S&G

[Estimated reading time: 7 minutes]

I hop the train before texting, sure of the outcome already. Kevin will see the text, will debate himself, will lose, and we'll have a fun night in. It's that simple. I know the exact train, so this is a photo finish as I'm the last one aboard.

In the train, I find a seat behind a yuppie couple. They are heading back from their "First Time in the Big City", it's written on their faces. They smile those idiot grins, but only for the first couple of days, then they pick up the "local look", and pandhandlers know to avoid them.

I set the sting on them, leave it running in my backpack. On my phone I watch their internet traffic and wonder who these two are.

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Voice

[Estimated reading time: 19 minutes]

Author’s note: this is a work in progress.

"I don't normally do unpacking videos," I speak from behind the camera, "but this is like something out of sci-fi, so let's do it!

"OK, the box is out. Not too big, see. Not exactly what I was expecting, but no matter. Here's the collar, charging brick, cable. Hmm. And a cute little informational pamphlet. Let's forget about that for now.

"Thor, come here buddy! Yeah, who's a good girl? You are! Gosh, you just know when the camera's rolling, don't you? Of course you do! You're gonna be a star soon, gonna need to get you an agent..."

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Commute

[Estimated reading time: 6 minutes]

The red-and-green highly visible headphones are my protective shield as I walk past barely-shuffling heroin user and the teenage runaways. The song changes to "Lady in Black" and there's a spring in my step. I descend the marble stairs - instead of taking the escalator with its "everyone knows you're high" stickers and the luggage-lugging tourists - and sing along under my breath, a 21st century chorus to an immortalized 1971 version of Uriah Heep.

A short walk on this connecting platform, also marble, and a swipe of the fare card sounds a familiar beep, an announcement to the whole station that I've paid my way, nothing to see here folks. I fly down the stairs, the soles of my shoes barely making contact with the steps. After two or three of these, my feet lift off and I'm leaping, descending past a dozen hard hard marble outcroppings. A voice screams inside my skull, a few beats too late.

I'm falling, the ground is coming up awfully fast, there's a gasp from above but I can't look up, can't look away from the nondescript spot on the floor where I anticipate to make my painful landing.

But I don't fall. The ground isn't flying up to smack me in the face. It was, but then rethought, changed its mind, and receded from me instead.

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In a Flash

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

Author's note: this story is a result of following along a lecture by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Pan, the world-famous rocket-jockey and world-class asshole, was going to die like a real captain: stuck on top of the open-air deck of his high-speed hover coast-runner (coaster, in the parlance of our times), holding onto a handrail for dear life, screaming into the merciless tropical storm that was about to make landfall. He couldn't get back inside the cockpit, and the storm was about to cut his trip short.

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Block

[Estimated reading time: 12 minutes]

On a cloudy weekend afternoon Martin drove his pickup a few hours away, to a town farther up the coast, one that is marginally larger than his own village, and found a store that is somewhere between an antique shop and a battered-goods store. They had chairs and a table for a few bucks, pretty vases at a steep discount. He spent forty bucks and loaded up his purchases in the truck, small bits in the passenger seat, larger items in the bed, then headed back. During the drive he glanced at the mostly-ceramic haul next to him and started telling himself stories about each piece.

World's Okayest Dad mug ended up at the store after the father fled, in the middle of the night and with a battered suitcase. The mother was relieved to take his belongings, box after box, to the used-goods shop.

The picture frame with the twin sisters at graduation was left behind during one of the many moves. The landlord's wife took the forgotten junk over last week, having tired of the lost-and-found box that no one ever asked about. The sisters were now running a coffee shop, on the other side of the country, and didn't even realize they were missing this picture. One of dozens they had always around.

Some stories, Martin told himself, needed to be happy ones.

He drove and thought and plotted and cursed his brain. Behind the wheel, twisting through picturesque landscapes, Martin was free to come up with detailed stories, his brain in overdrive as it supplied oodles of tiny bits of trivia that rendered a fictional reality. But as soon as he made it home, had walked into his living room and plopped down in front of his typewriter, his brain seized up in mental constipation.

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Lair

[Estimated reading time: 5 minutes]

[Editor's note: this is a work in progress, there will be part 2.]

Princess Salina walked out onto her balcony and shuddered as the cold night air bit at her ankles, forearms, and face. She was clothed in dark-blue dress, a lamb-skin jacket on top of this. A pair of boots and an eared hat, made from the same material, completed her ensemble. On her back was a black leather satchel.

She walked across the spacious balcony to its edge, where a thigh-high barrier separated her from a drop of several hundred feet down to the river and the falls below. A nearby fire illuminated her face. Tears sparkled in the darkness for a moment, before she wiped them away.

A locket hung around Salina's neck, a silver and gold beetle adorned with a few small rubies. She opened the locket and looked at the half-dozen small rough pebbles inside it. She picked up two pebbles and dropped them into the fire. In moments the small stones began to sputter and emitted a pungent and very purple smoke. Salina watched as the column of it rose in the night's quiet air.

A soft, familiar clatter of keratin-on-rock came as Kim the royal pet sauntered over.

"Hey old girl," the princess welcomed her old friend and ran a hand through the leopard's mane. "Not long now. We're going our separate ways, and where I go, you cannot follow."

"I'll miss you," purred Kim.

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Affliction

[Estimated reading time: 6 minutes]

My work is about a two mile walk from our house, so most non-rainy days I enjoy a brisk walk back home and ponder on the day's events.

Some days, like today, we have happy hour at work and I get a bit tipsy. You know how it is: get a couple of sampler-size portions in you, a beer or two - or three high-alcohol stouts - and suddenly I'm very social and happy and smiling and patting every "buddy" on the back.

I'm walking back through the nearly dark streets when my phone rings. It's Lauren!

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Jump

[Estimated reading time: 7 minutes]

[Editor's note: this is fiction.]

The sky is the color of steel, the cold gray of the coffin. She would have loved it. The sun of the south was too violent, and the Pacific Northwest cloudy weather matched her soul. She would have loved attending her own funeral. A light drizzle came and went right in the middle. The flowers fell on damp earth. None of us brought umbrellas, she would think it's sacrilegious. We cried and mourned. I left early.

I went to the south, down to my pier, got in my boat and set off. It was early afternoon. The sky grew cloudier and darker by the minute, the wind sang louder.

It was cold, the drizzle a persistent beat on every surface of the world, but the sea was calm, and I pushed out into the sound.

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Screams

[Estimated reading time: 7 minutes]

A few months back, I started hearing voices. Not God or Satan, nothing like that. I heard my parents. They're still alive and live a couple of thousand miles away, so I knew it wasn't really them. And they weren't saying anything, not really.

I heard phrases that they'd said often in the past, shit like "...brush your teeth?", "wear sweater", bits and fragments of full sentences. But these were just phrases. They "came in" right where some other sound stopped. A perfect blend from a coin drop to my father's voice asking about summer vacation. Shit that I'd heard countless times in the past was now swimming up, maybe from the subconscious, and pulling up with it an audio memory.

I went to the doctor, he said it's perfectly normal to hear the voices of our loved ones. Especially if I knew, in my heart, that this was a memory and I wasn't actually hearing voices. Yeah, that's what it was.

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Dinos

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

Back home, when I was a kid, dinosaurs roamed the hills behind our house. The Experiment opened up a couple of portals and dinosaurs in Helsinki was one of the strange occurrences.

They spooked easily and typically stayed away from humans like the plague. Some of the theories said that this was a portal to a dinosaur-and-human world. Like, the dinos stayed clear of us because they'd learned a long time ago that humans were bad news. Seemed plausible, I suppose.

Whatever it was, an airhorn was typically enough to scare away a whole herd, so there were two on every shirt and pair of pants I wore. Lots of kids were dressed like that by our moms. The dads shook their collective heads, though quickly stopped when the glares shot in their direction.

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