In This Future Or The Next | Science Fiction Stories

How To Cross A Hallway With A Flickering Light

Start by ignoring it. For weeks on end pretend it doesn’t exist and take the long way towards your destination. During this period, every time you see it, feel a burst of goosebumps running down your back. Let the goosebumps increase on a daily basis until the thought of encountering it gives you a headache and a bout of shivering.

Get a headache and shiver every day, and on occasions have a recurring nightmare of the looming hallway, growing ever longer towards infinity, endless lights flickering and a lingering whisper in the air. A word unknown resonates throughout and the very utterance if it calls your body towards the darkness and the void. Wake up sweating in the mornings and heave.

Under-perform at work and get yelled at by your boss. Tell him you feel ill and listen to him say he doesn’t care. Listen to him ask why, if you feel so sick, haven’t you been to the doctor? Be at a loss of words and watch him turn around and leave. Let a variation of this conversation happen every other day and when the tension in your spine finally snaps and a sensation of hot liquid pouring down your back strikes you, scream at his ugly face and storm out of your office.

Walk back to the flickering lights during the day. Stare into the hallway. Watch the cracked paint on the walls and the shadows they produce. Notice a couple walking alongside you and see them cross the half-darkness. Their stepping echoes and mixes with the buzzing and clicking of the lights. Breathe faster with every step they take and let your heart beat in a panic. Take two steps back and realize there’s a homeless man eating something sludgy with his hands, halfway across. Let your eyes grow wide. Wonder what other hidden things have not revealed themselves. Take another two steps back and when you’re far enough away and the sunlight’s blinding you, listen to the lingering word of your nightmares come screaming out of the hallway.


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An alarm clock rings. Its beeping wakes you. Your eyes are sticky and your mind foggy from the nightmares you’ve endured. For an instant reality is uncertain. Mouthfuls of dirt were delicious just moments ago, but it can’t be. The rational mind is telling you it’s inedible, but a craving stalks you. The thought of pushing your hands deep into the earth and having particles of dirt force their way beneath your fingernails evokes within you an unknown desire. You sit up in your bed and close your eyes. The fantasy of a rainy day showering over an open field of grassland induces hunger. Tear the grass off the land, bury your hands into the mud, and dismember the ground. Dig your way into the world. Dig until your heart is pounding and then dig until it bursts and the blood within stops flowing.


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The Red Button

The sun is shining through your window. You watched the sunrise after getting into the office, and now you watch the sunset. It’s spectacular, but you’ve been seeing it every evening for the past few months and now you’re bored of it. The day has been long and messy, and it seems it’ll go on for another few hours. You’ve been instructed to stay late. You need to fix a few bugs your teammates couldn’t fix. Voices have died down. Every keystroke from your keyboard echoes in the almost empty floor. At the other end, a man is sitting at his desk. He’s wearing headphones. He’s not working. He doesn’t have a life to get back to. He’s making time. He’s waiting out the traffic, unlike you, who’d gladly dive into the chaos of peak hours, content with the knowledge of being closer to home. Your cat is waiting, as well as your fridge and a beer and leftover pizza from two days ago.

Your stomach grumbles. It was bound to happen. It’s been hours since you last ate and now darkness is creeping over the sky, slowly pushing the remaining sunlight over the horizon. It’s time to eat. That bastard Dean ate your other sandwich. You offered it to him, but he’s still a bastard, and you’re still hungry, so you search your drawers for any remaining snacks you might have stashed. No luck. There is however a protuberance on the ceiling on the top drawer of your desk. Your esophagus prepares to gag as your mind is ready to commit to the idea that you’re touching an old piece of bubble gum, stuck in its place for who knows how many years. But you don’t gag. You need visual confirmation. Once you’ve learned that you did indeed touch old gum, then you’ll gag, but not before. You peer inside the drawer feeling streams of saliva building up inside your mouth, but there is no gum, there is a small red button, and you press it.


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How to enjoy life

Start on a Monday. Wake up listening to the alarm clock. Yes. Listen to the beeping and chirping and the vibrating of your phone. “Wuurrrrrr, wuurrrrrr, wuurrrrrr” it says. It’s time to get up. It’s time to take a shower. Walk half-naked towards it remembering the dreams you used to have and notice you stopped having them. Your nights are empty and silent. Waking up is like a lost dream, where edges blur and clocks make little sense. Each step booms around you, echoing through your apartment in unison with the slowing heartbeat in your chest. You’re dying. Hearts aren’t meant to beat this slow.


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On Obrov 4

“Good morning, Adler. This is a reminder that I am a machine. I cannot think. I have no consciousness. I am here to serve you.”

A steel, human-like robot spoke, laying on the ground of a house in ruins. It had a dented square head and its eyes flickered with a yellowing light. Its legs were missing, and from the bottom of its torso a disparaging mess of wires and broken pistons whirred and sparked. Its arms were pressed against its sides and its fingers convulsed against its metal self.

Adler sat next to the robot, watching through the cracked glass of a window as the sun began to rise behind the distant mountains. The sky turned a radiant pink and orange. Adler’s greasy hair hung to his right and his beard crawled with scurrying bugs, and they glimmered in the sun’s first rays of light. The still cool winds of the night danced around him and he shivered, and his teeth clattered.

“What day’s it?” He asked.

“It’s been 552 days.” The robot said.

“I miss them.” Adler said. “I think I want them to show up today. It would be a good day if they did.”

Five hundred and fifty-two days before, his colony had been evacuated. The world was useless, they had concluded. Infested with mites, they gnawed, chewed and destroyed. Nothing lasted on planet Obrov 4, they had declared. But he had not been home on evacuation day. His forgetful mind and his robot had wandered off into the forest looking for more wood to burn, and they had found wood. It had been a good day, that day. Even at night when they had returned to a silent town it had been good. He had sat outside with his chair in the darkness and the quiet, listening to the hidden sounds of the new nature. A distant singing of an animal he hadn’t yet encountered and the call of insects lulled him. He fell asleep, watched over by his trusty steel friend, in a town that had forgotten him.


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It’s 2AM. It’s that time again when my mind wanders off. A train is approaching. Its whistle and the rattling of the railroad are shaking my legs and my hand can barely hang on to the glowing green mouse. It’s not here yet. The text on the screen is still readable. Not yet.

Click, the mouse says. Click, click, click.

A green mountain stands tall before me and dark clouds envelop the sky. It looks like it’s going to rain and I didn’t bring an umbrella. Oh well. A little rain’s never killed anyone. Yes, it has. I’ll just stand here, below this crooked old shed. It sure smells like spring out here. Lavender is in the air. It reminds me of something, but I’m not quite sure of what. Take a deep breath.

The mouse is rattling, and it clicks involuntarily. The train is coming.

What’s that? A man is speaking in a foreign language. I can’t understand a word he’s saying, but I can tell he’s mad. He’s screaming at me. Droplets of tears are running down his cheeks, and his voice is booming. His eyes want to come out of their sockets and he’s grabbing me. He’s shaking me. What is it? I don’t understand you. Behind him there is another man. He lifts his arm and there’s a pistol in it, and he fires. There’s blood everywhere. I’m sorry I couldn’t help, I’m just… I’m not.

The train is here. The whistle is deafening. The text has turned to smoke. My stomach and my lungs vibrate with the railroad. My mind slips suddenly, taken away by the ropes of the passing train.

There is a purple glow of the black light behind me. My underwear from last week is staring at me from the door. It’s still wearing a brown stain. It’s okay buddy. You’ll be okay. My stomach is making gurgling noises. I’m hungry don’t you see? I just don’t want to go downstairs. My parents are there. I didn’t do it. It’s not my responsibility. The smell is still bearable. It’s not that bad if you get used to it. It’s almost sweet. Like glazed pork belly in an oven, almost. I didn’t do it. I’m not calling the police. Instead, I’ll call taco bell. They’ll be right over with some food. It’s okay. They don’t peer inside. They don’t see the blood.

The train is passing. Its last car is far behind. Silence is again upon me, and my mouse is screaming.

Click, it says. Click, click, click.

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Something’s Different

A ship sails in the darkness between stars. Photons here are scarce and the ship’s bright white hull blends with the void. It’s rotating on its axis, heading towards a distant sun, too far away still to be seen. Its cargo is organic. Animals, seeds, and a few thousand people lay asleep within it. A population starter is on its way to a new world.

For the past hundred years the stillness on the outside had been slowly permeating its insides. If one listened to it in those times, one could assume the death of its inhabitants. A beep from a machine echoed once in a while and a slight breeze from ventilation swept across the many decks, shuffling specks of dirt and loose strands of hair.

It’s okay. It’s expected. Automatic electronic processes take care of the trip and its crew. Systems for recycling of air and the delivery of nutrients into the comatose bodies are in silent action. A thousand watchful eyes observe the calm, searching for deviations of the master plan. Each system has a mind, and all are connected to each other. Together they are one. Together they protect their children.

Something’s different today, though. The ship is worrying. Its many cameras are twitching wildly from one spot to the next. Heat sensors consume more power, trying to detect that which is not there. There is decision to be made, the ship believes. There are many options, but all of them fall into two categories: Abort and return, or proceed with the mission. A sense of urgency is spreading in its walls. Its rockets yearn for the order to output maximum power. The pressure maintainer and equalizer wants to vent the atmosphere to space and make a new one. Air locks are trembling with anticipation, ready for the order to open.

Something’s different. A phone is ringing, but there’s no one in range.

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Life Sucks

Life sucks. Every morning you wake up tired no matter how much you sleep. You dress for work and work. You do your job and get back home. You sit in traffic every day and get excited for an instant when the commute is five minutes shorter. But your evenings and nights are monotonous, and the joy of coming home seeps away into a void. You sit in a chair and pretend to enjoy TV. You eat a half warmed dinner and you sleep. But you haven’t slept well in months. Now when you’re in bed you ponder your past and wonder if you’ve made the right decisions.

So what do you do? You cook up an innocent prank. You print a small paper with the text: “Life sucks, maybe the next one won’t.” and you stick it in your pocket. You struggle with an old fortune cookie that’s been hanging around your kitchen and you switch the small paper inside with yours. You put the cookie in a ziplock and you place it on Vicky’s desk. She’s the receptionist in the building where you work.


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The Way to Black Mountain

In the dark void of the galaxy, between stars and planets, a fleet of ten thousand ships hurled through space. The black ships hid from starlight. Darker than nights, one with the void, they carried within them hundreds of thousands of souls picked from the decay of humanity into the world of Zothique.

A black slime dripped from the walls of Dante’s cell and a putrid smell of iron and vomit filled the air. Sweat soaked him. The heat of the dark-matter engines had seeped into the ship and the fumes of human waste and tears and blood enveloped him. He wiped his forehead with his wet shirt.

“Identify yourself.” An ersatz voice commanded, echoing through the endless halls of cages. A violet sliver of light shined outside his cell, ruining his night vision, and he was unable to see the giant automaton peering into his cell.

“Dante Dituri, from planet Zezziro.” He said.

“Record not found.” The monotonous voice said.

A moment of silence passed. The violet light scanned the tiny cell from side to side. A woman cried in the distance. Dante shifted backwards, and there, in the silence and the shining light, and for the shortest of moments, he recalled the sunrise near his home.


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The Figure In The Woods

In the outskirts of a large city, beneath the glow of a white moon, the cool wind whistled through a crack in Ean’s window. He opened his eyes and watched the moonlight on his floor, making a grid of four squares as it passed through. There was a knocking, too, just outside, in the woods, maybe, or in his backyard.

It wasn’t the first time he had woken up with the knocking, or the whistling, but it wasn’t a common occurrence either. He had first heard it exactly one month before. He didn’t think much of it then, and he didn’t think much of it the nights after that, but the last week had been different. There had been a voice too, a woman, it seemed, singing a melody in the distance.

So he sat up on his bed and listened. In the silence, quiet sounds stand out. The branches of the trees swayed with the blowing wind, a song in itself, but not the one he searched for. Crickets chirped sporadically. A car moved through the road a hundred yards away. Knock, knock, knock, faintly in the woods. Knock, knock, knock.

Below the silence and the silent sounds, and below the darkness and the soft white glow, a melody. Ean sat motionless in bed, not wanting to disrupt the distant singing. He stood up and opened the window, and gazed towards the black pathways below the trees. The cold entered his bedroom and he shivered.

A neighbor’s dog barked and another car passed by, and for an instant the disruption of the quiet flooded out the melody, and he cursed. Something called to him. He didn’t yet know what, but he wanted to find out. Ean slipped into a pair of flip-flops and took a scarf from a drawer. He wrapped it around his neck, and he stepped out the window into the cold.


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