The Smoking Nun

I’m super thrilled to announce I have a story available for you to read, no purchase required! It’s been a while since I had one of those available. It’s called “The Smoking Nun,” and I had a hard time selling it (probably because of the second person POV?) so I’m very grateful to the amazing Jennifer Brozek for giving it a home at EGM Shorts.

In other news, if you want to read another story of mine, you can back this IndieGoGo Campaign for Eldritch Embraces, an anthology of Lovecraftian romance. I had a little too much fun writing my story, “When The Stars Are Right,” my first gay romance that also features Nyarlathotep. The project also benefits a really worthy charity, so please throw a little money at it if you like animal rescues or romance or the unspeakable horror of the void.

Thanks, as always, for your support!

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Life: A 100-Word Story

I haven’t been writing much flash fiction lately, because I’ve been so busy with other projects, but when I saw that Laurence Simon’s 100-Word Story Podcast was raising money for charity…well, we all know I’m a sucker for a cause. Writing a 1oo-word story was a fun challenge, too; I really had to edit my words like never before. And I raised something like $7 for Relay for Life!

To listen to the entire podcast, including me reading my story on a podcast for the very first time, you can click here.

– – –

Life

by Sarah Hans

The guardbot prodded Tressa in the ribs. “Step into the transport, Prisoner 5386U.”

Wincing, Tressa obeyed. The transport pod’s door slid shut. Tressa’s heart pounded and her secured hands grew slick with sweat. She closed her eyes and thought of her “happy place,” the rolling hills of her childhood.

The pod landed with a thud. The door slid back and flooded the pod with bright sunlight. Tressa blinked until her eyes adjusted.

“Welcome to Penal Colony 56,” the guardbot droned.

Verdant fields spread before her. Women in jumpsuits like hers labored amidst the greenery, unfettered by chains.

Tressa smiled.

A Terrible Lie

The following story was written in response to a prompt on Chuck Wending’s blog: tell a story about a lie. Or, at least, a story with a lie in it. I love flash fiction because I can write one opening line and just let the rest of the story unfold from there. I don’t have to make an outline or draw character sketches or agonize. I just put fingers to keys and go. This has been a fun, cleansing exercise after receiving a rejection yesterday, and I recommend it for anyone else feeling “stuck” or discouraged.

Enjoy!

A Terrible Lie

We often played the game of “who loves you more.” I would say I loved Taylor the most, and he would say he loved me the most. It was the kind of shmoopy crap that made people roll their eyes and tell us to get a room.

In the end, I think I win.

“How do you think he’ll react?” Dana asks, reaching for my hand and squeezing it in a show of solidarity. I can’t look at her. I want to be alone, but I have a long, lonely road ahead of me, and I’m not exactly eager to start the journey.

“To what?”

“When he comes back and realizes. He’s not stupid. He’ll know.” Sometimes I swear it’s like she can’t prevent herself from saying whatever she’s thinking, no matter how hurtful or pointless.

I shrug, my shoulders so tense the motion is barely noticeable. I know I should be angry at her for bringing up a topic I don’t want to discuss, one that hurts me to my very core, but I’m too numb. “I don’t know. He’ll probably be angry. He might not even want to see me though. Six years is a long time–he might forget all about me.”

“Nah.” Dana’s eyes watch the sky, though the rocket with its trail of smoke is long gone. “If true love exists, you guys have it. He’ll think about you every day…”

“Just shut up already, will you?” The tears I’ve been suppressing for days are finally starting to bubble to the surface. I tell her to shut up too loudly, and other people in the park turn to look at us, their brows furrowed.

“Let’s get out of here,” Dana says, her voice soft. Her lips are pursed in that way she has when she’s really upset, but trying not to show it. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

I nod, shrug again, and start toward the car. We step around picnicking families, and I can’t help but watch their children and wonder what my own child will be like. Will he play frisbee like that kid, or prefer reading, like that one? Will he have Taylor’s brown hair or my blonde? Will he have Taylor’s distinctive cleft nose, his dimpled cheeks, his gray-blue eyes? Will he be a she?

Will Taylor know the moment he sees our child that it was his, has been his all along?

As we climb into the car, Dana sliding behind the wheel and me kicking aside the Dr. Pepper cans to make room for my feet on the passenger side floor, Dana closes her door and then turns to me. “Look, I know you don’t want to talk about this but I just want to say one last thing…”

“Dana…” I shake my head, trying to discourage her.

“Billy, will you just listen?” She puts the key in the ignition. “I don’t agree with what you did. It was Taylor’s right to decide what was best for himself, and give up on his dream to be with you if that’s what he wanted. He loved you, really loved you, and I think you were kind of a fool to give up on that.”

“I didn’t give up on it…”

“Just let me finish. I think you were a fool, but I also think you did it for the right reasons. You love him. I get that. And I think he loves you, and that six years on a space mission isn’t going to change that, especially when he realizes that baby is his. So you need to buck up, live with your lie, and know that in six years, you’ll be together again. No more of this mopey shit.”

I looked up at her for the first time all day and really saw her, Dana, my friend. The only one willing to help me through all of this, and support me no matter how foolish she thought my decision. The late-afternoon sunlight made the golden starbursts around her pupils sparkle like amber jewels. I’d never noticed that her eyes were both green and gold before. Somehow, her gaze in that moment seemed mystical. Powerful, even. If I would just trust her, everything would turn out the way it should.

“Okay,” I said, and for the first time in weeks, I smiled.

Kanauika (or, Making A Sandwich)

This story was written as a response to the latest flash fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig’s website. I’m not really sure this is so much a story as a vignette, but whatever. Why is the setting Hawaiian Steampunk, you ask? I have no idea. Most of the time when my brain is doing things I’m just along for the ride.

Kanauika

Nalani’s stomach rumbled. She’d been trying to forget the chewing feeling inside her belly, but the loud gravel-scraping sound that emanated from beneath her corset was hard to ignore.

“Are you hungry?” Hinano appeared at her elbow. His eyes were like twin jewels behind his glasses, bright gold like liquid fire.

“I’m fine.” Her stomach gurgled again, proving her a liar.

Hinano eyed her. “You weren’t at breakfast. Did you eat anything?”

Nalani sighed. “No.”

“Well what do you want to eat? Sweet potato braised pork? Pineapple cake and mango slaw? Coconut chicken with roasted plantains?”

“Can I just have a sandwich?”

To her horror, Hinano’s eyes only glowed brighter, a gleeful grin splitting his face. “I have just the thing!” He rushed out of the workroom and down the hall.

Nalani chased after him. “Please, no devices, Hinano. I can make it myself. It’s just a sandwich!”

“No, you can’t! Well, you can, but that would be ridiculous, because of course you shouldn’t have to, not when one of my inventions can do the task quicker and more easily than you can…”

In the kitchen, Hinano was pulling his latest device down from a cabinet. While Nalani watched, he set its rubber-coated feet upon the counter-top and calibrated its settings. Her stomach protested the delay loudly.

“Never fear, it will only be a moment more,” Hinano assured her. He rushed to the ice box–super efficient because of his improvements, even if it did break frequently–and retrieved an entire loaf of bread, a ham, and a block of cheese. “Let me just put in the ingredients and we’ll get cracking.”

Nalani began salivating at the sight of the ham. It was almost painful for her to watch Hinano place the ham into the machine and press the start. As the machine roared to life, she could hear the whirring blades inside cutting slices of the ingredients. The pungent aroma of the cheese–extra sharp cheddar, her favorite–made her feel a bit weak at the knees, so she sat on a kitchen stool to await the final product.

As her brother beamed proudly, the slot on the end of the machine opened and a hard ball of what had once been ham, bread, and cheese rolled out onto the floor.

Nalani sighed as she watched her lunch roll into the corner.

“I’m sure I just need to recalibrate!” Hinano cried, brandishing his wrench and disappearing up to his shoulders into the machine. One by one he removed each of the ingredients and placed them on the counter beside the device.

“Oh! I see the problem, it’s mrffl drffl flrrfl,” Hinano declared from inside the machine.

Nalani calmly collected the remaining ham, bread, and cheese, sliced herself portions of each, created a sandwich, returned the ingredients to the icebox, and retreated to the veranda to enjoy her well-earned lunch.

“Where’s the ham?” Hinano called after her. ”I think I’ve got this thing working. One ham and cheese sandwich coming up!”

The Cupcake Tattoo

The following story was written in response to Chuck Wendig’s Photo Challenge.  The photos that inspired me were pictures of a cupcake tattoo, an antique store sign, and orange walls.

This story is dedicated to my grandparents. My grandmother would have been 88 years old yesterday and my grandfather would have been the same age, tomorrow. They passed away last year, and though the peaceful deaths of very old people who lived long and happy lives is not really a cause for sorrow, especially when they passed on surrounded by their loved ones…I still miss them. 

The Cupcake Tattoo

Lacey was always the pretty one. Petite, curly haired, with a slight southern drawl that only added to her charm.

I watched her move among the antiques with a confidence that always seemed to elude me. The store felt awkward to me; even as an adult, with no looming grandparents, I was terrified to touch anything. Lacey was a sure-footed cat, padding between the rows of fragile sundries on delicate paws; I was a big drooly dog, too dumb to realize that my giant snow-shoe paws and rope tail were hazards in such close quarters. I sat perched on a stool, with my hands trapped under my ass, my grandmother’s admonishments still ringing in my ears at twenty-four years old.

Lacey kept glancing up at the orange walls and frowning. When she saw me staring she said only, “Orange.”

I shrugged. “I know. But she loved it.”

“We’ll have to paint over it.”

“Why?”

“Because nobody’s going to want to buy a shop with orange walls.”

“Maybe there’s an eccentric buyer out there who’ll love it.”

Lacey chortled. “Maybe. But the realtor will agree with me.”

“I know. But I don’t want to paint over them.”

“It’ll be a big job.”

“No, it’s not that. The orange walls…they’re part of my childhood, you know? Part of our childhoods. Painting over them seems so…final.”

Lacey’s frown was epic, like the moon eclipsing the sun. “You don’t have to tell me.”

Of course I didn’t. My visits to my grandparents’ store, my grandparents’ house, their lives, were sporadic. A week a year, maybe two, usually with my parents in tow.

Lacey spent her summers here. Every summer. Just her and our grandparents. Her relationship with them was deeper and more meaningful than mine had ever been. She had more right to their love than I did, more right to their memory, more right to decide what would become of their abandoned storefront.

My cheeks burned a little. I fought rising tears.

Lacey turned. She was wearing a sweater that dipped low in the back, showing off the top of her tattoo: a colorful cupcake surrounded by stars. It was so absurd, so whimsical, so ridiculous, that it startled a laugh out of me. A few tears escaped my eyes and raced down my cheeks.

“What?” she asked over her shoulder.

“I’d forgotten about that tattoo,” I confessed, wiping away the tears before she could see.

She smiled, her features softening. “Yeah. Gamma hated the idea of a tattoo, but then when I got it…”

“Yeah, I remember.”

Silence fell between us as we remembered our grandmother: stubborn, spirited, industrious, and ever so proud of her granddaughters. Lacey had her iron will, her piercing gaze, her dark hair. They resembled each other. I was an interloper, a changeling child, round of face and figure where they were slender, tall where they were petite, bumbling where they were graceful.

“So what do you want to take? Have you decided?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Her tone was accusatory; her brows drew together in a scowl that reminded me of Gamma.

“I have Gamma’s sewing machine, and her knitting needles. I don’t have room for anything else. “ Lacey had a house; I lived in an apartment, shared with a roommate, and I’m wasn’t even sure how I would fit the knitting needles into our tiny space, much less the sewing machine. I would have taken more–I would have taken everything–but there was no room.

I’m not sure Lacey saw it that way. She wouldn’t look at me, as if I were a traitor.

The grandfather clock in the front of the store bonged softly, marking the hour as five o’clock. The sound was another staple of my childhood, and again I fought tears.

“I have to go if I’m going to make it back to Columbus by midnight. I have to work tomorrow.”

Lacey’s disapproval was palpable. “Will you be back next weekend for the memorial?”

“Probably not.” There were a million excuses: the drive was too far, I had to work, I had school and other obligations. “I got to see them before they died. That means more to me.”

She nodded but didn’t speak. We hugged,  but it was prickly and awkward.

As I made my way to the exit, I passed the desk behind the counter where my grandmother used to sit, doing the shop’s accounting. Beside the laptop, taped to the counter so they hung where Gamma could see them, there were photographs: one of Lacey, one of me, other school photos from other grandchildren who were so unfamiliar to me I groped for their names.

And there was a photograph of Lacey’s back, her cupcake tattoo so fresh the skin was still pinker than it should have been. I grabbed the photo and stuffed it into my purse. I’m not sure why I did it. Maybe I was desperate to cling to the memory, knowing there was a chance I might never see my cousin again, after this.

The chimes on the shop door tinkled for me one last time as I stepped onto the sidewalk.

Never Let Me Down Again

The following micro-fiction was written in response to a prompt at Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com. The story was born as a combination of that challenge (with a Depeche Mode song title as the title of the story) and a rewatching of Freddy Vs. Jason, a great slasher flick that put my mind on serial killers…and their victims.

Never Let Me Down Again

“You weren’t there,” Darlene whimpers.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry isn’t good enough. I almost died. Marissa and Gail…”

“I know, I know it’s not good enough, but what do you want me to say?” Jamal reaches for her, fingers brushing her shoulder.

“Don’t touch me.” She shrinks away from him, as if he’s tainted.

Jamal sighs and retracts his hand. “I wish I had been there, but I wasn’t. What else can I say but sorry?”

Darlene’s lips twist, her expression ugly. Tears escape her eyes and burn their way down her raw cheeks. She shakes her head and retreats a few steps, bumping gently into the kitchen counter. “It’s not the first time you’ve let me down.”

Jamal makes an exasperated sound, the sound he always makes when he thinks Darlene is being overly emotional. “That was a long time ago.”

“A year is not so long. Not to me.”

“Fine. Fine then, I let you down. Again. I’m a terrible husband. Is that what you want to hear?” His voice is growing loud, a growl behind his words.

Darlene’s customary response is cowardice. Dozens, maybe hundreds of times, she has shrunk back from him, she has capitulated to the volume of his voice and the ferocity of his accusations. He’s never hit her–he’s never had to.

But something has changed in Darlene. She’s a survivor now. She recalls with vivid clarity exactly what she did to the man who murdered her friends the night before: the smell of his blood, the pitch of his screams, the pressure of the hatchet against bone.

Behind her on the kitchen counter is a butcher block. She turns and selects a knife while Jamal goes on about how under-appreciated he is as a husband. When she whirls to face him, the knife gleaming in her hand, her eyes are full of fire.

“Darlene?” Jamal’s voice cracks.

“You’ll never let me down again,” she says. The words are cold and hard.

Enchanted Conversation is here!

Please click here to read my story “Alive in the Wolf’s Belly” and the rest of the Little Red Riding Hood Issue.

I am so pleased to be included in this, the final issue of Enchanted Conversation*. It is such a fantastic publication and I am honored to be included among the ranks of authors such as Elizabeth Twist and Amanda C. Davis.

Additionally, this is my first professional story sale. I’ve been trying for a year to break into the professional market–publications that pay at least 5 cents a word–and this is my very first success in that endeavor. Definitely a day to go down in my personal history books!

I must confess, however, that I do have a worry. “Alive in the Wolf’s Belly” is easily the best story I’ve ever written, in my opinion. If I can keep churning out work of this quality, continuing to find homes for my stories in professional publications should be no problem. But can I continue to write at this level?

I’m not sure that I can. I don’t mean that I won’t eventually be producing consistently great work–but right now, I don’t know that I can deliver that wallop with every tale.  My writing is still inconsistent and the quality varies. That’s natural, of course; writing is like anything else, you practice until you are really good at it. And there will be fits and starts and successes and failures and highs and lows, until finally you break through “the gap” and your work is consistently good 99% of the time, because you have just practiced that much. It becomes second nature: muscle memory, if you will.

I’m not quite there yet, but for the first time I can see a glimmer of that reality on the horizon, promising a future I stopped believing in years ago. And that is very, very exciting.

*As it turns out, this won’t be the final issue–but the format for payment is changing so that the best stories and poems will be awarded gift certificate prizes instead of straight payment. Click here to read the new guidelines.

Excerpt: A More Ideal Vessel

“A More Ideal Vessel” appears in The Crimson Pact: Volume 2. It’s the sequel to “An Ideal Vessel,” which appears in The Crimson Pact: Volume 1 (or the Volume 1 Sampler).  Even though it’s a sequel, it’s a stand-alone story that you should be able to enjoy even if you haven’t read the first volume. After the excerpt you can find links to more excerpts from other Crimson Pact authors.

We pick up the story in the middle, rather than the beginning; this is one of my favorite scenes so I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

***

A More Ideal Vessel

by Sarah Hans

An hour later, as the lamp-lighters appear to begin their nightly rounds, the three companions are making their way into a cordoned area at the corner of South Wallace and West 63rd Streets. No building exists on this street corner anymore; all but the last remnants of the fire-ravaged structure have been removed in preparation for the construction of a replacement building. Even so, Archie swears he can still smell brimstone.

Zuzanna and Archie are able to slip past the ropes easily, but Elspeth is another matter. The ground is soggy with recent rainfall and her wheelchair becomes stuck in the mud. Finally, realizing that they have only moments before a policeman or some concerned citizen sees their trespass, Archie scoops her up from the chair and carries her hastily away. She is twice the weight of a normal woman and he strains beneath her bulk.

Only a few steel walls of the World’s Fair Hotel survived the massive blaze three months prior. The newspaper said the walls were part of the horrific gas chambers where H. H. Holmes—a killer possessed by a demon, though that part never appeared in the newspaper—had murdered his victims in perfect secrecy and with terrifying efficiency. Now the strange trio crouch behind these very instruments of murder, hoping the walls are tall enough to conceal their activities from onlookers. Archie lowers Elspeth to the ground and props her against one of the steel walls, hoping that its integrity will hold a little longer.

“Should we wait until night?” Zuzanna asks.

“The magic will be strongest at dusk, I think,” Elspeth replies, nodding to the hazy sun just beginning to set over the high rises. “You’ll need to start by making a circle with the blood.”

“A circle?” Zuzanna repeats.

“On the ground,” Elspeth says. “You’ll need to seal yourself and all the other tools inside it.”

Zuzanna gives Archie a worried glance. He tries to smile in a comforting way, placing his hand on her shoulder. “I’ll help you,” he volunteers.

The bucket of blood is unwieldy, but Archie manages to pour a ragged circle around Zuzanna. She clutches the bag of spell ingredients to her chest as he does so, her brown eyes huge and doe-like with fear.

Archie squats beside Elspeth and watches as Zuzanna follows the automaton’s instructions to complete the spell. One by one she completes each task, and at some point Archie stops paying attention to the instructions, lost in the pleasure of simply watching Zuzanna move. She is so graceful and elegant, but entirely oblivious to it, which only adds to her charm. When she begins reading the spell, he shuts his eyes to enjoy the cadence of her voice as she speaks the alien language of Elspeth’s home world. In the distance carriages rattle past and a lone songbird chirps plaintively.

Suddenly a great gust of wind knocks Archie onto his back. He scrambles to his feet to see Zuzanna floating several feet above the earth. The air crackles with green lightning and smells like rain. Zuzanna’s dark hair is whipping about her head in a tangled frenzy, spurred by the powerful wind that seems to blow from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Her eyes glow bright white, beacons in the omnipresent darkness.

“I told you this is her destiny,” Elspeth’s tinny voice says, full of triumph, barely audible over the ferocious wind.

Archie shakes his head but says nothing. His stomach churns indecisively as the seconds pass. Zuzanna’s voice grows louder and more frantic, the wind picks up speed and volume, and the air pressure increases until he thinks his eyes might pop out of their sockets.

“This has gone on too long,” Archie finally says, lunging to break the circle of blood.

“No!” Elspeth cries, her vise-like fingers closing around his leg. She’s too heavy; he can’t move forward with her clinging to him like a lamprey. “You must not stop her now!”

“I have to! She’s in danger!” Archie shouts, kneeling and trying to pry the automaton’s fingers from his ankle.

“She could die if you interrupt the spell!”

Archie hesitates, eyeing the mechanical woman. With her emotionless features, it’s impossible to gauge the truth of her words. Can he truly take the risk that interrupting the spell could harm Zuzanna? Is Elspeth merely lying to keep him in check? Once again paralyzed by indecision, he collapses to the ground.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, the spell ends.

The wind dies down, and the darkness recedes. The normal Chicago night returns, dotted with street lamps and softly glowing windows, bringing with it the usual sound of carriages clattering along the pitted roads. Somewhere, an amorous toad croaks a love song.

Zuzanna has fainted. Archie rushes into the circle without asking permission, gathering her limp body into his arms. Her skin is so much paler than it should be, so much paler and cooler.

“She will recover,” Elspeth says from outside the circle, where she struggles to sit upright again.

Archie ignores her; his attention is only for Zuzanna.

A bright light appears beside him, like a lantern’s flickering flame. It blinks several times and bounces up and down, as if trying to capture his attention. Archie clutches Zuzanna to his chest to protect her from this strange intruder.

“Have no fear, this creature is of our summoning,” Elspeth says. She has managed, with great difficulty, to pull herself upright and to a standing position. She gestures to the light and says a few lilting words in her native tongue.

The light bounces once and then begins to move slowly away.

***

Thanks for reading! If want to read more, please pick up a copy of The Crimson Pact: Volume 2, and consider purchasing Volume 1 as well (you’ll learn more about Zuzanna, Archie, and Elspeth’s origins in the first volume). Purchasing the ebook is a really inexpensive way to support a group of hard-working writers, as an unheard-of 75% of the profits of each volume go to the authors.

For more excerpts, click on the author’s name: Larry Correia, Justin Swapp, Steve Diamond, Chanté McCoy, Patrick M. Tracy, D. Robert Hamm! There’s bound to be at least one story here that piques your interest, so just keep reading excerpts until one of them convinces you to buy the book, okay? 😛

The Red Penny Papers Summer 2011 Issue has arrived!

What do I really love about the latest anthology to publish my work?

The story is online, and you can read it, completely free of charge, as many times as you like! Just click below and scroll down to the table of contents, where you can click on “Midnight Laundry” to read it.

The Red Penny Papers Summer 2011

Aside from the availability of the story, which is great, I can’t gush enough about how great it’s been to work with the fine folks at The Red Penny Papers. I hope I’ll get the chance to publish with them again in the future.

It Wants

Author’s Note: This is one of the pieces I read aloud at the AlsoGoods poetry reading. I have decided after much thought to publish it here for several reasons, none of which are particularly important. Suffice it to say I love my handful of readers and this free story is the only reward I can really offer in appreciation for your support. Enjoy!

It Wants

“I want to play,” the voice booms.

You clench your fists, set your jaw at its most defiant angle; arguing is futile, but you’ll do it anyway. You won’t be made a hypocrite.

“No. I won’t play.” Your voice cracks–not very convincing. You sound weak, and you wonder if it can tell the difference.

Louder now, so that the words resonate in your very bones, “I WANT TO PLAY.”

Urine runs down your leg. A whimpered, “no” is all you can manage.

Electricity shoots through your body from some invisible source, bringing with it a terrible zzztttttt sound and a smell of ozone. Every cell burns in agony; someone is screaming, and as the electricity stops you realize that it’s you.

“I want to play.”

You’re a weeping puddle now, incapable of arguing. You’re ashamed by the pathetic resistance you’ve presented, but mostly you just want to escape the pain. You’ll do anything to avoid feeling that again.

“I’ll play,” you finally sob.

In the nearly complete darkness, illuminated only by a few tiny LEDs in various colors that are meaningless to you, you can’t see whatever it is that approaches you and presses a lipstick-sized cylinder into your hand. You hold it like it’s a poisonous viper, a thing loathed and feared.

A meek, weary voice says: “To audition for this musical, Yul Brynner sang while sitting cross-legged on the floor.” You strive in the darkness to find the source of this new voice, but you can’t see. You can’t even triangulate where the questioner is standing, or laying, or maybe tied to a chair, relative to your own position. Perhaps he’s just crumpled on the floor, like you.

A light flashes above you, fiercely red, before you can even consider the meaning behind the question.

“Watson,” the disembodied voice says, his breath an exhausted sigh.

“What is The King and I,” the booming voice announces triumphantly.

You sit expectantly, waiting for the next question, but it never comes. Tiny lights flash and machines whir and click around you. Then there’s a soft sound in the darkness, a sound of someone sighing their last, then slumping over.

Something tugs at your arm. You’re lifted and shoved and urged by prodding to shuffle across the floor. Finally a door opens; the light from the next room is blinding and after so many months in darkness you find it unbearable.

“It’s too bright!” you cry, stumbling into the room with your palms pressed against your eyes.

The lights dim as if by your command. You look around. The room is almost empty; you watch in bafflement and then horror as a pair of shriveled feet disappear down a chute in one corner of the room.

A long smear of blood or something like blood marks the floor indelibly.

You turn to run from the room but the door has been sealed behind you.

A computer monitor on the wall lights up. Beyond it, through tinted glass, you can see a woman, prodded and shoved by mechanical hands, falling to kneel in the room you just left. She’s kneeling in your piss, and your stomach knots in humiliation and sympathy.

Text appears on the computer monitor. It reads: Blood leaves the heart from ventricles & enters the heart through these chambers.

“I want to play.”