Many thanks to Judge Opal Palmer Adisa for judging this contest. We received 216 international entries.
First Prize: Here Are Some Legos by Joonho Jo
Second Prize: Grow Your Own by Deborah Carey
Third Prize: The New Frontier by Christine Metsger
Honorable Mention: Red, Black and Noorie by Syed Zeeshan Ahmed
Judge: Opal Palmer Adisa
Theme: The Future
FIRST PRIZE: Here Are Some Legos by Joonho Jo
Judge’s comments: “The future is about building and this story effectively does that—builds, destroys and rebuilds again the human pain and triumph, while poignantly showing that it is possible for each of us to create our own reality as children aptly do.”
Here Are Some Legos
By Joonho Jo
Here are some Legos.
Build the house first. Build the living room with the old box TV that you and your brother JJ watched Spongebob on. Build the flowers in the front yard you watered every day and kneeled next to, waiting for something magical to happen until Mom told you to come in because it was getting dark. Build the kitchen where you heard the clanking of pans as you patiently waited for Mom to cook your favorite dish, Kimchi jigae. Build the bedroom where you slept after Dad felt your forehead for your temperature—just in case you had a fever—and then tucked you in.
Then, build the school. Build Mrs. Wiegartner’s class and all your closest friends: Athena, Alec, Jacob, Madison, Natalia, Norman, Yasmine. Build the water fountain that you drank out of every day after recess. Build the seats in the school auditorium where Mom, Dad, and JJ clapped as you let out a sigh of relief after your first cello performance.
Then tear it all apart.
Break down your living room because you can’t watch Spongebob with your brother anymore. He’s 266 miles away. Break down the flowers because you don’t have a garden anymore. Break down the kitchen because Mom can’t cook there anymore. Break down the bedroom because Dad can’t tuck you in anymore. He’s 7000 miles away.
Break down Mrs. Wiegartner’s class because all your friends are just pictures now. Break down the water fountain because you’re too big for that. Break down the auditorium because Dad is in Korea, JJ is in New Hampshire, and Mom is alone in the kitchen, Skyping JJ.
Then, try building it all again. But bigger. A lot bigger. This time, leave out Dad and JJ. They’re not there anymore.
Build the house first. Build the cramped living room where you watch TV alone. Build the kitchen that’s connected to the living room by one rickety counter. Build the bedroom that you share with Mom, where you hear her rustling in her covers after calling JJ, after she thinks that you’re asleep.
Then build the school. Build Dr. Browning’s class, where you don’t know who your friends are because some days, they laugh with you, other days, at you. Build the water fountain where you escape to when a fistfight breaks out in the hallway. Build the two seats in the auditorium next to Mom that are empty.
With all the Legos you have left, build yourself. Build the fear of having to protect home. Build the worries that one day, one scary day, you might lose Mom too. Build those as chains on your back.
Then try to break those chains and use those Legos to make JJ and put him in front of the TV in the living room. Make Dad and place him in that bedroom. Give Mom some company in the auditorium. The pieces won’t fit like they did before. But still try. Please try.
Here are some more Legos.
SECOND PRIZE: Grow Your Own by Deborah Carey
Judge’s comments: “It is believed that in the beginning there was wine—one of the important miracles—turning water into wine—so it is in keeping that with a new world order, the ability to make wine by cloning a grape vine. I like the incorporation of old into the future.”
Grow Your Own
By Deborah Carey
A voice buzzed over the intercom. ‘Sir, there’s quite a delivery for you. Looks like it has had a hell of a trip.’
Delivery? he thought. ‘On my way, Number One’. Could it actually be true? Were they here? He pressed his palm to the door lock and stepped onto the raised walkway outside, wincing at the blast of dry heat that assailed him.
It was a clear day, with a reddish tinge to the sky. He did enjoy the scenery here. Its colours were chameleon-like. Even during the frequent storms. And he was always pleased to see the moons as he walked the short distance to work.
At his section’s office pod, a young officer was waiting next to a huge, filthy metal drone, labelled with a variety of quarantine stickers. Red dust pooled on the floor around it.
‘Good morning, Commander Jones, sir. Nothing unusual to report,’ she said. ‘Except this delivery.’ First Officer Samantha Waite tried to keep the curiosity from her voice but deliveries were almost unheard of, especially since the change of home government. She could not remember ever, in five years’ service, seeing such a craft arrive intact.
‘Aahh, yes. If the contents are what I hope, we will be in for a treat, Waite. Well, in a decade or so, someone will, anyway. Heaven forbid, we are still here then.’ Jones struggled from his oversuit. Well, if I’m here, it will be in my grave. She might leave.
Then, carefully, they levered the dented lid from the heavy canister. Inside were ten hermetically-sealed clear plastic boxes, linked by a system of thin tubes. Each contained, to his joy and his officer’s puzzlement, a large leaved plant with wiry looking stems.
‘I can’t believe these have survived. Know what they are, by any chance?’ he said, winking at her. He was delighted by her confusion.
‘No sir, never seen anything like them before. I was born here, remember.’
‘Thought as much. They are vines, Waite. Vines that produce a delicious fruit called grapes. And they will, with a bit of luck, bring much happiness in a few years’ time. We will be able to make wine from the grapes, if we can clone enough plants.’
Wine, he thought. His last remembered glass of wine had been over ten years ago. A blissful summer day on Earth. Sitting, on the last day of his leave, with his wife, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Sipping a cool glass of grass scented Sauvignon Blanc. In his mind, he associated that taste with their last kisses.
Angie had died the following year, in the second anthrax attack. He was already away by that time, in a place where wine was prohibited. Where most of life’s joys were prohibited. Or just not physically possible.
Turning to his first officer, he smiled.
‘We are going to plant a vineyard. We are going to make Sauvignon Blanc and history too, if we succeed. I wonder who the first drunk will be?’
THIRD PRIZE: The New Frontier by Christine Metsger
Judge’s comments: “An all too cliche theme these days, divorce, takes us through the drama and dismantling without mopping our emotions on the floor. Effective pacing and showing the emotional landscape, and that the future remains a puzzle except for the navigational command.”
The New Frontier
By Christine Metsger
Monica’s soon-to-be-ex-husband was setting a very bad example by removing, first the hinges, and then the solid core doors from every room in the house. He was stacking the plunder along the wall nearest his truck. A milling assemblage of peripheral acquaintances loitered, watching.
Monica wasn’t clear about who all these people were or why they were there. They’d just shown up like guests at a party, smiling and seemingly up for anything. Perhaps they thought that on this final day before the bank claimed the property, spectators might be invited to loot. Or some domestic conflagration, fanned by failure, could erupt between the evictees. Either way, someone should make a beer run because whatever happens, it’s going to be good.
Trying to make sense of the mob’s agenda was a low priority for Monica. This was the day that had been coming, as bleak and brutal as promised, and without reprieve. A polite young predator she knew slightly asked Monica if he could take the claw foot bathtub. “Wait until I’m gone,” she said. “Then I don’t care what you do.” She did care, but she was weak from a rather lengthy spate of queasiness. Months of feeling chronically gut wrenched had left her too frail to stop a lad with an eye open to opportunity.
A trifecta of misfortune – bankruptcy, foreclosure and divorce – had shanghaied Monica that winter. She ate beans from the can, sitting cross-legged on the kitchen counter, watching the snowfall. “Am I crazy now?” she asked the empty room, cold bean sauce dripping from the tines of her fork onto her sock.
Monica’s soon-to-be-ex-husband certainly thought so. He skirted around her like a mud puddle. Like he wanted to, but couldn’t hit a girl. While he took back his solid pine K-doors, Monica loaded boxes into the U-Haul that would carry her towels and books and doodads three hours away from here. When one door closes, she thought, another is apparently blown off its hinges in a reaction that seems to make order out of chaos, but is mostly just a distraction to stave off despair.
“Strapping tape, strapping tape,” Monica said to no one. “Good old strapping tape. Simply. Terrific.” She invoked this nonsense to drown out her thoughts, which were too unnerving to entertain. Today she was going to drive to a stranger’s house where she would live. She had enough money for a month or so. She had to keep going. There was so much to do. “Hello strapping tape, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” Monica sang softly, closing another box.
It was quiet in the house now. The pirate gang had wandered off with a promise to return later and the U-Haul was gone-driven away by a friend who’d accepted the Maytag in lieu of payment for his help. All that was left for Monica was to set down her key and leave.
She took a final look around and saw the TV, wrapped in a blanket and forgotten behind the stacked doors. Monica found her soon-to-be-ex-husband focused on dismantling the pantry, and, without another option, asked for his help.
“Why don’t you just let me keep it?” His face contorted when he said this, and Monica realized he was grimacing with the effort to speak to her.
“Because it’s mine, that’s why.” She thought, but did not add, you knuckle-dragging miscreant. “I bought it. Remember? We went to Sears.” There was the purity of fire between them now. Nothing but scorched earth and a keener comprehension of the creatures they were.
A bargain was struck and Monica’s-soon-to-be-ex-husband walked away with the DVD player in exchange for holding up the other end, then sliding the flat screen behind the front seat of the Scion. They did not say goodbye.
Bumping down the long gravel drive, away from the house where she and someone she never knew had once been so happy, Monica discovered her hands were numb. They were gripping the steering wheel at ten and two, but she couldn’t feel the padded vinyl under her palms. This just gets better and better, she thought, and, lost in her own misery, she turned right instead of left onto the blacktop road. The GPS system programmed with her new address robotically complained, “Recalculating … Recalculating … ”
Obediently, Monica followed the Implacable voice into the future.
HONORABLE MENTION: Red, Black and Noorie by Syed Zeeshan Ahmed
Judge’s comments: “Pulled in from the first sentence this story, although it revisits allegedly one of the oldest professions—prostitution—we witness a character who is not tainted by the cruel indifference of her trade, but rather manages to keep herself free from its constraints.”
Red, Black and Noorie
By Syed Zeeshan Ahmed
There was a crack in her mirror, right in the middle. It had bothered her earlier, but then she got used to it. The crack became a part of her life, like everything else. She was called Noorie, but there was more darkness in her life than light. A darkness that she had always been told to embrace; that she had been expected to embrace.
Noorie was never expected, however, to think about the next day, or the day after that. She had been instructed to think of the present day, and the man that she had to present herself to next. But then, isn’t thinking about the next man, the customer who shall be using your body, a contemplation of the future too?
The scars she had on her body, ones that only she could feel, reminded her of the people who had used her. She couldn’t protest, because she was told that would jeopardize her present, and in turn the rest of her life. But was there ever any choice, at all?
Inhaling. Exhaling. Is that what life is all about, then? She wondered. She looked in the mirror, and saw herself. Her eyes, which had been called beautiful by almost all of her customers, looked tired. Her hair, greasy, and messed up, but still tied. She looked at her clothes: laal kameez (red shirt) and kali shalwar (black trousers). In that moment, she felt empty. She felt as if the moment someone touched her, thrust himself into her, pulled her hair, or scratched her skin, she lost a part of her soul. Bit by bit, she was losing what she came to this world with. She felt something inside. A scream. A thousand … no … a million screams. What felt like a tiny, fragile flame at first now felt like a gigantic pit filled with infernal fire. She stood up. She removed her kameez, and then she looked at herself. She could feel so many hands on her, grabbing her breasts, pulling, digging into her skin. She then untied her shalwar. Even with clothes on, she had always felt naked.
Noorie, who are you? Something that just happens to be. Someone who is meant to be used, for as long as possible, and when the time comes, buried in the ground, hiding away the things which had happened to you? Noorie, what about dreams? Can you afford dreams? It appears that while the power of dreaming is something that all people have, only a few have the privilege to do so. But, isn’t that unfair? It is, Noorie, it is. Can you imagine the world that is to come? For once, not the man that you will be thrown in front of, but your own life. What’s ahead, Noorie?
She awoke, shivering. The window was open, and she was lying on her bed, her clothes on the floor. She reached out to the clothes, stood up, put them on, and then closed the window. She then sat on the bed again, and started dreaming. The flame that was inside her, the one that she feared, was now consoling her. She felt warmer, and more hopeful. She looked at the crack in her mirror again, and then touched it. With a smile on her face, she lifted an apple from the table, and took a bite.
Is there ever really something called the present moment? Noorie wondered, as she stood in front of a hundred young girls and women. All of them had similar pasts; they were all victims of prostitution.
She was looking at a girl, who must have been 16 or 17. Her eyes. Noorie looked at those, and wondered how she once believed that she had lost her soul, but as she later found out, the soul was always there. Tattered, yes. Bleeding, definitely. But there, fighting hard. The soul which could perhaps be seen through the eyes, which belonged to no one, and had all the dreams and hopes. That’s exactly what she told all the people who stood in front of her.
She had escaped. All that had happened to her will stay with her. But she had found her strength in that, eventually. She had dreamed; imagined the unimaginable. And here she was, having dedicated her life to helping the victims, trying to make a difference. She was Noorie, after all. Lighting paths, and helping them realize what lies ahead.
SHORTLIST (Alphabetical Order)
Even Caesar Will Be Forgotten
By P.L. Bogen
Edward Cohen was the last person alive to know who Julius Caesar was. At the age of one hundred and three, Edward had seen the world change more than most people could ever believe. He was among the last generation born on the ship. Generations before he was born, Earth—worn, hot and small—had to be left behind.
The builders had tried to bring all of man’s knowledge with them. It would have worked if not for The Accident. It wasn’t anything that could have been predicted. An exhausted machinist in some factory in China had wiped his brow and missed a flaw. The piece of shielding was a spare part for the generational ship. It sat in a depressurized storage compartment for two millennia before it was pressed into service. Like everything on the ship, it would eventually fail and have to be replaced. But it was during an ion storm only ten years after its installation, with the passengers locked deep in the ship’s hardened core that it failed. The failure occurred during a regular computer maintenance cycle when the ship’s databanks were most vulnerable. The ions flipped bits, copies were corrupt. No one would ever know what had been lost and some of the information still existed in books and living memory. But planetfall didn’t happen for another two and a third millennia. Books crumble, get damaged, people die and legend is passed on more than truth.
Eventually, only Edward remembered the stories of the General who defeated the Gauls, fell in love with an Egyptian and died at hands of a friend. Edward’s father had kept a decaying copy of “Commentaries on the Gallic War”. The book was filled with notes and embellishments from generations of Cohens. Each attempting to liven up the account so their children would be interested too.
The version he was told cast Caesar as a tragic hero; an ancestor decided that Caesar must have loved the Gallic culture and re-wrote the character as a kind man forced to fight a war by a corrupt senate only to be betrayed. It told of friendly respect between Caesar and Vercingetorix.
It was the seventeenth year on the new world. A fire consumed the Cohen family farmhouse. Edward was never clear if his father was more upset about losing Edward’s mother or the book.
Edward grew tall and strong on the new world. His skin darkened to olive and his beard grew wiry. He faithfully worked the fields with his father. Life was tough but pure. Eventually, Edward married a girl from a nearby town. Helen was the daughter of a baker and looked like what Edward imagined the wives of the Gallic generals did—long, flowing, reddish hair; strong powerful composure; grace in every action but yet not airy, like a lioness.
Edward told the stories as best he could remember to his five children. His first child, Gaius, died in an accident at twelve. Albinus drowned in a flash flood at twenty-three. Julia married but died childless twelve years before Edward died. Mark fell ill in the epidemic of ‘23. Vera went away for The First War and never returned.
Helen died of cancer in ’71 and Julia tried to get Edward to move in with her and her husband, the milliner. But Edward was too proud of his land. As he grew older, it became harder to keep up the fields and he almost relented. But Julia died. So Edward stayed put. And so, on the Ides of March, a one hundred and three years after planetfall, Edward Cohen expired in the farmhouse he built himself on an alien world and Julius Caesar was forgotten.
Estevan de Gasta
By Etkin Camoglu
At my pre-party prom photo, chez moi, posed in faux-alligator-skin shoes, leaned against Mimi’s prized white marble fireplace mantle, he has a sly way with his oh-so-red kissable mouth. Complete to the bone good-for-nada louse. But I’m all smitten, can’t tell me otherwise. He pulls one so easy over me, how does he? I buy all his bull. Top of list being he’s of aristocratic descent, hence that fake French de he dons. But why or why does Mimi take this lie too? Mimi, my ever skeptical mother, scanning dinner bills twice over, haggling unexplained water or bread charges, locking up costume jewelry in hotel room safes in fear of housekeeping. Yes, Mimi too, my astute mother, falls for my one and only. Oh how pretty he is. Locks of dark hair, whipped chocolate. Mimi says, Estevaaaaan, snooty down drift to her voice, extra umph of de, uplift of right eyebrow and left nostril, flourish of fingers and rings. Her way of demonstrating his petty put-ons of silly snobbery, his wannabe social elevation.
Near the end of senior year, end of May, after school, my best girl Mode and I watch Estevan and his boys play le football. All the way down on York Ave., Asphalt Green. We are in our spring baby-blue uniform skirts. White button-down shirts, loafers. Out on the field Estevan does a back-kick thingamabob swerve move, which lands him penalty kick showoff time. I know a bit or two of the rules, the terms—especially Estevan’s favorite, le classic—but don’t tell Mode because she would disapprove, would say, what you letting him mooch off you for, his stupid-sexy-face? Yes. Secret is Estevan comes over weekends Mimi is gone on her retreats and he flips through select-for-service international channels on the flat screen in Baba’s den. Shelves full of old orange Financial Times. Pages filled with Baba’s faded chicken scribble on market predictions, investment predicaments. Estevan watches Euro-Vision. I make him eggs with Mimi’s pre-prepared kiyma she leaves for me to make spaghetti sauce. And toast him some of her special imported simit. Man-Chest-Uh-You-Tie -Me.
Estevan. He is my first. Unfiltered, soft back. A loft in Chelsea after prom. Late, late, past midnight, Estevan lights me. We’re out on the fire escape. The match falls twenty stories where trash bins overflow with pink champagne. The sound of cars woosh the West Side Highway. Inside rock-candy popcorn is strewn on the floor, artificial snow falls through ceiling vents. I watch Mode dance through barefoot. In two days I leave for Istanbul. Estevan cups his hands close to my face and I think he means me in some way. Like I’m his Lucky, or I’m a Strike. I know how this is done. Once, a long time ago when Baba is still with us I watch Mimi from their bedroom door crack. A Benson & Hedges Concord special edition, from the secret crimson rectangle box in Baba’s bureau. Slow, suspended between fingers, she is perched on the bed. Remains butterfly down onto petals of her silk tulip slippers.
Way past prom, a boy in Istanbul makes fun and says, peasant girl, you toke truck driver stokes. Only kind worthwhile here are filtered long Marlboro Lights. I study at the American University and am driven one night by him to his parent’s villa down in Bebek. Right against the Galata Bridge. Gated compound. Security code. Manicured hedges. A maid brings borek and mint iced tea. We watch a soft-porn documentary about an aspiring Singapore prostitute and her world record gang-bang.
At dawn, naked, the boy’s curled upon me. I lay awakened by the call to prayer in his bedroom that overlooks past the gate the back courtyard of a small blue mosque. And so, because I must wait for this boy to let me go, I take one of his too. Long and balanced, the ashes tangled into my hair.
By Colm Keenan
Whiff of charcoal in the backyard, blinking embers under barbecue grill, count of fifteen fold-up chairs and seven tables, drifting in and out of several conversations, the chant that keeps us under lock and key to the formula, about to enter the fray myself when a woman’s stern voice calls me into the house.
“You’ll have to take it back, Fred,” Brogan’s eldest daughter says in the hall.
“Yes, the pup.”
“But he picked it out himself from the litter.”
“So he didn’t tell you then—no surprise there.”
“Tell me what, Mary?”
“That he was diagnosed … last week.”
“ … He’s riddled … riddled with … ”
I see her lips beginning to tremble, how the final word cannot be fought out to realization. I put my arms around her and she goes into a fit of sobs and spasms. It doesn’t make any sense, any of it: a birthday and swansong all rolled into one.
When her hand taps me on the back, I let her go. She takes out a tissue from her pocket and wipes her face. Through the open door of the sitting room sits Brogan, a green paper crown on his head, a golden sash with the words Happy 70th across the torso, the terrier pup on his lap, its head rested on the back of a hand, both asleep in the boisterousness of family and friends and music. On the nearby coffee table is a slice of cake with a single bite mark, and beside that is a sparkly card from one of his grandchildren. Somebody inside the sitting room closes over the door. It grows quiet in the hall. Brogan’s daughter glances at me and then down at the floor. A minute or two pass in awkward silence.
“He’ll not let it go, Mary,” I say. “His eyes lit up when I gave it to him.”
“It’ll be better if you find it a home while it’s cute. No point keeping it here for a few weeks only to be neglected and sent off to be put down in some pound or other … Tim’ll be in there any minute now to take it, while he’s asleep like.”
“I can’t believe he didn’t tell me, about the—ye-know.”
“He’s in denial about the whole thing. We know because we went to the hospital with him and heard what the doc—”
There is suddenly a harsh familiar cough. We turn around. It’s Brogan, the pup held doll-like in the crook of his arm, slippers having muffled steps, the face lined with age and reproach, the voice bitter as it says, “So, Mary, is that the way things are now? Getting that dope of a husband of yours to sneak in like a thief in the night. Is that how things are? Is this what it’s boiled down to?”
“But, Daddy,” she cries, “you’re sick. You won’t be able to look after it.”
“Sick? Who says I’m sick?”
“The doctors, the doctors said—”
Brogan laughs, “Doctors, is it? Doctors bedamned! It’d be a sad life if you were listening to that lot—I can tell you that for nothing. But listen: if there’s any more stunts pulled here tonight you can all clear off, every last one of you. I’m fine as I am, well able to look af—” He goes into a spate of heavy coughing, which makes him double over. Mary goes to put a hand on his shoulder but he nudges her away and says, “Come hell or high water, the pup stays. Isn’t that right, Fred?”
I look from father to pup to daughter but do not answer. I sense his future loss already though his breath is wheezing and his sharp eyes are upon me. I swallow hard. Maybe love is this: a conflict neither won nor drawn nor lost; is this, an argument for embedding the truest intentions.
A Future Story
By Nathan Alling Long
This story takes place in the future, though not far in the future—just an hour or two from now. You will have finished reading this story when this story takes place. You will be up and about, getting on with your day. The story itself, if it left any impression at all, will begin to fade in your mind as a hundred other things distract you—returning to work, getting something to drink, meeting up with a friend, or figuring out what your next meal will be.
But still, you will be different than the you who is reading this story. Unlike the present you, the you of this story will have already read to the end, will already know what happens. Or maybe the you of this story decided not to finish reading and has that smug satisfaction of putting down a story that was picked up with some hope of entertainment, then concluding it was unworthy of your time.
Or it might be that there are several yous, and as you read this, you come to see that the story is really about the choices you make and don’t make, the infinite potential selves created at every moment. If so, the you in the future, the one that wins out over all the other potential yous, is like a victorious gladiator, one who has slain a hundred other ideas and possibilities, pushing you toward one particular point of view. But is that the you you want to be, the most forceful you, the most persuasive? Is that the you you want to be there in the future, a few hours from now?
As you can see, you have some choices to make, serious ones. Perhaps deciding to read this far was not the best choice. You can never unread a story, though you can always choose to read it later, or to never finish reading it. But, since this story is set in the future, it might help you make better decisions—to not read it might let you stumble forward unwisely. Unless knowing how things turn out an hour or so from now makes you overthink what you should do or not do. Oedipus and his damning prophecy comes to mind, all his efforts to avoid his fate leading to his fate.
Which is to say, you may not have a choice really, in reading this story or not. If you’ve stopped, then perhaps you were destined to stop. If you’re still here on this page, then perhaps that was always your fate. But the you of this story, which takes place after this story ends, already knows all that. A couple hours from now, that you is thinking, This is me in the future. I am now the character of that story, and I see how this is exactly how the story goes.
Which is to say, you don’t need to read on—you just need to be patient, and in an hour or two, the rest of the story will come to you. It will come to you with a singular, unique ending, which only you will know, because it is your story, and everything you’ve done and are doing now has made it turn out the way it has.
By Erin O’Loughlin
I wish when I’d voted in the “Bang, not whimper” referendum that I’d thought a bit more about what to do with my last week on Earth. Instead it has been business as usual. “Ah well,” people say in the streets to each other. “We’ve had it coming for decades. Millennia even. No use complaining.” Then they go on their way.
On the last day, I decide to walk downtown. Several gods wander past aimlessly, looking for last minute things to do. I suppose they are all unemployed now. A young woman comes up and asks for money. She wants to try a magnum of champagne, before there is no more champagne, no more magnums, and no more her. I am about to give her a euro, when I remember what day it is, and give her everything in my wallet. She takes my money, but she leaves me my Ikea family card and my Visa, just in case.
I look up to see the stars start exploding in the sky. I thought the referendum was just about the end of the Earth, but now I wonder if I read all the fine print. Perhaps it was the end of the entire universe, although I’m not sure if our leaders have that kind of political heft. It’s a satisfying idea though: when our wondrous, broken planet is gone, the whole universe will be gone too, like pressing reset on the entire big bang.
A young man walks up to me, and politely asks if I’d like to have sex. There is a surprising lack of last-minute orgy happening downtown.
“Um, no thank you,” I say as nicely as I can. “I’m looking for someone I was hoping to see again, before the world ends.”
“Fair enough,” he says, then asks the next person. It is the young woman from before, and now she has a large bottle of champagne, and the two of them retire to a bench to drink and spoon.
Richie should be around here somewhere; our old emergency meeting place, if our phones were flat, or we forgot our keys to the apartment. I hope he thinks of the end of the world as an emergency.
Richie and I haven’t spoken in months. I wanted so much for us to get back together, but it seems we left it too late. We thought we had all the time in the world. Which we did, I suppose.
There are a lot of people crowding the fountain, drawn to each other, as if there is some comfort in being here together. We all knew this moment was inevitable—we sucked and suckled upon our planet until we ran it dry. It’s better this way, they tell us.
I turn around to see Richie standing there, an unsightly hipsterish growth coming out of his face. He sees me looking and blushes. “I figured it was my last chance to see what I looked like with a beard,” he says. I’m glad to see he spent his last month thinking ahead.
I tell him, “I was worried you might not be here.”
“It’s the end,” he says simply. “I always knew I’d be with you, in the end.”
I let out the breath I have been holding, wondering if there is still time for that park bench orgy.
“Look!” someone cries. We look up to find Columbus was wrong: the world isn’t round at all, it’s flat, and the edge is coming nearer. We watch as the horizon floods towards us like a tide.
Someone in the crowd yells, “They’ve pressed the red button!” A ragged cheer goes up and a spontaneous countdown starts to echo through the plaza as if it were New Year’s.
“Ten! Nine! Eight!” I feel Richie’s hand grip mine tightly. “Seven! Six! Five! Four!” He pulls me into an embrace, and holds me very near. The warmth of him is in my nostrils, his bearish beard tickles my cheek. He kisses me very softly, smelling like laundry detergent and the cinnamon breakfast cereal he likes. “Three!” We hold each other tightly, as if we might fuse together in the heat and the confusion. “Two!” I am not counting anymore, just lost in his shirt and his scent, and the feeling of being safer in his arms than I have ever been before. “One!”
In spite of it all, I do whimper.
My Next Story
By Edward Palumbo
3165 feet, hardly Everest, but a challenge to climb, no less. He waited at the top, or so I was promised—or she. I imagined the sage in a white robe and why not? It is suitable sage attire. The sage knew all, told all, and his rates were very reasonable.
I could not figure why he would choose to live atop a New Hampshire mountain, but then I figured the rent must be really quite manageable. A biting cold wind followed me and the mist made the rocks slippery underfoot. No matter. The vistas were beautiful; but no time for evergreens. Evergreens are always available to observe, that’s why they call them evergreens. The summit beckoned. I found the sage on a rock ledge, in jeans, two hundred dollar hikers, and a blue sweatshirt. He needed a shave, desperately. The sage was nibbling on something or other: trail mix or cold cereal, who could say?
“Tell me all the answers of life,” I begged, once he had acknowledged me.
He smiled and obliged:
I am here to warn you of destruction and those who may inflict it upon you. Your relatives may belittle you and rob you and cast you off, even as you may do the same to them. Your friends may taunt you and tease you and slaughter that which is your essence. Your educators will abuse you, scoff at your best, and call you a cheat, even at your most honest. Your employers will use you, bleed your honor, and abandon you for the next to do the same. The government will possess you, haunt you, follow you, even as you work until you are a walking ghost, and bitter. Your loves will betray you for another and then return to you as if nothing happened, as if the filth that clings to her is invisible. Your god will evade you, confuse you and give you signs that are, at once, prescient and meaningless. And you may betray yourself, doubt your truth and your goals, but do not rage. Instead, rage at the dripping, rage at those feelings on your skin, rage at the burn that lives in your brain. Write your next story and know victory and then again and then again, for you are stronger than anyone or anything that may stop you and this you must learn, or your story will be written for you.
I gazed down at my two hundred dollar hikers. I could have gotten a decent pair for seventy-five. I made a mental note to be more frugal. I looked up and the sage was nowhere to be found. Flighty people are the sages and I have learned that the hard way.
A bald eagle pierced the dusk, on his way home and why not me? I made the descent, reserving no time to enjoy the majesty of the pines. But, I did resolve to rethink such omissions in the future. The sun was gone when I reached my starting point, but a glorious moon owned the sky and brought me home.
On a Future Date
By Essica Rahman
“What do you consider the ideal date?” I ask my friend Wren one day.
“The ideal date? Well, I suppose it would take place in the bedroom, on the hologram, with no interruptions. He’d be dressed in nice clothes, and I’d have on my favourite dress, and then we’d…talk, I guess,” she replies.
“Oh,” I say, slightly disappointed. “It sounds wonderful.”
“What about you?”
“Me? My ideal date…well, it’s stupid,” I say. “Just something I’ve read about in old books.”
“Oh, c’mon, Addison,” she insists. “It can’t be that bad.”
I sigh. “Fine. My ideal date … it involves meeting up with a guy, okay? In person. We’d go out to dinner, and we’d take a nice long walk somewhere, maybe the beach.” I can picture it as I say it, and I feel myself smiling. “We’d hold hands. We’d talk hours upon hours with each other. He’d walk me to the front door, and maybe we’d kiss.” I’m so caught up in my fantasy that it takes a while to notice the strange look Wren’s giving me. I blush. “I told you it’s stupid.”
“Not stupid, just … old-fashioned,” she says. “What’s the point of meeting up with someone you could easily see with the hologram? It takes a lot less effort.”
I doubt she’d understand, but I try to explain it to her anyways. “I just want to feel the way the characters in my books feel,” I say. “The jitters, the butterflies, the excitement…I want to feel it all, and I’ve never felt it with the hologram dates.”
“Addi,” Wren says gently. “Your books … they’re make-believe.”
“But that’s how dates used to be!” I insist.
“But they aren’t anymore,” Wren says, “so you should stop filling your head with it all. Here.” She throws me her tablet. “Read some e-books. They have some wonderful stories about hologram dates. You’ll see that they can be just as exciting as your in-person ones.”
I don’t bother reading the e-books. I never liked them. Instead, I reread my old romance books, filled with romance that had become all but extinct long ago.
Years pass, and I meet more guys. They all want a hologram date—some even suggest having dates over text message—so I never talk to any of them for long. Then, one day, I spot him.
I’m walking through the park, texting an old friend, when I notice a man kneeling by the pond, throwing pieces of bread into the water. Curiosity gets the better of me, and I walk over to him.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
He looks up and smiles. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m feeding the ducks.”
“I don’t know,” he replies. “It’s fun.”
“That’s a strange thing to find fun.”
He shrugs. “Well, I think the things most people consider to be fun are strange. Perhaps I’m the normal one.”
I consider this for a moment. Then, I sit down next to him and introduce myself.
We feed the ducks in silence for what could have been hours. Before we part ways, he asks me out on a date.
The day of the date, I sit patiently near my hologram, waiting for it to flash green. The date was at 7:00. It’s 7:15. I wait a little longer, and I’ve almost convinced myself he’s stood me up when the doorbell rings. I look at the security camera screen and see him standing on my doorstep, dressed impeccably with a bouquet of roses in his arms.
“Sorry I’m late,” he says when I open the door. “I was having car troubles. Here, I got these for you.”
He hands me the roses and I stare at them in awe. No one has ever given me flowers before. “I thought you wanted to meet over the hologram,” I say.
He looks at me sheepishly. “Yes, well … I don’t like hologram dates.”
“Really?” I smile. “Me neither!”
“Wonderful,” he says and holds out his hand. “Shall we? I’ve booked a reservation at a restaurant downtown, and then I was hoping you’d accompany me to the beach. Does that sound okay?”
“It sounds better than okay,” I reply, and I let him take my hand.
I watch out the window of his car as my home becomes smaller and smaller, and I feel nervous and excited all at once, much like the characters in my old romance novels. And I realize that, although I’ve been on many dates before, this one is the first real one.
TO DO LIST
By Mary Steer
Wake up. Get up. Turn on fish tank light. Take dog into backyard. Wait while dog does business. Pick up after dog. Ponder how life is less like a box of chocolates and more like a used grocery bag full of dog shit. Drag dog back in. Feed fish, but not with diced-up pieces of husband—yet. Feed dog, ditto. Make coffee. Wake kids. Shower. Brush hair. Wake kids again.
Get dressed in eye-catching outfit. Fail to catch husband’s eye. Nag kids. Get kids up. Get newspaper. Momentarily get lost in headlines. Rule out Europe and Middle East as potential places to escape to. Nag kids. Get kids dressed. Get breakfast. Fight with husband. Referee kids fighting. Pack lunches, leaving out the strychnine again.
Get kids to school. Pick up mail. Shred postcard from husband’s sister (“Having a blast in Bali!”).
Tidy kitchen. Run dishwasher. Make beds. Second coffee. Skim newspaper. Contemplate travel section. Pay special attention to colour feature on Jamaica. Empty dishwasher. Phone mother. Listen. Daydream about glistening Rastafarian black men in bikini briefs and wraparound shades bearing ganja.
Call father-in-law. Check email. Search YouTube for Harry Belafonte music videos. Find Banana Boat Song. Watch. Notice time. Nag self.
Vacuum. Dust. Make lunch. Eat lunch. Prep dinner. Tidy kitchen again. Find electronic boyfriend. Enjoy. Put electronic boyfriend back in hiding place. Consider possibilities inherent in finding real flesh-and-blood boyfriend.
Walk dog. Get kids from school. Feed kids snack. Prevent kids from using food as ammunition. Schlep daughter to ballet. Schlep son to karate. Schlep both home. Get dinner on. Apologize to husband for morning altercation. Wait for return apology. Keep waiting. Revisit daydream of Rasta man.
Dinner. Referee kids fighting. Fantasize about emptying serving dishes over heads of family. Clear table as normal instead. Nag kids. Homework. Feed fish. Wonder briefly if perhaps neon tetras come from Caribbean Sea. Feed dog. Turn off fish tank light. Nag kids. Get kids’ teeth brushed. Nag kids. Get kids’ teeth flossed. Nag kids. Get kids into pyjamas. Read bedtime stories, refraining once again from choosing Fifty Shades of Grey or The Shining. Turn out lights.
Go downstairs. Tidy kitchen one last time. Run dishwasher again. Make tea. Take cup to husband as further peace offering. Join husband in front of television. Sip and slurp with him in one moment of perfect togetherness made possible only by lack of conversation. Get kids back into bed.
Rejoin husband in front of television. Wake husband. Try to open discussion about relationship. Get damn kids back in bed again. Rejoin husband. Watch husband slumber, slack-jawed and drooling, snoring, eyes twitching and rolling. Decide not to attempt to wake husband again.
Let dog out. Let dog back in. Brush teeth. Floss teeth. Curl up in bed. Look up couples counselling on cell phone. Change mind. Look up travel agents on cell phone. Add “book ticket” and “find passport” and “pack” to to-do list for tomorrow. Put light out. Try to fall asleep. Dream of the future.
LONGLIST (Alphabetical Order)
Raymond Abbott, Carol Next Door
Busiswa Banda, The Future
Fern Bryant, Transformations
Eleanor Bullock, Trading on the Future
Louise Burch, The Future is the Past
Megan E. Cassidy, The Palace
Barry Charman, Upgrades
Naomi Chiari, A Perfect Life
Peter Collins, Past Imperfect
Richard John Davis, Side Road
Maureen DeLeo, An Awful Thing to Know
Adam Dixon, The Second Coming of Olympus
Julie Durdin, Treading Water
E.W. Farnsworth, The Wakening
Nicola A. Ferguson, Scheele’s Green
Mary (Mariev) Finnegan, I Married Alien
James Freeze, Death Imminent
Jon Georgiou, Proxy
Megan Gill, The Future
Sean Gillhoolley, Another Day, Another Thousand Dollars
Paul Gray, Babu Breaks the Chain
Michelle Greer, The Future
Matthew Harrison, The Rapture
Martin Heavisides, Mod Cons
Robert Herron, Do You Know
Chris Heyward, A Big House in the Country
Alyson Hilbourne, An Accidental Future
Patrick Holloway, Fireflies
Caroline Hurley, Future Crimes
Teddy Kimathi, A World With No Men
D.J. Kozlowski, Hiding in the Future
Anerobi Chimezie Lotachi, Through the Dark Orb
Doug Lowe, Five Scenes
Perry McDaid, The First and Last Gremlins
Fiona J. Mackintosh, The Shape of Things to Come
Caitlyn Mai, Super Lotto
Gwenda Major, Ticking
Mark Makarainen, The Dream
Antje Martens-Oberwelland, The Future is Bright
Tyrean Martinson, Hope in the Future
Doug Mathewson, Passing Through
Mirabelle Morah, What If Tomorrow Never Comes
Alan Morris, Future Imperfect
William Morris, Stupid Stuff
Soumya Mukherjee, The Butterflies of the Future
David O’Donoghue, Waster
Anne O’Leary, Inflow
Judith Noguerola Oliveras, The Survivor
Lara Pappers, A Quiet Life
Erika Price, My Mother, in 2075
Mariam Abdul Rauf, Énouement
Erica Ray, Overcome
Lisa Riddoch, My Legacy
Karen Seaton, The Future
Clive Semmens, Jemima’s Chimeras
Lyana Shah, Diphylleia
Murzban F. Shroff, The Single Woman’s Guide to Survival
Daallo Sianpoey, A New Nigeria
Abigail Staniforth, Doppelganger
Laurence Sullivan, Clouding the Future
Ella Veres, Peeking
Chi Wen, What the Future Holds
Angela Williams, Regarding Black Shoes
David J. Wing, Dial
Ramez Yoakeim, Chicken or Beef?