1. A Brave New World
I watched as the man lying down on the bed awoke.
“I can’t see. Where am I?” he asked groggily.
“Why, a hospital of course.” I replied, “You were in a coma. Do you remember anything?”
“I do. It felt like I was dreaming.”
“Were they good?”
“Were they good dreams?”
“No actually. They were terrible nightmares.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, because it’s only going to get worse.”
“I can’t move.” He said, an edge of panic creeping into his voice.
“Are you at all curious as to how how the world’s changed in eighty years.”
“Yes eighty, a couple of years after you went into your coma, technology started advancing at a rapid pace.”
“My body it… it feels wrong.”
“Do you believe in God? I think it had to do with playing God. We wanted what God had. So we made more and more powerful machines that could do more and more powerful things, all the while marveling at our own ever growing intelligence. You never answered me before. Do you believe in God?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well we weren’t sure about God either, so we decided to make our own. A machine made from the most powerful hardware, with enough intelligence to think and reason.”
“Is there something covering my eyes?”
“We’d seen the movies of course, so we’d made it so that it needed a human to operate. When The Intelligent Machine Model 2, or Ozymandias as it goes by now, started making machines of it’s own, we made sure that those couldn’t be used without humans as well.”
I paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, I’m rambling. Your visor’s turned off, that’s why you can’t see.”
“Can you turn it on for me?”
“I can, but you won’t like what you see.”
I turned on his visor before continuing, “But in our haste to emulate God, we replicated his biggest mistake.”
As soon as his visor booted up, he started to scream.
I continued. “The things you create never do what you want them to do.”
Out of his body jutted slabs of metal, along with clear pipes and multicolored wiring. He started crying. “Have I died? Is this hell or am I still dreaming?”
“I’m afraid you’re wide awake.”
The machine he’s attached to suddenly pulls his body up and starts to walk out of the room. He cries out in pain. It always hurts the first time a machine wears you. “You’re to work in the mines. The materials gathered will be used to expand Ozymandias. The machine will move your body so you don’t have to worry about figuring out what to do. I wouldn’t fight it, it will only hurt.”
The machine took him out the door.
“One last thing,” I said to the back of his retreating form, “You mentioned dying before. Well thanks to the research of Ozymandias, if you do end up dying, we can just bring you back.”
2. Blue Hair At Trader Joe’s — M4W
You: the beautiful girl with blue hair in line at Trader Joe’s.
Me: the shy guy behind you.
We spoke briefly and you smiled at me. You might have just been being polite, but I sensed something more. If you feel it too, hit me up.
You: still beautiful, still with blue hair.
Me: still socially awkward, lol
I saw you again at Trader Joe’s. You didn’t respond to my last missed connection, but not everyone reads craigslist, so w/e.
You seemed uncomfortable this time–was the connection too strong? You mentioned having a boyfriend, but I felt something real. Boyfriends come and go, but I’ll be here for you.
You: blue haired girl with beautiful (but puffy) eyes
Me: getting tired of this charade
I’m gonna try one more time, lol. I saw you today, and you yelled at me, accused me of awful things. (kidnapping? really?) Another hint of the passion that could exist between us.
Message me with the last thing you remember your boyfriend wearing, so I know you’re legit. xoxox
3. Last Known Transcript of CBC 40
Time Stamp: 18:05
News reporter Adam Garcia in frame, clean cut, suit and tie.
Adam Garcia: Thank you for tuning into CBC 40. I am Adam Garcia. We have no available description of what is happening, any chances of being able to figure out what is going on is met with the same insanity.
Adam Garcia looks off camera
Adam Garcia: I need to contact my family, we need to all leave here
Off Camera: You need to keep presenting we need to help everyone
Adam Garcia: Fine.
Adam Garcia returns to looking at camera.
Adam Garcia: We have barred ourselves in the studio, employees on lower levels have been ripped from their offices, from their workstations and have been dragged outside. We have no understanding of what is happening. We implore you to not leave your home to shut your curtains and to hold out until our government can figure out what is going on.
Off Camera: They are heading up here.
Adam Garcia: Marcie, Catherine if you are watching this please lock yourselves inside, I will be home soon, I love you so much, please be brave, and please be safe.
Laughing and screams come from off camera
Off Camera: They are breaking down the door
Multiple personnel run in front of camera
Unidentified Blond Woman 1: Anna, Rob, please be safe I love you so much we are going to try protect ourselves
Unidentified Blond Man 1: Baby please hide, you need to hide.
Unidentified Blond Woman 2: THEY ARE GOING TO KILL US ALL.
Unidentified Brunette Male: Someone please help us, someone anyone.
Sound of door being broken down, rush of a crowd dragging employees away, camera falls and turns off
Time Stamp: 19:05
Adam Garcia in frame, bloodied face, torn suit.
Adam Garcia: It is safe to go outside.
End of Transcript
4. The Empty
Sally sat on her front porch, casually sipping her iced tea and watching as the Empty waited at the edge of her farm.
No-one knew what caused the Empty to appear, or why. All anyone could tell, it has just popped up in some tiny town called Harmony. Probably why no one noticed right away. At the time, it was just a small mass of pitch black nothingness, about the size of a tire. It was a big deal at the time, with all the eggheads and boffins coming down to poke and prod it. Turns out that if something goes into the Empty, it doesn’t come out. It just simply ceases to be. Doesn’t matter how strong it is, or how durable, or even how big, the Empty consumed it all.
Then those people noticed that it was growing. About five miles a day, more or less. And that’s when everyone got really scared. In one day, it consumed Harmony and the surrounding area, along with all those nosy scientists. Some people think they activated it or fed it, but who really knows?
And now Sally’s farm, a farm that she had gotten from her dad, who got it from his dad, was about to be consumed within the day. The old barn where she’d milked the cows. The fields where she’d run and play when she was a kid. The house she’d grown up in all her life. All would be consigned unto oblivion by sundown.
Sally knew that she should have evacuated by now, moved as far away from the Empty as she could. But what was the point? Nobody could stop the Empty from growing. Nobody could even explain what it was, since all attempts to even analyze the thing ended in failure. It would be slow, but the Empty would eventually spread over the earth.
Of course, some people suggested that they should evacuate to space, like in the movies. But that was a pipe dream at best. Humanity couldn’t be asked to field enough ships to evacuate a viable population into space. And even if they could, The Empty was growing up as well as out. It would probably consume anything in orbit. It would just take a lot longer.
In the end, the choice was simple. She could join the fleeing population, eventually being corralled into a mass of panicked humanity as oblivion consumed them all bit by bit. Or she could simply wait, surrounded by her favorite things in her own home, and go out on her own terms.
It really wasn’t that hard a decision.
And as the Empty crept, slowly but surely, onto her farm, she took another sip of her tea. She noticed the pitcher was empty. But that was alright. Sally figured she had time to make one more batch.
5. I received a Presidential Alert on my phone this morning
My phone is always set to vibrate. Two things I do each night before I head to bed are: A) Make sure the thing’s plugged in to charge, and B) Make sure the volume’s set to zero, just in case someone from work tries to call me. I couldn’t even tell you what my ringtone sounds like. I might have heard it once when I left my sound on by mistake.
So you can imagine my surprise when the loud buzz of the emergency alert system pierced the veil of sleep around 4:30 in the morning. It’s a frightening sound by design, and I struggled to ignore it. We get an Amber Alert every year or so, but they’re always so far from home I’ve never heard of the towns listed in them.
Nothing interesting like that ever happens in Summerdown Grove, so you grow to forget them if you can.
Fast forward a couple hours and I’m crawling out of bed to the sound of my neighbor pounding on my front door. He asked me if I got the message. He said everybody else on our block got it too, and nobody could get a straight answer from the cops. He was gathering people in the bomb shelter beneath his basement, as he put it, “just in case.”
I slammed the door in his face and stumbled back to bed, picking up my phone on the way. The screen flipped on without a lock, my stormy wallpaper replaced with a black screen and a white text box labeled “PRESIDENTIAL ALERT.”
“SMMRDWN GRV AREA: TAKE SHELTR IN BSMENT, DO NT OPN DOORS R ANSWR PHNE, TRST N ONE”
I don’t have a basement, so I’m cowering under my bed and tapping this out on my shitty phone keyboard. It’s hailing now and the power’s out, but I can’t hear anything else unusual. The neighbor called a couple times, but I just don’t know what to think.
Especially since the alert was dated for tomorrow night…
6. They Came Down with the Snow
No one suspected anything for years. It wasn’t until the most recent snowstorm in the Northeast that they were discovered. I should know, because I was one of their first victims.
I was sitting at my desk looking out the window to the snow that was falling. That’s when I noticed it. Every now and then a few snowflakes would forcefully ram into my window with a loud “plink”. I shrugged it off until I realized that the same snowflakes were moving horizontally back and forth to repeatedly crash into my window, as if they were trying to get inside. It wasn’t the wind either. No, these were controlled attempts.
Puzzled and curious, I bundled up and went outside. I held out my glove and watched as most flakes landed and quickly melted, but some bounced off and redirected into my face with a stinging cold. Those ones didn’t melt, but rather continued to drive themselves into my face. One managed to find its way into the corner of my eye. I could feel it wriggling its way deeper under my eyelid. I ripped my glove off and twisted my finger in after it, hoping to rid it like a speck of dirt. It was too late, I could feel it crawling its way into the very back of my eye. I ran inside and tried to flush it out with saline. A few minutes later I stopped feeling it move. I checked the sink for any sign of it, but there wasn’t one.
The next day at work I had the worst headache. It wasn’t just a pounding headache; it was crushing, head-splitting. The worst pain I had ever felt. A coworker offered to drive me to the urgent care clinic. I was quickly examined and sent home with a prescription for painkillers, lots of water, and rest.
None of that worked. The headache came back ten times stronger, so I called for an ambulance.
While in the ER I picked up on conversations between patients and doctors around me, they were all reporting the same symptoms. They even all mentioned attacks by unruly snowflakes. I could hear the doctors chuckling nervously.
I overheard two whispering to each other.
“They said to call them if anyone else had the same symptoms.”
“I thought this wasn’t supposed to happen this way. What is it?”
“I have no idea, but I don’t want to find out.”
Pretty soon I was being escorted out of the hospital by two men in hazmat suits.
Now I sit in a dark cell with a name-tag reading “Patient C”. No one will tell me anything, but they don’t have to. The transformation has happened. The headaches have gone away. I don’t feel like myself anymore. I feel cold inside and extremely powerful. I won’t be the one in this cell for much longer, that’s for sure.
7. To All Kingside High Faculty
A Kingside High teacher’s top priority is the safety of our students. For this reason, all faculty members should follow these rules. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action or termination of employment.
- The equipment shed at the edge of the soccer field is no longer being used.
- Students are prohibited from approaching the equipment shed. Intercept and distract them before they reach the shed’s door. Refer them to ISS if they refuse to listen.
- Close all doors and windows during lunch. Ignore any sounds that come from outside. Do not give the Pest attention.
- Do not leave any food out in the open. If you return and find that some has gone missing, do not enter the room. Contact campus security.
- Students are permitted to keep their electronic devices (Phones, Laptops, Smart Watches, ETC) on during class. This will allow us to track them.
- The door to the equipment shed is to be closed at all times. Evacuate the area and contact campus security if you find that it has been opened. Note if you can hear the Pest chewing.
- Parents are unaware of the Pest’s existence and are to remain that way for the indefinite future. If their child goes missing while on school property, do not alert them. Wait until he or she is found alive.
- If a dead student is found, notify the principal, campus security, or the front desk. Keep other students away from the body and evacuate the area until it has been removed. Blame an animal attack for the bite marks and mutilation.
- If you spot a little girl roaming the hallways or outside the building, take note of her appearance. Check for an unusual amount of canine teeth. The Pest has hundreds of teeth.
- If you confirm that the little girl has an unusual amount of canine teeth, lure her back to the equipment shed. Avoid encountering other students. Exit the shed and lock the door immediately.
Follow these rules to ensure that our students are in a safe and comfortable learning environment.
8. Making Friends
I’ve always been pretty shy. That’s just how I am, and I’m comfortable that way. However, my parents had always encouraged me to go out and express myself, so I try to be more outgoing.
One Friday, at around 3:30 in the afternoon, I went to the park to try and meet new friends. School had just let out and I knew the park would be full of fresh faces. At first, I just sat by the swing by myself, too nervous to talk to anyone. But then, a boy and a girl approached me.
The girl said her name was Anna, and the boy was her little brother, Lucas. They greeted me warmly and said I looked lonely. I smiled brightly and introduced myself. We played for a bit afterward. We ran around and took turns pushing each other on the swing set although, admittedly, I was a bit heavier.
By the time we were done it was getting dark and we were getting tired. They said they needed to get home, but I convinced them to come with me to see something really cool.
They climbed into the backseat of my car as I entered the driver’s side.
9. A Long List Of Crossed Off Names Appeared At My Doorstep, My Name Was Last
The yellowed list was hand written on the back of a waterlogged piece of scrap paper. It smelled like the sea. There were 109 names written in strange, wavy text; every one with an X through it except for the longest names, where they are circled twice with an arrow that whisks away, the first being the name at the top of the list, “Aje-Hulix”. I had no idea what any of it meant.
It took me a week to discover the names were linked to a place called Calico Cave, an underwater cave notorious for claiming divers. I knew the cave well- I was obsessed with the cave’s strange properties, like how some divers come out hours later and say only moments have passed, or the intense bursts of X-rays that vaporize large swaths surrounding the cave. But it wasn’t until one of us said, “let’s drop this camera and microphone down into the cave” until we discovered the strangest thing.
We dropped 3000 meters of video and audio feed cable through the winding passageways of the cave, feed from a huge spool floating on a gigantic ship that cost twenty grand an hour. We got intimidate re-funding when we sent back the first recording: humans, conversing. Arguing. Conversing. They got the money for 5 miles of imaging cord and high-pressure microphone.
At the 4th mile, the twisting caverns that squeezed as tightly as 5” wide widened to another area, an area with far lower pressures and it’s own ambient light source. Our cameras exited out of the water to show shore that grew gigantic mushrooms that towered at least 200 hundred feet into the air thick with a stew of unseen life, in a cavern so wide that it created its own set of clouds. Soft, flapping creatures that looked like severed tongues barrel-rolled in a group down, snakes with the faces of men on the back of their heads slithering through a sandy shore made of twinkling black diamonds and myriad flying plants, beautiful statuesque stationary bugs, and bioluminescence and thermoregulation beyond what our scientists have discovered.
In the last bit of footage, the camera jerked- but before it did, we saw a head, humanlike, with multiple eyes of dark red cleanly tearing the steel-laced camera cable, severing the connection in one jerk.
Nobody else knows but the crew, and their captain…the same name who’s name was written on the bottom of the list.
I searched for my phone to dial 911. When I returned, the smell of the room turned to a putrid low tide. Pairs of wet footprints flecked in sand and seaweed surrounded the table. The list was gone, replaced with a single message scratched into the kitchen countertop:
NO MORE ROOM NO MORE COMPANY
STAY OUT OF OUR HOUSE
AND WE STAY OUT OF YOURS
10. Rotary Phone
“She’s awake,” I said to the man next to me.
“Did she take her tablets?”
“Yes, at 20:01 last night, all five,” I replied, checking the notes left for me.
We watch as the girl stretches. She pulls back the covers and stands.
“What are we looking for?” my colleague asks.
“Anything that would suggest she’s violent towards others or herself,” I press the intercom, “Sally, she’s awake.”
We wait now.
Sally knocks on the door. The girl opens it and invites her in. Sally offers her tray. The girl picks up the paper cup filled with pills and raises it to her mouth. She then takes the cup of water and downs it. I smile, I think she’s ready. I make a note and we continue to watch.
Sally leaves the room. The girl begins to undress. We avert our eyes; when we look back, she’s fully dressed.
Something alerts her attention. She picks up the phone in the corner of the room. I sigh, my colleague shakes his head.
“This is not necessarily a bad thing.”
“It’s not a good thing.”
“It’s not violent, it’s a crutch.”
“The phone isn’t plugged in,” he replies, making notes of his own.
“Turn up the volume,” I ask.
The equipment hisses as the sensitivity increases.
“I’m fine mum, they are treating me very well. I don’t know what I am going to do. I am looking forward to breakfast. Yes, biscuits and gravy today. No, I don’t know if there will be sausages. I know they are my favourite. They are never as good as what you’d make for me. Okay, I’ll speak to you later, I think Sally is coming back.”
The girl puts the phone down and begins kicking her legs. I think about my son, about how much I miss him. She is going to be leaving us today, I am more than happy to approve her release. She will be going to her aunt’s, but the medication seems to be doing the job well.
“She’s still using the phone,” my colleague says resigned.
“That’s not a bad thing, remember what she was like? If that’s how she’s coping, how is it different from a security blanket or cigarettes?” I reasoned with him. “This will be on you,” he said, shaking his head.
“Don’t worry, I am still your doctor, I’ll see you next week for our appointment,” I said.
She smiled and left the building, entering her aunt’s car, before disappearing off the property.
Her room looked larger as the movers took her furniture out. I always felt happy when a patient left in happy circumstances. I was about to close the door when I heard the sound that stopped me in my tracks.
I stared at the phone, not wanting to pick it up. Slowly, I reached for the handset.
“Daddy? Is that you?”
I picked up the phone, confirmed it wasn’t connected, and I panicked.
11. Esther Claire
There is a girl
Named Esther Claire
With hollow eyes
And unkempt hair.
The only way
To summon her
A list of things
That must occur.
The moon is full,
The night is cool,
You cannot miss,
A single rule.
Clap three times,
Spell her name,
With two friends,
You’ll play this game.
If you should try
To be this brave
You must expect
To dig your grave.
She visits you
At half past ten.
She waits for you
Outside your den.
She sings a song
So high and shrill.
It makes you look
Gives you a chill.
Your hair will raise,
Your knees will shake,
Your heart will race,
Your teeth will quake.
If your eyes meet
Her wild stare
Then your demise
Should happen there.
By then it is
Too late to hide.
She’ll follow you
Right back inside.
Her tongue will hiss,
Her fangs will gnash,
Her arms will swing,
Her claws will slash.
You’ll try to run
But with no luck
She’ll bite your neck
Your blood she’ll suck.
She is the last
Thing you will see.
You really should
Just let her be.
12. Careful What You Wish For
There was a reason our parents warned us away from the woods. A reason they adamantly insisted that the legends weren’t true. We assumed it was the usual reason, there might be bad people or wild animals. Those were reasons that you tend to ignore as a child, because nothing bad ever happens to children. Back then the news stories seemed so far away, danger was a distant thought, bad things never happened in your home town.
That was the ideology that sent me and my best friend Henry into the woods that night. We were going to catch the Black Rabbit. According to the urban legend if you caught it, you got a wish. We were quest seekers, little 8-year-old adventurers.
We planned our quest out methodically. We’d leave in the night once our parents were asleep. We’d pack snacks, and nets to catch the rabbit. Henry would pack one of his father’s snares. We’d search the woods until we got to the Dead Forest. Then we’d set our traps and wait.
The Dead Forest was a part deep in the woods, named by the locals. Henry and I had been there many times during the daylight hours, and there was no doubt that it was spooky. You’d be walking through lush, vibrant growth, and suddenly the landscape would change. A graveyard of small animal bones and rotted trees stretched several miles wide. No one knows why it’s like that, but legend says that it’s the Black Rabbit’s domain.
Around 11 pm we met by the edge of the woods. It would be a long walk to the Dead Forest, but it would be worth it. Our friend Samantha had leukemia, and after all her fighting she only had a few months to live. We wanted to make her better, we couldn’t imagine a world without her. So we set out to save her.
Eventually, we made it to the Dead Forest and set our traps, and we waited. After a few hours we checked, there was a small black rabbit caught in the trap.
Henry reached his hand out to it, and suddenly sharp teeth latched onto his hand. As Henry screamed in pain it began to grow. It took on the shape of a man as it grew, the teeth sharpened.
I watched in awe as is ate Henry’s hand, then arm, and then widened its jaws to consume his entire body. When it was done there was nothing left.
”What is your wish?” It asked in a deep voice.
“You ate my friend, give him back!” I screamed.
“I cannot return the payment you gave. Wishes come with a price.”
This was not supposed to happen to children. I crawled to my feet and ran from the woods without a word. I never went back.
Somehow Samantha went into remission, it’s been twenty years since then and she’s still alive. Maybe the unspoken wish came true, but was it really worth the cost?
13. The Story Ends With A Double Murder
“Once upon a time, there lived a beggar with a nail embedded in his foot. He had a small puppy who went everywhere with him. The two of them were very happy together, but the nail was hurting the beggar a lot. One day, he went to the doctor to remove it, but to their astonishment, the nail had grown in size!”
“The doctor told the beggar that removing the nail now would be extremely painful, so the beggar left it in. The only problem was that the nail began to cause him more pain when he walked, and he would bleed often. To deal with this, the beggar had set his puppy down instead of carrying it, and had to watch as his poor puppy injured its feet on the rough concrete.”
“In a month’s time, after the first consultation, the nail grew so large, it pierced into his ankles. The poor beggar was in so much pain that he couldn’t walk, only shuffle, and the doctor told him that it was too late for him to remove it. The puppy’s feet were also scratched and bleeding, and it was difficult for it to walk. The beggar now had to carry it, and its weight caused him even more pain.”
I paused in my story, listening carefully. In the other room, I could hear my husband snoring loudly. I sighed in relief.
“Why doesn’t he just pull out the nail from the start, mommy?” asked my son curiously, his innocent wide eyes looking up at me. “And why does he carry his dog even though it hurts him?”
I smiled at him, choking back tears, as he hugged my arms. My bruises were well hidden underneath my long sleeves, and I could just manage to resist whimpering. “I don’t know, sweetheart. Now go to sleep.”