A Sassy Nation

When a rifle bullet neatly assassinated the American president in 2025, it seemed at first the same sort of anomaly that killed Lincoln, Garfield, or Kennedy. When the next died six months later in the same fashion, people became nervous. They became accusatory.

They became preemptive.

Murder of the opposition's presidents and candidates became business as usual. It narrowed the field faster than debates or polls ever did. The average tenure for an American president from 2027 to 2039 was eight and a half months.

Each side lost their best and brightest to the bloody competition until neither party wanted their best to run. In back rooms over sweaty handshakes, they agreed that candidates would be off limits. Neither wanted to give up the option to murder a disliked president.

Surprising the politically unsavvy, the nation passed a constitutional amendment declaring candidacy involuntary upon nomination by a quorum of one's party. For the party's least-liked, most-troublesome members the office became at best a threat, at worst a tacit death sentence. In the end, it came down to the will of the people: Which party did the nation want to chastise with a death that year?

Which way do you vote?

Reaching Your Sensitive Child

"Unnnnnnnnnnnh." James Ganth groaned, brushed his hair out of his face, and hung his head over the book he was trying to read.

"Trouble, hon?" His wife Sandy looked up from her own book at the kitchen table next to him. Her smile was weary, a good face put on to bolster the both of them but barely hanging on.

"It's this..." He gestured at the book, which flipped closed when he let go of it. Reaching Your Sensitive Child declared the title. "It's just so hard to read."

The smile slipped further. "Is it harder than another ten years of fighting with Jimmy? Of screaming matches and epic stubbornness battles?"

James knew the right answer. "No. I know. Just, I get to vent, right?"

Sandy smiled at him with a touch more life. "Of course you do, hon." She returned to her own book titled Blowing Up the Parenting Myth. "Maybe keep it in longer than five minutes next time."

Jimmy silently ascended the stairs where he'd listened in on his parents. Safely in his room a moment later, he slipped a book out from under his mattress: Quieting the Anxious Parent. It was time to ready step three.

The Tooth Hidden There

Howie slipped a hand under his pillow to touch the tooth hidden there. With eyes he almost couldn't hold open, he looked up at his mother. "Where does the tooth fairy take the teeth?"

His mother leaned close. "I'll tell you a secret. It's not really a tooth fairy. Actually, the bed keeps the tooth."

"What? But where—"

"No one knows. Some say inside the bed, some say in a secret realm only beds can reach."

"No, where does it get the quarters?"

"Oh! It gets them from the couch. One of the reasons the couch is always stealing change from our pockets. Haven't figured out what the couch gets out of the trade, though."

"Why do they want teeth? That's weird."

"Once they have enough of your teeth, they can chew you up with them. G'night, my sweet."

He called out to her at the door. "That can't be true. What about adults? They'd be chewed."

"Beds have to leave some alive to have more kids, right? Hey, congratulations on your last baby tooth."

Wide, trembling eyes watched the sliver of light from the hall slim down to nothing. A stomach growled, and Howie wasn't sure it was his.

Save the Last Bullet

The thundrous crack of the final gunshot broke against her numbed ears. It seemed like a minute before the zombie's diseased brains geysered out the back of its skull, but Anna knew it had been instant. Its grip now slack, the dead thing slid over the edge of the overturned semi where she'd taken refuge above the notice of most shambling dead. No longer. The gunshot would bring more and her scent would lead them to her. An industrial area like this, she might still have time.

With a smooth motion, she pulled the rifle's clp and checked what she already knew: one bullet. This was the moment she and so many other survivors had discussed late at night, huddled around dying embers when fear made sleep impossible. I'd save the last bullet for myself, they all said. She wondered now if she had.

If I wait, she thought, more will come. I can shoot one, and bash in the head of one or two more, and then one will get me and I'll become one of them. Will I know what I am, trapped in a flesh-hungry body, or will the me be gone? With no evidence for the former, she assumed the latter. The pain is discouraging, but it doesn't matter after I die. But why go through it?

She warmed her hand on the barrel of her cooling gun and imagined she could hear distant moans. If the bullet was for her, she'd be one zombie less in the world. A humanitarian act. If she waited and shot one, it'd be even. And if she got more than one, a net benefit. In exchange for death in agony and the small, probably made-up chance of captivity in a body no longer her own.

No decision was a decision just the same. She knew she was going to die, she'd always known. She'd just wanted to go out her own way. And she would, maybe not saving the world, but helping her little part of it. Eyes closed, she breathed deep. At least the air tasted clean.

She could definitely hear the moans grow louder now.

The Plural of Tits

"What's the plural of tits?" Annie looked up from the rusty box of silverware holding an incongruously blemish-free steak knife.

Jenn stared unseeing into her own box of scrap. "Tits is already plural. One tit, two tits."

Annie held her new knife up to shine in the wan light of the dust-clouded noonday sun. "This is my tit knife." Her face bore solemn determination. "It's for cutting off one tit so I can be an Amazon. Once I have tits, anyway." She looked down at the sweat-stained, dust-soiled t-shirt over her flat chest.

"Don't be stupid." Jenn bent over her box and sorted old tools from it in abrupt, distracting movements.

"We have to be Amazons if we're gonna be badass. Which we need if we're gonna be safe, now there're no cops." No response. "Mom'd think it was cool."

"Mom would—" Jenn lowered her head, eyes closed, and continued in a low voice. "Mom would want us to be safe. Take care of each other. Not cut off our tits. Now keep looking. We have to find something to trade for food tonight."

Annie drooped. "Yeah, 'kay." She went back to her box. "You're gonna make a lousy Amazon."

Gone Concept Diving

"It'll work!" Naomi said.

"I don't care if it'll work, it's a stupid idea!" Aria threw up her hands. Naomi sat at a terminal connected to the bank of supercooled processors.

"Look, all the simulations say the conceptspace exists where I can reach it."

"I don't care if you can simulate Heaven, it's—"

"It's not a simulation, don't you get that? It's a constructed conceptspace, but still real."

"Like another dimension." Aria's affect was flat.

Naomi rolled her eyes. "Sure, if you want to drastically oversimplify."

Aria took a deep breath. "It's untested. Let's run more simulations, test it on animals. I can maybe get a hold of some sign language-trained chimps."

"No. This is my chance to enter a world I've loved since I was five." Naomi hit three keys and slipped a helmet over her head. The world shifted and slipped away.

Everything resolved into shades a big room, all grey and white, with a big window looking out onto open space. She saw it all through some kind of helmet. Naomi was about to take it off when a radio crackled in her ear. "TK-421, report to hangar bay C-37 for cargo inspection."

Oh, Naomi thought. Uh-oh.

Pitter-Pat

Ksenia lay in bed, not wanting to get up. She could indulge that feeling for five minutes, at least. Maybe as many as seven. Burying her face in her pillow, a position she never fell asleep in, she enjoyed the warm cocoon of her bed.

She became aware of her heartbeat. She'd tucked her arm under her body for maximal coziness, and she felt the blood flowing through the veins of her elbow pit as it beat against her ribs, ba-dum, ba-dum. It soothed her. Tension seeped from her shoulders, and she smiled.

Other places where her pulse neared the surface made themselves known. She felt the beat of her wrist against her hip, and the pianissimo rhythm of her other hand's thumb tucked against her shoulder, bi-dip, bi-dip.

As she relaxed, she opened to ever more sensations, becoming increasingly attuned. She felt it in her knee pit against the blanket so warm, and in her one ankle crossed over the other, and where her neck pulsed strong, deep in her pillow, thrrrrum, thrrrrum.

Where she felt a different rhythm, rapid and shallow: bidibidibidibidibidibidibidibidi. She surged up onto her elbows and stared down, relaxation forgotten.

"Oh, shit," said the pillow.