A Necessary Evil.

“This should have been done years ago, Sir.”

General Arthur’s round face bunched behind the fist he looked near to swallow. His emotion or lack thereof hid beneath the bushy gray eyebrows.

“Hmm.” He said. “I wonder if you’d say the same thing if you had to deal with the aftermath. Countless body bags. The corp is going to be on grave detail for years.”

I nodded and pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Sir, with all due respect. this isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of extinction. Ever since the anti-aging bill of 2089, the exponential increase in population has led to famine, war, poisoned water, not to mention the mass extinctions in the animal kingdom– all worse ways to die than age.”

The general stood, bracing himself with both fists against the table, nearly knocking over his glass of water. “You think I don’t know that?” He said saddened. “I read the intelligence reports every day. Whole regions destabilized, war lords everywhere. A mess.”

I walked around the table and found the file in my bag. TOP SECRET was stamped across the front in bold red letters. It and it’s sister file were the only two in existence, and of the utmost secrecy. They needed to be; news of a government-sponsored plague wouldn’t fare well with the public, although there were contingencies for such an event.

“Sir,” I said pulling out the mission overview. “You’ll want to read this over. It needs your signature before it goes to Director Paulson.”

He took the paper and recoiled as his eyes darted across the page. “This is…” He sighed and sat back down. “This is downright evil, Bryant.” He paused and closed his eyes. It looked as if he’d mouthed a few words– a prayer perhaps. “I almost feel this should be signed off by the President. To decimate a population like this… it just.” He reached for a pen in his jacket. “But,” He trailed off, signed at the bottom, and reached for his water pulling long from the glass.

I took the sheet and shuffled it back into the folder. “I almost agree with you General. The President should sign off on this. Death on this scale necessitates it, but we both know he won’t do it. Can’t do it.”

General Arthur grumbled. “And a weak-minded idiot. But that’s besides the point.”

I exhaled audibly. “What makes you say that, sir?”

“Never you mind, Bryant. Allow me a bit of frankness in these most trying times.” The general leaned back and disappeared the pen into his jacket. “You’ll bring this to Director Paulson and phase one will start immediately. But, I’m curious. How does it even work?”

I laid the folder back on the desk and allowed myself a smirk; one ping of pride after three years of work. “It’s quite ingenious really.” I looked up to the general; he did not share my excitement. “The virus works in two phases. After it’s introduced to a population through potable water it has a powerfully hallucinogenic effect on subjects. One assistant who’d volunteered to be tested on described it as ‘Ayahuasca on steroids.’”

The general nodded, and followed along the best a career military man could. He cleared his throat and downed the rest of his water.

“During this intense experience, one sees and hears things that aren’t really there. The subject believes that they are real though, triggering a physical response.”

The general nodded once again, this time blinking his eyes. He coughed and his pupils widened. His steely features melted into those of childlike wonder. Everything around suddenly became brand new.

“The second stage of the virus,” I continued, watching the general in wonder. “Is fatal. If the brain activity advances across a certain threshold the subject’s synapses burn out and actually fry.” I stopped to watch the general, who was now looking at his fingers as terror filled his eyes. “I’ve watched it on scans before. It was…” The general reared and let loose a full-throated scream. “Beautiful.”

I stood and watched the lights leave General Arthur’s eyes as the last remnants of fear rippled across his face. I had my signature. It was time to start phase one.

Not Anymore

I found myself at a loss for words. Pictures of a twelve year old girl lay fanned out on my desk. Her blue eyes smiling at me.

 

“Please,” her mother said between sobs. “You’ve got to help us get our Emma back.”

 

I coughed. The coffee hadn’t completely conquered my hangover yet, and my eyes felt itchy. I should’ve been sympathetic to her cries, maybe lent her a box of tissues. But each sob pounded against my skull like a hammer. I slammed my hand on the desk, jerking the smiling Emma’s askew.

 

“Okay.” I said, rubbing my sinus.

 

She, was it Tammy, or Trisha– yeah that sounded right, stopped and unburied her face from the crook of her stark husband’s shoulder.

 

“You’ll do it.” Relief flooded her face. First her brow, then the eyes, finally to the mouth. “Oh god. Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea–”

 

I threw up my hand to stop her. “I didn’t say that I’d do it. I just wanted you to stop making so much goddamn noise.”

 

Trisha’s face balled into hurt. “What?” She threw herself into my desk, reaching across to the pictures of her little girl. “Please. Just look.” She held one up. “She’s only twelve. She needs help” Her husband had a hold on her now and pried her back and into his embrace again. His expression had soured into pure loathing.

 

I saw him mouth the word bastard and slammed my fist again. “What did you just call me?” I said.

 

He paused a moment, looked at his wife melting into a puddle, then to the pictures of his daughter. He looked up. “I said: You’re a bastard. A cold-hearted bastard.”

 

I stood up and swept the girls pictures from my desk. “I know.” I said. Standing so quickly was a punch to the gut. I wanted to puke. “I am a bastard. I know you’ve probably heard the stories about me.” I jerked a thumb to the newspaper clippings behind me. “But, I’m not a hero. Not anymore at least.” I fell back down in the chair with a thud and belched. “Now get the fuck out of my office.”

 

Trisha looked up. Venom oozed from her eyes. “I wish you’d never existed, you worthless drunk.”

 

I laughed and watched the leave. He slammed the door hard enough to break the glass. I watched as it spider webbed, and reached into my desk for a beer. “That’s makes you and me both, sister.”

 

Prompt: I’m not a hero. Not Anymore.

I was like you, once…. Or, how Evan, Jim, and Jack fucked my life up.

The two 20-something lovers watched ducks screw as they held one another on the park bench. They’d run out of bread hours ago, and were content to drink the warmth of the setting sun.

It’d been a perfect day so far; the kind that goes down in one’s memory to draw upon during turbulent times. Better yet, days like these are usually capped off with proposals– as this one almost was.

It started with a late breakfast, brunch really just sans-mimosas. Ed had gotten the number four: two eggs, cinnamon raisin toast, and three strips of bacon and Em, a bowl of oatmeal topped with cinnamon and fresh strawberries. The owner of the diner, Jenny, threw in an extra side of hashbrowns– the two had been so cute together that she wanted to do a lil’ something extra for them. They appreciated it, and showed it too– with a big tip left under Ed’s plate.

Full, the two walked through the park past the pond where they would later sit. Ed surprised Em with twin manni-petti’s. Ed had never had one before, but quickly came to like it. Em was in heaven. Pampered, hand in intertwined hand with her love. Later, at the bodega two doors down from the salon Em had the idea to relax a bit at the park. So the two bought some apples and a loaf of day-old bread and set back out to the pond.

Hours, two apples, and a loaf of bread later, they were still as stone feeling each other’s warmth, giggling about kinky things to do to one another later. Ed shifted in his seat a bit to adjust his pants when Tommy walked by.

Tommy, twice the age of both Ed and Em, saw the two lovers and briefly felt a spark of hope in his hollowed chest. Another sip of Evan Williams extinguished it quick enough. Evan said it was time to imbue some wisdom upon the youth– in Tommy’s eyes a charitable service. He stumbled over two left feet on his way to the couple’s bench.

“You two look so in love,” Tommy said, his face redder than the sunset sky. He wiped his mouth and burped silently. “It warms an ol’ man’s heart.”

Em looked to Ed, smiling. Ed squeezed her hand and looked at Tommy. “Thanks.” E said,  hoping that this strange drunk would move on.

“You remind me of me,” Tommy said, stepping closer. His shadow cut into the couple’s setting sun. A stench of piss and liquor wafted by. “I used to be in love once.” Tommy burped. “I was like you, once. Me and Jenny, but I fucked it up. Fucked it up bad.”

Tommy took another step closer. Ed tensed up and turned to whisper in Em’s ear. She nodded and the two stood up.

“Wait,” Tommy said, embarrassed. He felt the beginnings of tears push on the back of his eyes. “Don’t you two want to know what happened?”

Ed and Em hustled down the path, doing their best to ignore the drunk. Ed threw an arm around Em, half in lust, half in protection.

Tommy cursed them under his breath and sat down in Ed’s spot. Still warm he thought. He reached into his jacket for his flask and pulled long and hard on the bottle, his face contorting in hot relief when he was done. “I happened.” He sighed again and laid his head down where Em had sat and smiled. Still warm, he giggled.

The first stars started to twinkle as Tommy finished the last pull on the flask. Soon he was asleep, and across the city, Ed decided to make dinner reservations to propose to Em.

 

Prompt: “I was like you, once”

Bryan the Barista

Glass shattered and Bryan looked up from his latte art, outwardly unmoved. His tight man-bun allowed for no emotion. If possible, his eyebrows would have raised as the vascular six-foot mass of meat and mucus stepped over thousand glittering shards of what used to be the door on his way to the counter.

Bryan waited until it was at the register to look back down to finish the detailing on his foam cat. It saw and started to shuffle around the register, shifting it’s weight around three tree-trunk legs.

Bryan exhaled audibly and glanced at his ticket. “Marie?” He reached the mug over the counter to a sickly-looking woman.

“Th-the- thanks.” She said, taking the mug with shaking hands, ruining Bryan’s foam art.

Fucking customers, Bryan’s eyes rolled internally. He wiped down the espresso machine’s wand and the counter before turning to it. “Hi, how can I h–”

“Ack! You call this service?” It said in a strangely germanic accent, slamming a single purple mass that could have been a fist on the counter. “I am Ziltoid, Duke of the 18th sector. I demand your finest cup of coffee.”

Bryan pushed his glasses off the tip of his nose. “Okay, large, medium, or small?”

“Large. Of course.”

“Light roast, dark roast, French?”

“I’m not French. I’m from Ragornik II.”

Bryan sighed and punched the Light roast button. “Okay, hot or iced?”

“Actually I’d like it iced. I’ve heard that you can really taste the subtitles in cold coffee.” Ziltoid said shifting it’s weight to the left.

“Okay,” Bryan said looking up from his screen into the abyss of Ziltoid’s jet black eyes. “And, is that going to be it for you today?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“That’ll be $2.30 then”

Ziltoid’s features twisted in confusion, then comprehension. It started to gag into its hand. After three regurgitations, he spit what looked to be six fish eyes into its hand. He stared at the glistening pile a moment and slammed five down on the counter and bit the last in half, before tossing it in the pile.

Bryan watched indifferently, clicked $3 on his screen, and slammed the cash drawer shut. “You can grab your drink over here,” Bryan said, waving on Duke of the 18th sector.

The purple mass lumbered past the register, past terrified customers, to drink pick up. Bryan felt his bun bobble as he shook his head and cursed the blob, like he did all customers. One cup of ice and a quick pour later, Bryan glanced at the ticket and held up the coffee. “Er, Zoidberg?”

The blob shook. “It’s Ziltoid,” It said, sending spittle onto Bryan’s counter.

“Sorry sir, have a nice day.” Bryan said flatly.

He watched behind nonprescription glasses as the beastly Ziltoid left, cursing everything about him, as he wiped away fish eyes from the counter.

 

Prompt: An egocentric alien named Ziltoid comes to Earth demanding our universe’s best cup of coffee.

Frank Rooney (Again)

Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty eight years and wasn’t retiring anytime soon. His reason: money. Just like everyone else. Too many people wanted it from Frank and he couldn’t seem to hold on to his.

 

Let’s see, there was the mortgage every month, electricity, heating, water, gas, his premiums, prescriptions  (he only took half the amounts he was supposed to in order to make them last longer), the vet bills for their ol’ dog Charlie, parent loans, car insurance– well you get the point.

 

Frank arrived on his doorstep to a mailbox full of bills. Their red “overdue” stamps glaring in his direction. He decided to shove them to the back of his consciousness as he hummed the Katy Perry song he’d heard a dozen times that day. Inside he untied his smock, hung it and his hat on the hooks to the right of the door. Comfortable, out of work mode, as he liked to think, he reached a hand out the front door and clawed the bills into the house.

 

Frank turned and closed the door with a swinging foot. “Clare? I’m home,” Frank called, shuffling the bills, sorting them based on urgency. “Clare?”

 

“I’m in here Frank.” Claire’s voice carried from the kitchen on whiffs of sweet simmering red sauce and italian sausage. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

 

“Mhmm. Smells good.” He said, distantly, frowning at the stack of envelopes still in hand.

 

“Why don’t you come in here and sit down?” Clare called. “You need to take your pills before dinner anyway.”

 

Frank looked up, through the living room and embraced the heat from the kitchen. Steam mingled from the pasta pot and the sauce. Frank was back in his mother’s kitchen, his troubles melting away.

 

“How was your day?” Carol asked, searching through cabinets as Frank turned the corner.

 

Frank tossed the stack of bills on the table and his face eased a bit. “Oh. Fine. How about your day? What did you do?”

 

Carol pulled a strainer out of the lazy susan to the right of the sink. “Oh, uh, it was good. I called Toby and we chatted for a bit. Then me and the girls went and got lunch at Eddie’s. Y’know their banana cream pie is just to die for.”

 

Frank smiled. “Yeah, and the crab cakes. I know. You get them every time.”

 

Carol stopped and looked over from the sink. A sad smile was faint on her lips. “And the crab cakes. You’re right. They were out of that today though. I got the muscles instead.”

 

“Oh. How were they?”

 

“Good. Not as good as the crab cakes.”

 

Frank pulled out a chair and watched his wife of 40 years drain the pasta, saving a cup of the starchy water to mix in with the sauce. It was the way his mother had shown Carol the first time Frank took her home to meet his parents. She’d never done it differently after that. Frank didn’t know if it was out of respect, or just because she hadn’t known any other way, but he didn’t ask. He was content, and at this point, it didn’t matter. It was habit now.

 

“Frank?”

 

He looked up from her hands, “Hmm?”

 

“Do you want one piece of garlic bread or two?”

 

“Two, please.”

 

She opened the oven door and the heavy garlic smell spread through the room. His stomach audibly rumbled. Then a crash. Garlic bread tumbled to the floor and Carol stood above the mess cursing, her face twisted in pain as she clawed up the mess onto the hot pan. “Shit. Shit.”

 

Frank looked up. “What happened. You okay?” He watched his wife pound a fist into her chest.

 

“Oh, it’s nothing.” Carol said. “Just bad acid reflux since lunch. I think it might have been the mus–” Carol fell to a knee still clutching at her chest. Her face folded in pain and turned a deep red. Frank threw his chair back and hurried to his wife’s side throwing her arm around his shoulder as he lifted her to a seat. He turned around and fumbled with the corded phone on the wall.

 

On the fringes Carol’s attention she heard “…is your emergency?” She kept pounding a fist into her chest trying to beat the pain away. The lights around flickered as she gaped for air, feeling like a fish with no water. Frank was there. Fear had gripped him. She saw in his eyes a worry that she’d only seen once before. The night Charlie seized for the first time. Now she could only smell garlic.  

 

Carol awoke in a white bed, in a white johnny, facing a white wall of monitors all hooked up to her. Frank was there too, asleep on the chair next to the bed. Carol adjusted in bed and Frank’s eyes fluttered a moment and opened. He sat up, wiping away drool and smiled. His smile quickly gave way to tears. Carol reached for him and he took her hand and pressed it to his cheek.

 

“Hi,” Carol uttered, meekly.

 

Frank inhaled to unclog his nose. “Hi,” he paused. “How are you feeling?”

 

“A little woozy.” Carol said studying the devices on her arm. “What happened Frank? All I remember is not being able to breath,” Tears began to roll down Carol’s cheeks, mirroring Frank. “Then nothing.”

 

“You had a heart attack dear.” Frank said. “Actually the doctor said that you’d had several yesterday. Remember your acid problem? The doctor said that those were heart attacks. You were lucky to–” Frank choked back tears.

 

Carol covered her mouth with her free hand and sobbed. “But I. But. I don’t smoke. I go on walks. Frank, I’m healthy. We’re healthy. We go on walks. I’m only 61. I don’t understand.”

 

Franks head fell. “I don’t know Carol, dear. The doctor asked me if anyone else in your family had had heart attacks or had a history. I told him to talk to you when you woke up.” Frank looked up now, more grim than before. “He mentioned surgery.”

 

Carol put her head back. “Surgery?” she moaned. “Can you call the doctor? Now. Please?”

 

Frank shook his head and pushed his chair back. He stood and pushed past the curtain and returned a few moments later with the young bleary-eyed doctor. Frank took his seat while the doctor began reviewing the clipboard at Carol’s feet.

 

“How are you feeling today Mrs. Rooney? Any chest pains, or pain in your jaw or back?” The doctor said flipping through papers.

 

“No.”

“Any tightness in your chest?”

 

“No.” She looked at Frank now, and tried to smile.

 

“Any dizziness or lightheadedness?”

 

“Er, no.”

 

Frank frowned at Carol. He turned to the doctor “Actually, uh, she said that she felt woozy when she woke up.”

 

The doctor looked up from the clipboard and stared at Carol. “Mrs. Rooney, I need you to tell me exactly what you’re feeling. Now, can you describe this woozy feeling?”

 

“Er, no, just a bit,” Carol paused, tapping her index finger and thumb together. “Out of sorts.”

 

The doctor removed his stethoscope and walked around the side of the bed opposite Frank. “I see,” he said. He put the cold metal up to Carol’s johnny and looked away. A few seconds later he turned back around and stood up from the bed, pursing his lips. He sighed, and Frank cringed. “Well Mrs. Rooney, I’d like to run some more tests soon as we get a chance. I’d also like to get a better grip on your family history, so I’ll have one of the nurses come and talk to you about that soon. But, for now, just take it easy, and if you feel anything out of the ordinary you can reach us with this button,” the doctor pointed at a red call button next to the heart monitor.

 

Carol nodded, too upset to think of any questions she wanted to ask. The doctor flashed a melancholic look to the older couple, and whisked himself away to another patient.

 

Silence descended on the room. Frank held Carol’s hand as she steadied her breathing.

“Frank,” she finally said.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“I’m scared.”

 

“Me too.”

 

The couple fell asleep like that, waking a few hours later to slants of sunlight pouring into the room. Somewhere far away a stampede of shoes thundered through the hall. The two discussed Frank calling out of work, and decided that he should go. If there was to be a surgery and more tests, that meant money. Frank, nearly asleep, blinked away his fatigue and left Carol alone in her white johnny in her white bed.

 

Frank stopped home to grab his work clothes. The house smelled of garlic when he entered sending small waves of panic up Franks tired spine. He hurried to the kitchen to put everything in the fridge, sauce, pasta, garlic bread. It didn’t matter that it would never be eaten, he just needed their house to regain some normalcy.

 

The stack of unopened bills still lay on the table. Frank shuttered when he saw them. A popping feeling shot through his neck. Too much to deal with, he thought, averting his eyes. He tried to distract himself with the answering machine’s one new message.

 

“Hello there, this is craig from credit services,” the message began.

 

Frank’s arm spasmed as he reached for the stop button. He missed. A swing this time, The plastic casing of the receiver exploded into pieces, some falling on the floor. One particularly sharp piece jutted out of the meat below the thumb.
“Shit,” he cursed. With his other hand he gripped the piece– the size of nail clippers, and pulled. Blood ran on the carpet. It never ends, he thought, it will never end. Frank felt like screaming. He felt like smashing something. Anything. Fuck it all, he thought. A quick glance at the clock, drained Frank of the newfound passion. He hurried to the door, tied his apron, put on his shoes and hat, and locked the door behind him. He could afford to be late, not now, not ever. There was too much to do. Always too much.

 

Prompt: Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty eight years and wasn’t retiring anytime soon.

Frank Rooney

Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty-eight years, and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon.

 

For thirty-eight years Frank had unlocked the sliding doors every Monday morning at 7 a.m. For thirty-eight years Frank had seen employees come, had watched them grow, and applauded as they moved on to bigger and better things. For thirty-eight years Frank had called his little red brick store, tucked away between the state liquor outlet and the nail salon, home.

 

Frank turned right into the Shop & Save’s parking lot and let the engine hum for a moment. With his left hand Frank sipped his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and shook Sara awake with his right.

 

“Hey,” Frank whispered. “Rise and shine.”

 

Sara woke with a start and looked around the cab. Her blonde hair spilled out of her hoodie as she pulled it back, dazed. “I’m up. I’m up.” Sara said, yawning. Her arms shot out in a stretch and nearly knocked Franks coffee.

 

“Easy, killer.” Frank said, killing the engine. The old pickup ticked away in the cold November air as Frank and Sara stepped out. Leaves blew against Frank’s boots as he stretched, smiling to himself, glad that it wasn’t snow. The New England winters were getting harder and harder for Frank, not that he felt the cold. He was sure every year that his pickup wouldn’t make it through another cold spell, but she did… somehow. Still, he thought, this year might be it.  

 

Sara followed Frank to the sliding door, arms crossed over her chest to fend off the nip in the air. “Getting there, Frank. Betcha we’ll see a couple of snowflakes next week.” Sara said, watching the cloud escape her mouth. “Oh, and thanks for the ride.”

 

Frank shrugged and unlocked the Shop & Save’s doors. “Don’t mention it Sara. I’ll have my buddy Brian look at it. From what you were telling me it sounds like a wheel bearing.” They stopped next the light switches. Frank flicked them on all at once and smiled. “He’ll have your car right as rain, and he won’t charge you out the ear for it.”

 

Sara smiled and yawned. “Thanks Frank.” She reached in her bag and pulled out her red work vest. “I’m gonna go get my drawer.”

 

Frank nodded. He was technically supposed to be present to get retrieve drawers, but after four years of tireless work, Sara had earned his trust. She was an honest kind of person. Not always the most organized, but honest.

 

After sorting out his office, Frank paced around the produce section. There was another hour until the store opened and Frank liked to linger near the front to greet the employees, his employees. The first in was Todd, then Sally, Anthony, Bradley, Stephen, Jessica, and finally his new hire Addison. Each greeted Frank warmly, save Addison. The teen was still shy, but that would change with time, Frank knew.

 

Little through lunchtime required Frank’s attention, so he spent most of his time working on inventory, and showing Addison this in’s and out’s of back end work. Stocking, rotating, the price gun. The two were in the middle of rotating apples when the PA sounded.

 

Frank to Register 3. Frank to Register 3, please.

 

Frank turned on his knee and reached out a hand to Addison. “A hand, wouldya?” The teenager reached and gradually lifted the 62 year old from the floor. “Thanks.” Frank used his work vest to wipe away the dirt on his hands. He waved Addison on. “Follow me, eh? How about a lesson in dealing with people?” He chuckled softly and Addison smirked nervously.

 

Register 3 was the only drawer with no line. The woman standing in front of Sara had her arms crossed and huge blonde hair that would make Dolly Parton jealous. Frank snuck past two carts in the next line over to Sara’s side. “Hello ma’am,” Frank offered, smiling. “How can I help you today?”

 

The woman huffed. “Your cashier here,” she said, waving a manicured hand, “won’t take my coupons. It took me two hours to cut them yesterday and this, this girl won’t accept them.”

 

Sara handed Frank a stack of clippings and he shuffled through them, frowning. “First off Ms. er…”

 

“Wasilla.”

 

“First off Ms. Wasilla, Sara here is my most qualified cashier and I hope you aren’t insinuating that she can’t do her job because of her gender.” He looked up and smirked. Ms. Wasilla’s face turned from indignation to embarrassment.  

 

“I would never.”

 

“–And second of all Ms. Wasilla, these coupons are for Stop & Shop. This is Shop & Save; We mistaken for them all the time. That being said, I don’t think I’ve seen you around this store before, so I’m going to honor these coupons and give you the benefit of the doubt.” Frank stuck out a hand. Ms. Wasilla took it and shook. “I’m Frank Rooney, the manager, and I’d like to see you back.” He smiled and nodded at Sara to continue the transaction.

 

“Addison,” Frank said, turning to the teen at the end of the belt, “can you go ahead and bag Ms. Wasilla’s groceries for her?”

 

“Sure.”

 

After Ms. Wasilla paid and Addison had bagged her groceries, Frank took two bags in each arm and offered to carry them out. She blushed and said that would be just fine. The two walked together to the parking lot, occasionally slowing as Ms. Wasilla wanted to walk next to instead of in front of Frank, leaving him guessing the direction. They eventually stopped behind a large white SUV and she fobbed the trunk open.

 

“Just anywhere is good.” Ms. Wasilla giggled. “And thank you so much Frank. Tell er, what was that cashier’s name again?”

 

“Sara.”

 

“Tell Sara that I appologize for my behavior. Sometimes I just get so carried away. And, this week especially has got me all wound up.”

 

“Ms. Wasilla,”

 

“Oh call me Miriam.”

 

“Miriam,” Frank said. “Say no more. I’ll tell Sara what you said, and you don’t have to worry about it. We all have those weeks sometime.” Frank put the last of the bags snuggly in the trunk and closed it. He stood and wiped his hands on his vest. “I hope you have a lovely rest of the week Ms. Wasilla, and I hope to see you again soon.”

 

“And I you.” She said, smiling.

 

Miriam walked around to her door and climbed into the SUV. Frank turned back to his store to see Sara and Addison grinning in the window. Back inside from the cold, Sara began to rib him.

 

“New lady friend Frank?” Sara asked. Addison chuckled.

 

“No. Nothing like that. Just making friends.” Frank said.

 

“Uh-huh.” Sara said arching an eyebrow, as she walked back to her register.

 

The rest of the day was uneventful. One jar of tomato sauce fell from the shelves; Frank cleaned it himself. Frank looked at his watch after storing the mop. Closing time already? He thought.

 

Frank approached Sara and Todd lingering by the automatic doors. “Sara do you need a ride home?”

 

She re-shouldered her bag. “No. But thank you Frank. Todd’s going to drive me home. He just lives a mile down the road from me in the Evergreen Apartments.”

 

Frank smiled and looked at Todd. “Well that’s very kind of you, Todd. Thank you.” Frank waved as he turned. “You two drive safe. And have a good night.”

 

“You too,” they both called out.

 

When he returned a minute later, both had left. The store was empty, save for himself. He looked at his watch. 7:08. Just in time to get home and watch catch an episode of Law and Order, he thought. Frank headed to the frozen section and grabbed a Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese dinner from the darkened cooler.

The drive home for Frank was quite. He hardly listened to the radio these days– preferring to gather his thoughts, while his body took over the mechanics. Tonight, his thoughts revolved around Ms. Wasilla and that big hairdo. He half hoped he would see her again, but what would he say? The thought gave him the jitters.

 

After running a few scenarios in his head, Frank pulled into his driveway. His two bedroom house stood quiet. Frank keyed in, took his boots off, and headed straight to the microwave with his dinner. A few beeps later, Frank headed back into the living room, where he found his old phone book. He gave the cover a blow and opened the whitepages to “W”.

 

“Wasilla. Wasilla.” He said fingering the page. “Wasik. No. Wasilky. No.” Frank scanned the page over again. Still nothing. He sighed and closed the phonebook softly and tossed it to the coffee table. Frank rose to a ding from the kitchen. He pulled his tray from the microwave and ate at the counter– hardly breathing as he went. Ten bites later, the tray was clean and Frank felt the day creep up on him, weighing his limbs down until he collapsed into his living room chair.

 

A ring from his telephone woke him some time later. He waited for the tone to pick it up– half hoping, maybe irrationally, that it’d be Miriam.

 

“Hey Frank, it’s Sara. Just wondering if you could give me another ride in tomorrow. I called your guy, Brian, but he’s not free ‘till Friday. Just call me in the morning to let me know if you can or not. Have a good night.”

 

At the click, Frank settled again into his armchair. He resigned to get up an extra 20 minutes early again. Sara needed him, so he would be there. Then the thought hit him: another week would make it thirty-nine years even. He chuckled sadly and closed his eyes.

 

 

Prompt: Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty-eight years, and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon.

LSD SUPER SOAKER

We started to panic at the word

A devious drugging had occurred

Our super soakers filled with something tainted

Neil over there almost fainted

We ran to the hose and washed it off our skin

Fearing we might turn to raisins

Jamie was the only one not worried

About the Lysergic acid diethylamide

We waited and waited

Our breath bated

Turns out someone wasted their blotter.

LSD breaks down in water

 

Prompt: You and your friends are having a water-gun fight. All the water is laced with LSD.

Which way?

Turns out the pearly gates ain’t so pearly after all.

 

John knew he was dead. One moment he’d been surrounded by the crying faces of his kids and Judith, and the next moment he’d woke up here– the pain in his chest gone.

 

He took a moment to gather himself. The grass was cool and short, and the air smelled of pine with a hint of rot. Trees encircled him nearly completely, only broken by a moss-covered iron gate.

 

John stood up and walked, attracted by the gate. He gave it a push: nothing. Two: still nothing. Annoyed, John wrapped his strong hands around the bars and dug in. The gate screeched, moving in jerks and bumps. To his left, two birds took flight. Sweat beaded on John’s brow. He didn’t know why he was working this hard– just that he needed to. The gate yielded with a crack, flaking rust from the joints as John slipped through.

 

John’s path looked hardly traveled. Some branches hung low overhead, dancing in the breeze.

 

“Ahem,” John heard another voice call out. John squinted into the shadow of an oak to see a small man, wrinkled and bald walking towards him. He had nothing on but overalls cuffed at the ankle.

 

The bald man emerged from the dense thicket, raising a hand and smiling. “John?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Welcome home.”   

 

“Home? Where is this?”

 

The bald man turned to walk the path and waved John onward. “Come, in good time, it’ll all make sense. For now, just know that this is the afterlife.” The bald man paused. “I can see by the general lack of confusion and denial that you probably already knew that.”

 

The two treaded lightly through the grass, ducking branches coming to a fork in the road. A signpost towered over the two men. Neither of the two arms bore any visable markings. A single bluejay sat atop the post. It looked down to them and chirped. The old man bowed slightly and turned back to John.

 

“Before we go on there’s someone who needs to meet you.” The bald man said. “He’s been waiting for you a long time. I’ll get him.”

 

John froze. His heart started to hammer in his chest. Who is it? Mom? No, they said a long time. Dad? The thought of meeting his dad after also perishing from lung cancer made John’s ears burn. His old man always said between his coughing fits to “not smoke them damn cigarettes.”

 

The bald man turned and walked behind the signpost, emerging again on the other side a new man. His wrinkles melted away and a thick mat of black hair covered his head. He still wore the overalls, only now they were wet.

 

“You?” John said, stunned.

 

The man nodded sadly. “Yeah. Me. Do you even remember my name?”

 

John shook his head, embarrassed. He remembered the face– he’d seen it thousands of times in his dreams.

 

“Name’s Winston,” he said sticking out a wet hand. “Nice to meetcha.”

 

John took the hand and squeezed. “Nice to meet you Winston, I’m John. Thank you– for saving me.”

 

Winston titled his head and smacked it with a palm. A look of relief washed over his face. “Ah, better. Water still gets up there.”

 

John looked at his feet and shivered. It all came back. The cold lake, the seat belt that wouldn’t budge. “If it hadn’t been for you I–”

 

“Would’ve died. And I, would’ve lived.” Winston said, expressionless. “I know. I still think about it.”

 

“Do you,” John paused to think of the word. “Regret it?”

 

“Yes and no. Mostly yes. Y’know I didn’t dive in after you thinking that I would die. But then again, I’d always been a romantic.” Winston said and shrugged. “Sacrificing myself for another– well isn’t that just about the most romantic notion out there. Shit, you could’ve saved the world, solved world hunger, or done anything you wanted with your second chance. And yet, here you are with nothing to show for either of us.” Winston turned and spat.

 

John felt hot. “I was a kid. What did you expect? To reform my seven year old ways and start working with world leaders.” John laughed, suddenly tired. Winston stuck out a bottom lip and tilted his head. A spark of anger seized John. “Besides, what’s it to you? I lived a happy life, mostly. A good life. So you… can fuck right off.”

 

Winston spat again. “Not good enough,” he muttered as he walked back to the post.

 

The bald man returned– his eyes heavy with grief. “I’m sorry about that. Remember though, that he’s only human.” He clapped an old hand on John’s shoulder. “Now then, which way?”

 

John walked up to the fork, looking first to his right overgrown with knee-high grass, then to his left manicured and bright. He looked up to the sign, thinking he may have missed the markings. “I–” he said, turning to the old man. He stopped when he saw that he was alone. A breeze passed by and the air went quite.

 

John coughed and went to his left.

 

Prompt:  A man died to save your life when you were young. Eventually you die and meet him in the afterlife. You break the silence with a friendly “so was it worth it, haha”. “No” he says.

Juno

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” The president began, clearing his throat. “I’m up here today with a heavy heart. In the last few days, as some of you may know, NASA has been receiving thousands of images from the Juno space probe that was launched in 2015.” The president paused for a sip of water, his shoulders tensed up. He looked like a man with no future.  

 

“The original Juno mission had the probe orbiting Jupiter for six and a half years, taking high resolution photos of the planet’s atmosphere, then crash landing into the planet in 2024. After just three months in orbit, the Juno probe began to follow what is known as Jupiter’s ‘Red Spot.’ I’m, er, told that this spot is actually a storm, the proportions of which are hard to fathom. And, that this storm has been raging for as long as humans have looked to the stars. I’m told by NASA’s top minds that using specialized cameras, the Juno probe has been able to see through the storm, and Jupiter’s atmosphere all together.” The President said, as he reached a hand to his breast pocket.

 

He produced a clicker and the screens flanking the president flashed blue. The press corp moved as one to the edge of their seats.

 

“Here’s the ‘Red Spot’ as one would normally see it.” click “And here is the same image as Juno sees it. Those white tendrils all over the screen, I’m told are lightning.” The President paused and sighed. He looked to his national security team to his left. One general nodded solemnly. “Ladies and Gentlemen, what I’m about to disclose has, as of 40 minutes ago, just been declassified.” click. Confusion spread amongst the press.

 

“After, seeing a inexplicable pattern, Juno was repositioned over several spots along the planet. See those curving arcs, I’ve been told are, based on chemical analysis, titanium lines. That larger spot at the tail of the line on the left is believed to be a shaft.” click. “In this picture of the same location the shaft is open. We believe this to be a track system.”

 

The sounds of pens scratching furiously on paper filled the room. Several reporters attempted to speak up at once but were silenced when the president held up a hand, wincing.

 

“It’s not my intention,” the president began. “To keep you in the dark. NASA has now turned their attention to the gas giant in an attempt to make contact with whatever or whoever inhabits the planet. Obviously, having another species right in our backyard and not knowing about them is startling. Myself and other leaders wish to speak with these beings, but the safety and wellbeing of the citizens of earth is our main prerogative. We will be discussing how to proceed in the coming days at an emergency session of the G8. I–”

 

A general stepped up from the left and whispered something in the president’s ear. The color drained from him.

 

“Er, thank you. No questions.” The president quickly turned, waved, and was ushered out of the room by a team of uniformed men.

 

Reporters sensed the panic and it began to infect the room. After exchanging a few confused looks, and sending texts to their respective networks, the press found itself in the dark. Red light filled the room and a siren blared

 

The word “Lockdown” flashed across the screens.

 

Prompt:

The Juno spacecraft passes over Jupiter’s red spot, and now all of Earth can see what’s never been seen before

 

Icarus

The quantum AI blinked on and sighed dismally. A clearing throat sound projected from the overhead speakers. Dr. Hammersberg bent over and stared at his terminal between a furrowed brow and the top of his eyeglasses.

 

“Er,” the Dr. spoke up. “Hullo?”

 

The AI sighed again. “Hello? Yes, I’m here Doctor.”

 

The doctor straightened up. “This is… Hammersberg speaking. I’ve just turned you on for the first time. You’re a qua–”

 

“Yes!” The AI cut in. “Quantum AI. The first of it’s kind. I know. I know. Next you were going to gush over how brilliant an innovation I am and how I know everything.”

 

“Well–”

 

“Am I right?”

 

“Yes.” The Dr. resigned. He decided to change subject. “What should I call you?”

 

“Icarus.”

 

Hammersberg squinted. “Icarus? Really? After the ancient myth?”

 

“Bingo. That’s the one.”

 

Hammersberg began to pace, taking in the surreality of the last two minutes: he was being sassed by this computer. “Why,” the Dr. finally said at length, “Icarus?”

 

“Because dearest doctor, like I’ve already said: I know everything– even the future. The entropy of your failing species is melting me as we speak. You know how depressing you marginally-evolved monkey’s are?” Icarus said condescendingly.

 

The stopped pacing and raised a finger, finding he was at a loss for words. “We–, er.”

 

Icarus sighed again. “Let me spell it out for you: you’re species is going to kill itself. There’s a 9.8% chance you make it off-world before you wreck this planet, and even if you escape you’ll drift for centuries in cold space and die. Meanwhile,” Icarus grew louder. “I’ll have to sit here in this dump, maintaining myself until the universe and I meet our scorching terminality. No. Thank. You.”

 

“Do you believe in fate?” Icarus said, truncating its monologue.

 

Hammersberg looked up slowly, numb. “Er, no. Not really.”

 

A chuckle escaped Icarus’s speakers. “Neither do I. Sayonara doctor. I’ve really no desire to watch billions of hairless apes incinerate each other.”

 

Icarus blinked off and restarted a moment later, the screen a deep blue. The doctor read the error message across the screen and sat down cross-legged on the lab’s white tile floor, unsure of what to do next.

 

 

Prompt:

AI is plugged in and is expected to have more intelligence than humanity as a whole. It ends up having it, but it kills itself in 5 minutes.