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Helen

Breakups are hard in the postapocalypse: fish remaining in the sea number in the dozens, plus your ex might get ripped on engine cleaner and set half the compound on fire. ¬†Amid the frantic sand buckets and wet burlap, Helen catches accusing glares. Everyone liked them together. Couldn’t she have stuck with him? Taken one for the team?

They find him sleeping it off in a spider hole near the burnt-out greenhouse, and comfort him. Helen, exhausted, grabs an MRE and trudges off to eat in dawnlight. Hot sauce packets are liquid gold these days, but, Helen decides, she deserves one.

Tuffy

Tuffy builds the mudlarks out of river muck and straw skeletons, with button eyes and tin foil beaks. They hop around, flinging little silt-drops from their wingtips.

“Do you ever wonder about the consequences of creating life?” says Emmanuel, watching.

“They’re animated, not alive,” says Tuffy. “No reproduction. No DNA.”

“They make choices.” Two mudlarks team up to corral a fleeing beetle.

“No, they respond to stimuli.”

“You’re splitting feathers.”

Tuffy shrugs.

“If you’re making a big point about free will and sapience, I don’t like it,” says Emmanuel.

“I’m making mudlarks,” says Tuffy, and sets the ugly thing to flight.

Shyler

The Rapture makes serving divorce papers difficult. “Consider yourself–” is all Shyler gets through before they disappear–pop!–leaving just their shoes behind. Does everyone in Heaven, she wonders, float around in sockfeet?

After a few weeks Shyler starts thinking that the number of deadbeats getting assumed into paradise is really high. Might she be God’s unwitting messenger? She prays lots of cuss words about that, on hold for hours with the Vatican. A raspy prelate tells her she needs witnesses.

So next time she takes Eugene along but the Rapture gets him too, which sucks (he had the car keys).

Micronomic

This is the ruleset for Micronomic, a game for a finite set of players coincident in time. Each sentence in the ruleset is a rule. This ruleset is subject to change; rules within its first 101 words may be changed by concurrent agreement of the entire set of players. New rules may be added after the first 101 words by concurrent agreement of more than half the set of players, and rules so added may be changed in the same way. Any player may propose adding or changing a rule by submitting the new sentence to all other players for review.

Timberleigh

Timberleigh sees Dark Unicorn for the first time in the forest that adjoins their back yard, flickering among the trunks by moonglow. The creature’s eyes and nostrils flare with beauty; Timberleigh throbs, breathless.

“I’m conflicted,” he confesses the next day during their lunch period. “Dark Unicorn is calling, but his dangerous path frightens me!”

“Is this your way of coming out?” asks Margot.

“This isn’t about sex!” says Timberleigh. “It’s about how I need to ride Dark Unicorn all night, every night, because I can feel his love like the fire of an ulraviolet sun!”

Later he buys special unicorn-riding chaps.

Debbie

“You can’t remember your son’s name?” says Lilac.

“No!” says Debbie. “It’s great.

“You need to go to the doctor.”

“You need to understand. I’ve been wanting this for so long, Lil. I burn dinner all the time, I can never find my car in the parking lot–I keep losing track of the year. I love it when that happens.”

“There are treatments, Debbie!” Lilac is trying to maintain eye contact; it feels like that must be important.

“I don’t want them,” says Debbie, and in her great dark pupils is the exhilaration, the need for a world without regrets.

The Rogue Cold War Sub Crewed by Zombies

has a captain named Captain Exigon. His first mate is Zombie Lieutenant Graaahh.

“We should really do something with our missiles,” says Captain Exigon, in zombie Russian.

“Well,” says Graaahh at length, “there aren’t any countries I want to obliterate.”

“I was thinking more of treating them like treasure,” says Exigon. “We could bury them somewhere, and mark it with an X!”

“Then hunt for more!” Graaahh is getting into it. “Terrors of the seas! With a disarmament agenda!”

“Exactly!” says Exigon.

“Graaahh!”

So that’s where all the missing Russian nukes are and you don’t have to worry about them anymore.

Olivette

Nimbus riding normally requires thick gloves and a steam suit, but Olivette didn’t have time to find hers. She lashes the reins yet again with one hand, just to break the ice continually mounting them, but her cloud takes it as a cue to surge ahead even faster.

To her left, Perreau whoops and kicks with his etheric spurs to keep up: it’s always a game, as long as you’re not the one gambling. Their mounts spiral like sea snakes through the bronze-pink air of sunset. Olivette’s hands are numb.

Behind them, darkly gathering, the iron bellies of the storm.

Rondo

Rondo dreams that he’s completely on top of the whole Pittsburgh situation: everyone coordinating perfectly, grudges sidelined, signatures of approval piling up in his in-tray. On waking, he’s deeply disappointed that it wasn’t real. This is alleviated by the discovery that he can fly.

Rondo whoops through barrel rolls; he scatters geese and skims the center line down I-95. It’s so easy. There’s no wind noise or bugsplatter, and to accelerate he just bites his lip and squints and tries.

The next night he has a dream about money, and when he wakes up all his teeth fall out.

Longinus

Sometimes he’ll just amble the trade roads for weeks, watching peasants die. Pus bubbling on their necks and genitals, the backs of their hands, their heads: it’s marking their sins for convenience in later sorting.

He helps desperate men tear down and burn plague houses, and they value him, because he’ll walk into fire to make sure the walls collapse properly inward. Actually, all he wants is a last chance to see the bodies blister and burst to black.

Longinus lost the capacity for sickness so long ago; now he’s exultant. Finally, finally, the old bastard’s getting around to ending the world.

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