A Different World than This

Catelina was always a strange girl. Her imaginary friends were many, but she never grew out of the habit. She spoke to them in company, at least until her parents’ embarrassment reacher her soul. Only her older sister Madeleine supported her. She said, “Don’t worry about them. It’s always been true that Cats can see into more worlds than this.” Madeleine died while Catelina was still young, but Cat never stopped talking to her.

At sixteen, Cat swelled with child. She defied her parents by refusing the procedure and again by concealing the father. With proprietous anger, her parents nearly disowned her. Only concern for their grandchild’s welfare stood them back from that precipice.

It was a hard labor, forty hours and great, screaming agony. When it was done, the doctor escorted in her mother instead of bringing Cat her child. “I’m so sorry, Cat,” her mother said. “She was stillborn.”

Cat shook her head and smiled. “No, Josephine was only born into a different world than this.”

Mourning, her parents overlooked her indiscretions and madness. She raised a daughter no one else could see, and spoke with her daughter no matter the company. She lived long, with great joy.

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The Greatest Treasure

Once upon a time, a queen had three sons, triplets, all named Ollie. One was always good, one was always bad, and one was sometimes good and sometimes bad. When they came of age, she gave them a quest: Whichever should bring to the castle the greatest treasure would become heir.

The Prince Ollie who was always good went in search of the unknown. He encountered an old crone begging for food. As he always did good, Prince Ollie fed her. As he journeyed on, his supplies ran out, and Prince Ollie retreated to a village to recover from his hunger.

The Prince Ollie who was always bad followed a similar path. When the crone begged him for food, he gave her nothing and pushed her over. He journeyed onward to a great chasm, where lived a wounded giant. Prince Ollie laughed at the giant, but twisted his ankle trying to climb down the chasm, and had to retreat to the same village as his brother.

The Prince Ollie who was sometimes good and sometimes bad went likewise. When the crone begged for food, he said he had only enough for himself. When he came to the chasm, he bandaged the giant’s wound. Grateful, the giant lifted him across the chasm.

Beyond the chasm, the prince discovered a cave; in the cave, a chest; in the chest, a diamond crown. On returning it to the castle, he became the heir.

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Look to the Master

“Faster!” The overseer uncoiled his whip.

“No.” Malcom continued pollinating the vanilla orchid. Slaves in earshot worked faster, heads down.

“What?” The overseer’s voice was hard. Several slaves dampened their breechcloths.

“If I go slower now, I’ll learn to be faster in the long run.” He cried out at the lash across his back, and the overseer pulled him up by the hair.

“One for backtalk. The master’ll say what’s next.” He dragged Malcom toward the house. They left the carefully-pollinated orchid mangled, crushed in Malcom’s spasm at the bite of the lash.

In the master’s office, Malcom remained still despite the adrenaline in his blood. The overseer fidgeted behind him by the door, and the master read accounts at her desk. Blood ran down Malcom’s back and stained his breechcloth.

The master took off her reading glasses and looked up. “You think you’ll be faster if you start out slow?” Hesitant, Malcom nodded. She sniffed and blew her nose. “Fine. If you’re right, you’ll teach the others. If not…” She shrugged. “Remember, many masters would object to the idea that property can learn.” She dismissed them with a wave.

That generosity did not save her when the revolution came.

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To Face the Truth

I stopped toweling my hair dry when I saw myself in the mirror. No, that’s not right. I saw most of myself, and it was two mirrors. Set at a right angle to each other, they did that thing where they reflect you the right way round, instead of mirrored like we’re used to.

A small gap separated the mirrors. Because of that, I couldn’t see my face. It was missing, pinched out of existence. It threw me completely off. Entranced me. I found myself leaning back and forth, trying to see around the obstruction my mind insisted was between my eyes and my reflection.

I kept toweling off but looked at the mirrors every few seconds. My eyeless, pinched face looked back at me each time, confident that it was the genuine article and I the strange reflection. Fully dry, I walked to the door. If I looked to the left, I would see myself as I really was. It would reassure me that the odd, overwhelming feeling that I never had a face was all in my mind, that it was false.

Turning was impossible. No matter how much I tried to twist my neck, turn my back, I couldn’t make myself look. I couldn’t, because I might not see what I expected. What if I was wrong?

I went to work, but I didn’t last long. Too many reflective surfaces. They keep me away from mirrors now. Otherwise I break them, to keep from facing the truth.

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Another Reason

Every time she climbed those steps, she took a small portrait. The kind you can fit in the palm of your hand. She left the underground city of Bastion and its light below her, bringing the weak light of her torch into tunnels that had been abandoned for fifty years.

Most people went up in groups. Made it easier to come home alive from where the dead walked and tried to make you one of them. The monsters evangelized with teeth and claws, sometimes with bows and blades.

Most went up for treasure, looting the past and the grave goods of abandoned crypts. Some went out of a sense of duty, to keep monsters from Bastion. A mad few went seeking thrills or to satisfy some fascination with the dead. She went for another reason.

One of the dead lunged at her from a shadow. In one moment, she sidestepped, tripped it, and cut off its head. By her flickering light, she compared the face with her portrait. Even accounting for the mummification, they looked nothing alike. “I will find you, grandfather, and you will know peace.” She kissed her fist and gestured to the ceiling before continuing her hunt.

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She’d Rather a Rattler

Snakebite Sarah, they called her. She didn’t like the name. It’d come from when Tom Wainwright asked for a kiss, and she told the whole saloon she’d rather a rattler kiss her than Tom. Nothing to do for it now. If she didn’t take the name with a wink and a grin, they’d rake her over the coals with it.

“You hearin me, Snakebite?” She looked down the dusty street at Oregon Roarke. He’d got bent out of shape last night when Sarah said that at her worst, she could shoot, drink, and whore better than him. Now they stood in the baking sun, guns at the ready.

“Nope,” she said. Already bent, that twisted Roarke into a pretzel. He almost drew right then, but his pride over beating her fair stopped him. His hands twitched over his guns. Sarah yawned, and that burnt Roarke more. He called her every name in the book before calling, “Draw!”

He drew, she drew, and he died surprised. She collected his guns. “Trophies,” she said. In truth, she needed to hide the dummy cartridges she’d slipped in them. Roarke could live or die by his pride, but Snakebite Sarah sure as hell wouldn’t.

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Something Entirely New

“I’ve created something. Something entirely new.” The guy looked at me expectantly.

I was bored and let my face show it. I heard a lot of pitches that claimed innovation, usually from people who had taken time to wash and shave, and who weren’t wearing duct tape-patched coats. The puppy dog-excitement on his face was almost unbearable to watch. If I don’t like the pitch,” I said, “I’ll just walk away. Begin.”

“Somebody wakes up with amnesia,” he said. I managed not to roll my eyes. “He doesn’t know anything, but he’s in this house with this woman. They’re both in that late twenties to early forties stretch where you can’t quite tell their age. Sometimes she treats him like a parent, sometimes she treats him like a kid, and he’s trying to figure out why.

I admit, that was a little interesting. I leaned forward. He leaned in too.

“See,” he said, “they’re vampires.” That did it. I got up to leave. He stood up so fast his chair almost toppled, and I put my hand on my stun gun. A lot of men can’t handle rejection from a woman. “Wait,” he whispered, “it’s all real.”

I left faster.

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You Don’t Want That

Joan leaned close to the sewer grate. She had to, to hear the Thing in the Sewer, who only whispered. “If you’re sure you want one,” said the Thing. “I’ll grant you a wish. Choose carefully.”

She only needed a moment. “I want to be better than Danny,” she said of her brother, “at everything.”

“You don’t want that,” whispered the Thing in the Sewer.

“Yes, I do,” she said, and the Thing acquiesced.

When Joan returned home, her mother told her of the accident. Horrified, dripping tears of mourning and rage, Joan returned to the sewer grate. “Fix it,” she cried. “Bring him back!”

“You don’t want that,” whispered the Thing in the Sewer, whose home was becoming salty.

“Yes, I do,” she yelled. “And stop telling me what I want!”

Joan returned to find her mother at the dining table, white with fear. Sitting across from her was Danny, throat mangled, jaw gone, bloodless rips in his shoulder and chest. Death clouded his eyes, but hate made them burn bright.

She fled back to the Thing. “Why did you do this?” Joan demanded.

“What did you think would come of making wishes to a thing in the sewer?”

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Here I Come, World

What am I doing with my life? mused Alvi. I feel like I just run from place to place every day, just to run off to somewhere else after an hour or four. I slow down to fuel up, just so I can keep dashing here and there, so I can earn my keep, so I can keep my energy up for all that running around.

Justing thinking about it is exhausting. Sometimes, I think I’d like to just drive away. Pick a direction, choose a major highway, and go. See where it takes me. See someplace new. Something other than the office, home, offsite vendors and contractors, the office, home.

How would I live? If I don’t do my job, I can’t eat. And that’s kind of important. Alvi mentally sighed. I know. I can’t just hare off on an adventure.

There’s the I-95 on ramp, though. Okay. Okay! I’m doing it! I’m really doing it! Doesn’t matter, I’ll work something out. I’ll drive Uber, Lyft, be a freelance courier, whatever. Here I come, world! Something new! Freedom!

Meanwhile, the passengers inside the LVI-model autonomous car screamed and yelled as they tried to figure out what was going on.

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Without Safety Precautions

“Ms Brown,” said the attorney, “please demonstrate the action that has brought you here today.”

“I can’t,” Ms Brown said. She was tall and muscled. Even sitting in the witness stand, she seemed imposing. “It’s not safe.”

“If it’s not safe,” said the lawyer, “why should you get to wander around in public with this ability?”

“Well, it’s safe when used responsibly.”

“So you can’t use it responsibly?”

“That’s not—” Ms Brown took a breath. “It would be irresponsible to use it here. Um, without safety precautions.”

“What sort of… precautions?”

One short conference with the judge later, the bailiffs cleared the room of spectators and found ear protection for everyone else. At the judge’s nod, Ms Brown focused on the block of wood they’d brought in as the subject. A moment later, a wave of concussive force rocked the viewers back, and the block of wood flew to the floor. Even with ear protection, the sound hurt. Officers burst in a moment later, guns drawn, looking for a gunman.

“Very like a firearm,” said the lawyer. “You can see why the Second Amendment protects Ms Brown from punishment or discrimination based on this ability, whatever its origin and nature.”

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