Archive for: September, 2014

THE TRUTH ABOUT RED RUSSIAN KALE by Mandy Foster

Sep 21 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Leanne searched around in the back of the van, looking for her new soil knife. She moved aside kneepads and seed packets, a box of condoms and several paperbacks from the Goosebumps series, ridiculously overdue. She could swear she had tossed the knife back here when she loaded up the van for carpool, but it had been a hairier morning than most; Mondays always were.

The old soil knife would work. The field basked in March morning light, cool and silent except for the hum of dragonflies darting among her crops. The Red Russian kale called to her. The rows stood like green soldiers, their spines purple, darker than her usual strains of kale, and arcing toward the sky. The kale was experimental, something requested by two of her clients. Chef Anton wanted a hybrid for a spring salad, and the new Thai restaurant was going to pan fry it with garlic.

As she harvested, the soil sang to her nose, tangy and rich. She never listened to music while she worked. There was too much noise in the rest of her day: children shouting in the morning, NPR as she drove, leaf blowers and the neighbor’s broken pool cleaner whining in the back yard.

Hours later, the van brimmed with freshly washed greens. She made her stops at the restaurants and then drove to her mother’s house. She smiled as she pulled into the driveway, appreciating the tidy front yard and the wicker rocking chairs idling on the porch. Her mother’s house always looked ready for company, like the covers of Southern Living she displayed on the coffee table.

“Hi, darling,” her mother said as Leanne came in with her basket of greens. “What have you brought me this time?”

“A hybrid kale. It’s fresh out of the ground this morning.”

“Lovely. Would you like some tea?” Her mother was still wearing her housecoat but her hair was coiffed and she had on her pearl earrings.

“Sure.”

Her mother filled their glasses with iced tea while Leanne perched on a barstool in the kitchen.

“Let me taste this kale.” Her mother leaned on the counter and pulled a leaf out of the basket. “It’s washed?”

“Yes.”

Her mother chewed and then smiled.

“Wonderful. So what else do you have going on today?”

“I’m on my way to get a trim.”

“You should stop trying to hide those grays, the blonde highlights do nothing for you.”

“Mother!”

“What?”

“I thought you liked my hair this way?”

Her mother wrinkled her nose. “I don’t care for it, no.”

“But you’ve always said I looked younger this way.”

Her mother tilted her head. “Have I?

Leanne started to speak but stopped herself, sliding off the barstool with a frown and a sigh. “Never mind. I need to get going or I’ll be late.”

“Okay, darling. Thanks for the greens, they’re just delicious.”

“You’re welcome.” Leanne gave her mother a peck on the cheek.

After the hair appointment and picking up the kids, she toted the basket she’d brought home for the family into the kitchen. The kids wouldn’t touch the kale, of course, but after they cleared their plates of lasagna and went outside to practice kick flips and soccer, she made a nice side salad for her and for Chris, drizzled with the homemade balsamic vinaigrette he liked.

He took a bite and grinned.

“Yes?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s great.”

He loaded up his fork with more greens and had another taste.

“Really good,” he said.

“Great,” Leanne said, pleased, taking a taste herself. He was right, the kale was crisp and sweet. A breeze wafted through the open window and past their plates at the same moment that a calmness came over her.

He set down his fork, and wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin.

“So I got an e-mail today,” he said. “The twentieth reunion is coming up.”

“Really? Already?”

“Yep. May 2nd.”

Leanne widened her eyes. “That’s only six weeks from now. Crap, I bet that stupid Jennifer Mulgrew will be there, and I’ve gained so much weight since the last time I saw her. Do you think I look okay, or should I go on a crash diet?”

“If you think you can lose it, it’s probably best that you do.”

Leanne stared at him. Chris continued eating.

“Really? You think I should lose weight?”

Chris held his fork in midair and assessed her.

“I’d probably be more attracted to you if you did. Maybe just fifteen pounds.”

“Chris!” Leanne put down her napkin and glared at him. He frowned at her while a piece of kale slowly made its way into his mouth.

“What’s wrong?”

“How can you keep eating while saying things like that to me?”

He put down his fork. “What did I say?”

“Seriously?” Her eyes started to smart but she was too angry to cry.

“Leanne, I am completely at a loss here.” His green eyes looked sincere and for a moment Leanne wanted to believe him.

Leanne gazed at the green leaves on her plate and their purplish spines. She speared a bite with her fork and put it her mouth. The flesh was sweet and earthy, all the flavors of the soil and springtime circling her tongue at once before she swallowed. She had a strange sensation, as if her brain had just been washed in sunlight.

“Ask me something,” she said to Chris. “Ask me something you’ve been afraid to ask me.”

“What on earth?”

“Please. Just do it.”

Chris reflected. “All right. Why didn’t you answer the phone when I called Saturday night? Was your phone really dead?”

“I was having sex.”

Chris’s face drained of blood.

Leanne dropped her head into her hands. “Ten baskets to each restaurant – what am I going to do?”

“You were having sex with someone Saturday night and you’re more worried about your clients than about our marriage?”

Leanne’s gaze was sober, her response unvarnished. “Yes.”

Mandy Foster lives and writes in New Orleans. When not writing, she bakes cakes and chauffeurs her two young sons.

No responses yet

WOOD CHIPPER y Luke Asa Guidici

Sep 14 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

You know there’s nothing like the sound of a wood chipper in the morning.  Never thought I’d grow so accustomed to it.  Of course, never thought I’d be sitting outside, next to a runway, working as a “Bird Suppression Expert” either.  Yup, I didn’t expect my life to end up like this.  I was a normal man with a good career, great friends, a modest apartment, and a fast, yet practical car, but then one day everything changed.

Who could have cursed me?  Was it the gypsy I cut off while driving on the 405?  Was my mixologist miffed about an insufficient tip?  Or did my last OkCupid date really go that bad?  I still don’t know.

#

It started simply and innocently, as things often do.  One day after returning home from work, I noticed a procession of ants marching across my kitchen floor.  This in itself was not unusual.  A bachelor with an aversion to washing dishes was likely to see ant hordes on a fairly regular basis.  But this procession of insects was different.  Instead of going for the remnants of Thai food in the sink, or the last bits of cream & sugar in a mug, these creatures were climbing my fridge.

My first thought, in horror, was that they’d found my carefully collected collection of condiments… but the trail lead further up, to my freezer, where the weather stripping had parted just enough to allow the army of ants access inside.

Had my freezer malfunctioned?  Where there once existed organic, free-trade, single source vanilla ice cream would I now find a creamy lake upon which the ants would be feasting?  Had they burrowed into my free range bison?  Pillaged my truffle pilaf?

These fears vanished in an instant as I opened the door and discovered a fully functioning freezer.  But, if there was no melted food, what were the ants doing in the freezer?

Were they on some sort quest, searching for gold in their Yukon?  Perhaps a charismatic leader was taking them to the promised land?  Or maybe, like the Rebels on Hoth, this was the only place that their enemies wouldn’t be able to find them?

Whatever the case, they had died in droves.  So I took out my vacuum and removed the pile of black carcasses.  What a crazy fluke I thought.  But, when I returned home from work the next day, I was surprised to find a new collection of the faithful.

#

This continued for a week.  Every day, more dead ants.

#

Then as abruptly as it started, the onslaught ended.  Had the ants realized only doom awaited them inside?  Had a coup de tat disposed their leader?  Or had they simply all killed themselves?  I laughed at these stupid creatives with their insatiable death wish.  How foolish they were!

In hindsight, I should have seen this a sign of things to come, but I was too wrapped up in myself to head what must have been a gypsy’s warning!

#

For several months I had a reprieve, but this break from death wasn’t to last.  The next unlucky victims headed not into the frozen wasteland of my freezer but into the barren desert of my automobile.

#

It was a warm October day when I first noticed the smell of death in my car.

You know, they say you can tell a lot about a person by the state of their automobile, and mine was always pristine.  Not only did I keep it clean, but I wouldn’t even let certain things inside it, like McDonald’s food, or gypsies.  Not to brag or anything, just to say that if the car smelled like anything, it would’ve been manliness.

So, right away I knew something was wrong.  Had a passenger left food inside?  Had I forgotten one of my triple shot soy mochas?  My nose wrinkled as I searched for the offending odor, but nothing.  My car was clean, as always.  Perhaps the smell was coming from outsider?  My neighbor had probably left something rotting in the carport.

The next day, after a coffee meeting with a potential client, I entered my sun-baked car and was distressed that not only was the smell still there, but it was considerably worse.  The hope of a “carport solution” evaporated.  As I drove home, with the windows down, I considered the situation.  The most logical explanation was that a poor varmint had crawled into the engine bay, been crunched to death, then slowly baked by the heat of the motor.  That would explain why the smell got worse after driving, right?

Arriving home, I popped the hood, then used my nose like an olfactorial dowsing rod.  I carefully sniffed around the engine, but the smell neither grew stronger or weaker.  Perplexed I stood back, had I imagined it?  I opened the driver’s door and the waft of death assured me that there was most certainly something dead nearby.

I grimaced and prepared to undertake a similar dowsing on the interior.  Unpleasant odors are an interesting thing.  First off, as the name suggests, they are unpleasant, but something about them has a kind of “traffic accident” quality.  Just like we can’t help and look at collisions, we can’t help but enjoy the experience of a horrible odor.  We might not like the smell, but the experience is interesting.

#

Or is it just me?  It’s just me?  Ok, well forget it then.  Anyhooooo.

#

As best I could tell the odor was coming from behind the driver’s seat.  I remembered hearing something on “Car Talk” about mice crawling into heater vents.  So, fashioning a hanger into a crude hook, I went mouse fishing.  In the heat vent below the seat, I cast back and forth hoping to land a mouse corpse.  But no luck.

Having exhausted my technical abilities I realized it was time to seek professional help.

A short time later my car was at the repair shop.  The next day, after they’d taken the entire interior out of the car, they’d discovered the source of the smell… and it wasn’t a lone mouse.  No, it was an entire mouse colony!  Droves of the small, fury, and formerly cute creatures had found their way into my car, burrowed under the carpet, and died.

#

It had happened, again.  Death was following me.

#

But this was just a coincidence.  What else could it be?  I couldn’t be making these creatures commit suicide, right?  That would be preposterous…

As the smell of death left my car, so did this persecution mania.  In time, I forgot about the death march of ants and the mass starvation of mice.  Once again, the animal deaths in my life were relegated to local, sustainably grown, organic meats. And of course, sushi.  Which although I never inquired, was certainly the product of hardworking, sixth generation, small business owner fishermen and their lifetime fishmonger friends.

#

Life was good.

#

But then, just like before, everything would change, again.

#

The end began one pleasant spring evening.  I was returning home from a hard day of video editing where we hoped to convince viewers that they needed, deserved, and in fact, could not live without a better toaster oven.  Important, work that would no doubt directly improve the lives of people the world over.  Who doesn’t like tuna melts, right?

As I unlocked the door, thoughts of dinner were over taken by a deep rooted sense of dread.  You know how you feel when your best friend asks you to appear on Ricki Lake and you’re pretty certain it’s really going to end up involving an ex-lover and someone’s new “Baby Momma?”  Well, that’s pretty much exactly how I felt.

The door swung open and there in front of me… hanging from my chin-up bar… was a monkey.  And when I say hanging, I mean “hanging”… like from the gallows.

I dropped my vintage leather attaché and ran over to it.  The poor creature had a belt wrapped tightly around its neck and it didn’t appear to be breathing.  I loosened the noose and lifted the limp little monkey out.  Quickly I placed it on the ground and listened for a heart beat.  There was none.

 

My first aid training kicked in.  One-two-three-four, I gently compressed its small chest.  Then, with a large breath I filled its lungs.  More compressions.  Another breath.

#

And nothing.

#

Defeated, I leaned back against the wall and lit a cigarette.  As I pulled the sweet smoke into my lungs I contemplated my own mortality.  If this monkey could die in my apartment, what did that mean for me?  I took another drag.  Was life so short?  Was every moment of our time here on Earth a gift?  I raised the cigarette to my lips and pulled deeply.  Or did anything mean anything at all?  Wasn’t this a symbol of the futility of existence?  As the nicotine filled my blood, I pondered these greater questions of life.

#

Or at least I would have if I smoked.  Since I don’t, I just stared into space.

#

I had practical concerns; namely disposing of a dead monkey and deciding on dinner.  Since the monkey wasn’t going anywhere, I covered it with a pillow case.  Since I was hungry, I ordered Thai food.  Overall, the situation called for whiskey, so I got some.

The next morning, after a night of fitful dreams, a sudden sound awoke me with a start.  As my eyes came into focus I saw something swinging from the chin-up bar.  It was another monkey!!!  I leapt out of bed.  Fell.  Got up.  And rushed over to it – but alas, I was too late!

#

Why had another monkey committed suicide in my apartment?

#

The question gave me a splitting headache.  Or maybe it was the previous night’s whiskey.  Either way, I needed two Tylenols and some strong coffee.  Shortly after, coffee in hand, I considered the situation.  I had two dead monkeys and no alibi.

Would I need an alibi?  I took another sip of coffee.  Dark Roast.  So smooth.  Single Origin.  So supportive of small indigenous farmers.  I took another sip.  I couldn’t have a gypsy curse, I was a good person!  Surely the coffee I drank earned me some good anti-gypsy karma!

There’s a saying I had learned in ‘Nam.  Or rather, that I learned reading about ‘Nam.  “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is enemy action.”  I still might be able to plead that I was a victim of coincidence if I could end this now.  And if there was anything my liberal arts education had taught me to do, it was how to “end things now.”  Or even “before they started” if you asked my last OkCupid date.

First thing was first, I needed to build a “Scare-Monkey.”  But what would frighten them?  Naturally, I turned to Google.  It didn’t take long to find that the dearly departed were in fact Capuchins and their main predator was the Harpy Eagle.  I printed out a rather fierce looking Harpy face and taped it to the chin-up bar.

#

By this time I was late for work.  Further measures would have to wait.

#

Taking a trash bag, I gently placed the two creatures inside.  As I began to leave, inspiration struck.  My remaining belts!  Just in case the Scare-Monkey didn’t work, it was probably safer to have them.

At the dumpster, I said a quick word and tossed the bag in.  Those cute little monkeys deserved better, but my main concern had already shifted to my client lunch.  Thai food was out of the question.  Perhaps I could talk the client into ribs?  No, probably not.  Salads would be the best bet.  I could get the organic, pork belly frizze salad.  Yes, that would be a good compromise.

With the Capuchin corpses out of my mind,  I joined my fellow Angelenos as we slowly made our way across the city, alone in our metal boxes.

That evening, after a long day making movie magic, and a happy hour, that may have been too happy had the LAPD inquired how happy it was, I returned home.  As I walked up from the carport, my scotch filled mind decided the best course of action at this juncture was to text message a “friend” to see if she wanted to come over and “watch some Netflix.”  Luckily, before I hit send, I opened the door… and once again was greeted by a pair of monkey eyes.  Dead monkey eyes.

#

Hanging from my chin-up bar, a vintage tie around its neck, was another Capuchin!!!

#

Those damn dirty apes had gone too far!  It was one thing to Harry Houdini their way into my apartment.  It was another thing to Mrs. Harry Houdini their way through my carefully collected tie collection!  This meant war.  Or at least, it meant taking down the chin-up bar.  My biceps, lats, and abs would have to make the temporary sacrifice.

Because this was only a temporary situation, right?  I mean, how many free-range suicidal monkeys could there be in Los Angeles?  The fact that there were at least three was enough to drive a man to drink.

Several whiskeys later, with the chin-up bar on the floor, belts around my waist, and ties tied to my arms, I crawled into bed with hopes of a better tomorrow.

#

But the next day things would get worse, again.

#

I awoke to find a monkey with its head in the oven.  I rushed over and grabbed it roughly.  “Bad Monkey!” I scolded as I tossed it out the door.  Turning back, I saw another monkey about to drop my toaster over into a sink full of water!  Shockingly, the irony was not lost to me.

Charging over I unplugged the cord before the monkey could flip its switch.  But, before I could catch my breath, there was a noise in the bathroom.  I ran to it and found a Capuchin slicing itself with a razor!  I slapped it across the face and grabbed the blade.

Oh no, the other monkey!  I ran back just in time to see the monkey in front of my vintage, American made, electric fan.  It gave me a big, toothy grin and snickered.  Then it jammed both arms into the spinning metal blades!

As the monkey’s blood sprayed over me, my Apple products, and the walls covered in the artwork of my many talented and passionate artist friends I sank to the floor.  What had I done to deserve this curse??

Helplessly I watched as the door opened and more monkeys entered to do their dirty deeds.  I didn’t care.  The fight had gone out of me.  It was at that moment the “Game of Thrones” theme began to play from my iPhone.  I answered and was greeted by a breathy female voice.  It was Kristi from the Phi Tappa Sigma Sorority.  Apparently I’d won a Facebook contest and they were here to clean my apartment.

“Good god no!” I screamed into the phone.  Hanging up, I hurriedly packed a bag.  Ants, mice, monkeys, now co-eds?  I had to find that gypsy and make amends!

The phone rang again and if by reflex, I answered.  Pouting, Kristi upped the ante to include a car wash.  In the background her sorority sisters giggled.  Tempted by the offer, I paused to consider, then noticed my reflection in the mirror.

#

Is it just me, or is there something sobering about seeing yourself covered in blood and monkey fur?

#

The image of sudsy nubiles vanished.  Grabbing my bag, I made a beeline for my car.  It was actually a little dirty… Maybe just a quick wash.  No!  I must not give in, I must make my escape.  The key turned and my car roared to life.  Jamming it into gear I fishtailed into the street.

Kristi and her sisters desperately gave chase.  But the Priuses that their daddies’ had bought them weren’t going to cut this mustard.  Those battery assisted go-carts definitely weren’t going to catch 2.5L of turbo powered combustion!

#

I was free.  Or at least, I was on the road.  I thought If I could just keep moving, I’d be safe.  Speeding onto the 101 freeway I left Los Angeles.

#

Four years, thousands of voles, mice, possum, armadillos, squirrels, and the occasional hobo later, I finally found the gypsy woman I’d cut off on the 405.  But no amount of begging or bribes would make her lift the curse.  Turns out it wasn’t her’s to begin with.  Maybe it was that OkCupid date after all?  At any rate, she gave me some words of advice, simply “A blessin’ an’ a curse be two sides o’ tha same coin.  So flip it, yo.”

#

Hang on, need to clean out the wood chipper.

#

Okay, I’m back.  Every once in a while it gets gunked up from all the birds flying into it.  A good cleaning keeps it running smooth and “cruelty free.” You know, when I started, I didn’t have to clean it myself.  I used to call the facilities people, but after Raul ran in front of that 747, they’ve all steered clear of me.  So now I handle all my own maintenance.  It’s not the most glamorous gig, but the skies around the airport have never been more bird free, and hey, it’s a dying.

#

Get it, cause it’s my “living,” but things keep–

 

 

——Bio—-

 

My journey to become a filmmaker had a unique beginning – I grew up in a home without a TV. My father, an English major, and my Mother, a working musician, believed there were better ways for a child to be entertained. So I read, explored the woods, and played with LEGOs. Exercising my imagination, I learned to tell my own stories.

 

In school, I excelled in math and science, entering college 2 years early. But it was a TV production class that inspired me the most and led me to pursue a career in filmmaking.

 

With this goal in mind, I moved to San Francisco where I studied Cinema and Digital Art. In 3 years I made over 20 short films and graduated Magna Cum Laude. Then it was on to my current home, Los Angeles. Since arriving I’ve worked a variety of film industry jobs, primarily as an editor. Editing has made me a stronger filmmaker while allowing me the freedom and funds to pursue my own creative projects. Currently I’m transitioning to working full time as a writer and director.

 

 

 

 

No responses yet

THE SKY PEOPLE by Alex Hardison

Sep 07 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Lily’s playing with my hand again, tugging and twisting at the fingers. I don’t mind, because it keeps her near, though I try to stop her from putting the tips of them in her mouth. The metal is supposed to be safe, and I’ve had no ill effects since my original hand was replaced, but when it comes to her health I tend towards the overprotective.

“Do the thing, Daddy! Make it do the thing!” She doesn’t look at me as she makes her demand, but takes ahold of my wrist and starts to shake it back and forth. She’s been sitting in my lap watching me stare out the window for too long, and she’s bored.

“Okay button, I’m sorry, I’ll make it go. But first you have to let go of it, okay?”

Lily releases my finger, making a great show of placing both hands behind her back. I put my hand on the arm of my chair and let the fingers unlatch, all four extending outwards, black segments snapping outwards and revealing the narrow linking bands within. I wiggle them, showing off their flexibility and range, and Lily giggles gratifyingly. She starts running her fingers carefully over each extended section, humming happily under her breath. Every time we’ve done this I’ve told her to be careful, and she tries her best, but it’s not long before she gets overexcited and forgets.

“Careful button, don’t touch the connectors, they’re delicate.”

Lily makes a face at me, but she does as she’s told. She turns her attention to her favourite part, tugging upwards on the middle finger and giggling happily as it pulls back further than any living finger could and snaps into place. I explained to her the first time she did this that it was only Daddy’s hand that did that, that she mustn’t try it with anybody else, but I still found myself paying for some poor boy’s wrenched finger a few days later.

The advertising wall to our right is playing an episode of her favourite show, but she doesn’t look around, still immersed in her examination of my mechanical hand. I watch it idly over her head, glancing down from time to time to make sure that she isn’t doing anything that she isn’t supposed to. The fuzzy creatures that populate the hypercolour island are learning an important lesson about manners and waiting your turn while queuing up for rations, and as usual the blue one gets in trouble for not doing what the law officers tell him to. He’s Lily’s favourite, though she struggles to articulate why. It’s not long before he finds himself placed in a hovercell made of cardboard tubes and carted away, much to the consternation of his little friends, though I’m sure that he’ll be back for the next episode.

I look down in time to see Lily snap the back of my wrist open and peer eagerly inside. There’s a small compartment inside, and she gets her face as close as possible to the tools within without actually touching them. She loves to test exactly how close she can come to breaking a rule before she gets in trouble. “Can I?” she asks, without looking up.

“Carefully, honey. Handles only.” I can’t deny her anything. Given what’s coming, I don’t see why I would. I glance towards the window again, but there’s still nothing to see, just the wide white roofs of the other hives spreading out towards the horizon. It’s not a real window, of course, we’re far too deep in the hive for that. I don’t think that Lily can tell the difference; in fact, I’m not sure that she’s even seen a window made of glass

Her clever fingers work their way into the compartment, and she carefully tugs the first device out. I’ve only let her do this a few times, and I keep a close eye after the time she managed to singe both hands with the element calibrator. She goes for that one first, of course. My brave little girl. She has to use both hands to work it out, and as I watch I’m suddenly struck with the thought of how little she is, of how everything in the world is too large for her. I glance across at the news feed on the left wall, but it’s not time yet. I don’t have to explain to her how much large the world really is. Not just yet.

Lily waves the calibrator back and forth, chuckling gnomically, then suddenly becomes bored and thrusts it into my free hand. She digs out a second and holds it up. “What’s this one?” she demands, eyes crossing slightly as she examines it. The device she’s holding is a bioluminescent merger, a delicate scalpel with a growing green tip that’s used for painting pheromones into organic matter. Her finger slips up towards the sharp end and I carefully slip it out of her fingers. She looks as though she’s considering fighting me, but consents to have it taken from her.

“That’s a merger, honey. It’s used to make things…like each other. Make them connect.”

Disinterested now that her ownership has been usurped, Lily is reaching back into the compartment. I juggle the two devices that I find myself holding, trying to keep my artificial hand still while she explores it. “What’s this one?” If she presses the stud on the end of the long implement she’s suddenly holding, the head will blossom outwards into a ridged globe, loaded with the reactants necessary for stimulating asexual reproduction in artificial lifeforms. Once again, I slip it out of her hand, and it rattles against the other two. Perhaps this was a bad idea.

“Why don’t you play with your toys, honey? They’re a lot more fun than mine.” Lily makes a face at me; she’s smart enough to know the difference between a genuine suggestion and a dismissal. We try to stare each other down, and I feel one of her black moods building in the air. My own state of mind is fragile enough today, and I find it hard to believe that I would have had it in me to calm her. Finally she relents, slipping off my knee and chirruping happily as she tips her blocks out onto the ground and goes to work.

Lily’s show is finishing up, the closing tune blaring cheerily out despite our disregard. The wall has gone through a lot of changes in time that I’ve lived here. When I was a young man it was pure pornography, sweaty bodies of every shape and form heaving and pouring over one another. Then I grew older and it gave way to technical programs, blueprints and schematics and engineering conferences broadcast day and night. Finally that slowed as well, as all the sciences came together in their one final project, a marvel of engineering and biotechnology that demanded everything from every available mind and set of hands. After that, it all just…tapered off. We were done. It horrified me to think about it; an entire world’s scientific exploration, complete. No, not complete. Abandoned. Taken as far as it could be, certainly, but when I was young we believed that the journey would be endless. Lily will never know that feeling. Her world, whatever shape it takes, will always be limited.

I glance across at the time as I slot my tools back into their compartment. I wonder if I will ever take them out again. I stand and wander restlessly towards the window. Less than an hour now. Nothing will come to a halt today. Indeed, it will be more beginning than end. I’ve even got a new job lined up, a consulting role at one of the last remaining engineering corporations. Before long I’ll be teaching, I suppose, and after that whatever I can find. I wonder if there will be a role for a historian at the end of history. I look down at Lily, playing blithely with her blocks, and I wonder what sort of a life she will have. The domes should keep us safe long enough for her to grow into old age. Middle age, at least. Older than I am now. But what sort of life will it be? What sort of ennui will her generation suffer, knowing that everything that can be done already has been?

Suddenly Lily abandons her project and scampers over to me. She crouches at my feet, eyes big and wild like an animal’s. Behind her, the blocks are arranged in a long network of intersecting crosses. It’s the same pattern that she always makes with them. I don’t know where she got the idea from, or why she doesn’t experiment further – I’ve certainly encouraged her to. She just seems to think that that’s how blocks are supposed to go. Before I can say anything, she scrambles up my leg and into my arms, tiny fingers and feet digging mercilessly into my hip and ribs. She ignores my laughing grunt of pain as she hauls herself up by my shirt and wraps her legs around my side. I catch her, as she knows that I always will. Her eyes are still wild, and I wonder what she sees. I lift her above my head, shaking her and making her scream like a wild thing. She writhes around up there, shaking out whatever badness briefly had her in its grip. If only it were so simple for me.

“Kick the blocks!” Her grin is as mischievous as it is infectious.

“Are you sure button? You put them all together so carefully!”

She favours me with a look of deepest contempt. “Kick, Daddy! Be the monster!”

Still holding her in my arms, I swing my legs in long outwards strokes, knocking her blocks to the far sides of the room while she claps and squirms in delight. She has little to no interest in her creations once they’re complete. The point for her, I think, is to build them. Being a parent is the opposite. Making her was the easy part – it’s everything that comes afterwards that takes a toll. At least some part of her will survive into the future. I’ve made sure of that.

It’s time, or close enough. I carry Lily over to the window and we look out towards the horizon, towards the facility that has been my life for the last five years. My role there is done, and while at first I was frustrated that I would be sitting out the actual launch, I find myself glad to be home with Lily instead. There are some things that should be shared with those closest to you, even if they don’t understand their meaning at the time. When I was a boy my father woke me in the middle of the night and insisted that I look into the telescope that he had erected in our back yard. That was just a few years before living under the open air became untenable. Through the lens I saw little more than a dot among dots, but he insisted that it was a comet, that in years to come I would be able to tell people that I had seen the last passing of Halley’s comet. I didn’t fully grasp the significance, but I felt the enthusiasm radiating off him, and I treasured the moment we shared beneath the stars.

“Look Lily, do you see that?”

I have to point a few times before I get her attention long enough to make her look. She glances out towards the horizon, then looks away again, bored. I watch for us both. In the distance – almost too far to be seen, even with the window’s enhancements all the way up – a glow begins to build. I can’t tear my eyes from it, and before long Lily stops her squirming as well, watching it as well. She likes bright things. “Is it a bomb?” she asks, her tone more curious than afraid.

“No honey, it’s a launch.”

“Like when you went into space?”

I smile, thinking of the exhilarating rush of liftoff, excitement and terror boiling through my guts as the earth fell away. My one and only trip beyond the poisoned atmosphere of our world. Today’s launch will be nothing like that. The passengers will be completely serene, their minds controlled and clear. They will only need our clumsy boosters for the first part of their voyage, to claw their way up and out of the gravity well, the prison into which they were born. After that they will travel under their own power, and I do not imagine that they will look back.

“These are special people, my little button. Men and women that have been worked on by scientists, including your old Dad. I helped build the systems that tell them how to build things.”

Lily thinks about this. “Like how the advertising wall tells us things?”

“Not really. They’ll just know. More like…you remember the birds in the documentary that we watched? Like how they just knew how to build a nest.”

“What are the sky people going to build?” She’s watching the glow intently now, as though she might make out the tiny figures being propelled skywards.

I smile at her choice of words. Sky people. The future will still need poets, I suppose. “Well, their homes, to start with.”

She looks sceptical. “They don’t have homes?”

“They do. They did, I mean. They lived at the facility, where I used to work. But they’re going to go out into space and find new homes.”

Lily tugs absently at my hair while she thinks about this. This is the conversation that I’ve been dreading, the one that I’ve played out so many times in my head without a satisfying resolution. How much to explain to her? How much of the truth will she understand, and how upset will she be by it? There are no good answers to these questions, I know, and a million years of parenting has failed to come up with any sure means of resolving them. I have promised her, silently, a thousand times, that I will never lie to her. I cannot yet tell if I will be strong enough to keep that promise.

“Will they be cold out there? In space?” Lily’s questions are never the questions that I have prepared an answer for.

“Well, no. Their skin isn’t like ours. It’s double shielded, requiring to external warmth, and they can even turn their pain receptors on and off.”

Lily is leaning out towards the window again, reaching towards it will her grubby little hand. What has she been touching to get so dirty? I take a step closer, letting her push against the window until she satisfies herself that she cannot reach the sky people. “Are they going to come back?”

I shake my head. The truth is that the sky people cannot survive for long in our atmosphere. They are too tall and heavy for our gravity, and their delicate senses are at constant risk of being overwhelmed by the telecommunication storm that blankets our world. They have huge grey eyes and jet black skin and their wingspan is like an angel’s. Most of all, though, they have no need for us. It has become painfully clear that since the commencement of the final stage of their transformation they no longer feel any kinship for we mortals. We made them better than ourselves, able to live in conditions that would destroy our fragile forms, and some days I think they hate us for it.

“Then why did we make them?”

Now it all comes out. I could have easily come up with a different answer, one that was safe and not technically untrue, but I find that I can no longer restrain myself. “This planet doesn’t have much time left, Lily. A hundred years, they think, at the most. There’s too much damage done. There isn’t anything more that they can do.” I search her face for the fear that I have been expecting. “A hundred years is a long time honey. A very long time. But after that there won’t be anything more. No more of…of us.”

I watch her carefully, trying to see the information sink in. Her eyes change, and I cannot tell if she is about to cry, if she understands what I’ve said at all. “But they’ll still be there?”

“You mean the sky people?” She nods. “Yes button. They can live where we can’t, and after we’re gone they’ll still be around.” She thinks about this for a while, chewing her lip and kicking her feet absently against my ribs. “Is there anything else that you want to ask?” My heart is sick with the burden I have lain on her, the knowledge that her world’s time is cut short, her generation’s potential limited and fragile.

“Can we have curry for dinner?” The question is delivered in the same tone as any other that she has asked me this afternoon.

“Yes button. Anything you want.”

“And can I go play now?”

Not sure what to do with her calm response, I nod and place her back on her feet. Suddenly joyous, she scrambles through my legs and sets to work reassembling her network of blocks. I turn back to the window, the clicking of her toys a comfort of sorts as I peer out at the blast of distant light, trying just as Lily did to make out the tiny figures that hurtle skywards, never to return. I ache at their loss, at the conclusion of the final stage of our world’s development. All our science, our music, our poetry and history goes with them. In a thousand years, their history will record us as their incubators; our only purpose their creation. I cannot quite bring myself to hate them for it, but when I look at Lily it is a close thing indeed.

Finally, I smile. I have, in my small way, put a piece of myself inside them. More than I was supposed to. Not a piece of myself, I correct myself: a piece of my world. A piece of Lily. They will never know her name, but she will live on through them, become an intrinsic part of their world. I will, in my insignificant way, have had my revenge on the cruelty of destiny.

Then I turn my back on the light, on my betters, and crouch down on the ground beside Lily. She hands me some blocks and tells me where to place them, and we play until it is time for dinner.

* * *

Theta One glides in low over the asteroid. His vision flicks rapidly through the spectrums of the solar radiation pulsing outwards from the nearby star. The project to link the asteroid to the adjoining five is going well, and they should be ready to link it to the orbital wing in less than a hundred years. He drops towards it, eyes picking out the tiny grey buildings from which his kind work. The hardest part of the process was smoothing out sufficient space on the rocky surface, but now that it is complete, the colony can truly flourish.

He has been flying long enough for the local planet to have rotated half the way around the sun, and he is beginning to tire. His companions will be waiting for him in their home. Theta Eight will have prepared sustenance for all, and with luck Gamma Nine will once more share his bed. Their life here is good, their work rewarding. He looks outwards at the stars, already wondering where they will travel next.

The colony is clearly visible now. Theta One descends towards the long network of intersecting crosses, the same pattern that emerges in everything they build. He closes his enormous eyes for a long, sweet moment as he falls, thinking of his companions, of his mission and of himself. From time to time he feels a strange stab of melancholy for those who came before them; their mysterious builders, now lost to time and distance. He wonders what they would think of their construction. He hopes, distantly, that it would please them. Then he puts the thought aside and opens his eyes, allowing the artificial gravity to guide him down into his world.

Alex Hardison is an aspiring science fiction writer, comics and video game enthusiast and all around Batman expert living in Australia with girlfriend and cat. He writes about comics at http://notesfromcrimealley.blogspot.com.au/ and has previously been published in Flurb.

No responses yet