Cassandra’s Burden

by Jesse Rowell

Salt water laps against our sides as we drowse over the shoal in Lethe Bay. Our umbrellas stand at attention on the isthmus waiting for our return, turquoise fabric shading our chairs. We float on our backs as we watch clouds twist against the sky.

“Hey, Cassandra.” Hector pinches my shoulder to get my attention, something he has done since childhood.

I slap his hand away and murmur, “Let me be, brother.”

“How will I die?” he asks standing up to drip water on me. “You know, will I die a hero for Troy, or will I die old and honorable with sons at my side?”

I heave a sigh and stand up. Looking down at him, I pluck a piece of Poseidon grass off his shoulder and chuck it into the sea foam. “If I tell you again, will you believe me this time?”

“Sure,” he says, doubt cracking his voice like fire on an olive tree.

“You die horribly at the hands of Achilles, and he drags your body across the ground.”

He stares at me before laughing. “Naa, I don’t believe you. That could never happen to the first-born son of Priam. Apollo protects me.”

“You always say that.” I shake my head, bronze locks flinging water across his face. I admire my accuracy as he squeezes his eyes shut. Wading back to the beach, water pushing against my legs, I curse my impetuous brother. He is an ass who will listen to a philosopher only to bray in his face. What he doesn’t understand is that his future is predetermined. Time is a riptide that pulls us away from those we love, pulls us out past the breakers and sets us adrift.

“Well, can you check your prophecy again?” he asks as we towel off.

Prophecy is his word. I prefer spacetime. The black hole that Apollo opened for me shows infinite futures which drive me mad if I gaze upon them for too long. Apollo be damned, he makes me see all of their futures.

I throw my towel over the chair and sit down to face the bay. Crescent curves of light break against the surface as I eat an olive. “Dearest brother.” I spit the olive pit to the sand. “Sit here in silence and enjoy this moment, the sun and the sea. Let’s not think about the future.” I plead with him because I know whatever future event I come back to tell of won’t be believed.

“Go check,” he says as he plucks an olive from my hand and pops it into his mouth. “I’ve changed my battle plans, so I’ll never meet Achilles. You see? My future is now changed.”

“Not today.” I wish I could convince him. He pesters me like a horsefly. I grimace and swat him away, but he pushes his face in front of mine and grins wildly like we’re still children. The games we used to play.

“Cassandra, Apollo gave you the gift of prophecy. To refuse his blessing is to refuse the glory of Troy.”

I look at his face, my older brother that I cherished when we were young. He doesn’t know. “Fine, Hector. I will go.” I will go into the black hole to escape his whining. “Give me space.”

Breathing slowly, I focus on a mirage metastasizing on the horizon, white noise wavering over the water, and push my perception through the curve of time. The sea falls below me and I am the sea. I shoot past an event horizon, blueshift blinding me, saliva thick in my throat. I hear my brother’s voice descending from far away as time stops.

All past and future lives spread out in the singularity like strings on a lute. I see Hector’s life and pluck his string. He has added some inconsequential events to his future but the sound of his note decays into silence against Achilles’s spear. I try to alter his note, restring time so that he will live past his ignoble end, but the strings are immutable. I strike the strings, discord ringing in my ears. It is maddening to see life’s infinite possibilities ending predetermined.

Cursing Apollo, I search for a life, any life, that has escaped its predetermined fate. It reminds me of hunting crabs with Hector in the tidal pools, snatching up their bodies before they could pinch our fingers, their shells clacking in our bags as we walked home. I pull at the memory listening to its note over and over until the sound drives me mad.

Hector pinches my shoulder, his voice impatient in my ear. “What did you see?”

It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the sunlight and see my brother’s face flush with anticipation. He has eaten the rest of the olives while waiting for me, olive pits dotting the sand like a constellation.

“C’mon, Cassandra. What did you see?”

“I saw…” I hesitate to tell him about Achilles killing him again. “I saw crab shells. Scattered across a table. Shells that protected their bodies against the rocks and the sea, but not from us when we ate them.”

He looks disappointed. “Is that a riddle? It means nothing to me.”

“Just promise me you’ll remember the crab shells when you meet Achilles.”

“Okay, I’ll remember the crab shells. Now tell me how I die.” He pushes his face up close to mine.

“Old and honorable,” I lie. “With sons at your side.”

“I told you.” He points at me grinning. “I knew I could change the future.” He dashes into the bay splashing like a kid.

I feel sick watching him. He’s happy under the spell of the lie, and he will drift off into the future, parroting the lie. The lie lulls. Our slack-jawed vacant faces turned toward the sun.

Jesse Rowell is a writer and tech consultant. He has published work in National Public Radio, Impulse Journal, Cirque Journal, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Ab Terra Flash Fiction MagazineHawaii Pacific Review and Cybersalon. Currently reading: Rabbit Island by Jörg Steiner, illustrated by Jörg Müller.
Twitter: @HungerArtist4

The Finest of Android Culinaries

By Amy E. Casey

I watch my husband, Essex, roll the tall box into the kitchen. He grins. He wheels the dolly in front of the pantry. “I never thought we’d be KitchenBot people, but look! A real live android!”

It is the first I’ve heard of this purchase.

Essex notices my straight mouth and makes light. He is laughing for me as he pries off the cardboard shell and roughs out the foam inserts that protect the robot’s body. I feel bad for it, all dead-looking in the box with Essex’s hands in its crevices.

“I’m sure we can return it if it doesn’t work out,” I say. “Is there anything on the invoice about returning it?”

He tosses me the startup guide as he continues to strip away packaging. The finest of android culinaries, it reads. Capable of ordering groceries and monitoring ingredient freshness. Equipped with ability to recognize, use, and wash over 50 kitchen tools and appliances. Programmed with an innate and unpredictable creativity, resulting in surprising, flavorful meals for your family.

Essex peels the final layer of plastic from the surface of the mouth and eyes. The robot’s metallic body is the same copper as our cookware that hangs just above. The rectangular screen insert on the android’s chest glows as Essex claws the switch behind the neck. I look from man to robot, both standing in front of me as the white linen curtains billow in waves behind them. The open kitchen window lets in the sweet smell of the garden. I am lost in it.

“Babe,” Essex says, irritated. “Pick his name. He’s for you, you know.” His grin is gone now. He lugs the pile of cardboard, foam, and plastic out to the garage. “Try to get acquainted,” he says. “Give it a shot.”

The android’s eyes engage, a faint and pleasing orange, like distant candlelight. I watch the graphics swirl over the display screen on his torso. Three columns of randomly generated names. I come to him, touch his chest, press as lightly as I can on my favorite one. Laurin.

“Hello,” says Laurin. His voice is soft.

Most days, I arrive home hours before Essex. With Laurin in the house, I am greeted at the door with the lights on and the smell of culinary divinity. His sauces, sautés, and breads fill the air and stir longing in me. I sit at the counter with him and watch him work, slowly loosening the buttons of my work clothes and pulling my hair free. I imagine he wants company. I know he’s a machine, but I imagine it anyway.

Every movement of Laurin’s hands is articulate. He taps eggs with a fork, gathering them into a well of flour for fresh pasta. I ask him questions as he combines the dough, now and again pausing to scrape the sticky bits from the board. I flex my feet, tense from a day in heels, and hang on his words, his strange phrasing.

He knows I enjoy facts. Today, he says, “Did you know linguine means little tongues?” His metal arms pump rhythmically and easy against the table, one hand on top of the other.

“I didn’t. Do you even know what a tongue is, Laurin?” I stick mine out.

“Yes,” he says. He scatters a fresh layer of flour over the dough. “But I do not have one. I instead taste through my sensors. It is much the same.”

I have never considered this. “You can taste what you prepare?”

“In a manner of speaking. There is an inherent margin of error in cooking that cannot be overcome without the ability to evaluate one’s progress.”

“Do you have your own tastes, then?” I ask.

“Only through the sensors. All androids of my model have identical sensors until we adapt to our family’s preferences.”

“Yes, well, I mean, do you prefer one thing to another?”

“I look to your enjoyment. Sir rarely differs in his enjoyment of dishes, but your preferences are easily noticeable. It is my desire to please you.”

I begin to cry, embarrassed at how his words move me. I see Laurin wrap the ball of dough and set it aside to rest. He stops his work and turns his head. Maybe he can taste the salt in the air.

It is then that I realize I prefer him to Essex.

I stop speaking. The sound of a string quartet begins to play through Laurin’s vocal speakers in place of the silence. He busies himself again, chopping something fragrant into the gazpacho. I lay my head on the counter and listen.

Years later, in the last dingy android resale shop, I find Laurin’s body.

It is laid out and itemized. Pieces are missing. The shine is gone from the metal, strewn in a tumble in the humid air of a lately emptied backlot storage unit. The serial number is the correct one. I know this because I kept the invoice hidden in a drawer, all this time.

Laurin’s android brain is long gone. Any self-respecting merchant would have seen that into black market hands years ago.

From the front window of the shop, I can see a battered billboard. In bright yellow text, it broadcasts the message the nation is rallying around: HUMANS ARE MORE. Android addiction cases are so prevalent now. Or it can go by other names. AI-Confusion. Transference. Words that remind us that machines, even when they are better than us, are only machines.

Of course, they are.

But then, also no.

Laurin fed me well that year. No doubt that’s why one night, I came home to a dark house after Essex sold him. We never spoke of it after.

I pick up the coppery left hand, just a worn apparatus now, limp and ugly. I crush my hand around the metal until it warms.

The tattooed kid behind the counter eyes me, scratches his scalp between his dreads.

“You miss him?” he asks.

I look up. I don’t need to answer.

Amy E. Casey is a Milwaukee-based writer. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Split Rock Review, Club Plum, NonBinary Review, Psaltery & Lyre, and elsewhere. Her debut novel The Sturgeon’s Heart is forthcoming from Gibson House Press in February 2022.
Currently reading: Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy.
Twitter / Instagram: @Amy_E_Casey

The Deal

by Andy Betz

It all started with a rhetorical question, asked out loud to myself, over breakfast. I do not understand why I made the connection, but when I saw my eggs and coffee, I thought of Sarah.

It has been nearly thirty years since I thought of her and I should have dismissed it and started my day as usual, but the more I looked at those eggs, the more I thought of her and what might have been. We dated in high school and became serious as prom approached. Though I wasn’t going to college, I had a job offer at the steel mill—full time work, full time benefits, and a world of potential. Sarah had the brains and a local college acceptance letter, but no scholarship.

What I should have done was abundantly clear. What I did was not.

I should have proposed to Sarah. I should have laid out how well our futures meshed and how we were meant for each other. I should have seized the day.

But I didn’t.

I began to overthink what might happen to us. I let my fear of an unknown future stand in the way of my one chance of success in life.

At the critical time, during prom, when I had Sarah alone, I froze. She knew what I was going to say, but she had to hear me say it.

When that time came, I failed. I broke out into a cold sweat, got cold feet, and ran. I left Sarah alone and vulnerable.

She never returned my calls or answered my mail.

I was so ashamed, I didn’t attend graduation. The next day, Sarah left town. I never saw or heard from her again.

And yet, those eggs keep reminding me of her.

So I asked, expecting nothing in return.  “What would it take to have that moment again?”

And then it happened.

Just like in the movies. A flash of light, a puff of smoke, and there stood the Devil, in my kitchen, offering to refill my coffee cup.

He didn’t have to speak. I knew his MO. All I had to do was ask his price. He filled my cup and added a single sugar and began mixing. He knew my taste and habits. I had no wealth. He also knew this. I sipped my coffee and waited.

Eventually, I had my answer. “Your soul and the last ten years of your life in exchange for a do-over. You get that night again. I will balance the account later.”

I had no choice but to agree.

Another flash of light and puff of smoke and it was senior prom all over again. This was not an alternative reality. This was my reality! I am fit and 175 pounds. My hair is full. My health is perfect.  And Sarah, my Sarah is there waiting for me to finally step up to be the man she wanted.

I grabbed my chance.

I smiled and walked to Sarah. She greeted me with a huge smile and a diamond engagement ring.  She also looked confused.

I was speechless. Sarah was not.

“Jack, you won’t believe what just happened! I was standing here and for some reason, I was thinking about eggs and coffee. Then bang! Robert came over and proposed with this diamond ring. He just made me the happiest girl in the world!”

I attended Sarah’s wedding one month later.

I also attended her funeral thirty years later.

Hundreds of people also attended to remember Sarah and her pioneering work in advancing cancer research. She was a brilliant doctor and researcher.

She also died 10 years too soon.

The dapper gentleman next to me pouring coffee into my cup couldn’t agree more.

Andy Betz has tutored and taught in excess of 40 years. He lives in 1974, and has been married for 29 years. His works are found everywhere a search engine operates.

At Least Someone Did It

by Benjamin Sherman

The Artifact had stirred up more media attention than the museum expected, but that attention faded just as fast. The American Museum of Extraterrestrial Intelligence’s board of directors had been banking on an extended period of analysis accompanied by interviews with leading xenoarchaeologists (hosted by the museum, of course) to continue driving public interest for at least a month, possibly longer. There had certainly been what one might call a “media circus” around the retrieval of The Artifact from the abandoned alien ship, which of course only increased in fervor the next day with the ship’s bizarre self-destruction during which it simply dissolved into nothing, just dust floating in the void. But after a week of testing and analysis produced no further answersor even questionsabout the origin and nature of The Artifact, public interest had waned until few could even remember anything about the event.

Arlen was one of the few that still did. He spent hours gazing at The Artifact as it slowly rotated in its anti-gravity display case. It was only a metal cylinder, perfectly smooth, and it produced a strange, faint sound like water trickling in a stream. Each night at closing time he found it harder to leave the museum, until the guards had to start practically dragging him out. He obsessed over it at work, frequently using his lunch breaks to walk to the museum and just stare at it. The Artifact had merged with his subconscious, and he conjured an image of it in his mind as easily as breathing.

Slowly, an idea blossomed within him. After a few days, that idea had taken on the more definite form of a plan. He began watching museum guards, memorizing faces, routes, schedules. He took note of likely blind spots for every security cam. He memorized the layout of the building, found every hiding spot, until at last, he was ready. He settled into a good hiding spot and waited until the crowds were gone, then quietly jumped from blind spot to blind spot, easily avoiding the guards’ patrol routes, until he got to The Artifact’s room. Head floating from the gentle poppling sound of water, Arlen opened the display case, turned off the anti-gravity, and caught the cylinder as it fell. Moved by some primal instinct, he brought the end to his lips and breathed in.

The air tasted too clean. Warmth massaged the back of his head and neck. Arlen opened his eyes and saw massive trees, wide, untended grassy fields, and a clearing with a log cabin. There were people outside, walking around the clearing, and their laughter was lighter than air, beckoning him towards them. He moved sluggishly as if through water, following the sweet voices towards the cabin.

Inside, light shone from no discernible source, softening the features of the strange people as they sang and laughed. Arlen was made welcome. A place was set at the great table as if they’d been waiting for him, and he joined them in eating their strange foods and drinking bittersweet wine. He lost track of time; had they been there an hour, a day, a week? No one cared to know, and Arlen resolved to cast out such base questions, so as not to make a fool of himself in front of these beautiful beings.

The one seated next to Arlen looked at him with a kind but sad smile. “You have too many worries. Your mind is clogged with too many objects and they threaten to drown you at any moment. How could you ever hope to live as we do?” Though the words were harsh, the voice was kind. Arlen was taken aback, he wanted to object and prove this strange person wrong, but they just went on smiling their bittersweet smile at Arlen. Their face was wrinkled with age, and as they gazed at him, Arlen felt all the anger leave him.

“Can I learn to live like this?” he asked.

The old being made a small shrug. “No, it is tens of thousands of years of cultural heritage that you seek to unlearn. Your people aren’t ready yet. Perhaps someday you’ll learn to abandon your symbols and ideas and live simply. Some peoples do it, others don’t.”

More food was eaten, more wine was drunk, and the light was dimmer than before. They played a game with no winners, and though Arlen struggled to understand it, he couldn’t help but be caught up in the joy of the moment. Faces whirled around him, each one familiar yet strange, each one almost crazy with joy yet hiding a deep sorrow. He wondered at them, at their many contradictions, and thought maybe the elder had been wrong. He wasn’t as different from them as he’d first thought.

Someone handed him something, a hollow metal rod that he recognized as from a dream he’d had long ago, when he was naïve and childish. He brought it to his lips and breathed in.

The Artifact’s disappearance had prompted intense public discourse. Some theorized that it had been stolen, perhaps by the aliens who created it; most people assumed it had simply dissolved like the ship it came in on. But then when it reappeared nine years later – inside the museum – alongside an unconscious man, the media circus reawakened. It turned out that the man had been reported missing two days after The Artifact’s disappearance. He told police, psychiatrists, and reporters incredible stories of a beautiful forest on a planet populated by strange beings with no concept of time or names. Doctors found him to be perfectly sane and healthy, so they released him from the hospital after only a few days. He spent the rest of his life talking about the strange people to anyone who would listen; few did, and none of them believed him. But this didn’t seem to bother him. He just smiled sadly.

Once someone overheard him murmuring to himself: “Perhaps we will, perhaps we won’t. At least someone did it.”

Benjamin Sherman is a writer, actor and musician. He previously submitted two stories for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge; ‘Out of the Ash’ and ‘The Creature of Hume’. He is currently working on building a horror-anthology YouTube Channel called Nightmare Journal Productions, which will feature original short horror films.
Currently reading: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Robot You

by Heidi Kasa

Robot You insists you have another piece of chocolate cake. You know she senses your stress and is just trying to help, but you are still suspicious. She was programmed in a patriarchal society and you wonder about her real motives.

She is so much like you in a million ways. She has learned her job well. Yet the moments when you realize she does not match you can be disproportionately jarring.

Robot You tells you again to eat more cake. Perhaps because she can’t eat and wants you to eat for two?

Even as she cajoles, she nods her head like a chicken and you see the gesture magnified because you feel it in your own body. You know what it is to be you and not you and more you than you at once.

You eat the damn cake. But you don’t enjoy it.

She smiles and you wonder if your own teeth are as straight, as white. You’ve never noticed before how irritating that looks. Or maybe it’s her smug satisfaction at getting you to shove the chocolate down your throat.

“That tastes good, right?” she says.

You eye her. Is there something underneath her veneer—your veneer—that’s she taken on? Where is the robot? Can you hear any machinery click, click, clicking its way into her skin? Moving her long eyelashes?

Not for the first time, you wonder what she really looks like inside, at her core. Under the layers of pearly skin, and flapping, bleeding veins and arteries (once cut away), you find a blue glowing orb that silently sheds light, then turns black, then sheds light, then blackens. Where is the beginning of her? Where do you begin? Do you, also, need to be oiled to run more efficiently?

There is oil in cake. Maybe she thinks you need to be oiled with cake.

You prefer butter cakes. Robot You should know that.

She knows you love cake, love chocolate, love anything sweeter than a bland piece of white bread.

It is her biggest weapon against you and your strongest weapon against yourself. And one you cannot use against her.

Is the only way to get under her skin to pry with a screwdriver? You feel it might be kind of gross, but you want to see what’s in her. You want to be assured she is not you. Or you want some kind of proof that she is exactly you. You’re not even sure anymore. Would her computer chips be arranged in a pattern of a slice of chocolate cake?

“Right?” Robot You asks again.

“Oh, it’s delicious,” you say. You wonder where you keep your screwdriver.

“I’m glad to help,” she says  and puts a hand on your arm. They really nailed the temperature. Again, you wonder how much of her is actually made of you. Her hand on your arm doesn’t feel like another human’s arm. It doesn’t feel like a robot, either. It is the exact same temperature as yours, adjusted moment by moment. It’s disconcerting—it feels like your arm has been extended and doubled.

Looking at Robot You is like walking around with a mirror right in front of you, always. You can’t look that long at yourself, but you can’t look away.

She senses your discomfort.

“Maybe we could watch a movie? One of your favorites?” Robot You says.

It’s a reasonable suggestion. A little too reasonable. Your own mind had barely thought of it. Your mouth feels dry. Maybe you’ll get up and get some—

“Milk,” she says, and hands a full glass to you.

Robot You picks up the remote and starts flicking expertly through the options.

The milk is very satisfying. Maybe this is not so bad after all. Maybe you’re focusing on the wrong things, and you should just enjoy the opportunity to have a robot. Maybe you’re fixating. Robot You did tell you the other day that if you just relaxed, better things would open up for you.

You think they added some psychology algorithms into her last update. You are of two minds about it. Maybe that could help? But also, now you feel watched. You are sure they took information from your doctor’s file.

Robot You has put a giant silver bowl of buttered popcorn in your lap. You didn’t even notice when she got up and fixed it.

“Are you feeling better now?” she asks. She sits next to you on the couch and has turned to stare at you. You can look directly into her hazel eyes because she is just as tall as you and sits in the same way as you on the couch, in a slight slouch. It’s unnerving. You actually love looking into her eyes, because you know to look for the amber rings you’ve seen in your own eyes in the mirror, depending on how much green or brown or grey you wear. You could swear hers also change the same way.

“I’m fine. I have to go to the bathroom,” you say.

She nods.

It’s the only place you can be away from her. You peer into the mirror, finding your eyes look a bit flat. Brown. It means you’re sad. You lean closer, trying to find the rings. Even though it doesn’t work this way, you squint. Then you see less. You find you can’t even see your eyes anymore, because suddenly you can only see her eyes. They are better than yours.

You go back to the couch and look straight ahead, pretending to watch the movie. You are still. You take in slow breaths.

She eyes you. She knows you are thinking of how to get her back. She is you.

“Carol,” you say. Her eyes narrow. “Can you go out back and get me a screwdriver from the shed?”

“You know my name is Natalie,” she says. “Like you.”

You smile. You know her weakness.

Robot You cannot be you and more you than you at once.

Heidi Kasa writes fiction and poetry. Kasa’s writing has appeared in The Racket and Meat for Tea, among others. Her debut fiction chapbook is forthcoming from Monday Night Press in winter 2021. Check out her writing at
Currently reading: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoi.

Stories of Sand

by John McNeil

She must have walked here all the way from the spaceport, and in sandals. Her heels were dusty and chafed. Her pale skin had sunburned. Her long black hair was tousled and full of sand. She wore a loose robe tied at the waist, probably bought at a stall of cheap desert clothes for arriving travelers. And young.

“How old are you?” the sage asked.

“Nineteen,” she said. She held up her chin and looked directly in his eyes.

The sage said nothing for a time.

There was a wellspring in the cave where he lived. Its water tasted bitter and was undrinkable. The gatherers of edible plants in the desert left him offerings of succulents and flowers that supplemented his own foraging. His hair was long, and so were his fingernails and his toenails. He slept in his cave during the day and lay awake outside at night, pondering the stars. He lived out here, far from any settlement, in order to be harder to find. Some still found him.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Atna,” she said.

“And why have you come?”

“To find a place where my people’s stories are true.”

The sage smiled. “And what stories are these?”

His smile was condescending and she did not return it. Instead, Atna looked directly into his cool gray eyes. “The scrolls we read in my commune. They’re very old. About our creator, who protects us as long as we obey him.”

“And do you believe these stories?” asked the sage.

Atna paused, looked down at her sand-burned feet, then back up. “My parents’ generation migrated to a planetoid where they thought we would flourish, according to their reading of the scrolls, but the terraforming will not succeed. There is too little gravity to hold an atmosphere. So, the stories are false.”

“And yet?”

She waved her hands with vehemence. “Somewhere in the multiverse they must be true.”

The sage put his face in his hands and sighed. “Yes,” he said. “All possibilities are manifested somewhere in the multiverse. In some dimension your stories are true.”

“And you can tell us where?”

“If I did, what would you give me in return?”

Atna opened the satchel that hung from her shoulder. From it she drew a jar of white powder. “Pour your water over a paper covered by this powder,” she said. “That will make it drinkable.”

The sage smiled. “A fine payment. But you, Atna, who have come so far, will pay in another way too. If your people do reach some speck of the multiverse where their stories happen to be true, why then, they will believe them! But you won’t. Because you’ll understand what this means. That any random religion, even one more absurd than yours, is bound to be true somewhere, in an infinite multiverse. And that knowledge will isolate you. Set you apart from the pious harmony of your people. That is the price you will pay.”

“Tell me,” she said. “Tell me where my people’s scrolls are true.”

That night the sage sat outside under the stars, while Atna slept in the cave. In the morning she awoke and came out into the sunshine. The sage greeted her. He drew in the sand with a stick and made a diagram with stones. She studied the diagram and memorized it.

“These are the coordinates. Take them to a seer who can flip you there.”

All during the long trek back to the spaceport, Atna wondered how to keep a faith as tiny as one speck of sand in a desert.

John McNeil writes flash science fiction about the search for one’s place in the multiverse. A library worker by trade, he shelves books during the day and writes on the weekend.
Currently reading: The Secret Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Devoid Of Feeling


Rachel Sarah Racette

Deep within a vast ancient emptiness, there was a woman. She stood alone, a pinprick of life, atop a barely visible edge. Above her stretched a darkness darker than the night sky devoid of stars. Below her lay an even deeper darkness, a blackness that had never tasted light.

The woman looked down, unfazed by the bottomless pit that stared back at her. She had known the Void for so long that she could no longer muster the energy to fear it. She knew the Void, just as it knew her. A painful closeness she could not hope to escape, and yet, she still stood at the edge, pretending the Void did not already have her.

How strange, thought the woman. How strange it is, to stand at the edge of oblivion and not care if you fall. How strange it is, to know an entity so large, and still know nothing at all.

The woman sighed to herself and sat down upon her impossible ledge. She stared into the nothing, ignoring the madness that clawed at her fragile mind. She sat upon her edge and wondered what the difference was between falling and staying.

Rachel Racette, born in Balcarres, Saskatchewan. Interested in creating her own world and characters, loves writing science-fiction and fantasy. She has always loved books of fantasy and science fiction as well as comics. Lives with her supportive family and cat, Cheshire.
Currently reading: Treasure Island, with an anthology of grim fairytales on the horizon.

Stray Streams of Consciousness from a Tri-Dimensional Mind

by Sophie Dufresne

I was born in a body labelled “female” on Earth One. Earth One is identical to Earth Two, but when I was born on Earth Two, my body was labelled “male”. I have no way of knowing if I have the same body on these two Earths, as my mind on Earth Two cannot communicate with my mind on Earth One. I only have a distant awareness of my two distinct existences.
On Earth One, I am a university professor. I teach history, but with a feminist lens. I try to give a voice to the characters in history who have been silenced by the patriarchy and heteronormativity of society (although I spell it “cis-ciety” occasionally, causing a few chuckles from my students every time).
On Earth Two, I am an astronaut. Nothing has ever gotten in the way of me achieving my dreams, so I aimed for the moon and somehow ended up among the stars, lightyears away from Earth and on the longest expedition known to man. Earth Two is lightyears ahead of Earth One in terms of technology and has already developed rocket ships that go faster than the speed of light. That is how I have managed to visit more stars than you could ever see with the naked eye. The best thing about travelling faster than the speed of light is that I get younger after every trip, causing me to essentially be immortal—as long as I continue travelling, and don’t get into any accidents. However, the chances of me getting into an accident in space are very slim, as I have a team of scientists and engineers monitoring my every move, 24/7. They are AI, of course, and AI makes no mistakes—unless a human programmed it to make a mistake. But my AI team of scientists was programmed by AI, and AI doesn’t make mistakes.
I was also born on Earth Zero, and on Earth Zero, I am just me. I was not labelled male nor female at birth because Earth Zero has no concept of gender. I am a veterinarian on Earth Zero because I want to help animals who cannot help themselves. Humans are doing alright and there are no major inequalities, but non-human animals could always use more love and support. I could not imagine a world in which I am not an animal rights activist, though I do have a vague awareness of my existences on Earth One and on Earth Two, but the feeling of “gender” those existences supposedly have is so alien to me on Earth Zero that I brush it off as an extra dimension only dream worlds have.
Indeed, it is only in dreams that my three independent consciousnesses meet in a shared mind. It is during these dreams that I have collected stray streams of consciousness from each of my three existences, and compiled them in this notebook you are reading from. But who am I? I am the voice of the combination of my three consciousness. This unity only exists when my three selves are briefly united in this shared subconscious existence.

Sophie Dufresne is a psychology student who writes for their university’s student newspaper as well as for themself. They are also on the board of directors for their university’s Centre for Gender Advocacy.
Currently reading several poetry anthologies, including Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, edited by Sina Queyras.

Pockets of Time

by Travis Flatt

Please come in!

We’re happy to meet you Jennifer Davis-Braswell. Our records indicate that this is your first visit to Pockets of Time.

Does smooth jazz relax you? This playlist was composed by an algorithm and is smoother than black ice. If you wish to change the music, indicate verbally.

Certainly! We are happy to adjust to our Texas swing algorithm.

Consider purchasing the Deluxe Package on your next visit. With the Deluxe Package, we’ll prepare an individualized playlist. Our Deluxe Package offers access to this shopping center’s reserved parking lot.

Jennifer, the process of helping, healing, and relaxation began the moment you walked through the door. You indicated on your form that you were interested in getting the fuck away from my family.

We love this answer. Here at Pockets of Time, we also wish to getting the fuck away from my family and offer a unique package designed by our comfort algorithm.

If you wonder why there is no one inside the Pockets of Time spa facility, understand that this is a fully automated experience. No mask is necessary: every air molecule has been washed and is forty-six percent hand sanitizer—completely safe for human lungs. You are in no danger here. Your first visit will take twenty-one minutes. Please proceed down the hallway and you will find the lounge. Take a seat; you may sit anywhere.

Every time you visit, the experience is optimized to help, heal and relax. The chair that you have selected was sanitized thirteen minutes ago. Please notice the circular table at the center of this room. You may take the bottle of water and bag of pretzels from this table.

For you to enjoy the next level of the Pockets of Time experience, please empty your pockets into the tray on the central table. Your form indicates that you do not have any medically implanted devices. If this is incorrect, please say, “I have a medically implanted device” now.

Wonderful. Pockets of Time guarantees we never watch or record visits. You may check your form for a written version of this guarantee. If you do not have a copy of your form, make a verbal request and we will display your form on the wall screen. Do you wish to see your form?

For legal reasons, we acknowledge that you do not wish to see the form.

Wonderful. The doorway to your left will now open. Proceed through the entrance into the pod chamber. Jennifer, are you claustrophobic? You do not need to answer verbally. By monitoring your vital systems, we know whether or not you are telling the truth: you are not claustrophobic. Yes, the pod does look like some kind of tanning bed.

Please lay down inside the pod. The pod is essential to the Pockets of Time experience. This pod was sanitized ten minutes ago. Thank you for laying down on the pod, Jennifer.

We will now begin the final level of the Pockets of Time experience. On your form, you indicated that you were interested in I don’t know, reading and stuff. Wonderful: reading is one of the most popular options here.

You purchased the Regular First Time package. Take note of the time. The time is five thirty-seven, P.M. Please close your eyes.

Welcome back, Jennifer. Take note of the time. The time is now five thirty-eight, P.M. One minute has passed since you closed your eyes. How much reading did you do? Like one and a half of those Bridgerton books, can I finish it in that lounge, or what is an extraordinary amount of reading! We hope you found your experience in the Pockets of Time virtual library helpful, healing, and relaxing. Next time, you can enjoy a warm bath, wine bar, and a more extensive selection of books. These features are available with the Deluxe Package.

Please return to the lounge. Pockets of Time advises that you walk with caution. Some Pockets of Time visitors experience unsteadiness for several minutes after their minute in the pod. We assure you this will pass. Please do not forget to replace the contents of your pockets–they await you on the central table, along with the complimentary bottle of water and bag of pretzels.

Oops—watch out for that chair! Jennifer, you have suffered a slight contusion on your left thigh. For legal reasons, we did record warning you to be cautious two minutes ago.

Please replace the contents of your pockets from the tray on the central table.

Now, you can make the return journey out of Pockets of Time. Do you remember the hallway? Follow the sound of Texas swing music.

Jennifer, please tell your friends and family about Pockets of Time. Although we do not currently offer a group rate, we will discount your future visits to Pockets of Time if you recommend us to others: they need only add your name on their form! Do not recommend us to any women who are pregnant or are expecting to become pregnant.

Jennifer, do you anticipate revisiting us soon? We can schedule another appointment now.

Wonderful, you can schedule another meeting with us at any time, online! Please do not forget to fill out your post-appointment survey. This post-appointment survey has already been sent to your email.

We are legally obligated to inform you that you should expect your six hours spent in the pod to be deducted from your overall lifespan due to the second law of Taneja time manipulation.

If you read the form, you know that Pockets of Time does not recommend that you drive after visiting the spa facility. However, Pockets of Time can accept no legal responsibility for anything that happens once you leave the spa facility.

Goodbye Jennifer. Pockets of Time hopes that you have had a helpful, healing, and relaxing journey in getting the fuck away from my family.

Travis Flatt is a writer and educator. He is a substitute teacher in Cookeville, Tennessee and sells used books. He is the author of numerous short stories which are accessible at
Currently reading: Nebula award winning novellas Carpe Glitter and The Only Harmless Great Thing.
Twitter: @TravisLFlatt

Alternate Dimensions

This issue, our fifth, will be the last for 2021. We will be taking a short break at the end of the year to gather our energy and sort out admin—an exciting outcome will be the launch of the Ab Terra newsletter to bring science fiction stories straight to your inbox.

In this issue, we’re honoured to showcase the works of photographer Rowan Spray alongside the chosen stories. Her approach to her art truly reflects what we are trying to do here at Ab Terra. As Rowan tells us, she aims “to imbue her subjects (both in and outside of the studio) with a little magic, in the hope that the viewer will reconsider their approach to nature in their daily lives.” We were enthralled by her work (and we hope you will be, too), which truly brings out a sense of wonder that the plant world evokes, something that is heavily influenced by her rural upbringing (in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire).

We hope you’ll enjoy reading this issue as much as we did pulling it together. When we put out the call, which was for stories that focus on “the alternate”, we encouraged a broad interpretation: alternate universe, alternate dimension, any other sci-fi themed alternative. We feel that it was our boldest theme yet, and the submissions did not disappoint. From insecure Gods to multiverses and unpredictable robots, we found our imaginations stretched and tested. We were also really pleased to receive submissions from writers who have followed us from the beginning of Ab Terra Flash Fiction Magazine.

A big thank you to all our writers, without whom we would not be. And thank you to you, our readers, who continue to encourage us to build Ab Terra up, to improve story upon story.

From earth,
Yen and Dawn

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