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Fiction

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2020

"I really can’t help myself Dick. (beat). It’s funny but my little coughing dance takes me back to the best days of my life. When I felt like I was doing something good, something that mattered. Delivering milk every day to hundreds of those little happy Howdy Doodies. The beautiful round pint jars with hard paper lids. When did those go away? Marshmallow ice cream for parties. (beat) You remember my old 55’Chevy milk truck don’t ya?  New and beautiful and as shiny as our bedpans!"

Twenty one. 

 That was usually a big deal, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it meant to be met with excessive amounts of liquor? Weren’t you supposed to be turning in that fake ID for a real one? 

But then, you never got any of that. Not even a glimpse of it.

On every brisk morning, my father walked me the five, much too few, minute walk to school. We would pass a pine tree that towered above us, and each day acknowledge its growth. Soon after, we’d meet the crosswalk lady, who was always kind and encouraging. She helped my brothers through their very own bouts of school anxiety in the years after mine. I’d come to know her as the librarian who played the bagpipes in celebration on every last day of school, even following her retirement.

Have you seen her?  

She’s out in the woods, a basket of mushrooms on her arm. Her dress is plain and simple, a soft brown cotton. The townspeople talk about her in hushed voices as she passes. They say she’s wild. Raunchy. Unbroken. 

Les lifted his hands from the leather handlebars of his red mountain bike to grasp at the dandelions that drifted across the blue summer sky. In front of him, Oliver’s long dark hair dripped the last remnants of salt water onto his polo. They had swam the afternoon away on their favorite beach, hidden from the tourists by a mile of dense pines and sprawling ferns. But the need for food forced them from the waves and onto the twisting road.  

“I’m gonna miss this,” Oliver said as they rounded a bend that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time all summer that he had voluntarily brought up the fact that in a few days he would be leaving. 

A shake rumbles the tables and glasses. Champagne splashes against faces in mid-sip and bits of food fall onto the ground. The lights flicker, blackness blankets the ship split seconds at a time. The guests rise up from their seats, yelling at the other guards. 

He always got this unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach every time they had to make a drop. At some point he gave up hope that the feeling would ever get easier. He couldn’t in a million years understand how Gabriel was fine with what they were doing—did the fear of getting caught never faze him?  

I had heard stories of the time before, how the planet was colonized by a corporation named Gaia, and how it was destroyed by another named Guanxi. And it was through my studies at Gaia University #37 of Wakefield, a small college town prior to The Dawn, that I discovered that humanity had come from the planet Terra that lay an immense distance away.   

The man being operated on winced in pain, “ I thought you university types were supposed to be good.”

Blood decorated the frost underneath his frame like too many fallen holly berries. Lysander’s bare right hand bobbed in the flowing water of the creek while he remained motionless. Caught downstream in the roots of a thirsty pine waited a winter glove. 

The Valkyrie arrived at Triton right on schedule. The trip from Io to deliver some contraband psychedelics to my client at a science station orbiting Neptune’s largest moon had taken sixteen hours. Thankfully, my client Mark lived on a station orbiting the moon, so I wouldn’t have to go to the surface. That saved a lot of money and fuel. The station was small so docking requests were automated. They didn’t have the population to have someone staffed 24/7 (strange how that phrase stuck with humans despite being meaningless off Earth), plus they only had a couple of shipments a week. 

“What’s sign language?” we asked.  

Mom took a deep breath and readjusted Carson in her lap so his big blue eyes could look at us. “Sign language is how people who can’t hear talk to other people,” she explained carefully. “People who can’t hear talk with their hands instead of their mouth.” 

We didn’t understand why Mom was telling us this. Our ears worked just fine. “Why do we need these books?” we asked.  

“Well,” Dad half-smiled, “the doctors told us some news about baby Carson. They found out that he cannot hear. He is deaf.”

SLAM!  

Abi slammed the solid oak door behind her as she passed through the worn frame, scarred up and down from previous surges of fury. She sat on her bed and rested her head in her hands.   

She filled her lungs slowly, but deep enough for them to reach their maximum capacity, she paused at the peak of her inhale scrunched up her nose, and proceeded to let the mascara on her eyelashes run away with the frustration and disappointment from her ducts when she set the air from her lungs free.  

I was loved while I was alive. Even if only for a day, if only for a passing moment, someone cherished me the way a warm coat is cherished in the middle of a freezing winter. Someone looked at me and saw all the gleaming giants of the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Someone listened to the sound of my voice and heard the music of angels, the songs of whales, the soft ringing of bells carried on a warm breeze. Someone cradled my hand and felt its pressure with their heart.

“It’s a beautiful day for a murder...isn’t it?” The undead voice of Arthur Grimwood croaked from a year of disuse, as guests screamed and howled, staring in horror at the gruesome sight: Some remained frozen where they stood, too petrified to move, some—like Uncle Rupert—crumpled to the ground in a heap, while many of the others raced for the door. They practically trampled one another as they rushed past the revenant, who proclaimed with ghoulish delight as they passed, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” 

On day four, the kid went missing. We searched the brush for him. He left no tracks, to evidence anywhere. He just up and disappeared. When dusk came and we set up for the night, we found the food was gone.

Many teenagers, alike to you and I in nativity, 

In fair Oregon, where we lay our scene, 

From ancient grudge against a tobacco industry impure,  

Births the age of a “cleaner smoke”. 

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