A Simple Void

CHK-shhhk. Another spadeful of dirt on the pile. Anabel brushed her sweat-damp hair out of her eyes and looked at the line of nursery-potted saplings she had yet to plant, fully half of her twenty acquisitions. She looked around her rural dream home: a worn house only half repaired sitting on forty acres of untamed brush. With a deep breath, she thrust the shovel again.

CHK-thhhhhh. She almost fell on her face as the dirt slid off her spade and disappeared into the dark hole she'd just unearthed. At first she only stared in puzzlement. She usually thought of the earth as a uniform mass of dirt salted with rocks. A simple void wasn't something that made sense.

Anabel got on her knees and looked closer. It wasn't just dark. It was black as the Devil's colon and projected a sense of depth and echoing empty space. Fishing a coin from her pocket, she tossed it into the hole and turned her ear toward it. Nothing.

Much later, once she'd acclimated to the morals of it, Anabel would get rich disposing of bodies and other problems for the ethically challenged. Much, much later, she would learn where the hole went.

To Imprison a Myceliant

The backwater-world locals didn't know how to imprison a myceliant. Imported spore detectors had identified Seph despite the humanoid disguise, but then they threw Seph in a stone-floored, brick-walled cell. Seph had already extended mycelia through microscopic cracks in the mortar and begun budding. In twelve hours, another Seph would be free to report the failure.

Another Seph, not this one. This one would still be here, trapped. This one would experience whatever judgment locals passed on an agent of the fungal monoculture slowly colonizing the galaxy.

Seph would be gone, but Seph would be free. Seph felt a spike of resentment. Why should Seph have a future when Seph did not? Seph would die here, shredded or burned, while lucky Seph would rejoin the colony. Didn't Seph deserve that?

    Did Seph want to return to a colony that didn't care about them? To spread an interstellar monoculture that didn't value loyal Seph? The more they thought about it, the more the thought repelled them.

Seph began extending new mycelia, then reclined in their cell and smiled. New sprouts would stop Old Seph, then grow and stop the colony. The locals might execute them, but Seph would survive after all.

The Man's Favorite Pastime

His father judged him. It seemed, sometimes, to be the man's favorite pastime. When he did not meet unspoken standards—which was often—it provoked anger. Yelling. Namecalling. Violence.

Reminding his father that he, too, was a grown man only heightened the disappointment. He returned home from work without having fulfilled the father's ambitions for him, so the reminder only drew abuse that much sooner. Sometimes, sooner was a relief.

Now a full-grown man, he could fight back, and he told his father so. This only provoked laughter. His father called him weak and told him he couldn't fight back. In truth, he couldn't. The few times he tried, longs years of a child's harsh conditioning softened his blows and slowed his defenses. He was weak, because his father had weakened him.

He strove to please his father, to meet those standards the old man held ever higher above his head. Some days he earned his way free of the beatings. Some days he won grudging, backhanded praise. But not every day. He knew he should have done better, and earlier. He also knew that failing in the past was no good reason for failing now.

One day, he didn't come home.

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.

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."