From the Desk of the Editor;
Welcome one and all to the greatest literature show on Earth—Larks Fiction Magazine! This week we are offering two works of fabulous fantastical science fiction to delight and amaze!
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Daniel J. Pool
Salazar, Dent, and Payton
“This isn’t good.”
Mark was guilty of his usual understatement.
The creatures had stopped chewing on Harold’s remains and were now trying to clamber up the rock we’d sought refuge on.
“I never liked Harold,” Mark said under his breath. “But no one deserves to go out like that.”
I just nodded. A barely perceptible movement in my O Suit.
“What do we do now Bill?”
On the bright side, we might be famous for making first contact with an unknown lunar life form. Unfortunately it was likely to be a posthumous honor.
Mark, Harold, and I comprised the law firm Salazar, Dent and Payton, respectively. Normally Mark and I are pretty above board, Harold was the shady partner. He’d only been added to the firm by necessity. We didn’t trust him as far as we could throw him, but you do what you have to do. We were in dire need of work so when Harold approached us with his latest venture, we really had no choice but to accept.
We called it “The Estrada Account” even though it was off the books. We planned on meeting our client, Sam Estrada, off world to sort out the particulars of his being allowed back Earth side. We’d insisted on tagging along with Harold even with the risks that entailed. After taking a second class freighter to Lunar City, it was all we could afford, the idea was to pick up a cheap rover, and head off to a clandestine meeting away from prying eyes.
After setting the auto-pilot to pre-arranged coordinates ten miles outside of the city, we sat back in our seats and went over paper work with an occasional glance out the side windows. About five miles from our destination the rover went off the established lunar ‘highway,’ and started traveling over white rolling dunes. There were still a lot of tracks off the main transport route so we assumed this meant it was okay for us to be there. We arrived ahead of schedule and waited four hours. Sam Estrada never showed up. We weren't happy, but we had to leave. We'd just have to reconnect somehow.
As we rode back, our GPS went out. No problem, we’d just back track along our original route. I got behind the wheel and started driving. Nothing erodes on the moon’s surface for eons, which means we came across a lot of tracks going to a lot of places. We finally settled on a particular set of wheel ruts, and headed off hoping it would take us back to Lunar and the New Moon Underground Hotel. Then our ride crapped out on us. Damn cheap rental places suck even on the moon. We managed to get our buggy to limp into the shade of a large boulder, then attempted to radio for help.
That’s when we discovered the rovers radio had been removed, probably by our paranoid client, Sam Estrada, who owned the “Lunar Buggy Rental and Hock Shop” we’d picked it up from. We changed into our Outside or O Suits, and slowly trudged up the nearest hill to see if any type of lunar habitat was nearby, with me in the front, Mark in the middle, and Harold in the rear. Clearing the top all we could see was an endless vista of craters of varying sizes surrounded by glaring white, and a brilliant, beautiful planet Earth looming above.
It should have been a fabulous sight, our home planet glowing through my visor, but instead of being comforting it just served to irritate me that I wasn’t home. Mark said something in Spanish, garbled through my helmet speaker, but I did catch “Chingada,” as we gazed out over the empty landscape.
Just as Mark uttered the words “What the hell else can go wrong?” I spied two figures moving in the distance to our rear. Had we driven right by Lunar city? I was just happy to see someone else out here wandering around on the moon’s surface. It might even be Estrada. We knew absolutely nothing about “topside” as “Looners” referred to the surface. Without help, we were truly screwed.
Harold started down to our stalled vehicle and Mark and I followed. We could wait by the rover for them to reach us. It took less time than expected because they moved pretty damn quickly. As they neared us Mark commented on the oddness of their O Suits. When they drew within a fifty yards it was apparent they weren’t wearing any. The two figures were grayish white, with bands of black that appeared to circle their midsection. They had legs, arms and hands with four digits. As they drew closer, the digits extended.
“Shit.” Mark said.
Harold started to run back up the hill, and Mark made a move towards the buggy before realizing its thin foldable exterior wouldn’t stand up to a feral rabbit assault.
“Those things look like they’d probably mangle the rover in seconds.”
“Yep.” I said.
The large boulder it was parked next to was the only high ground, and it seemed to have just one ledged area where you could climb up, which meant only one front to defend.
“It’s obvious we can’t move faster than those things, our only chance is the rock. Anything in the cab we can use as a club?”
Mark glanced in the buggy. “Just our briefcases, but they’ve got all of Estrada’s pertinent stuff in them.”
“The hell with Estrada.”
Then I tried to get Harold’s attention on our suit com, “Harold, get your ass back here, we’ll make a stand on the rock.”
I could hear Harold’s heavy breathing, then his voice, “I’m making a run for it, hell, I figure they’ll be busy with you guys and forget about me.”
I couldn’t believe my ears, but I had more pressing concerns than Harold’s asshole behavior. By then Mark had opened the rover and retrieved our cases.
I told Mark to drop the briefcases at the base of the rock, and start climbing. He moved ahead of me, grabbed an outcropping of rock, and pressed his foot onto the lower slab of the boulder. I gave him panicked, helpful shoves. He made it up the first of two ledges pretty easily, low gravity. He was a little over six feet above the ground. I grabbed the three briefcases and handed them up, he placed them gently on the ledge then reached down to pull me up.
I could see his face through the visor, and the expression on it hurried my climbing. I made it onto the shelf and looked back just in time to one of the creatures striking at the rock below me. Its arm was short, the tip of its claw barely higher than what appeared to be its head. It was about four feet tall, with small legs that didn’t appear to bend, which meant they couldn’t jump or so I hoped. They’d halted just long enough to slash at me then continued up the hill after Harold’s retreating figure.
I guess they figured they could come back and enjoy the Mark and Bill buffet at their leisure. Their “legs” barely moved back and forth, and they seemed to float over the lunar surface. They motored up the side of the hill. As they over took Harold both figures began slashing at him from both sides. We turned off our headphones as he began screaming, and his O Suit disintegrated. He started spilling out all over the lunar landscape, and into the open atmosphere. Mark tapped on my helmet and pointed to the audio controls on the neck of my suit. I switched them back on.
“I heard the first few seconds before I could turn the sound off. We probably couldn’t hear anything after his suit fell apart, zero gravity and all, but I didn’t want to take the chance.”
“I tried to get him to come back Mark.”
“I heard you.”
The two creatures started snatching pieces of Harold from the air then gathered his parts up from the surface. They nibbled at the pieces as they returned to our rock, stopping short of where we were to drop their bloody burden onto the ground. They spread him out and started rolling around in his remains as they munched away. I guess trying to squeeze out every delectable morsel. I could hear Mark trying to keep his breakfast down.
“Hang in there buddy. Is there anything in any of the cases we can use? ”
I knew there wasn’t anything but info discs in mine.
“Nothing in my case Bill. “ He opened Harold’s case, “And nothing in his. Except a ‘Lunar Girls’ disk he must have snagged when we landed.”
They’d stopped slopping around in Harold. There wasn’t anything left of him but shredded O Suit. It was a ghastly sight. They were “smeared in Harold.” As they moved towards us. Mark stood up and held one of the briefcases high above his head.
“You’re not going to get any force behind that, we’ll have to swing at the sides of their head.”
Mark lowered the case and practiced a few ‘swings.’ It looked pretty lame. He hadn’t closed the case properly so it opened slightly and a few of the disks slipped out into the atmosphere. I hoped "Lunar Girls" wasn't among them. It crossed my mind we were losing a lot of work as they drifted off. I don’t think either of us cared. If we could help it, Sam Estrada would never set foot on Earth again.
The first humanoid, taller than the other one, moved to the base of the rock. I could see two apertures in what I assumed was its face. Eyes? A half a foot long slit below those, which opened occasionally to expose needle teeth. The smaller of the two lay down and placed the bottom of its “base” against the side of the rock while the other seemed to push he or she or it up towards us. Then I had an idea. Rather than swing at it with the case, hard to do with no gravity, I just pressed back against the creature with the briefcase. I held the case out sideways against the things “face,” and pushed down, trying to dislodge it off the rock.
Mark, seeing what I was doing, set himself as an anchor against which I could get resistance. Fortunately its arms were too short to bring its claws to bear. The tips would momentarily stick in the briefcase side, then pop out. We did this for more than ten minutes, me pressing against our assailant, it struggling to get up the rock, sticking it’s claws in the briefcase. It was draining. Finally it rolled and floated away from the rock. Both creatures backed off and studied us.
“Someone has got to notice we’ve been gone awhile and come out to check on things.” Mark said.
I didn’t respond at first, I was too busy trying to control my growing fear. Now that we weren’t actively involved in saving our ass’s I had time to panic. I realized I should say something to reassure Mark.
My voice sounded steadier, and less shrill than I’d expected. That settled me down a bit.
“Sooner or later they’ll have to. Maybe Sam Estrada will even make an appearance.”
“I hope so,” Mark laughed, “I’m going to kick his ass.”
“I wonder what those two are planning next.” I thought aloud.
“Oh give me a fucking break!”
I turned and looked at Mark, I couldn’t see his face, his suit was turned away from me towards where we’d driven from. In the distance I could see what he was looking at; seven or eight unpleasantly familiar shapes streaking our way.
“Whadda we gonna do now Bill?”
“I have no idea.”
A few of the shapes were different than the others. As they drew nearer I realized I was looking at six of the creatures in two groups of threes, each group carrying someone in an O suit.
“What the hell is going on Bill?”
I started toying with the idea of opening my suit to the lunar atmosphere. It would probably be faster and less horrible. As the new arrivals reached our location the figures in O suits were placed down and whoever it was started walking towards us.
“Can you hear me?” said an unfamiliar voice.
“Yes,” I replied, “Who are you?”
“William Wosniak. And I’m guessing you’re very glad to see me.”
“What’s going on?” Mark interjected, “And what are these things?”
“For now we call them Lunarians, they only exposed themselves to us in the last month. We haven’t even made them known to the general populace of Earth yet.”
“Well there goes my place in history as the first to meet a new life form.”
“Sorry, that honor goes to the late Doctor Philips.”
“How have you managed not to get eaten?”
The second O suit approached, “Hi, that’s me, nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. What gives?”
“I met the adults first, which is why I’m still alive.”
“I still don’t understand?”
“You encountered the infants, they eat anything that moves. There are other life forms just below the surface as we’re discovering. They rarely visit topside, everything to eat was always underground, and anything that wasn’t a Lunerian was food. Til now. All this human activity finally caught their attention, and they came up to take a look.”
“And a taste.” Said Mark.
“Babies? You’re saying these things are babies?”
“Yes.” It was Doctor Wosniak, “When the adults ventured after them, they realized we weren’t from here, and they’d better get a handle on their youngsters. We lost four men before Doctor Means came across the adults.”
I studied the six new arrivals. They were slightly taller, wider, and lighter colored than the first two, and they didn’t have dark bands around their midsections. I was glad to see the six adults arranged in front of their offspring. A wall between humans and hungry infants.
“What are you doing here?” Means asked, “This area is quarantined.”
“That explains the lack of people.” And why Estrada chose this area I thought, “And I think I can guess why the client we were supposed to meet never showed up.”
I could see Means nodding in his helmet. “Well, you’ve got an accidental seat to history being made.”
“Thanks, but feel free not to mention we were here. I just want to head to the Lunar bar and after a good night’s sleep, head back home.”
“I hear that,” said Mark, “We’ve got a law firm to run.”
“You a lawyer?” asked Wosniak.
“Yeah, Salazar, Dent and Payton.”
“You mean Salazar and Payton.” Mark corrected me.
“Oh yeah.” I said glancing at the remains of Harold’s O suit.
“You guy’s any good at what you do?”
“Know all the ins and outs of interplanetary commerce.” I replied.
“And off world import and tax laws.” Added Mark.
Means took a step closer to me, “Since you’re here, think you could handle working out a way we could protect our newest life form from the ravages of corporate Earth?”
“I’d just like to go home, sorry,” I said, “but I can recommend a very good firm.
“Well the Lunar Institute would pay you very well.”
“How much?” Mark asked.
He quoted a sum, and Mark and I turned to look at each other in astonishment. Funny how large sums of money can make you forget about a recent loss. Especially if the person lost wasn’t a very nice guy anyway.
We took Harold’s remains, what was left of his O suit, back to earth for burial. The only person besides us who came to the funeral was a private detective just making sure he was really dead, and not skipping out on a debt he owed the guys client. We decided to keep Harold’s name on the firm, and his photo in the lobby. A hero of the firm who gave his life for the preservation and protection of a species. It made for great P.R. Harold had served a good purpose in the end.
The Lunar Institute is pretty much the only client of Salazar, Dent, and Payton these days, but we do take on the occasional pro bono for charity. We make a lot of trips back and forth between Earth and Lunar City, and the newly settled Lunar City Institute for the Preservation of Sub-surface Lunar Species. We go first class. We can afford it.
About the Author;
Jeff Poole has been everything from a D-jay, a Bricklayer, a Videographer for film festivals, to his current job as a Cartographer.
He has been dabbling in writing off and on for ten plus years, starting with being published in 2000, and 2001 in the Santa Fe Reporter’s Annual Writing Contest. He has been in the print magazines Bards and Sages, NFG, Downstate Story, and Freedom Press as well as a half a dozen e-zines. Many defunct (but my stories had nothing to do with that!).
In addition he has raised two superb daughters, and lives with his wife of 25 plus years in the best place in the world*, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Sweater of the Fates
by John Skylar
Sunlight knocked on Dylan's mind as he tried to open his eyes. He could not quite make them open. It took him a foggy moment to realize the problem. In the night, his eyelids stuck together. He rubbed them, and his unobstructed eyes welcomed a new headache into the world.
Dylan turned his head around to see the post-party devastation that wracked his apartment. He craned his neck down towards the floor, and chuckled at the sweater he tossed there the night before. Little gingerbread men teamed up in a knit tug of war against snowmen. Like some brutal master, a giant Santa Claus in the green background looked down on them with his jolly laughter, as if to say, "Toil, my jolly minions." No matter which side won the candy cane, the sweater remained the most repulsive one in Brooklyn.
It worked out great for his and Theo's ugly sweater party, though Dylan could not remember how he took it off. More fog cleared, and Dylan's eyes fell to the other side of the bed. Kat! Her hair looked messy, and then it occurred to Dylan that it was strange that he would wake up next to his best friend. Memory's anvil dropped into his head. The party...the under-the-blanket game...his heart beat faster as his brain tried to run and his body tried to stay. They would have to talk about it. Seriously.
First he needed to clear his skull. He slipped from the bed. Years of practice meant he could sneak past even a cat-eared Navy SEAL, but Dylan wasted his talents on walks of shame. In one movement, he rose to his feet and scooped up the sweater. The clock read 11:30 AM, so he knew the thrift store would be open.
Dylan stepped out of his bedroom to the apartment living room. He took a deep breath, which caught the scents of plastic-bottle vodka and poor decisions.
Something shaggy stirred from amidst an amorphous pile of blankets, skinny jeans, discarded sweaters, and half-dressed people. Ah, his roommate, Theo. "Mmm. Don'tcha just love the smell of bourbon in the morning? Smells like debauchery."
Dylan chuckled. He forgot that they watched Apocalypse Now the night before. Weird movie when you're drunk. He winced as he recalled the movie-sanctioned under-the-covers hand dance that precipitated his present situation with Kat. "Yeah, about that..." Dylan sucked in a little while he spoke.
"I know, dude. Listen, just take a breather. She'll still be here when you get back. Chick sleeps like a rock."
Dylan smirked, "Well, at least today she does. See you later, Theo." He grabbed his coat and headed out.
When he got outside, the early January sunlight greeted him. Sunlight and snow-blindness made colossal church bells ring inside Dylan's shaky, wounded head. He slammed his eyes shut and leaned against their building's doorpost. Some crap about how the sun got closer in winter came to mind. His hangover didn't care. Dylan pulled out his wayfarer sunglasses and tried to make it to the corner, one foot in front of the other.
He fought his way to the thrift shop at the corner. The bells on the door hid the squeak as he leaned on it. Things felt a little better after the walk, though.
"Heya, Dylan!" Christi chirped from behind the glass cases, too chipper for Dylan's hung over morning.
The singsong voice from her blue haired head gave him a little bit of a start. "Oh. Hey, Christi," he attempted a smile.
"Some night, huh?"
That made him smile a lot wider, "Yeah, you could say that. Ask Theo about it sometime." Dylan's eyes pleaded with her to cut the small talk.
"Sure. Whatcha need?"
He put the sweater down on the case, "I think you know."
Christi's eyes shot down at it, then brought them back up to Dylan, "Oof. Yeah. I'll give you the donation slip right away." She turned away with the sweater to punch it up. With her back to him, she asked, "Sorry I couldn't make it to the party, by the way. I'm guessing from your tight lips, you and Kat got it on?"
Dylan sighed, "Yeah. It's that obvious?"
"Your hair's greasy, you smell like her conditioner, and you look like a deer in headlights. 'Morning after' is written all over you."
He frowned, "I just...I don't want to wreck my friendship with her."
Christi raised her eyebrows, and put a hand on Dylan's cheek, "Aww, Dylan, I think you're gonna have to give up on that one after last night."
"I sure hope not...listen, I need to get going, I've gotta get back and talk to Kat." In reality, Dylan felt a queasy sense of disagreement between his words and reality. If he wanted to keep the status quo, he'd have to cut this mess off with Kat before it got too crazy.
In his bedroom, Dylan sat back down on the bed and stared at Kat while she slept. With his hand, he crossed the Rubicon and stroked her hair out of her face, which woke her up.
"Hey there, Kat."
She turned to him with the sultriest bedroom smile, "Hey there. Good morning."
Dylan half-grinned, "Yeah...listen, we need to talk."
Kat's features hardened, "Ugh, Dylan, it's morning and-"
"Not really morning anymore. Kat, I don't want to mess up this friendship we have."
"Dylan, we don't have to, we're just adding something even better to it." Her smile weakened and she gathered herself upright.
"Kat, be realistic. Do you really think it would work out? We'd just resent each other. I'd rather just be friends and not screw this up."
Any last trace of her glow disappeared and she fumed out her answer, "How can you...what? Dammit Dylan, you already screwed up our friendship. Last night. You can't back out, you..." She stopped and punched him, right in the cheekbone.
She flew out of his apartment as she rubbed her fist. Dylan fell back onto his sheets. "I'm an ass," he mumbled, as if she could still hear him.
The next morning, Dylan's klaxon alarm clock pierced the soft amniotic bubble of his sleep. He shot up in bed, spry as an eight-year-old on Christmas morning. His forehead wrinkled when he saw a knit Santa Claus staring back at him from the bedpost.
"Mrrmle?" the female voice only half-registered on Dylan's mind as it tried to deal with the incongruous presence of the sweater.
It dawned on him that he did not remember any woman in his room last night, so he turned to see silky black hair and blue eyes looking at him. Kat's eyes.
Dylan shook his head, "What are you doing here?"
She picked up her pillow and hit him in the head. Her laughter made no sense. He felt where she punched him the day before, but couldn't find the bruise. It made his head hurt to deal with that level of weird before his first coffee.
Kat saw his blank eyes and her smile disappeared, "Dylan, we hooked up two days ago at your party and finally decided to start dating, remember?"
Somewhere deep inside him, Dylan felt something, a mild queasiness, like a knot in his intestines. Dylan rubbed the bridge of his nose and looked down at the bed, "God, Kat, no, the last thing I remember about that is that you punched me and then-"
"Punched you? What? I never...why would I punch you?"
He shook his head, "This is too weird. You know what? I'm not ready to have this conversation again. I gotta go to work. I'll catch you later." Dylan hugged her, and got up to leave.
"I don't fuckin' get it, man," Dylan related as he studied his shirtsleeves' flannel, "One day I tell her I don't want anything like a relationship and she punches me, then the next day she's all acting like we're dating. She's crazy."
Dreyfus shook his blond, fuzzy head, "Dylan, you told me yesterday that you decided to take a risk and go for it with her. Sounds like you're the crazy one, man."
Dylan gawked at his friend and manager across the display case of homemade foods, "Dude, when did that happen?"
"YESTERDAY. Yester. Day. December 15th. I told you. You came in here for an hour to make the mozzarella for today, and you couldn't stop talking about it." The metal rings in Dreyfus's lips glinted above the glass food display case.
Dylan clenched his teeth. Why did his memories differ from reality? The contradiction felt like a grizzly bear loose inside the minivan of his mind. After a few false starts, he stammered out, "I don't get it. That's not what I remember. We don't even sell mozzarella, do we? We're a chocolate shop. How can that-"
"Listen, man. This is a natural foods store. If we can grow it, we sell it. Even the special crops. It's on the sign. Take the day off. I don't know what you did at that party, but it seriously messed you up. Whatever it was, don't take it again. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Thanks, Dreyfus. I've gotta apologize to Kat, anyway. I'm starting to think I really do want to be with her." Dylan backed out of the shop as if from a back alley standoff.
Dylan shot awake with military discipline the next morning, afraid of what he might find. He looked at the clock. December 17th, so at least that was normal. He turned his eyes to the pillow next to him, where he expected to see Kat. This time, he saw nothing.
"Dammit, where is she?" he asked the Universe. No answer. Typical.
Dylan hopped out of bed. At least he could sell that damn sweater, again. He looked for it on the bedpost, but couldn't find it. He rifled through the clothes on the floor, a pastiche of cheap jeans cut for stick figures, abraded corduroys and various suits' long-lost vests.
Still, no sweater. Maybe Kat took it. He grabbed his cell phone, the only object he owned that looked even halfway new, and called her.
After two rings, it went right to voicemail. He called again.
"Holy shit Dylan, why are you calling me AT ALL?" He had to hold his voice a little bit away from his ear as Kat screamed at him.
"What are you talking about, Kat, we're dating! Where were you last night?"
"Dating? Fuck you, Dylan. Are you trying to mess with me? This is sick, even for you. You broke up with me the morning after that retarded party. I kicked you in the nuts, remember?" She hung up.
Dylan sighed. At least things felt a little normal again, but he didn't like normal anymore. The Kat he remembered from the day before had real concern for him in her eyes. He liked that better. Dylan stepped out to the living room. As per usual, he found Theo on the couch.
His rough-sheared roomie perked up, "Hey man, what's the good word?"
"I don't know, dude. It's like I can't wake up on the right side of the bed anymore. I guess I had this dream last night that I stayed with Kat, but it felt so...so damn real." Dylan ran a hand through his tangled hair, not that it did much for the look.
"Second thoughts about not going for it?"
"I guess. I gotta go to work."
"What are you talking about, Dylan? Dreyfus made you manager yesterday, with a raise, so he could take some time off. You don't have to be in 'til 11. That bicycle lumberjack guy-"
"Bill?" Dylan smiled, but it only served to hide the strange little kink he felt in his stomach. He could never forget Bill, with his padded flannel and axe strapped across his back on a bicycle. Dylan knew for sure that Bill never worked the store. Dreyfus hated him.
"Yeah, Bill, he's doing the clerk work."
A smug little grin came to Dylan's face, "Well. I could get used to a raise, I guess. To think yesterday Dreyfus told me to leave early."
Theo laughed and shook his head, "Dylan, Dreyfus left early yesterday. Not you. Dude, you should take the three hours you've got this morning and see a shrink."
Dylan grabbed his coat. "Sure. I'll think about it," he rolled his eyes at Theo and left.
Dylan slogged back into consciousness like the last bit of honey dribbling out of the jar. He rolled his head to one side and saw the clock. 2:00 PM, December 18th. Sweater on the bedside table. His eyes went wide, and he slammed himself back down on the bed.
He found no relief when he turned to the other side of the bed and saw Kat there, with a new eyebrow piercing. No matter where he turned, life now felt like a box of demon chocolates.
"Mrr, Dylan, what time is it?"
"It's 2! I should've been at work hours ago."
"Work? Dylan, Dreyfus fired you because you didn't go in yesterday."
He shot up, "WHAT?" Dylan decided this mattered more than the piercing. Just past his invisible abs, he felt the knot in his guts return, stronger than before.
"Geez, Dylan, you were fine with it yesterday. He kept insulting you, remember? And you didn't like the crowd he was running with anyway."
Dylan crossed his legs, "Yeah, sure, whatever, but it paid. Plus, I did go to work yesterday!"
Kat laughed, "Dylan, come on, don't do this again. First you forgot we started dating. Now you're saying you went to work yesterday. What's up with you lately?"
Her words made him face his reality disconnect again. Despite his past experiences with altered states, some part of Dylan felt torn in two. Whenever he dropped acid, Dylan knew that life would get weird. Except now, life got weird no matter what. He felt adrift in possibility. Dylan sighed and buried his face in his hands, "I don't even know, Kat. I keep saying that. Every time I wake up, it's like the day that I remember living just isn't...isn't there anymore..." Before he could stop himself, Dylan felt tears on his hands.
"Dylan, this sounds really serious," She hugged him, and kissed his neck, but he saw dark worries in her eyes.
Next to him, Dylan could feel her warmth between the sheets, and he put his arms around her. Between the cold outside and her warm skin, he felt more goodness and sense than he found in the previous three days combined. He held her tighter, as if her strength could keep him from a fall into the temporal abyss around him.
"I don't know what universe I could have dumped you in, Kat, but I don't want to go back." He wiped away the tears and kissed her.
"Now boarding flight 518 to Anchorage. Passenger Sterlitzky, please see the agent at gate 15 to board."
The announcement shook Dylan awake. A screaming pain blossomed in his lower back. The product of an airport chair armrest that he rolled off of. He looked out the windows to see the first vague hints of sunrise behind a digital clock that read "0500." He felt a sudden sense of nausea. Maybe that comes with never waking up in the same world you went to sleep in.
Dylan stumbled over to a nearby newsstand. His tired eyes found a water bottle in the fridge case. He pulled it out, and then stumbled up to the cashier with his wallet.
"Hello step forward how are you sir?" she uttered her mantra to ward off customers.
"Just this," he mumbled, and handed over the water.
She rang it up, and he took out his wallet, to discover not a cent in cash. He went for the credit card.
"Here, try this," he said.
She swiped it. "Sir, it's been declined."
"What? Forget it. I'll find a water fountain."
Dylan staggered away as the announcements for Flight 518 continued. The airport looked empty except for the professional jet-setters in the bar. Signs everywhere read "Denver." Pretty far from Brooklyn. Once he found a water fountain, Dylan sat down and pulled out his wallet. He tore through it and almost dropped half the things inside. No cash, card declined. He punched the arm of the waiting area chair. He pulled out his cell phone. Dead. Furious, Dylan threw it at the ground. It landed next to something that must have fallen out of his wallet a minute before. A note. He picked it up and read:
"Dylan. You gotta get out. Take this cash, get on a plane, and get your ass away from Brooklyn. Try Denver. When you get there, call the phone number on the back. --Theo"
Dylan checked the back and shook his head another time at his dead cell phone. He dumped his head in his hands for what seemed like the twentieth time in four days. Then he thought of all the hobos in Brooklyn who made their money off the kindness of strangers. If they could get hundreds of dollars a day, he could get a phone call.
A quick stroll brought him to the airport bar, right behind a suited executive. The Man yakked away into his crackberry, "Yep, Jim. It's gonna be a hell of a conference. Got the office to send Ash along, and the wife doesn't guess a thing. I'm gonna bang her up the wall."
Dylan rolled his eyes and tapped the man on the shoulder, "Hey, listen, could I-"
"Quit it, I'm on the phone," the man answered with half a glance behind him.
"Sir, come on, I need to-" This time, a fist to the face interrupted Dylan.
As he drifted out of consciousness, he heard the suit say to the bartender, "How did a bum like that get in here? Better call security."
The punch slammed Dylan through unconsciousness and spat him out in another wakeful mystery. This time he recognized his apartment's ceiling, but as his alarm exploded at his bedside, he realized that neither he nor the girl collapsed on top of him reached the bed the night before. Worse yet, the blonde hair on her head tipped him off that Kat would not be happy. He didn't even know this girl's name.
That is, if Kat even still existed.
Dylan slid her off of him, gentle enough to keep her asleep, and put on some clothes to walk outside. Maybe Theo could shed some light on this mess. Pants on, he wandered out into their living room with a head that felt like a hive full of bees.
"Hey man. Some night, huh?" Theo asked, perched on the couch with some cereal.
"Yeah. About that. Why was I in Denver?"
Theo almost spit out some of his cereal, "You mean Denver as a metaphor for a place where pot is legal, or literally Denver?"
"I mean the last thing I remember is getting punched in the face in the Denver airport."
Theo's eyes went wide, "Fuck man, that's not what happened at all. The last thing I remember is I helped you get that girl to come back with us, and things went from there."
Dylan spat back, "Not what happened at all? I get that a lot. So what is it today? Where do I work? Do I even work? Is Kat gonna be mad at me for this chick?" Dylan collapsed into an armchair in front of his bowl of oatmeal. Once again, he felt something twist inside him.
"Dude, Kat told us both to stay out of her life. That's it for that. And you're working the shop today, in charge. Remember, Dreyfus had to skip town? The whole thing with the Latin Kings? It's not even temporary ownership anymore. You're the natural foods guy for half of Williamsburg now."
Dylan shook his head, "Man, I wake up into a weirder world every day. I kinda wish I could just get back to the one where I was with Kat, and everything was good and naked." He would kill for that. Five days and not a single one of them made sense yet.
"Dylan, you gotta get your shit figured out. That's just a fantasy."
It felt as real as anything else.
Dylan snapped back to life like an empty slingshot. He wondered what it would be today--fantasy, reality, something in between? The sun peeked through his ancient, dusty blinds and its rays fell on Kat's warm, inviting face. For a second, he could kinda see through her to the pillow beneath. He stirred her awake.
"Kat, God I'm so glad to see you." He grinned with pain behind his eyes.
"Hmm? What do you mean, Dylan? I've been here all night."
He sighed, then shook his head and collapsed back into the pillow. The vertigo and nausea came back. Then he slammed his fists down onto the bed next to him.
Kat tugged at his head a little, until he turned it towards her, and kissed him. Their lips met, but at first he felt nothing, almost as if she were not there. Then the slightest pressure, then a full kiss. He pulled away.
She stared at him, then spoke, "Dylan, I'm still worried about you. What is this? Lately, every other time you've woken up with me, it's like you don't think I'm supposed to be here. You don't remember half the things that have actually happened...there are other events...and the strangest part is that on the off days, you're totally normal. Perfect, even."
Side to side with her on the bed, he could see the concern and love in her eyes. Dylan wanted beyond anything for this problem to go away and for his mind to be fixed again, but he could not imagine why this happened in the first place. He sighed, "Listen, Kat, I don't know how to deal with this problem. Dreyfus and Theo--versions of them, at least--told me to see a doctor, but I don't think it's a medical thing. I'm totally sane, despite all evidence to the contrary. I haven't had a drink or anything else since the party. But this keeps happening. You know two days ago I woke up in Denver?" Dylan felt the knot in his stomach tighten.
Kat laughed, then got it under control, "I'm sorry, hon, that's just a little funny. No, it's not. You're right. This is crazy, though. Do you really think that you're waking up and the past has changed? How is that possible?"
He shook his head, "Kat, I've done like all the same drugs you have. You can always tell a trip from reality after. This seems totally real. Each day I wake up with a different past from the one I remember. One day, we broke up after the party. The next day, I'm here with you. At least I know what I want now. I want this." He turned his head away from her. "Ugh, and that damn sweater. I keep selling it, but there it is." Santa laughed back at Dylan from the bedpost, but he could almost see the bedpost through the cloth.
"Wow, Dylan. I don't know what to say. It sounds like...it's like you're waking up in a different timeline. I read a book once, about that Many Worlds theory, you know the one? Where our choices cause time to branch into different paths?"
"I don't know that book, but there's that one story by Borges-"
She shook her head, "No, it's not that. It's...shit, Dylan, I'm not a physicist...it's like, all the choices you make, they really happen, maybe not to you, but to, like, some version of you. What if somehow you've fallen through the cracks of that, and you're just...lost in the possibilities?"
He just stared at her. The slightest bit of tear welled up by his eye.
"I...I just...I think you're right," he sobbed a little, "But in the other worlds...something always happens. Here, I've been fired. In one I'm broke in Denver. In another, you won't talk to me and Dreyfus is in big trouble. I don't know what other possibilities there are, but I don't like them. What if something happens to someone I know, and I just have to live through it?"
"Oh God, Dylan...I don't know what to say," she started to hold him, "Listen. Let's go get some food. Maybe we can think of something over a meal. Or, maybe we can get in touch with a professor who knows something about this shit. Stay positive. We'll fix this somehow."
For a minute, she blinked out of his vision. His heart paced worse than when he first woke up next to her.
He collected himself and nodded. Maybe Kat could bring him back from this. As Dylan found the least wrinkled of his pants, he said, "This is even weirder. Now I keep being able to see through things."
Kat frowned when her head reappeared inside her hoodie. "That is really weird. What can you see through?"
They walked to the door.
"You, for a minute, then the sweater. When we kissed before, I didn't feel it at first. It's like I'm weaving, in and out. If I focus, it goes away." He needed to focus to walk down the steps. A piece of ice appeared almost from nowhere as he walked down their front steps.
"Maybe that's a good sign! Maybe it means there's a way to control this, that it can weave back together and make sense to you."
At the corner, he turned to her, "So you think that a professor might be able to help me? It's all just theory, right? Also, where are we going?"
"Yeah, maybe. I mean, someone's gonna leap at the chance to study you. They can help you. I know they can help you," she seemed to want to convince them both as they stepped into the crosswalk, "As for brunch, how about that new Mexican chocolate-"
Dylan's eyes went wide, "Kat look out!"
The words hit her ears right as the gypsy cab's bumper hit her legs. It knocked her right out of the way and continued through to Dylan. For a second, it seemed to pass through him, but within a flash it changed. He found himself in the air, and his trip ended when his face connected with a parked car's driver-side window.
Dylan came to in the dark. He sat up and looked around while his eyes adjusted. The shop. Somehow, he fell asleep on the floor of the shop. His consciousness pooled together until it could turn itself in the one most urgent direction. He yelled, "Kat!" into the dark and empty store.
The natural breads, cheeses, and home-roasted chocolates offered nothing about her condition, and instead languished in their glass prisons. Dylan realized that when the cab knocked him out, it also jolted him to the next reality.
He stood up and went for the light switch. When light bathed the room, he spotted a letter on top of one of the glass cases. He walked over. Addressed to him, the envelope read "In case something happens to me." From Kat? No, the handwriting belonged to Dreyfus. Memories from this part of the wave function flowed back to Dylan's mind. The Latin Kings. They must have found Dreyfus. Dylan collapsed to his knees. He could feel the different lines of time inside him diverge and tangle as he tried to find his way out of the mess he woke up in. They would come for him, or he would wake up after the cab accident. Or not wake up at all. Every option he got shoved into felt more extreme and worse than the last. The confused tangle in Dylan's guts, his only companion since that first morning, became a monster. He retched.
Then, he punched the glass case in front of him, and cracks blossomed out from the point where his fist connected. A trickle of blood leaked down. Dylan barely felt it. "Why is this happening to me?" he cried.
"I need a way out, I need...to end this. No one can help me. No professor can solve this. What happens when I wake up tomorrow, and Kat is dead from the cab? Or I'm in jail in Denver?" He didn't notice that he spoke aloud.
"The shotgun. I'll get Dreyfus's shotgun." He rushed over near the register and found the sawed-off 12 gauge that his friend and boss once bought for a joke. Every instinct in his body resisted his choice. The sheer power of his fear, of how desperate he felt not to see what place or disaster he could wake up in next, steadied Dylan's hand against the onslaught of hardwired impulse.
With the barrel under his jaw, he pulled the trigger.
Things went black.
He woke up on the latter half of his fall off the Brooklyn Bridge.
Things went black.
He came to in midair again, right in front of the oncoming 4 train.
Things went black...and it didn't stop.
Her sisters finished the last stitch, and she snipped the threads to finish the sweater.
"Now you see I was right," said Atropos to her sister Fates, "Knitting is much more fun."
About the Author;
John Skylar is a PhD candidate and science fiction writer who occasionally masquerades as a fictional professor at the University of Constantinople. In addition to Larks Fiction Magazine, his work has appeared in The Cynic Online Magazine and Schlock Magazine. He blogs about writing at www.johnskylar.com and you can follow him on Twitter @johnskylar. He lives in New York City along with his ramen soup.
Thank you for joining us for another issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! We welcome you to join us for next week’s issue as well as read some of our earlier editions.
*Editor’s Note: the opinions of authors stated in bios are those of the writers and should not reflect upon the tastes of straight thinking people (i.e. Oklahomans) who edit this publication. Thunder Up!