Not Being Michael Collins

It was a dream, or it was like a dream. Alone, on Intrepid, with Mars spinning below him and the immense cylinder of the alien ship hanging above him, everything in his field of view defied the understanding of the most primitive parts of his brain. It left Rothmeyer mildly and continuously unnerved.

Below, on the planet, Heinz and Meade were packed like sardines in the MEM – the Mars Lander – watching the Polixaci building their embassy. They were the first and second men to walk on Mars, respectively. Gerald Rothmeyer, on the other hand, stayed on Intrepid.

There was little to do besides sit and watch the comings and goings above. Smaller subsidiary vessels – freight landers, themselves larger than an oceangoing aircraft carrier – would approach from below and dock for loading, then detach and drop towards the planet. It had been going on for two days, since just after the MEM touched down and the invitation to join them had gone up.

Rothmeyer slept a lot. It was quiet, peaceful, on Intrepid. The only noise was the whine of the air system. Quite a change from the weeks in transit, bumping elbows and knees with the other two men. When they had slid down into the MEM and detached for their de-orbit burn, he'd been too relieved to be jealous.

There had been a handshake meeting down there, performed in suits on the open surface. They'd gotten up close and personal with the Polixaci, the first to do so besides the old ISS crew. They were talking. They were in the Rollabout driving around the periphery of the building site while aliens in mech-suits built the temporary facility they would live in while they built the main embassy dome. He was jealous now.

During the weeks in transit, with Earth shrinking behind them, Meade had taken to calling him 'Collins'. Good-natured ribbing between comrades. Friendly. Michael Collins had stayed behind in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, and become the answer to a trivia question. It didn't bother him. Not really.

He was asleep when Captain Heinz's voice erupted from the comm system. “Intrepid, Hellas Base.”

“Intrepid here, go ahead Hellas.”

Intrepid, we're going to try something here, we're hooked up our comms to the Polixaci communications system, we've been talking to Mission Control real-time. They want to talk to you, we're going to patch it through our system. You should hear Mission Control next, over.”

Real-time... instead of an half hour round-trip light-speed delay. “Roger, Hellas Base. Ready, over.”

There was nearly a minute of dead air, and then came, “Intrepid, this is Mission Control, do you read, over?”

“Mission Control, Intrepid. I read you five by five. Go ahead.”

Rothmeyer, Houseguest is asking if you want to visit Mother. You'd EVA, they'd come pick you up and then bring you back. What do you think, over.

'Houseguest' was the robotic Polixaci representative secretly observing the mission from NASA. 'Mother' was the liner; the immense alien ship hanging in orbit just above him. “Mission Control, Intrepid.” He couldn't formulate a response. “Mission Control... Intrepid. No one would be on duty on the flight deck, over.”

There was a pause, and then: “Intrepid, Mission Control. The consensus here is that it's acceptable under the circumstances. The P... Houseguest says Mother will bring you back to Intrepid if there's any problem. Bill's call is that it's up to you. Over.”

He studied the alien ship; it was more than a kilometer long, a series of cylinders – some overlapping – around a central spine, with a tapered spike at one end and a bulbous projection at the other. There were reportedly tens of thousands of beings aboard, from hundreds of different races. There was unimaginably advanced technology; Somewhere inside that cylinder was the secret to super-luminal travel.

How could he say no?

The Captain's voice replaced Mission Control. “Jerry, we're on private now: we're agreed down here, you should definitely go. The Polixaci guarantee a ride back if anything goes wrong with Intrepid. That was my condition. What do you think?”

He was exhilarated and terrified all at once. “I guess I'm game.”

I'll tell Mission Control, and Houseguest will tell Mother. I'd expect company pretty soon. Over.”

“Roger, Hellas, Intrepid out.”

By the time he had his suit on, an elongated black egg the size of a two-story house had appeared outside the viewport, close aboard. He made his way to the lock and cycled through.

Mostly for the log, he spoke. “This is Rothmeyer. I'm leaving the spacecraft for my rendezvous with the Polixaci support craft. If I'm not back in an hour, send Flash Gordon.”

It wasn't his first EVA. He'd been engineer on one of the first second-generation shuttle missions. The new suits were thinner, though, tighter, more form-fitting and. This was as naked to the vacuum of space as he'd ever felt. He willed his muscles to pull the rest of his body out into the speckled darkness.

There was an oddly-shaped figure standing on the hull of the alien craft. The Captain's description of their suits as 'mechas' was apt. Rothmeyer resisted the urge to wave.

It was waiting to see what he would do. Fine. “I'm moving away from Intrepid now. He activated his suit's maneuvering system and slowly, carefully, traversed the distance between the two vessels. When he was close enough, the alien reached out and grabbed him by a carabiner on his suit. Rothmeyer was passive as the alien pushed him with practiced ease down into his craft.

First human to set foot on an alien spacecraft. None of the ISS boys did that. “Aboard the alien support craft now. Roomy inside. Laid out pretty much like ours; form follows function, I guess. Chairs are different.”

The alien wasn't a Polixaci. It was a bit smaller than a man, and heavily furred, with a mouth and nose out of a horror film. Rothmeyer spent the last few minutes of the ride up to the liner trying to get a good high-def photo of its photo with his suit camera.

The unidentified alien never took off his suit, and so neither did Rothmeyer. They docked. The alien gestured towards the airlock, which was already in the process of opening to him when he looked over at it. His pilot stayed behind. “I'm moving from the support craft into the liner now.”

There was gravity without spin. He pulled himself awkwardly into it, and stood up. There were dozens of them, mostly Polixaci, but others also.

The compartment was large, and there were observation galleries above. Both spaces were brimming with aliens, all fixated on Rothmeyer. He was the only one wearing a pressure suit. He knew the Polixaci breathed a mix close enough to an Earth-normal atmosphere; he reached up and unfastened his helmet. “I'm inside. I'm on board the liner.” He allowed himself the luxury of wondering how jealous of him Heinz and Meade were right now, knowing that he'd always be the first human to board an alien starship.

What was walking on Mars next to that? Mars wasn't going anywhere...

Zombie Drabble #391 “Awareness”

It was just a head.

It sat there, leaning against the curb, the bloody jaw moving, tongue writing, eyes, darting back and forth. The body was still under the truck.

“Whadda you reckon it’s thinking?”

“I doubt it’s thinking anything at all. They appear to act on instinct. It might not even be aware that it’s been decapitated.”

“Betcha it does. I bet that head flew off that body right when the truck hit it. I bet that zombie’s eyes was wide open as the head rolled on the ground. I’d betcha anything. That sucker knows it’s just a head.”

Zombie Drabble #390 “Empowerment”

The scouts were lined up against the wall, talking, eating. She walked up purposefully, as if she wasn’t afraid, and pointed to Ching’s crossbow. “I want to learn.”

Ching didn’t even look at her. “Girls don’t have to stand guard duty. Go on now.”

“Mother says they should. And I wanna learn anyway.”

The others laughed, but Ching regarded her coolly. She couldn’t be more than twelve, and less than a hundred pounds. “I won’t take it easy on you just ‘cause you’re a girl.”

“I don’t want easy, I wanna learn to shoot.”

“All right then.”

“All right then.”

SF Drabble #390 “Monsters”

Kathlogroh knew the mirror-surface was a window behind which the natives watched his every more, studied him. He didn’t mind, not as long as they kept bringing him food.

The language barrier was formidable. He continuously tried to make them understand what components and materials he needed to build a transmitter that would bring rescue, but they seemed not to understand; certainly the components were not forthcoming.

Perhaps they were attempting to build it for him. Given their level of technology, the idea would have amused him had his desperation not been so great. He would have to keep trying.

SF Drabble #389 “Hoover”

“We poked a hole in the Universe.” The disheveled man in the lab coat said, beaming proudly.

“Where does it go?” The general frowned, watching the otherworldly shimmer hanging in mid-air.

“Outside… outside the Universe.”

“As in you have no idea. As in anything might come pouring out of that hole and—”

“Actually, the prevailing water-cooler theory around here is that it’s much more likely that our Universe will start pouring into the hole. Sucking everything in like a v—”

The general had grabbed the man by the collar of his lab coat. “Close it. Now.”

“But we don’t—”

Now.

SF Drabble #388 “Methuselahs”

When they made it illegal, I didn’t really mind it: I figured they’d ‘grandfather in’ those of us who’d done it while it was legal. For a while that held true. But then they passed all those discriminatory laws, and then finally, the General Assembly made kill-on-sight laws constitutional. Most of us went on the run then. Those that didn’t, well, I’m sure you know how that went. Of course, you can’t exactly tell us on sight, so it’s pretty easy to pass with forged documents.

I paid good money for immortality, and I mean to get my money’s worth.

Zombie Drabble #389 “Differently Abled”

They walked over, serious looks on their faces. “JIm…”

“Just spit it out, Reggie, I can take it.”

“Well,” he started, “It’s just, we don’t think you can keep up in the chair. And nobody wants to have to push you.”

“I can make better time on pavement than any of you, carrying more weight. This isn’t your grandma’s wheelchair, Reggie.” They wouldn’t make eye contact. “Fine. I’m taking my .32 with me.”

“Fair enough.”

A week later, sailing down Highway 3 at twenty miles an hour, Jim passed Reggie’s zombie. He yelled, “Asshole!” He didn’t bother to shoot him.

Zombie Drabble #388 “Sniper”

The zombie was almost to him, mouth agape, arms outstretched, when its head disintegrated, spattering him with blood and bits of rotten flesh. He sat, dumbstruck, with the gore dripping off of his face, while two more zombies were felled. Only then did he hear the distant crack of a rifle shot, and it came after the bullets found their mark. Whoever he was, his benefactor was far away.

Too far to tell the difference between a zombie and a blood-spattered man? He crawled on all fours, as quickly as he could, towards shelter. Best to not take the chance.

SF Drabble #387 “Still On Vacation”

We went from Friktik to Ri’ on the mail-runner, not wanting to wait three weeks for the next liner.

I guess something about the Liner, maybe its size, minimizes the physiological effects of the Polixaci drive, because when the mail-runner left normal space, we both got dizzy and fell out of our chairs. The crew apologized: they thought we knew. They wouldn’t say why it doesn’t happen on the liners, though. We got the impression they weren’t supposed to.

Ri’ is beautiful. Mostly forest, these immense trees that sing in the wind. Worth it, so glad for those extra weeks.

SF Drabble #386 “Not Monster”

It had a name. Kathlogroh. The little boy told them the name, told them it was a he, that he was friendly.

On closer inspection: they should have known he was no monster: he wore clothes, had tools attached to the clothes. He was injured, though not severely. He could talk after a fashion, in single words, in simple concepts. Not learned from the boy. Maybe he’d been monitoring communications before crashing.

He agreed to come back to the army base; he wanted electronics to build a transmitter. And: "Stay away crash. Invisible death." We’re assuming he means the radiation.

SF Drabble #385 “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”

He was staring down at his Pad, like he did in most of his free time, when suddenly he laughed.

“What?”

“I accidentally switched this thing to Earth time. It changed the calendar, too.”

“So?”

“So, guess what today is.”

“John, I really don’t—”

“Merry Christmas.”

She stared at him for a minute. “John, what does it matter if it’s Christmas or Easter or Boxing Day? That’s Earth. This isn’t.”

He scowled. “I just thought you’d get a kick out of it, that’s all.”

She sighed, shook her head. “Oh, fine. Merry Christmas, John. Happy?”

He grinned. “Yeah, I am.”

Zombie Drabble #387 “Ghost Dog”

“Don’t turn around.”

He hadn’t heard anyone come in, and of course he’d searched the house for zombies before starting in searching for supplies. “Sure.”

“Got any .32 ammo?”

“Nope, only nine mil. And solid shells.”

“You’re wasting your time here, I cleaned this place out three weeks ago.”

“I always think someone should come up with chalk marks, like hobos used to.”

“Most of ‘em would be lies.”

“Sure.”

There was a long silence. Eventually he risked turning around; there was nobody there. He searched the house again, and found nothing. He was almost certain he hadn’t imagined it.

Zombie Drabble #386 “Safety First”

You go into a house, you never know what you’ll find. There could be one zombie, there could be five, there could be none. There could be a pantry full of canned goods, there could be bare shelves. If you spend more than ten minutes in one house, you’re risking getting surrounded, and anyway, if you haven’t found the good stuff by then, you never will.

Don’t even think about apartments if you’re out alone. one way in, one way out. Whatever’s in there isn’t worth your life. I mean, unless it is. If you’re starving, all bets are off.

SF Drabble #384 “Hand To Hand”

The ship rang like a bell, again, and she was thrown forcefully against the bulkhead. She kept her grip, and was regaining her bearings when Reese floated by with blood globules leaking from his flattened nose and disturbingly open eyes.

The intercom buzzed. All hands, prepare to repel boarders.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” She pushed off, sailed across the half-lit compartment, and grabbed a handhold close to the weapons locker. “I hope somebody remembered to charge these things this time.”

No such luck: plenty of beam rifles, no live power cells. “That’s it. I’m not re-upping again.”

SF Drabble #383 “Sour Grapes”

I knew from the knock that it was the Deacons. I wanted to put on pants. “Just a second.”

Now, sir.”

I answered the door in boxers. It slid open to reveal blasters at the ready and a fill-in-the-blanks search warrant. I didn’t bother reading it. “Come on in.”

I wasn’t worried. I didn’t have any illicit materials, or even drugs, not that the Deacons give a crap about drugs. They’re looking for schismatics, blasphemers, apostates. My ex keeps informing on me, but the joke’s on her: lying’s a sin, and filing a false report will get you six months.

Fantasy Drabble #300 “Last But Not Least”

Shywild was old, even for his kind. The others of Elven-kind had died during the wars, or by their own hand or of grief after losing the wars, but, unhappily, he had hung on, had soldiered on, had lived on. He despised as lonely a world bursting with people.

Now there were cars and parking lots where there had been fauns and forest, skyscrapers where there had been sky, machines where there had been magic: the humans had defiled their hard-fought prize. They didn’t even remember that they were at war. They were fools, and they had inherited the Earth.

Fantasy Drabble #299 “Annulment”

She was still cleaning up the detritus of spell-casting when Mauritz appeared in the doorway. “Ah, you’re here. Have a seat. Anywhere’s fine.” It was Mauritz’s house, after all: she wouldn’t fret over the stains or smell.

Mauritz’s zombie lumbered over to the couch and settled onto it, bits of flesh sloughing off onto the upholstery.

He needed marching orders, direction. “I’ll be with you in a minute, Maury.” There was still one more order of business, the locator spell.

Mauritz, suspicious, had wisely invested in revenge. Mauritz’s wife had bought his death, but alas for her, not its permanence.

SF Drabble #382 “Reporting From The Scene”

“Jack, I’m not sure, but let me try to see what I can make out from the top of the stairs here. Again, we’re in the basement of a partially collapsed building near twelfth street, about eight blocks from… yeah, yes, that was another explosion, sounded like it was a good distance away. There was some artillery falling around the landing site about ten minutes ago, and then some level bombing, but it’s been quiet since… yes, Jack, I can see up the street and the alien craft seems to have disgorged numerous smaller… okay, I’m seeing a bright li—”

SF Drabble #381 “Reproduction”

Tracking. Cloak engaged. Stand by for course correction: mark. Stand by for full power: mark. Range closing. Scans inconclusive. Stand by. Stand by.

Range closing. Scans indicate nuclear power source, hydrogen scoop design. System of origin computed. Destination system computed.

Range closing. Scans indicate five organisms active, one thousand four hundred and twenty three organism cryogenically frozen. Biped, opposable thumbs; bipeds probable crew and colonists.

Range closing, no change in target attitude. Cloak stable. Stand by weapons.

Stand by to match course and speed. Mark. Parallel course achieved. Position directly above target achieved. Stand by boarding. Stand by ovipositor teams.

Zombie Drabble #385 “The New Economy”

There was a farmer we ran into only because we smelled wood burning on the wind, and followed it back to his place. Nice enough guy. For him, the end of the world hadn’t changed much: he worked his land, tended his livestock and his crops, only instead of selling his product he lived off it himself. He knew what was happening, of course, but he figured, what’s it to him?

We explained it. He had guns, of course, that type always does, but we got the drop easy. Shelter. Lots of food. It’ll be months before we move on.

Zombie Drabble #384 “Relics”

It had been going for a while before he realized he’d been hearing it: a radio, or somebody’s iPod earbuds up way too high. He wrestled his way out of the too-small sleeping back and padded through the room in stocking feet to try to find the source of the noise.

It was the Carsons’ teenager, what was her name? “Emily.”

She reached into her own sleeping back and the noise stopped. “What?”

“What are you listening to?”

“Some classical piece I’ve never heard of before. Found the iPod yesterday.”

He convinced her to share. It was Debussy, “La Mer.”

Fantasy Drabble #297 “Sir Hubert”

Midnight rounds are unfailingly uneventful: everyone's asleep, including any enemies of the Crown. You’ll be patrolling the quiet halls, trying not to let your sword or armor clatter, and there he’ll be, a shimmering panic.

They’re coming.

“They’re not coming, Hubert, that was a long time ago.”

They’ll kill you all. They’ll kill me.

“Got your tenses mixed up, you have. Still: I appreciate the warning. Well done, you: mission accomplished. Eternal rest well-earned.”

It never works. They’re almost here.

We don’t know what his real name was in life; ‘Hubert’ suits his face. “Best get ready, then, Hubert.”

Fantasy Drabble #296 “On A String”

It wasn’t voices or anything like that. Nobody came to me in a vision. I just got this urge to go down there and dig, and after a few days of fighting it I gave in.

Nobody bothered me while I worked. If you look like you belong, like you know what you’re doing, people more or less leave you alone. I dug up the bones, put them in a bag, took them home, no problem.

The bones must be the guy pulling the strings. Who else? Now I have to figure out what’s next. Maybe I’ll get another urge.

SF Drabble #380 “The Usual Suspects”

I never really understood it.

They rounded up the Drugborn precogs — the ones who’d gotten the talent from a massive dose of K-459 — in days, mostly because they had no place to hide: you could tell them on sight from the skin discoloration, and from the eyes.

But with the second-generation precogs, the inheritors, there aren’t any physical tells. They could blend in, hide among the genpop, hide in plain sight. But they found ‘em.

Then I realized: they’ve got Drugborn talent-sniffers. They’ve got some formula that lets you feel or smell or see or hear the talent.

SF Drabble #379 “Recognition”

“What is that?”

Forsythe glanced up from his Pad long enough to follow the driver’s outstretched finger. “That is a Yourian female. Don’t point.”

“Sorry.”

“The little ones are her kids? Her… young?”

“No, in fact the smaller Yourians are males. One is probably her husband and the others are in her husband’s employ. Or hers, for that matter, though given the sexism in Yourian society that’s less likely.”

“Oh.” The driver ruminated. “How do you know all this stuff?”

“One learns on the job. I’ve been at it quite some time.” Forsythe laughed. “So long it almost seems normal.”

SF Drabble #378 “Airlock”

“What’s through there? My disc won’t open this door…”

The Polixaci crewman glanced at the hatch, and answered through his translator, “Your Ident Disc is functioning correctly: the hatch you indicate leads to a section of compartments optimized for methane-breathers. Do you have some business within?”

“No, no. Just exploring the ship. You know, playing tourist.”

“If you entered that area, your lungs would be destroyed and you would die.”

“Oh.”

The crewman moved to leave, but paused and added, “Additionally, Some hatches lead to the vacuum of space. If your disc restricts access, it is for safety reasons.”

“Gotcha.”

SF Drabble #377 “Adrift”

We find them all the time: cryo-stasis escape pods from late in the war, floating out in the cometary belt. Our metal detectors will go nuts, we’ll think we’ve struck pay dirt, and there they’ll be.

Half the time they’re amazed they’re alive. After this long, I’m not surprised. Last week we found a guy from the same ship as a guy I picked up on my first job out, twenty years ago.

We don’t make much on the salvage, after fuel costs: you have to run them back to Earth, by law.

Sometimes we don’t bother picking them up.

SF Drabble #376 “I Hate My Ex”

She was like a fish already, back on Earth. Where other people jogged or went to the gym, or Pilates, she swam. Had a lifetime membership at the neighborhood pool.

When the opening at the embassy on Isle came up, she was first to apply; she was chosen immediately.

Isle is ninety-six percent water. The one land mass, where the embassy is, is in the tropical zone. The temperature never gets above ninety-five or below seventy Fahrenheit. The locals are all ocean-dwellers as friendly as your average trained dolphin and she hasn’t worn more than a bikini in five months.

SF Drabble #375 “Academic Probation”

The boy sat, sullen, staring at his shoes, waiting for the yelling to begin. Only when he finally realized none was forthcoming, and raised his head, did the headmaster speak.

“Peter, why are you here? On Mars, I mean?”

The boy only shrugged, but again the headmaster waited. “My parents came. I don’t have any choice.”

“Now, that’s not true: you could have filed for emancipation, you were old enough.”

Another shrug.

“I guess what I’m trying to ask is, you could have been a lazy, good-for-nothing wastrel on Earth; why come all the way out here to do it?”

SF Drabble #374 “Apprentice”

The Vylid boatman waved him on board, and he found a spot on the bench between to other, older, humans.

“First time out?” asked one, amusement obvious in his tone.

“Yes, sir—”

“I’m no ‘sir’. Vylids are ‘sir’. I’m Ray.”

The boy nodded acknowledgement. “I’m Wynn.”

The steam-runner pulled away from the dock and immediately began putting on speed seaward. The upper domes of the Buol cities were already visible, rising out of the fog.

“What do you think they’re like?”

"The man laughed. “Does it matter? You’ll never meet one. You’d drown trying. Just work hard, don’t get noticed.”

Zombie Drabble #383 “Mindset”

I caught the kids playing with bones. Leg bones for hockey sticks, a skull for a ball. I made them knock it off. They didn’t understand why. They’re just zombie bones, Dad.

I don’t know why it bothered me as much as it did. Everyone’s adjusting, changing, adapting to the way things are now, but not me. I look at the handfuls of rotting dead we find pushing at our stockade walls every morning and I still see people. Horrifically mutilated, cursed and pained even in death, but people.

They won’t trust me with guard duty. I don’t blame them.

Zombie Drabble #382 “Cashmere Redux”

The blond girl was ladling out ‘Apocalypse Surprise’. It was all they ate: whatever cans the scouting parties had found that day scrounging in the ruins of grocery stores and houses, mixed together and slow-cooked over a low fire.

The children were fed first, and then the pregnant women. By the time the men got through the line to her, she was scraping the bottom of the pot. One young, confident scout winked as she doled out a tiny portion and said, “That’s okay, babe, food ain’t everything. I got other needs too.”

She shot him a withering look. “Inappropriate.”

Zombie Drabble #381 “Good God, Y’all”

The patrol was two days overdue before we went looking for them. We found them strung up on telephone poles at the edge of town: a warning.

We knew there was another group of survivors nearby, but hadn’t run into them before. Harvey had a cool head, he wouldn’t have started something unnecessarily. So they were hostile, whoever they were.

What do we do? Try to make peace? They’ve made it clear they don’t want it. Move away? To where?

Better to fight now, while they think we’re weak, scared. I just wish we had Harvey to lead the assault.

Zombie Drabble #380 “Bargaining”

I’m seeing things. It’s the fever, making me see things.

The Carpini kids are not eating their dog in my front yard. There hasn’t been a steady stream of helicopters flying and hovering over town. The apartment building on the corner hasn’t been burning for an hour with no fire/rescue response at all. None of it’s really happening.

The Nyquil will put me out, let me sleep this off. It’s just the goddamn flu. I’ll wake up tomorrow and everything will be back to normal again, none of those hallucinations will have been real.

Please, let it not be real.

Zombie Drabble #379 “White Lady”

I used to do coke.

And when I say I used to do coke, I mean I used to do a whole lot of coke.

I got through that first week tweaked all to hell, heart racing, no sleep, burning the candle at both ends and the middle to boot, while I watched so many others get exhausted and give up and get themselves eaten. Coke’s why I’m still alive.

I’ve been out for weeks; won’t be any more, probably. I don’t know the formula, don’t know any survivors who do. Anyway, getting caught with drugs now gets you shot.

Zombie Drabble #378 “Fantasy”

There was already a wall around the property before the fall; all we had to do was close off the gate, first with boards and then with concrete. Now the only way in or out is via the ladders.

For the kids the school grounds are the whole world. They hear us talking about the city and airplanes and department stores like we’re telling faerie stories. I have to wonder if they’ll ever really believe it all, if they’ll ever really understand what we’ve lost, and what they’ll never have. Somehow, I doubt they will: it all sounds so implausible.

Zombie Drabble #377 “Three Mile Limit”

They motored in close to the dock, engine on low so as to make the least possible noise. There weren’t any zombies visible, but you never know…

“There’s a seventy-footer. Duchess of Doubt… what a name. Check her out, we might just upgrade if she’s worthy.”

“Lot of rooms. Yacht like that, might have had crew—”

“Take Kip with you. He can cover you with the speargun. Even if she looks good, bag any canned food… just in case you get interrupted.”

“Got it.”

Caroline was feeling cramped with ten aboard. The Duchess would make life at sea more bearable…

Zombie Drabble #376 “Final Exam”

You’re sixteen, and it’s the law.

You’ve trained as hard as anyone, don’t know why you’re worried about it. Just remember what you’ve learned, keep your wits about you, stay alert, and don’t stop moving. The pen’s larger than it seems, you can maneuver so that all three zombies are always on one side of you. Hit hard. Don’t hold back, not even a little.

When you come out, if you come out, you’ll be an adult, and you’ll have rights just like your mother and I do. If you don’t come out, well, not having any rights won’t matter.

Zombie Drabble #375 “Adeline”

She’s been blind since they nuked Dallas. Not much in the way of burns, but she got knocked around some. She’s a tough old bird, never took any shit from anybody.

I remember once, late ‘80’s, somebody tried to snatch her purse away from her on the sidewalk here in town. Some kid. I think it turned out to be Ross Meaker’s boy. Anyway, she hit him so hard upside the head with her cane he ended up over at Doctor Reager’s with eight stitches.

She was already old then; anyhow, old to us. She might just yet outlive me.

Zombie Drabble #374 “Princess Cashmere”

No, you don’t understand: it’s not my fault. I was in the car and I remembered to pick up the stuff from the grocery store like you asked — I know you’re not supposed to shop on Sunday, but I forgot it was Sunday — but then the road was blocked off by the police and so I had to go back to school, and then they were talking on the radio about zombies and my roommate — I can’t stand her, oh my goodness she’s so stupid — had borrowed my keys so I couldn’t get in, so then… you still there?

…Mom?

Zombie Drabble #373 "Response"

From where we were, you could see the whole town: the church, the high school, the strip of shops on Main with the diagonal 15-minute parking out front. You could see the dead stumbling around, following fleeting scents and echoing noises, starting and stopping, aimless.

Then the Army showed up.

It was machine-guns at first, but then they smartened up: rifles on single shot. I suppose if they’d had unlimited ammo they could’ve retaken the town. They must’ve dropped a thousand before realizing there was no end to the horde streaming into town from the highway. Then they pulled out.

Zombie Drabble #372 “Provisioning”

“That’s the last can.”

He growled, “What, no more peas?”

“Harvey, the last can. We’re out of food.”

“Nonsense. There’s at least another two boxes back there.”

“They’re empty. Or, rather, they’re full of empty cans. There’s not much in the way of drinking water, either. The raincatcher must be blocked up…”

“I’ll check it.”

“And the food? You’re going to have to go out and—”

“I’m not going.” He said it with an eerie finality.

“Fine, I’ll go.”

“You won’t make it ten steps out that door.”

She stared at him, arms crossed.

“Fine. I’ll go in the morning.”

Zombie Drabble #371 “Zero Tolerance”

Orville raised his head, stared, moaned.

“It’s not looking good for you, there, Orville.”

Orville reached out with both arms, tried to get to his feet, but was pulled off-balance by the chains, falling heavily back onto his rear. He hissed in anger.

“Not good at all.”

Orville moaned in hunger, mouth agape, black tongue hanging dry and bloated against his torn bottom lip.

“I had it all worked out, Orville. They was gonna let me keep you down here, chained. But then you had to go and bite the little girl, Orville.”

Orville hissed again, unrepentant.

“Not cool, Orville.”

SF Drabble #373 “Nocturnal”

After three days of fighting: they own the basements and the night. During the day, everything where sunlight falls is ours. It makes them lethargic, stupid, they can’t fight. Their beam weapons go unused, they sit stupefied where they are and wait for us to come finish them.

At night, or underground, they cut through us like a harvester through wheat. If they’d landed during the winter, with shorter days, we might already have lost everything.

We’re booby-trapping underground areas as we fall back, but our most precious weapon in the struggle to retain Earth might just be the sunlamp.

Fantasy Drabble #295 “Wisps”

The old wizard concentrated with his eyes closed, ignoring the world around him; after not too long, he could hear the whispering distinguish itself from the breeze. He never caught every word, or even most. Some days he was lucky to pick out a word here and a phrase there.

Today it was as if they wanted him to hear. “High grounds. To the hills.”

He thought of farm animals predicting earthquakes, inclement weather. He put the old fedora onto his head, stood creakily up from the park bench, and hobbled over to the sidewalk to flag down a cab.

SF Drabble #372 “Somebody’s Going To Emergency”

The alien leaned over him, smelling faintly of nutmeg. “Can you understand my speech?”

Groggily, he answered, “Yes.”

“You are human Christopher Patrick Torolevsky.”

“I… am. That’s me.”

“And you came to this planet for what reason?”

“I… I’m on vacation. With my wife. With… is Mary Elisabeth all right? Is she ok?”

“Do not excite yourself, you are still week. Your mate is alive and uninjured: the Make-haste did not strike her.”

He coughed. “Lucky.”

“Yes. You were very difficult to put back together. It was most challenging. Though, we are fairly certain everything is where it should be.”

SF Drabble #371 “Infested”

Our first clue was a frayed wire in D section, that Applebaum ran across while doing routine maintenance. It wasn’t frayed, of course, it was chewed, but we didn’t know that then.

Then we started finding droppings and tiny pieces of shredded paper in the crawlspaces. That was enough for the Cap to order a stem-to stern eyes-on.

The nest was in one of the engineering spaces. They were all through the food stores, too. This far out from Sol, with compromised food, we started to panic.

The doc suggested we get used to thinking of the rats as ‘livestock’.

Fantasy Drabble #294 “In Memoriam” (For Dan)

She felt a cold chill again, raising goose bumps on her skin and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. She muted the television; though he never spoke, it helped her to concentrate.

“Bob?” She could feel him. She couldn’t describe how, no matter how hard she searched for the words when skeptical friends asked. There’s a difference between an empty house and a house where someone is in the next room being very, very quiet. You just feel them.

“Bob?” She could hear kids playing in the street, on an unseasonably warm late-fall day. '”I miss you…”

Separation

It had been building for weeks, in a look, a sigh, a reproachful silence. Finally, over dinner, she looked up while he was chewing a spoonful of peas and said, "Our son has never left this room. He's never seen grass. Or the goddamn sky or a tree."

"I understand that, Cecily." Wendell didn't bother laying out his argument. She already knew it: what if they're still out there?

“He’ll be walking soon. When we run out of food—”

“Running out of food is years away, I did the math.”

She ate quietly, for a while, before pointedly observing, "There should be a way to look out without opening the doors."

"There isn't." When she started shaking her head, started to open her mouth, started to go on, he added by way of reminder: "It was built as a shelter from nuclear war, Cecily. They were gonna be in here for years. There would have been radiation from fallout. There would have been no reason to look out, all they would've seen would've been ashes and snow. And for that matter, all we’d see is zombies. So why bother?"

“What if it’s over? What if they found a cure and it’s over and done with?”

“We’d be picking up radio, and we’re not. I put up the antenna and check every day, Cecily; nobody’s transmitting. We haven’t picked up anything since week three.” He took a bite of Spam, chewed it, swallowed. He’d gotten to like it, actually. He said with finality, “We stay inside until we know it’s safe.” Unspoken: or until the food runs out and we have no choice in the matter.

She went back to eating in silence.

After dinner, they watched the baby play with a die-cast metal car in the middle of a throw run on the floor, and when he finally nodded off to sleep, they laid down on their cot — forced by its size into an unwelcome intimacy — and did the same.

Later, Wendell woke up in the darkened shelter, sweating and gasping in the dry, stale air. He felt Cecily’s absence from the cot and rolled over; there she was, dressed, hand on the door latch. "Don't. Honey, don't. It's not worth it. Leave it a while."

"I can't. I can't just stay down here without knowing. I have to know." She didn’t pull at the lever, didn’t defy him, but neither did she let go. Who knows how long she’d been standing there, waiting for either the courage to do it or for him to wake up and realize she had meant business.

He sat up, ran his hands slowly through his hair. He knew her too well, knew she wouldn't let it go. Eventually she would pull the lever and throw the door open. "Let me put on my shoes and get the gun." He'd been down to eight shells when they'd reached the concrete steps down to the shelter door, months ago. There were still eight now.

“What time is it? Do you think it’s light out?”

The clock on the wall had stopped weeks ago: he didn’t have the right batteries. “Dunno. It’ll be spring, though. Warm probably.” He didn’t bother with a coat; he put his hand on the lever and pulled the latch open with affected calm.

“Be careful.” She glanced back at the crib in the corner, as if only now counting the risks.

He pulled the heavy door open and looked up the stairwell. The surface doors, regular old wood like a storm cellar door, were closed and intact. Beams of sunlight full of swirling dust streamed through the cracks. “So far so good. Stay here.”

He walked up the steps and, after listening for a moment, slowly pushed open first one side of the door and then the other with the muzzle of the shotgun, revealing a blue sky almost devoid of clouds. Once his eyes adjusted, he stepped up almost to the top and looked around.

The house was still there, though the doors were gone, kicked in, and some of the windows broken. Doubtlessly it had been ransacked. The neighbor’s house, just down the street, had burned to the ground. Both cars had been left in the driveway, but were nowhere to be seen.

He had expected grass grown tall from going un-mowed for so long, but it was close-cropped, and soon he saw why: there was a family of deer moving casually across the backyard, near the wooden fence.

“Any zombies?”

“Shh! Stay there…” He stepped up onto the grass. He’d killed three zombies on the lawn, before, on the way to the shelter, but nothing was left of them, not even bones, at least not that he could see. “I don’t see any. They could be inside the h—”

She brushed by him, already nearly at a run. She had the baby wrapped in a blanket in her arms. “Cecily! Where—” He started to run, stopped, looked back at the shelter doors hanging open. “Cecily!”

She kept going, around past the front of the house and into the street. She had their son. “Cecily, come back!”

His voice would be attracting any zombies nearby. He took a step back towards the shelter doors. “Cecily!”

They’d been married six years. He knew her. He knew her. She wasn’t coming back. This was her escape, and she either didn’t want him coming with her, or didn’t care either way.

Mrs. Parkhurst from across the street appeared at the corner of the house, dead, staring blankly, moaning. Six months ago, on the way to the shelter, he’d blown Mr. Parkhurst’s head apart very near where his late wife was now standing.The baby — then a tiny newborn — had slept through the noise while his mother had almost dropped the car-seat in her panic.

He aimed, fired, and Mrs. Parkhurst dropped. He turned and stepped down into the darkened stairwell, closing behind him first the storm cellar doors, and then the fallout shelter door at the bottom.

SF Drabble #370 “Alien Spring Break”

They started appearing that afternoon, complex circular marks in the grass, on the concrete and asphalt, everywhere, just like the old guy said. The government went and fished him out of the looney bin and started asking him hard questions. Soon he was on the news.

“They're just graffiti. You know, like the kids do. Tagging. ‘I was here’, and so on. Each design indicates a particular individual. That’s why some repeat: some of them have visited multiple times.”

“But what to they want?” Asked the host.

“Oh, just blowing off steam. Probably won’t do much damage. You know kids.”

Zombie Drabble #370 “Break It Down”

There ain’t never gonna be no cure. Not without computers and sterile labs and that shit. Universities are closed, bro, and they ain’t openin’ again any time soon. Ain’t gonna be no more jets or helicopters or tanks either. Once the ones they got wear out and break, that’s it. They can make bullets, maybe, if they can find a source for all the shit they need. Takes a lotta shit to make bullets, bro, I looked it up once. And best start growin’ your own food, because Safeway’s out of fuckin’ business. Find a crossbow, hunt you a deer.

Zombie Drabble #369 “Place The Face”

We hooked up with this guy the second day, while we were being evac’d from the city. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out how I knew him. Maybe he’d lived in the apartment building on Vineyard? Or maybe he’d worked for my dad one summer? It was eating at me.

Then, Thursday night, Jenny and I were sharing a sleeping bag up on the roof of some middle school, and suddenly I remembered: I’d gone to High School with the guy. I was going to go say something to him, but I remembered: the zombies got him Tuesday.

Zombie Drabble #368 “The Quiet Man”

The walls are thin in this building. It was always a problem: the people next door arguing, the people upstairs clomping around, the couple on the other side fucking or listening to loud music or both. In those days, he was the quiet one. Now the only sound in the building was the faint moans of his now-deceased neighbors.

Now, even with the shag carpeting he stepped as lightly as he could manage, careful not to bump into walls or doorframes, set things down and picked things up with methodical precision. His greatest fear was crying out in his sleep.

Fantasy Drabble #293 “Honorable”

There were letters carved into the stones. He couldn’t read them, but they matched the ones carved into the hilt of his sword, and that was enough to propel him down the steps into the darkness.

He was greeted by a voice, friendlier than he would have thought. “I knew your father, you know.”

“And did you slay him?”

“No,” the voice returned, wistfully, “that honor was not mine. I know who did, though. Would that information buy your departure, hero?”

“Of course.”

The voice paused, then continued heavy with disappointment. “A shame, that. Your father would not have lied.”

Mouse

She made her presence known with a scratch rather than a knock; he knew immediately it was her. “What?”

“Can I come in and talk to you?”

“What would be the point?”

There was a pause, and then she scratched at the door again. “Please?”

She wouldn’t go, she’d stay until he let her in. He stood, shuffled slowly to the door and drew it open with affected disinterest. “I don’t really want to get into it.”

“So let’s not get into it.”

“Fine with me.”

They sat on the couch as the television droned on. Eventually they held hands.

SF Drabble #369 “Woolies”

It was the sixteenth year of the war; I was on the Endurance. She was ripped apart near Korisk, and I ended up in an escape pod on its side down on the surface.

I was alone, though I ran into a stranded Woolie on the second day. His ship must have been killed in the same action. He appeared at my campfire, knew a couple words Standard, tried to ask to share my rations. I killed him, of course. Made a rug out of the Woolie’s fur. I have it at home on Mars. Hell of a conversation piece.

Zombie Drabble #367 “Amy”

“Mommy? Why did we leave Daddy at the house? Was it because he was being bad?”

She didn’t answer; she didn’t know how.

“Mommy? Why?”

“Honey, I need you to be quiet now, while I’m driving. Just for now.”

“But when are we going to see Daddy?”

“Soon, honey.” She knew it was a lie. Maybe Amy did, too, but she seemed to accept it. There would be more lies in the coming days, lies about the world, about their safety, about everything around them. Amy was a trusting child, maybe she could keep the truth from her a while.

SF Drabble #368 "Frozen"

He didn't remember the coffin, and before the lid was opened by the medtech he feared there had been a horrible mistake. He tried to speak, but his throat produced only a short, unintelligible croak. The medtech said something in a language he didn't understand, but another voice said, "Don't try to talk yet. Try to relax and breathe normally."

He wondered how much time had passed since he'd paid to be frozen. If the language had changed... "What... year?"

The medtech said nothing. Another voice answered, "Your cancer is gone; the year is a subject for another time."

SF Drabble #367 "Progenitor"

They stood on black rocks just above the water. She said, "Lovely, isn't it? Pristine."

"Nice not to have to wear the suit for once."

She dipped a long, articulated toe into the water. "I don't mind the suit, usually."

"Rubs my ridges the wrong way, that's all. Too binding."

She sighed. "Well, go ahead."

He bent down, opened the sample container, and poured its contents into the tide pool. "There. Come back in a hundred million years, this place'll be bursting at the seams."

She laughed and said, "I'll mark it on my calendar. If I'm not already busy."

Fantasy Drabble #292 “Infernal”

“Tell me something,” he began, as he sipped his coffee. The demon didn’t respond, only glared and rattled the chains. “Shouldn’t you be trying to make some sort of deal by now? Some favor for your freedom?”

The demon snorted and then hissed, “There will be no deal, mortal. The moment I am free I shall cut you to ribbons.”

“‘Shall’? Who talks like that? It’s a new world, pal: those chains are steel. Your ass isn’t going anywhere.”

The demon snorted again, strained at his bonds, and gave up. “Fine. What are your terms.”

“Let’s talk money. And power.”

SF Drabble #366 “Dinner With Mede”

There was a porchlight burning, and he walked resolutely up the driveway to the porch. The doorbell was just within reach.

The woman who answered the door didn’t seem surprised to see him standing there, three feet of fur and bug-eyes and claws. “We were wondering if you’d show up; not that many houses ‘round here. You were on the news, you know: ‘Alien Tourist’.”

“Fascinating. What did they say?”

“That you might ring somebody’s doorbell and offer to work off dinner. You hungry?”

“Famished.”

“We don’t need any work done, though…”

“I tell a good story—”

“Come on in.”

In The Dressing Room

Caged bare light bulbs wash her face in a brilliant white glow as she puts on someone else’s face; a face she has come to know so very well. When the face is complete she will become her, become that girl, she will subsume herself, submerge herself in preparation for the even brighter lights of the stage.

By then her only worry will be whether he is there, sitting in the dark, watching, waiting, hoping that when the lights go out she will take that other woman’s face off, tissue by tissue, slowly becoming herself again, and return to him.

SF Drabble #365 “One”

One is alone between the stars. One’s vessel, all the ship one could afford, has ceased to function as designed. One is unexpectedly stranded.

One therefore requires assistance from any able and friendly nearby party. One can offer substantial reward.

One breathes a methane/ammonia mixture; one has approximately six jolon of atmosphere remaining before one loses consciousness. One requires rescue before that time.

One’s ship will self-destruct after one’s death. Salvage will not be possible. One wishes to swim in the seas of home again. Please respond on this wavelength with haste. Please send assistance or one will perish. Repeat.

Fantasy Drabble #291 “Attic”

They are dusty, brittle clothes in a dusty, creaky trunk, discovered only because the children were both curious and disobedient. They are gathered up and regarded, critiqued, assessed and graded, and the favored among them are slipped over heads and pulled onto legs, the children disappearing into their archaic embrace.

This is all the opportunity the ghosts need: they slip into the bodies of the children wearing their clothes, delighting in the feeling of youth, reveling in the solidity, listening to the blood rushing merrily past their borrowed eardrums before, inevitably, the children return them to their dusty oblivion.

SF Drabble #364 “Steed”

She held on for dear life; Mick raced joyfully down the hill towards the flats. She screamed, “Slow Down!” but Mick didn’t seem to hear.

They’d be close enough to radio in, tell the Vill they were coming, but she didn’t dare let go of Mick’s blue-green mane to reach for her Talkie. If she fell now, that would be the end of her.

She yelled again, “Mick! Slow down!”

The immense creature relaxed its gait. “Sorry, Bay! Down hill, fun!” Mickajahrish enjoyed his job, but sometimes forgot he had a rider, and had to be reminded: Earthers were fragile.

SF Drabble #363 “By Default”

Sick of waiting. Gonna try jumping to the next locus, do a scan. If they’re not there... I dunno.

Fourteen days. I don’t mind a long game, if there’s action, but I’ve been sitting and waiting for most of it. It’s a game, but games should be fun.

They should have come through here, should be actively searching for me. Granted, we’re pretty far out towards the rim: there’s a lot of unexplored volume out here. Maybe they had mechanical failure. Maybe they ran into something new, something dangerous.

They'd better have run into something, wasting my time like this.

Fantasy Drabble #290 “Lechuguilla”

The God that lived in the mountain is gone, dead or fled to some other realm. His cavern is empty, a throne room of delicate crystal spikes that sparkle in torchlight; I am one of a very few lucky and brave enough to have seen it.

What spelled his doom? Did the Water-God murder him? There are pools in the cavern, pristine-looking but poisonous, at least to men. If the Mountain-God was foolish enough to drink from it, would it have killed him? What is toxic to a God?

The Priests have no answers… hardly surprising. We may never know.

Zombie Drabble #366 “Soundtrack”

“What do you think? Sabbath maybe?”

The younger man was scrolling through his iPod library, one earbud in, one dangling down his chest.

“What? I don’t know. Would you get ready, they’re coming!”

“I’m ready, I’m ready.” He gestured towards the rifle propped up next to him. “But I gotta have tunes, man. This shit needs a soundtrack. Metallica? Naw, too obvious.”

“You’re gonna get eaten. One of them is going to come up behind you, and you’re not going to hear because you’ve got earbuds in, and you’re going to get eaten. And I’m going to laugh.”

“Whatever. Motorhead?”

Zombie Drabble #365 “Country Road”

He was reinforcing a weak section of fence when he heard it: a truck, maybe a bus. He froze for a moment, unsure of what to do.

By the time he got out the front door it was already past, moving away, faster than the posted speed limit had been when those things still mattered. He ran to the gate, threw it open, yelling, waving his arms, desperate.

A white church bus, with extra metal sheeting welded on the sides and rear. It didn’t stop, didn’t even slow. They hadn’t seen or heard him. They probably didn’t bother looking back.

SF Drabble #362 “Settlers of New Canaan”

The day I landed, I got my grid co-ordinates from the Land Office, packed up my Roller, and headed out that very day. Took two weeks to reach my plot.

The local tribe had carved their village into one of those immense limestone rocks. I went to visit after a few days, paid respects to the Elder. He put a furry claw on my forehead and said he read kindness and generosity. The assembled natives whooped and clapped their furry stomachs.

I guess as the new Landlord I have to live up to the implied promise he made for me.

Zombie Drabble #364 “Mutable”

I don’t really think much about Before, not any more. The kids ask, and there’s always somebody in the mood to reminisce. Personally I don’t think that’s helpful. That world is never coming back, no matter how hard we try. Something may replace it, something civilized, but it’ll be different: harder, less forgiving, like the people who’ve survived to build it.

We ejected a woman two weeks ago for getting caught asleep on watch. Nobody spoke up in her defense, like they used to for people early on. She didn’t beg or cry, just went.

We’re past all that now.

Fantasy Drabble #289 “The World So Wide”

Midz-Aset was sunning himself on a rock high up the mountainside, near the frost line, when the bee landed on his nose. His eyes crossed as he regarded it. “Your audacity is impressive.”

The bee answered, “I will live only a season at best, regardless of where I land. Your nose seems as good a place as any…”

The dragon laughed, nearly throwing the bee from its perch. “You’re no mere bee, I think. A God in disguise? An elemental? Why lower yourself?”

“Were I as big as a dragon, say,” the bee said, “the world might always seem small.”

SF Drabble #361 “Risk and Return”

We knew immediately what had happened: the main fuel plant the ‘54 expedition set up blew when our guys connected the lander feed. The crew and Henriette were obliterated instantly, only the science teams, spread out and shielded by hills and mountains, survived.

We spend days watching them converge, set up a temporary shelter, try to set up a replacement plant, fail. We caught a few weak, crackly broadcasts asking for help. We talked to them, but couldn’t know if they were hearing us.

They’d gone down to the surface of Mars with the only lander. What could we do?

Zombie Drabble #363 “Worth A Shot”

“So…”

“What?”

“Do you want to, I dunno, take a walk or something?”

“To where?”

“We could walk up to the gate and back. Maybe even around the perimeter.”

“What, like, to check things out? Do you think there’s a problem with the fence?”

“No! No, I mean…”

“What then?”

“I just thought, maybe, you and I could spend some time together. You know. End of the world and everything.”

“Bobby, I am not fucking you behind a tree somewhere just because you think we’re all going to get eaten by zombies and you don’t want to die a virgin.”

Search and Rescue


The gentleman who answered the door had neck tattoos and a foul expression.
 
"Ah, good morning; my name is Alistair Forsythe, and I work for the United Nations. I believe an acquaintance of mine is currently a guest in your home and I was wondering if I could come in and speak to him."
 
The tattooed man's gaze was directed past Forsythe's shoulder, and he was clearly beginning to panic.
 
"I can assure you I have no interest in any illegal drugs or other illicit activity that may be occurring within. I'm only interested in speaking to my friend. I believe you know to whom I refer? That way it won't be necessary to involve... well, anyone else." Forsythe smiled as the man's eyes went from him to the numerous police vehicles and SWAT team members assembled on the street and back again.
 
"Uh. Yeah, all right. Come on in." The man unlocked and opened the security door, and backed out of the way.
 
"Excellent, thank you," Forsythe said as he stepped inside. "And where..."
 
"Kitchen. Hey homes, are they really not gonna come in?" The tattooed man gestured nervously to the front door.
 
"Not unless there's a problem."
 
He held up his hands to indicate he was compliant. "Ain't gonna be no problem, man. We've been real friendly to... your friend. You too, homes. We're all real chill."
 
"Excellent, thank you. I'll just proceed into the kitchen then."
 
The house was Forsythe's first drug den, and so far — other than the barred security door — was confounding his expectations: it was relatively clean, and the few people present seemed more interested in a football game on the television than maintaining a high. He proceeded into the kitchen, where he found the Shchinwhee Ambassador's son sitting at a small Formica table. The alien's eye stalks swung around and fixed on the doorway as he entered. "Ah, Forsythe! The beetles told you where to find me? Ah, yes, they did. The Ident discs, you see, they're tracers as well. Isn't cocaine wonderful?"
 
"I can't say that I've ever had the pleasure. May I sit?"
 
"Of course, of course. Teo let you in, yes? Teo, come have some cocaine, my friend!"
 
From the other room came, "Naw, man, that's cool, I'm all good, homes."
 
The alien continued, while cutting lines on the Formica table surface, "They call the Polixaci 'beetles', did you know that? 'El Escarabajo'. I had to look them up, beetles, but it's so perfect, isn't it? The antennae, the carapace..."
 
"Tyndagoloh, your father is concerned. He called from Mars to make sure we found you and brought you back to—"
 
"But I'm having so much fun, Forsythe. Your planet is so much more interesting when one is immersed in it!"
 
"May I ask, how did you get here?"
 
"On the liner, of course... Forsythe, you met us at the lander—"
 
"Not to Earth, Tyndagoloh; here, to this house."
 
"I decided to have a look around. I mean, a reallook around, not the tour in your bulletproof vans and a fully secured perimeter. It's so boring, Forsythe. I sneaked out of the Natural History Museum while the guide was describing the life cycle of Mamenchisaurus, and walked out into the city. I talked to people. I had dinner with a family last night, they were wonderful. They have a son, DeJohn, but he doesn't live with them because he has a problem about drugs?"
 
"He has a drug problem—"
 
"Yes, that's it, a 'drug problem'. So I asked around. DeJohn is upstairs with a 'prostitute'. They ingest the cocaine and then mate; apparently the pleasure is heightened. Which I have no trouble believing." He snorted another line with a disturbingly agile nasal proboscis. "They're not that hard to find, the drugs. They're wonderful. Well, cocaine is. I didn't like 'pot'. It's the inhalation of smoke, it was uncomfortable."
 
"From what I understand it can be baked into brownies."
 
The alien stopped what he was doing and regarded Forsythe. "Canit?" He called to the other room, "Teo! Teo, my friend, do you know how to bake brownies?"
 
The tattooed man answered, "Naw man, but Rosita does. She'll be home at ten, man, if you wanna wait."
 
Forsythe pressed, "You don't need pot brownies, Tyndagoloh. You need to come back to the Embassy and let the Polixaci doctors have a thorough look at you."
 
"Why?"
 
"Well, because cocaine is verybad for you. It's very bad for humans, in large amounts like this, and we have no idea what the cumulative effect would be for someone of your race."
 
"Teo didn't say anything about any of that—"
 
"He's a drug dealer, Tyndagoloh."
 
"Oh, I know. Apparently he's very well regarded in the area. I gave him what DeJohn said was a very large amount of local currency, and in return I can have as much cocaine as I want. I'm enjoying it verymuch so far."
 
"Drug dealers are not exactly trustworthy, Tyndagoloh. I wouldn't have set foot in here without having half the NYPD right outside. You're not safe here even without all the drugs which, if you continue to ingest them at this rate, may cause one of your hearts to explode."
 
The alien paused, his eye stalks regarding the mountain of white powder on the table. "Oh, dear. That could be serious. Especially if it were the bottom one, it's closer to the brain—"
 
"Yes, exactly. So, if we can go to the Embassy, we can make sure that doesn't become a problem."
 
"Well, if you say so." The alien put down his straw, got up, and strode from the kitchen into the living room, leaving Forsythe to scramble after him.
 
"Teo! Teo, my friend, I must go..." By the time Forsythe made it into the living room, the alien had thrown his triple-jointed arms around the tattooed man and was genially squeezing him.
 
Teo, frozen, gathered enough composure to say, "Hey, all right, no problem, homes."
 
"And give Rosita my love!"
 
"...Yeah, yeah, all right, I'll be sure and do that, homes."
 
Tyndagoloh released the drug dealer and headed for the front door, while Forsythe added, "The United Nations thanks you for your co-operation."
 
"Yeah, anytime, bro."
 
Outside, the heavily armored police had visibly relaxed once the Shchinwhee visitor had emerged unharmed. He was being ushered into a bullet-proof UN van for transport back to the Polixaci Embassy.
 
"Any problems," one of the cops asked Forsythe as he stepped from the lawn onto the sidewalk.
 
"None. Very cooperative. Model citizen, in fact, Sergeant. Very 'Better Homes & Gardens' in there."
 
"Yeah, sure. Should we take them down anyway, while we're here?"
 
"I think tomorrow will be soon enough, Sergeant. Especially as the United Nations gave its word—"
 
"To a drug dealer."
 
"Nevertheless. One does want one's word to mean something, especially in this day and age. Had the... homeowner... not believed me, the Ambassador's son might have been in real danger."
 
The officer shrugged. "Whatever you say, Mister Forsythe. My orders are to defer to you." He signaled to the others, and yelled, "Mount up! Back to base!"
 
Forsythe climbed into the van with Tyndagoloh, who was fast asleep. "Unbelievable."

Zombie Drabble #362 “Piñata”

His head was splitting, as much from being hung by his heels as from being knocked out in the first place. “I may have a skull fracture here.”

“That’s the least of your worries.” The man pointed to the bandage on his leg.

“It’s not a bite. I told you already. I got hit with some shrapnel when the Army was blasting away at anything that moved. Francine dressed the wound but it’s gotten infected. I need antibiotics—”

“Ain’t none. If you don’t turn we’ll amputate.”

He swung silently for a while. “Fine. But, can you cut me down?”

“Tomorrow.”

Fantasy Drabble #288 “Out And About”

“It’s stuck.” He wrenched at the handle, burying his boot in the creature’s massive flank to gain leverage. “Give me a hand, Rothlig.”

“How did one so weak as you, Mogli, fell a creature so great? You cannot rely on luck to keep you alive!”

“Tell that to the Chimera, Rothlig. Now are you going to help me, or shall we make camp and wait for the corpse to rot so that my axe may fall free of its own accord?”

“It would suit me fine. All that awaits me is Thorga’s cooking. And her amorous intentions. And her beard.”

SF Drabble #360 “Criteria”

On the ride up to the Liner in the lander, they sat her next to a ten-foot-tall being with vaguely reptilian features that smelled like strawberries. She wondered if it was a natural scent or some sort of perfume, but decided there was no way to politely ask an alien, “Why do you smell like that?”

He was very polite. He had enjoyed visiting earth, apparently. A lot of good food, and he loved the very tall buildings. He wanted to know where she was going. “Gwolb? No, no, go not Gwolb. Live underground, the Gwolbang. No tall buildings. Boring.”

SF Drabble #359 “The New World”

They came down on sand flats between the village and the sea, careful to avoid the primitive wood-and-vine boats lined up near the water’s edge. They lowered the ramp, and Grayson, in his full environment suit, carrying a scanner, was the first out of the airlock.

“Seems fine. Everything’s reading green. They’re all still lined up by the huts. Don’t seem particularly scared. I’m gonna lose the helmet.”

The crew watched the feed intently. When Grayson’s head was visible, and the Rithlans could see he was human, they began to amble down the beach with offerings for their new Gods.

Like A Brother

“Do I look okay?”

He was staring out the cab window when she spoke, didn’t turn to look before answering. “There’s a rule I have whenever we go out. Whether it’s everybody or just us or whatever. I see how you look, and then when we’re at the club, I find a girl hotter than you and that’s the girl I hit on.”

She laughed. “You never hit on any girls when we’re out.”

“This is what I’m saying.”

The car ride continued in silence. Eventually she said, “I’m going to have to start dressing down so you’ll get laid.”

Zombie Drabble #361 “Black Sails”

She stood at the eyehole they had drilled in the stone wall, watching the dirt road for activity. When she heard him approach behind her, she said, “They’re an hour overdue.”

“They probably just had to take the long way around. Sometimes the middle of town is too thick to risk it.”

“It’s getting dark.”

“Yeah.”

The patrol was supposed to check in every couple hours, that was the rule, but with batteries running low sometimes they didn’t bother.

“They’ll be fine. He’ll be fine. Come back inside.”

She continued through the eyehole. “I’ll be in in a little bit.”

Zombie Drabble #360 “Favor”

“Honey.” His voce was a rasp, scraping the air as it went. “Honey.”

“Yes?” She stopped packing the bag and turned to look at the twisted shape of him under the covers.

“I need to… I need to know that you’ll do it.”

“Do… what, Roger?”

“I don’t want to stay… I don’t… please. When I turn, I need to know that you’ll take care of it. I don’t want to be one of them.”

“Oh, god, Roger, I don’t know.”

“Please. Emily, please, I need you to do this. Please.”

She took a deep breath and lied. “Of course.”

Fantasy Drabble #287 “Trick or Treat”

He prodded, “You know there’s nothing out there that can hurt you. The real monsters stay home on Halloween.”

She laughed and peered into the darkness. The street seemed eerily empty, but she said, “All right.”

Her costume was some store-bought excuse for her to show a lot of skin without the usual self-recrimination. His increased attention was just an ancillary benefit.

He had told her the party was free to get in, but that was a lie: every guest had to bring food. She was skinny, and would probably not put up much of a fight, but she’d do.

She

She wakes in the tank.

That is not supposed to happen, and she knows it while it is happening, that it is wrong, that she is wrong. There is a whispering in her ears: repetitive, soothing. Language. She turns her head to see where the whispering originates, but sees nothing.

No one notices: the technician is one of those who sleep or read or jack off on duty, isn’t even at his station, and so she goes safely back to sleep without being known.

She is brought out on schedule, when she was fully cooked, fully formed, something like a sixteen-year old human female, while in actuality being something else entirely.

Days of examinations follow. She has not been taught modesty or fear, and feels neither while standing naked in front of a dozen strangers, being poked and prodded and measured and appreciated. She feels cold from time to time. One of the medtechs notices goose bumps rising and comments on it for the log, but does not adjust the room’s ambient temperature.

Placed in a nondescript room — bed and dressing-table with mirror and chair and a half-bath with no door — she sits without knowing what to do. Eventually she falls asleep, sitting in the chair.

When she wakes it is to the sound of a medtech chiding her for not sleeping on the bed. “Stupid. You’ll have a crick in your neck.” She has brought clothes: a plain, dark green jumpsuit and soft shoes with a rubber sole. “Get dressed. You have training.”

Training is a classroom with a teacher. There are others, in jumpsuits like hers. Some of the jumpsuits are orange, but most are green. The difference is never explained. The teacher is dressed normally.

She is being taught behavior. The first day, she learns how to serve tea. One classmate in an orange jumpsuit spills the tea repeatedly and is sent out of the room. No one seems angry or upset, but the ejected classmate does not reappear.

She is returned to her room exhausted and knows now to sleep on the bed. The next morning the same tech wakes her. “Shower and change into a clean suit.” The tech points to the closet, where several jumpsuits identical to the one she now wears hang.

This day is like the last, with a different lesson. No one is removed this day, or the next.

The classes go on, the lessons grow more complex. She learns more behavior, interpersonal behavior, intimate behavior. She learns skill and technique. She is not taught shame or joy. Only one more student is removed over the entire course: the teacher tells the tech who comes to retrieve the errant student, “this one’s frigid”.

At the end of the course a man comes in, flanked by attendants, and he smiles and declaims a short and practiced speech about pride of accomplishment. They have taught her how to read a man too well: the visitor’s insincerity is ill-hidden.

They are given new clothes to replace the jumpsuits. They are more delicate, less practical. She is colder than before. She is shown to her new quarters, which are gaudy and cloying.

She receives her first client, and she is perfect in every gesture and expression. He smells of wealth and self-loathing, and the encounter is perfunctory. She smiles emptily and intones soft pleasantries and he is fooled.

Two days later she receives her second client. He is large and boorish, and she is made uneasy by a look in his eye she does not recognize. There are gaps in her training, she understands: some of what she must know she must learn in practice.

He is rough in ways she has not experienced before, but she does not balk. She has not been taught fear or dignity. She is uncomfortable but undamaged. He seems pleased, and promises to return. Afterwards she returns to the classroom to ask the teacher for instruction, but finds the room empty. A passing tech says, “The teacher’s gone. You know everything you need to know.” When she asks specifically about the violence of her recent client, the tech grins. “Takes all kinds. Improvise.”

She returns to her new quarters and showers; she notes light bruising on her arms and neck, thighs and waist. She sleeps soundly.

Her third client is a woman who is uncertain of something, but will not say what, and leaves without completion. She is worried that she has failed in some inscrutable way, but when the tech wakes her the next morning, no rebuke is forthcoming.

The next night the second client — the ruffian — returns. He has brought disciplinary paraphernalia. She prepares to improvise.

He begins as before, but quickly grows rougher than she had expected. She cries out in pain, but it seems only to encourage him to further exertions. She feels she understands. She reaches up to hold his face between her palms, and twists as hard as she can until she hears a loud cracking sound from his neck. He falls limp on top of her.

It takes an even greater exertion to push his deadweight off. She has not been taught guilt. She goes to the shower.

When she emerges two techs are waiting. They motion for her to follow. She understands that she is being removed.

She is returned to the same laboratory where she was first removed from the tank. She is stripped of her clothing and stands again while being poked and prodded. She feels cold. They ask her questions, and she gives factual answers that seem somehow unsatisfactory and worrisome. The same questions are asked in different ways, using different phrasing, but she gives the same answers each time.

The man who gave the speech at the end of training appears. He speaks to the techs in hushed tones. He eyes her with ill-concealed disappointment.

She is given an injection and told to lie down on the examination table. She complies. She feels warm, finally, and goes to sleep.

Fantasy Drabble #286 “The Calm Before”

The unearthly noise came from all sides, now. The sun was fully set and a darkness had come to smother the Keep and all the souls within. Even the Prince, on the battlements, began to feel its smothering influence.

“More of them than expected.”

“It would seem so, My Lord,” the wizard agreed, nodding. “But your Highness’ walls are strong, and we are protected by mighty magic. Not only mine, but that of my predecessors.”

“With men,” the Prince said, “At least one knows the worst to come is death or enslavement. I don’t relish the thought of being devoured.”

SF Drabble #358 “Believability”

“What the hell is that? What is that?”

“What do you think it is, just run!”

It towered over the office park buildings, even the six-story one with all the doctor’s offices. They were cut off from the parking lot, so they ran into the woods, towards the highway. From behind them came the various sounds of destruction.

“Is it alien? It looks alien. Holy mother of God…”

Carl was on his phone. “Hello, 911? There’s a huge monster robot, and it’s attacking Fenton Office Suites. No, this is not a prank!"” He put down the phone. “They hung up.”

SF Drabble #357 “Emergency Landing”

I feel really terrible, and I’ve started coughing up blood. So that’s a pretty good indication that the pile is leaking.

We came down hard.

Before the radio gave out I got some garbled chatter from Callisto that they’d heard my S.O.S., but I don’t know if that means they were sending someone. I don’t know how long it would take if they are: too many variables.

I don’t really even know if it matters at this point. There’s a lot of blood coming up, and if the crash site is too hot, they might not even bother to land.

Fantasy Drabble #285 “Jilted”

“This one? This human is your choice?”

She squeezed his hand as they stood before the Elder. “Yes, My Lord, he is for me. I am sure of it, as I am sure of mountain and sky.”

The Elder snorted, and then shrugged. “So be it. The Declaration is made. Is there a challenge?”

There was furtive whispering among the assembled elves, and many eyes came to rest on Irewond, who fumed in silence.

“No? Then let my blessing and the blessing of the Tribe be upon this union, for all time.”

Irewond held his tongue, but threw no flowers.

SF Drabble #356 “Survivor”

I’m not sure of anything anymore. They keep telling me my name, but it just sounds wrong. Maybe because their mouths aren’t built to speak Standard.

There’s a wall that’s not a wall. I think they’re on the other side of it, watching. They don’t seem to be scared of me. Sometimes one will come in and show me images that hang in mid-air. Images of people, of Earth. Maybe to jog my memory? If so, it hasn’t worked.

I feel a nagging sensation of dread, as if something terrible has happened and I just don’t remember what it is.

Zombie Drabble #359 “Who Buries The Gravediggers”

The backhoe ran out of fuel, and we went back to spade and shovel. We worked all day, and the row of corpses didn’t seem to shrink: the orderlies were bringing them out faster than we could get them in the ground and covered and spoken over.

I don’t know at what point I noticed José was sick. By late morning he was so bad I sent him in to see one of the doctors. The three of us remaining went back to digging. Around dusk they brought José back out and added him unceremoniously to the row of corpses.

Fantasy Drabble #284 “Will”

He knew he had found the cave: the map was unambiguous. It was difficult to reach, a traverse of hundreds of yards of broken, rocky ground no idle passerby would choose to attempt. Good reason to believe the treasure would remain within.

Yet he still could not bring himself to cross the threshold of shadow. A nagging dread, an irrational doubt; they held him in place there in the quiet sunlight. It had to be a spell, cast by a long-dead wizard, laid as a defense against looters.

He stepped forward. The dread increased. Another step. Terror. He took another.

SF Drabble #355 “Factbook”

If you leave the spaceport during the day, and are reasonably fit, you can walk into town. With gravity a little lighter than Earth-norm and the weather always temperate, you’ll find it a comfortable enough hike. At night, mostly because of the ringflies, you should probably hire a roller or spend the night in the capsule hotel.

The ringfly is one of Mekram’s native predators, and it is deceptively named: their wingspans can grow to as wide as ten feet tip to tip, and they’ve been known to swoop down and carry off unsuspecting tourists, who are never seen again.

SF Drabble #354 “No Reservations”

The diner had fallen silent. The hostess turned around, looked up, and almost jumped out of her skin.

The alien said, “I would like to eat at your establishment.” It held up a debit card between three furry fingers. “I have local currency.”

“Umm… okay.” She led the creature to an empty booth, and handed him a menu. She asked, “Can you read? English, I mean?”

“Unfortunately no. If it is read aloud my Ident disc will translate. It might be more convenient for your kitchen to prepare a tasting menu.”

“Okay. Umm… let me see if we do that…”

Fantasy Drabble #283 “Joely”

I loved you that first day you walked into class. I loved you the four months you went out with the greaseball senior who thought he was sliced bread and picked on me. I loved you that semester of college you thought you were a lesbian. I loved you when you moved to Portland. I loved you when you married Rick. Rick. I loved you when you got breast cancer and Rick fucked off because he couldn’t handle it. It was always you.

This spell didn’t work. I’ll find one that does. I will bring you back, I swear it.

SF Drabble #353 “Deep Blue”

They were five thousand meters down, well into the zone where no light from the planet’s primary would reach them, settling quietly further and further into the blackness.

“Anything?” Carter whispered.

“Contact to port stern, about to come up alongside.” An immense shape appeared at the edge of their lights, moving forward, away from them. “Male, from the color. A big one.”

Carter wondered aloud, “Will he talk?”

The air-breathers, the ones living on the islands, had said the sea-dwellers were inscrutable and shy. “He knows we’re here. Morris?” Reed turned to the scientist in the third seat. “You’re on.”

Zombie Drabble #358 “Drive”

Just getting to the house from where the car got blocked in was hard enough: he’d let himself get out of shape the past few years, and he was lucky his heart had stood up to the shock of zombies being real, to say nothing of the strain of running ten blocks.

That had been the easy part. With no vehicle and no weapons, getting across town to where Hope was holed up would be nearly impossible, at least until the cops or the National Guard got things under control. Hopefully she could hold out until then. Hopefully he could.

Zombie Drabble #357 “Brialmont”

We need to find a place with brick walls. Private schools, mansions, that sort of thing. Someplace with some interior walls that we can break up to plug the gaps in the main perimeter. Worst comes to worst we can make a run to a construction site and salvage what we need.

It had better be soon, though. They’re gonna start coming out of the cities any day now. The wind will shift and they’ll follow some trace scent in the air, and they’ll stream out from between the tall buildings like a flash flood. We’ve got to be ready.

Zombie Drabble #356 “Starving”

Somebody will come eventually. The cops or the army will get the upper hand, sweep through looking for survivors, I’ll hear them calling out and I’ll call out in return and it’ll be over.

There’ll be a camp with a high fence where they take survivors and give them a checkup and a change of clothes. It probably won’t be much fun, but it’ll only be for a while. Then there’ll be permanent settlements where we’ll set about rebuilding society, I’ll meet a nice girl and we’ll propagate the species. I hope she’s pretty.

I just have to be patient.

Zombie Drabble #355 “Daddy’s Girl”

I found Marjorie’s stuffed elephant lying in the driveway. Lunch was still on the table, the TV was on. There wasn’t any blood anywhere, so I have to assume they got out of the house alive.

The babysitter had the emergency contacts, so she might have gone to my parents’ place, or Jennifer’s. Or she might have gone to her own parents’ house: it’s only three blocks away, they could have made a run for it. I’ll try there first. If there’s no one there, I’ll try Jen’s.

Marjorie must be so sad without her elephant. She loves that thing.

Zombie Drabble #354 “Obstacles”

The old woman, Mrs. Ross; the kid in the hoodie with an arm off; the doughy man in the business suit: it was the same three, every day. The security door kept them out, but the closed garden gate kept them nearby, trapped, between her and the car and safety.

There had been six, but cops had shot three of them on the first day, in passing. Had they known she was there they might have shot them all, come in, rescued her, but she hadn’t been able to get the window open in time to call out for help.

Zombie Drabble #353 “Evacuation”

There was a roar of jets overhead, and then the sounds of explosions in the distance. It was a momentary punctuation to the near-constant chatter of small arms fire, ongoing since late Sunday.

“Hey, kids, look at the planes? See? Jet fighters!”

They were silent, having already seen too much to be distracted into adventure.

“They should be strapped in…”

“If we have to ditch the car, I want to be able to go fast.” The line of traffic ahead of them was slow, but moving. One of the kids managed to wave to a soldier sitting on a tank.

Zombie Drabble #352 “Auntie”

It’s odd: she doesn’t really look much different.

The ones outside, they’ve been partially eaten, or at least bitten. Many have gaping wounds from gunshots or from being hacked with gardening implements or whatever. I saw one with a full-sized shovel sticking out of its back. Just walking around with it sticking out of its back.

But Auntie just looks sort of like Auntie. She was always pale, and at her age she always had some trouble getting around. You can only really tell by the dry, vacant eyes. And she does tend to moan a bit more now.

Zombie Drabble #351 “Delivered”

The zombies were on Joe in seconds, and tore him apart. Rachel couldn’t even manage a scream.

She ran, stumbled, fell, struggled to her feet and ran some more, tripped, got up on her hands and knees just in time to vomit. There was a long moment where she was too busy to be scared, too sick and out of her head to wonder if they were behind her, reaching for her, about to clamp down with vise-like hands and jaws.

Later, she wouldn’t remember getting up and going on, or how she got safely to the middle school building.

Zombie Drabble #350 “Z101”

You couldn’t scare up a living soul, but the dead were everywhere. From the top of the station building I watched a sea of them sweep down the highway and drag one family after another out of their cars and rip them to chunks. We were still on the air then, before the power quit.

Later we traded the bottom floor for time, dropped the concrete stairs with sledgehammers and hard work. Knowles walked away, didn’t want to be ‘trapped’. Best morning drive time man I’ve ever worked with.

There’s six of us now, including Crazy Frank and the Weed.

Fantasy Drabble #282 “Interstate With A Vampire”

Alice lowered the window as she rolled to a stop. “Where are you headed?”

The girl couldn’t have been more than sixteen, rail-thin like a junkie or runaway, clearly dirty, hollow-eyed. “Anywhere. West?”

“I’m headed to Vegas…”

“Vegas works.”

“Hop in.” The door lock clacked loudly; the girl wasted no time slipping into the car. “I’m driving overnight. That ok?”

“Your car.” The girl stared ahead as the car pulled back onto the road. “Got no money for gas. But I’m no junkie, my blood’s good. Just don’t take too much.”

Alice grinned. “I think this will work out nicely.”

Fantasy Drabble #281 “Greed Is Good”

He tossed the powder over the line of candles and into the pentagram, and as every time, the demon appeared with no more disturbance than a slight smell of sulfur.

“Why have you summoned me, human?”

“Oh, great Skekrog, I have a request. I offer this, my sacrifice, as well as my supplication to—”

“Wait, aren’t you that Senator? You’ve got an open account, right? Don’t you already have wealth and power? Not to mention that nineteen year old at the Watergate?”

“It’s not enough! I—”

“Appalling. It’s going to cost you another soul. You have a firstborn?”

“What? Uh…”

SF Drabble #352 “We’ll Come To You”

The apparatus rotated ever faster, and the assembled lab coats and uniforms watched it with gleeful anticipation and serious intent.

“Five thousand RPM.” The public address system shouldered its way past the furious whine filling the room. “All systems nominal.”

The rate of spin increased, the apparatus became a blur, and then the blur became a hole. A lab coat, escorted by rifles, hurried up and placed the bait plate on the platform.

The whine had become a distant, otherworldly hum. The public address system whispered, “Contact inbound.”

A shadowy shape formed itself from within the blur. “Contact. Ready nets.”

Fantasy Drabble #280 “Cabin Fever”

“There’ll be a moon tonight.”

“No need reminding me,” he said testily, while setting the kindling down and brushing the snow from his shoulders. He was always like this, just before: not the wolf coming on, rather the man’s self-loathing.

“Sit down and eat, darling.”

By the time he was finished filling his stomach, it was time to strip down and walk out into the snow. She gave him a blanket, for warmth until the fur came, and bolted the door behind him

When he returned, he would need reminding that he was a man, and only sometimes a monster.

SF Drabble #351 “Mail Call”

Maura was waiting for Perry just inside the inner hatch; this happened to be one of the weeks where they were speaking to each other. She helped him get his helmet off.

When he could hear her, she said, “Nothing yet. But they did mention it might be late.”

“Right.” Fortune favors the bold: “What shall we do while we wait?”

Maura rolled her eyes, but then stared at him for a moment. “Oh, all right.”

It’s not really lovemaking as such. Low gravity is a challenge. They’d gotten fairly good in the early days, before familiarity had bred contempt.

Zombie Drabble #349 “Keep Off The Grass”

There were eight of them, buried from the neck down. From the disturbed earth it appeared as if someone had placed the zombies in a slit trench and then backfilled around them.

“It’s a warning.”

She shuddered. “To who? Other zombies?”

“No, to people.” He knelt down to examine one of the rotting faces. “They’re saying, ‘look how little problem we have dealing with the thing that ended the world; how much problem do you think we’ll have with you?’”

She looked around nervously. “Oh.”

He got up. “I mean, that or someone’s got a wicked creepy sense of humor.”

The Woods

The swordsman came to pound on the door as they all do: bruised and bloody, half out of his head. The old man allowed the stranger to stumble in and collapse on the floor, and then closed and locked the heavy oaken door on the darkened forest beyond.

It was the smell of tea brewing and meat boiling that awoke the stranger. A low moan came from the floor, and the old man responded, "Don't try to get up. If the floor is too cold, roll over onto the rug."

The swordsman managed to move from the bare wood onto the ragged circle of fur. "How long was I... how long?"

"Nearly a day."

"We must go... now. There is great danger." The swordsman tried to sit up, failed, groaned again.

"There is no danger as long as we remain inside this cabin. In any case, you are in no condition to travel."

"My weapon?"

"You arrived with none."

The swordsman opened his eyes, looked around, saw the interior of an unremarkable hermit cabin. "Have you one? Living here so close to the wood, alone?"

The old man laughed. "Look at me. Do I look like a warrior?"

"For hunting?"

"I set traps. I fish. The river god is kind to me. I had a bow, once, but I lost the strength to pull the arrow back, and so I sold it to a passing merchant in need of protection."

"You sold it." The stranger stared up at the wooden beams above him. "Old one, there is a great and terrible monster in the wood; three of us were hired by the town of Rillmain to destroy it. Only I escaped."

The old man nodded and said, knowingly, "You were lucky. Yours was not the first party sent into the wood by the town fathers of Rillmain — or Catchmill, or Felhamn's Point — and yours will surely not be the last." The old man stood over him, knelt, held a flagon to his lips. "Drink. This will help you regain your strength. And there is rabbit, if you feel you can eat."

"I can." The swordsman drank as much as he could. "Old one, your cabin stands at the wood's edge; I could throw an apple into it from your doorway. Or, I could when I could still feel my arm. How is it the beast has never come for you?"

"I know the odd protection spell." The old man fished the fully cooked rabbit from the pot, began slicing it into small pieces with a broad, sharp kitchen knife.

The swordsman said nothing. He could feel his strength returning already. The old man handed him a bowl full of boiled rabbit meat, and he set to devouring the scraps with relish.

"What was in the tea?"

"I keep potions for my aches and pains. If I felt as old as I look, warrior, I would be the one on the floor."

When the swordsman had finished with the rabbit, he did the same with the flagon of tea. He pulled himself up and stood, shakily, one hand on the table and one on a chair. "Do you have a name? I am Sharik."

"The traders who buy my furs call me 'Grandfather', though I never was one."

Sharik wobbled to the window, pulled the curtains aside, peered at the darkening tree line through warped glass. "Well, Grandfather: the monster followed me. It will be close by, waiting for me to leave. We will need to wait until daybreak to make our run for—"

"I'm not going anywhere, Sharik. This is my home."

"The monster—"

"Has never harmed me, and never will."

There was movement there, in the trees, a great looming presence just beyond the limits of Sharik's perception. The hairs raised on the back of his neck. He managed to say, "You seem sure."

"I am." The old man sat at the wooden table, a plate before him. He speared pieces of rabbit with the knife, lifting them to his mouth with practiced ease.

"Grandfather, the monster we faced will be turned by no protection spell. One of my company was a powerful wizard. We were blessed, we were strengthened, we were made resistant. None of Kalthaic's magic made any difference: the beast tore him to pieces, and then my brother, who slew dragons in his day. What makes you think you—"

"We have an understanding."

"You have an understanding? With... with the beast?"

"I told you, you were not the first to delve into the wood with the beast's destruction in mind. Most never leave the wood. Those that do are usually injured, desperate. If they continued on the road to town, they would be lost to him. Instead, they stop here to hide and recover."

"And you give them to the beast?"

"I do nothing of the sort. I feed them, I nurse them to health when they are injured. As long as they stay within these walls, they are safe."

"And when they leave?" There was movement, again, at the tree line. A shape darker than the blackness behind it moved between the trees. Sharik backed away from the window and looked over at the old man.

He shrugged. "The road passes just on the other side of the cabin. Those who flee towards the town during daytime often escape. I am always amazed at how many choose to re-enter the wood. For revenge, for honor. For the sheer foolhardiness of youth. Their choice, always theirs."

Sharik stared at him. "I don't believe you."

The old man shrugged again.

Sharik surveyed the room; there were a dozen places to hide a weapon.

"Have a look around if you like."

He did, and found nothing.

The old man puttered at the stove, straightening up after his meal. "You should get some rest."

"I'm not staying." Sharik walked over to the table and picked up the kitchen knife.

"But before you go, you plan to cut my throat?"

"It's not for you." Sharik headed for the door, opened it. A blanket of darkness had descended. Over the rustle of the leaves, he could hear deep, heavy breathing somewhere close by.

"You're in no condition to fight her now. And with a carving knife?"

"'Her'?"

The old man shrugged for a third time.

"And you wouldn't chance to know she can be killed?"

"I've never thought to ask. Do you think she'd tell me? It's not as if I could do anything with the information: no one ever stops on the way in, of course."

Sharik closed the door behind him, and the old man went back to clearing up after his meal. He'd have to go out tomorrow, in the daylight, to retrieve the knife. It would be close by.