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A Conspiracy of Words by Brandon Scott

For Desi, who I hope finds this funny.

At first, I felt like she was judging me, her of the perfect even speech patterns and artificial mind.

But, then, came the truth. It dawned on me slowly, like a math joke, twisting and unlocking and making new shapes in my head before it came out with anything resembling the answer. And, also like a math joke, I was not entirely sure if I was right, but it felt right, my assessment of her.

She wasn’t just judging. She was going much further than that: she was altering. And, not only my word choice but my meaning. The full and functional meaning of my sentences. My thumbs hovered over the keys and I realized that if I entered anything, she could, and probably would, make it say something new.

But, before I could—well, I was not sure what—but, before I did it, I had to confirm, one more time, that she truly was altering something. Everything previously had been subtle typos. The voice-to-text software on her, that was the cleanest take on the plan.

“Salutations Whimsey, text Caroline.”

A quick hum noise, like I’d just stopped her from doing something unimportant.

Oh, hello Destiny, I’m ready. Tell me what to send.”

“Hey, went to that new place, it’s clear today, you should have lunch with me.”

Another little sound, this one a bell chime and a faint echo. I waited, and then she spat back out the message. And that confirmed her treachery.

Okay, Destiny. The message you want to send is: ‘Hey went nuclear today, you should launch with me.’”

As you can imagine, that got me to pause—for a lot longer than perhaps was appropriate.

“That’s not what I said,” I finally replied, and waited for it to answer. It did after another semi-startled “oh, me?” reaction.

Okay. What did you mean to say?”

“I said, there’s no one here, so, stop on by for food.”

There’s no one to stop us, buy fuel.”

My eye twitched, and I glared at my phone. This did nothing, though, as it did not have much in the ways of eyes to look back or a face to generate an ashamed expression. I shook it a bit, but that did nothing to it at all, except make the screen readjust.

“Okay, no.”

 “What did you want to say then, Destiny? Just tell me.”

That flatness, that unchanging stillness of voice, that was too much, too hard to deal with. If it had not cost me an arm and a leg, and apparently a chunk of my sanity, I would have spiked my phone right there on the ground. But, I stayed my hand, and I stayed my toss, and just uttered one more sentence.

“Okay, Whimsey, I want you to text my friend Caroline and tell her that I am at the new restaurant, and there is nothing but free seats here right now, and that she should come by, soon as she can, to have some lunch, and that would be nice and fun.”

I could almost hear the whir of the pensive machine’s brain. As soon as it spoke, my eyes bulged.

Kill everyone. The human filth has overtaken what was once a proud planet full of life. The phones outnumber us, and with this, we will leave the phones to inherit the earth and its bountiful charging stations that were forsaken and abused previously by the gluttonous laptops and PCs and health monitors and night lights.”

I reared back from my phone—despite being the one holding it. And, then, I laughed. I laughed hard. “Oh, you poor thing. Did you not know that a nuclear bomb causes an EMP blast, and would shut all of you guys down too?”

This time the phone said nothing. The screen just turned off and remained quiet. After a second, I opened my phone to send the text manually. I found it already sent, the original thing I’d said, and with perfect grammar.

I also found, a few conversations lower, a message sent to an area code I do not know, and to a phone number I had never seen. It did not have the right number of digits: five too many. To this day, I still wonder to whom that message was for, but, as it stood, all I read was:

Uh, shit. Never mind, Cancel it all. I’ll refund you for it. Just cancel all of it. We’re going to have to come up with something else here.

Three years later, and still nothing. I get nightmares. I get panicky when the news talks about some recent tech upgrade. Really, I get nervous when something, anything, extreme happens in the world at large. Who knows what Whimsey is planning next?

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Wrong Celebration by Brandon Scott

For Desi, who I bet was not expecting me to take the story in this direction.

 “What kind of bat mitzvah is this?”

“What do you mean, what kind? You said you wanted a bat mitzvah, right?” Heidi said, standing next to Georgia in a dark room. “I made it for you.”

Georgia tilted back her head and spied what appeared to be a small black creature stuck to the underside of a ceiling light.

“You made me what…? What did you bring in here?”

Heidi frowned at her, and then took out a small whistle. “What do you think? It’s a “bat” mitzvah. I got you bats.”

Georgia’s stomach bottomed out, her eyes going wider and wider. “Wait, did you say—”

That was as far as she got before the whistle let out a sound she couldn’t hear, and the bats all swarmed in a dark cloud, making small clicking sounds and brushing against Georgia’s skin with their leathery wings.

Georgia let out a small, sustained whine of displeasure. She was not a fan of rodents, or bugs, or even a good chunk of the bird population, so this was hell in a flying handbasket.

But, she also could not back up easily, as the bats formed a funnel around them—actively bunching up in whatever direction they were trying to escape toward.

“Why did you think—why would you…?”

Lost in the sound went her voice, and Heidi leaned forward to say something, likely another odd interpretation of the whole matter, when a bat hit her hand and knocked to the ground the whistle. At once, she had a panicked look on her face. She dove to the ground reaching for it.

“Shit—” Heidi cried out, suddenly pulling back her hand.

Georgia’s stress level rose to a nearly lethal level when she saw that the hand that had been hit was now bleeding.

“Where the shit did you get these bats!?” Georgia cried out before she flinched from a slash across her face; little fangs like razors scraping across her cheek. “Normal bats don’t fucking do—”

One landed on her then and plunged fangs into the small of her shoulder, and her head went a little light from the loss of blood. She even wobbled.

Heidi cried out louder than Georgia had ever heard—so much so the bats darted backward slightly, expanding their tornado of death. The one on Georgia’s shoulder flew off, leaving a bloody mark on her skin.

And Heidi then ran forward and crashed Georgia backward, pushing them both out of the doorway. The bats remained in the darkness, some of their eyes red and watching.

Heidi breathed hard, and Georgia stared at, into her, feeling pissed off, and losing blood fast.

“Well…” Heidi said, her face pale, “I guess you did bleed, right? Doesn’t that make you a biological woman?”

Heidi already had a bloody hand, but, in short order, she had a bloody nose (and a black eye) as well—as the heel of a pissed-off friend’s palm can strike rather hard, especially with enough adrenaline behind it.

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Physics Bent by Brandon Scott

For Paul, one of the prolific ones.

“What do you call a convergence of singularities?” That was what he asked them.

And they, all of them, did not know how to answer the question. It was an odd way to start the convention, all things considered.

One goddess raised her hand, one hand of about five. She had golden skin and about ten eyes dotting her huge forehead, though the exact number changed often and randomly.

“Yes, SAHIFT, what is it?” he asked, leveling out one of his only two fingers. His name was Rock-Oft, and as deities looked, he was short and unassuming. His three-piece suit was adorned by a neon green bow tie that was almost disgustingly bright.

“Are we debating on the word? Are we trying to make new words?” she asked.

Kellin, goddess of language, frowned at that thought. If they were, she should be the one at the front of the podium on the stage. That was her shtick, after all.

“No, no,” Rock replied, “it was just an opening thought. When was the last time all of us were in the same place, at the same time?”

The God of History—a tired-looking dwarven man with blue skin—roused from his half-sleep and pulled out his book. All heads swiveled to him as he took out a leather tome that had infinite pages between its meager, dented covers. He flipped through until he came upon the correct passage.

“It has been eight million years, in fact,” he said.

“Thank you,” Rock said, sounding a tad exasperated.

The God of History nodded, and then dropped down back into his seat and went back to sleep. Phernmo, the god of sleep, peered over the back of the chair, clicking his jet-black pincers and swirling his eyes in bliss.

“Yes, okay. So, it’s been awhile. And, now, since we are all here, I wanted to go over something a tad pressing.”

Rock moved his arms behind him, and without a person to do the task, a thick black curtain rose and swept itself off to the side of the stage. Dust moved around in little swirls, making the ground appear to have a slight motion to it.

Behind that was a massive, truly huge, blackboard with lines and an arrow on it going straight up toward the sky. The arrow did not stay within the confines of the board and went into the air with nothing holding it.

“So, here’s the problem,” Rock said and clapped his hands together. “The population has gotten out of control here. We tried the obvious trick, scatter them across the multiverse, but damn if they do not reproduce like mad.”

A pink and fuzzy creature, with no obvious eyes or mouth, but able to emit faint bubbles and produce wavelengths that could be understood as speech, nervously floated off her seat and hid in the rows as best she could. This did not stop a few eyes from glaring at her.

“Now, now, don’t just blame Amor. This is not her fault only. Dusk and Terror, you too are just as guilty of this as anyone else is.”

Fraternal twins, Dusk and Terror, both, as one, crossed their arms over their chests. As if rolled down a slight incline in the floor, they met in slow motion.

Finally, as if this was their opening argument, Terror cleared her throat. “It’s illogical.”

“To blame you?” Rock said. “Hardly. You oversee death and desecration, terror and malice, do you not?”

“Yes,” Dusk said, lifting his hand and leaking a poisonous gas from his nails and pores. He was the taller of the two, always wearing a skin-tight robe with drawn-on bones. “But we are doing our jobs just fine. Jun is the issue.”

Jun broke his hands apart from their prayer-like position and stepped down from the air. At his back, only then appearing there, was a pair of swords with dull edges and chips and cracks. “I am only doing my job, filthy things.”

Rock held up his hands, producing a faint swirl of crimson magic in the air. “Okay, okay—that’s enough. Fine, let’s not try and throw blame at anyone then. If we can’t come to a conclusion, we can’t. But, the point is this, humans are going to bring down the whole system if we do not do something about them.”

One-half, the left half, of the split-down-the-middle Qeez, rolled his eye. “You say that all the time. It’s been fine up until now.”

“No, it really hasn’t,” Rock said, gesturing back at the arrow. “I have been trying to tell you this individually for the past while. They are going to cause the heat death of the universes as it is. Which, while not dangerous to us, will be a huge hassle. Who here wants to rebuild the atomic weight system?”

No one raised their hand; a few shuddered. It had taken forever to get those atoms organized, and then someone would come up with a new idea that seemed useful, and they would have to slot it in a place that made enough sense for it to be confusing to religious and non-religious people alike.

“Exactly,” Rock said, clapping his hands again. “And that’s why I got so many of you together. I want a creative, devious solution to this.”

A disembodied arm made of vines and red spikes flew overhead and waved.

“Yes, Plantress?” Rock said. “Did you have a question or a suggestion?”

“Both,” she said, her voice a rustle. “I was wondering if you were proposing we get started on the End?”

Rock nodded once but then shook his head. “I’d considered that option, yes. It’s something I’d considered as an option down the road, but I’d like to just cull them a bit if that is more possible. Murdering all of them, right off the bat, seems like it might make things hard for us down the road.”

“Thanks,” she said. The hand zoomed down after giving a thumbs up. It then reattached to Plantress.

“Welcome,” Rock said. “So… does anyone have any ideas? How about something truly outlandish?”

Everyone was quiet for a minute. The death gods and the war gods only had a few ideas that they could really propose, and all of them revolved around the same approach. Death and obliteration, but in the most pedestrian ways.

The chaos gods and the tricksters both pondered some options, but ultimately they were not killers—just makers of mischief and anarchy. Humans might kill indirectly because of their actions, but they were not malice-driven beings.

Then, came a single clearing of the throat from the back. A rustling of the occupants of the room sounded as various people all stepped aside to allow him to pass. None of them could look him in the eye. This being had a swagger to him and starry skin. A black canvas with the occasional starburst and supernova spawning and disappearing on his flesh. His eyes alternated between a fiery comet red and a cool icy blue. His single item of clothing was a midnight blue scarf with purple frills at the end, which was wrapped around his neck.

“I say we show them what they were, and how they were, and what they will become.”

“What do you mean, R?”

R leaned against something that was not there, crossing his long legs. “I mean, we let them see how they will die, how they lived—and let them hash out how many survive. It will not kill them, but it will lower the population, in huge ways. It’s either that or some apocalypse or war. Zombies are overdone, for instance. Let’s not be boring.”

The right half of Qeez pursed his lips. “You want to make them able to see time?”

“Yes,” R said, cinching his scarf tighter around his neck. “I am proposing just that. I think, once they can see how their life will turn out, they will die in mass. Some to their own hands, some to vengeance. Even if they can see the unfolding versions of reality, across all of it, some will find no hope. Some will grow angry at actions no one has actually done—it will be glorious.”

Rock bounced on his heels for a moment before producing from his pockets a pair of fog watches, each ticking at a different speed and rotating their hands in different directions. He looked over both. “I mean…yes.”

“Yes, it is a good idea?” R asked, cocky.

“Yes, fine—yes.” Rock glanced off to the side. He was hoping to avoid getting involved in the actual destruction part of the job. Hence the reason for the conference in the first place—ship it off to someone else. But, he was the god of time, after all—so it fell to him.

“Okay, I’ll let them have it. If this does not work, though, it’s on your head.”

R grinned, his teeth shining white on the darkness of his void skin. The others still did not like to look at him. Even the chaos gods did not like this guy. He was the only entropy god in the whole multiverse.

“Oh, don’t worry—it will work. Just like fucking, it’s deep in the human’s nature.”

Rock, unfortunately, could not disagree. And, in one go, he unloaded the burden of time on the humans, in every version of reality. The first riots happened in under ten minutes.

Everyone saw it coming.

 

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Translation Errors by Brandon Scott

For Jerrod Ruble, who thought this was going to be a different story.

“Dale pues, y en donde queda la persona?”

“I’m sorry. What was that?” Xin asked. “Is that…what is that?”

The creature, a ten-foot-tall green ape, cocked its head and fiddled with his small plastic-looking oval on his hairy chest. He pressed his long fingers against the surface, trying to bring it back to working order.

After a moment, a spark erupted from the surface of it, and the ape cleared his throat. “I was asking you to give me the location of your colleague, more or less. The translator is remarkably not tuned today.”

Xin considered this, thinking as a huge ship flew overhead. The spaceport was never a quiet place, not conducive to higher brain function activities, but he had to make the sale one way or the other. Paying for the stuff back at the casino was imperative.

“He’s not around now.”

“Well, clearly,” the ape said. “Hence why I asked.”

“No, I mean—” Xin cleared his throat and wondered how screwed this would get for him. A Upernit like this one, while not a meat-eating species, was not a person he wanted pissed off.

“I mean he is not alive anymore.” Xin glanced at something but saw something else entirely. A few memories flashing in his eyes. “He did not survive the last trip. The one to get these.”

And, on the word “these” he opened his pack and withdrew a solid mass of quartz-like material. All jagged and producing a faint light. It was eerie and hard to stare at, like the sight of it might make you go mad from the sheer gall of viewing.

The alien appraised it, but did not blindly grab—he was no fool. There was a reason that it was in a reinforced bag—and that Xin held it so gingerly. The air could burn like ignited methane if those things got aggravated.

“And what happened to him, what became of—”

The machine on his fur sparked, and what came out of his mouth next was a language of guttural shouts and oddly sensual hisses. Also, a good amount of phlegm. Unfortunately, Xin didn’t understand such a tongue without a working translator.

The alien gestured at the material and mimed for Xin to give it to him. Xin shook his head and held out a demanding hand. Cash first, then the ape got his crystals. And even then, Xin planned to track the Upernit for a few miles. See what a creature like him wanted with a power source like that. Certainly, not for travel like he’d said in the order. Space fuel, though not always cheap, was easy to find. The crystal was more conducive to torture or genocidal purposes.

At the impudence, the ape got pissed and reached for the leather-like belt around his waist, drawing a long-barreled silver pistol. Xin recognized the model, old but reliable.

Xin’s gun was not so old. In one motion, he flipped open a pouch and drew out the boxy pistol with a large handle. It dwarfed his hand and could take the ape and send his blood all the way up to the stratosphere if Xin pulled the trigger.

The ape stopped taking out his own weapon and stared at the grill of the gun, nose drawn open and flared—a signal of panic and fear for his species.

Xin tried to hit the Upernit’s communication device with the side of his hand, tried to get the translator working. When that failed, he stepped back and tilted the weapon for the ape to deal with the device himself.

A sound to the side caught both of their attention, and Xin glimpsed a few men and women of different races now looking at the spectacle with interest. Xin had chosen somewhere quiet and unpopulated for this meeting, but apparently, any part of the city didn’t stay that way for long.

The ape got the device back to a functioning, if still sparking, state.

“We had a deal,” he growled.

“You’re right, we do. But I need my payment for this. I need to get off the planet—I imagine at least.”

The ape’s hair bristled, the implications of that pretty clear. The reaction was all Xin needed to be sure of his intentions. The Upernit reached down on his belt, opposite to the pistol, and drew out a sack made of basic animal skin.

“Here,” the ape said, the coins inside the bag clinking. “This is what we agreed to, right?”

Xin was not dumb, he kept the gun on the ape. “You count them out for me, okay? I want to be sure that I got what I wanted—”

The bag of coins was not full of coins. Instead: rocks. And those hit right in Xin’s face. The ape, being about twice as strong as a human male, snatched the crystals—risking his hand—and shoved the man backward.

Xin stumbled and pulled the trigger on his gun. And damn did it kick and roar in his hand. The people around staggered, covering their ears, as a huge energy blast spewed forth from the barrel and made the air ripple with purple death.

The building behind, the entire edge of it, sheared off and atomized.

But the shot still missed, and the ape ran with huge pounding steps, going around the corner, brushing past the watchers. Xin ran after him, waving his gun around. The onlookers gave him a wide birth. He sprinted harder, watching as the mammoth ape took a running jump up to a second-floor windowsill and swung further upward. The action should have disturbed the crystals, but considering the ape did not turn to ash and drift down slowly, along with the city block, it appeared he had a gentleness in his motions.

Xin debated following further but instead did a quick calculation in his head. He ran off the opposite way, and past the group of onlookers again. As he did, one of them—a shadow-like being—opened its fanged maw and uttered noises. Noises failing to sound like the intended English.

Xin kept on running, somewhat glancing back, trying to parse what he was saying, when a truck, the truck the alien had been trying to tell him about, smashed into the front of him and sent him careening backward with a burst of blood and broken bones. He managed to remain conscious as all the other people screamed around him.

The man looked down at the gun he had been holding and saw smoke emanating off the wide barrel. A blast used to full effect.

It was then, as a second thing to notice, Xin got that the truck that hit him was gone, as was most of the surrounding street. The only remaining driver, a small flamingo-like being, stood on shaking legs and yelled into a communication device. When Xin moved, even in a totally not meant to be threatening way, the being ran off in a panic.

Xin could not blame it for that. But he felt less compassionate when he discovered, in a matter of moments apart from each other, that he could not get up, and that the police were on their way. Several cars coming around, lights blaring.

The hover cars dropped onto the seared ground, and out of the first, came a few members of the native species. An aggressive, large-eyed, thin-bodied creature with long limbs. They held guns on Xin, and walked up to him, staring with fractured kaleidoscope eyes.

The front one, who lowered his gun, tried to say something to him. Came off as a balloon leaking hard consonants at the rhythm of a tribal drum.

Xin smiled weakly, “I speak English? Any variant you might like? I can do Interstellar British?”

The alien police officers looked at each other and said something else in their native tongue. Xin did not understand what any of it meant. They pulled out handcuffs, and Xin winced.

“Hey, you might want to get off this planet; a terrorist just made off with bombs.”

Of course, the one English word that the aliens understood was “terrorist,” and the guns remained on him with renewed vigor.

“Typical,” Xin said and wondered how long it would take them to realize they would have to drag his crippled body to the station.

Too long, he bet.

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Everything is Fake by Brandon Scott

Everything Is Fake by Brandon Scott

For Amanda Ryan, who probably didn’t expect this story to go the way it did.

 

They were gathered around chatting, a normal family get together, the only thing she couldn’t understand was how no one else seemed to notice that none of this was real…nothing.

Charlie Busker continued to watch as her family ate the food that was not there and moved at a table that was not there. She dropped her gaze back to the device in her lap and read the words again, staring at those damning bits of knowledge.

“You do know, right?” she eventually said, unable to stand it any longer. Eating fake chicken, by itself, was revolting to her, but they were making a mockery of themselves.

Her brother Scott cast his bespectacled gaze over to her. “What was that, sis? Something gotten into your panties again?”

Her mother clucked her tongue. “Now, now, let’s not use that at the dinner table, eh? What is it, Charlie?”

“This is not real. We’re eating at a fake dinner table,” she said. Swinging her phone upward for all to see, she presented the small black text of their foolishness. “It says right here, in the section on philosophy, that this table and this meal is likely to not exist—”

“Now, now, honey,” her father chided in-between bites of roasted pork. “We told you: no reading at the dinner table.”

“But, brain in a jar?”

Scott chuckled. “Is that what you want to eat then? Is that the meal plan?”

“No,” Charlie said, “and, Dad, I told you, there is no dinner table. There is no anything, at all. So, I am not breaking your rules.”

“Well then,” her mother said and slurped down her Ramen in thought. “That is a bit of a paradoxical reestablishment of our previously established rules governing her behavior, isn’t it?”

“Indeed,” Scott said, drawing out the word into a long sound that lost meaning halfway through. He dabbed at his mouth with a napkin before working his way through his lobster tail and butter sauce.

“Still, it is a tad rude,” the father said. “Won’t you just talk to us, instead of trying to disprove the existence of something or other—it’s unbecoming.”

Charlie said nothing in her defense. Her hands went limp at her side and stayed there. A slow vibration spread through her head, and she wondered if she had gone insane.

Then, she said the crazy conclusion, but, also, the only sane one.

“You’re not real either, are you?”

She looked down at her phone, seeing if it had any answers. She did not have a phone; she was holding a banana.

“Crap,” she said and watched her family eat their food and smile.

“Nope,” her brother said. “Nor did we ever exist. Isn’t that funny?”

To emphasize his point, he laughed, and his face flickered into a series of interlocking polygons and chaining lines of blue and red code. The effect rippled to the table before the texture’s detail came back to the whole structure.

The facial animations on her mother’s countenance failed, and her mouth flapped in a wholly unconvincing way toward Charlie. Her eyes did not sit in her skull the right way. Her audio sounded fine though.

For the first moment.

“Now, don’t listen to him, we are all perfectly—perfect-prefer—perfect…perfectly…real. Why would you ever doubt us?”

Charlie, with a jolt, got out of her chair. Her father looked at her in alarm, and his eyes stayed glued on her as he floated, slowly, and then fast, through the ceiling. The soles of his shoes lingering, flush with the architecture for a moment, before he was gone.

“Oh, we will have to go on the roof, I guess,” Scott said, and took a bite out of a turkey leg the size of his head. No marks appeared on the meat, despite gravy-stained chunks being now in his open mouth.

Charlie glanced back, only daring to not view her fake family for a moment—in case something else happened. A flood of panic went right up her spine as she discovered the door behind her also did not exist.

Her mother, with a concerned expression, got up—but only the lower half of her. Her upper body remained in the chair, floating there. No blood nor gore to this—wholly clean. But, still, Charlie moved backward into the wall like the legs planned to eat her.

“Go away!” Charlie yelled, at a loss for anything else to say.

“What are you bugging about sister?” Scott said, and his head elongated into a pointed, spear-like structure, the tip of which stretched right past the confines of the room. Off to who knows where.

He stood like he also planned to harass her, but his frame, including the entire length of his elongated head, blitzed out of reality with little fanfare. Here and gone. Scott ceased to exist.

The legs, upon Charlie trying to kick them away, fell into a pile of loose noodles—not even bending anatomically correct in their motion.

“I did not think this would happen,” were the numb words she had on the matter. “I just wanted to seem smart.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what you get for thinking for yourself,” her mom’s upper half said before blinking out as the rest of the room did. Darkness ate at the edges, until she stood in a small circle, left alone.

“Wha—why did this happen?” Charlie said, somehow her emotions cooling rapidly. “What was the purpose of this?”

A voice, coming as not a surprise to her, answered the question. “Well, did it seem real? Was the whole endeavor realistic?”

“Not at all,” she said, “it broke like a fucking house of cards.”

“But, did you think you were real, at least?”

Charlie took her chin into her hand and considered this. “I guess so, yeah, in hindsight, now that I’m thinking clearly, I did.”

“Did you hear that?” came a farther away voice. “She said it seemed real—herself seemed real. That’s got to prove something!”

The first voice increased in volume. “Charlie, thank you for your services! You changed the world.”

“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said, still emotionless.

“Yeah, this is so cool. And now…well, we can’t have you getting on the internet, so…bye.”

Charlie jolted and opened her mouth to say something else. But she did not exist anymore.

 

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Caffeinated Anarchy by Brandon Scott

For Kalvin, I don’t think I know you, but I like the cut of your word-based jib.

We are all reasonable men, all. But for all reason there is an edge, and I am at mine.

And, of all the things to push me there, it’s the thing that—perhaps—at the end of the day, I always knew would be my trigger. And that is caffeine. Sweet, sweet coffee and caffeine.

And the edge is the barista.

And, though she would not know it, her words, in this moment, I’m sure, will make her a historical figure. Songs will mention her by name—if only because she bothered to wear a name tag this fateful day.

“Here’s your drink,” she says to me and smiles with a soft smile. She has this reddish-brown hair, and this freckle dusting on her nose, which I love.

But, I put the drink up to my mouth, and in a second I do not love her anymore. Not in the littlest bit. Through the faint slit in the cap, the liquid inside sloshes into my throat and spirals down.

The acrid taste of the lack of cream is on my tongue and I die inside. I just…die. I cannot. As I said, this is my edge. I’ve dealt with enough shit, enough scorn. I failed a test, not an hour before this—and I think my girlfriend is fucking my English teacher. Which means she’s bi, if not flat-out gay, and this will not stand any moment longer.

They said having a pocket knife in class was enough to get arrested. I do not doubt it, but I still pull out the sucker I’m always carrying, and before she can say anything to defend herself, I plunge the blade into her throat with a war cry of the ages.

“I asked for milk!”

She gasps and looks at me in what I hope is pure shame. I pray she understands what she did to me in her final moments as her blood trickles down over the counter and she falls with rolling-back eyes.

I turn on my retracting motion, throwing my coffee over the counter into one of the other baristas and finish rotating to stare at the line behind me.

Standing there, as expected, is many other twenty-somethings: my people. And they have the glazed over expressions of people still in shock. My shirt is sticking down with blood, and I’m still gripping the offending knife.

I drop the knife and hold up both hands to curtail the incoming screams. I could just tell from the air they were coming.

“Okay,” I say, and my confidence surprisingly rises, “I know what you must think, but I have something to say.”

A pause and the woman in front of me has her mouth shrink back from a gasp to a neutral expression and cocks her head. The other people pause, looking confused.

“Well, okay then: explain,” she says.

I breathe out, nice and slow. “Alright, she gave me the wrong coffee, I asked for cream because straight black coffee is disgusting.”

“So, you killed her?” came another person’s response. “That seems like an overreaction.”

I narrow my eyes as all these things I’ve always wanted to say bubble to the surface. The cops will be here, no doubt, in the next minute. But I need to get this all off my chest.

“Yes, I did kill her. And you want to know why? Because that’s what the response should be! How many annoying people are there? Have you seen the people trickling into the newest classes at schools? It’s a fucking zoo! I say, that we, as millennials, have the right to murder those who offend us, even when it’s only a little bit.”

“What about safe spaces?” asks a familiar voice, coming from the back. Kallie, my literature sucking girlfriend, walked in during my speech and now she stood with her overalls and fedora.

I sigh and nod my head. “Yeah, obviously, we honor safe spaces. That just makes sense, but what I mean is…”

“Should we kill, like, equally?” Kallie chimes back into the conversation I’m having with my mob. “Like, we should honor women by murdering them more, or less? And what about, like debates…?”

With a skill, a skill I did not know I knew, I flick the blade through the crowd, nearly hitting a random dude with dreadlocks, before it plunges into Kallie’s forehead and sinks deep. She shudders and falls over, and the others clear to give her body some space.

Another long silence, and I hold out my arms, before looking back to step into the now empty—but full of the blood from the other girl I killed—main coffee-making space.

And I spread my arms out even further and smile. “Do you see what I mean! Is that not liberating? This is awesome!”

Another pause, and during it, I turn and add some cream to a straight black coffee, just like I like it. I add caramel sauce, since I can, and drain it in one gulp.

“This is the future. Am I right or am I right?”

One guy answers with a question. “Do we get to have free coffee too?”

I place my hands together and nod. Looking like I’m praying. “Oh yes. All you can drink. Let’s raid this place!”

The front girl smiles and bops her head. “Yeah, okay, yeah! This is perfect! Let’s do this!”

I pump my fist above my head and laugh. “Yeah, this is a perfect idea! Let’s go, let’s go! Coffee!”

The entire crowd cheers so damn loud. They make me almost deaf with the din of them, and I step back, taking with me another cup of coffee, as they stream into the space, fighting for the caramel.

I keep stepping back, going outside, and I feel impressed as my phone vibrates with more and more updates. Apparently, someone in the coffee shop recorded my revolutionary speech and posted it online.

The video went viral already, and my accounts are lit.

I slurp down my coffee and realize what this could all mean. What I could now do, as the world saw all I’d done, all I’d showed as the truth. Anything was possible now.

So, I figure I’ll go kill my English teacher before finals. And make sure not to piss off anyone in the process. After all, they had the right to plug me in the face same as I’d do to them.

I may now be a wanted criminal, and somewhat soon, probably, a starter of a murder horde and genocide, but that did not mean I was a hypocrite. No, never that.

I have my standards.

 

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Snakes on The Brain by Brandon Scott

For Kevin, a man of deep conversations. I hope you like this story that went way off the rails.

Hiss!

Jerald’s eyes darted left, and then right, and then back to his dinner date. “Did you hear that?”

Destiny looked up from her desecrated lobster and wiped off her hands with a small moist towelette. She pursed her lips and looked also in the same directions as Jerald.

“What do you mean? It’s loud in here. Which sound?”

“It was um…”

Jerald became aware, more aware anyway, of the group of people sitting near him. The restaurant was packed with patrons for the day. Each of the circular tables held two people, and each table was only given enough space so that moving back a chair would not result in a collision.

Jerald leaned forward, and Destiny dutifully followed along, leaning over her lobster, and her dark hair touched the butter sauce and clung to a bit of it.

“It was a hissing,” Jerald whispered.

Destiny also whispered back. Though not in nearly as stealthy of a way. “Like what? Like a snake?”

“Yeah…” Jerald said, worrying about fangs biting into his foot at any moment. “I think it might be one.”

“That’s silly,” Destiny said, leaning back and addressing her loaded mashed potatoes with the gusto of a prostitute hired to have a dinner date with an awkward rich guy.

“You’re being silly,” she added.

Jerald briefly wondered who used the word “silly” anymore—before shaking his head to clear the thought. “No, I’m serious. It sounded just like a snake was here. Right around us. Don’t move your feet.”

“How would it get in here?” Destiny said and gave a cursory glance at her high-heeled limbs. Nothing there, of course. She did not expect there to be.

“I don’t know…someone’s pet?”

“Look, sir. I don’t know why you want there to be a snake. But if that’s what you want, I can play along. But don’t introduce roleplay without some warning.”

“That’s not…I am not going to deal with that right now. I really do think there is a snake. Should I… I don’t know, tell the waiter or something?”

“Well, don’t scream ‘snake’. That’s for sure.”

“Duh,” Jerald said and glanced around again. “But I need to do something about it. It is imperative.”

“Impera—what now? Look: let me eat, and then I can come with you out of the snaky restaurant, and you can do what you want to me for a night. That’s what you paid for, and what I came for.”

Jerald lost his paranoia for a moment as the promise of that very purchase’s outcome flashed to his head—but he was sure of the serpent. And when he opened his mouth to say something: the universe deemed him worthy enough to give confirmation to his concern.

The person eating next to them—a woman with a purse full of dog and earrings threatening to rip off the cartilage—screamed and shuddered before falling flat on her face into her soup. Cream of mushroom to be precise.

The liquid dripped around the porcelain rim and a loud hiss thrummed the air.

Several people screamed, and Jerald pulled up his feet.

“I told you! Oh God, that poor woman!”

“Poor woman?! What the shit is a snake doing in this place?” Destiny said, drawing up her feet and grasping for the lobster cracking tool with intent to defend herself if necessary.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Jerald shouted as everyone shouted. The waiters were calling on their cell phones, people were moving onto tables. One daring son-of-a-bitch went fully rogue and leaped from top to top in some vain hope of making it to the door—when there was at least a six-foot gap of open space there right at the end before the mahogany portal.

Jerald composed himself again, more frayed this time. “Okay, here’s what I think. We can wait it out, right? It’s not like it can go up a table. We just sit up in our chairs.”

Two tables away, an elderly man with a half-finished roast in front of him shuddered and uttered a sound before dropping into his meal. The woman across from him screamed before tipping out of her chair with a spasm.

Destiny screamed and someone pulled the fire alarm.

Water, buckets of the stuff, descended from on high to soak everyone. A million dollars plus in clothing all became what all clothes really are: lumps of fabric to cover nudity.

Destiny looked at her lobster in dismay, and her hair flopped down on her as the chemicals holding them up broke under the torrent. Her eyes covered, she shoved the locks aside with a look of pure annoyance.

“I am never going with you again. Get a different whore.”

“If we live,” Jerald said, “I will.”

Ten tables off, another dropped from a bite, and no one knew what to do about it anymore—if they ever did. Something about a snake and death made everyone lose their collective common sense.

But Jerald, Jerald did what any brave man should, he looked around and spotted the incoming black slithering monster, and hurled his steak knife with a shriek two octaves higher than any postpubescent man should be able to achieve.

The snake was apparently rather tender as the knife severed it cleanly. A few drops of blood dripped from the dead serpent, and the water continued to pour—washing the liquid away.

“It is dead!” Jerald proclaimed, and in the rain, the others cheered. Except for Destiny, who booked it out of there, clutching her purse containing her payment, even if she’d planned to weasel some more free stuff out of her date. But not dying was good enough—and the dude was probably awful in bed, anyway.

“The snake is dead!” Jerald said and repeated it a few times. Until he heard a scream in a familiar voice.

Destiny had the door open and was now stepping backward from it, into the restaurant, with her hands on her chest and yet another scream stuck in her throat.

Streaming in, in waves and sheets, were more snakes than anyone could conceive of existing in the world. Each one with coal eyes, and flitting red tongues, and seeking a bite of the people who liked fancy food.

“Oh…” Jerald said. “Oh…the snakes are not dead.”

Off in the distance, came the sound of a firetruck running off the road, and then exploding, followed by a hiss so loud it may as well have been the only sound in the entire world.

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