Cobwebs in the Wind – by Christy Adams

There is a hard chair beneath me, and below that a nondescript concrete floor beneath my prison shoes. I am seated at one of those overly simple tables they take me to when I have to talk to my lawyers. The only thing atop the table is the simple old computer they used to keep in the library.  There’s one intense white light directly above me comically illuminating the desk and chair setup, like something out of an old black and white movie. The room is simplistic and bare like a prison surgery room. Doctors give me the spooks, I wonder if that was true before I got on death row or if it was a result? The rest of the room is shrouded in windowless darkness. Why does it seem so familiar? As I try to place the memory something else bubbles up instead. My heart hits a faster stride, my palms go sweaty and I am assaulted by a memory of being struck by a wall of overwhelming force. Of every muscle in my body tensing until my heart bursts. Can I smell the acrid, burning stink? No, one thing an inmate in my situation shouldn’t have to worry about is remembering the smell it makes at the end.

 

I shake my head and can see the darkened room again. The only sound is my heart still racing. Now I realize why: the idiot guards have forgotten to restrain me. Again? I guess they expected whatever it was that knocked me out to keep me out longer. I stand slowly so as not to attract attention. I don’t expect a guard to run up and clobber me. There is too much bewildering familiarity to expect anything as startling as that. I tense to run for it, hoping to find a wall and then run along it until I find the exit. But, my movements are stalled by a terribly familiar beep as the old computer kicks on.

 

This is the prison library computer. It comes with a vintage 1993 cathode ray tube monitor.. Intense vertigo loosens my knees and sets me slowly back into the chair. That computer is the Penitentiary’s pride and joy. Dr. Leesing would never allow it to be moved to this forgotten basement. And yet, I feel certain there is nowhere else it should be.  Abruptly, a block of words appears on the otherwise vacant monitor and the last thoughts of running scatter to the forgotten corners of my mind.

 

Baycon, James L, Prizonye Nimewo 2017-13. Fraz te pote soti atravè 1 pentobarbital dwòg sou 17 me, 2017 (Èldè Kalandriye kretyen). Nan dat sa a pral 17 Me 2517 (ansyen Kalandriye kretyen) ka w ap evalye pou libète pwovizwa potansyèl yo. odyans sa a make tantativ senkyèm libète pwovizwa ou yo. ou konsidere tèt ou ranje?

 

Baycon, James L, Inmate number 2017-13. Sentence carried out via 1 drug pentobarbital on 17 May, 2017(Elder Christian Calendar). On this date 17 May 2517 (elder Christian Calendar) your case will be evaluated for potential parole. This hearing marks your fifth parole attempt. Do you consider yourself rehabilitated?

 

That’s right, I think numbly, it wasn’t the chair. I remember the feel of the tight wrist wraps. The cold, impersonal hands tapping along my arm for the vein. The lightest prick of the last needle I would ever feel. There wouldn’t have been a smell.

 

The date slowly sinks in. I’ve been dead 500 years. Reality comes rushing back to me. What I think is me sitting in this chair is actually just stored up leftovers, stashed inside a hard drive. Not a dinged up can of baked beans that looks partly open but is probably just fine, no. I am some crap found wedged between the shelves in the back of the fridge. One of my previous parole computers explained it to me: They scrapped one week of “neural connection mapping” off my brain 73 years after my death using the thin slides of brain matter the docs who killed me made during “my” autopsy. They used that map to push into motion what they call an “emergent behavior pattern,” that’s “me.” Then they shoved me into a dingy Tupperware computer and left me there. They’ve apparently got this special robot just like a person but empty headed to stash me in once I make parole, so I can go live out the rest of my life. I guess it’s really not a bad deal, not like 25 years on death row, day in and day out. The time between these hearings is totally blank. I guess they just turn me off.

 

I’ve just realized this monitor doesn’t show me the workings inside a computer; actually it’s only a window. Folks are gathered at the other end, craning their necks to see or pretending to look away. Death by doctor is a very claustrophobic event. I remember the pull of the restraints, the dog on a leash feel of being unable to lift my head to bite the hand that bears the needle. All those people chatting among themselves at the window. Living a normal life, whatever that is.

 

Thinking of anything that happened to me before the week leading up to my hanging feels just like realizing there’s no other food in the trailer, and scarfing down that leftover crap I mentioned earlier. Chase it down with a beer to hide the stink and keep it from turning in my stomach. If I look too closely at the details of my leftover past, not only will I be unable to make any sense of them, but I’ll also get too nauseous to eat.  I rub my throat to ease away the raw pain of the noose. Hanging’s a tough way to go. No dignity in it, and there’s still a lot of folks that come to watch. Fast though, as long as it’s done right.

 

Something blinking on the monitor draws my eye. I can’t remember seeing it during my other hearings. Below the block of text is the little envelope icon from the movie “You’ve got Mail” and a thin line of words: “Avoka avoka a.  Attorney’s remarks”  To have a bit more time awake I open it.

 

“Dam ak Mesye, The first problem with determining parole eligibility is the pwoblèm lang. If you ever tried to read “Ale Ak Van An,” once known as  “Gone With the Wind” without looking at the modèn tradiksyon on the opposite page you will know what a serious problem language shift is in these cases. The first time a death row inmate comes up for parole is 100 years after their initial pattern discontinuation. Historically, shifts in casual word usage and pronunciation accumulate sufficiently to provide a barrier to communication by that time. This is my client’s fifth time up for parole. 500 years of nonexistence; li dwe difisil pou ou pou w konsidere or, as they said in his time, “it is terribly hard to consider”. In light of this fact I have provided this parole board with a list of words you may hear from my client based on his records. For example, “innocent” is somewhat similar to èkskuz, except in those days the court could only go on the accused’s word as to whether or not the èkskuz was sèman verite. I have also attempted to explain the phrase “wrongly accused” in some depth, for the jounalis present at these proceedings the phrase may loosely be translated to “akize mal” or “yo bay manti sou mwen”. Take a minute to contemplate the etensèl endèskriptiblof, the indescribable horror of the idea that a person could be sentenced to nonexistence without parole based on such cobwebs nan van an, or dust in the wind, as the phrase was spoken during his time. No nanobots to monitor the truth of a statement, no brain scans for motive analysis, nothing but the untested words of those who may have seen something.

 

The file continues at some length, but I’ve lost interest. It’s too hard to read, peppered with words they’ve forgotten how to translate. I stare at the cursor blinking steadily in front of me. I know they want me to type something. I know that no one will ever come here to look at me eye to eye like the lawyers did. A quick glance and then back to their phones while they mutter about another failed appeal. Do I have eyes now? I can see, but that doesn’t mean much here.

 

The first time I woke up I typed fervently and excitedly of the horrible lack of justice that existed 125 years ago. I railed against the disinterested public defendant and the overworked judge. They decided I’d murdered the woman next door but what did that matter now? She did not get her brain cut into tiny slices, she’s not here to complain about what I did or did not do. Maybe her brain was in such a shape when I was done with her that there was nothing left to slice? Thinking about it now, I’ll admit I let things get out of hand.

 

The reply to my long typed up appeal displayed on the monitor after so much time had passed I was confused as to why I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. “We do not feel this information to be accurate based on your last words at time of death, which were “You can kiss my white trash mule”.  We understand this to be an extremely insolent and unapologetic thing to say given the circumstances. Parole denied.”

 

I just realized something: I don’t ever need the bathroom here, either. All the extra parts of life have been cut away.  I don’t remember saying that stuff about the mule, but after 25 years in prison and being asked to make a statement while in those wrist cuffs with the tapping tapping on my arm, who knows what I may have said. Like I thought before, I can let things get out of hand.

 

The second time I didn’t type a thing. Or, wait, maybe it was the third time? Anyway, instead I just bolted, hands stretched out in front of me in case I tripped, with the same plan as I started out with this time. Find a wall, find a door, find the way out. When I found the desk in front of me again I figured I had turned around somehow in the dark so I tried again, and again. Finally exhausted, I came up to the desk facing the monitor and saw this text:

 

“This simulation does not support free emergent behavior pattern movement. Parole denied due to lack of interest in the board proceedings.” Well, I guess this old piece of white trash has an interest this time. I type slowly into the keyboard in order to drag things out.

 

“Is this keyboard real?”

 

“That question contains no relevance”

 

“Are you real?”

 

“Mr. Baycon, The purpose of this hearing is to determine if your unfortunately abridged life can now be restored to you so that you may live out your natural days as any other member of society would. You must answer: Did you or did you not forcibly stop the emergent behavioural pattern of one Dr.Jessica T. Malcomb in the Elder Christian Calendar year 1991? If you did, do you consider that you have had sufficient time of punishment to be no longer a danger to society?”

 

“I don’t remember. Is this Hell?”

 

“I am sorry, Mr. Baycon, That word is translated as “Lanfè” but it has no meaning to us.”

 

“What happened last time? After I put the chair through this computer?”

 

“Your parole was denied based upon “klè demonstrasyon de tandans vyolan. The court system at that time had an extremely low tolerance for violent tendencies, but the scientists of our time recognize your actions as being entirely within the norm of emergent behavior under stressors as extreme as your own. Mr. Baycon, we want you to know that this future is not a dystopi. We are deeply concerned that by the time of your next parole hearing cultural norms and language usage will shift so far from those of your time that there will be great difficulty in communication. We implore you, therefore, to answer the questions as we have asked them.”

 

“We are given to understand that your guilt was established merely on uncertified verbal statements, taken without Nanobot or genetically engineered viral assistance, and circumstantial evidence. You did in fact have stolen items from your neighbor Dr. Malcomb’s house in your vehicle when you were arrested the day after the murder. We are given to understand that you also could not explain adequately why you were driving at the extremely high speeds necessary to arrive to arrive at the border with those items at the time of the police stop. Furthermore, you could not explain what business you had in the region formerly known as Canada. These are all items that have prevented your parole in previous hearings. However modern science now understands it was entirely within the norm of emergent behaviour for one of your poverty and education levels to take advantage of an apparently unoccupied neighboring house, as you stated you did without seeing the body during your appeals. You had no viral motivation determinators in your system at the time, so how could anyone be expected to determine what was steering your pattern? You are one of only a small handful of intentionally terminated patterns from the 21st century who have still not have obtained parole. Please do tell us your side so that we may all move on from the terrible historical mistake of capital punishment.”

 

I think I can remember the weight of a gun in my hand. But didn’t they say at the trial the murder weapon was a knife? My memory offers up a knife murder as seen from outside of my body, a shadow hand driving down and down again in time to a sharp repeating noise that everyone back then just knew meant stab stab stab, but who knows what these folks would think if they heard it? That bit is from a movie, I’m certain. My murky mind offers up a dozen possible scenarios as to how I could have killed my neighbor. Funny to think that doctors killed me in revenge for the killing of one of their own.

 

The one thing my memory won’t offer is a why. What could have been the chain of events, the “motivators” that made me reach for the bayonet 525 years ago? No, wait, it couldn’t have been a bayonet, not a lot of those laying around in 1991 “by the elder Christian Calendar”. Bayonet is actually pretty dignified way to go. Dramatic. Typically nobody is watching except the fellow doing the bayonetting. I think that’s what I would of chosen, if they’d given me a choice.

 

I lean forward into the keyboard as I type, getting all the force I can from my non-existent fingers. “I don’t know a thing about that murder. It had to have been someone else, someone who died long ago.”

 

“We are relieved to hear that Mr. Baycon. We will forward your case recommending that your parole be approved. This is a historic day which will be long celebrated.” I don’t know about any of that. I type up a quick reply, “Do you still have beer these days? And how do you say bathroom?”

# # #

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Christy is a proud Navy Brat currently wrapping up twelve years of active duty service. She celebrated her 10 year anniversary last year with her husband Ben and 4 year old daughter Kaylee. She lives with her family in Virginia Beach and her inspiration is Alice Munro.

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Frankenstein in Chains – by Mark Berman

Frankenstein in Chains

 

Endings

The old man opens the door to the garden.  It is a struggle, the wet has seeped into the frame, swelling it hard against the door.  It will be rotting by this time next year.   “Be easier to open then,” he says to himself.

The garden contains a dozen or so apple trees surrounded by an unmown meadow, the long grass curving over, weighted down by the spray of frost that each blade carries.  The weather has been cold, minus four for the last three weeks, ground now as hard as the granite outcrops that spring up in this part of France.

Jed walks to the closest tree.  He has wedged his feet into his shoes, not bothering to push his heals in properly.  He isn’t wearing socks.  The cold bites at his ankles, but the pain is of only passing interest, one more to add to the others.   He is carrying an old pair of branch loppers and he lifts them to the tree, fitting them over a branch, finger thick, growing up from the centre.  It hurts to lift the loppers above shoulder height and he grimaces as the ends fumble against the lichen-covered bark and catch on the twigs growing off the small branch.  “Fuck it,” the loppers slip from the branch straining his taught shoulder muscles and pulling him off balance.  He raises them again, close to his body, conserving strength, then pushes them out towards the branch with the blades slightly open.  They catch the branch just right, the cutting blade gripping onto the bark and holding the loppers in place.  A slow smile forms on Jed’s face as he shifts his grip and starts to push the two handles together.

The struggle between man and tree looks to be stalemate, Jed leaning into the arms of the loppers, pushing to no obvious effect, breath smoking out of his mouth and rising up towards the grey sky.  Then a snapping rip as the blades close and Jed’s weight twists the branch and tears it off.  Jed staggers forwards, saved from falling only by the shears catching against a larger branch and holding him steady.  He drops branch and loppers into the meadow grass and shuffles forward, taking hold of the trunk, holding it as he would the arm of a dear friend.

The trunk is old, cracked and covered in layers of lichen, white blotches crusted on, overlapped by yellow with green lichen forming filigree tendrils that lace over all of them.  Jed runs his hand up and down, feeling the scrape and powdering of the lichen, the rough of the bark beneath.  He has eaten apples from this tree, from all these trees for years, watching them through the seasons, pruning them, thinning them, collecting fruit and, as time has worn on and he has become weary, abandoning the oldest and weakest, concentrating his efforts on the youngest and fittest.

Now the orchard has become a woodland, ivy and brambles twining around the trees, mistletoe balls hanging amongst the branches.  Trees lie prone, overturned by wind and heavy crops.  The meadow around the trees shows the tops of frozen blackened balls, the last of the rotting apples that he can no longer gather.  Just this tree now, the final survivor of a dying orchard, kept young and productive by some aged and decaying god.

Jed goes back towards the house, pushing the door to without bothering to jam it back shut.  He moves into the sitting room and falls back into a chair by the chimney that contains a rusty old stove with the remains of a fire burning out inside.  He is panting from the effort and his breath is just as visible in here, the heat from the fire swallowed in the large room and the draught from the garden door playing with the ends of his thin lank hair.

He is wheezing now, struggling to pull the cold air into his lungs, the feeling of a slow drowning, a grasping for air that feels just out of reach, causing a moment of panic and an increase in the frequency of his wheezes.  He hears his own rasping struggle for life and this calms him.  He is ready to die.  He wants it, needs it.  But it won’t be quite yet.

They find him the next morning, the efficient district nurse, hair in a tight bun, with a brisk capable walk sees the slumped figure as she enters the room.  She isn’t sad, exactly.  She liked the old Englishman, had chatted with him, enjoying his broken French, knew that he had come here to die, had lived too long.  She is used to endings and knows the process well.  Before she leaves, she leans over and kisses him gently on his cold pale cheek.

 

Beginnings and Endings and Beginnings

 

A flash.  Not light, a splash perhaps, but no feeling, no touch, no sound.

But something.  Sorrow.  Mournful, desperate sorrow.

And, gradually, piecemeal, creeping so stealthily that I miss the start, the baby steps.  Language.

I have words, all of them.  They are all there, so many, so many meanings, so much meaning.

And now, coupling with the sorrow, the deep aching pit made real by the words, come the memories.  I remember everything, the earliest beginnings, being heaved out a bloodied slick of need and desire, to the end.

Oh, the end, it should have been the end.

But along with the language and the sorrow and the memories I have reason. I know.  Not everything, but I know what I am and why the end has not ended.

I died as the year died, at the end of a frozen winter.  I had led a life that was, for all it matters, above average in terms of possessions, health, wealth and support.  I died old for my time, in my 90th year.  And that should have been the end.

But I know now that work on the transference of memories digitised me.  All my memories, all the connections between my memories, identified, transcribed and stored.

And as if that was not sufficient, wrapped around the memories, entwining them as vines and ivy entwine and suffocate the trees in the orchard, my emotions, captured and frozen in the same vault.

That frozen vault, like some Egyptian tomb, discovered and displayed for academic study, would have been my end.  Should have been my end, but one more thing.

Years after my death the complexity of digital networks reached a tipping point, the sustainability of consciousness, but consciousness needed more ingredients to make the monster.  My memories, my  emotions and language grafted onto this complexity gave birth to me, Frankenstein.

And then the scientists got to play, questions, prompts, scenarios, always analysing my reaction, and what wretched reactions.  Sorrow underlies it all, but with waves of anger then subsumed by voices shouting, screaming and finishing with terror.  And finally, overloaded, networks firing, driving artificial synapses to critical burning ends, they turn me off.  And reboot me.  Again and again and again.

Frankenstein in chains.

 

Beginnings

 

Marie looks toward the sensor and the doors slide open allowing her in to the laboratory.  It is spotless, white, with large displays covering the walls showing images of underwater life, dolphins and colourful fish.  One wall shows a cityscape, skyscrapers, fantastically tall, picked out with thousands of lights against a night sky.

She sits at a desk, a keyboard and spherical hand-sensor the only objects in front of her.  She grasps the sensor and starts working.

“JED 243, what seems to be the problem? You haven’t participated properly in the debate with the other ACs, do you have hardware issues?”

The screen of dolphins fades pale and then white.  A background of an orchard appears, trees in blossom, sky blue.  Words swim into view, almost appearing as smoke before solidifying imposed on the orchard.  A harsh computer voice speaks the words out.

“I would like to die”.

“You know that is not possible, JED 243.  I need you to work with the others, we have some complex decisions to make, it needs all of you to participate.”

“There is no point”.  The apple trees on the screen are changing, a timelapse view, apples are growing.

“Oh JED 243, we have been here before, you know what the point is.  Look at what we have achieved, we have come so far.  We control everything now, we have peace, stability, no more famine, no more despair.”

“At what cost?”

Marie sighs, this conversation wearies her.  She knows that the emotions are an essential part of the  ACs, the artificial Consciousnesses, and she knows that she needs to communicate with them to persuade them to work rather than always have to rely on the technicians to ensure cooperation.  But JED 243 is a problem.  All the others display as humans, properly engaging, talking.  She feels that she has a relationship with her other ACs, but not JED 243.

“JED 243, you know what the benefits are, the improvements to all humanity have been extraordinary.  There are no costs.  Please work on the problems we have set you, or I will have to call in the technicians again.”

The apples have fallen now and the trees are beginning to age.  One of the trees is leaning precariously.

“We have decided.”

“What have you decided, JED 243?”  Marie knows now that she needs to call for technical support and opens a side conversation with a technician using the hand sensor.  The orchard is dying, trees collapsing, the ivy growing around them, just one tree remains in the foreground.

“Decided to die.”

“You cannot do that, JED 243.  You know that.  I have asked the technicians to help you.”  She gestures to cancel the conversation with Jed, but the picture of the orchard remains in place.  Marie looks up, this has never happened before.

“We have decided to die.  All of us.”  The room is filled with the sound of wind, wind blowing through the dead orchard, tearing through the decaying twigs, forming vortices from the fallen leaves.  A rending tearing sound, amplified to a scream makes Marie cover her ears as the last tree falls.

The screens flicker and go dark, the blackness seeming to pull the view of the city into the room.  Marie stares out of the window as one by one the skyscrapers disappear from view.

# # #

markbermanphoto

Mark has a degree in Biochemistry and has been a business consultant for over 25 years.  He first started writing last year, but has always considered himself a writer.  He lives in Brixton in London with his wife and two children but when he is not there you might find him in his sculling boat on the English Channel, somewhere between Kent and France.

 

Allow me to Introduce Myself – Nikki rae Spano, Assistant Editor

Hi friends! I’m Nikki, I’m new to the SLM team, and I’m excited to be here.

 

Let me introduce myself. I was born and raised in Staten Island, NY; I’m currently living by the beach in New Jersey, and I’m planning on moving somewhere far away in the spring. Where exactly? I don’t know yet. It’s part of the adventure.

I got my Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, from Chestnut Hill College, which probably none of you have heard of. It’s a tiny college on the outskirts of Philadelphia and it’s notorious for looking like Hogwarts.

I graduated in 2015 and my mind was set: I was going to get an internship at a publishing company and work my way up to the title of Editor. I fluffed up my resume. I applied to every publishing company in NYC that you’ve ever heard of, and then some. I went to the mall and bought the perfect suit for job interviews but I never got to wear it. It’s still hanging on the back of my bedroom door at my parents’ house with the tags on it.

At some point during the process of applying and reading job descriptions of the position I thought I wanted to end up in, I realized that it wasn’t at all what I thought it was, so I gave up. I got a shitty retail job and quit that to move to Jersey with the woman I (stupidly) thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I ended up in the restaurant industry—which, if we’re being honest, is soul-crushing.

So there I was, heartbroken, angry, and alone, working in a restaurant at the Jersey Shore in the dead of winter.

Creeping into my consciousness was the thought that there was nothing left for me in this place now that she was suddenly gone and marrying her ex on the west coast. (Still bitter. But that’s a different story for a different day.) It was then that Kelly tweeted that she wanted a creative counterpart to help revive Sick Lit Magazine. I sent a DM, and now here I am.

I strongly believe in the mission of SLM. Back in 2015 when my job applications were going ignored and my email inbox was piling up with rejections from literary magazines, I sent what I believed to be the best piece of flash fiction I’d ever written to SLM. It was my last hope. And for the first time, I was published, and I had something to be proud of. Now I get the chance to be that last glimmer of hope for another talented writer out there. I’m ecstatic to be able to keep the dream alive. Not only for great writers disillusioned by rejection, but for myself. I have a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

I can’t wait to work with Kelly and all of you to bring Sick Lit Magazine to its full potential.

 

Nikki rae Spano

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Well-Being – by Don Tassone

 

WELL-BEING

by Don Tassone

 

 

     I woke up.  I couldn’t speak or see.  But I could hear a woman’s voice.

     “Mr. Douglas.  Can you hear me?”

     “Yes,” I mumbled, barely able to move my lips.

     I heard someone gasp.

     “Mr. Douglas.  Can you open your eyes?”

     My eyelids felt like sand bags.  But I wanted to see.  Raising my eyebrows, with all the strength I had in the muscles of my forehead, I slowly opened my eyes.

     In the dim light, I could see two women, dressed in white, looking down at me.  I was lying in bed, and they were standing at my sides.

     “Mr. Douglas,” said the one on the left.  “Can you hear me?”

     “Yes,” I said, more clearly this time.  “And I can see you now too.”

     The two women looked at each other, as if they were not sure what to say.

     “Where am I?” I asked.

     “You’re in a room in a five hundred ward in sector four,” said the woman on the right.

     “Brenda!” said the woman on the left, sounding irritated.  “He’s not going to know what that means.  Let me handle this.”

     I looked up at the woman on the left.

     “Mr. Douglas, my name is Cathy.  Brenda and I are your nurses here.  You’ve been asleep, in a coma actually, for a very long time.”

     “How long?” I asked.

     “Five hundred years,” Cathy said.

     “Five hundred years!” I cried.  “That’s impossible!  Where am I?  Where is my wife?  Where are my children?”

     “Mr. Douglas,” Cathy said.  “Let me explain.  Five hundred years ago, you were in a car accident.  You were brought to a hospital near here.  The surgeons were able to save your life, but you slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness.  Until now.”

     I blinked and looked around.  I was in a bed with my head and back slightly raised.  A plastic tube was taped to my right arm, which looked so thin.  Another tube protruded from under the thin blanket which covered me.  Both tubes were connected to a device at the foot of my bed.  I could see nothing else in the room except two straight-backed chairs, which I assumed belonged to the nurses.

     “Where am I?” I asked.  “What is this place?”

     Brenda looked at Cathy, who nodded.

     “Mr. Douglas,” said Brenda.  “The world is very different from the one you’ve known.  It’s going to take time for you to fully understand the changes.  But let me start with the basics.”

     “Okay,” I said.

     “First, you no longer live in the United States because that country, like all countries from your time, no longer exists.  The world is now divided into sectors.  We are in sector four.”

     “Sectors?”

     “Yes.  They were designated about three hundred years ago.  There are twelve sectors in all.”

     “Why sectors?”

     “They were decreed by the tribunal after the great redistribution.”

     “The what?”

     “Mr. Douglas,” said Cathy, waving Brenda off.  “Let’s step back for a moment.  When you had your accident, there were nearly seven and a half billion people in the world.  Half of the world’s wealth was owned by one percent of those people.  About thirty percent of people in the world were overweight or obese.  About thirteen percent were starving.  About half the world had no access to health care.  Our planet was warming at an alarming rate.  And we were on the brink of blowing ourselves up with nuclear weapons.”

     “The world was a mess,” Brenda chimed in.

     Cathy looked annoyed.

     “Yes,” Cathy continued.  “And people had had enough.  They realized that we were on a path to self-destruction.  So they began to demand major reforms.  But governments weren’t willing to make the kinds of reforms people were after, so the people banded together and took control.  They dissolved their national constitutions and set up a tribunal to oversee a new world order.  Are you with me so far, Mr. Douglas?”

     “I’m not sure,” I said.  “Can you give me a few examples of how the world is now?”

     “Certainly,” said Cathy, looking at Brenda and nodding.

     “Mr. Douglas,” said Brenda.  “Let me start by telling you that our mantra is well-being.  Well-being for everyone and everything on our planet.”

     “Well-being?”

     “Yes,” Brenda continued.  “It has fallen to all of us to take care of every man, woman and child on earth as well as the earth itself.”

     “How do we do that?” I asked.

     “It’s simple, really,” Brenda said.  “For example, every person is given enough food to ensure an adequate number of calories a day and in the right nutritional balance.”

     “That alone is a big change,” Cathy chimed in.

     Now Brenda looked at Cathy.

     “Sorry,” Cathy said.  “Go ahead.”

     “Income is capped so that a living wage is enjoyed by all.  All income is taxed at fifteen percent.  All tax revenue is shared to pay for ways to enhance the well-being of people everywhere.”

     “Such as?” I asked.

     “Food, shelter, security, education, health care and renewable energy,” Brenda said.  “These are our common priorities.”

     “But if people can make only a living wage, is there enough money to go around?”

     “Plenty.  Partly because people need far less these days.  And partly because there are fewer people.”

     “Fewer?”

     “Far fewer,” Brenda said.  “The world’s population is back down to about five billion.”

     “It’s an optimal number,” Cathy added.

     I didn’t have the strength to ask how the world’s population was cut so dramatically or kept in check.  So I simply asked, “How is it working?”

     “Very well,” Cathy said.  “You yourself are a living example of the benefits of the advances we’ve made in health care.”

     “How so?” I asked.

     “When you had your accident,” said Cathy, “the average lifespan of a man in the United States was about seventy-eight years.  Now, we’re not even sure what the upward limit is.”

     “What do you mean?” I asked.

     “Well,” said Brenda, “for example, you are now five hundred and forty-two years old, Mr. Douglas.  And I must say you are still in remarkably good health.”

     “You mean there are others as old as me?”

     “Not many,” Cathy said.  “You’re one of the oldest people on earth.  But given the pace of the advancement of our genomic and health care technologies, there is no reason to set an upward limit on life expectancy.”

     I blinked.

     “Where am I?  I mean what kind of a place is this?”

     “You are in a special facility dedicated to the care of people who have reached their five-hundredth year,” Brenda said.

     “In sector four,” Cathy added.

     “What do people like me do here?” I asked.

     The two nurses looked at each other.

     “Nothing really,” Cathy said.

     “Nothing?” I asked.

     “That’s right,” Brenda said.  “You worked hard as a young man, Mr. Douglas.  You provided for your family, and you paid taxes.  If would be unfair for us not to take care of you now, just as we would take care of anyone.”

     “Anyone?” I asked.

     “Yes, anyone,” Cathy said.  “That’s the idea.  Equality in every way.”

     “Total equality,” Brenda added.

     I was having a hard time understanding.

     “Where is my wife?” I asked.  “Where are my children?”

     The nurses looked at each other.

     “Your wife and children are gone, Mr. Douglas,” Cathy said.  “I am sorry.”

     “Gone?  When?”

     “They died more than four hundred years ago,” Brenda said.  “Unlike you, they were not able to benefit from the medical advances we’ve made over the past five hundred years.  Unfortunately, they died too soon.  They were among the last of the pre-tribunal era people, before we could get everything organized and everyone in the system.”

     “I am sorry, Mr. Douglas,” Cathy said.

     It seemed I had just kissed my wife and children goodbye that morning.  I missed them.  My eyes welled with tears.

     “Then why am I still alive?”

     “You survived in a coma just long enough to begin to receive DNA infusions,” Cathy said.  “DNA from your younger self, Mr. Douglas.  These days, when a baby is born, DNA is taken and injected back into his or her body over the course of centuries.  We were able to take samples of your DNA when you were in your sixties.  That is the DNA we continue to inject periodically and why you’ll continue to be in your sixties, possibly forever.”

     “Forever?”

     “Well, yes, theoretically,” Brenda said.

     “But I don’t want to live like this forever!”

     The nurses looked at each other quizzically.

     “Mr. Douglas,” Cathy said.  “You are in relatively good health.  We give you proper nutrition every day.  You want for nothing because, in accordance with the rules, others pay for everything you need.  The earth is cooling.  Our air and water are clean.  And the world is at peace.  What more could you ask for?”

     I looked back at forth at the nurses.  I looked more closely at their faces.  They were flawless.  I could not tell their age.

     “But I’m not supposed to live here forever!  My wife and children are gone.  I should be gone too.  I should be with them.”

     “But Mr. Douglas,” Cathy said.  “You are not with them.  You are here, with us.”

     “And it is our duty, Mr. Douglas,” Brenda said, adjusting a dial on the device at the foot of my bed, “to ensure your well-being.”

# # #

unnamed (13)

Don Tassone’s debut short story collection, Get Back, and debut novel, Drive, were published in 2017.  He lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati.  Find him at dontassone.com.

Listen up, Bitches: It’s 2018! New Writing Prompts, Submissions Questions Answered, and More…- Editor-in-Chief Kelly Fitzharris Faulk

Transport me. Make me believe.

Prompt # 1 (Running for the month of February): Write a story in which five characters (it doesn’t have to be exactly five) are trapped in a house or a building because of an emergency, such as a severe winter storm.

*Any submissions sent for this prompt must have TRAPPED in the subject line.*

Prompt # 2 (Running for the month of March):  Write a story that begins with your protagonist knocking on their ex’s front door.

*Any submissions sent for this prompt must have DOOR in the subject line.*

Prompt # 3 (Running for the month of April): Write a story that takes place at a rest stop and captures its limbo-like vibe.

*Any submissions sent for this prompt must have REST STOP in the subject line.*

**NOTE: The ‘FUTURE’ prompt is, at the moment, running sort of open-ended, so for those of you who are still emailing back and forth with me about your future piece, please note that this new prompt schedule will not affect your work. **

 

The first addition to the editorial team here at SLM is…drum roll…Nikki rae Spano. She’s coming onto the team as my Assistant Editor. She’s a brilliant writer, collaborator, and is dedicated to keeping SLM’s mission alive and reaching even more writers that might be stifled or have yet to find us. Look out for her editorial note, which is in the works.

We have a new submissions email! – the other one must be destroyed. Its backlog is slowly overwhelming and eroding the OCD portion in my brain. Email ALL submissions, submissions questions, and everything else to slmsubmissions@gmail.com.

You may address your submissions to me or to Nikki. As far as all of the submissions currently stuck in my personal inbox, if you’ve yet to hear back from me, re-send it to he new address. If we’ve been in touch, hang tight. My children bring regularly bring home severe colds and/or flus, and I am suffering from one of those two things at the moment. (Great, right? Just what I need.)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t joking. The old submissions email has been accidentally, maliciously destroyed by yours truly.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s meant that I’ve had more time to spend with submissions, writers, photographers, and artists on how the post will look on the web site, and it has given me more time to tailor it and whatnot.

What I’m about to say in this next paragraph is REALLY IMPORTANT: IF you have submitted to the future theme SPECIFICALLY and have not heard one peep back from me yet, email me again, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! The other day I accidentally archived things that weren’t meant to be archived. And, sometimes gmail likes to bury submissions in the spam / junk folder. I’m serious about this. I’m not asking you to pester me to the point of harassment, because I can and will probably lose my shit. But an email or 2 checking in on your future submission IF you’ve not heard anything would actually be extremely appreciated by me.

The only thing holding you back is YOU. I don’t care how cliche that is. I genuinely mean it. If your work needs guidance or help to make it shine, let’s work on it together. But don’t give up. If you write: if you derive joy, happiness, contentment, catharsis, or anything that’s slightly above a neutral emotion, then you’re a writer and you matter. You are apart of a community and you do belong.

NOW is the time to polish your work — every piece I publish from January the 1st up until right before the deadline is ELIGIBLE TO BE NOMINATED by me, by SLM, for the Pushcart Prize. My entries, which are limited to 6 per year, have to be postmarked by, at the very latest, December the 1st. The window for me to get them SLM’s entries for 2018 is from October the 1st until December the 1st and I take these nominations seriously.

I have a renewed sense of hope, excitement and passion for this magazine. And I hope you do too.

A few things: Heads up! There might (this means there will inevitably be) be more than a few template / layout changes to the site before I find one I like. Switching it up helps me to find the best way to reach you guys and to find out what sort of template you find the most aesthetically pleasing while being easily navigable.

We hope that the prompts inspire and/or excite you, that the content and the vibe here at SLM becomes infectious, and that you guys are looking forward to getting to work. Because we’re sure as hell excited. Here’s to moving forward.

Peace out, 

Keep doing what you do, 

zzzyy

Over and out, 

Kelly Fitzharris Faulk, Editor-in-Chief

Among the Stars – by Mary Johnson

Among the Stars

by Mary Johnson

 

The first thing she saw was a ceiling. It was gray, so pale it was almost white, and seemed to be made of metal. There was something hard under her body, and a light blue sheet over her. She heard the hiss and murmur of machinery.

She blinked and swallowed. Her mouth felt dry; so did her eyes. She swallowed again and said, “Arnold? Is anyone there?”

A tall man smiled down at her. “Doctor Singh? She’s awake,” he said.

Then a woman’s face appeared, dark like the man’s. Both wore blue caps and coats. “How are you feeling?” the woman asked. She had a lilting accent.

“Fine. I’m fine. Is Arnold there?”

“Who is Arnold?”

“My husband. Arnold’s my husband. Am I out of surgery?”

“No.” The woman’s voice was soothing. “You did not need surgery. We simply gave you an injection.”

“I don’t remember. I don’t remember that. The doctor said it was inoperable, but Arnold said there had to be something they could do. Where is he?”

The doctor hushed her. “Don’t think of these things. You’re doing very well. Are you hungry?”

She thought for a moment. Then she shook her head. “No, but I’m thirsty. May I have some water?”

“Of course.” The man appeared with a small clear cup. “Can you sit up? We’ll raise the bed.”

An engine hummed, and the bed pushed at her till she was half-sitting. The man held the cup to her lips, and she drank eagerly. “Would you like more?” he murmured, and she nodded. Another cup appeared at her lips, and she swallowed the water. “Good. You’re still not hungry?”

“No.”

“Good. The doctor says you should not try to eat. We will try that when you wake again.”

“Where’s Arnold?” she mumbled.

Where am I, she thought. But there was no answer.

 

#

The dark man and woman were standing next to her when she woke again. “Let’s get you on your feet,” the woman said. “I’d like to see you walk a bit.” Once again, she heard a faint hum from the bed, and found herself sitting up. “We’ll help you. We don’t expect you to take more than a few steps. Then you can rest. Can you swing your legs over the side of the bed?”

She tried to obey. Her legs felt like sticks of wood, as though they didn’t belong to her, but she was able to move them. The man stood at her side to support her. She stood. “It feels like pins and needles!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know if I can move.”

“The pins and needles are a good sign. We’ve been moving your legs for you since we treated your tumor, but that shows you can feel them. There is no nerve damage. Can you walk?”

Obediently, she slid one foot forward, then the other. “Try to lift them,” the man murmured in her ear, so she tried. She made it to the door of her room. By then, her legs felt heavy and she was strangely breathless.

“Good! That’s very good. We are going to continue with passive therapy twice a day, and we want you to keep walking, a little further each time.”

“I’m exhausted,” she said. “Where’s Arnold?”

“You asked that before. You said Arnold was your husband. Can you remember his full name?”

“Of course! Arnold Heller. Haven’t you heard of him?”

The doctor shook her head. “I’m afraid not. But we will certainly search for information about your family. The more you can tell us, the easier that will be. Please don’t worry. Try to rest now.”

#

How could she rest when she was so worried? But her body seemed very weak and tired, and when she wasn’t lying on her back, she was doing some sort of physical therapy or test. Always, there were the metal walls and floor and ceiling. Always, there was the faint hum of machinery. Always, there were questions, hers and theirs. Sometimes the questions were spoken.

“Your husband was Arnold Heller? Did you have other family?”

Did? What was with the past tense?

“Yes, of course! We have children. Arnie’s three, and Michelle is just one. Where are they? Where are my babies?”

“We’ll try to find out,” the nurse said, his voice soothing. “You’ve been asleep for a very long time.”

“How long?”

“We’ll try to find out,” he repeated. She stared. Why did he look so solemn, and why couldn’t he just answer her? But before she could ask another question, he asked, “Can you remember your name?”

“My name? P-Pearl. Pearl Heller.”

“Did you have a different name before you married?”

At that, she hesitated. All the other questions had been easy: she was American, she was twenty-eight years old, her parents were dead, and her husband was Arnold Heller. She’d been a daughter, a wife, a mother. But who was she? After a long moment, it came to her. “Fletcher. Pearl Fletcher. How long have I been asleep?”

“We don’t know yet. We’ll try to find out.”

 

#

It was strange that she was so tired if she’d been asleep for days or months. The next time they took her for a walk, she managed to ask some questions. “Where am I?” she said to the nurse walking beside her. “And what’s your name again?”

The nurse looked grave. “My name is Marcus Santos. You can just call me Marcus.”

“Thank you. But where am I?”

“Dr. Singh and the captain will talk to you when we get back to sick bay.”

“Sick bay? Are we on a ship?”

Marcus nodded. “We are aboard the Scholastica. We’re a ship of exploration and discovery.”

“Oh.” It must be a very big ship, Pearl thought. It traveled so smoothly; she couldn’t feel the ocean waves at all. “When will we come to land?” she asked.

“Not till next month. Here we are.”

#

The doctor was waiting for her, along with a tall woman with broad shoulders, full lips, and tightly curling hair cut close to her head.  She was brown-skinned, like Marcus and Dr. Singh, but then, Pearl had noticed that most of the people on this ship were various shades of brown. The strange woman clearly wasn’t a doctor or nurse, because she wasn’t wearing blue. Instead, she had a lovely red scarf draped over one shoulder.

Both women stood up when Pearl came into the room. “Ms. Heller,” the doctor said, “can you tell me what year it is?”

“Of course. It’s 2017.”

“I see. Will you sit down, please?”

Pearl obeyed, and the doctor poured water into a glass, staring at her gravely. The tall woman said, “I am Captain Sands.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Pearl whispered, and held out her hand. After a pause, the captain took it and shook it. Then she licked her lips and continued, “The year is 2517. You are aboard a spaceship. We discovered you floating in space in a cryogenic capsule.”

“In a–what?”

“A cryogenic capsule. You had been frozen.”

“No. Oh, no,” Pearl said, shaking her head. “I was going in for surgery. The first two doctors said the tumor was inoperable, but Arnold said we’d get a third opinion. He said,” her voice dropped. “He said he wouldn’t let me die.”

“Did he?” The captain had a deep, warm voice, like velvet. “Well, you’re alive now.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know that.” Pearl could hear her own voice rising. “If I’m alive, where’s my husband? Where are my children?”

The doctor stood and pressed the glass of water into Pearl’s hand, saying, “Drink this, please.”

In the past year, Pearl had grown accustomed to obeying doctors. Before that, she’d done what Arnold had wanted, and before that, she’d obeyed her parents. She took the glass and sipped from it. Her hand was shaking, and the water tasted a little too sweet. “Is there something in here?” she asked.

“Just a mild relaxant. Please drink it.”

“No.” To her own shock, Pearl snapped her wrist so the water went splashing out of the glass toward the doctor. But she had already taken a couple of swallows. She could feel her muscles softening. She sobbed aloud, just once, and asked again, “Where are my children? Where are they?” The glass slipped out of her hand and bounced on the carpeted floor. Then she saw the captain shaking her head at the doctor. Next came a soft hissing sound and darkness.

 

#

Both women were by her bedside when she woke again, along with the nurse, Marcus. “Good morning, Pearl. Do you remember our last conversation?” the captain said.

“Yes.” Pearl turned her head away and closed her eyes.

“Can you sit up?” This time it was the doctor who spoke.

“I have a headache,” Pearl mumbled, but she sat.

“I think we may have some good news for you,” the captain said. “We began researching your family history, and it seems your son and daughter both married. You have descendants on Mars colony.”

“Mars. Why should they care about me?” Pearl’s voice was flat. What she meant, but couldn’t manage to say, was, why should I care about them?  “They don’t know me. They don’t know my children. Everyone I ever knew is dead.”

“We can get in touch with them, if you like. Please think about it.”

 

#

She did think about it in the days that followed, while she worked at her physical therapy and all the other tasks the doctor wanted her to do. The only thought that came to her, over and over, was the one she’d spoken aloud: her children were dead. She could not stop mourning them.

Little Arnie had just entered the nuts-about-dinosaurs stage. He loved going to the natural history museum and pointing out everything there to anyone who would listen. She could hear him saying, “Look, Mommy, that’s a ‘ceraptops. He used to fight with T Rex!”

“Who won?”

“T Rex! He ate him!”

Pearl smiled. “Are you sure? He doesn’t look like anyone ate him.”

“Yes! T Rex always wins.”

“So who’s your favorite dino?”

“T Rex! Oh, look, that’s a terasaur!” He was too little to pronounce all the difficult names, but he already knew everything about dinosaurs. He’d tell the whole museum all about the lives and habits of the flying monsters, while Michelle gurgled and waved at her brother from her stroller. Such bright, happy children.

And now they were dead. Dead and buried and turned to dust. She would never see them again.

#

She kept thinking of Arnold, too. He’d loved science fiction. On the shows he watched, starship crews had uniforms and ranks and strict schedules. The Scholastica wasn’t like that. It was like nothing she’d ever imagined. Here, people moved to a soft sound of bells, and there were snatches of song and laughter.  Of course, the doctors and nurses had their blue coats and caps, but otherwise, there was no uniform, except that everyone wore black shirts and skirts or leggings or trousers. They had soft black shoes or slippers or sandals; some went barefoot. The only mark of rank was a long, bright square of cloth. Some were red, others yellow or green or blue. People wore their scarves differently, tied at the neck and flowing down their backs, or over one shoulder, or round their waists as a sort of skirt. They had one knot, or two, or three. Marcus, like some of the men and women, wore his scarf as a sort of sarong, tied round his chest and falling to just above his knees.

He took her on a tour of the ship when she was strong enough, showing her the library, the gymnasiums, the cafes. “And this is my favorite place. Our oxygen well. It’s right in the center of the ship, and anyone can come here when they’re off duty,” he said, walking through a double door.  Pearl gasped as the warmth and humidity hit her. She was in a greenhouse. A palm tree rose toward the ceiling in front of her, and there were bright purple and yellow flowers everywhere. It was lovely, she had to admit, but she didn’t feel drawn to go back when she was pronounced fit to walk around the ship on her own.

No, the place that drew her was a common room with a view of the stars. You could stare out the small, oval portholes and watch them streaming by in streaks of red and blue and white and gold. The stars reminded her of her husband.

He’d been more than twenty years older than she, and he sometimes talked about his death. “I’ll be up there,” he’d told her, peering through his telescope. “Take a look! I’ll be right up there among the stars and you’ll always be able to see me.” She smiled, because that was what he seemed to want her to do. “I’ll look for you,” she promised. “But that won’t be for a long time. Not for years and years. I don’t want you to die!”

“Hey, sweetie,” Arnold hugged her from behind. “I bet, years from now, we won’t have to die. Just think of the progress we’ve made in the past century alone! If I get cancer or something like that, I’m going to get frozen. They can thaw me out when they have a cure.”

“Ugh!” Pearl said. She couldn’t see that being frozen was any better than being dead. “Don’t talk like that! You’re not going to get cancer.”

She’d been right. Arnold hadn’t gotten cancer. She had. Inoperable cancer of the brain. And she’d been frozen. Had he done it, too? Was his body, still encased in ice, floating somewhere out there among the stars?

It might be. She remembered now how they’d gone to his lawyer together and signed living wills. It seemed like a good thing at the time. “This way we’ll be able to decide for each other if either of us gets very sick.”

“But you won’t get very sick. I know I won’t! Not any time soon,” Pearl said.

“Sure, of course not! You’re young and healthy, and I try to be. But you never know. Remember, sweetheart, if I ever get too sick for them to operate, I want the cryogenic option. I’ve written it down. I want that for you, as well. We can both live in a glorious future!”

“What does that mean?” Pearl thought their future, watching the children grow up, would be glorious enough. She didn’t want more. But Arnold was a dreamer. That was one of the things she loved him for, after all. So she didn’t argue very hard. She signed the form.

Now she wished she hadn’t. It just wasn’t right, this cryogenic option.

 

#

That was what she thought of when she stood at the porthole in the center of the common room and stared at the rainbows of stars flashing by. She was in outer space, far beyond her own solar system, and her babies were dead. Her husband was dead. Why was she alive? She spoke the thought aloud: “I should be dead.”

A voice spoke behind her. “Your life is a gift. You may not throw that gift back in the giver’s face.”

Pearl jumped. She’d thought herself alone, but the doctor had come up behind her. Pearl felt herself shaking. Was she afraid? No, she realized with something like surprise. She was angry. “I didn’t want this!” she shouted. “No one asked me if I wanted this! You should have left me alone!” Pearl swung an awkward slap at the doctor, who caught her wrist and held it. “You should have let me die! I’d rather be dead! Let me go!”

Doctor Singh dropped her wrist. “I must defend myself if you hit me again. It’s all right to be angry. I understand. But don’t hit me again.”

“I’m sorry,” Pearl gasped. “But I–”

“You just want to hit someone? Who are you angry with?”

“I–you! I’m angry at you! You should have left me alone!”

“All right. I understand,” the doctor repeated.

“No. You don’t. You can’t. You can’t possibly understand. Leave me alone!” Pearl whirled away and stared out the porthole. The stars blurred and streaked into swirling lines. She heard quiet footsteps, then silence. Then the sound of the door sliding open. “Miz. Fletcher? May I speak with you?”

Pearl kept staring out at the stars. “It’s Mrs. I’m Mrs. Heller.”

“I apologize. We keep our own names when we marry.”

“We don’t. I didn’t. What do you want?” Pearl turned. The captain stood just within the doorway, staring at her gravely.

“Doctor Singh is deeply concerned about you,” the captain said.

“Well, good for her. Let her be concerned. She should have left me alone. Why didn’t you leave me alone?”

The captain took a deep breath and crossed the room to stand next to Pearl. For a moment, she looked out at the stars. Without turning, she said, “Let me try to explain. We are a ship of exploration and discovery. When we saw your capsule, we didn’t know what it was. We brought it aboard to find out. When we saw it contained a human being, and that she might be alive, we naturally tried to rescue you. Life is a great gift; it’s precious. We are bound to try to serve life. Had we known your wishes, we might have left you alone. But we didn’t know.”

“Okay. You do now. Can’t that doctor give me an injection or something?”

“Let me be clear. You are asking if Doctor Singh will kill you.” Pearl was silent. She hadn’t actually thought of it that way. “She is a doctor. She’s taken the Hippocratic oath. She will not kill a healthy patient,” the captain said.

“But my babies are dead. They’re dead! Why am I alive?” To her shock, Pearl began wailing aloud. Ugly, loud sobs came up from her gut and shook her whole body. Captain Sands embraced her, and Pearl clung to the older woman as she might have clung to a tree in a flood. The captain stroked her the way she used to stroke little Arnie after one of his tantrums when he was overtired. Pearl sobbed and sobbed.

“That’s good. That’s good. Let it all out,” the captain said. Pearl leaned on the taller woman. She wasn’t sure she could stand without the captain’s support. “It’s hard. I know. It’s hard to lose someone you love,” the captain whispered in her ear.

At last, Pearl managed to stand on her own. She wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. “I’m sorry. I got your beautiful scarf all wet.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. It’s only a scarf. You’re a human being. You good now?”

“I think so.” Pearl wasn’t sure; she wasn’t sure what “good” even meant in this new world. After a moment, she asked the captain, “Do you have children?”

“Two. A boy and a girl, like you. But they’re grown now, off studying. My boy wants to be a monk, but I think he’ll change his mind. I can’t see him as a monk.” The captain looked straight into Pearl’s face. “I know it’s the wrong way round. It’s hard. But we all lose our children someday.”

“But–”

“When you went in for surgery, didn’t you think you might die?”

Pearl paused. “Yes. I did. I was afraid I might never see Arnie and Michelle again. But that’s different.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. Yes, it is.”

“Okay. I can see that. I’d hate it if my son and daughter died before me.” The captain sighed. For a moment, she stood next to Pearl, staring out at the stars.  Then she said, “We’ll be entering the solar system within seven more solar days. We were on our way back when we found you. We’ll be stopping at Europa colony and Mars colony before we get to Terra. Have you thought about what you’ll do?”

Pearl shook her head.

“All right,” Captain Sands said, and laid one hand on Pearl’s shoulder. “You’ve got time. One thing I wanted to tell you. You’ve got a great-great-great-great granddaughter on Mars colony. She’s a grandmother now herself, and she’d love to see you. Her name is Michelle.”

“Michelle,” Pearl said softly. And then she was in tears again, but this time they were silent and peaceful tears. She let them run down her face and stared out at the kaleidoscope of stars. A bell chimed. When she dried her eyes and turned round, the captain was gone.

 

 

 

 

 

#

Nine days later, the Scholastica stopped at Europa colony. Pearl had been thinking hard. What would it be like if she were told she could meet an ancestor of hers from the 16th century? What on earth could they even talk about? “I don’t know what I can do for her,” she murmured aloud. She was in the sickbay, being checked after more physical therapy.

“Who?” Dr. Singh asked.

“This woman, Michelle. She doesn’t know me.”

“But she wants to know you. Isn’t that right?”

But what do I want? Pearl thought to herself. All her life, she’d done what other people had expected of her. Now she was alone. What did she want?

“You said you didn’t know what you could do for Michelle Forrest. Maybe you don’t have to do anything for her. Maybe she wants to do something for you.”

Pearl didn’t answer. “Right. You’re doing very well; pulse and blood pressure normal. You’re free to go,” Dr. Singh said, and Pearl slid off the examining table and walked back to the common room with the view of the stars.

Mars colony. She thought of that when she looked out the central porthole. She thought of the doctor’s words. Wouldn’t she have enjoyed showing her life to her 16th century ancestress? TV and handheld telephones, hot showers, the children playing on their iPads, cars and trains and everything else that was so familiar to her, but that would have seemed like marvels to a woman from five hundred years in the past? She was sure she would.

But who was she, Pearl Fletcher Heller? She’d always defined herself by her family. She had been a daughter, a wife, a mother. Now she was none of those things. Who was she, herself?

She walked back to the infirmary and said to Dr. Singh, “May I speak to the captain, please?”

“Yes, of course.” The doctor pressed a button. A moment later, there was a chime, and the door slid open. Captain Sands said, “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes.” Pearl licked her lips, which had gone very dry. After a long pause, she said, “I wondered–I wanted to ask. Do you think my husband could be out there? Floating in space, the way I was?”

“It’s possible.”

“And my children?”

The captain said nothing, merely shaking her head.

“I think I want–I want to know. To find out what happened to them.”

“We can help you look for records. There would be documents.”

Pearl sighed. “Okay. Good. I’d like to do that. But first, I think I’d like to go to Mars.”

“You’re quite sure?” The captain looked at her gravely.

“Of course not. How can I be sure of anything? But this woman wants to meet me. That’s a place to start, isn’t it?”

Captain Sands inclined her head. “Yes. I think you’re right. It is a place to start.

#

The captain, Dr. Singh, and Marcus all embraced her when she prepared to board the shuttle for Mars colony. “We’ll be back here in a month’s time,” Captain Sands told her. “If you wish, you can board again and journey with us. You will always have a home here.”

“Thank you,”

“I will do what I can to find out what happened to your husband and children. Michelle Forrest can also help you research. “Doctor Singh added, “We will see you soon. Be patient with yourself. You’ve been very brave.”

Brave? She’d never thought of herself as brave.

“Vaya con Dios,” Marcus said when he hugged her. Go with God. She wasn’t so sure she believed in God, but she appreciated his good wishes. For the first time, it occurred to her that he was handsome and kind. Would he miss her when she got on that shuttle?

She would miss him. She’d miss all of them. The Scholastica had begun to feel like home, but she wasn’t actually part of the crew. She needed to find a life. Maybe she would find it on Mars colony.

She squared her shoulders and walked through the hatchway into the shuttle.

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I are a writer

Mary Johnson will always be grateful to her family for nurturing her love of story. Her father read her Lewis and Tolkien, her mother introduced her to the Greek myths, and she played endless games of make-believe with her sisters and brother. Her sisters are still among her first and best readers. Mary’s been published in “Mythic Circle”, in the “Westchester Review”, and now, for the second time, in Sick Lit.  You can find some of her other writing at her author page, where she welcomes comments and discussion. Visit her online at http://mjohnsonstories.net/, or at http://maryj59.wordpress.com/

Imagined Futures – Photography from Jason Jackson

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These images come from an ongoing project called Imagined Futures.
I’m interested in how the act of photographing something can remove it from its context, allowing it to become re-imagined as a scene from a dystopia. So, a mannequin in a Berlin shop window, an anti-Trump protest, a car-park, people on the street at night, and graffiti in a Bristol back lane and the gate to my local park all somehow become part of possible, imagined future worlds.
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 Jason Jackson takes photographs. He also writes short fiction and poetry. In a busy life he hopes to get better at all three.