Denier (flash fiction)

“Sore? Sore?”

Jed didn’t know what the big deal was. He’d woken up with swollen feet before. It was the worst part of getting old, if old is what you’d call being 45, graced by God, with just enough spring to occasionally feel like a man and an excess of orneriness to makes sure the rest of the world knew the fact.

“Yes, Jill. Sore. Swollen. The hell is wrong with you this morning?” he said, trying his best to move past his wife being what was wrong with his life, the country, the entire world. “Stayed up too late watching commie double-N?”

Any normal morning, that would elicit an eye roll. This morning, however, nothing. Instead, her eyes were locked on his lower extremity, her hand slowly reaching out only to back away at the last moment.

“Sore? Swollen? Your foot’s goddamn gone!”

He looked down and didn’t see anything wrong. He tried to stand, admittedly noticing a lack of balance that wasn’t normal, but attributing it to being woken up by his life-long partner’s hysterics.

“No way. You’re tripping.”

“I’m tripping?” she rubbed her cocoa-at-dawn colored face. “It’s a goddamn stump. It looks like it’s sawed off! Or chewed…,”she started, mesmerized in horror at his foot, before her eyes moved up to his face. She squinted, leaned forward, squaring in on his mouth before he violently retreated, as if compelled by primordial force.

“I’m taking you to the ER now!”

He didn’t complain, although he hadn’t planned on going out. Not this morning. Not on the day after.

Jill fashioned a makeshift tourniquet, his objections be damn. They’d do things her way for the moment, just to have some peace. He’d go to the emergency room and pull a bait-and-switch because he wanted her checked out. She was clearly going crazy. He noticed it at the beginning of political season, but now it had clearly reached new heights.

Benz defeats Nunez! Did the republic just save itself from the abyss… Jed slammed off the TV, not wanting to hear anything else.

“Nice work yesterday getting the vote out, Jill!,” Sam, their next door neighbor yelled on their way out, as Jill helped Jed hobble, then hop, to their pickup. Just the usual smarminess from Sam, as he proudly tapped his pro-Benz sign in his front yard. “How’s it going, Jeb? No hard feeli…” His grin turned to stone shock when he glanced at Jed’s leg.

“Go fuck yourself,” Jed murmured to himself. The only thing wrong this morning was that he lived next to a blue-checkmark prick.

At the ER, he’d expected the typical bullshit of having to wait a full hour to get someone to assist, but one look at him, and the entire staff went into overdrive.

The doctor walked in, fully concentrating on her chart. “Well what do we have h…whoa!” she said, doing a double take and nearly tripping over the nurse’s foot. She leaned forward hard, using her pen to press at Jeb’s lower leg. “Now this is something you don’t see every day. What the fuck happened?”

Stunned by her bluntness, he sputtered, “It’s just a swollen foot. Don’t know what the big deal is. My wife’s being crazy.”

She looked at him incredulously, then glanced at the nurse, who shrugged his shoulder. “Sir, your foot is missing.”

“So I’ve been told, but I know it’s there. I can feel it.” He wigged his toes, sure of the familiar stiffness of its joints, the soft pinpricks of morning numbness in the heel, the overwrought big toe with its nasty, diseased nail.

“There’s nothing there. And it looks like… my god, did an animal …were you mauled?”

“No. And my foot is fine! Is this a joke? Am I being gaslit? This is some Punk’d, MSN edition shit. Where’s the cameras?” He was getting frustrated now, harangued and harassed. It was time to put down his foot, so to speak.

“Sir, we’re going to have to take a better look at this and make sure there’s no risk of infection. How you’re not passed out from blood loss, I don’t know. We’ll figure this out. Maybe your clearly patient wife can clue us in to what happened to your missing foot.” She stretched a plastic smile at him, before turning to her nurse.

They didn’t even bother doing a decent job whispering, the words ‘psych eval’ escaping their lips clear as day. Returning to him, she placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We’re going to admit you. Just…don’t worry, you’re in good hands. I know this is a trying time, but things could be worse, right?” She leaned in close. “That’s your pickup in the lot, right. I saw your Benz sticker.” She winked. “At least that psycho Nunez lost last night.”

“We’ll see about that,” he muttered in response, loud enough to make sure she could hear. “And that’s my wife’s truck. She’s the crazy one.” The doctor did a grimace-grin and left, leaving Jed to his increasingly despondent thoughts.

It felt like his whole life needed a recount at the moment, that the world was trying to vote him out and steal away his very core.

Once admitted, he spent most of the time in his room alone. He couldn’t stand Jill being around, her persistent questioning, her denying what was right in front of her. His foot was there!

He zoned out, dreaming about how it was all slipping away.

Stuck in a hospital bed, the need to escape filled his soul. To run. In high school, which, by god, didn’t seem like a quarter of a century past, he’d been a runner. An athlete. The world was in front of him and all he had to do was move fast enough to pace it. He was the type of boy America promised: smart, athletic, good-looking, and on the right side of right.

All of it, stolen away. Despite his wins, the scholarships he deserved didn’t come his way. Discrimination, he was sure of it. He’d deserved better. He’d worked his ass off for it, but instead of lapping life, he’d barely moved a quarter of a mile.

Finding his way afterwards had taken more than he could ever handle. Marriage, kids…the harder he worked, the more rocks filled his shoe.

Walking the walk. Standing strong. We’ll fix America together. That’s why Nunez’s pitch had resonated. She promised real change, to tell it like it is. To walk the path for the common man. No, to walk the path with them. I clear the vines, you buy the shoes!, she’d joked. No handouts, no unfair head starts.

Just one foot in front of the next.

“Oh my god!” the nurse screamed, dropping her tray of pills. “Your hand.”

“What now!” he asked in frustration, noticing his fuck-you digit felt sore.

The nurse rushed out. He outstretched his hand, and for a moment felt repulsed by the stub in the middle. When he blinked, everything returned to normal.

Just nerves. Too much work. Stress from a changing, senseless world.

He heard the door close.

“Please, just leave me alone,” he whined at the shadowy figure at the door, its back to him. “You people are thieves. I refuse to pay for all of this needless poking and prodding when where’s nothing wrong with me!”

“That’s right. You tell ’em,” the figure said, its voice feminine and strong. She turned and emerged into the light. Recognition caused him to shake the cobwebs, sure that he was seeing wrong.

“Nunez? Vera Nunez?” He’d seen hundreds, thousands of her ads, had watched her, studied her, recited her words. He knew her.

“That’s right, Jed. I wanted to come out and meet my supporters personally, and thank them for all of their hard work.” She extended her hand to shake his. When he did, she pulled it close, licking it with one long stroke.

An attractive woman, sure she was. But decorum still applied, and for all her faults, Jill had earned his loyalty. “Um, my wife…”

“Is a filthy commie, isn’t she? It’s a shame, I tell ya.”

Nunez sat on the edge of his bed, her lips suddenly a hard, fertile shade of red. Smeared, as with grease.

“Listen, I just wanted to let you know that whatever they tell you,” she pointed back towards the door, “Don’t you dare listen. They’re not like us. Understand? They’re crooks.

The words were a tonic, exactly what Jed wanted and needed to hear. He slowly nodded, his head light but the air heavy.

“Good. All of this,” she pointed to his foot, his hand. “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just a transaction.”

Dark confusion swirled in his mind. “Transaction?”

She nodded, and for a moment, a horrible shadow cast over her face, illuminating with a black spotlight the blank socket of her eye. “You pledged your support to me, just as I did to…well…we won’t say who. It’s just politics, baby. When we win, we reap the rewards. We get stronger, touch heights even the angels fear to tread. But when we lose–and I’m not admitting we did–but when it happens there’s a price to pay. There’s a reason they call politics the eternal grinder.”

He nodded, understanding her words in the basest way possible, the way an animal understands its hunger, the way the mechanisms of survival are inherent to the germ.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” she repeated, her words as sweet as hemlock. “Next time, we’ll make sure our voices are truly heard.”

Heard. Yes. Next time we’ll make them hear us, through force if necessary. Jed pondered her words and understood, tongue caught between his teeth like a seasoned steak.

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Funny and Die (superhero flash fiction)

“A story so sad you’ll die of laughter!” The Comic had promised the Yuk It Up, and by god, had he delivered. A full house, and they’d laughed at his drunk mother choking on a tequila worm, his brother blowing off his face with a shotgun filled with ice. Dregs of society who’d died in ways that befit the agony they’d caused everyone in their path.

The audience laughed at his unfiltered pain, they gaffawed at his unprocessed trauma, and in return, The Comic had delivered on his pledge.

He twirled to take it in, basking in the club’s quiet applause. Twisted faces in soup, broken bottles in throats, distended tongues tied like animal balloons.

Comedy, the razor edge of tragedy and delight! The blade to cut through the bullshit of social norm!

“They’re eating it up online,” his henchman Chappelle cackled, face lit by a phone.

The Comic checked his Twitter. Thumb ups and applause. “They deserve it for laughing!” was the consensus. It was a loop of irony: laughter, judgment, permanent cancellation, laughter, and on and on.

This is who you’re trying to save, Nocturne? he thought of his arch-enemy.

Well, tonight they’d all laugh. St. Noir, a city named for the patron saint of black hearts, would be in on the joke, and the punchline would shake Nocturne to his core.

“He’s back!”

“Finally. Bring him in.”

Carlin and Pryer dragged in a sweaty bald man, his eyes darting every way but forward.

“Cook!”

The man jumped at the name, lips trembling. “But…sir…my name’s not Cook. I don’t even like his specials…”

“If I want to call you Dane Cook, your name is Dane Cook! You’re lucky you’re not the Andy Dick of this outfit!” Comic exploded, his pointer finger almost worming up the henchman’s nose. Taking a deep breath, he plopped himself backwards onto a corpse whose cause of death would be listed simply as “olive”.

“So Cook…give me the news!”

He’d sent Cook to the Vanes, the oldest, richest, most respected family in Noir, to give them a choice: their entire fortune in exchange for St. Noir being spared The Comic’s wrath. Of course they’d refuse. Billionaires were the worst crooks of all. Cook would record it all, and then…kkkt…bloody necktie for the entire clan!

Reveal their black hearts, and the city would fall into chaos.

“So which one begged first? Daddy Warbucks? The Milf? I’ll bet it was the boy! Weird kid, always playing with bats…”

“I was too late! Nocturne beat me to it.”

“What do you mean?” Comic asked, enraged, holding a knife to Cook’s eye.

“He off’d them before I got there and was waiting on me. Then he made me upload it. See?”

Comic took the phone. The video had gone live all of two minutes earlier. Everything Cook said was true.

A dead family of selfish billionaires was a black comedy. But one killed in cold blood would galvanize the city. Thoughts and prayers. Even politicians would get in on the act, demanding comedic reform. People don’t kill people…jokes do. The responses were already pouring in.

“They think I did it,” Comic said, shocked at the turn of events, and irritated at how Cook’s chest had swallowed his favorite blade. “Nocturne beat me…”

Impossible! Nocturne didn’t have it in him. How?

A series of thunks, and The Comic realized his troupe of henchmen were nowhere to be found.

“No sense of humor?” a dark voice said from above.

Comic looked at Nocturne’s sneer and knew he’d been had. A practical joke. The Vanes were no doubt safe, the fake news of their demise soon to be a played out meme.

His plan to have the city cancel itself had been foiled, and he was the one who’d have to take the fall.

“Millennials ruin everything,” he whined, lips twisted into a Pagliacci frown, before Nocturne’s fist met his face.

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Scabs



“Again!”

A second off his best time! No way could Derek stop now.

“Hey champ, why don’t we break for today?” His tech’s voice squawked from above. “You know Phee came all the way down from Level 8 looking for you? She still got those swerves…”

“Phee ain’t my concern. Neither is L8. We rain fire, not rose pedals. Get my sim reset!” Derek said, launching himself from the cockpit onto the concrete floor.

He’d soothe Sam’s feelings later with a warm beer, but the mission came first. The charred pits of Earth demanded nothing less.

Leaving behind the creaky machinery, he ended up in vending. A ghost stared back in the smudged glass, the worst part of himself thankfully faded into shadow.

“Look who the C.A.T. coughed up.”

Derek turned to find Phee leaning against the door, middle finger tapping her brown dimple.

Despite himself, Derek smiled, mock saluting before they embraced.

“Looking good, D.”

“I call your bluff.”

She shook her head. “Maybe you’ll feel prettier up there in Peacekeeping. We could use another good eye.”

Derek looked down on her. His good nostril flared.

“And leave War Machines? Nah, gotta be ready for the next chumps from space.”

“It’s been two years.”

“No calendars down here. You remember. But it was nice seeing you anyway, Phee.”

She lightly gripped his arm. “Chirps did a number on you. On your face. Yeah, I remember. We’ve all had to deal with wounds since the war. Time to let your scabs heal.”

He jerked away from her gravity.

“Bye, Phee.”

Back in the cockpit, his body felt heavy. The air hard.

“Get out of my way!” he yelled, chasing the faint outline in front of him, his best run from years back. Before the scars. When he felt whole.

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The North Pole Syndrome

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[An oldie, but one of my favorites.]

 

Heartless. Dickish. Mean. A scrooge. Yes, I know what the kids at school sometimes call me. I love Christmas, I love Jesus Christ, I love family and the holiday season.

“Timothy, I’m sorry, but…he isn’t real.”

But Santa? No, we’ll never celebrate him within these walls.

Timmy leaves my office, standing a little shorter than when he entered. My secretary and Vice-Principal give me daring glances, but my conviction is resolute.

I’m going to save the world, one kid at time.

At home I sit at my davenport, a grandkid on each knee. I tell them the story as it was told to me.

It came from the North Pole…

It always starts the same, it always ends the same. The kids stare at me slackjawed and incredulous. I let them go and my son stays behind, his face twisted the way a philosopher’s is when emotion interferes with truth.

“Dad, Emily and I, we’ve been thinking about letting the kids believe. It’s just that, Santa’s not even as important as he used to be…” I let him drone on and I look out my window north…north…

In a remote Greenland village, circa 1743, ten mischievous children were tasked to go north for food and medicine. They returned very different, perpetually in motion, carrying a constant ringing only other children could hear. These “elven” children would go on to build little knicks and knacks, dangerous trinkets they used to kill adults and spread the belief of an omnipresent St. Nick.

My ancestors won the first battle, but where there’s a belief in Santa, there’s a risk of a return. I sit and watch my grandkids play in the den. They turn to me in unison, necks twisted, voices synchronous, high, in legion, and slowly go “Ho, ho, ho…”

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Digitz (superhero flash fiction/short story)

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Digitz always wondered: when it came to sucker punches, who was considered the sucker? The clown doing the punching, or the idiot who didn’t see it coming? The answer seemed all too obvious the split second it took for his face to go from CrackaDoom’s fist to the unswept floor below.

“You just got knocked out, homey,” Doom’s voice echoed in the darkness of Digitz head. Geez, thanks for that, man. Good looking out. If he could talk, that’s exactly what he’d have said. But no, Digitz couldn’t talk. He could barely even think, making him virtually useless in the fight his friends were in against the supervillains known as the Thrillmasters.

“Just hurry up and get that safe open, big dog. We can only hold The Block down so long!” The tinny sound of a comm unit coming from CrackaDoom’s body.

The Block’s hangout consisted of little more than a reinforced basement and a few partitions for privacy. The only thing of value was the vials of Boost they kept in Stay-C’s safe, in case they ever had to go against some heavy hitter Talents.

Vials they could use right about now. Vials about to be snatched out from under them like some trap-house robbery.

Digitz needed to clear the cobwebs, He needed to access his powers.

Numbers dance for me. 02493059234….

CrackaDoom tried the combination written on the paper in his hand. Bzzt. Once. Twice. Three times. He stared at his huge hands, wondering if fat fingers were to blame. It took the stupid mutha an extra few seconds to realize Digitz had gotten in his head, had changed the way he could read the numbers.

“Thought you knew what was good for you. Gonna have to put you back to sleep!”

The Thrillmasters had obviously obtained some intel on The Block. The safe combination and what was in it; how to neutralize Digitz and the best time to catch the team off-guard. But clearly, they didn’t know everything.

Digitz might not have a granite jaw, but his Daddy didn’t give him no glass. And the extent of his power was more than just jumbling numbers. As Doom lumbered in his direction, ready to lay the wood down one final time, Digitz reached once again.

CrackaDoom overshot him and ran right into the brick wall, knocking himself out.

Funny thing about numbers: people didn’t realize how often they used them, from counting the seconds on a clock, to intuiting how many steps it takes to get from point A to B.

“Naw, son. That’s a knock-out.” He said, holding himself up over his defeated foe.

The rest of the battle went downhill for the Thrillmasters. Wasn’t hard to figure out who the suckers were if you look hard enough.

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Cry

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Getting off work early was a welcome surprise, but it worried Trendon. For GimBle—tech giant and DARPA contractor—to close off its entire campus early? That meant something big.

In Trendon’s experience with GimBle, anything big meant everything bad.

“We’re getting fired,” Dirk said from the passenger seat of the car.

“Nobody’s getting fired. Except maybe Jeff for that email.”

“Yeah, he should’ve known xHamster isn’t a pet site.”

“Dude’s a goner.”

“But at least he’ll have a website to keep him busy, amirite?”

Campus traffic was at a standstill. Everyone trying to get home, everyone trying to enjoy the rest of a free day. Trendon planned to drop Dirk off and spend the rest of his with Junior. His therapist advised that every moment spent together would bring his young son closer to talking again.

Closer to getting over the bloody death of his mom.

“What’s up with the radio?” Dirk fiddled with the stations, getting nothing but static.

Instinctively Trendon looked up. The clouds hung dark and purple, a twilight hue eerie for the midday. It amped up his anxiety to get to the person who needed him most.

“You mind if we pick Junior up first before I drop you off? I’ll buy us all lunch.”

“Hey, if you’re buying, I’m tryin’. Let’s go to…oh, what fresh hell is this?” Suddenly, the car in front of them, a Ford Escort out of place in the army of Priuses and Beetles, spat a cloud of smoke. Its driver, a slender man as pale as he was hairless, got out excitedly, fanning the smoke with his bare hands.

“Oh, come on!” Dirk said, reaching over and blowing the horn.

“Hey, cut it out,” Trendon said, feeling sympathy for his fellow man. “Maybe we should help.”

“Since when did we become mechanics, brah?”

Trendon twisted his mouth in annoyance at his friend, then got out. Dirk would feel guilty as sin once he realized his mistake, but Trendon wouldn’t hold it against him. Had someone gotten out and checked on his wife’s crashed car, maybe Patricia would still be alive. Had someone bothered to care, maybe Junior wouldn’t have had to watch his mother die for a miserable hour.

As Trendon moved towards the Escort, his cell rang. It was Mac, his homegirl in IT. Being Army, she hadn’t gotten the green light to leave like the civilians.

“Sup?”

“Hey, T? You out of here yet?”

“Nah, traffic’s a B. What’s up?” He hoped she wouldn’t ask him on another date. It all felt too soon.

“Better hurry and get out of here. We’re two minutes from a total lockdown.”

Trendon looked around him, suddenly aware of helicopters in the distance. The atmosphere around him sat still, a creepiness holding it in place.

“What’s going on, Mac? This sounds serious.”

The thin, sweaty driver saw Trendon and tried to wave him away. Caught in his thoughts, Trendon ignored him. At the top of the lane, the stop light’s left turn arrow flashed brightly, then blinked, then flashed red. Green. Yellow, Green. Red. Green. All in rapid succession. Car horns honked at the confusion. Angry drivers yelled at not being able to go.

“You know level 13? Something got loose. That’s why they wanted you guys gone. But now the brass think whatever ‘it’ is is being smuggled out.  Nobody’s going to be able to leave. They’re talking about quarantining the entire town!”

“What!?” His thoughts went back to Junior, whose daycare sat on the outskirts of the city.

He had to get out of there, even if it meant pushing the Escort out of the way with his bare hands.

Now at the car, the driver ran. Trendon followed his eyes and looked back. A rank of soldiers ran in their direction.

No, no, no. I have to get to my son, he thought to himself. I can’t be stuck here. Being stuck here is why I wasn’t with them that night. It’s why Patricia’s dead.

“T, you still there?”

Mac’s voice faded in the background of the horns, the yells, the feet of marching men and their rattling guns.

The air, the still, pressurized air, dug into his ears like cotton. The car’s smoke stung his eyes.

“Sir, get away from there!”

It was then he looked in the back seat. He phone dropped with a thud.

The thing looked at him with wide, purple eyes. Trendon knew those eyes. The terrified eyes of a child. The haggard look of young shock, a constant in the vast, cold universe.

Trendon opened the door, ignoring the shots into the air, the gruff commands to cease and desist. He removed the tape from the thing’s lipless mouth.

“It’s okay.”

It let out a piercing cry. A cry like ringing bells. A cry for freedom and help, for somebody to finally give a damn.

Had Junior cried like that? Cried until he couldn’t cry anymore? Cried into the dark beyond after a mother who’d never come back?

Blood dripped from Trendon’s nose. His teeth chattered from the cry’s intensity.

Looking up, Trendon watched the clouds come alive, revealing a dark mass ready to heed the call.

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Troubled

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Momma’s suicide had been both a shock and a confirmation. Dee knew the troubles behind the old woman’s facade, the sharp cobwebs and shaky floorboards in her mind. Dee felt them in herself.

“I did my crying long ago,” she told well-meaning visitors after the funeral. They had to go. The platitudes talking of a better place felt like rain popping off hot grease.

No, the only comfort she got came in an envelope, the handwriting pointing to a childhood memory.

“Heard about your momma. Why don’t you drop by for a talk? -Geraldine” the letter said.

Such letters used to arrive weekly, every Tuesday like clockwork. Momma would take them to her bedroom, eyes wet, head bowed, and cry.

One day Daddy caught on. Curious, Dee placed one his shot glasses to the door and listened in.

“You done lost your damn mind, Sain?”

“I can’t just turn my back…”

A loud smack, shocking Dee, making her fall on her back. Daddy stormed out, never looking down at the prone girl.

The Daddy she knew walked out of their lives that night, only his body returning as a saved man, bible in hand. After that, he maintained a well-defined distance from Momma until his death, the Good Word his shield against the virulent madness around him in the form of his wife and daughter.

Dee once read a letter. At the top, 92417 had been scribbled in bold red. The rest talked of changing times, of an unaccepting world, and how the only way to begin a life is knowing about its end.

Doomsday talk. Had it been scented sulfur, Dee’d have sworn she was reading the Bible.

“92417.”

The Saturday after Momma’s  death, Dee decided to make the trip to see her. The women’s prison was surprisingly clean, not as crushing as Dee’d imagined.

“My, aren’t you pretty?” Geraldine lied, smiling. She grabbed Dee’s hands, held them, rubbed them. The guards looked every which direction but theirs.

“You knew my mother?”

“I knew her well.”

“How did you know she died?”

“I still have ears, after all these years.” Geraldine winked.

“The day she died was on…”

“September 24th.”

92417.

Dee pulled back and looked at her, laying eyes on an old friend for the first time. Her troubled mind felt oddly at ease.

In her sixties, Geraldine owned the air around her, a magician with the keys to unlock fate. She pulled out and handed Dee her journal, leatherbound and ragged, the same handwriting from Momma’s letters covering it like glyphs. “I couldn’t help your momma. God knows I tried. She loved your Daddy too much to come back to me.”

There was sadness in her voice, flavored by bitter spit. “But I get the feeling that you’re in need of my teachings, just like her.”

The first page was specifically for Dee. The number 63022 glowed bright red.

“Now that you know when it ends, your life can truly begin…”

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The Tenacious Plant

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Eryka found the Roberts’ invitation for her to stay overnight to be…unsettling. She and their daughter were childhood friends, but Pam had been gone for years. Disappeared. Crawled out of her bedroom window and into the inky blackness of the night.

“No, we keep it unlocked!” Mrs. Roberts cried, popping the window’s lock into the open position.

“S..sorry.” Eryka said, not knowing what else to say. Her discomfort was a 12 on a scale to 10. She held a hand up the way she would for a wild animal.

“She might come home.” She gave Eryka a wry smile and left the room. Mr. Roberts lingered a few seconds longer, gaze caught between Eryka and the window, mind far away, as if wondering if he wanted his wife’s statement to really be true.

Eryka sleeping in Pam’s room was their idea. She said yes; anything else would’ve been cruel. The Roberts endured enough cruelty after Pam’s disappearance. Eryka’s folks weren’t the only ones to think Pam was better off gone, one way or another.

“You don’t mean that, do you?.”

Sigh. “If you only knew the things we knew…” her Dad would say, her mom clutching his hand.

Eryka sat the geranium she brought on the empty window sill. A gift felt inappropriate, but plants had always been Pam’s first love.

Besides, if any place needed new life, it was that room. This house.

She laid down on the bed that still smelled of a parent’s miscalculation of a teenager’s perfume.  She flipped through the pictures labeled Pammie, a name she’d hated for years, which her parents always used.

In fact, the entire room had the feel of discontinuity, between who Pam really was and the person her parents imagined her to be. A pot much too small for the plant inside, conforming the roots to its rigid shape until it killed the life inside.

Sleep proved difficult. Lines from Pam’s favorite poem—written in fluorescent marker on a banner above—glowed red in the darkness.

Even while the earth sleeps we travel.

We are the seeds of the tenacious plant

After a while, Eryka’s eyelids grew heavy. Moonlight’s shadows crept and crawled, fingers touching every inch of the room.

The limbs of the geranium seemed to grow and rise, its tentacles pulling itself up on the window.

A shape formed, sticklike and weak at first. As it moved closer to the retreating Eryka, the thing gained in mass and shape, eventually become that of a girl on the precipice of her power.

“Are you there?” The voice spoke low and soft. “Eryka…”

Eryka watched the wet, dark shape crawl on its knees, then finally its feet. The thing’s eyes sat sunken. Its once brown skin a vomit green.

“Pam?”

The thing reached. “I’ve been traveling. Come with me.” The words trailed.

Eryka held out her hand, the sadness on Pam’s blank eyes an irresistible call. Best friends forever…we’ll travel the world…

Suddenly the bedroom door opened; the lights flashing bright. The apparition hissed and leaped back, away from her charging parents.

“We knew you’d come back! We knew you’d come back for her!”

Pam struggled in her father’s grip, her slick green skin rubbing off on his cotton shirt. Her mother attempted to fit a child’s nighty on her womanly body. “You can’t be seen like this! It’s unladylike!”

Pam’s cries were gurgled and wild.

Eryka rushed to the window and opened it. Not thinking, she bit Mr. Roberts’ shoulder. He screamed in pain and loosened his grip just enough for Pam to slip free.

“Go!” Eryka said. Pam slipped through the window, her body a tangle of vines. She disappeared once again into the night.
“Don’t leave, Pammie! I’m sorry! Don’t leave!” Mrs. Roberts cried.

But Eryka knew Pam would never come back. No matter what, she was better off, a tenacious plant free from a potted death.

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Trajectory (science fiction flash fiction/short story)

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It couldn’t end like this for Brandon and Avi. It wouldn’t. Not in a simple shuttle crash. Not after the years of training, the sabotage and intrigue, and finally the goodbyes.

Humanity hadn’t spent the last 20 years building a ship for interstellar travel, only to finally have two of the “Fab Five Grown Up” meet their fates by crashing into the very thing meant to lead mankind to its celestial promise.

“There’s no way we can land this, B,” Avi said between anxious huffs. He wasn’t even supposed the make that particular meteor run, but Brandon had talked him into it. “And if we take an external vector I don’t think we’ll ever come back.”

“Then we don’t take an external vector, man! Olympus, can you read us?” There was no response from the mothership.

At 23:05 the shuttle had made its approach to Olympus from a successful supply/fuel dig. At the last minute, Olympus’ EM net engaged, its shielding going haywire. Only Avi’s fast thinking had kept them from crashing into the mothership’s hull, an impressive feat he was too humble and insecure to ever cop.

The shuttle’s system had taken damage as a result. Life support was failing. Brandon felt the tingly fingers of the air scrubber’s failure reach into his lungs. They needed to get back to Olympus, and they needed to do it fast.

“I’ll bet you it was one of those avatars we picked up on Sirian’s moon. This entire competition’s rigged! And for what? To find a Fleet that might let us join if we collect enough artifacts like damn toys?!” Avi was a quiet man, an introspective man. His outburst was as animated as Brandon could imagine it to be.

Anger could be unproductive in these situations, but Brandon figured it beat out fear. Avi had kept them alive so far; now it was Brandon’s turn to get them home.

“Avi, can you show the EM spectrum on the screen?”

“Yeah, but what for? It’s just a jumbled mess.”

Brandon leaned in closer to investigate. Sure, the entire mag field around the mothership chaotically shifted like water over a ball, but there were zones that shifted much less than others.

“Right there,” Brandon said, pointing to one of the stabler regions 30 degrees from dock S3. “That’s where you’re going.”

Avi looked at him quizically. “I appreciate your optimism, but there’s no way we can control where we’re going in this mess.”

“Yeah we can,” Brandon said, reaching into a compartment for a pair of thick black gloves. “I’m going to the main charger and pop a short to the hull. We’re going to polarize this bad boy.”

“What?!?”

“Just trust me, buddy. You do the vector, let me know when we’re close, and I’ll polarize the plates. We’ll probably lose what’s left of the thrusters, so you’re going to have to use the arms to grab Olympus.

“Trust me.”

Not that Avi had a choice. Brandon found the proper relay and got himself in position. He hoped the gloves were thick enough.

Of all of the Fab Five, those precocious kids who had communicated with an alien entity and convinced it Earth was worthy of a place at the intergalactic table, Brandon had always been the least likely to be here. He didn’t have scientist parents or come from military aristocracy. He was smart, but his IQ didn’t break the bank. His hometown consisted of dirt roads and Mississippi pride.

But here he was. A college grad. Six hours short of a PhD. Black and proud, with an attitude to match.

And most importantly of all, he actually knew his physics. The magnetic force equation. A charged particle moving in a magnetic field will undergo perpendicular acceleration. If his math was right, and if the mag field didn’t change too much too soon, their shuttle should veer right into the dock. Or at least close enough for Avi to grab the hull with the robotic arms used for material acquisition.

“Now!”

Brandon polarized the plates, filling his line of sight with white light. Heat caressed his face. Wires sizzled and popped.

Finally, a deep darkness consumed him.

“I’m not dead. I’m not dead,” he whispered to himself, hopeful. He felt the slight shift of G’s on his body. A sideways force.

“Brandon! You still there, man?”

Brandon didn’t feel like answering. If they survived, he’d have to take Avi out. Maybe try to get him laid by one of the military chicks on Olympus. Or guys. Or whoever. Brandon felt guilty for not being enough of a friend to know. Avi was a lot tougher than he thought.

Avi was a lot tougher than he thought.

If being outsiders was their fate, they’d be that together.

“Got it!” Avi said, as a lout CLUNK filled the air. “Brandon, come on, man! Talk to me!”

“I’m here, bro. I’m alright.”

Back to Olympus and its relative safety. Danger still threatened the ship, but no one ever promised the ride would be safe.

The task of the USS Olympus: to voyage the stars, to meet new life, to prove humanity’s worth, and to join those who would provide the means to save all life on Earth.

Conflict, Commerce, Adventure? Those were the choices given to the Fab Five kids all those years ago.

The adventure had only begun.

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Float (superhero flash fiction/short story)

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She named herself Archimedes because she made things float. It was supposed to be clever, a cute homage, but no one got it except unimpressed physicists.

‘Wouldn’t a name like Buoyancy make more sense?’ they’d ask, ignoring her obvious flair and sense of style. Archimedes was goddamn gold.

‘But Archimedes was a guy and you’re…not.’

Physicists sucked.

Still, why the city or the cosmos or God or whatever, had decided to give her the power over some geek who knew more about the science, she didn’t know. Did it matter? No. Right now, she was the only thing keeping three hundred tons of bricks from collapsing on a basement full of kids.

“Don’t worry guys,” she said, straining at keeping the darkness from closing around her. “We float down here. They all float down here.”

Instead of levity, the joke made a freckled boy pee his pants. “She’s gonna eat us like It!”

Boy, if you don’t… How was she going to eat his rusty behind while standing there, arms spread, face constipated, trying to maintain the delicate balance between life and death?

“Sorry! I mean we’re going to be okay!”

Superhero jokes didn’t come naturally to her. Nothing did, for that matter. School, family, work, friends. Weighed down by her inadequacies, having the exact ability she’d recently discovered seemed like the biggest joke of all.

But power meant using it for the right. Her mom dying in the line of duty taught her that.

Suddenly, an aftershock! Everything shifted out of place. Like her mom’s death, like her brother’s subsequent fall, a change throwing her existence out of whack. Threatening to make everything tumble down.

Like Humpty-Dumpty. Like the Itsy-Bitsy Spider. The kid’s cries echoed around her. The few remaining lights flicked, threatening to snuff themselves out for good.

But she wouldn’t let anyone die. Not like this. Not when she could sense the already dead in the rubble above her, the ones caught unaware after the earthquake hit.

Dead and broken. All that debris weighing down on their lifeless bodies. Granny’s church stories about souls rising free from their earthly prison scratched her thoughts. But Archimedes sensed no ascension. No going to a better place. There were just there. Stuck.

Weighed down. It felt all too much. Archimedes felt her knees tremble.

Why me? Why’d you have to choose me?

“Ma’am?” It took a minute before Archimedes realized a kid was talking to her. She held out a bottle. “Do you want my water?”

“Naw kid, you keep it.”

Water. Liquid. She had an idea. Well, not really an idea, but a thought born of desperation. What could it hurt?

She opened her mind and reached out with her power, imagining it as a fluid, flowing over anything and everything. It reached every crevice, every nook. Instead of the weight over her head bringing her down, she grabbed it with imaginary fingers.

Tickle it. Change its density. She closed her eyes.

When she felt confident, she gave one final push, causing the world the shake. She pushed, grabbing it all and letting it go. Her mom, her brother, her needs, her fears, like dust from a fan, like smoke from a flame.

KRACKLE!!! PHROOSH!!!

When she opened her eyes, the rubble floated above them all in the midday air. Around her, the kids floated too, eyes wide. Impervious, if just for a moment, to the burdens of the world. They flew, alive and free.

The freckled boy drifted to her and tugged her cape. Aw, she thought, little man’s getting caught in the moment. Gotta let him down easy.

“Hey Arkmeridian.”

“It’s Archimedes, kid.” Although Arkmeridian sounded cool af, she had to admit.

“Why don’t you just call yourself Float? It’s a whole less stupid, if you ask me.”

“Yeah, nobody did, kid. So why don’t you just go over there, alright, pee-body?” She waved him away and smiled—genuinely smiled—for the first time since getting her powers.

Her name fit her just fine.

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