Exodus. Flash Fiction.

Margaret leaned back, tilting her head up towards the sky as she watched the ships launch. She held her breath as they rose through the sky, then finally she released it in a long sigh. She could hear people shouting and screaming on the streets, cheering at the rockets overhead. Margaret didn’t feel their joy, Owen was on one of those ships. She always thought there’d be more time, that they could take things slow. They signed up for the lottery together, dreaming of a life built among the stars. They never thought that only one of them would be picked. He had tried to back out, give his spot to someone else but she insisted, she didn’t want him giving up his future just for her. It wasn’t fair or right to ask that of him. The planet was too full, to make life possible for everyone, some people had to go, that was just how things were. New planets were being seeded across the galaxy, the rockets would ferry them to the great ships and from there they’d start their journey. For Owen the journey would pass in a blink of the eye but she would be long dead when he finally reached his new home. Part of her understood those celebrating below and she did want to join them, all this space, this freedom. Almost half the population were leaving the planet, maybe now those left behind would have a chance, after all the earth could support their numbers now.

Margaret heard the door behind her open, she didn’t turn to look, she couldn’t seem to take her eyes from the sky. She felt hand on her shoulder, “He’s better off up there.”
“I know.”
She heard him sniff, “you’re mother would have loved to see this. She’d have loved to be up there, going on such an adventure.” Margaret didn’t look at her father but she reached up and took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. She felt a sudden wave of guilt, she had been so focused on going she hadn’t spared much of a thought for who she’d be leaving behind. In all her fantasies of life on a new planet with Owen, her father had just been there, part of the scenery. He never signed up for the lotto, he said he couldn’t bear to leave behind their small apartment, the memories there. He sat down beside her and pulled her into a hug and together they looked up at the stars.

The Sickness. Short Story.

John walked down the empty street, his breathing was slow and heavy, each breath came with a wheeze. Occasionally he would stop and hawk up a lump of phlegm, spitting it onto the ground. He ignored the twin streams of mucous running from his nose. He’d been sick for two weeks now and it seemed like he was the last person left in the city. When rumours could still circulate he’d heard the other cities weren’t fairing much better, at this stage he could be the last man anywhere. He was tired, so very tired but he kept going. Around him the street lights began to grow brighter, it was dawn. He started coughing, each cough tore at his chest, his vision started to swim, John stumbled forward then dropped to his hands and knees until the fit passed. He spat on the ground again, ignoring the flecks of blood that streaked through the mucous. Slowly he got to his feet, that alone took almost all of his strength, but he was nearly there now.

He stopped outside the door, it was smaller than he remembered, less imposing, about eight foot tall and ten feet wide. John went to the small computer screen at the side of the door. He’d soon find out if he was right or not. He pressed a few buttons before he found the option he was looking for. He clicked open, a woman’s voice spoke from the wall, startlingly loud in the quiet “Opening the door will expose you to harsh conditions outside and may mean your death. Should the doors fail to re-engage it would mean the destruction of this city. Do you wish to continue?” he clicked yes. His throat was sore, each time he swallowed it felt like he was swallowing razor blades. He hadn’t spoken since Matilda died a few days before, he wasn’t sure if he still could, most people couldn’t at the end. A siren started blaring from the door as red lights began to flash, “I require identification from the highest ranking member of the community. Please look directly into the camera for your retinal scan.” John moved closer, here went nothing. The computer scanned him and quickly located his profile, “John Henry Adams, you are cleared to open the door.” he stared at the screen, he didn’t expect it to actually work. So it was true, he really was the last one left. There was a loud, high pitched whine followed by a deep grinding noise, the ground around him trembled as the door opened. How long had it been sealed? Someone somewhere must have known but he didn’t. He knew what had been outside, before the bad things happened. He knew that there had been life, animals and trees and plants but now there was nothing left but great desolate plains, filled with nothing but ash and death. Still, he wanted to see it, before he died, feel wind on his face, see the world that they had come from. Besides, what did it matter now? He was dead already, he was just waiting for his body to get the message. The door revealed a large room, thirty feet by forty, it was brightly lit by intense flood lights, empty biohazard suits lined the walls. He stepped into the room and as soon as he crossed the threshold the door started to close again. The voice spoke, “Warning: Once you leave the city limits you may not be able to re-enter depending on your level of contamination.” John ignored the voice and shuffled across the room to the final door, it was as large as the first, there was another computer pad here, “please confirm retinal scan.” John moved closer to it. He was feeling weak now, he didn’t have much longer. He leaned against the wall as the computer scanned him, “Retinal scan confirmed. Door will open in five minutes.” John let out a surprised gasp that turned into a coughing fit. Did he even have five minutes? He shuffled to the edge of the door and leaned against the wall, letting it support his weight. Slowly he began to slide down it, he didn’t have the energy to stop himself.

As he waited he wondered what outside would be like, no one had been outside since the city had been officially opened all those years ago, when the doors had been sealed and humanity had been saved. He could be the first human to go back outside since then, all transport was done underground via railway and they had everything they needed in the cities. A siren started blaring, startling John from his thoughts, had it been five minutes already? There was a rush of cold air as the door opened and the air flooded into the room. He breathed deeply then started coughing. His vision swam, darkness crowded the edges of it as bright spots of black and red danced across everything. Finally the coughing slowed, then stopped. He felt light-headed and dizzy, but he wasn’t done yet. He tried to stand, but his legs quivered and shook before coming out from under him. He waited for a moment, getting his breath back, he rolled onto his stomach and started to crawl. His hand reached outside and hit something cold, but surprisingly soft and slightly wet. He peered out at the expanse of green in front of him, it was magnificent. He dragged himself from the doorway, feeling the wind on his face, flowers dotted the grass along with trees, reaching towards the heavens. The sun shone down, warm and comforting.

John rested against the tree trunk, he couldn’t go any further, this was it for him. He ran his hand through the grass again, how long had it been like this? How long had they been kept cooped up in the cities? He wondered if anyone else knew but that didn’t matter, he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone anyway. He closed his eyes, each breath coming with a wheeze and phlegmmy rumble. Nearby he could hear something moving towards him, he was too tired to feel fear, what did it matter now? A large creature appeared, walking on thin, almost delicate legs. It had brown and white fur, large eyes and slightly pointed ears that stuck up form the top of its head, it leaned down towards him, sniffing curiously. Slowly, gently he reached out and placed a hand on its side, feeling the warmth of it through its fur. He smiled, then closed his eyes for the last time. A second later his hand dropped from the creature sending it bounding off with a graceful leap. John’s chest fell still and with the sound of birdsong in his ears and the feel of wind across his skin he slipped away into the darkness.

Entering the Void. Short Story.

Brenda scowled as the cameramen moved around the room setting everything up. To her right a reporter was chatting with Johnny. The last time Brenda had seen Johnny he’d been full of excitement and ceaseless chattering, now he was pale, his eyes seemed slightly too wide and his shoulders were hunched. She smiled to herself as she passed them by, going out her way to do so, as she past him she leaned into Johnny and muttered “if you’re going to throw up get it in the bin, thanks.” and continued on before Johnny could reply. She felt immense satisfaction at the look on his face, the reporter either hadn’t noticed or chose to ignore her remark. Brenda may have had some of her power wrestled away from her but she could still kick out anyone she pleased. Anyone that was, except Johnny. She looked at the computer screens in front of her, her team were working steadily, checking and double checking everything. She wasn’t concerned with a malfunction or a mistake, the team knew this procedure by heart and could do it blindfolded if needed but still she felt a faint thread of unease winding its way through everything else. This Johnny character was a wild card, he hadn’t been chosen specifically, hadn’t been vetted as the best candidate for the job, no he was here because of a god damned internet contest. She shook her head in disgust feeling the old anger rising again. It should be her god damn it. She pressed a few buttons, fingers slamming into them. She turned from the computer and stepped over a few wires to check the two metal doorways, they were arched, looking almost like empty Gothic window frames. The metal on them was thin, only a an inch thick, but it was more than enough.

Across the room a reporter nudged a cameraman beside her and nodded towards Brenda, “What’s her problem?” The cameraman shook his head, “How the hell do you not know who that is?”
The reporter shrugged, “I don’t need to know, I just need to say the line and that’s it.”
“That’s Brenda O’Connell. The one who invented this machine? The reason why we’re all here.”
“Huh. I thought she’d be older.”
The cameraman shook his head, letting Karen’s inane ramblings wash over him. She was right, she didn’t need to know anything, she just needed to look pretty and say the lines. It didn’t stop her from being any less infuriating, at first Victor believed the whole stupid cute reporter thing had been a shtick, something to get her more fluff pieces but after working with her for two years he’d found that she was exactly who she presented herself as. A pretty woman with nothing between her ears and no desire to be anything else. He knew why they’d sent her here today, they expected failure and wanted a pretty face to soften the blow, to tell the audience they can’t get it right every time. No one here really expected it to work, he’d chatted to most of the other cameramen and reporters, standing around the large table filled with stale pastries and lukewarm coffee. He wasn’t so sure though, someone was backing this with an awful lot of money and a good deal of publicity, why would they bother if they didn’t think it’d be a successful test? He suspected that this wasn’t the real first test, they’d have to have done it before to iron out any kinks and make sure it wasn’t fatal. Johnny broke away from the reporter he’d been talking to and seeing her moment Karen went over, expecting Victor to just follow. He sighed and went after her.
“So, are you nervous?”
“Well, yeah I guess. I mean who wouldn’t be? The first person to be teleported anywhere! I just hope all the pieces come out right!”
Karen chuckled softly, “So, Johnny what made you enter the contest? Did you ever think you’d win?”
“That was the goal, after all it was a competition, but no never in a million years did I think it would be me. I thought they’d choose someone with a background in science, maybe someone in better shape than I am. When my name came up I could barely believe it.”
“You’re married right? How did you wife feel when you won?”
“She was thrilled but a little worried, Anna is always so supportive of everything I do…”
Victor tuned out again.

Brenda pressed a button and felt herself relax a little as a gentle rumble started beneath her feet, the machines in the depth of the building were running smoothly, she scanned the screen quickly, looking for anything out of the ordinary, but all systems were fully operational. She smiled again, this time it looked almost predatory. She went to Johnny and pulled him away from some blonde reporter, interrupting them babbling at each other. “I’ve just started the machines, it will be time soon, are you ready?” He nodded, “Good. Please stand in the staging area for now, it won’t be too much longer.”
Johnny went over to where she had pointed, a small area marked off with strips of tape. “We’re about to see the first attempt at teleporting a human being, if this is successful it will revolutionise the modern world.” Brenda ignored them, of course it would work, what kind of idiot would she be if it hadn’t been tested all ready. As far as anyone outside of the project was concerned Johnny would be the first human through the teleportation gates. They’d never hear of the men and women who had been paraded through it, one after another as they worked out kinks. All in all twelve men and three women had gone through, none of whom had been Brenda, much to her annoyance. She should be the first officially recorded person through the gate, all those cameras should be pointing at her, after all it was her invention, her discovery’s that allowed them to get this far. She knew she’d be remembered but that wasn’t enough, it burned that Johnny would be the first person through, his idiotic smiling face immortalised in textbooks and film for the rest of time.

Brenda looked over the screens again and seeing that everything was optimal pressed the final button. A hush fell over the room as the doorways either side filled with blackness, spreading from the top down, one of the cameramen gasped. The darkness didn’t shimmer or shine, it just was, Brenda looked away, it still made her eyes water a little, her brain trying to make sense of that impossibly black doorway. “Johnny, we’re ready when you are.”
He nodded to himself, then took a deep breath and approached the door.
“The teleportation should be practically instantaneous, it will take the same time no matter how far apart or how close together the gates are.”

Brenda felt a faint thrill of anticipation in her stomach, everyone else who’d gone through it had described it as a little disorientating but it truly was instant. Johnny paused in front of the gate, “Here goes nothing.” Brenda winced a little, that was what he wanted to say? Nothing about what a leap forward it was for mankind or the start of a new chapter? She shook her head slightly and looked down at the computer screens, trying to hide her disgust.

Johnny stepped forward, he expected to feel something as the darkness hit his skin, some kind of resistance, maybe even a wetness, but there was nothing. He strode forward and through the doorway. Johnny found himself surrounded by the darkness, a ripple seemed to spread through it, like water hitting a puddle. The darkness came alive, millions, no billions of things writhed over one another, glistening in the darkness as they reached upward with grasping hands, their heads turned up towards him. Their mouths opened wide as they moaned and screamed, one looked at him, two empty eyeholes staring up at him and then he started falling towards them. He hit the writhing pile of things without feeling anything at all and then he was through. Light, sudden and cleansing, the darkness around him began to break apart, it shattered instantly and he saw the wall of the lab. Around him people were shouting and cheering, Johnny raised his fists in the air and jumped, already the memory of the journey through was gone, leaving nothing behind but a sense of exhilaration, it had worked, it had really worked.

Resurrection. Flash Fiction.

Catherine woke from the blackness confused and disorientated, a nurse was standing over her, her face was twisting, features expanding and contracting, swirling around her face. “Just take it easy. You need a few seconds to adjust.” as the nurse spoke her features moved back to their rightful places. “How are you feeling?”
“What happened?”
“I’m afraid there was a terrorist attack again.”
Catherine closed her eyes and groaned, “How bad is it?” She’d seen the bodies of those in terrorists attacks, the thick, twisted scarring that criss crossed their bodies. The nurse smiled a little, “Not that bad, you weren’t caught up in the blast. You, um,” the nurse was trying and failing to suppress a smile, “You slipped on a wet floor just after it started, we’ve the surveillance video if you want to have a look?”
Catherine was groggy still, but she nodded. The nurse pushed a few buttons on the small electronic pad she carried with her. An image appeared and the white wall to her left, it showed Catherine running, a look of terror on her face, then her legs going out from under her, her face a mask of shock, then her head connected to the ground. Catherine winced slightly and felt the back of her head, running her fingers along the scar, it was still tender, the nurse was trying and failing to hold in giggles. After a second she calmed down, “this is one of the best ones I’ve seen all week. Would you like a copy of it for your feed?”
Catherine’s cheeks were bright red, how could she show anyone that? It was so mortifying. “No, thank you, I’d prefer not.”
The nurses face fell, “OK, though would I be able to get your permission to-”
“No.”
The nurse nodded, “Well, you’ve used up one of your free resurrections. You’ve got three left. You’re going to feel a little bit disorientated for the next twenty minutes or so.” she pulled a tray from a cart nearby, it had a glass of orange juice and a sandwich, “once you have something to eat you can be on your way.”

Catherine stepped out into the fresh air, it helped clear her head, more so than the bland sandwich and bitter orange juice. The hospital opened out into a large plaza, covered in concrete and dotted with small areas of greenery. People lounged about, drinking coffees outside cafes, browsing ramshackle market stalls that had been hurriedly thrown together. Catherine wove her way through the crowds, feeling like everyone was staring at her, that everyone knew. Already they were blasting news of the latest terrorist attack on the view screens, a grim looking anchor recounted the final death toll. Seven true deaths, fifty people resurrected and another hundred injured. Catherine didn’t look at the screens but the voice still boomed from them. She always knew how serious it was going to be depending on the anchor, when there were no true deaths they had a giggling blond on, showing a best of compilation of the funniest or most painful looking deaths.

Catherine let herself into her apartment, the walk home felt like it had taken her hours though it was only a twenty minute trip. The feeling of being watched didn’t go away until she closed her door behind her, sealing herself from the world. She went to the small kitchen and turned on the kettle, as she did so she looked down at her hands, they shouldn’t be moving. She shouldn’t be moving. She shook her head as she started to make herself a cup of coffee. Get a grip, she hadn’t died, not really. Besides she was still a long way off from her true death and she still had three free resurrections left. She sipped her coffee and moved into her living room. The living room was almost as small as the kitchen with just enough room to cram in a couch, a two seater table and a few shelves against the wall. She sat on the couch and turned on the TV, they were still talking about the terrorist attack.

Catherine reached up and felt the back of her head, fingers running along the thin scar, her mother said no one would notice it beneath her hair and so far that proved to be true enough, no one had noticed the scar. Still that didn’t stop people asking about her resurrection, they’d all gotten the alert “Catherine Jenkins has just been RESSURECTED thanks to Glaston Industries, talk to your doctor about resurrection today!” They didn’t seem to get that she just didn’t want to talk about it, it was just too embarrassing. Everyone else bragged about their resurrections but Catherine’s didn’t seem like theirs. They talked of bravery and heroics or funny stories but none of them talked about the cold darkness that wrapped around her completely, the endless dark that became her world. So she did the only thing she could, she’d mention the terrorist attack, tell them it was awful and that she was running away when it happened, that seemed to stop the questions, at least for a little while. Still it couldn’t get rid of her memories or what she knew, that there was nothing after death, no heaven, no hell, just that cold, suffocating darkness.

Survival. Short Story.

Vincent walked through the scattered corpses, around them dying fires were smouldering, a thick haze filled the air. He didn’t pause or look at their faces, it was better not to know. When it had began all those long months before he had seen his first dead body, it haunted his dreams, but these bodies were nothing now, just part of the backdrop. It had been a teenage boy who was running just ahead of him when one of the monsters grabbed him. Vincent hadn’t paused, hadn’t stopped, he just kept running, it was the only thing he could do. He made it another twenty steps before something sailed over his head and landed in front of him with a heavy thud. It was the body of the boy, his head ripped from his shoulders, a gaping hole where his stomach should have been. Vincent had been sure he was next, kept expecting something to grab him but nothing did. That night the scene played over and over again in his dreams, the boys body crashing in front of him. When Vincent finally woke from his nightmare he’d just enough time to turn and vomit onto the ground beside him rather than over himself. How many people had he seen killed since? How many bodies? It was an endless parade of death and destruction. He’d seen people torn limb from limb, screaming all the while, he’d seen people killed in the blink of an eye, a giant stone falling from above and crushing them. He’d seen buildings collapse and burst into flames and somehow he’d managed to survive it all.

Vincent kept walking as the military moved in, this was the truly dangerous part. If they noticed him, noticed that he was broad shouldered, that he was still strong, he would face a seemingly simple choice, join the army or die. The truth of the matter was it would be a death sentence regardless of how he chose. The army had been throwing men at the things since it began and still they kept coming. It was all humanity could do to stay ahead of them. He ducked into a dark and half collapsed alleyway, two children, a boy and a girl, were picking through rubble, the girl glared at him as he past while the boy kept rummaging. Vincent kept them in sight until he rounded the corner, it was always better to have your guard up around the kids, they tended to move in packs and didn’t mind using the knives they liked to carry. He moved through an old apartment building, it was leaning drunkenly against its neighbour, looking as though it would collapse any moment. As he moved through what was once the lobby he could hear the noise of people above him, those too stupid or too poor to go anywhere else. Not him, so far the only thing keeping him alive was being on the move. He’d met plenty of people in the last city who told him it was safe, that he should stay, find somewhere and hunker down until it was all over. Three weeks ago it had been destroyed entirely, last he heard there was nothing left but a smoking crater. He picked his way over bits of concrete and rubbish, it looked like someone had attempted to move it all to the side but had given up partway through. Vincent paused at the front of the building, looking out at the rubble strewn street, people were already coming out to scavenge after the last attack, some were crying and shouting as they dug, but most worked silently, looking for food or anything valuable. At one end of the street stood a tall, gangly boy in a green, ill-fitting uniform, it looked as though he had borrowed the clothes from his father and the tightly gripped gun was almost comically oversized, he had wide, staring eyes that were starkly white against his grey, dust covered skin, Vincent guessed he couldn’t be older than thirteen. Vincent stepped from the building and headed off in the other direction keeping himself hunched over, the kid wasn’t exactly threatening but when dealing with someone that young, that untrained and that scared, you never really knew what you were getting into. Somewhere to his left there came a deep, throaty cry and Vincent froze, already people were beginning to scatter, someone ran past him, knocking him down as they went. Vincent scrambled to his feet and started running.

Vincent watched the city burn, people streamed past him in a steady flow, he could still make out people fleeing the city, dark shapes lit only by the leaping flames behind them. The gunfire had stopped, the army had abandoned they city around the time Vincent had made it to the outskirts. Vincent turned from the city and started walking again, he had lingered too long here, growing complacent, he needed to keep moving, needed to stay ahead of the things. Some people were talking, but most trudged forward with their heads down, many of them carried nothing having no time to grab any of their meagre belongings.

Vincent stopped and sat against some rocks. His feet were tired and sore, around him he could smell food cooking over the campfires that dotted the area, his stomach grumbled sullenly. He hadn’t eaten since the day before, but he had gone longer without food. He had been moving with the others from the city and they swarmed across the countryside, picking everything clean. He didn’t know where he was heading, he wasn’t sure if anyone really knew or if they were just following the signs to the next city. A small family huddled around a fire nearby, he watched as the mother passed food to her children, the mother looked up and caught his eye, he saw a flash of fear and she moved closer to her children, Vincent looked away. He wouldn’t take their food, he wasn’t a thief and he wasn’t that desperate, not yet. He stood from the rock and started walking again, ignoring the protesting pain in his feet. If he kept following like this he’d never get anywhere, he’d just be another desperate refugee, penned into a resettlement camp or conscripted. Besides, there was safety in numbers, but it could also attract the wrong kind of attention, all those people, weak and frightened, would make easy pickings for anyone or anything that decided to come along. Vincent spotted an apple on the ground, a glint of green that had mostly been buried in muck, he pulled it out of the mud and quickly wiped it down, the green skin was smooth and unbroken, though he knew he’d have eaten it even if it was half rotted. Vincent ate it quickly, trickles of juice running down the side of his mouth, already things were looking up.

Preminition. Flash Fiction.

Elena stood at the stove, spatula in one hand, frying pan tightly gripped in the other. Behind her sat Daniel, her husband of eight years and their 5 month old daughter Jessica. Jessica let out a shrill laugh, Elena scooped up a piece of bread and flipped it, “OK, careful I’m coming around with the pan.”

Daniel cupped his hands around his mouth and called “hot stuff coming through!” Elena moved past him, rolling her eyes as she smiled at him. Elena scooped up the slices of bread and placed them onto Daniels plate, then she was back at the stove. The morning light shone through the window on her left, sparkling in the stainless steel kitchen sink. Elena dipped two more pieces of bread into the egg mixture and put them in the pan, they sizzled as they hit the heat. Elena froze, it lasted less than a second, more of a stutter than a pause but to her it seemed endless. She gripped the frying pan tightly, she could feel the warm plastic handle digging into her palm, the heft of the pan in her hand. Elena spun, with a strangled yell she brought the hot pan crashing into Daniel head, he fell from his chair, he let out a groan “what…what hap-” Elena brought the pan down on his head again, he lay on the ground, one arm twitching wildly, his breathing was shallow with occasional hitching gasps, Elena raised the pan up “I’m sorry.” She brought the pan down, Daniel lay still. Elena dropped the pan, it landed with a loud clatter. She felt sick, her hands shook violently, but she couldn’t stop. She looked at Jessica whose face was red and streaked with tears and the shrill cries suddenly came into sharp focus. Elena ran to Jessica ‘s high chair and pulled her free, trying her best to sooth her daughter. Elena turned from the kitchen and walked down the short corridor, painted a nice muted green, Elena felt a horrible stabbing in her gut she remembered how difficult it had been for them to decide on a colour, such a silly argument but it had gone on for weeks. She’d do anything to have that stupid argument again. Elena opened the front door and stepped out into the corridor, she walked down it in her bare feet, the carpet was surprisingly soft. She walked past the elevator, still trying to sooth Jessica, and in to the stairwell.

Elena’s breathing was heavy, her arms felt impossibly tired, and Jessica was still sniffling. It wasn’t that much further she’d already gone seven floors. Elena didn’t pause at the top, she opened the door and walked out onto the roof. For once she was glad she lived in a place where the manager liked to let things slide. The maintenance workers had been bitching about the broken door up here for weeks. Elena shivered as the cold wind stole her warmth, Jessica started to cry again. This was the fastest way, the best way. Elena walked up to the edge and without hesitation stepped off. Together she and Jessica fell.

Elena and her family weren’t the first to die that morning and they weren’t the last. Elena and others like her had seen what was to come, the foul things clawing their way into the world and they knew that there was only one escape.

The Ring. Flash Fiction.

Jenny held the ring in a beam of sunlight, watching as the afternoon light glinted across the diamonds. It really was a breath-taking ring and she wasn’t surprised she’d never seen her grandmother wearing it. Her grandmother seemed to favour subtle jewellery, nothing more than a pair of small, diamond stud earrings and little else. Jenny slid the ring onto her finger, marvelling at how perfectly it fit. She, unlike her grandmother, loved wearing jewellery the more it sparkled the better as far as she was concerned. She moved her hand about in the light, this ring would definitely be added to her rotation, only for special occasions of course, she didn’t want to lose something so beautiful and so precious. She considered the ring on her finger for a moment, it wasn’t a special day, not really, but the ring was just too perfect to take off.

Jenny reached for her coffee, ring shining in the harsh lights of the coffee shop. A man nearby smiled, Jenny didn’t notice as she doctored her coffee, adding a splash of milk and a dash of sugar. Without looking she left the coffee shop, the man stood and followed, hardly able to believe his luck. He had been searching for that ring for years, decades and here it was, in some unremarkable coffee shop worn by an unremarkable girl. Sure, she was pretty enough if one noticed those kinds of things but as the years went on the man found himself noticing them less and less.

The man followed her through the day as Jenny wound her way through her errands. He was finding it frustrating how she never seemed to find herself alone, not even in the aisles of the grocery store. He just needed a moment that was all, just long enough to snatch it from her finger. Jenny exited the store, arms laden with shopping bags. She walked through the car park, she reached her car and put the bags down, seeing his chance the man lunged. He pulled her down and kept her close to the ground, “Don’t scream, don’t make a sound and I won’t hurt you.” His breath was hot against her face and carried with it a fetid stench that reminded her of spoiling meat. His hands scrabbled at hers as he stripped the ring from her finger. She realised what was happening and snatched her hand away, but the ring was already gone. She moved to hit him, before she could he struck her hard across the face, an open handed slap that disorientated her. “it isn’t worth your life. To you it’s just a thing.” With that his crushing weight left her body and he was gone. Shakily Jenny stood and looked around the car park, people were milling around but there was no sign of the man. Her hands were shaking and her heart was beating heavily in her chest as she scrabbled to open her car, once inside she locked the doors. After a moment she burst into tears, once she had calmed herself she turned on the engine and pulled out of the spot, not remembering the bags of groceries she left on the ground.

The man looked at the ring in front of him, he had actually found it after all these years. He slipped the ring on and felt a rush of anger through him. The man glanced down at the ring, “I’ve missed you too sweetheart.” with a small smile he stared at the ring, it was almost as beautiful as the soul of the woman he had made it from.

Settlers. Short Story.

Sandra pulled the door open, she ignored the squawking voice of the secretary to her left as she barged into the office, President Grayson was sitting behind his large desk, framed by a larger window that looked out over the valley, the green lie framing him perfectly. He looked up from his work, startled from thought, his pen freezing mid-stroke. “Sandra, what’s-” before he could finish his question she slammed down the basket of vegetables, the top of it was covered by strands of wheat, their golden colour was spotted with dark red and black spots. “It’s spreading. It’s still spreading and you’re doing nothing about it.”
His receptionist was standing near the door, “I’m so sorry President Grayson, I tried to tell Minister Williams that you were busy.”
“That’s OK Amanda, I have some time to meet with her, thank you.”
Amanda left the room, closing the door quietly behind herself.
She grabbed the wheat and slammed it onto the table, then she started pulling fruits from the basket, apples, pears, carrots one after the other and each had those same red black spots. “We’ve been trying everything to keep this stuff under control and nothing works.”
Grayson sighed and put the pen down, “I know. We’re looking into it and working as fast as we can but we’re not set up for this kind of research or development, not yet. There will be an announcement about it today. I am well aware of how bad the problem is, look.”
He gestured at the window behind him, they were standing at the highest point in the valley, Sandra stepped around the desk and looked out, she felt her stomach drop, first at the height then at what she saw. She put her hand to her mouth, she could see the infection from up here, the dark stains against the green of the trees and the gold of the wheat.
“It isn’t just you and your farm, it’s the whole valley. Hell, probably the whole planet.”
She turned to him, face pale, “How? I thought this kind of thing was tested for”
he shrugged, “The planet was seeded about twenty years ago, since then everything has been growing without problem. All the tests showed it as perfect. We don’t know what this is or why it’s spreading. It isn’t like any fungal or bacterial infection we know of on Earth. They may have similar colourings but they act in a completely alien manner, its spreading pattern is unlike anything we’ve seen before, it spreads against prevailing winds, it spreads to fields miles away. Tonight we are introducing a new measure, any crops found to be infected will need to be destroyed, it’s the only chance we have for stopping its spread, conventional methods just aren’t working.”
Sandra stumbled from the window and sat down heavily, “How fast does it spread? It only started appearing in the last week or so.”
President Grayson shook his head,, “It was first discovered two and a half weeks ago, Elena Jacobson found it in her strawberries and it has spread like wildfire since.”
“What if we can’t stop this?”
“Well, we’ll still have the animals so that should keep us going until we can get to the bottom of this. I’ve sent a distress call to Earth, it should arrive in a year. We just need to survive two years and we’ll have a solution.”
“I don’t know if we’ve got that long. I’ve heard rumours that Jensen’s cattle showed some signs of the infection. I went to go check but he denied it, I just thought it was rumours but what if it isn’t?”
“Jesus.”
“If this has spread to the animals then we don’t have two years.”
President Grayson shook his head, “Tonight I’ll announce the introduction of rationing. I’m also calling for people to can and store any fruit, vegetables or meat they can. The more we can stockpile before the rot gets to it the better.”
Sandra looked at him for a moment, “Do you think we can survive this?”
“What choice do we have?”
“How did something like this happen? Why didn’t it show up on any tests?”
The President laughed, “Do you know how expensive this mission was? Sending humans to a habitable planet? They sent out machines to test the atmosphere, to test the ground, they planted seeds and once they confirmed they were growing and growing well that was all they needed to know. Everything else would be learned on the fly. Those tests looked for anything that might immediately endanger human life, that was all. Hell, on the other side of this world there’s a species that look similar to wolves, only they’re the size of elephants. This was simply the safest spot for humans to build up a community and build up our defences. We weren’t given the supplies or equipment to deal with this kind of threat.”
“Well why not? Shouldn’t that be the first thing to be sent with us?”
“The more advanced equipment is to come with the second wave in ten years, once we’ve tamed this place a little, we’re just here to clean the house and turn the heating on.”
“How could they have missed this?”
“It could be a long life cycle, like the Cicada’s back home. Sure it’s poisonous to us, but maybe it isn’t poisonous to the local inhabitants. I’ve already been sending out foraging missions, we’re still testing to see if they’re edible but that’s a slow process, it wasn’t to start until the next wave and we won’t fully know if it’s safe or not until someone eats it. Even then what kind of problems could it bring down the road? Disease? Cancer?”
Sandra sat back in her chair, “What will we do? What the hell can we do?”
The president shook his head, “We can hope, we can try to survive. Nature has a way of balancing itself on earth, perhaps the same is true for here. Maybe the infection will stop on its own or we’ll stumble on a solution. We’re not out of options yet. I’ve already sent for help, it will take a while to arrive, but it will arrive. We have safe drinking water, we still have food supplies, there are still plenty of earth native plants in the area that are uninfected. We do have a fighting chance, no matter how hopeless it might seem.”
The buzz of the intercom startled them both, “President Grayson, you’re three o’clock has arrived.”
“Thank you Amanda, I’m just finishing up here.” he released the button, “I’m sorry Sandra, but I can’t miss this meeting, I should be done around four if you would like to wait. I’m going to announce this to the Ministers at five, then to the rest of the settlers at seven tonight.”
“No, I have some things I need to check on now. I’m going to go see where else it has spread to.”
President Grayson nodded, not bothering to point out he already had people do that. Sandra was stressed and when she was stressed she needed to keep herself busy.
Sandra stood, as did President Grayson, as she reached toward his hand her eyes moved past him to the valley below. It had only been a short while she had last looked out but it seemed as if the rot had spread even further. She felt a wave of nausea building at the back of her throat.
She left the office, already planning where she would go next. President Grayson glanced out the window, he tried to put a brave face on it for Sandra as he would for everyone else, but from what he’d been told so far it wasn’t looking good for anyone. He pulled his eyes from the large spots of blight in the green of the valley, he could feel the tightness in his chest and a small squirming snake of anxiety constantly moving inside his stomach. His next appointment walked in, “please for the love of God tell me you’ve good news.”
The man glanced down at the ground, “nothing particularly promising yet but we’re exploring some new avenues that we think could be effective in-” it would all be in the report later, he knew Kevin, knew by him that they had nothing. He nodded at all the right places, pretending that Kevin’s fake jocularity was working, that he truly believed they would be saved and still that snake writhed in his stomach.

In the Woods. Short Story.

Josh reached a large outcrop of rocks, feeling a little hungry and tired he sat on one and took his lunch from his bag. It was nothing fancy, just a sandwich, a thermos full of tea and a bag of crisps. He ate slowly, enjoying the view and the warm sun on his back. The trail he was walking was easy enough but he was still struggling a little, he wasn’t used to much exercise these days. He looked at the mountains and forest that stretched out before him, he snapped a quick photo with his phone maybe if he could show Melissa how beautiful it was out here she’d be more inclined to join him. Once he finished he tidied away his things and started walking again, the trail should take him another two or three hours depending on how often he had to stop for breaks.

He never realised how loud the city was until he was out here, it was so peaceful without the constant rumble of traffic, the screaming and shouting, the thick smell of car exhaust. Out here he could hear birds chirping to one another, the rustle of the wind through the trees. It really was beautiful, even though he was feeling a little tired he felt strangely invigorated. There was something about being out here, alone with nature, it felt, good, right.

Josh pulled his phone from his pocket, he opened the text from Melissa, “Looks beautiful! Hope you’re having fun xxx” he typed out a quick response and started to put his phone back into his pocket, it slipped from his fingers, landed on the ground then bounced into the bushes. Fuck. He chased after his phone, which had slid down a small hill. He could just see it’s screen glinting in the sunlight. Cursing to himself he made his way down the hill, it was steeper than he expected and he almost slipped twice. Finally he picked up his phone and started wiping it off. Somehow the screen wasn’t cracked and it seemed mostly unharmed with only a few scratches and dents. He looked up the hill, it really was much steeper than it looked coming down, he was lucky he didn’t fall and break his neck. He started to climb it, but a few feet up the soil became loose beneath his feet sending him sliding backwards, he wasn’t going to be able to climb the hill. He looked around for a moment, he knew where the trail was, he just had to walk parallel to it until the hill dipped a little and he could climb back up. He started walking, as he went he kept his head down to watch where he was going, the last thing he needed was a root or branch to snag his ankle. He was almost in the bushes when he noticed that they weren’t just bushes, they were thick brambles with sharp thorns. The hill was still too steep and he couldn’t see where the brambles stopped but they couldn’t last forever. He could go around them easily enough and circle back.

Josh wiped some sweat from his forehead, the brambles were blocking off more and more the further he went, they were growing up the small hill and blocking any path back to the trail. He knew he just had to keep going but he was starting to get frustrated. It had been such a nice day out until he dropped his damn phone and since then things were just getting worse and worse. He stood for a moment, debating his options, he could continue trying to skirt these brambles, or he could go deeper into the woods and have a clearer path. He turned and moved into the woods, it was the fastest way to get back to the path.

Josh paused, had he heard something? It sounded like something large falling into a bush. After a few seconds he started to walk again, it was probably just some animals looking for food. He moved back towards the direction of the path, he’d been walking through the woods for a good twenty minutes now, there was no way the brambles would extend this far. He was starting to feel a little better, after all this was just a short detour and the view, though limited, was still nice. A breeze blew through the trees bringing with it the scent of sweetness, Josh breathed deeply and smiled.

Had he gotten turned around? Josh spun slowly in a circle, he thought he was walking back to the path but he’d been walking for almost ten minutes and he should have come across the brambles or the path by now. He turned and started retracing his steps, it was this way, right? He stopped. No, it was the other way. “Fuck!” why had he spun around like that? He’d gotten himself all mixed up. Josh spotted a tree and smiled triumphantly, he recognised that tree, he’d seen it only a few minutes ago, it had a reddish moss growing on it. OK, good, great, that was the way he came, he could just go back that way and it would bring him to the path. He felt a faint thread of unease in his stomach as he started to walk.

Half an hour later Josh stopped walking, he had to admit it now, he was lost. He had managed to get himself turned around somewhere, feeling a pit of dread in his stomach he pulled out his phone. It was going to be so mortifying to call for a rescue, but at this point he didn’t see what his options were, he couldn’t just traipse around the forest and hope to run across someone after all. He unlocked his phone, well that was just great. He’d no signal, of course he didn’t have any god damned signal. He took a slow breath, he just had to think this through. He had been going downhill, there were trees and mountains around it had to be blocking his signal, he just had to get higher, that was all. To his left the land sloped gently upwards, Josh started walking.

Three hours later and he still had no signal, he had tried yelling for help about two hours back but all that got him was a hoarse and dry throat. He didn’t want to drink his water too quickly, he had brought two litres of it and some tea but he didn’t know how long he’d be out here. He had to start thinking properly, he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes again. To his right he heard a branch snap, Josh turned and saw a man standing in the trees. “Oh thank god. Hi, can you help me? I’ve gotten a bit lost out here.” The man nodded, Josh started walking towards him. “I’m so lucky I ran into you, god only knows how long I’d have been stuck out here, I’m not getting any signal on my phone. If you could just direct me back to the path that would be great.” Josh stopped, the man hadn’t moved at all since that first nod and now that Josh was looking at him properly something was off. He wasn’t dressed for hiking or exercise, he wore a pair of suit trousers and a grey shirt. He looked younger than Josh had first though too, he looked to be in his mid-twenties, with a round, wide face. The man smiled at Josh, “Don’t worry, I can help.” his voice sounded strange, like it was coming from far away. Josh smiled and started walking towards the man again, he was just being silly, besides he needed help and it wasn’t like he was going to run into anyone else out here. When Josh reached him he stuck out his hand, “I’m Josh.”
“Fred.” His grip was firm and warm, Josh noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
“What trail were you on?”
“I was on the green one, starting in the west car park, it’s supposed to loop around.”
“Wow, you really have gotten yourself turned around, you’re practically on the other side of the park, how long have you been out here?”
“about three or four hours since I left the trail.”
Fred shook his head, “Rule number one man, don’t leave the trail.”
“I know, I know. I dropped my phone down a hill and went after it, then I couldn’t get back up because the soil was too loose. I tried to get back but brambles were blocking me then I managed to get myself turned around.”
“It happens, easy to do out here if you’re not used to it. You’re lucky you ran into me, there’s nothing in the direction your going for miles. Assuming you kept a straight line and didn’t end up going in circles you’d have been out here for five or six days before you reached another trail.”
“Wow yeah.”
“C’mon lets get going, we should reach the trail and get you home before dark.”

Josh took a swig from his water bottle, “can we take a break for a second, just so I can get my breath back?”
“Sure, no problem, we’re almost there.”
Josh drank another mouthful of water, Fred leaned against a nearby tree and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, “You want one?”
“No thanks.”
“Yeah I don’t blame you. I don’t smoke all that often though, hard to get them out here.”
“Do you live in the woods?”
Fred chuckled, “No, not quite. I don’t make trips into the city all that often though, try to avoid buying them when I do. I mostly go in for shopping, get some food.” he smiled at Josh, “sometimes I get lucky though and the food brings itself to me.” he lunged at Josh, Josh yelped and dropped his water bottle, before he could do anything else Fred slammed into him, dragging him to the ground. Josh felt something hot splash across his legs, there was a deep heat coming from his stomach a second later the pain came and he started screaming. Fred stood and tucked the knife back into the back of his trousers, “Scream all you like.” He bent over and grabbed Josh by the legs then he began to drag him through the woods.