The Old Brookville Store

“I swear to you, as sure as I’m standing here, it’s still there.” The man’s finger rested on the map, halfway down a side road none of them knew. “Little mom-and-pop grocery, even has a pump around the side. Used to fill up there sometimes when my wife forgot to get gas—”

“And it hasn’t been hit?”

“Only the locals really know it’s there. And they’re all dead,” he sputtered out a nervous laugh, “or undead.”

“Why aren’t you holed up in there right now, if it’s so well-stocked?”

“It’s a fishbowl.” His eyes darted around, found no comprehension on their faces. “Glass front. I’ve seen them push in big windows like that, shatter ‘em just on pressure alone.”

“All right.”

“Anyway, I’m alone. No gun. I can’t fight, all I can do is run. If there’s one in there, or more than one, what would I do about it? But you fellas, you—”

“Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re waiting here, handcuffed. A couple of my guys are going to recon the place. If everything checks out, you get to stay, and you get a share of the haul. If you’re lying — and I mean, about anything — you’re dead.”

Doll Parts

It had one arm which hung limp and useless, swinging without purpose as the thing shuffled across the blacktop. What had become of the other arm couldn’t be known, not anymore.

“They look worse lately.”

“It’s been hot.”

It tripped on something, a rut or a groundhog hole or a tangle of weeds, and fell face-first to the ground. A person would have paused, waiting to feel for injury; the zombie felt nothing, and thus immediately began twisting and writhing to try to find a way back to its feet.

“Would you shoot it already?”

“Can’t get a clear line. Wait a bit.”

After a few minutes, it managed to turn over onto its back, then bend at the waist until it was sitting upright.

Crack.

“Happy now?”

“Ecstatic. Let’s go look.”

They stood over the zombie’s remains, half the forehead now missing. The skin was leathery and tight where it had been exposed to the sun, but under the collar they could see horrific bug-eaten rot.

“They can’t last much longer. They’ll be falling apart by winter.”

“Maybe.”

“What ‘maybe’? Human body can’t walk around forever when it’s dead.”

“People are still dying, all over. Starvation. Cancer.”

“Aww, hell.”

Rhonda’s First Epiphone

“Legs like that, you oughta be a dancer,” he drawled, a leery grin pasted on his face. Of course he didn’t mean a ballet dancer or a ballroom dancer or any kind of dancer outside of the ‘gentlemen’s club’ out on State Route 4. He downed another shot of Jack straight from the bottle and fumbled with the guitar, trying and failing to find a chord he’d hazily stumbled across a half hour ago.

“Gee, thanks, mister.” Her momma had taught her to be polite, at least on the outside. She smiled and nodded and kept just out of grabbing range until he passed out on one of the motel beds, pants unbuckled but still on, trucker cap over his face.

It was a nice guitar, and he hadn’t earned it. He’d be mad, come looking for it, but he’d never find her; he’d never really looked at her face.

Pushover

“She’s done it again.”

“What?”

“Go look in the sun room. Just you look.”

He poked his head through the doors, froze. Eventually he managed to say, “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?”

John.”

“What?”

“Go talk to her. Right now. I’ve had enough. It has to stop.”

He trudged up the stairs, knocked softly on the door with the red ribbons on the knob and the pencil-marks measuring height on the molding. “Honey?”

A worried oval of a face appeared as the door opened a crack. “…Yes?”

“Remember when we talked about summoning?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“And how you shouldn’t do it unless Mommy or I was around?”

“Yes, Daddy. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

“Okay, sweetie. Have a nice afternoon.”

“Thank you Daddy.” The door closed.

He trudged back downstairs to find Martha, arms folded. She began, “John…”

“Well, at least it’s not a tiger.”

Founder’s Day

There hadn’t been a water delivery yet that day; the general consensus among the old men sitting in the shade in front of the meeting house was that there likely wouldn’t be a water delivery at all.

“The Vylid started their weekend early.”

“The Vylid started drinking early.”

“Don’t take much.”

Callo walked down the dusty path towards the Wind, just to be sure there wasn’t a tanker crawling its way alone the snakelike road that led to the plateau. He was staring down at it when he felt Lise at his elbow.

“We have some left.” She whispered it, conspiratorially. “Not much. Mother has been rationing us for two weeks, just in case. She said this might happen.”

“You mother doesn’t like—”

“I’ll share mine.” Her fingers wrapped around his forearm, slid down to his palm.

“There’s so much water,” he said wistfully, “right down there.” Past the Wind, past the foothills and the Vylid town and the beach, was the vast ocean: Buol territory.

“Salt water. Can’t drink that.”

“I made a solar still. It—”

“What’s that?”

“Turns saltwater to fresh. Works by sunlight.”

Her fingers gripped his hand tightly. “We’re not allowed down there.”

“We need water.”

Bury Me In The Sea Of Tranquility

“All strapped in?” The stewardess smiled a plastic smile, convincing enough for any run-of-the mill passenger, her hands in a holding pattern halfway to his shoulders.

“Not sure, sorry...” He gestured at the array of restraints, gave a wan shrug.

“First time going into orbit? Let me…” She’d done it a thousand times, a million, she’d probably done it in free-fall behind her back while holding a cup of coffee; it took seconds. “There, now.”

“Thank you, miss.”

The smile warmed. “Buzz if you need anything, I’ll come back once the burns are done.” She gave him a gentle pat on his upper chest, more like a daughter than a stranger. “You’re going to love it.” She made her way back though the cabin.

A businessman across the aisle whispered, “I think she likes you.”

He snorted. They’d made him sign waivers, a man his age. “Just afraid I’ll croak.”

Répondez s'il vous plaît

Music echoed in the concrete hall, tinny, distant, cold and otherworldly. It was music he didn’t recognize, had never heard. He kept walking, but a thousand tiny hairs on the back of his neck strained to remain behind.

“Hello?”

You’re not invited to the party!” The voice was shrill, tauntingly sing-song, coming from an indeterminate direction.

He stopped, waited, startled and frozen. “Uh… who’s there?”

“I’m the birthday girl and you’re not on the list!”

He moved forward down the hall and around a corner, finding a stairway waiting to be climbed and a door waiting to be pushed open.

“Stay out!”

He opened it and stepped through, finding the tableau she’d laid out: party games, a refreshments table, and even — after a fashion — guests. She was standing next to the record player, an old multicolored children’s affair.

She said, “Well, now that you’re here, I suppose you can stay.”

Bun Lyfe

It’s been three years, and I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that there’s no undoing what we did that night; that I’ll never look in the mirror and see my old human face again.

That book — the Lagomorphicon — not a day goes by that I don’t wish I’d never opened it, never joked about ‘doin’ it bunny-style’, never blithely read those Latin words aloud. But what’s done is done.

Some people accepted me, and the ones who didn’t… well, they’re not part of my life anymore. I have a new job. It’s not teaching, but Principal Ward was right: the kids never would have taken me seriously. Just last week, some neighborhood teenagers yelled, “Hey, Watership Down! Think fast!” and threw carrots at me as they passed.

I stood my ground, but they just walked on. I wish I had been strong enough not to eat the carrots.

Static

“How long now?” Mays didn’t wear a watch, with screens on every wall and ELLE to kick him out of bed before every shift.

Three hours overdue,” came her voice, from all speakers including his subcutaneous earbud. “We have sent numerous hails in the clear on all bands: no response. Company policy is—”

“I know what company policy is.” He flipped the primer switches up, and started the intermix injectors running.

Rebbo, at his shoulder, rumbled: “Where will you begin searching?”

“They were coming from Fwalbach. At least that’s what Dixie said: they had a big-money contract from Fwalbach to Zunnis, that’s why they could afford to meet us here.”

We are to wait a further two hours in the absence of a distress signal,” Elle said. “I have contacted Corporate, and they are monitoring the situation. Search action will likely be approved, in two—”

“We’re going now.” Mays pushed the ship’s nose over to point at the pale blue gas giant’s horizon and lit the reaction drive.

The Company—”

“Dixie rescued us before that moon broke up under us. We owe her.”

The fine may approach the entirety of your share in—”

“Nuts.”

Just in his earbud: “…I agree.”