plate Tectonics_

We drift in warm lighted liquid and dream of a home that we have never known. Below us the dead world hangs in space, its mantle loose and wrinkled like dusty grey skin. We fire probes, watch as they arc towards the planet in long loops of light.

We wonder if this planet is our planet. Will we find some trace of our people here?

The probes have laser cutters and diamond drills and they burrow deep into the planet core. We collect samples from the surface and test them. This had once been a lush world, a garden in a droplet of water, trembling in the void. Now it is dead, the atmosphere a noxious soup, and we can feel only its past in the rocks that remain.

This world is not our home.

We play cards while the probes do their work. You always win. Remember how Father would drift above us–a short man, even for a human, pudgy, bald and smiling, some kind of Buddha in a wetsuit–teaching us how to play? How he would laugh as we pincered the oversized polymer cards between jet-black mandibles. Now the cards are slick with the residue of our feeling for him.

We play for a long time. Days, weeks, months–it is easy to forget that time moves differently for us, faster than it does for Father and the other humans.

_They are liars. They use us._You share this once, many times.

_They let us leave,_ I reply _They could have killed us._

I don’t remind you that it was because of your anger, your frustration, your rejection of ignorance, that we are out on the edge of the void, alone and separated from Father and the Star-City where he raised us. I don’t care about these things. Besides, you are the mercurial one. The stronger one.

EP493: Beyond the Trenches We Lie

by A. T. Greenblatt
read by Andrew Clarke

about the author…

Who am I? I’m A(liza) T. Greenblatt. An engineer and a writer. A collector of cookbooks and recipes. An adventurous/messy cook and baker. Movie watcher, button mashing gamer, traveler, and gym rat. I like to make things and solve problems. I like to build things and write things down.

And I like stories. Ever since I figured out how to read, I’ve been a passionate reader. Always had a book or two in my book bag in school. My must-read booklist is still bottomless.

Why don’t I use my full name as my byline? Because when I first Googled myself this Aliza Greenblatt came up. It’s okay though, she beat me to it fair and square.

I was an editorial assistant for a few years at Every Day Fiction and am a graduate of Viable Paradise XVI. I currently volunteer as an interviewer at Flash Fiction Chronicles, pestering EDF’s top author of the month with questions.

about the narrator…

Andrew Clarke is a London-based musician, writer and actor who has created work for the stage, film and radio in an ongoing quest to work out how to make any money at all. He is currently writing the second series of The Lost Cat Podcast – which details the adventures he has had while looking for his lost cat – featuring monsters, ghosts, Old Ones, several ends of the world, some cats and lots and lots of wine. The first series can be found here: http://thelostcat.libsyn.com/ He is also currently demo-ing his latest album. The previous album, called ‘Bedrooms & Basements’ can be found here: Bedrooms And Basements, by A.P. Clarke

 

Beyond the Trenches We Lie
By A. T. Greenblatt

This morning, the Globs are waiting for us, just like always. Despite what the official propaganda shows, we, this little band of ragged soldiers, don’t even bother to line up anymore. We just cram down our nutritional packets as fast as we can and climb out of our holes. Captain Beamon scowls at our lack of discipline, but he doesn’t push the point. Not when there’s a battle to be won.

Beyond the trenches, the meadow is flourishing from the war. The grass is dark and lush, though it’s been trampled by soldiers. You can hear the brook running about a hundred paces away, fat and happy, while the tall elm trees on its banks overlook the whole situation from a distance. Win or lose, they will still grow for a long time to come.

Every morning, I yank myself out of a trench, pull myself up with my cane, and make my way across the field. We never start the fight running, despite what the vids show. No need. The Globs will wait for us.

Hell, they are waiting for us. On the other side of the brook, they’ve gathered on the banks, their clear gelatinous bodies undulating. Their neon eyes watching, boring into me from across the meadow, seeing nothing. Seeing everything.

Every time, I shudder. And every time, hate myself for it. I hold the clod of dirt I pulled from the trench wall to my nose, inhale, and remember.

My lies are endless. Everyone on the front line needs a mantra. Everyone needs a prayer. Mine helps me remember it’s the Globs that should be afraid of me.

Still, in spite of it all, I enjoy my morning walk. In the first weeks of fighting, the mud repulsed me (you avoid squishy, smelly, wet things on the station -usually at all costs). But now I walk through the field barefoot, savoring the wet thwacking sound my soles make with each step, though I’m careful not to snag my feet -or cane – in the soft uneven ground. Unlike Reggie, I never relished my boots.

When we reach the banks, we halt, taking a moment to eye our enemy. Sizing each other up, as it were. And then, slowly, we begin the assault.

I pick my way carefully down the bank and ease my feet into the water -my time on Earth has taught me to mistrust slippery pebbles. A comrade, Mae, offers me an arm and together we cross the brook.

The Globs meet us on the bank, slick and shiny like river stones in the morning sun. It’s impossible to tell for sure, but I can swear there are more of them today.

Why are you here?

The question is wordless – they don’t have mouths. Instead, the words rumble deep within your stomach vibrating, humming until every cell in your body understands what they are asking and you would do anything – anything – to stop that damn question from rolling around inside you. Even if it means telling them the truth.

The trick ­­-the thing that all those “traditional” soldiers and diplomats couldn’t manage – is not to lose yourself in the question. Keep your feet on the ground. Squeeze the clod of dirt in your hand. Remember who you are.

And lie.

Mae turns and looks at me. “I don’t miss Reggie,” she says, “I’m not sorry he’s gone.”

The humming of the six closest Globs bleeds into high-pitched whistles. Their dying screams

Mae’s a good solider. I study the remaining healthy Globs surrounding us and see my face reflecting in their shiny skins.

“Me neither,” I say. And a dozen more start to die, their glassy, dissolving bodies turning our reflections into monstrosities.

Despite what the military tells you, there aren’t any strategies or battle plans here. No higher logic or particular order. It’s just me and my fellow “soldiers” holding the line with a pocketful of lies. It’s true; all the traditional methods of warfare have failed and the traditional fighters have died months ago. But I’m not your typical soldier. Me and my brother were master liars long before this war.

“It’s like we’re pretty much invincible,” Reggie told me once, as he wriggled his feet into his new boots, trying to work out the pinching stiffness.

But we’re not. The Globs ate my brother two weeks ago.

Mae gives me a small nod before moving on alone and I make my way to my usual spot, the elm with the perfect size nook for a soldier in its roots. Because in this war, your lies are your own.

There is a Glob by my tree. My spot.

Why are you here?

“It’s true, I don’t miss my brother.” I tell it. And the Glob melts, not as fast as before, but it yields me my spot all the same.

Don’t ask me why the same lie doesn’t work as well a second time. It’s a problem for most soldiers. But not for me. My lies are endless.

Tucking myself between the roots and propping up my cane beside me, I flex my stiff leg, and wait for my enemies to come. They always do.

Why are you here? Every Glob asks the same question, their demanding insistence rattling around inside, until you start to doubt your answer. Why. Are. You. Here.

It’s easiest when you have a story -a mesh to weave all your lies on. Today I tell the Globs all about my family. It’s big, with a mom and a dad and lots and lots of sisters. No brothers, of course. No twins.

All around my tree, my enemies fall. In this war, there is no blood or bodies on the battlefield. No weapons or scorched earth. Just puddles, puddles, puddles. And the occasional pair of shoes.

The swollen brook besides me runs joyfully on.

By the time noon has come and gone, I’m drenched in the remains of my enemies and the only thing I want in life is a hot shower and a walk. About fifty paces away, Mae is surrounded by Globs. Her lies don’t come as quickly, she has grown pale and rivulets of sweat trickle down her neck. She’s going to slip.

I dig my cane into the ground and haul myself up, my leg protesting the change, refusing to bend.

“How’s your sister, Mae?” I call as I move, cursing my slowness.

“Fine,” she replies, licking her dry lips, “She always tells the best stories.”

Only two Globs fall and ten more move in to take their place. They can sense her weakness.

Why are you here? Why are you here?

By the time I reach her, their question is so loud and insistent, that I want to stick my fingers in my ears and scream. This is why no one’s ever managed to come close to a Glob without dying. But we are the military’s elite fighters. Our lies define us.

Mae is biting her lips, trying not to give them a shred of truth to eat. There is no color left in her face.

So, I dig my heels into the mud and take a deep breath.

“I have this sister who loved nutritional packets. Like, would wrestle me for them. It was a good thing that she was a slower runner than I was because otherwise I would’ve had to start giving her a few bruises of her own. Was a skinny little runt too. Like living proof that those things weren’t as cracked up as they’re made out to be. But she’s a weird one. She’s interested in Earth and seriously, who cares about Earth anymore?”

I pause. All around us, the Globs are whistling their death songs. Mae stands there silent, shaking, drenched, the relief honest on her face.

“See, this isn’t so bad, now is it?” I give Mae a mad grin.

And another Glob dies.

#

I think the leaves of the elm trees have souls. I’ve been watching them for a while now; they rejoice in the sunlight and dance in the wind and thrive in the rain. They die.

The trees alone make this fight worthwhile. Even a space station brat like me can understand why everyone’s taking up arms to protect Earth.

This evening, after the battle and before the Globs begin to reappear, I walk to the elms by the brook. I stand under the golden leaves that were once green and in the pile of fallen ones, browning at the edges. There’s a beauty here that I can’t quite understand and also a sadness, which I know all too well. When the transformation had first begun, Reggie had stood here with me.

“Nim, what’s happening?” he whispered pointing at the yellowing leaves.

“They’re dying, I think.”

“Why? Do you think it’s the war?”

“Maybe.” But that didn’t make sense. Whatever Globs became when they died, it makes things grow. The meadow was sickly and dry when we first arrived on the battlefield – the grass and the weeds and the wild flowers. Now, everything thrives. Only the leaves wilt.

I’ve done some research since then, learned about the seasons (yes, this information is in the station archives-if you know where to look) and how things on the surface sleep when the cold comes. I wish I’d known earlier, of course. Reggie would’ve been relieved. But I’ve been here for four months and this Earth – it’s new to me.

Hell, when we were kids, me and Reggie use to paint pictures with our water on the older parts of the station, where the galvanized steel had worn away from time and traffic. We had to be patient with those portraits and come back every day to “touch up” our work. But eventually the rust would begin to bud, filling out the drawings we had so painstakingly made. The adults would scoff, but they never told us to stop. Besides ourselves, it was the closest thing we had to anything that could grow.

Well, except for our lies, of course. Those got bigger too. Even back then we knew that lies should be endless because your truths are as finite as you are.

We lied because we were the rare set of twins in a station full of single child families. We lied when my leg went gimp and I couldn’t outrun the bullies. We lied to cover for Reggie’s pranks. We lied to deceive and to entertain. We lied because we could.

We must have been memorable, because when they figured it out, the army came for us – the cripple and the hell raiser, the most unlikely of soldiers.

I turn my face up to the autumn tree and pick a leaf out of my hair. This is the type of tree I used to make up stories about as a kid. Except in my stories, the leaves were blue.

I hope we were memorable. Because when Reggie slipped and began to tell Globs almost-truths, they devoured him, piece by piece.

Memories are all I have left of him now.

#

Tonight, I eat my nutritional packet, as always, from within the tightly packed walls of my trench. The Globs are back, I can hear them humming in that same tuneless voice and I know if I look up over the rim, their neon eyes will be there to greet me.

I wonder where they’ve come from, the Globs. I figure they’re like cells, reproducing by splitting in half and making perfect clones of themselves. I can’t imagine them courting or having sex – not with those deadpan eyes and repetitive questions.

And to think that me and Reggie laughed at the Globs the first time we saw them.

To think, one more week and I will be leaving my cozy trench behind.

From a few holes over, Captain Beamon climbs over and joins me in mine.

“Congratulations on your promotion, soldier,” he says dropping down next to me, “Can’t say I’m envious, but those station kids need to know what they’re getting into.”

I nod my thanks, but we both know I’ll make a terrible instructor. It was a promotion of compassion.

“I’m sure I’ll be an excellent role model,” I say, without sarcasm, of course.

The Captain gives me sidelong look. “You know you still have leaves in your hair, right?”

“Yes,” I lie, rushing to find them and pull them out. In my hands, in the trench, they look like misplaced recruits.

Funny, it was Reggie who always wanted to live on the surface and I figured if all we had to do were tell a few lies, I would help him. I didn’t hate the crowded station, but without him, I didn’t have a reason to stay.

The Captain braces his tall boots against the wall and lovingly rubs away the dirt. “What are you fighting so hard for, Nim?” he asks, like it’s the type of question you ask offhand.

“For Earth, of course,” I say. Reggie – who never owned a pair in his life – had been so excited about those damn shoes too.

The Captain nods, though I know he doesn’t believe me. He’s smarter than that; he’s been here for months now, since the beginning of the war. Rumor says, he’s the one that figured out how to kill the enemy first.

“Goddamn Globs,” he says, looking up over the edge of the trench, “Won’t stay dead.”

And like an idiot, I look too.

There must be hundreds of them out there. The military’s calling this the alien invasion that mankind has feared since, well, forever. But us, the few living soldiers who have been fighting this war day in and out for weeks can see that they are turning this yellow, arid Earth green again.

“Why are we fighting them?” I ask quietly, keeping my eyes trained on the enemy.

“What are you going soft on me, now? They want to destroy this place!”

In the distance, the Globs’ whistles grow so loud it’s almost unbearable and we both dig our hands into the trench walls. I grind my teeth and wonder why the Globs are wasting their time with this place.

But I guess some questions you’re better off not knowing the answers to. Sometimes a quick fib is even easier than giving in and dying.

When the Globs have finally melted and we can speak again, the Captain leaves in silence, both of us too tired for anymore lies.

#

This morning the Globs haven’t made it to the banks of the brook yet, but there are hundreds waiting for us. Probably more.

Today, their question is why.

Why?

They echo it over and over. The question with no right answer, the question with millions of truths. Maybe the Globs aren’t as stupid as they look.

It rained in the middle of the night and the world smells clean and damp and earthy. The field beyond the brook is soaked and covered in leaves, but the grass is so green and vibrant, it seems almost a crime to bend its blades. I do anyway, of course, because fighting is harder when you have to worry about your feet (and your cane) getting tangled.

Today I tell the Globs about all the sports awards I’ve won over the years.

Why?

Hell, where do they come from? What do they want? Why are we, this little band of misfits, the only ones who can fight them? Stupid questions I know, but I wonder about them anyway as I plant my feet in the ground and lie.

Why?

I see Mae about fifty paces away and give her a small smile. I know she can see the sweat on my forehead and my fist clenched around my cane. She knows I can see her paling face. It starts to rain again as I move over to aid her, fibbing my way through the crowds of Globs. My lies are endless. She’s the one that needs the promotion, not me.

Why? Why? Why?

And there, out of the corner of my eye, I see them. There. Between the Globs. His boots, about twenty paces away with the bright laces and scuffed toes, lying in the mud as if he dropped them carelessly there moments ago.

“Reggie.”

An instant too late, I realize my mistake. But the Globs are quick when they want to be; they see the almost-truth for what it is. The one closest to me lunges forward and I topple back into the mud.

The Glob takes a long, greedy piece out of my leg.

Funny, it doesn’t hurt as badly as I always thought it would. But I scream all the same.

Their neon eyes are hungry, so hungry, their questions are more demanding, frantically insistent now. And once you start telling the truth, it’s hard to stop.

I scramble back, pulling up a chunk of earth and throw it at the nearest Glob, but it doesn’t even make a dent. I see Mae moving, rushing toward me, killing Globs as fast as she can. But she still is too far away. So the next handful of dirt I hold on to. And I remember my lies.

“I always wanted to be an only child. Couldn’t stand that I had to share everything with Reggie. I’d rather have been like all the other kids, single and alone. I was tired of always getting into trouble, I liked the rules and stuff. Hell, I didn’t want to follow Reggie down to this place. Because…because I hated my brother.”

I’m shouting, almost shrieking. And the Globs -all of them within a thirty pace radius -begin to melt. For entire minutes, the battlefield is filled with the sound of their screaming whistles. I try to crawl away, but my bad leg has finally forsaken me. This is one wound it does not tolerate.

So I wait until the Globs are nothing more than harmless puddles.

“How did you do that?” Mae asks as she pulls me up and puts an arm around me.

I shrug, and try not to look at my bloody leg. “My lies are endless,” I tell her.

And then, mercifully, everything becomes silent and black.

#

This is my last evening on Earth. Like hell I’m going to spend it in the medics’ tent. Not when I have the elms and the meadow. What, you think a lame leg is going to stop me? Never has before. It’ll take more than a crutch to keep me from sneaking out.

The elms welcome me by showering drops of water as their branches sway in the wind. That smell – which I now know is the distinct smell of wet leaves – is extraordinary, a summary of life and death in a single sensation. And I know that in all my life I will never experience anything as beautiful as these fallen leaves.

My leg is comfortably numb and I want to sit between the roots one last time, though I doubt I’ll be able to get up again if I try. So I stand under the elms for a long time.

“Does it hurt?”

I turn to find Mae standing behind me, her hands jammed into her pockets.

I look down at my senseless limb. “Stings like hell.” I say.

“I..I wanted to thank you for saving my life the other day. If you hadn’t been there…”

I nod. “My pleasure,” I say. Before I realize that this is, in fact, the truth.

The words sound funny – out of place – like not recognizing a familiar voice. Mae must have realized it too because her eyes widen in surprise.

“Well, now that I’ve lost my edge,” I say, “You’ll have to raise a bit of hell yourself out here.” I smile. I can see why the truth’s hard to stop. I’ve missed the sound of it.

Mae nods. “I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while,” she says softly, “What was it like, having a brother?”

I frown, my hand clenching my crutch, my smiling slipping away. It’s not that I don’t appreciate her effort, but in a society made up of one-child families, no understands the loss of a sibling.

“Like having a partner in crime,” I say.

But that is an almost-truth. Rather, it was like having a bit of yourself kept safe within another person. And because I lied and didn’t lie enough, I’ve lost that piece.

You see, I’m the one who loved Earth, who studied it late at night. I’m the one who convinced Reggie to agree to the recruitment. I dragged him down here; Reggie knew how to handle the bullies and tell a quick story, but it was me who had the endless lies.

It’s my fault Reggie is dead.

“You’re not going to do anything reckless, are you?” Mae asks, twisting her hands in front of her.

I shrug. Suddenly, all my lies taste bitter.

So instead, I link my free arm around hers and together, we stare up past the trees into the night sky, our eyes focused on what we can’t reach. If Mae notices my tears, she never mentions it.

#

This morning is my last morning on Earth. Alone, I cross the brook for one final time. The crutch digs into my armpit and the world is still cold and dim in the early dawn light.

Their eyes are watching me, waiting as always. They are patient as I limp across the stream and I take my time. They greet me with their questions.

Who are you?

But today I have no lies. No stories. No fight. Today I have just come to reclaim my brother’s boots, the ones he had so loved. The boots with “NIM” scrawled on the inside. The ones I gave him when his own got destroyed by Globs. It’s was my fault, you see, I had slipped up and he had to fight them off using his shoes as shields. Our boots are the only solid piece left of him.

So I shuffle forward through the crowd of Globs that don’t attack me or even blink. They just ask.

Who are you?

The boots are exactly where I left them yesterday. Before I fainted and Mae dragged me away. Stupid, I should have held onto them tighter. I should have taken better care of Reggie.

I pick them up, clutch them to my chest and turn, cringing slightly as my bad foot sinks into the wet ground.

There is a wall of Globs blocking my retreat, their question drowning out everything but the feeling of dirt between my toes and the boots against my chest.

Who are you?

I look at the boots and at my scraggy signature. Hell, even this is a lie. Nim was just a nickname Reggie gave me. Short for Nimble. Our joke, you see.

Who. Are. You?

I look at the Globs and at my reflection in their shiny bodies, barely visible in at dawn, and I no longer recognize what I see.

“Who are you?” I ask. My reflection asks.

The Globs hesitate and the humming stops. And for a moment, there’s nothing but silence. Silence. The question to which there are too many truths and too many lies.

Then, the Globs begin to hum again, inching closer, and the war resumes.

A lie springs to my lips and it tastes foul. I don’t want to say it though I don’t want to die. So, I squeeze the boots closer and shut my eyes. But I can still see them, in the distance, the tall, defiant elm trees, who win or lose, will grow and look forever on.

EP486: Blight

by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
read by Christiana Ellis

author Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

author Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

about the author…

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s fiction and poetry has appeared in magazines such as ClarkesworldLightspeedStrange HorizonsHobart, and Goblin Fruit.

She lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named cats – Gimli and Don Quixote. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program.

She also created and coordinates the annual Art & Words Collaborative Show in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

about the narrator…

Christiana Ellis is an award-winning writer and podcaster, currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her podcast novel, Nina Kimberly the Merciless was both an inaugural nominee for the 2006 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction: Long Form, as well as a finalist for a 2006 Podcast Peer Award. Nina Kimberly the Merciless is available in print from Dragon Moon Press. Christiana is also the writer, producer and star of Space Casey, a 10-part audiodrama miniseries which won the Gold Mark Time Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Production by the American Society for Science Fiction Audio and the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Drama. In between major projects, Christiana is also the creator and talent of many other podcast productions including Talking About Survivor, Hey, Want to Watch a Movie? and Christiana’s Shallow Thoughts.

narrator Christiana Ellis

narrator Christiana Ellis

 

Blight
by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

There are three thousand people in the world, and we are all the same.

I don’t mean equal, for The Book makes clear we are not in any way equal. Some of us are blessed, others unblessed, as some live in the temple and others live on the charred black surface. And I do not mean we are similar, like sheep – the term once used, I believe, for a world of people with different genetic coding but the same ideas. No, we are not “sheep.” We are the same, from our hair to our DNA.

The Book tells us that once there was The First, long ago, before the war. It tells us that She was not strong but lucky. Hospitalized for a broken leg before the bombs were released, all at once, across the world, or so The Book proclaims. The hospital was underground, hidden from the fallout’s worst. Most of the building caved in with the force of incessant blasts, everything destroyed but one wing: Hers. Our temple.

Inside the room with Her, Her sister Marna had been visiting. Sister Marna, a scientist skilled in genetic replication, was older than The First, who had seen only twenty years. Sister Marna nursed The First back to health in that room, mended Her wounded bones. They ate Jello from sealed plastic containers and cans of beans and the petals of roses left by loved ones they learned to forget. They did not know they were the last.

But they knew they should not leave the hospital wing, for the one time Sister Marna pushed open the door to the surface, she found the way blocked by rubble, saw a hazy light falling from the cracked concrete above. She and The First remained inside until the food ran out.