The Picnic that Never Was
“Hi I’m Melanie, now before we get started, I want you both to know that I’m only here to get the whole story, no judgement, all I ask is that you just be honest and open, okay?” the police therapist said as she sat down, getting out a bedazzled pen and notepad. Zed and Nat shared a disbelieving look, then through a series of eyebrow movements and head nods they decided Nat would go first.
She inhaled sharply then began, “So it’s like this, we were on our way to the get some Slurpee’s”
“I wanted a mix of grape and blue raspberry crush.” Zed added.
“We were dressed in our finest summer festival attire. When this giant sloth walks out onto the road and passed out right in front of us.” Nat said gesturing with her hands to show the size of it.
Melanie nods as she writes everything down, “…raspberry crush…” she mumbles. “So, then what happened?”
Zed grinned, “That’s when things got weird. You see we pulled up a side street and parked but there were these kids selling fresh limenade…”
“Wait? Limenade?” Melanie asked.
Nodding in unison the pair said, “Limenade”.
“Anyway,” Zed continued, “we bought a couple of glasses, but when we turned around…”
“The whole stand was gone!” Nat said dramatically.
Zed made spooky gestures with his hand well he whistled the twilight zone theme. “After that we walked up the street to the bank.”
“We didn’t know it was being robbed.” Nat emphasized.
“We walked right in and thought it was some kind of circus of savings event or something.” Zed said solemnly.
“I’m guessing it wasn’t a circus of savings?” Melanie asked. They both shook their heads.
“They thought we were part of the crew robbing the bank because of the bright clothes.” Nat deadpanned.
“They gave us guns” Zed mirrored.
“Anyway, we didn’t want to get shot so we just started filling our pockets with money when this guy in a pimp costume starts yelling.”
“It was pretty messed up”
Nat shuddered as she remembered, “I don’t think I’ll be able to ever look at big bird the same way again.”
“The pimp’s head…um…let’s call her assistant, confused Nat for a new…assistant and they started to fight.” Zed said tactfully.
“Yeah” Nat nodded, “so while they were trying to kill each other we broke a window and escaped.”
“But what does all this have to do with the ice cream shop?” Melanie asked.
“We were getting to that,” Zed said, “So after we got away, we were feeling pretty relieved. We just wanted to sit down and process things over, you guessed it, ice cream.”
“Except as soon as we got the ice cream some twelve-year-old girl genius breaks in, yelling about freeing the dairy. I think that little girl needed a hug or something.” Nat said with heartbroken pity.
“So, then we got locked in the freezer after she turned the owner into a bucket of disturbed looking gelato.” Zed continued.
“I see and then that’s when they found you with gelato owner and the stolen money.” Melanie said triumphantly.
They both shrugged, “Pretty much”
“Except for that zombie mouse we crushed under that birthday cake” Zed added.
“Oooh, and that batch of sugar-free pineapple gelato that tried to eat us.” said Nat.
“Oh and…” and so it went for hours as the two retold the tale of the picnic that never was.
Henry walked into the grocery store, thinking to himself that certain people shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Specifically the person who had just crashed his huge Dodge truck with the lift kit into a parked minivan. The mom in the minivan was tearing a strip off driver for endangering her children while he just rolled his eyes and gave her the finger. I’m sure he would have driven off but one of his oversized tires had gotten impaled on half a sign post he ran over backing up.
He was going to lose his license most likely and in Henry’s opinion it wasn’t a bad thing. Still part of him could sympathize with the man. That dumb bastard had just destroyed his vehicle which he had clearly invested substantial time and money into. Sure his priorities may be a little messed up but it was still an investment he had just let his anger flush away.
He grabbed a fresh loaf of bread, some imported cheese, and filled his basket with vegetables he had never heard of as a kid. He had made his millions and could now afford whatever he wanted. Henry had grown up poor and hated every minute of it. His parents told him to work hard so he could have a good life. That was a load of crap, he became rich the same way everyone does, by being an asshole and sucking up to bigger assholes.
“But that’s not what this self help book says?” you may be thinking, well that’s because self help books are subtly telling you exactly that. The author wrote a bunch of positive tripe, wrapped it in a beautiful sunrise photo, and added a fluffy title like “Be the best you” or “Success through Positive energy”. They then live comfortably off the fact that they just robbed you and made you feel good about it for awhile in the process.
Henry was now the vice president of a company that published that same tripe. He chuckled to himself as he headed to the deli. The woman in front of him was standing with her two children and nervously arguing with the man behind the counter. “But it’s bologna, why is it so expensive?”
“It’s viewed as somewhat of a delicacy now.” the man shrugged, “now are you going to buy something or not?”
Henry looked at the basket the woman was carrying, it was mostly cheap canned foods, and noodles. She clearly looked like she was calculating between gas and food for her children. Henry remembered seeing his parents have that expression, he remembered the times they had to eat canned fruit for lunch and horrible cheap noodles for dinner if they had enough for dinner. He scowled, and marched forward, “Sir I want you to give them five hundred grams of chicken, turkey, ham, and” he looked over his shoulder at the mom, “bologna! And the same for me if you please.”
She choked back tears as he handed her the meat and a fifty dollar bill for her groceries. Though he was careful to hide this from the eyes of her children. He knew they already were aware that money was a precious commodity but also didn’t want their mom to feel belittled in front of her children. He simply smiled and nodded. “Thank you” she whispered, “You don’t know what this means to me.”
As he watched her walk away and grab a few essentials like eggs, milk, and vegetables he was aware of how incredibly wrong she was. He knew exactly how much it meant to her, because he knew how much it would have meant to him to have a bologna sandwich as a kid.
Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.
— James Baldwin
A Free Lunch
“That robot took my Job!”, “What do you mean there isn’t any money anymore, how will I get paid?”, “My job doesn’t exist, what do I do now?”, “You bankrupted me! I want my money back!”. The mob screamed outside the offices of Weird Tech Innovations Enterprises.
“Excuse me ma’am,” a voice said from the doorway, “the mob is preventing incoming shipments of raw materials from reaching us.”
“When will the shuttles be ready?” the woman at the window asked as she peered down at the mob below her.
“Tomorrow, but we won’t be able to start shipping with them until next week for logistical reasons.” Her assistant at the door checked over his notes on his tablet. “Of course, we still have enough raw materials to last us another ninety-two days, though it is a major drain on our energy resources. The government says they are still interested in our power plant technology; however, they do not want to give us a nationwide contract until the general populace adjusts more to the current changes.”
With a heavy sigh the woman sat down at her desk. In the old days she could have at least said that she had a good job and made a lot of money. Today however she had personally helped remove money as the default currency. Over sixty percent of jobs had already been replaced with automation with the other thirty percent to be replaced over the next five years. This didn’t mean everyone was without work, as thousands of jobs were being created daily as everyone adjusted to the new moneyless society. “Philo, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” he stammered.
“Do you like your job? I mean, you’re not getting paid, that’s not how things work anymore. So, I need to know, why are you still here.” she looked up at him with a tired anticipation.
He smiled and looked down at his tablet, for a few minutes he said nothing then handed it to his boss. On the screen was a news article about the impending change dated five years ago in 2020. It credited the change to MTI Ent. and its CEO Tulip Yıldız for building the technology that would make it possible. “I’ve learned that there is more to life than a paycheck, and I believe this company has created a positive work environment to move forward with that vision. We are granted free education, we work as needed, and are encouraged to pursue hobbies and activities in our spare time. I’ll admit the shock of little things like getting groceries without paying and giving up my vehicle took a lot of getting used to. Still, we’re finally seeing massive declines in conditions of anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and violence.”
He reached down and flicked to the next related story, it was about a group of thieves that returned a hundred television sets they had taken in broad daylight. According to the article they had realized the futility of stealing in a moneyless society as there was no benefit to stealing them. “Why are you showing me these?” Tulip asked having read both stories repeatedly.
“Because ma’am, I want you to remember what you’ve done for all of us. Everyday I come into work I get to learn from one of the greatest minds in the world. It hasn’t always been easy sure, but it has never been boring and has always shown me a new way of looking at whatever oppressing problem threatened the company at that given time.” He took a seat across from her as she scrolled through other stories praising the work they had done.
Finally, she shut the tablet off and sat back in her chair, “Thank you Philo, I really needed that right now. You know Kim isn’t talking to me since she lost her job. She’s had several offers for new programming jobs, but she says she needs time. She’s also under a lot of fire when she leaves the house from similarly upset people. One group even threw rancid apples at her.”
“That’s disturbingly poetic, but it’s not her fault, that company had burnt their bridges with the rest of the technological community years ago, she can hardly be blamed for their collapse.” he defended.
Tulip sighed and turned back to the window, “We did nothing to incite this mob either but they are holding us responsible all the same.”
Philo stood and walked over to the window, “People like to see the worst because it distracts from their own lives. Now their lives have been taken care of, they only need to work if they want to, but people get accustomed to complaining. It’s a bad habit like swearing, but it won’t change anything for them or anyone else. They just need an outlet for their confusion and have chosen us.”
“I know you’re right but I still feel like I’ve failed them.” Tulip sighed.
“Give it a bit, they just need time to adjust to everything. They’ll see the beauty in their new freedom once they have time to sit down and really register the freedom that’s been given to them.” As Philo spoke a food truck had pulled up and started handing out various food dishes. Several people began slowly drifting away from the mob as they praised the wonderful food truck that gave them a free lunch. The two in the office chuckled as they realized all the lunches would be free now.
We can complain
because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.
— Abraham Lincoln
Touch of genius
“Fifteen minutes until impact!” said the computer soothingly, Stephen checked the sensors one last time to make sure the payload was still intact. Everything was running smoothly and the fusion generator was almost at critical output. A second counter under the first counted down from fourteen minutes, at which point everything would go miraculously right or he would learn the horror a bug feels right before impacting onto the windshield of a car.
“Ten minutes until impact” the computer chimed, “Please take your seat and prep for FTL.”
As Stephen buckled himself into his chair and donned his helmet, he crossed his fingers, then checked his calculation for the twelfth last time again while muttering “Please work, please work, please work,”
“Five minutes until impact…. Finishing final scans…. Scans complete!… Calculating launch vectors…. Launch vectors complete… Would you like to start the FTL sequence? Y/N?” the computer asked displaying the point-of-no-return message on the screen.
“I guess this is the windmill Marty!” Stephen joked as he clicked the ‘Y’ for yes and immediately felt the engine start drawing from the massive power his generator had just built up. As it did a large blue aura seemed to expand from the ship like a catcher’s mitt, ready to grab that asteroid before it could destroy his home.
Meanwhile Stephen watched the clock, it read thirty seconds as he gritted his teeth, “Please work, please work,”
Finally, the stars stretched in reds and blues for a brief moment before everything returned to normal, he punched the thrusters and headed perpendicular to the asteroids trajectory which was now safely on the other side of earth with no chance of impact. As he cleared the asteroid and Earth came back into view and his radio clicked on.
“That was a touch of genius Steve!” said Fred at ground control.
“No,” replied Stephen, “that was just courageous, genius would have been bringing an extra pair of shorts.”
It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E. F. Schumacher
“Emma, why are we breaking into the pool?” Jasper whined, “Despite the fact that it’s illegal, it’s a pool. There is no benefit of sneaking into a pool, alone, at night.”
“I could be dragging you here to take you skinny dipping.” Emma countered as she popped the lock on the maintenance doors at the back of the pool. She pulled the door open and looked back at Jasper and waggled her eyes seductively as she slipped inside.
Jasper sighed, “You’re engaged to my cousin and I don’t think she would appreciate your sense of humour.” he said as he followed her inside.
“Why do you think I didn’t ask her to come yet?” Emma said as she began stripping layers of clothes off.
“What the hell are you doing? If you think I’m actually skinny dipping you think again.” Jasper crossed his arms and scowled both at her and the pool.
In response, Emma took her top off to reveal she was wearing a wetsuit underneath. She reached into the backpack by her now discarded clothes and tossed Jasper a plastic bag containing another wetsuit. “Suit up and quit whining!”
“You know I’m your best friend not your lackey right?” he grumbled as he headed for the changing room.
He emerged a few minutes later to find Emma standing at the edge of the ten meter platform staring at her watch. “Hurry up it’s almost time!”
“What the heck are you doing up there?” Jasper yelled from the pool deck.
“Oh you’ll see now get up here!” she shot back stomping one foot. Jasper sighed but begrudgingly made his way over to the stairs leading up to the diving platform.
He cautiously joined Emma near the edge of the platform seeing the dimly lit pool stretch beneath them. “So how long are we going to stand here and stare at the pond of chlorine below?”
Emma held up one hand still looking at her watch, “Wait for it,….” she said then a few seconds later dropped her hand and yelled “Now!” For a couple seconds nothing happened, but ever so slowly small eddies of light seemed to form at the bottom of the pool slowly bobbing around in an unforeseen current. Each one casting a mesmerising array of different colours onto the ceiling above rippling with the water below.
“Wow!” Jasper said, “that’s one trippy light show.” Emma grabbed his arm and dragged him right up to the edge. “What are you…” he began but she put a hand to her lips and pointed at the portals of light below.
“Listen, you can hear them” she whispered. Jasper didn’t have to strain his ear hard to hear the melodious bubbling of notes coming from below. One large portal seemed to stall beneath them as a large bubble of gas escaped. As it reached the top of the pool it popped and disappeared, but not before releasing a misty orange vapour that floated up.
As the vapour wafted up a fragrant odour like baked bread and roses filled the air. “What is that?” Jasper asked leaning forward nose first, “It smells amazing……. AHHHHHHH!” Emma had grabbed him by the front of his wetsuit and dragged him over the edge of the platform straight for orange hued portal below.
“Get ready, this is going to be awesome!” Emma yelled right before the hit the water and shot straight through the portal below. The world was bathed in the colour of sunset as they emerged on the other side to a warm and sweet smelling ocean.
“What the hell?” Jasper stammered, “You could have killed us! Where are we anyway?”
“No clue!” Emma beamed, “That was the first time I ever jumped in.” Jasper’s jaw dropped as he struggled to remember to tread water in his shock. “Oh don’t give me that look, I tested the air and water on this side using probes first.”
“It’s still messed up that you used me as one of your guinea pigs… Again I mean.” Jasper grumbled. He looked around at the beautiful ocean around them and saw a beach behind him about half a kilometre away. “Hey check it out, we could make it to that beach over there.”
“Can’t!” Emma yelled as her watch began to beep aggressively, “This was just a test run, we need to head back now.” She dove back down and headed for the portal they had come through. Jasper took one last look at the island paradise then followed her back.
Jasper gasped as he made broke the water’s surface back on their side of the portal, the high dive looming above them. Jasper looked down again just in time to see the portals slowly evaporating into light below them. “What happened?”
“The portals relate to the moon phases, we’re looking at a new moon tonight so it’s the shortest time span from what I’ve observed.” she grinned, “The longest is of course on a full moon where it can last for three whole hours in our time.”
“Where do the other portals go?” Jasper asked as he pulled himself out of the pool.
“No idea, but that’s what this is all about.” she squeezed the water out of her hair. “So what do you say partner? Want to come with me again next time?” Emma asked grinning ear to ear.
Thomas stared in dismay at unglazed donuts left in the box, he cringed and decided to just have a coffee instead. Of course, since he was the last one to take his break, he always got the leftover garbage. Not that he disliked his job, he’d successfully become head of the mail department in only a year, but that still meant delivering priority mail to the most secure floors upstairs.
He sighed as he put on a fresh pot of coffee to boil. The extra pay was nice but those top floors were also the farthest from the break room. He stared at the same four beige walls with generic motivational posters and thought ‘What’s the point of all this?’. It was a thought he had almost everyday, as he wasted time in the break room.
The coffee percolated down and he was about to go into his daily pros and cons checklist of his life so far, when the lights went out. The air went stale as a cold breeze flowed through the room, and the sounds of ominous footsteps came from the hall. Thomas’ heart rate spiked and he quietly dashed to hide in the corner behind cola machine. Shadowy figures marched down the hallway, some stopped by the door their large golden eyes peering into the room briefly as they searched for something or someone unknown.
Thomas shut his eyes and listened in confusion as the strangers continued down the hallway. He tried as hard as possible to control his breathing as questions raced through his mind. ‘Who are these people? What are they? What do they want? Why did the power go out? Why didn’t the emergency lights come? Where was everyone el…’
“Hey Thomas, are you okay?” it was Melanie from the third floor, assistant to Mr. Hornby the operations manager. The lights were back on and the coffee had just finished brewing as Melanie looked around the room in confusion.
Thomas quickly stood up and brushed himself off, as his faced reddened with embarrassment. “Oh, um, hi Melanie. I was just, ah, looking for my wallet. I must have dropped it this morning when I grabbed a coke.” Melanie looked relieved but still a little uneasy about the situation.
The lights flickered and she rolled her eyes in annoyance, “I wish they would hurry up and finish the renos on the subway. Every time they start drilling it messes with the power and I have to wait five minutes for the routers to finish rebooting”
“Yeah I know right!” Thomas blurted a little more nervously than intended. “So, um, Melanie. What are you doing after work today?”
“Oh, I’ve got to go to yoga, pick up my dry cleaning, drop off some other clothes to the salvation army, buy a lottery ticket…” this continued for about five minutes during which Thomas hung on every word. “… But after 9pm when the meeting is over, I don’t have anything planned why do you ask?”
“Well, I was kind of hoping you would join me for a drink or something?” Thomas blushed as he asked.
“That sounds awesome!” squealed Melanie “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me out for like a month!”
“You have?” Thomas blurted in disbelief, “why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Because I wasn’t sure if you liked me or not.” Cooed Melanie as she looked shyly at her shoes.
“Well I’ll see you at nine then I guess” Thomas said as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“See you then” and with that she skipped out of the room, singing merrily down the hall.
Thomas add some cream and sugar then took a swig of the coffee only to spit it out all over the sink. It tasted like mold, and sure enough he opened the top to find that the beans had not been changed out in over a month. ‘What’s wrong with these people?’ he thought to himself as he tossed out the mold and set the machine to clean itself.
He finished up the rest of his day delivering mail and packages to the top floors and picking up others to ship out. All of them were brown and nondescript and he often felt like he was just moving the same fifty or so items around everyday. Still, the pay was good and he had worked at worse, more tedious jobs than this so he figured he couldn’t really complain.
He locked up the mail room, hopped into his truck and headed home to change for his date with Melanie, which he hoped to be the start of a beautiful relationship. He was stopped at a red light when the lights all disappeared again. “Oh, come on!” he yelled into space, then muttered ‘Stupid subway’. He looked around, watching for any oncoming traffic, the road was deserted except for a small group of people in weird-biohazardous-space-ninja outfits. It was the city and he normally wouldn’t have thought much of them as comic-con was only a few weeks away but there was something off about them. He watched them in the light from his head lights in the distance; and then he realized what was bothering him about them. They were all looking at him, watching him from a distance. “What the hell?” Thomas muttered as a cold chill ran up his spine. One of them pointed something in his direction and a purple laser hit him and rotated on his chest before disappearing. The streetlights popped back on and when he looked again the strange group had vanished. “What the…?” a horn blared behind him and he started driving again.
Later that night he was sitting with Melanie, the events of earlier that day fading quickly from his mind. They ate and drank, then went for a walk in the park as they laughed and talked. The date was going perfectly. He walked her home and they stood for a moment on her doorstep. “Thanks for the great night Thomas I really needed that!” she stuttered blushing.
“It was my honour!” Thomas blushed to match her, “When can I see you again?” He asked nervously.
“Well how about tomorrow?” she said, “I need to do a few dozen things in the morning but it’ll only take about seven to eight hours so I could meet you for a late lunch around 5pm?”
Thomas was so infatuated he simply nodded and said “That sounds awesome! I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“K” Melanie reddened.
“K” Thomas mirrored her once more
Then with a wave they parted ways for the night as he dreamily headed home. Thomas strolled down the street to reach his truck; he stared up at the sky and gazed at the stars above him. “Wow” he said to himself thinking how beautiful they looked and how rare it was to see them so clearly like this in the light polluted metropolis. He saw a meteor fly across the sky and he felt goosebumps rise on his skin. Something was wrong.
“Hi!” came a voice from behind him. Thomas jumped a full three feet before turning to see who had just spoken. A pale woman in a light teal jumpsuit, raised her hands in a slow and calming manner. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. You can call me Astra and I’m here to help.” Her white hair seemed to shimmer lightly in the starlight and her rose coloured eyes were soft and reassuring.
A cold chill ran up his spine once more as he realized what was wrong, the power was out again. No streetlights, no headlights, no lights from windows, everything was black if not for the light of the stars. “What do you mean help?” he asked incredulously. “What’s going on?”
“Just calm down,” she said moving slowly “I promise I’ll explain everything, we just need to get out of here.” She reached out to take his hand, but he quickly pulled away.
“I’m not going anywhere with you!” Thomas spat then turned and ran. When he glanced over his shoulder the lights were coming back on and even traffic seemed to pick up again. He slowed and hopped into his vehicle and headed home, speeding more than he would normally have been comfortable with. He got home and locked himself into his apartment; safe on the twelfth floor. He relaxed and settled into an armchair while using a nearby remote to flick on the tv. A burst of laughter came through the television’s speakers as a late-night comedy show appeared on the bright screen.
Thomas woke up later that night to a black apartment, another power outage. He stood and stretched getting ready to go to bed when he saw something out his patio window. He walked over to it and slid the door open. He stepped outside and could barely believe his eyes. In the sky was a full-blown UFO.
It was giant and round and shone large spotlights at various points on the ground where more people in those weird hazmat suits were looking around. “What the heck?” Thomas said as he leaned on the railing to get a better view, they seemed to be looking at vehicles and shops, scanning everything.
Suddenly one of the searchlights shot at the building he was in, at his bedroom window. He quickly jumped back into his apartment and rushed for the bathroom where he hid in the bathtub. The light seemed to pass right through the wall and ceiling. He ducked as the light passed through him and continue on its way.
When he woke up again it was morning, he could hear the television from the bathtub where he was disappointed to find that he had spent the rest of his night there. He got up and decided to make some coffee. After his first cup, his senses came back and he walked over to his still open patio door. As he looked outside, he saw a beautiful green park across the street with people doing tai chi and children playing.
He relaxed and shook his head. “What were you expecting Tommy boy?” he said to himself, “Flying saucers?” he chuckled to himself. Then a knock at the door made him jump, he walked over to the door and stared out the pinhole to see Astra standing in the hall looking nervous.
“Listen, I really need to talk to you. You’re in danger.” She shouted at the door. Then turned and muttered into her shoulder. Thomas didn’t answer. He looked around the apartment quickly for something to defend himself. Picking up an umbrella he opened the door and held the umbrella up to attack; but the hall was empty. He lowered his would-be weapon and then scanned the empty hallway for a sign of the strange woman.
He picked up his cell and called his work’s employee helpline, “Hello?” he said nervously, the receptionist greeted him in a calm soothing manner. “Yes, I’d like to set up an appointment.” There was typing as she checked her system. “Really?” Thomas asked, “you have a cancellation this morning?… Sure, I’ll be there in twenty. Thank you so much.” He quickly gathered his things and rushed out the door to find out what was going on with him once and for all.
It was hot outside, even birds seemed to be hiding from the heat. Thomas pushed the door to the psychiatrist’s office, a wave of air-conditioned air welcomed him as he entered. A young and attractive woman with dark skin sat behind the counter. “You must be Thomas,” she said enthusiastically “please go right in. The doctor will be in shortly”
“Thanks.” Thomas said mirroring her smile and heading into the office she indicated. He opened the door and sat down in the seat reserved for patients. The room was fairly standard for a psychiatrist from the wood paneling and bookshelves to the bust of Fraud on the desk.
The door opened and an elderly man with a goatee walked in and said, “Ah you must be my eleven o’clock. Well what can I do for you today.” He sat down and leaned back into his leather chair whilst steepling his fingers with a reassuring smile.
Thomas rubbed his neck and said, “Where should I start?” Then with I sigh said, “I’ve been seeing strange things lately and I’m beginning to think I’m going mad. In the last twenty-four hours I’ve seen these strange people and a woman who keeps disappearing. And last night I saw a UFO out my window. I know I’m not normally prone to seeing strange things so thought it best to get checked out by a professional.”
The doctor chuckled, “I think I know what is happening here.” Thomas looked over to the doctor’s and reeled back in horror, the doctor wasn’t there, instead the room was dark and dusty. The only light coming from the shattered window behind the desk. A pile of clothes covered in ash were flopped uselessly in the chair. Most disturbing of all was that the doctor was still talking, “…and that’s why I you should probably just take some time off work. Remember stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental issues if not addressed early enough.” Thomas closed and rubbed his eyes vigorously and when he opened them again everything was back to normal. “Take this to a pharmacist and let me know if the symptoms get worse.” Thomas grabbed the prescription and thanked the doctor.
Afterwards, he got his prescription, headed home and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to relax before his date with Melanie. He dozed off and woke up in a panic at quarter to 5pm. He dashed out of his once again dark house and raced to meet Melanie at her apartment.
He stood at the main doors of her apartment as a chill went up his spine once more. He pressed the button for her apartment and waited looking cautiously over his shoulder. There was nothing there, but for the first time he realized why he was nervous. It was because there was nothing there, no people, cars, dogs, cats, birds, anything! All was simply quiet and peaceful, too peaceful. He pounded the button for Melanie’s place over and over again when a voice behind him caused him to jump.
“You okay buddy?” it was the postman who had entered the lobby while he was panicking and was looking at him with cautious concern.
“Oh…” Thomas said nervously, “Yeah, I’m…um…I’m just meeting my new girlfriend at her apartment for the first time you know?”
The postman smiled, “Yeah I’ve been there, but just relax, I find imagining people as skeletons or in their underpants helps. Don’t worry you got this man!” he punched Thomas encouragingly on the shoulder and proceeded to sort the mail into their assigned boxes.
“Thomas is that you?” the voice crackled from the PA system.
“Melanie? Yes, sorry I’m late.” Thomas said, calming down at the mere sound of her voice.
“Don’t worry, my alarm shut off and I just got out of the shower, why don’t you come up.” Melanie explained as the door buzzed to let him in. He noted the door closed but never clicked shut which struck him as somewhat odd but dismissed it as he took the stairs to her apartment on the second floor.
He knocked on her door and was greeted by Melanie in nothing but a towel. “Care to come in and help me change?” she said winking. “Think of it as repayment for being late” she explained and blushed slightly when he just stood there gawking.
He shook his head, “Um, yeah of course, my pleasure” he smiled and wrapped his arms around him.
They made love the rest of the day and fell asleep next to one another. Thomas woke up as the morning sun shone into his face. He groaned and rolled over to say good morning to Melanie, “Good morning beautiful, AHHHHH!” Beside him was nothing but one of Melanie’s dresses, covered in dust.
He jumped up and dashed out of the building in nothing but his boxers. It was once again quiet and he ran into the park across from her place as he screamed. He was so absorbed in his panic that he ran into someone, literally.
“Thomas?” a voice said, “I’ve been searching for you. You need to come with me right now!”
Thomas looked up to see the worried face of Astra staring down at him. “How do I know you are real?” he sobbed.
“I see.” she said sighing with relief, “one moment.” She pulled something from her belt and jabbed it into his thigh. “Those are nanites, they’ll help stabilize your brain chemistry, we’re here to help Thomas.”
He looked around and his vision which he hadn’t notice was blurry began to clear up. He saw buildings destroyed, rubble everywhere. Dusty outfits were scattered everywhere and plants all had a glossy desiccated look to them despite being still green. “What?” he said softly, “What happened?” he slowly stood and reached down to help Astra to her feet.
“It was some kind of bomb, something one of your governments had been working on but miscalculated the yield.” Astra said placing a hand on his shoulder, “You’re the last being alive on this planet. Something about you seems to be immune to the radiation that saturates everything.”
He saw several buildings flicker as the lights came on then shut off as the power grid struggled to maintain it’s collapsing infrastructure. “How long ago did this happen?” Thomas asked as he began to see various cleanup crews searching for survivors.
“About ninety days ago, we have only been here about ten and only began physically searching the area three days ago.” Astra explained. “Our scans saw signs of life but couldn’t pin it down. It wasn’t until I found you and scanned you in your vehicle that I understood why. Your body is so saturated with radiation that you blend into your surroundings.”
“But…” Thomas said, “But what about all of you? Won’t the radiation kill all of you as well?”
“We’ve been cleaning up this area for days, and we’ve all been inoculated. But we need to get you away from here as soon as possible” she said grabbing his arm and tugging gently in the direction of what looked like a cigar the size of an oil tanker.
Thomas pulled his arm away, “No you have to be lying! I remember going to work everyday until this week and nothing was out of place. How do you explain…” Thomas had grown quieter as he spoke realizing the answer to his question? His mind had shut down and hallucinated to try and explain to him that what he saw wasn’t real. The coffee pot, the psychiatrist, the lights, the mailman, everything had been trying to tell him he no longer needed the hallucinations. “My mind was protecting itself wasn’t it?”
Astra nodded, “I’m sorry you went through that but we’re here to help, we’re what you would call an emergency response group. Normally we don’t deal with non-space faring civilizations but we needed to know what had ended humanity. It was really quite fascinating…”
“I don’t care” Thomas interrupted and turned towards the space sausage as he began walking, “I’ve spent my whole life being human, the answer is only going to depress me.” Astra nodded understandingly and followed him to her ship.
A day later all the ships left Earth and it became a fossilized warning to the perils of hate and bigotry. As for the last human, we’ll never know.
***Dedicated to my old roommate who inspired this story, whose lifestyle and writings helped inspire this story. I wish him all the best wherever he may be. ***
As soon as Emily entered the common room of her dorm, she could feel the tension in the air. A chorus of chants and encouragements mingled as she rounded the corner to see her best friend Delia was over at the arcade terminal next to an unknown boy with spiky hair and an orange shirt. They were playing, of all things, a retro game from the 1990’s called super Mario kart, as crowds of her fellow dorm mates cheered and jeered around them.
“What’s going on?” she asked to her neighbour Betty.
“That new guy Jay said he could totally destroy any of us at retro super Nintendo games so we’ve been having a tournament. Delia is our last hope to defend our dorm’s Honour!” Betty said then booed at Jay loudly.
“You’ve run a good race but it’s over!” Delia yelled as her kart on screen turned into the home stretch.
“You’d think so but…” Jay countered drawing the final word out until a random red shell crashed into the back of Delia’s kart mere feet from the finish line.
“What!” Delia shouted, “That’s totally not possible, I was dropping banana peels like a virgin football jock drops bad pickup lines.”
“Hey, I warned all of you that this was how it would go down. Don’t go getting all surprised about it now.” Jay said shrugging as a torrent of pretzels and other snacks belted him harmlessly.
He then hopped onto the counter and said, “Is there no one who can challenge me?” in an over dramatic voice.
“I’ll take you!” Emily said to a round of cheering.
“So be it mademoiselle, but I don’t lose” Jay grinned.
“Just shut your cake hole and press start” Emily countered, as they picked their avatars. Emily had excellent hand-eye coordination from the various sports and gymnastics she was involved in so wasn’t overly worried about the screen. Instead she kept one eye trained on Jay’s hands. She wasn’t sure until the second lap when he passed her, but then she saw his thumbs flick way too fast for any normal human as his kart sailed
beautifully around her.
She grinned as they were almost halfway around the last lap. “Looks like you’re gonna lose newbie.” Jay spat.
“You know,” she said, “Being humble is a virtue I hear.” his head snapped in her direction as panic filled his eyes for a second. That was all it took and Emily nailed him with a green shell as she passed him and crossed the finish line.
As she pumped her hands in the air, she saw the look of fear filled hate on Jay’s face and had a funny feeling they were not going to be best buds.
Writing Prompt: As soon as she walked in, she felt the tension. – unknown
A Good Book
“Who dares challenge me?” the dragon boomed from the blackness that permeated the room. “Answer me or die where you stand!”
“I am Tarak, but that hardly matters, I am me” the man said.
“Well then Tarak, are you prepared to face me?” the dragon hissed.
“No” Tarak replied calmly.
“No?” the dragon said opening its glowing yellow eyes to peer through the darkness at this, “Are you telling me that you have chosen to come to me on a whim? That you would face a being whose power dwarfs all you know unarmed?”
“Yep, that’s pretty much it” Tarak shrugged.
The room lit suddenly as the dragon spat burst of white-hot flame at the ceiling, each burst escaping through a fit of laughter. “So, what? Can I just eat you know?”
“You can try I suppose” Tarak replied remaining unfazed.
“Hmmm, tell me Tarak, why have you come here today?” the dragon’s eyes became focused slits as it spoke, “You seem uninterested in defeating me, and taking my treasure of knowledge and power. You don’t strike me as someone looking for fame or glory. What do you gain from coming here, especially when doing so can cost you everything?”
Tarak smiled and reached into a bag slung on his back to produce a book, “I wanted to give you this!”
“A gift?” the dragon said hesitantly as a clawed hand the size of a truck reached forward and picked up the book. “What am I to do with this?”
“I was hoping you would read it” Tarak said with another shrug.
The dragon lifted the book and expertly began flipping through its pages as it read. “This…” the dragon began, “this is nothing but a simple story book? I do not understand?”
“I wanted to share with you” Tarak explained.
“But I have killed many of your kind, those who challenge me are always crushed by the weight of the truths I burden them with. Well some die by my claws or fire first but I prefer to watch them do the work for me” the dragon chuckled.
Tarak nodded, “I understand this, and I’m aware of the risks. I’m not asking to take your power or knowledge or riches, I’m asking to help you share the burden.” He said pointing to the book, “That book is one of mine, I know it doesn’t compare to the nearly infinite knowledge you have but I wanted to share it all the same, as a gesture of cooperation.”
The dragon sat quietly in the dark for several long minutes, then reached into the void and retrieved something. “You are a fool, and I should destroy you out of mercy right here and now.” It reached out and placed a large scroll on the floor, “Still, if you would like, here is what I give everyone who defeats me. But for you I will give one additional piece of advice, no matter what you read in that text, never take it as gospel.”
Tarak grinned again, and took the scroll saying “Thank you” as the dragon returned the gesture. So, few visited the dragon anymore, but those that did come these days tended to be much wiser than their predecessors. The dragon liked to think this had something to do with a few of his friends taking the time to help others understand the value of a good book.
Joey roared across the frozen flat land
Devoid of human life.
He bobbed his head and tapped his hand
Sitting next to his wife.
She swayed and sang along to the music
The kids giggling in the back
Each one wearing a warm tunic
Good humour they surely did not lack
“We’re almost home” cried dad,
Earning a cheer from his family
It was the best day they’d ever had
Racing ahead to see the dome’s canopy
Bringing the grey vehicle to a stop
They did up their coats and donned their masks
Then each disembarked with a hop
And headed to the door avoiding the cracks.
Inside was the last forest on earth
Their home that kept them safe
Though the planet outside lacked mirth
In here that was hardly the case.
Smiling people ran and greeted their frozen friends
While the storm outside swirled.
The apocalypse may have brought a terrible end
But in here at least, it was perfect world
The Tiniest Hero
The monsters and bad guys are usually big
With knives, guns, teeth, and claws
Some are ugly with noses like pigs
Often with no regard for laws
But do not despair kind civilian
For everything is not lost
Despite all the criminals and villains
Every evil act has a cost
And who better to collect from these crooks
Than a tiny bear of amazing power
One who can fly, inspiring awed looks
While making it’s enemies cower
In a world of monsters skin cold and rough
A defender stands by the name of Zero
Strong, warm, and filled with fluff
This small bear is the tiniest Hero.
*The following were submissions for a project called Voice and Vision 2018, The second story was chosen to be published.
The artwork was created by Verone Solilo, check out more of her wonderful artwork at
1) The small boat made its way across the starlit bay, carrying it’s two favourite passengers as per usual. It was thrilled to see that they were back to their quiet loving selves this time. It had been deeply worried as their last trip had been over three weeks ago and they had argued relentlessly. Instead the two made their way to the usual anchoring spot in silence, broken only by the gentle hum of the boat’s engine and the slap of the waves against it’s hull.
As they reached the spot the woman turned off the engine, then began to help the man into the water for a swim. The boat never understood why humans tried to swim as they were far less buoyant than itself. Still, to each their own and the small red boat simply observed dismissively as the man floated for a second before slowly disappearing under the waves. The woman turned the engine back on and began making their way back to the shore. The boat supposed the man wanted to race them back which excited it. The woman seemed happy too as she smiled, steering the boat over the moon crested waves towards shore, even as raindrops fell solely at her feet.
Salt water sprayed refreshingly in her face as she made her way around the coast. Her suitcase rested by her feet as ‘that’ house grew smaller on the beach behind her, along with all the oppression and torment it represented. Ahead of her was nothing but open water and new possibilities. The little red boat she was never allowed to touch was now her trusted steed on her way to freedom.
Gunshots rang out behind her, muffled by distance as they splashed harmlessly into the water around her. She looked back to see her oppressors jumping up and down on the dock, the fire of their fury useless against the expanse of extinguishing sea between them. With a smile and a wave, she bid farewell to her past and turned her gaze back to the possibilities before her as the small boat dutifully carried her forward.
Alarms rang in the night and out into the bay as a frenzy of lights and sirens approached the house. Anne simply smiled quietly to herself as she guided the small red boat silently into the moonlit night. It slapped the waves heavily as Anne and the cargo of gold, jewelry, other priceless trinkets weighed down the small watercraft.
She tilted her head back and stared at the beautiful expanse of starlit sky above her, tuning out the commotion on the shore, already knowing how it would end. In the morning, the news would announce that millions of dollars of stolen treasure had been taken by a beautiful but mysterious woman during the prince’s birthday party that evening. There would be no accurate descriptions of the woman as she always made sure to be as forgettable in person as possible. All they would know for sure was that the white card with a single red lip print pressed to it would be found where the treasure had been. Anne didn’t care about that right now though, right now was simply between her, the sea, and the stars. She could worry about those pursuing the Red Lady tomorrow.
“Hey mister!” a small voice said, “Can you come play with us?”
“Is something wrong Alexander?” my boss asked.
“No sir, just finishing up some paperwork.” I grinned unconvincingly.
“Well then stop staring off into space and do your work.” he snapped before storming off to his own office to presumably do even less than I currently was.
“Mister!” the voice said again, “can you please play with us?” On my desk stood a foot-tall long eared rabbit.
“I can’t right now” I whispered, “I’m working Vel!”
She pouted and sat down on my desk barely avoiding her ears, “I don’t know what this work is but I don’t like it Mister!”
“Ok,” I sighed, “what would you like to play?”
Vel’s ears perked up at this and she flapped them once to land on her feet, “I want to play hide and seek!” I would have protested but she was off like a shot to hide.
You may be wondering as to why I just didn’t leave her to her games and continue to work while she was away. The truth is that although she is normally good, she can still interact with the physical world. This resulted in people suspecting that parts of the store were haunted, as she had a bad habit of knocking things over and giggling when anyone got close to where she was hiding. As I heard a crash from the back room followed by nervous shouts, I knew I couldn’t just sit idly by so I hopped out in a hurry claiming to be looking for a specific part.
They of course told me we didn’t stock the random item in question while I quickly scanned for my furry friend. I walked back to the human resources department to inquire about any forms required for changing how much I contributed to taxes each pay period. I barely listened to her as she went over everything, I would have to do for such a minor change. Still I saw no sign of Vel.
I sat back down at my desk and made sure to keep an eye out for a pair of long ears poking out from somewhere. It wasn’t until I made my way to bathroom that I saw them. Two long ears protruded from behind the toilet paper dispenser. I stroked one of them carefully and said, “Well this has to be the softest tissue paper I’ve ever seen!”
A giggle sounded out softly in the room, Vel jumped out from behind the dispenser and said “It sure took you long enough, what can we play now?”
I sighed, “You know it’s hard for me to play with you while I’m at work.”
“I know, Mister, but I just get bored.” she sighed.
“Ok, well how about we play Funny Faces?” I suggested.
“Yes!” she shouted pumping a paw in the air, “That’s one of my favourites!”
“Mine too,” I smiled, “but after that I need you to go and check on your friends. I can’t have someone like Chint showing up here.” I cringed slightly at the thought of the large behemoth Chint happily send cars flying from the parking lot as he pranced about.
“Oooh that’s a good one!” Vel said eyeing my worried face then making a goofy one of her own. I grinned back, “Yes, that’s one to one then, first one to ten wins.” and with that she squeezed under the door and disappeared. It was going to be a fun afternoon…