Archive for January, 2012

31st January
2012
written by amber

All the Way to Heaven

On a clear day you could almost see all the way into Heaven. But there weren’t that many clear days, and what was the use of someone like her looking at Heaven? Heaven was not for her.

For Annette, there was nothing but the Trashes, from the moment of her birth until she died of old age at 43. Oh, she didn’t know for sure that she’d die at 43. But the Wall had reported just the other day that 43 was the average age of death for women in the Trashes. For men, it was younger, as she well knew.

Bruce was gone at 32. She missed him so much. Without him, her life had changed for the worse. Annette had been forced to move from their couple’s suite to a single cubicle and the loss of his veteran’s supplement was harsh. Basic scrip covered food – just enough food to keep a modicum of meat on her bones, provided she didn’t expend too many calories on frivolous activities such as walking, tidying the cubicle, brushing her hair, or gazing out the grimy window and trying to see Heaven.

Sit on the bed, watch the Wall, talk to the Wall, that’s what most people in the Trashes did all day. Every day.

With his veteran’s supplement, Bruce had taken her out for lunch one day a week. A loaf of stale bread from the mart, maybe a bag of potato chips, a bribe to let them into the boundary park. Sitting on a park bench feeding the ducks. Those happy times were gone forever now.

Heaven had killed Bruce. Its crystal spires loomed over the park, impeding the view of blue sky and the green mountains beyond the city. He’d never been able to forget it, because he had lived there once. He’d been born there, grew up there and then enlisted in the military despite his family’s objections. The military sucked up young men and women from the Trashes, not from Heaven. Yes, his father had served, but that had been a different era, a time when military rank translated into material success. These days, soldiers were throw-away meat weapons, deployed and discarded.

Bruce came back from his wars unfit for Heaven and Heaven cast him out. Because he was scarred in body and mind, no one in Heaven had the charity to live with him, care for him, but Annette did.

If only he’d been content with her, with limited life inside the Trashes, the Wall their window to all of the past and the imagined future, plus the Pal groups, the dramas and Peek-easies, the insider views. Insider views of what it’s like to go to war – Bruce knew too much about that already. What it’s like to live in Heaven – he knew that too and refused to allow her to watch and marvel at the spacious apartments, the bathrooms with their bubble baths, the bottles of wine, the tennis, the gleaming stoves and fresh produce, the water springing clear and untainted from their taps, the look of their shining healthy faces.

Health was the only thing he’d talked about, near the end. After their last walk to the boundary park, he’d barely made it back to the Trashes. Over his objections, she’d blown her savings to buy him a bottle of orange drink, just to give him the strength to get home.

“You don’t know what it feels like,” Bruce said, “to have energy and not pain, to wake up eager for the day, to sleep because you’re tired, not just too weak to stay awake any longer. This isn’t any kind of life.”

No, she didn’t know any of that. And she couldn’t share his dream of a beach-side cottage in a remote part of Mexico where one of his military buddies now lived, fruit growing on the trees, fish waiting to be caught. All he needed was the money for them to get there.

“My mother would give it to me, I know she would. They block my messages to her, but if only I could get past the guards on the other side of the boundary park, I know how to sneak into our tower. I used to sneak out all the time when I was a kid.”

If only…

But he hadn’t made it past the guards on the other side of the boundary park.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

This story was inspired by the first line to Aliette de Bodard’s story in the February 2010 Asimov’s. Thank you, Aliette!

30th January
2012
written by amber

At the Office

Everyone in the office turned and stared. It took Jan a moment to figure out why, because no one was saying a thing, just staring with mouths open, some of them pointing, some starting to grin.

She was naked.

She sighed. Now she knew why the day had been going so badly – her alarm clock not ringing, her shower water never getting any warmer than tepid, her car refusing to start. This was a dream. A bad dream.

She distinctly remembered pulling her best skirt and jacket out of the wash because all the clothes hanging in the closet were dirtier than anything in the hamper. Why hadn’t she realized how wrong that was? Because she was in a dream, that’s why.

Jan had put on the skirt and jacket, blouse and underwear, and now they were gone. Because she was in a dream.

Now someone was screaming, and everyone in the office turned toward the sound. It was Kaylee, Mr. Anderson’s secretary. She was naked too.

Jan walked right over to her, grabbing a sweater off the back of Olena’s chair as she went by. If this wasn’t a dream, that would have been a fatal move. Olena hated anyone touching her stuff, and she always had her revenge on people who crossed her. But this was a dream.

“Here, take this.” Jan handed Olena’s sweater to Kaylee. “And stop screaming. This is only a dream.”

“Pretty sexy dream,” Paul said, as he fiddled with his cell phone.

“He took my picture!” Kaylee complained.

Jan reached for the phone. “Give me that!”

“Too late, I just sent it out!” he crowed. “Anyway, whose dream is this exactly? Because I–hey!”

He flung the cell phone away from him. Except it wasn’t a cell phone any longer. It appeared to have transformed into a snake. Olena beat it to death with her trash bin.

After Mr. Anderson came out of his office to see what the fuss was about and everyone saw that his suit had turned into a panda costume and then the coffee machine began to shoot fireworks all over the office, everyone decided to go home, go back to bed, and try to get out of this dream.

Jan slept right through to the next morning. Once again her alarm didn’t ring, but that wasn’t surprising because it had become a piece of moldy cheese.
The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

29th January
2012
written by amber

Facilitator

When he entered the waiting room, the old woman turned and smiled, clutching a glossy photo in one hand. She had no teeth, so it wasn’t a pretty sight, but Nathan stepped toward her anyhow, holding out his hand and introducing himself.

“I’m Nathan Sinclair, Ma’am. I’ll be your facilitator today.”

“My what?”

“Facilitator. I’ll be staying with you through the entire process. I’ll make sure you’re comfortable and explain all the procedures to you. If you need anything or if you have any questions, I’m your man.”

She drew herself up with as much dignity as she could, in her filthy ragged clothing. “Is this going to cost me extra?”

“No, ma’am. The entire fee is already covered.”

“Well, I’d just like to know by who,” she stated, plunking herself down onto one of the off-white couches. “I don’t have that kind of money and I don’t know anyone who does.”

“Ma’am, it has been donated anonymously.”

“Stop calling me ma’am.”

“Well ma-” Nathan began, then started over, “They told me you’re called Scabs where you live, and you wouldn’t give another name when they brought you in. What would you like me to call you?”

Expressions flickered across her face. Nathan thought he saw confusion, anger, sadness and, finally, a shrewd cunning. “Call me Ann – for Anonymous.” Then she seemed to reconsider. She asked, “They’ll still do it, even if I don’t give my name? I got family who don’t know about the way I live.” She held up the picture. “I’ll still get to look like this?”

Nathan patted her shoulder, trying not to cringe at the dirt-encrusted fabric of her coat. “Yes, you will look like that. You’ll be healthy, young and beautiful.” And clean, he thought.

“Oh,” she breathed. “I can’t wait. I’ll be back to what I was twenty years ago. I used to get $250 then, but I bet I could get a thousand now, easy.”

Nathan turned away to hide his disgust. He never could understand why the anonymous donors threw their money away on street people. It was always a waste.

“Let’s get you into the preparation room,” he said, walking quickly ahead of her, keeping his distance, dialing up the volume of his earmic so his music would drown out her muttering.

He didn’t hear her say, more to herself than to anyone else, “I hope it’s not too late to send Marie that money so she can go to college.”

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

28th January
2012
written by amber

Coming Out

‘Neil? Are you there Neil?’ The voice was persistent and tinged with anxiety. ‘Are you in there?’

The knocking grew louder and Neil knew he had to respond, somehow. He shuffled to the door and leaned against it. ‘Yeah, I’m in here, Samantha. Go away.’

‘Who is this? You don’t sound like Neil. I’m going to get the manager.’

He listened to her departing steps with despair. She’d get the building manager and they’d come and open the door, then it would be over for him. Halfway through his transformation was as far as he was going to get.

He should have known that leaving a message on Samantha’s phone telling her that he’d decided to take a week off work ‘for personal reasons’ wasn’t going to cut it. The way he’d been acting at the lab ever since they’d made him discontinue his experiment had drawn too much attention.

Okay, he wasn’t making the progress they’d wanted in splicing cattle genes into insects to create the steak-tasting easily-grown proteins they expected, but he hadn’t been wasting their time when he worked it the other way, putting insect genes into larger animals. That was supposed to be a step toward the desired outcome.

Once he had the moth-cow, he felt, the cow-moth would follow. And if he worked late some nights on a frivolous side project, perhaps under the influence of too much stimulant, well – breakthroughs often came that way. So what if his breakthrough was so far off the map as to be unthinkable to lesser people. He had liked it.

And he had really been looking forward to coming out as a butterfly.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

I’d like to acknowledge Trevor Hampel who posts first lines on his blog www.trevorhampel.com. This line is from him.

27th January
2012
written by amber

Predator

Staring out into the distance, she licked her lips and bared her teeth. The animals were feeding about a mile away. They were noisy and incautious. She knew she could sneak up and take one with no difficulty at all.

She moved carefully through the underbrush, keeping upwind so they would not smell her. They wouldn’t hear her. They called to each other loudly. Their young frolicked at the edge of the herd, while their mothers fed or lounged, paying little attention. They were so stupid, it seemed almost unsporting to eat them.

If she didn’t have young of her own, hidden carefully in their den and well-schooled in the art of staying out of sight, she might leave these ridiculously easy marks alone. But deer ran too fast and squirrels didn’t have enough meat on them and cows were difficult for her to kill.

Someday soon these humans would realize why so many among them were going missing – the children at picnics such as this, the solitary joggers, the old ones as they shuffled home from bingo late at night. But for now, she and her kind had easy pickings.

She moved toward the child she’d chosen.

“Hello, honey,” she said in a soothing voice. “Would you like to see a cute puppy?”

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

My appreciation to Sharon Moore-Foster for this first line.

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