Freak. Disgusting. You should have been drowned at birth.
I’ve heard all the insults before, but they still cut deep, burrowing beneath the layers of my being, festering until I can barely stand to draw a breath.
It isn’t as if I don’t know the reality of my appearance. I was born with sight in one eye. Perhaps if I’d been born entirely blind, I wouldn’t have to witness how different I am from everyone else.
No arms. No legs. Deformed face. Born to a drug addled mother. I can’t help what I am, though they can help their cruelty.
The electrodes feel cool against my temples. The mechanical hum soothes my frazzled nerves. A youthful technician attaches the remaining electrodes to William.
Tonight is our night.
William and I have been bonding since we were five. Now, fifteen years later, we know each other more intimately than most people know themselves. Our minds have learned to mingle together, to work in tandem.
Scientists bond to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Lovers bond to heighten the experience. We bond to make art, symphonies of light and sound, and on stage, we shall stun the world with our creative power.
I am potential.
I am unwritten,
You look at me
with hungry eyes
and lofty aspiration,
paintbrush in hand,
you ache to change
I am yours.
Through me, you
Create in me
and of me.
Splash of color,
of life and
Be my creator.
Make me special,
Let me change
I am the canvas,
the blank sheet.
I bring forth the
power, the light,
the color, and the
I am here.
“You owe me a debt,” Lana said with a smirk, her arms crossed in front of her chest. “I don’t chase away bullies for free.”
Elliot made a futile attempt to straighten his damaged glasses, more to make it look like he wasn’t staring at her. Lana’s knee-high black leather boots made her look like a warrior goddess. Bullies had always been a reality for him, and he couldn’t figure out why someone like her would help him.
“What do you want?” he asked hesitantly.
The smirk turned to a smile. “Just a kiss, because I think you’re cute.”
The blobby green creature rolls slowly around the perimeter of the plexiglass enclosure. “The entity seems to be exploring its environment.” Daphne speaks into the recorder excitedly. At age 14, she strives to act like a real scientist.
Her little brother Daniel watches from the edge of the bed. “Shouldn’t we let someone know about this?”
Daphne shakes her head. “No. If the government gets their hands on it, who knows what they’ll do? Everything will be better if we keep this to ourselves.”
He nods. He’d seen enough movies to know she was probably right. “Can we name it?”
This place is a wasteland. It’s the type of environment that makes your brain shut down just to get you through the day.
There are worse places, of course. I have food. Shelter. Money. My physical needs are met thanks to this soul crushing machine that I call a job.
The desk reeks of disinfectant. The computer screen glares harshly back at me. My chair wobbles, keeping me off balance. The data I have to input into the system is utterly unremarkable. All the figures look the same.
There is a famine of ideas. Of inspiration. I desperately crave imagination.
The gravesite was nicely manicured. Visitors tended to feel comforted by well-tended cemeteries.
Stan shoved his hands into his coat pockets, his eyes wandering over the headstones surrounding him.
“Is it weird that I’m here?” he wondered aloud, knowing that no one else was there to hear him. “I told my best friend about this, and he laughed.” He knelt down in front of the headstone, tracing the name with his fingers. His name. “What can I say? I’m going to be buried here someday. I want to know what it’ll be like for my family to visit me.”
What defines the horror genre?
Dana stared at the question for several long moments. Of course she knew what the professor expected her to write. She’d been to class, taken notes, and studied. Yet she couldn’t regurgitate the answer she’d memorized.
You don’t know what horror is, she thought bitterly. Horror is waking up every day feeling like you were born into the wrong body. Horror is feeling as if you’ll never fit in, and fearing every day that your family will finally see through the veneer and be repulsed by who you really are.
Dana left the question blank.
“I’m a phoenix,” she whispers. Her warm breath caresses my chilled flesh, making me shiver. “Ignite me, and I’ll be reborn.”
I have no idea what she’s trying to say, probably because someone spiked my drink. This whole night’s been strange, but now I’m too hazy to care.
The campfire has dimmed, casting shadows about the pasture, and I wonder if we’re truly alone in this bizarre moment.
“Make me burn,” she calls to the sky as she dances away from me. She begins to twirl, her red and yellow dress fluttering in the breeze, the fire illuminating the material.
“Why do you have to act like such a juvenile all the time?” Carrie demanded, her voice rising an octave between the start and finish of her raucous protest.
Chris calmly stood his ground, hands shoved in his pockets, as he studied the results of his brilliant prank. Teenage girls covered in pinks, reds, blues, and greens surrounded him, all wearing identical looks of fury.
“Hey, you couldn’t decide whether you wanted to make tie-dye shirts or have a water balloon fight. Thanks to me, you got both.”
Carrie held up a balloon filled with pink dye. “Your turn.”
Sweat dripped into my eyes, but I couldn’t sweep it away. If I took my eyes off the ball, it would’ve all been over.
Then disaster stuck. Or kind fortune. I can’t decide which.
I detected movement from the corner of my eye. On the sidelines, Phoebe Wexler had bent over to tie her shoe, affording me a perfect view down her shirt. I froze, distracted by the heavenly sight.
When I opened my eyes, Phoebe hovered over me. “You were knocked out. Are you going to be okay?”
As long as I don’t die of embarrassment, I thought.
From her seat on the porch, Anna saw the uniformed messenger climb out of the car. Beside her, Sarah’s petite form tensed. “No,” came the slightest of whimpers. “No, no, no.”
The messenger could be going to a neighboring house, Anna thought.
The young man started up the sidewalk, and Sarah crumpled to the floor. “No, no, NO!” The volume and desperation increased with each repetition.
The news was clear. Sarah’s husband had died in the war. Like so many others. Anna ached for her friend, but part of her also rejoiced that she wasn’t the one receiving such news.
Miles was shocked by the note in his locker.
Meet me at midnight under the oak tree in the park and say you’ll be mine.
The note wasn’t signed. As he navigated the halls between classes, he observed everyone, hoping to catch a fleeting glance, searching for any clue as to who his admirer was.
Hours later, after his parents had gone to bed, Miles slipped out of the house and headed to the park. The cool evening air couldn’t chill his heated skin. His heart pounded in his ears as he spotted the silhouette leaning against the tree trunk.
Newcomers are treated with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. I know this from my childhood. Being an army brat, I was always the new kid in school.
Now, as a diplomat, I get to experience it again on a whole new level. First contact with an alien species. I’ve been living on a starship for the last three years just in case we encountered anyone. I’d almost given up on the possibility of it happening.
It’s even more intimidating that we’re meeting on their home world. I stroll into the room, the lone human. I am the alien here.
The world places value on originality, all the while peddling knock-off clothing and accessories so people can all look the same. It’s laughable just how deluded people can be.
People say originals are precious because they can never be replaced. Original paint jobs, original parts, untarnished by time.
Of course, people try to replace the irreplaceable. That’s why I exist. A clone, a replication of a once-living original. I came with a blank slate, though family members pretend not to notice. They’d much rather embrace the delusion and ignore the fact that I’m not even the original me.
White dresses, flowers,
Innocent you must
they all command.
As you grow, you
human needs prevail.
In a moment, it’s
childhood is over.
A burgeoning wisdom,
takes root within.
Life is not so
as others pretend.
Yet others persist,
of your knowledge.
the insults fly.
Who would want you
as you now are?
The judgments come
by one, cutting.
Words fill your life,
They taunt you, judge,
and it takes a toll.
Some will not rest until,
you agree with them.
“Do you think it’ll work out this time?” Mark asked, his fingers clenching the steering wheel.
Martha shrugged, trying to convince herself that she wasn’t terrified.
Qualifying wasn’t easy. The standards were strict. Out of a batch of ten embryos, there was no guarantee they’d have one deemed acceptable. They’d walked away disappointed three times already.
Embryos had to have a potential IQ of 125, and no genetic defects. That meant perfect eyesight, no mental illness, no risk factors for cancer. And even if one embryo met the criteria, aptitudes were taken into account.
The needs of society decided all.
The cracked red dirt sent up puffs of dust around Delphine’s feet. Dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. She shuddered. Much as she longed for some water to cool her heated skin, the rain waiting to be unleashed from those clouds would be anything but refreshing.
It hasn’t rained for months, Delphine thought bitterly. It figures that it would happen now when I’m nowhere near shelter.
Resigning herself to the fact that she couldn’t avoid it, she continued to walk. When the droplets began falling from the sky, they cut right through her, stripping the flesh from her bones.
Stella’s hand ghosted over the blank sheet, leaving faint lines of graphite in its wake. She savored the curves and planes as they flowed from her fingers. Her heart poured onto the paper as she worked, attempting the nearly impossible goal of capturing a moment . . .
“Justin, stop twitching!” Stella cried. The sudden movement from her model spoiled the artistic trance she’d been enjoying. Now there was a nasty smudge on her masterpiece.
“I had an itch!” he retorted. “I’m human! If you’re not going to allow me to have human shortcomings, I’m not going to let you sketch me anymore.”
Craigslist ads attract all kinds.
Stacy was searching for someone to fix her computer. A man called a couple hours later, offering to do the job.
When she opened the door to let him in, she was startled by the long purple robe he wore. Great. I got a weird one, she thought.
“Are you qualified to fix computers?” she asked hesitantly.
“I am a thaumaturgist,” he replied calmly.
“Thaumaturgy is the ability to perform magic.”
Her eyebrow arched quizzically. “You’re a magician? Why didn’t you say that instead?”
He smiled. “You would have thought I was crazy.”
He smiled. “You would have thought I was crazy.”
“What’s the next word?” Bobby asked.
Marcus glanced down at the paper. “Ubiquitous.”
Bobby wrinkled his nose. “Is it just me, or does that word sound a bit pretentious?”
This earned him a raised eyebrow. “I think the word ‘pretentious’ sounds just as pretentious as ‘ubiquitous’. Besides, words themselves aren’t pretentious. Just the people using them.”
With a shrug, Bobby conceded the point. “I guess it’s to be expected. We’re practicing for a spelling bee. Words that make us sound pretentious are bound to be ubiquitous.”
Now Marcus smiled. “You clearly know what ‘ubiquitous’ means, but can you spell it?”
A cluttered desk: facial creams, moisturizers of every scent a person could dream of, cosmetics designed to attend to any beauty related problem imaginable.
A drawer filled with tools: eyelash curlers, hair curlers, hair extensions, brushes for creating perfect designs on painted nails, nail clippers, cuticle nippers. The list goes on and on.
A closet packed with clothes: designer dresses for day and night, sweaters, jeans, leggings, so many pairs of shoes that one couldn’t hope to count them all.
She looks around her bedroom, thinking of all the things she has. Yet it’s never enough. She always feels empty.
Daryl hates crying. It reminds him of his childhood, when his mother would be gone for days and his father would (if he was lucky) be too drunk to even notice him.
When the man did notice him, Daryl went to bed covered in bruises. He only allowed himself to shed tears whilst hidden beneath his threadbare comforter.
He hasn’t cried since his mother finally disappeared altogether.
Now he stands before the coffin, tears streaming down his face. Though he hates his father, he laments the loss of hope that things could’ve been better. That he might’ve had a dad.
“You hear about people being xenophobic. Well, I’m xenophilic,” Darlene said as she kicked at the dirt. “I watched nothing but Star Trek as a kid, so that may be the reason for it. You should know that if we’re going to date.”
Miles stared blankly at her for a moment. “Would I have to do anything weird?”
She produced a set of pointy prosthetics from her coat pocket. Spock ears. “Wear these on our first date. And no red shirts.”
After a moment of thought, he shrugged. “I can live with that. So you’ll really go out with me?”
“Yellow is the color of life and death,” Josh said.
Ellen looked up from her eggs. “What do you mean?” It was too early in the morning for her decaffeinated brain to decode his meaning.
“Look at your eggs. The yolk is yellow. It’s meant to nourish new life, but your consumption of it is a kind of death. The sun is yellow. It gives life. Yet the yellowed pages of a book are evidence of decay.”
“Yellow is also the color of the healing bruise you’ll have in a couple of days if you don’t stop rambling,” Ellen warned.
The bars of my cage are rusted and dirty. No one has cleaned them for years.
The surrounding cages are silent too. They’re not empty, but those that occupy them are motionless. I can’t recall the last time I saw one of them stir.
Life in the zoo was never easy. Androids were outlawed when a Luddite faction took control of the government. We were placed in zoos as a warning of the dangers of technology. Children would come to taunt us.
There was a war. I heard artillery at night, but it stopped long ago.
Now no one comes.