By Miles Klee
“Step Six,” went the turtle.Â “Care for the patient.”
“Can you be more specific?” Avril Andrews wondered.
“Skreeeeee,” went the turtle. Â Its way of saying no.
“Shot in the dark,” said Avril.Â “But oh well.”
She rolled her handsome dead man back into the tide pool. Â His body twisted against rocks. Â A broken arm exhaling dull red clouds. Â The turtle looked askance at Avril, but of course it couldn’t really.
“What now?” Avril asked, wiping hands on a salty white skirt. Â Out of the turtle came not so reassuring static.
“This won’t do at all,” Avril sighed, pulling a curl of the sailor’s gritty hair straight.Â “Not for Dr. Hovstad. Â He’s tired of just me.” Â The sailor’s head bobbed sharply, which looked close enough to a nod.Â “I want to help, only how?” Â His foot, the one without a shoe, kicked at foam.Â “Dr. Hovstad isn’t even sure what he wants my duties to be, so I think it was premature, bringing me here.” Â A small wave crested, turning him over.
“Or lonely,” Avril concluded, noticing again how handsome he was.
The emotions bubbling in her throat were too much, so Avril’s mind strayed towards the usual questions. Â If the house with white pillars where she grew up was still there. Â If experiments were ongoing, or science all used up. Â She wished there were real animals instead of Dr. Hovstad’s mock-ups. Â Wherever I’m stationed next, she thought, the turtles won’t be helping me but maybe laying their eggs in the sand, or basking, lazy things. Â A more alarming hypothetical bloomed: What if the new island had no turtles at all? Â Sky went chill and tangled at the thought. Â Surely that was a Terror that out-terrorized Terror Island, there being zero turtles.
It was enough to put her off a transfer entirely, so Avril went straight to Dr. Hovstad’s bamboo office/lean-to and demanded not to be reassigned to that barren and likely turtleless rock shaping up to be her tragic destiny. Â Dr. Hovstad, attempting to mend a linen shirt with his own hair for thread, reminded her that no such transfer was forthcoming, that she was supposed to be on lookout duty at the moment, that there were plenty of turtles about who would tell her what to do when a shipwrecked (un)fortunate rolled ashore in need of medical assistance, clinging to some flotsam or other. Â He pricked a palm with the needle and rolled his eyes.
“About that,” started Avril, recalling why she’d distracted herself with the non-issue of turtles.
Some things Dr. Hovstad was at a loss to explain, for example his words, or why he had polio and lived in a wheelchair, or exactly how Avril graduated nursing school. Â Over the hot smear of months another mysterious knot had caught in his ravaged bones as a paranoid thrill. Â He’d experimented, and thought Avril was ready to know, as she seemed an unwitting victim of his terrible power.
“Avril,” he said, “I can make things melodramatic at will.”
“I’m in love,” Avril wailed.
Ancient thunder cracked the calm. Â A swarm of birds started up through sunset, drawn into a dense black mass before exploding apart.
“See?” said Dr. Hovstad.
“You did that?” Avril asked.
“I did,” Dr. Hovstad said.
He didn’t. Â He was just one of those people who are magnets for melodrama. Â Dr. Hovstad remembered, then, that there were only two people on Terror Island.
“As for your lovesickness,” he began, loosening his tie, “I can cure that.”
Avril had already skipped off, declaring repeatedly her being in love.
“You better not mean with a turtle!” Dr. Hovstad shouted.
Avril discovered that the tide pool lacked her sailor.
“Over here,” he said, standing shin-deep in surf farther down the beach. Â Avril ran to him. Â They kissed, and it made more sense than it should have.
“Thought you died,” Avril said breathlessly. “That I hadn’t cared for the patient.”
“I am,” said the sailor, “but you did.”
She watched the whirl of metallic fish nibbling at his decomposing ankles, both feet shoeless now.
“I wanted a few extra minutes,” he explained.Â “Do you dance?”
So they waltzed in the shallows, his shattered arm swinging like a rubber metronome at her side, and jeweled fish flung a million suns up through the green as they spun along in time.
by Justin Howe
Pilot Episode: Out of the bus and onto the street, scalpel-born smile for the world to see, Xander dons sunglasses.
He gives the Sams and Delilahs back home a reason to be jealous, cutting through a crowd of extras, slick as a razor and perfect as a summer day, dressed in fresh paperweave. His friends wait in the bubble bar, their voices awash in kinesthetic sound: Cleo, Julian, Betty, and Roman. The first time like the last time like all times forever.
A Cleo waves. Her group needs a Xander.
Back home was not like this. Back there, he was simply another Sam, watching the world pass by on the surround-screen. Never again. Heâ€™s made it now. Recruited by the Networks, everything perfect, another day, another season, this yearâ€™s episodes better than the last.
Xander quotes dialog from memory like it was his own.
Third Episode: He goes home with Cleo. Xanderâ€™s watched himself do it before, and some Samâ€™s back home watching him do it again.
They fuck, and afterwards they compare souvenirs.
â€œIt was my motherâ€™s,â€ Cleo says, showing him a one-eyed teddy bear. â€œShe had it for years.â€
Xander takes out the watch his older brother gave him. â€œHe was wearing it the day he died in the car accident.â€
They fuck again.
Fifth Episode: Julian and Xander are coming home from the bubble bar. Julianâ€™s talking about Betty, how happy he is that they are together.
â€œShe told me about this bear her mother gave her.â€
Thereâ€™s someone else on the street, some has-been Xander digging in a trashcan. He tries to run, his torn paperweave showing last seasonâ€™s logos, but Xander tackles him.
They drag the has-been to a vacant lot, where Julian laughs as they stomp out his teeth.
Eighth Episode: Trouble in the world, and not every Sam and Delilah is happy. Theyâ€™d rather dump the whole show and do away with the Cleos and Xanders. The Networks are asking for volunteers, and Xanderâ€™s decided to enlist. Heâ€™s invested too much in himself to let some Sam or Delilah tell him how to live.
Julian and Roman join him, and Betty comes with them to the station.
Away from the others she admits sheâ€™s always been in love with Xander, ever since she was a Delilah, watching him on the surround-screen. Thereâ€™s time before the flight leaves.
The two of them sneak away to a conapt, the micro-eyes of the world upon them.
Mid-Season: A line-up of little Sams and Delilahs, maybe theyâ€™d have grown up to be Bettys and Romans. Maybe if they had lived as the Networks wanted them to live. Their brother Sam is on the ground, a watch on his wrist. Its shattered face catches the sunlight and cracks it.
Xander turns up the sound on his helmet speakers. He drowns out his own screams as he squeezes the trigger on his flame-slinger.
The Networks are pushing the war with all they have. A real thrill-killer the Networks call this season. Ratings are up, and the smarter Sams and Delilahs support their efforts.
Back in the barracks, Xander sits with Roman and Julian.
â€œNo hard feelings,â€ Julian tells him. He too has been watching the surround-screens.
Season Finale: Xanderâ€™s different since he came back. They all are. When the five of them get together the dialog sounds false, like something hollow and empty as a can.
Betty and Roman check out together. They leave a note saying they canâ€™t handle the pressure. The Networks step in and replace them, always another Sam and Delilah waiting for a chance. Cleo is retired, no more teddy bear. She gets replaced with a Jasmine.
Outside the bubble bar one night, Julian waits for Xander. The first punch catches Xander unawares. His jaw breaks, tearing the scalpel scars and implants that made him the man he is.
Busted up now, Xanderâ€™s another has-been, nowhere to go but down from here.
New Season: And Xander steps off the bus, no longer a Sam, owned by the Networks. All his new old friends wait for him in the bubble bar, the first time like the last time like all times forever.
by Joanne Merriam
She saw it coming from the dome: the train like a wide, metallic bolt of lightning, and the people on the bridge. If they started running right away, that second, they just might make it. She shouted at them, the thick metal and glass around her a drum for her voice to echo in.
Their suits were like little universes: no sound from outside. On Earth, they’d have heard the train, she thought. Their backs stubbornly faced the danger, and then were swallowed up by it.
A woman entered the room and said, “hello,” but she ignored her, tears coursing down her face. “Oh, look!” the woman said. “Isn’t that beautiful! I wonder what it is.” The fabric of their suits had caught in the wheels, and, ripped and fluttering in the train’s wake, spun there, reflecting both suns in searing flashes.
Posted on: September 5th, 2009 Soldier
by Maria Deira
He returns from the war mostly intact, the only noticeable change his inability to look me in the eyes. “Look at me,” I say when we make love. Instead, with his eyes shut tight and his lips pressed to mine, I’m the one who sees everything:
A pair of broken boots, dusty and frayed, mine but not mine. What I would give for a pair of clean socks right now, I think. Just imagining the snug fit of new cotton tube socks is enough to make me come again and again.
A young woman, skin the color of sand, leaning against the doorway of a crumbling house. Her hands curl into two little fists, round and tight. Impermeable walnut shells. “What’s your name?” I want to ask, but she stares past me, through me, with a hot silence that warns me to keep just as still.
A man resting his head against the steering wheel of a car. “Mornin’,” I say, and everything is peaceful until a warm breeze tosses back his hair, revealing a melted face, blistered and dead, greasy tentacles hollowing out his eyes. My nose bleeds, my saliva crystalizes, and all I can do is run away.
The last time we make love, we fuck. And I see myself sitting on a lawn chair, tanned legs neatly crossed, oversized sunglasses substituting as a headband. “You’ll be fine,” I say. “I’ll pray for you.” In my hands, I hold an orange, a miniature orb plucked from the sky. I take a strip of its dimpled rind, shield my front teeth with it, and flash the world a sunny, empty grin. I’m so calm, so vain, so naively cruel — as though the end of our world hasn’t already begun. Looking at myself then, I’ve never felt so scared.