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A World of Broken Things

Kai Delmas

A book slipped from my grasp and fell with an echoing thud.

Shit!

I froze. Just listened to the eerie quiet of the desolate library.

Nothing. No moans, no movement.

Sighing with relief, I checked my scribbled notes before grabbing some books. Big sciency ones.

God knew I didn’t know squat about what I was looking for, but dammit, one of them could be what I needed.

The books lay heavy in my backpack on my trek home but I was close to an old pawnshop I used to frequent before the world went to hell and wanted to take a little look-see.

I crawled through the smashed display window because of the damn chimes hanging above the door. I didn’t want to be ringing any dinner bells, now did I?

A shattered porcelain ballerina lay among the destruction. I gathered all the pieces I could find and was satisfied. Ears pricked, I headed home.

Safe inside, I retrieved the broken ballerina and placed her on my workstation. Mended figurines watched as I fixed her up, gluing everything back where it belonged.

As I finished, I heard a moan from below. I went to the fridge and pulled out a rotting slab of beef, opened the cellar door and threw it down.

Sighing, trying to keep tears at bay, my eyes wandered from the figurine to the books on viruses and Biology for Dummies.

I had to start somewhere.

Maybe one day I would be able to fix you, too.

Author Bio: Kai Delmas loves creating worlds and magic systems and is a slush reader for Apex Magazine. He is a winner of the monthly Apex Microfiction Contest and his fiction can be found in Martian and is forthcoming in Tree and Stone and several Shacklebound anthologies. Find him on Twitter @KaiDelmas.


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If Wishes Were Horses

Tiffani Angus

Mam always warned me against trying to hide if the dark riders came. They’ll find you, she whispered. You can’t run and hide, like a mouse in the dirt, like a bird under the bushes. They’ll snatch you up, never to be heard from again.

All the oldsters used the riders as a threat. Mind the priest, or the riders will take you to hell. Watch those goats, hear, or the riders will give you a punishment you’ll not forget. And it was always whispered; yelled threats never held the same terror as those you had to strain to hear.

But after Da died, there was too much work to do to attend to such silliness. Mam was too tired from taking in washing from the big houses in the valley to do more than give the little ones a quick kiss each night before tucking them into bed without a story. Then it was time to wash up the dinner dishes and, if we weren’t already half asleep on our feet, do whatever darning or piecework we’d been lucky enough to get that month.

My days were hauling water, tending animals and children, sewing, cleaning. At twelve, I had calluses to rival those of any barn boy. At fourteen, my first suitor came calling, but marriage was just more of the same and the screaming brats were your own then. I knew from older cousins that going into service afforded a half day off every month, but too much yes ma’am-ing and yes sir-ing and lecherous gropes in dark stairwells and no recourse. So on the darkest days I imagined a life without broken and torn fingernails and daydreamed of a young lord, separated from the hunt, chancing upon our shack and finding me alone in the dooryard. But we all know that good fortune doesn’t come out of the forest, only strangers looking for a handout or something to steal. At fifteen, I was too tired to realize that I was trapped.

Mam never told me the truth of things.

I started to use the threat myself. When the babies wouldn’t stop hitting, I whispered that the riders would come and eat them up in one big bite. And when Tommy came home with his new britches torn, I grabbed him ’round the collar and stared into his wide green eyes and, with as much malice as I could heat up in myself, told him that he was the perfect size for a slave to the riders. It worked a bit while they were still little enough to believe that faeries bring babies and owls are the spirits of the dead and the vicar’s teeth are made of clay. But it hadn’t worked on me in years. I’d stopped believing. That was my first mistake.

My second came one autumn day when I was overtired and full of self-pity and anger at Mam for going into town to see what she could get on credit, only I knew what that sort of credit was and how could we care for yet another child? Karen was ten and old enough to help with the washing, and I promised her an extra piece of bread and cheese if she’d do my share of the work just once. But she sniffed at me in a way she’d learned from those town girls and said that she wasn’t going to turn into a drudge like me. So I slapped her. I barely felt my hand come out and crack across her cheek before I realized what I’d done. And I knew that Mam would do me worse when she found out. So I gave Karen another chance to save us both and said take my cheese and bread for the rest of the week only help me and don’t tattle. But it was too late. My handprint burned on her cheek and she started to wail for Mam, forgetting that we were alone.

I felt the shame of what I’d done turn to panic, so I told Karen, loud and clear, that the riders would come and take her in the night and she’d never see Mam or the others again. And as I said it I felt the power of it, setting my hands to trembling. She turned away and began to run, and I yelled after her that it was true, the riders would come for her.

I invited them the same as if I’d sent it all fancy in ink on fine paper, sealed with wax.

As Karen ran wailing toward the garden, the clanging sound of the forge carried on the wind. The pounding doubled, then tripled, echoing across the valley, and beneath it came the scratchy sound of curled brown leaves skirting along the edges of the house. The pounding redoubled and came closer, and I recognized it not as the smith’s heavy hammer but as hooves. My hands stopped shaking, and my chest went all hollow as if I no longer needed to breathe. Karen disappeared around the side of the house, her red hair flying to match the gold and orange of the trees just beyond. And as I turned to welcome the guests that I’d invited—for I’d learned from watching Mam with the tax collector that hospitality can divert less-than-friendly intentions—I finally realized the true horror of the riders.

No one ever told me they were beautiful.

Because that is their real danger. Something big and hairy and stinky and slobbering might stupefy you for a moment before you run, looking for a place hide or a weapon to defend yourself. But their wild beauty is such that you’re unable to turn away. And I finally realized why the whispering and the secrecy, because only grownups who accept hard days of drudgery as their responsibility can resist the lure. But a tired child in an unfair world will take any means of escape.

And as I stood in the dooryard and watched them bear down on me, I saw out of the corner of my eye the washing flap on the line and the firewood waiting to be split and the chickens to be fed. I simply lifted my hands in invitation, and the leader bent down from her horse, all grace, and in a span of time barely longer than it takes to sigh she asked me if I dared and I said yes and then the world turned sideways and streamed by all yellow and red as they carried me away.

Author Bio: Tiffani Angus is the author of Threading the Labyrynth, which was was shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Association best novel award and the British Fantasy Society awards for best novel and best newcomer. She grew up in the American Southwest and really misses Mexican food but definitely doesn’t miss the heat. She lives in Bury St Edmunds with her partner.

If Wishes Were Horses first appeared in Strange Horizons.

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Download Day

Eric Fomley

I step into the doctor’s office and the chair in the center of the room is reminiscent of the dentist’s. I sit and the chair automatically adjusts and leans me back. I take a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm my nerves. Eighteen years of doctors making me nervous culminate in this moment, the moment every clone learns about from the moment we were grown. Download Day.

Doctor Javion strolls into the room, holding a small, cylindrical case that glows with swirling blue fluid. Memory bots.

“Good morning, Sashi,” he says with a warm smile. “How are you feeling this morning?”

I let out a slight laugh. “Nervous.”

He grins. “That’s a perfectly normal response. Download Day is a big deal, and not just because it’s your eighteenth birthday,” he says. “You’re doing your part to support the continued existence of society.”

I nod. I can appreciate his attempt to make me feel better, but Download Day is drilled into us from a young age. I feel like I know everything about it. A previous Sashi cloned herself before death and stored an upload of her memories for me, the new sterilized body, to receive on my 18th birthday. The mandated option has kept the population from getting further out of control, but it also makes everyone, for all intents and purposes, immortal.

Dr. Javion looks like he can tell I’m not calmed by his rehashing of information. He preps a syringe that sucks the memory bots out of the cylindrical case and sits on a stool with wheels that he scoots next to me. “Is there anything you’d like to know about the procedure that might make things more comfortable for you?”

 “Yes, there is something I’ve never understood,” I lick my dry lips. “Is there an adjustment period for my memories to integrate with the previous generation’s memories, like will I have headaches or something like that or feel outside of myself?”

 Dr. Javion frowns. “The procedure itself is relatively painless. You will experience headaches for a day or two after the procedure and some complain of a sore throat, but there won’t be any issues with memories integrating, that’s not really a thing.”

 It feels like someone shot ice into my veins. “What do you mean? The memories will integrate, right?”

 “No. That is a fabrication of the media. If we allowed your personality to exist alongside others in the same brain you would be clinically insane by the end of a week.”

 I feel like I’m gonna puke. It’s all a lie. The government, the media, they’re pushing population control at the price of clones being a canvas for a memory override. It’s all a cover up. My mind reels.

 I push myself up to get out of the chair but restraints fold out and strap over my arms and legs.

 “What the hell!?” I pull on the restraints, fighting them for all I’m worth, but the harder I pull the more they tighten until I can’t move at all.

 “You can’t do this,” I shout. “It’s murder!”

 He laughs, a deep chuckle. “Murder? Oh my dear girl. Sashi walked into my office and Sashi will walk out, resurrected no less. Sounds more like savior than murderer to me.”

 “But it’s my body,” I say through gritted teeth. I’m surprised no one has spoken out about this, but I realize with horror that no one remembers. No wonder he’s been so open about what happens in here. A moment after the memory bots flood my mind I won’t remember either. He must enjoy that part.

 Dr. Javion smiles thinly. “Actually, it’s not your body.” He waves the syringe of memory bots in front of my face. “It’s hers.”

 He leans closer with the needle and I shake my head as hard as I can. Restraints come out of the chair and clamp around my skull. I scream until my throat is raw and the needle punctures my temple.

I scream and scream, but my throat is sore, my head aches, and I’m starting to forget why.

Author Bio: Eric Fomley’s stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Galaxy’s Edge, and Daily Science Fiction. His stories can be found on ericfomley.com.

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