Guest-edited by the illustrious Ann VanderMeer, these eight juicy stories are a journey beyond the ordinary. Explore futures and footnotes, fragments and history. Read about mushrooms and missing limbs, shadows and books, atoms and souls.
Table of Contents
In The Broken City, by Ben Peek
I met her in the Broken City, the day after my leg was removed.
Lila told me that she had been born in the debris of the city, her childhood defined by the time-released locks on the door to her house. “If I was late,” she said, touching my thinning hair lightly, the afternoon’s red light shining through it; “if I was late, then the door would not open, and I would have to spend the night on the streets and my parents would not come looking for me until the sun had risen. They said that I knew the dangers of the city and that if I wanted to tempt fate to become a surgeon’s experiment, then they would not mourn me. When I began working at the hospital, I tried to get them to come down and see the work that is done, the way people are helped, but they refused. They left when it became clear that I did not think the hospital was evil–I think they’re living in Issuer now, beneath the cremation ovens.”
The Birth of the Atomic Age, by Rachel Marston
This is what they told us.
They said, it will be better than Fourth of July.” So, we marked our calendars, impatiently checking off the days, discussing it by the water cooler at work, while mowing the front lawn, in line at the grocery store. We said to each other, I heard that the sky will be bright purple with giant lights, like UFOs hovering overhead.”
Psychopomp, by Ramsey Shehadeh
I step out of the service entrance into a pool of flickering fluorescent light. The alleyway reeks of filth and unwashed bodies, and the darkness makes of its scattered detritus a landscape of ominous looming. The soul in my arms has devolved into an inchoate semi-opaque mass, roiling helplessly against my chest.
I make my way to the mouth of the alleyway and peer out at empty, silent streets, and then turn toward the rendezvous.
Janikowski has not yet seen fit to house me in anything better than this ancient, octogenarian body–with its aching back, its ruined knees, its failing eyesight–and so the going is slow. I keep to the shadows, glancing nervously over my shoulder at every turn.
Introduction: The Story of Anna Walden, by Christine Schirr
How many times had she stood there, naked form huddled beneath a stream of warm water, shivering with cold? Each time, goose bumps rose on her skin, and she shuddered, twisting and turning to squeeze her entire body under the spray. She hated how her senses were distracted by the shower. The rush of water filled her ears, the rivulets running down her body teased her flesh, and the white curtain of the stall hid the rest of the room from her eyes. Sometimes, instinctively, she would rip back the plastic sheet, but nothing was ever there. No matter how fast she pulled, how sharp the motion, the dark shadows shot into crevices before she could move.
It had always been like this. Even as a child, especially as a child, she had known they were there. During the day, at night, whether her mother was in the next room or not, the things waited. They crouched behind the toilet, huddled in the cupboards, and even hid behind the surface of the bathroom mirrors. They waited for an unguarded moment, the right time, when she’d forget about them. She had to be ready.
Anuta Fragment’s Private Eyes, by Ben Godby
The sounds of buffing and waxing are soothing to Anuta Fragment. Each night she walks the deserted corridors of NGCI’s headquarters complex, swinging the big blue cleaning machine from left to right, nosing it through doorways, pouring chemicals on the floor before it to devour. The scent of polish fills her head and she dreams, waltzing with Boethius–the name she’s given to her big blue purring companion.
As Head Cleaner this is her favorite job, though she has many less alluring tasks to which she must attend. Mr. Tanner–the President, CEO, and veto-wielder of the directorial board–has remained in his office late tonight, and Anuta knows that that means.
Unclaimed, by Annalee Newitz
It was the room of a book lover. The wall displays were dead, and the air was emptied of holograms.
A sofa slumped beneath a dark rectangle that Tom had first pegged as barebones readout. But as she approached through the shattered front door, it resolved into a piece of paper gummed to the display surface, a printout of pages from comics. On a low coffee table of indeterminate age were three mobiles, one still powered up and tuned to a page of off-kilter text. Looked like something that had been scanned in from a paper book.
Fragments from the Notes of a Dead Mycologist, by Jeff VanderMeer
Have you ever dreamed, like I have, of something coming up through the ground–a camera, a periscope, a conduit? Something so mundane maybe you didn’t even think of it in that way. Maybe you didn’t even see them, even though they have always been there. When you do notice them, you don’t think of networks, you don’t think of connections. but they are–connected; I’ve seen it. Sentinel towers communicating under the soil.
The Street of the Green Elephant, by Dustin Monk
The year the Street of the Green Elephant flooded and later burned, Father opened his tea shop in the backroom of Pthik-da’s Baubles. Miss Pthik-da, the very tall and very round owner, liked to paint eyes on her eyelids so that when she closed them she could, as she liked to say, “still see you.” She told me I was the daughter she almost wanted. She annoyed me. Her shop annoyed me. Every corner, every crevice, in front and back, was overflowing, stacked with things: children’s toys, scarves and perfume bottles, pipes, incense and handmade lovers’ quilts, used shoes, necklaces, postcards, apothecary vials and ornate vases, paintings from local artists, lotions and jams, jars of ink. Stuffed between two embroidered pillows I even found a pair of cheaply-priced stone dentures. In the backroom amid more piles and stacks, completely out of place, was the long wooden table where Father had neatly placed six white ceramic bowls filled with handfuls of different kinds of tea leaves. Miss Pthik-da told Father she’d let him rent out the backroom because “no one purchases this old junk anymore,” and it was either let Father rent here or close up the gift shop. But she didn’t let him set up in the front. Selling tea was illegal.