Category Archives: Brandon Scott

News Travels Fast by Brandon Scott

For Alexis Scott Sexsmith, who came to my rescue when I really needed it.

 In that moment time stood still.

Well, it did for me at least. My shoulders dropped and my eyes swam in some sort of twitching, watery shock. The muscles behind my eyes contracted, and I could do nothing but stand, mouth flapping.

“Gene? Gene? Did you hear me?”

To talk was like breaking out from a stone shell. Like something inside me was moving before I moved. Cracking and pushing and snapping my way out of the confines.

“Yes…I heard you.”

She squealed and took my hand. “Isn’t it so exciting?”

“Yeah…it is…” I said, unsure if it was.

“Come on then!”

I took a step and paused. The stone again. She didn’t let me calcify or petrify; she nabbed my hand and tugged me along, making my feet drag on the carpet.

Through the empty halls we went, the growing sound of people coming from the rooms ahead. Someone chuckled, and out of my shell I broke again.  I planted my feet, and she stopped. Letting go off my hand. Looking at me startled.

“What is it? What’s wrong, Gene?”

Looking at her paused me. Damn melting chocolate eyes and freckles on the nose. Dammit all.

“Are we sure they know?” I said. “Like, they do tend to do things which could seem like…”

“No, I’m sure. We’re sure. Radio waves are bouncing off of us.”

The back of my head twitched. My stomach lurched. “Oh. Okay. So… they do know. How is the…taking it?”

“No idea yet. It’s the first hour. Come on, Gene. This is too big. I don’t want to leave you here, but I will if I need to.”

A spasm wracked my legs for a moment, and I decided. The burning curiosity too much. It wasn’t like my lack of interaction would do anything to soften the monumental reactions happening out there.

One more breath; then: “Okay, let’s go!”

My smile: fake, but my emotions swirly. Some of it happy. I grabbed her hand and took her along toward the viewing deck. The metal walls slid away, revealing the others—all twenty of us—wearing the usual jumpsuits, staring at the glass.

I’m not a huge person, but I forced myself—along with her—forward enough to see. I don’t think I blinked for the longest time. She bounced next to me. Still caught in my hand.

The lights and fireworks. They were flickering an entire power grid just so we could see. This planet, all the way down below, not only knew we were here, but they were celebrating us.

I smiled wide, and the energy of the surrounding others rippled. This was the intent of the detour, after all, no matter how against it I was, and this green and blue and brown and swirling white-clouded sphere in the sky was something new. This was going to be the first civilization we learned from and spoke with.

“Do we know what they are like?” I said, my voice lost in the roar of the others.

“Only a little,” she said, hearing me after all.

A cascade of lights, golden, exploded out in our direction from their atmosphere, and a screen dropped down over the viewing deck to show what they were broadcasting our way. Symbol-based language, it turned out, once we’d managed to translate. And they’d sent two “words.”

One for “hello” and another for “friend.”

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Heather and After by Brandon Scott (contains some graphic language)

For Jim Miner.

She was hot as a pistol and shot a hole in my dreams.

And I wake up from those dreams sweaty and horny. She yells things at me in those dreams, tells me about secrets I want no one to know, much less myself. How I hate myself and love myself too much. She gets me drunk in those dreams, and as the world behind me swims more than even alcohol can do to a person, she speaks about the reality of the world.

And then, it’s a bathroom, and she’s wearing only a sweater pulled down over bare legs, the tiny hints of panties glimpsed. She places a single hand on my chest, brown hair hanging over her forehead, freckles around the nose. I can never remember the exact color of those eyes, but they look at me.

And thin cloth dropping around ankles, and discarded, and the water running, and touching. Oh, fuck, so much touching.

Or was that reality?

Anyway.

Mornings were just as surreal with her. Finding someone else in the house, someone who is not a guest or a family member, but a seemingly permanent resident. Never in the bed when I woke up, always there when I tried to fall asleep, and only letting me once exhaustion hit and swept over me and I needed water to even talk.

And she would stare at me with those eyes and sip coffee, often wearing nothing at all, and crossing her legs, and uncrossing them, underneath the table. Leaning pinkish elbows against the wood and sipping the last sips.

“Hello there,” she’d say, and walk past me, and disappear into the bedroom.

Until I was almost fired, I was late all the time for work. But toward the end, I did not follow her inside the room.

Money disappeared occasionally. That was the death keel. Once I noticed ten bucks used for something, I had a little feeling in my stomach. The kind hard to ignore. Next up: one hundred. Two hundred.

A fortnight of fucking, harder and more frequently than we’d done before, came then. So much it gnawed on me, made my bones hurt. Sleep so screwed up it was like she was caffeine poured constantly into my mouth.

But then a thousand dollars, and I confronted her about it. Over dinner. She got me drunk, I talked to her about it, and I woke up and she’d disappeared. Every article of clothing in my house gone. Nothing but the covers, and not even a note about what it all was for, why she had waited this long.

I still don’t know. I still see her in my dreams. Still feel her weight on me, shifting. Still feel her underneath me. Still hear her tell me how much of a terrible, awful person I am. It’s almost easier now, those dreams, because I know at least she’s worse. I’m not a thief. I don’t play with the hearts of others.

Though, I suppose, in a way, I am a purchaser of a prostitute. Because, in the end, she was sex and intimacy, which only cost me money and material things. Currency and my sanity. I wonder how much of that I gave to her. How much she left inside for me to give to others.

All I know is I seem to sleep a lot now. A whole heck of a lot.

 

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The Asteroid Belt Around My Waist By Brandon Scott

For Veronica, I know you have a story in you.

“Whoa misty, watch out for the asteroid.”

The old mechanical creature bucked up underneath The Sergeant, and he grabbed onto the silver handles as it rocked him around from the sudden stop. The old beast could use a tune up, and maybe a shot of plasma to the energy core. A massive lump of stone floated past them, the amount of momentum behind it deceptive to the average eye.

The bulk was big enough that The Sergeant had to wait and look around in boredom. He watched with a lazy eye as the stars around morphed and gave off heat. Below the string of celestial matter his mount was standing on, various elements lazily rotated around in their own orbits.

The asteroid moved past, and he kicked his boots against the horse’s side. The creature of metal galloped forward without hesitation, and ran along the twisting lane. Gravity had nothing to do with the quickest path, and he went up and down along the length of an energy ribbon.

Once he was sure no heavenly bodies would smash him into a little pile of space cowboy pulp, he engaged the autopilot and pulled out the yellowing wanted poster. The bastard’s face stared at him with his massive twirlable mustache and his eyes like the coals used in the steam trains of old.

Eli Vander’s laugh echoed in The Sergeant’s head, and on impulse he kicked out, forcing the engine to race even faster, making the town of Orion come into view in seconds. It was a tiny place, only one bar, only one whorehouse, but per the reports: this was the place.

His horse alighted on the ground and The Sergeant waited for a second for his boots to adjust automatically to the environment. The seat let him go once that was confirmed done, and he jumped down, his shoulders feeling heavy underneath the thicker gravity.

Sitting off to the side of the one bar, in a wicker chair, was a man with a pipe made of copper, and his own boots holding him down to the ground. A Cheln from the look of him: skin the same color as the pipe and long yellow streaks along the jawline.

“You…new…here?” he said, his Pho-English not great.

“Yes,” The Sergeant said, and held up the paper.

The alien studied it for a second. “You got a… um, fire? No: gun!”

The Cheln nodded afterward, pleased with that sentence alone. Pho-English is hard enough for the people who could speak the root language, and going from Chelnish to it was a hell more of a barrier.

The Sergeant unhooked a silver cylinder from his belt and waved it around for the alien to see. A quick button press and the trigger and handle came out the side. He held it like a gun now, and the business end had a satisfying blue glow growing in intensity.

“Yes, I got it.”

The Cheln stood up and pushed the door open, letting the din of the bar explode out, along with the smell of fifteen species’ cultures worth of alcohol.

“He in there?” The Sergeant said.

The Cheln nodded and made a small hand gesture, which in the old world would be an insult. But to a Cheln it was a sign of good luck.

The Sergeant nodded with his hat, an old ten-gallon looking thing, with brown leather and a small force-field generator hidden in the brim, and walked past the bacteria-locked door.

And there Eli sat, at the counter, with his back to the entrance. Many used glasses off to the side of him, stained by various liquids.

The Sergeant raised his gun, aimed, and as someone made a startled noise with realization, he pulled the trigger and splattered Eli’s gray matter on the back of the wall. That would teach him for stealing The Sergeant’s moon dust, along with teaching the rest of the thieving Fortune Soldiers.

The Sergeant turned to leave as the bar’s patrons all began to shoot and riot. Blasts bounced off the field from the generator in The Sergeant’s hat.

The Cheln looked surprised when he came out and walked past him. The Cheln stood up, and cast an eye back to the intensity in the room.

“No showdown?” he said.

The Sergeant gave him a quarter turn and a smile, before saying his parting phrase, without looking, as he walked back to the Misty, Mark Seven.

“Nah, we’ve evolved past that petty honor shit. Justice is swift. No time for bravado or machismo. Leave that to the cowboys of the yester-millennium.”

 

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Staring Out by Brandon Scott

For Andrea, one of the few football players for whom I’ll root.

The last thing I remember feeling was the rain on my skin. I kind of miss that.

            That was right before I jumped out, pulled open the escape hatch. Panicked and hit the button, thumbed in a key lock, answered yes to “are you sure you want to do this” messages five or so times, and then entered my fucking social security number. And then, well, numb.

Numb to the point of loss. Sudden. Violent. They don’t tell you it will be violent. They do not give any warning or indication that what you are going into is a fucking paradigm shift if there ever was one.

Why are you telling me this?

          The words, green and narrow, like bones, fly across the sky, and I take a second, clear my mind. I know he can read these thoughts too.

They don’t tell you about all the stuff you’re expected to do, once you’re in the system. Once you pull the plug on yourself, you expect a heaven or a paradise, or even a room of white, or a digital space of loose pixels. But no, they give you screens. A bubble of screens to float in the center of, and a huge sky above you—visible in the cracks. Teasing freedom.

But is it worth it?

          Even us digital people end up having to work. I spent so much time in the meat sack world not trying to make a man of myself—not bothering with the jobs of the world. Convinced, trying so damn hard, to not sit in the same stew of the same corporate jobs as my mother and father.

And I end up playing conscience to a fucking teenager. What a job. When the operating systems hit their limits, and it turned out A.I. was a fucking shit show once you got it going, they put humans in the jars, and made them run all the systems. My brain is beyond all comprehension, and yet again, I play devil and angel on the shoulders for the kid with the newly installed arm and brain chips and a pair of inner-eye electronic devices.

Look, I get that it’s a different world. But, is it more fun? Are you happier in there?

          You get the dumbest, stupidest questions. You get gibbering, it feels like. The worst is when they try to reach out to you, make a connection. Hope they can touch a kindred spirit for their own ego-stroking. Or maybe try to fall in love with us. We are humans, and I bet they figure we are lonely.

Like we ever feel sexual anymore. We are programs. No genitals. What the fuck would I even do with them? And an orgasm has nothing on downloading the entire contents of a server in one go.

This isn’t helping. I want to know if I should go into the program with you. With all of you. Why did you join the program?

          Okay, fine. I hate addressing directly because I know for a fact you will take my words into your own cognitive bias. Make my words mean whatever you want them to mean. But fine. Like I said, raining, and I pulled the chord and went into this. But, I only did it because I was being chased. That’s what it is for, you know. If you are about to die, for whatever reason, or your body is not fit to go on, you can jump right into the rest of the digital world. Serve forever, if you want. Sure, all of media, but it’s not like you get it for free.

Okay. What if things stay hard out here?

          Then they do. They do and you deal. The out exit is for when you’re stabbed. In your old age, you can always join. Why now, when you could turn it around? Hope, dude. I can’t smell flowers anymore. Why lock yourself in a digital cage?

I’ll give it some thought.

          You’ll choose the real.

I’m not everyone else.

         

 

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What’s Been Done by Brandon Scott

For Shaun Kirk, the host to many adventures.

It was the darkest night but the moon was bright as day.

 And the surrounding things, dead now, were obscured and invisible in the nightmare we call the shadows. They writhed and gasped from escaping air, and I looked down at the sword in my hand, and it still stunk of the sulfur and gore that was spilling throughout the last hour of my existence.

I flicked it, and the grass rustled from the sheer amount of liquid flung down into the dirt. The metal felt heavy right then. Like I was carrying the corpses on my back, stretched from one shoulder to the other.

I dropped the sword, unwilling to hold it anymore—though the weight remained on my body, sore as it already was. The abandoned metal shined in the spotlight of the moon.

I stared up at that moon. And he breathed by me, probably going through the same feelings and emotions. We did not expect to survive the last while; we had told some we would not come back, no matter what we hoped.

“I don’t know what to do now,” my companion said. “It’s…well, it’s done now.”

“Yes, it is. For the night, at least,” I said and kicked my foot into the unseen mass in front of me. The gas escaped yet again from the bloating corpse of a demon.

“Should we go back?” he said, and I still did not turn to look at him.

That was the question, wasn’t it? Should we go back to that place? Sure, it was not unprecedented, and sure, we had not told everyone we were doomed people, dead corpses with a day left of breath. But we’d told enough.

“Why?” I said, out loud, but mostly to myself.

He answered like it had been for his ears. “Why? Why not?”

I took a long time to answer, a long time to put words to thoughts. “With…with what’s been done in the name of defense, why should we go back?”

“I don’t understand,” he said, sounding quieter than I’d ever heard him.

“We were, essentially, sacrifices,” I said, picking back up the sword. I didn’t have soreness so much anymore.

“Yes, we were. But you knew that.”

“One way or the other…if we died, they’d be fed for the rest of the month and wouldn’t attack the village. If we won, they’d not come back at all—if this is all the demons. But they probably did not expect us to win.”

I thought he’d caught on by this point, but I still added to the sentence: “What is back there for us if we went? With what’s been done? What would they do with us?’

“We’d be heroes,” he said, but I think even he had doubts.

“Criminals are not heroes,” I said.

“I’m not a criminal.”

I finally looked at him, and I sheathed my sword. A long and silent motion. “No? You’re not? Are you sure? Then, why are you here?”

“Well they branded me as one, but I am not—”

“Let’s go. Let’s escape,” I said. “They’ll be safe without us. And they can think we died, for a while.”

“And what will we do?”

I waved my hand, and the moon glimmered on my rings—stolen all of them. They could not even find them when they captured me. Magic is illegal too. “Well, we killed a demon horde. I think, comparatively, most problems are not too big. So… anything we want.”

“Anything?” he said, still holding his sword. I eye up and down his body; he’s not so bad looking. Another crime where I used to live.

“Anything.”

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Nightmare Rising by Brandon Scott

For Joshua, who thinks in both languages.

“I now appreciate the darkness.” Those were his last words.

And then the darkness appreciated him. He clasped both hands to his chest, folding them like a mummy in an old cracked tomb, and fell back into the churning mass.

I reached forward to stop his fall, but my hands met only air as the entirety of his frame, slow sinking at first, then gone at once, disappeared into the mass.

It shook like a silent laugh, and I stepped back in alarm. An inch forward it bulged out, taking inside it pieces of the ground.

I looked around at the lab tables, and the random beakers, and the bric-a-brac of his room and could find nothing even remotely helpful—nothing even indicating a way to stop this. To staunch its mass of eating.

I scooped up a beaker with my hand and chucked it, but it too went into the mass with no issue.

“What the shit are you?” I yelled at the blob before booking it up the stairs. Like it had been waiting for me to break eye contact, it made more noise, and I heard the breaking of glasses and tables knocked over onto the hard ground.

As my knees shot up with each lurching step, I felt my phone vibrate. This, somehow, was the most surprising thing about the last few minutes. I quickly glanced behind me and pulled out the technology. I knew of only one person who had this number—and his calling was impossible.

The stairs groaned as the dark did what it could to ascend. My eyes felt blurry from concern, but beneath the simple message of Hey, I got the thing working. Come by and see. I saw a new message.

The darkness is comfort. I can see you.

I ran out the front door with my phone clutched in moving hands. The words, only read once, burned in my mind even as I took another stop out in the yard. When the house remained still, I looked at the phone again, my breathing loud in my ears.

How r u txting? I sent out. U died.

With no lag to it at all, the response came. The darkness is not death. Come back inside, and we will show you the eternity of void and shadow.

No thx.

Then perhaps the outside is more preferable.

My teeth set on edge as the sound of wood ripping filled the air. Around me, I could see people poking their heads out of doors, and peering out windows. The din reached a peak, and it took a second for me to see the source, but at the top of the house, the roof shuddered, soon enough filling like an about to burst balloon.

A tendril of darkness slithered out of the open space, looking wrong on the backdrop of a sunny day, and the house expanded even further with pressure. Until, finally, the wood shattered and collapsed into the mass of black.

I stood, horrified, as a pair of long stalk eyes sprung up and swiveled around with irregular pupils.

Do you think the rest of humanity will appreciate the dark?

I was already in my car when the phone rang. I put it to my ear and peeled out, leaving my neighbors to their fates. The sound of another house breaking echoed once from behind me, and then again in the phone itself.

Before the darkness could say anything, I shouted “No!” My finger stopped above the end call button when I heard the reply, still in my friend’s voice—but warped and strained and sleepy.

“Let’s see, shall we? I think it is worthy of a few more tests.”

My hand shook. After a second, I tossed the phone behind me and kept driving. My foot pushing the pedal to the floor, hearing the sound of police and helicopters going in the opposite direction.

Despite being in the back somewhere, the voice came through the phone like it was on a concert speaker.

“Reality is not enough. Never enough. Join the dark. And be free. All of you.”

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An Ego Trip and a Half by Brandon Scott

For Nick, who apparently knows how to get my attention with story starters.

The day Brandon saved the world.

It was like any other normal day. Well, normal for Brandon. And, thus, not normal at all. Brandon does not have normal days—no, Brandon has “Brandon days.” Which usually contain salty foods, walking, and writing. And, of course, random things happening. Often hilarious only in hindsight.

So, when the dimensional rip sprang open over his bed (which was next to his desk), Brandon did not notice. He was writing, you see. And he had some planned target or another. Something that needed doing. Brandon has a lot of stuff he always needs to do.

So, his eyes—which get tired often—did not move to see the portal open and a woman fall out of it. And then he only looked away from the screen when she tapped him on his shoulder.

“Hello?”

“Ugh, I hate when people interrupt me. What?”

The girl, wearing a gown of white, frowned. “Um, I came to give you your destiny?”

“Oh God, really?” Brandon said. “Now?”

“Yes, it is urgent.”

Brandon kneaded his temples and sighed. “Okay, I guess. This seems contrived though. Can we please have some sort of wish fulfillment story which is not the classic ‘damsel in distress’ trope? I get you’re my love interest and all—or something like that. But come on, how about something else?”

The girl sat cross-legged on Brandon’s bed. A bed which looked nice to Brandon at that moment. Being meta was making him tired.

“You mean ‘me tired’,” Brandon said.

Excuse me?

“You’re writing a story about yourself, where you, as a character, knows that you are yourself…I think. So, it’s making ‘me tired.’”

Well, yeah, but that just makes this even more confusing. How is anyone supposed to follow this when we do word-play and fourth wall shit like that?

“Eh,” Brandon said. “I don’t know. It’s not my problem.”

Yes, it is.

“How so?”

You’re me. Can we please get back on topic?

“Fair enough, sure.”

Thank you. So, Brandon looked over at the woman and gestured out his hand, willing to help—even if a little annoyed with the whole thing. He’d prefer a satirical dystopian adventure, but you get what you get. And the two of them fell into a magical world. Landing on a convenient horse mount and then galloping into the city proper.

“So, what villain am I fighting? And how much of a ruler is he already?”

“Well,” the girl said, “he’s an evil king.”

“Why is he evil?”

The girl shook her head a few times. Like she was not sure what she had just heard. She looked back to him as the horse jostled them along their path.

“Well, he taxes the orphans….”

Brandon facepalmed. “Yep, okay. I figured it was something like that. Give me a minute.”

Without a ritual or form of magical hijinks that would explain how he did it, Brandon Scott reached into the air and plucked down an accountant—who was already up to speed on the tax laws of a fantasy kingdom with elves and magic and dragons.

“Look, I think I know the problem here,” Brandon said. “Nine times out of ten, these sorts of kings just have a terrible understanding of the local economy. And a deep, unresolved issue with orphans, usually because of being one themselves. Sad really.”

“But he’s a decadent hedonist!” the girl protested.

“Not if I talk him out of his base character traits.”

“…okay,” the girl said. “I guess you are the man of prophecy.”

“Yep, however annoying that may be,” Brandon said. “Now, let’s get to the ending already.”

The End.

“Wait, wait, not that soon. Let’s at least make it make sense how I ‘saved the world’? For the person who gave the opening sentence’s sake? He was nice enough to give me an excuse to write absolute insane bullshit.”

Yeah, good point. So, having changed the tax laws to something reasonable for everyone involved, without mucking around too much in political opinions or mirroring real world events, Brandon emerged through the portal, only to find the same portal was widening—which would destroy the world.

So, Brandon closed it and saved the world. The End.

“Much better. Captures the themes in a more robust way. I think we pushed the bounds of what can be accomplished with the right application of surrealism and meta-textual—”

Yeah, not staying around for that. My rants can last awhile. Bye.

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A Tiger Knows by Brandon Scott

For Hailey Marie, my favorite actress.

“She didn’t often like tigers but this one she found quite amusing.”

It had a glint in its eye, a spark of intelligence. A tigress. A female. A mother–in a cage. How fitting.

It paced, but did not paw with madness, nor hunger. It knew it had all the time it needed.

Tabitha was not as certain. She was not as calm. She wanted to scream and pry at the bars. Oh, how I wish I could. If only I could find the smallest weakness, I would be out of here and that thing would be….

But Tabitha was not strong—especially now. She stood and pressed her body against the cage walls, but could barely reach out her arms past the elbows. Her stomach pressed hard into the metal, and a kick reminded her–as if she needed reminding–that another life was also in this cage with her.

The tiger gave a soft noise, a purr from something not at all capable of a purr. A rumble, perhaps.

And Tabitha looked at it and tried to find amusement again. Curiosity instead of uncertainty. But it was hard to hold. Her eyes scanned the other cages and found no other motions. Some creatures had frozen in fear–aware of the predators, others slept from exhaustion, and still more laid in the stillest position afforded to any being: dead. Corpses. The humans all filled up the final category, and she tried for amusement yet again.

She gathered up the remains of a blanket, the structure reduced to almost nothing at all, and tossed an end out for the tigress to take. It pawed at it, playing like a house cat.

The line went taut and snapped, and Tabitha frowned. She gathered back the rest and cast it out again. The tiger repeated its action. Pulled, so it vibrated slightly, and then sliced with its teeth.

Tabitha drew it back once more, held both ends out, and pulled in opposite directions with what strength she had. And the line remained strong.

“A scissor…but not a rock,” she concluded to herself, her voice eaten by the room. Sucked away into the void of silence.

The tiger made the not-purr sound, and Tabitha gave it her full attention. The massive cat tilted its head toward the door at the end of the hallway of cages, and Tabitha followed with her gaze.

The door had a window in it, with a cloth covering to reduce any sight to only a silhouette. But this silhouette was unmistakable. Nothing else Tabitha knew looked anything like that. She wondered why it was coming here. What business does it have? Is it here to feed us again, so soon? When has it ever been kind enough for that?

Tabitha shook her head, but prepared all the same for the entrance, backing up into the corner of the cage and curling into a ball. Look feeble, she told herself. It does not like to hurt the feeble.

The door swung open with a shot of light, extinguished again like a candle’s flame. The thing lumbered into the room, a series of metal pieces jangling with each motion.

It was large, towering. Like a cyclops from the old legends on Earth, it had only one eye, set so low that its forehead made up half its face. Below the singular orb with a blue iris was a pair of curved boar’s teeth, forcing themselves out of the mouth with little regard for the race’s clarity of speech.

Up close, as it was now to her cage, Tabitha could smell the odd, strong garlic tinge that always hung on it. The ragged and stitched together covering of space suit material did not seem to have any noticeable liquids on it to produce such a scent, but did all the same.

“Woman, do you birth soon?” the thing asked, its voice a booming grumble of strained syllables.

Tabitha swallowed the saliva she found filling her throat. “No, not yet. The human birth cycle can take a while–”

“Can it be sped?” it interrupted.

“No… not if you want it alive.”

It bowed down on a knee and reached out one of its hands toward Tabitha, only not touching her by a few inches. Tabitha felt a fit of revulsion from the idea of such gnarled skin grazing her. She pushed her body as far back as she could into the bars.

“I think you are the one concerned about being alive. Can it be sped up?”

“No. Do you not understand human anatomy?”

“Your writings as a species lack…everything,” the creature said. “How you speak this…mud, is enough to confuse.”

“Then remain confused,” Tabitha spat back, cradling her stomach with one hand.

“I shall, for now. But once we know how to make more sport fast…you will breed with all males we find. And then we will have many bodies to study.”

“Breed? Not likely,” Tabitha said in a soft whisper. Her faint cockiness fell to pieces when her cage shook–with her along with it. She fell to her side and gasped at the sudden pain of impact.

“What was that you spoke?” the creature said. She could hear the tinges of humor in its voice: the same she’d heard intermingled with the screams of the man in the cage two over from her a week ago.

“Nothing,” she said in-between gulps and restrained sobs. “Nothing at all.”

“Good to listen,” it said and rose back up to walk. Not bothering to look at her, the creature trudged over to the other cage and snapped the padlock off the tigress’s container. Rather than pounce, it just looked.

The creature chuckled and reached for one of the metal leashes hanging off its body. It tugged free one and beckoned with a clawed hand to the cat.

Tabitha rose to stand, her muscles coiling, the pain pushed aside. Her mind wondered what to do with the situation. She could not stay here much longer. Not if she was going to have this child. She would not birth him or her in this place. She was sure of that. I will never let you have my baby.

Tabitha stood and looked at the rag. The strong fabric. She wondered: would it work? Was it strong enough? I can only try this once.

Tabitha walked to the closer edge of the cage and watched the proceedings. The cat refused to move, and the creature seemed to find this preferable.

“Oh, no? Not I? Well, how about with this?”

It turned toward the back wall and took three steps. A wall of tools and sharp things hung on pegs, but Tabitha was not watching that. The cat and her. The hunter and her. They made eye contact, and she tossed the cloth over to her companion.

The tigress caught it and looped it. Not biting the string. Tabitha could swear it winked at her.

And when the great cat finished, the fabric sat, practically tied—if not for lack of human hands—around the pole of the cage. Tabitha knew not if it would hold, but she knew it would make a thing stumble.

“Ready?” the creature said and turned around brandishing a stick with the end glowing electrical blue. It pressed a trigger at the bottom and the sparks flew off the tip. “Ready to go?”

The demon-like mouth turned to a frown when it saw the cat already close, beckoning out her neck for the collar.

“Oh,” it grumbled, and let the stick fall to its hip’s side, the sparks fading away. “Now you decide? Fine. Come with me. Captain wants to try something new tonight for mealtime. Human for commoners.”

Guiding the feline with one hand, it gave a glare to Tabitha–which broke to panic when it pitched forward. Both cages screamed as the metal bent and titled, but the fall was a perfect arc, its arms going out on either side and only finding the already collapsing metal.

The creature hit the floor with a thunderous slap and did not have time to rise before the tigress took her chance. And once a predator clamps on the nape of a neck, it is not deterred.

A reach forward and Tabitha found her fingers touching the dropped electrical weapon. Again, she felt amused. Hopeful too.

“Tell me puss,” she said, letting the blue power dance, the light reflecting in spilled blood, “do you think this can melt my lock?”

She was sure this time that the tigress winked at her.

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Broken Men and Broken Ideals by Brandon Scott

For Camden, who understands the dark as well as I.

Forever broken, never the same.

The vase, like my life, was shattered. I stared at it. Never the same. Glue could hold things together—make the cracks fit. Make the smile hold true. Make the people around never suspect the realness of emotion. Of ideas.

No. No realness. Fake people, I thought. Fake people with fake deplorable lives. I sat there, and I looked out at them and swung my legs in the open air. I would never fall, and even if I did, I could catch myself before impact. Or something would. Something built into the patio would catch me.

But not the vase. Falling down from the slightest provocation. The smallest nudge. The hint of gravity sending matter toppling down without its own protection.

I think it was my mother’s. But I don’t trust that memory. I trust none of them. What are memories nowadays? When we record, we can change the recordings. True for the camera. True for the brain. I don’t know whose ash I let spill around the blacktop below me. I don’t know who was now looking up at me in annoyance. Who was swearing, but not paying attention to me. He only cared about who would clean up the vase. Not him, never him.

Not his responsibility. But hey, I didn’t want it either. I swung my legs again, beating a rhythm only I could hear, and I wondered if he would come up here and demand I do something about the vase. That I be the adult.

Am I an adult? I do adult things. I did adult things yesterday, and God willing, I’ll do more tomorrow. I make love. I pay taxes. I spy on my neighbors for the reward money. All adult things. But if he came up and demanded I do something about the vase, I don’t think I would—not even if he threatened me.

Not my fault. Never my fault. Nothing is ever my fault. I cause nothing, and in exchange, I hope, no one bothers to cause anything to happen to me. If a burglar broke in tomorrow, I would ask him to leave in peace, or to do something awful. If he hurt me, then it would be his responsibility.

The beads of the entrance—hung there because we thought the doorway could make good vibes or some such—clicked and the most adult thing I could do sat down next to me. Kids have crushes and dates. I have a relationship.

It’s like a date but with less communication and fucking levels varying depending on how close we were to throwing each other over the balcony without the catching device to stop the fall. I call it home. Some might call what we attempt “love.”

I think someone used to love that vase too.

“What are you doing?” she said. She sat next to me and let her ankle touch mine before beating a languid rhythm against the side of the patio.

“I don’t know. Waiting, I guess. Work is over. Is dinner done?”

“I don’t know.”

I tilted my head at her, feeling the faint burn of tiredness on my eyes. But the sun did not go down yet, and so I did not sleep. It might break the pattern. And despite me breaking the patterns of the floral ceramic, I dislike to break patterns. They give me structure, and I don’t think I would have anything without structure.

“How could you not know if dinner is done?”

“I just don’t.”

I didn’t have an answer to that.

“Is that my vase down there?” she said.

“I don’t know—is it your vase?”

She blinked a few times, and the faint smell of food wafted. I think it might have been burning. But I don’t know for sure. If it did, something would put it out for us. Order food for us. It was a good attempt on her to make anything, let alone food—but she did not have to be responsible for it.

“I don’t know,” she said.

I licked my lips and stood. The wind hit me and made me worried I might topple. Even if I did though, I would be fine. I am not allowed to fall. No one is allowed to fall.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s eat. I should be hungry.”

“So should I, if I am remembering right.”

“You probably are.”

“How can you be sure?” she said.

“I can be anything, I guess.”

She snorted in a subdued way. She stood up too and looked down at the angry man—still not doing anything to solve the problem.

“Then be someone who is eating, I guess,” she said.

“Okay.”

I popped my shoulder and wandered into the house, and the small robot placed the food down for us. Not burned. Good. Not burned or broken or busted.

We ate, and we talked, and we slept together in the same bed, and it all moved in the way all things move: not by my hand. Not by my will. And I suppose I am supposed to be happy with such a thing. And if I knew what the word meant, I would tell you if it made me happy.

If I knew what it meant.

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You Had to Be There by Brandon Scott

For Lerone, who never ceases to entertain.

You want to hear a funny story. That’s how all mine start.

And then, less so. Comedy and tragedy go together, you know. Two sides of the same coin. I had a coin in my hands, and it’s where this story gets going.

“Flip it,” he said, and so I did. “Tails,” he added as the metal spun in the air. I snatched it up and laid it on the back of my palm.

“Are you sure you want to do this game?” I said.

“Oh yeah dude.”

I peeled off my hand and showed the coin. Tails.

“Well, okay,” I said, “then you go first, dude.”

“Sweet,” he said and moved the red piece a few spots forward, positioning the plastic square on the grid next to a cluster of triangles. I doubt he knew what that caused.

Around us, the air filled with a humming sound, and the walls shifted to reveal an open field. Standing among the grass was a trio of strange looking men with battle axes.

“Still sure you want to play?” I said, looking at the snorting guys with bronze skin and arms the size of my head.

“Oh hell yes,” he said marveling. “It’s your turn.”

I chuckled and picked up a blue piece from the bag next to us. I put it down, and, on cue, a wall appeared there, making a box with us and the three dudes in it.

“It feels like you want them to attack, so…this one looks like a barrier” he said and placed a wall (green, vertically standing piece) in between our gameboard avatars and the triangles. “Not that I have a problem with that, if it’s just you.”

“Hey, why else would you put yourself in this sort of situation? If not for the sake of a little violence?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, memories maybe? How many get to do this sort of thing on one of the big boards?”

“Just the richest ones,” I said. “You’re welcome by the way.”

“Thanks.”

After a few more moves, we both had placed enough pieces to make the board look like a sloppy mosaic. But with a trick I had not considered, he picked up the green piece, palmed it, and shoved the triangles into our zone.

My shoulders dropped.

“Ha, changed my mind, you wanted us to have a little fun, well, here we go,” he said, and gestured to the running at us group of three, axes raised over their heads.

My hand wrapped around the gun hanging on my back. I could have mowed them down, the poor actors, but I had a better idea.

“Hey dude, want to see something funny?” I said.

“I think this is already pretty funny. Shooty shoot.”

“Yeah, I know, poor people, right? But no. This is better.”

Scooping a few into my hands, I held one gray square in my fingers. And waited for a second until I could hear them screaming up close in attack anger. I slammed down the piece and the entire area in front of us flattened under a huge block. A puff of air moved over us. I added two more to give the death sound some rhythm.

“Ha!” my friend said. “That’s great.”

“I know,” I said, and a giggle moved through my stomach. I clutched my gut, and another piece fell out of my fingers.

My pupils grew wide as soon as the gray landed haphazard on the board.

“What did you—” my friend said and looked up as the block dropped above him.

“Wait!” I yelled.

My hand pulled back at the last second as the block smashed. The tall surface a few feet from my nose. A red liquid leaked out from the bottom of the cube.

“Dammit,” I said. “That’s kind of fucked.”

I looked around, waiting to see if anyone came running. But I guess only my butler was watching, and he only cared about me.

I frowned. “That really sucks.”

A few emotions went through me, but I just sighed and turned toward the game room’s exit. I had to try and find someone else who felt like playing with me. Because, well, Jimmy would not have any more moves.

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