© Sue Vincent
“The circle of an empty day is brutal and at night it tightens around your neck like a noose.” Elisa Gutierrez realized they only had a few seconds between the flash and the heat wave that would incinerate the both of them as they stood on the ridge overlooking what used to be greater Los Angeles. But she still turned toward Harvey Bowman, her boyfriend and co-conspirator, looking at his face, mostly hidden by the light suppressing lenses she also wore, amazed that he could wax poetic moments before they died.
“Are you nuts?” She grabbed his arm, feeling how perfectly still he was compared to her trembling. “We’re about to die and…”
Her voice, nasal Bronx accent and all, were cut off abruptly as the blast of heat, exceeding a hundred million degrees Celsius, reached them. They were both instantly rendered as dry, black ash. Seconds later, the shock wave hit them and they exploded, their remains scattered like autumn leaves in a hurricane. Amazingly, she could still see.
© Sue Vincent
David had lived underground all his life, his existence tied to the Hive habitat that had been manufactured hundreds of years ago, and his body, blood, work, all in the service of the state. He couldn’t have imagined the exquisite beauty of the garden he was now walking in, sunlight warming his back and shoulders, the sweet aroma of these spectacular plants, all so green, growing and alive, even after all the vid records he’d seen of life before the tipping point of global warming, he was still astonished.
“So, Mister. What do you think?” Ten-year-old Timothy had been assigned to guide the mysterious guest around the farm and the common grounds such as this community garden. He wore clothes strange to David, what they called denim pants, a “T” shirt, whatever that meant, and a hat. Oh, he’d used helmets on his job in maintenance to protect him against hazardous conditions, but what protection would one need in such an idyllic setting?
“I think it’s all quite amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this, all of this.” He spread his arms wide and whirled around in delight.
“You mean you lived all your life in a hole in the ground, like a gopher?” Timothy scratched at his dark brown hair under the billed red cap.
© Sue Vincent
“Come on, Grandpa. Over here.” Three-and-a-half year old Jillie ran ahead of sixty-three year old Robert, who was starting to feel the icy talons of fear clutch his heart as his migraine interfered with his control.
“Coming, Angel.” Wiping moisture off of his forehead and locks of long, graying hair, he knew the migraine would not let him tolerate trying to run, but he walked as fast as he could, blue jeans and boots catching in the cheat grass, sweat clinging to his checkered flannel shirt and denim jacket. If she should stray too far ahead while he couldn’t concentrate, there’s no telling what would happen.
The blond child, dressed for the winter weather in dark blue jeans, a snug, long-sleeved shirt, and her favorite turquoise jacket with Elsa and Anna on it, dashed forward toward a copse of trees. Sunlight was streaming through a partially cloudy sky, rendering the barren branches of the tall maples ahead in silhouette.
She and her older brother Tyler had stayed overnight at Robert and Maggie’s house, and while his wife and grandson were making pancakes for their breakfast, he had taken the always active, rambunctious toddler into the field out back to run off some energy. Unfortunately, the migraine struck suddenly, and as the light around him haloed and nausea swept through his gut, he knew it was too late to get her back home.
© Sue Vincent
“Well, damn. It’s too late now.” Dale Hunter watched the last rays of the sun disappear behind the western peaks and he was still nowhere near the Safe Zone. He might survive the night, but he had to bank on none of them picking up his scent, and it absolutely meant he couldn’t build a fire against the cold.
The sixty-three year old range walker had been tracking the Adversaries down in the wilderness outside the Safe Zone for over forty years, a full century after the first of them appeared. He’d only been caught out in the open twice before in all that time, once because he was young and had misjudging distance and timing, and the other because bad footing on a slope with loose rocks resulted in a twisted ankle. That first time, he’d gotten lucky, and when he was struggling to make it home that second time, something else happened entirely.
Tonight, he had been careless, and in his zeal to find one of the Adversary nests rumored to be hidden in one of the canyons below Pine Bluff, he’d gotten lost just long enough to delay his return. He never did find that nest.
“Good evening, Dale. It’s been a long time.” Just as before, her voice was like touching velvet and silk, or the warmth he felt after his first swallow of fine bourbon on a winter’s night. He figured it must have been close to midnight when she found him huddled under a pile of pine needles at the base of a tree trunk trying to stay awake.
© Sue Vincent
Twenty-nine year old Melanie Snyder stood sobbing at the shore of the lake where her Grandpa’s ashes had been scattered two years ago. She purposely had one hand inside her coat touching something precious she was wearing around her neck. The first rays of the April sun were just now creeping over the eastern horizon illuminating reflections of thin clouds, a pale azure sky, and the gnarled, barren tree under which he had taught her how to fish when she was five.
“I’m sorry I…” sobs shook her slender frame which was enveloped in the dark blue pea coat that sheltered her from the cold. “I’m sorry I didn’t visit…didn’t call that last year. I was so afraid of what I’d see…of what the cancer had done to…”
Long blond hair being slightly fluttered by the breeze, Melanie lowered both arms to her sides and clenched her fists in resolve, determined to finish her confession.
“You were always my hero, always strong, brave, kind. After Mom and Dad divorced, I could talk to you about anything, how I felt, how mad I was. You always understood. I thought you’d live forever, that you would never leave me.”
© Sue Vincent
Sixty-six year old Douglas Collier was shocked to find that he was walking out of the foothills toward Idaho State Highway 21 somewhere between Idaho City and Boise. In fact, he didn’t expect to exist at all, let alone be on his feet.
“What the hell just happened?” He stumbled across a low, grassy rise near some abandoned fence poles, gazing down at the asphalt pavement just below the hill.
“Are you talking to me?” The voice sounded like a snarky teenage boy, someone you’d find on social media flaunting their progressive values alongside their World of Warcraft online scores. The harness on Doug’s body, concealed under his faded blue jeans, tan, long-sleeved pullover shirt and dark blue jacket glowed a brilliant white and green as the AI spoke each word.
In a momentary burst of anger, he shot back, “Who the hell are you, Robert De Niro?”
© Sue Vincent
Twenty-eight-year-old Lance Cain watched as Tamara’s ashes floated away over the small waterfall and down the frigid stream. As a veteran of the Talsan War and one of the few survivors of the Prog Lozab campaign, he had long since learned how not to cry, regardless of how harshly his emotions were twisting in his chest.
But somewhere inside the hardened fighter pilot, a little six-year-old boy was sobbing. That’s how old he was when his Mom died pulling him out of the fire that took his two brothers and three sisters. That was the day he swore no one else would die because of him.
The day he graduated officer’s training (and at the memory, he had to bite down on the inside of both of his cheeks, since Tamara was standing beside him at the ceremony), he not only took an oath to defend the Republic, but to defeat the alien horde that had sworn to eradicate humanity from existence, including his beloved fiancee Miranda, the girl he left behind on their homeworld of Senegale.
“Hey, Dancer. I don’t mean to interrupt, but we’ve got to get going. The sun’s setting, and in an hour it’ll be ten below.”
© Sue Vincent
Tom Allen lived in his Dad’s old cabin five miles west of New Mexico State Highway 107 along about twenty miles south of Magdalena. The retired astronomer stepped out behind his place and put his left hands on the branch of a dead tree. Figured he’d cut it down for firewood, though he had plenty already for the winter.
“Looks like we’ll be getting some rain from the west, ol’ girl.” He patted Sally’s head, and the golden retriever nuzzled her snout against the leg of his jeans.
He’d been born in a little town south of Albuquerque sixty-six years ago last Friday, so being dressed in his old Stetson, a plaid shirt, faded blue denim jeans and high leather boots seemed normal to him, but the old normal, since he’d spent most of his adult life in places like Pasadena’s JPL, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, not to mention in the halls of academia. His colleagues at Stanford and MIT would never understand.
“Storm’s getting closer. We’d better head back in, especially before you see some rabbit you want to be chasing.”
Sally barked with ascent and then happily followed the old man back into the house.
© Sue Vincent
Trigger Warning: This story is at least PG-13 with a little R thrown in (I tried to be as circumspect as possible and still retain the overall imagery of the story), so if you’re offended by sensual language with a touch of horror, you might want to stop reading now.
Lilith was always the first to arrive, but as the great mother, she was responsible for preparing the holy site for the others.
“Mother!” Naamah ran into the clearing, and with a gazelle-like leap to clear a fallen log, she fell into Lilith’s arms. If mother and daughter were human, their embrace would appear lewd and obscene, their hands and tongues sliding sensually over each others supple, lightly clad bodies, but for the most ancient of demons, this was a standard greeting, especially after being parted for an entire year (though at their age, a year wasn’t considered very long at all).
They parted as Rahab and Vashti arrived. Then Shelomit, Helah, and Jezebel joined them. As the sun hung low on the western horizon, the others came, and after engaging in the same ritual greeting, which stopped short of becoming a frenzied orgy (for that was yet to come), the hundreds gathered in several concentric circles around the tall, verdant phallic idol.
© Sue Vincent
Luke Wallace stumbled over the alien terrain as the dawning sun rose to his left, but it was the twinkling of tiny lights directly in his path that had been holding his attention for the past three hours.
The biologist was the sole survivor of the “Hawking,” an exploratory superluminal spacecraft owned by Blue Astra Space Corporation. The primary power coupling blew just 92 hours after they’d returned to normal space, and 15 minutes after they’d entered orbit around Kessel-Origan B, the most Earth-like exoplanet ever discovered, and only 167 light years from home.
He was the only one to get to an escape pod in time as cryonic gas from the exploding coolant system filled the command module. He ejected the pod, passing through energy ripples caused by the dying FTL drive, what Hicks once called “the probability machine.” The exotic radiation passed directly through the pod’s hull, and it felt like he was swimming through liquid fire when it hit his body.
Five hours ago, he regained consciousness. The pod had already landed, or rather, crash landed. His safety couch had deployed insulating gel,which had shielded him from the shock of impact, but the controls, radio, emergency beacon were all gone. He was lucky to retrieve a three-day supply of water and rations, but there was no going back. He would either have to find a way to survive on an alien world or die.