DP FICTION #110A: “Ten Easy Steps To Destroying Your Enemies This Arbor Day” by Rachael K. Jones

edited by David Steffen

1. Raid the army surplus warehouse, NASA’s scrapyard, and Aunt Diabolica’s volcano lair for parts. On the way home, swing by CatCo to buy more Fancy Feast for Mr. Wibbles.

2. Let your imagination soar as you plot your evil heart out. Ask yourself: What am I most upset about? Did Rodney Gruber laugh at you in high school? Are you mad that no one appreciates pigeons? Perhaps you want to overthrow the government, but stylishly, in a cool hat. You’ll want to build your device to achieve those goals. Bonus points for thematic resonance, like maybe your device arms pigeons with crouton-shooting machine guns so they can pelt condescending tourists with stale bread.

3. Settle on the environment as your pet cause. Who isn’t pissed about climate change? And since everyone’s technically responsible for it, you don’t have to feel bad about any effects on bystanders. And with Arbor Day around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better.

Once you’ve got your cause, invent the Johnny Applebeam! One sweep of its Honeycrisp ray turns humans into apple trees on contact.

Everyone always overlooks Arbor Day. This year, you’ll give them something to remember.

4. Work on your signature catchphrase. “How do you like THEM apples!” has a nice ring to it. Or maybe “It’s cobblering time!” Whatever you pick, make it rotten to the core.

5. Now it’s time for add-ons! Comfy seats! Stylish bitey dragon teeth and glowing red eyes! A nozzle that hoovers the apples from the people-trees and turns them into cider! A cannon that pelts your enemies with land piranhas! How about an extra cockpit seat for Mr. Wibbles, complete with a little silver bowl for his Fancy Feast? And hey, those crouton-wielding attack pigeons were a good idea—add a few of those!

An Emergency Override button sounds nice, but opinions are mixed on its usefulness. Murphy’s Law dictates that if you install one, someone will eventually use it against you. You might be better off without it.

6. Now that you’ve built your doomsday device, take it out for a spin! Your high school is a great place to start, and Arbor Day has arrived. Savor Rodney Gruber’s blubbering as you sweep the Johnny Applebeam over his smug bully face. You’ve just eliminated 890,000 pounds of lifetime carbon emissions, and all before it’s time to feed Mr. Wibbles.

It sure feels good to do some good!

7. Great job on your first rampage! Celebrate by sipping that crisp, cool cider made from Rodney Gruber’s freshly picked apples. Revenge, as they say, tastes sweet.

8. While you’re polishing smashed apples off the Johnny Applebeam, panic when the dragon eyes flare to life. Someone’s tripped the auto-rampage button inside the cockpit.

Realize in all the excitement that you forgot to feed Mr. Wibbles.

9. Regret that you never installed that Emergency Override button.

Mr. Wibbles is in charge now.

God save you. God save us all.

10. Enjoy your new life as a planet-saving carbon sink! You no longer have to worry about Rodney Gruber or climate change, and those attack pigeons will eventually run out of croutons. And you can’t help but be proud of Mr. Wibbles for making history as the first cat to appear on the International Most Wanted Criminals list.

It’s a shame Mr. Wibbles is still hungry, though. If there’s any victim in this nasty business, surely it’s him. What use does a cat have for apples, after all? Trees are nice, but it would sure motivate Mr. Wibbles to reach deep down for his criminal worst if you could retool the beam to make cat food instead. In such a brave new world lacking opposable thumbs with which to operate the can opener, the only right thing to do is to turn over a new leaf and guarantee a future jam-packed with delicate bites for your fuzzy little guy.

Sooner or later, you’ll solve the whole tree thing, perhaps when Aunt Diabolica comes looking for you when she notices what you stole from her volcano lair. These things always have a way of working themselves out. Until then, you’ve got your branches full planning your next rampage.

Next Arbor Day, you’ll have all the Fancy Feast you need.

© 2024 by Rachael K. Jones

709 words

Author’s Note: This story began life as an entry to a weekend flash fiction challenge I do every year, and eventually became about my true feelings around Arbor Day. I hope it inspires readers everywhere to show more respect to pigeons, and to eat apples responsibly.

Rachael K. Jones grew up in various cities across Europe and North America, picked up (and mostly forgot) six languages, and acquired several degrees in the arts and sciences. Now she writes speculative fiction in Portland, Oregon. Rachael is a World Fantasy Award nominee and Tiptree Award honoree, and her fiction has appeared in multiple Year’s Best anthologies and dozens of venues worldwide. Her stories can be found in Uncanny, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and all four Escape Artists podcasts. Follow her on Twitter @RachaelKJones or Bluesky @rachaelkjones.bsky.social

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DP FICTION #46B: “For the Last Time, It’s Not a Ray Gun” by Anaea Lay

Connor was shy, introverted and a thousand other things that made sitting there, at the tiny coffee shop table, torturous. He didn’t want to be tortured. He wanted to hear harp music and cherubs giggling and all the other noises that accompanied your first date with your soul mate. It had taken him weeks to screw up the courage to ask Kayla out for coffee. As far as he was concerned, glitter should ooze from the walls in a poltergeist-style reward for the brazen bravery he’d demonstrated.

Meanwhile, Kayla pretty clearly didn’t realize this was supposed to be a date.

She wasn’t being weird or anything. And Connor wasn’t sure what she ought to be doing instead. But she wasn’t nervous or awkward or in any way different from how she was when they hung out with Debra and Joe and the rest. This was basically the same as hanging out in Kayla’s workshop for their hack-a-thon sessions, except the coffee was better, nobody else was around, and Connor felt entitled to glitter ooze.

Kayla was in the middle of a lengthy monologue about the various activities going on in her workshop. “Joey was pretty adamant about getting the beta testing approved by the IRB but we managed to talk him out of it before he actually filed any paperwork. Can you imagine, just telling the government what you’re planning like that? Ruins all the fun of making them figure it out for themselves.”

Connor was so nervous and uncomfortable that he couldn’t process any of the things Kayla was saying. He cared about what she wanted to talk about a lot. He just couldn’t get past the absence of cherubs and harp music. So he was completely astonished when she stopped. She glared at the table next to them, then rifled through her bag. A moment later she retrieved a silver and black object covered in wires.

“Uhm, Kayla?” Connor said, finding his voice for the first time since he’d ordered his coffee.

“Mm,” she said, her eyes steadily fixed in a death glare on their neighbor.

“Why do you have a ray gun?”

The neighbor was a petite girl with curly hair trimmed in an asymmetrical bob and thick eyeliner. The eyeliner covered her face in wavery trails, distributed by the tears she was actively shedding.

“It’s not a ray gun,” Kayla said without breaking her gaze.

Connor might be nervous, and he might be overwhelmed, but he damn well knew a ray gun when he saw one and that was a ray gun. But this was their first date and, even if Kayla didn’t know it, and he wasn’t about to pick a fight in the middle of it. “Please don’t shoot that girl in public.”

“If she wanted to be shot in private, she should have kept her crying fest there.” Kayla pointed the ray gun at their tearful neighbor.

Connor wanted to check the return policy on this date. Did dates come with return policies? Maybe there was some sort of insurance you could buy for first dates, like you did with airline tickets.

She pulled the trigger. Connor was blinded by a sizzling white beam emitted by the metal tip of the not-a-ray-gun. The light hit their neighbor who gave a startled yelp.

The light faded, and the weeping girl was gone, replaced by a dapper man with a cravat and a monocle. The man folded his hands on the table and looked around the coffee shop. Then, his voice low, breathy, and thick with the Queen’s English, uttered two words that would come to haunt Connor. “I say.”


If there was a gold standard for good at people, Connor was the opposite of it. Talking to people was just about the most terrifying thing in the whole world, even scarier than those raptors from Jurassic Park. If he started a conversation with people, they might expect him to know something about popular music, or sports, or lutefisk. Worse, they might want him to talk about himself.

But Connor didn’t want to die friendless and alone. He didn’t even want to hit middle age that way. He was useless in a conversation, but he was good at listening, and he liked to tinker and to collect things. So he decided to start tinkering with social groups and to collect interesting people.

Kayla wasn’t the crown jewel of his collection. That would be Debra, who took up new hobbies and advanced to the cutting edge with the same ease other people deployed in changing their socks. But Kayla was funny and had quirky interests and never seemed bothered by Connor’s shyness. On the contrary, she tended to praise his reserve. Other people seemed to like Connor with an asterisk. “He’s great when you finally get to know him.” “Once he opens up he’s pretty cool.” Kayla liked him without wanting him to talk or expecting him to crack a joke. It put him at ease, which ironically made it easier to open up, but it was also a relief. He hadn’t realized how much he wanted other people to let him be shy and scared until he had it.

Which might be how he missed the early clues that Kayla was completely unhinged.


Sitting at a small table in a coffee shop, deprived of spontaneously manifesting symbols of compatibility and romance, Connor stared at the Englishman née crying girl. It was possible he was facing something more frightening than conversation about lutefisk.

“Kayla?” Connor asked. He didn’t take his eyes from the Englishman. Maybe, if he kept watching, the Englishman would disappear and the crying girl would be there, still crying, and Connor wouldn’t have to face this.

“Yes, Connor?”

“Did you just shoot somebody with your ray gun?”

“I already told you, it’s not a ray gun.”

“What is it?” Connor was blinking hard. He’d just now realized that the mug of coffee the girl had been drinking transformed, too. It was a delicate china cup, white and blue. The Englishman took a dainty sip.

“The Social Propriety Enforcer Mock 1. I call it SPEM.”

Connor silently repeated the name to himself. “Is the effect…permanent?”

Kayla patted the side of the gun. The gesture was distressingly similar to what you might perform on a terrier or toddler. “Yup. I’ve been waiting to test it for days. Isn’t this great?”

This was worse than Kayla not realizing they were on a date. Somehow, Connor tried to connect with his soul mate and instead he’d become an accessory to some sort of demented homicide.

Or was it homicide?

“Excuse me, sir,” Connor said, his fear of talking to strangers momentarily outmatched by sheer bewilderment.

The Englishman’s posture was perfect. He settled his cup on the table. “Yes?”

“How long have you been sitting at that table?”

He tilted his head thoughtfully, then reached a finely manicured hand into his morning coat and retrieved a pocket watch. “It must be the better part of an hour,” he said, tucking the watch back in place.

Just as long as the crying girl had been there. Not murder, then. Kidnapping? Assault? Was there even a name for the crime of turning random strangers into Englishmen?

“Does it always have the same effect?” Connor asked. Maybe that girl had been crying because deep down inside, she desperately wanted to be a dapper Englishman, and the Social Propriety Enforcer Mock 1 operated by granting wishes.

“Don’t be silly. Of course not,” Kayla said, to Connor’s great relief. If it was a wish granting gun, then this was great. His first date with Kayla was salvaged. Heck, she could shoot him and then they’d get those cherubs he was still waiting on.

His hopes were utterly dashed with her next comment. “English people aren’t a monolith.”


Connor knew when he needed advice. Having an awkward first date with a girl you really liked, when she didn’t even know it was a date, was definitely a situation for which he was not at all qualified. The right thing to do would be to go to the most competent person he knew and see what they said. But Debra was a little intimidating. Instead, Connor went to Joey.

Joey was a knitter/weaver/soapmaker/blacksmith extraordinaire. Connor met him three years before at a maker fair where Joey was giving a presentation that heavily implied that to be a real knitter, you needed your own herd of specially bred sheep that you sheared yourself. With shears you had, of course, forged on your own. It was unclear whether you should also mine and refine your own ore.

Connor didn’t have any interest in sheep, but he collected interesting people, and in addition to his maker talents, Joey could karaoke to Lady Gaga like nobody’s business. Connor acquired him.

So Connor screwed up his courage, lured Joey out for drinks, then explained his dilemma. He went into fairly extensive detail, for Connor. It took him three sentences.

Joey was knitting when he wasn’t actively pouring beer into his mouth. It was unclear what Joey was knitting. “You mean you have no chemistry?”

Connor cursed himself. He’d spent too much time lamenting the absence of glitter ooze. “No, that’s not it.” How to correct his mistake? “She didn’t realize it was a date.”

Joey nodded. “You said that. But I think maybe she did. It sounds like there was no chemistry, so she was letting you down easy.”

Connor tried again. “She turned a stranger into an Englishman.”

“Were they crying?”


Joey shrugged. “That’s sorta Kayla’s thing, isn’t it?” He had a point.

To hear Kayla tell it, she was locked in an adversarial relationship with the universe. She, a natural born super villain, had endured a lifetime of petty torments at the hands of unseen cosmic forces. Prominent stoplights along her frequent routes would linger on red just to slow her down. Her favorite TV shows were always canceled after half a season. She moved to Seattle for its cool, rainy weather, and the entire Pacific Northwest immediately became warm and sunny. Also, wherever she went, people cried in public.

“In Seattle, instead of shaking hands, people share their sexual histories and sad childhoods,” she’d lamented during one of the hack-a-thon sessions. “Don’t people know that’s unhealthy?”

Pointing out details like, those red lights have always been slow, Fox cancels anything good, and global warming has been around since before you were born, did nothing to budge her conviction of persecution. She took a weird sort of pride in her war. It was charming.

“What do I do?” Connor asked.

Joey’s knitting needles clacked madly as he worked. Was it possible to knit a sheep? It looked like Joey was knitting a sheep. “Ask her out again?”


Their second date was just as lacking in tangible manifestations of romance as their first. This time, Connor expected that, so that was okay. Kayla still didn’t show any signs of knowing it was a date. That was less okay. Twice she pulled out SPEM and transformed a bawling bystander into an unobtrusive Englishman.

“Did you put ‘pew pew’ stickers on your ray gun?” Connor asked the second time.

“It’s not a ray gun,” Kayla said. “And yes. I did.”

Yup. This was definitely love.


There are ethical problems to consider when dating somebody who doesn’t know you’re dating them. The first time, it’s an honest mistake. The second time, it’s bad communication. After that?

After that, you decide that you don’t care whether it’s a date or not. You divorce yourself from the idea of dating. You’re just having one-on-one hangouts with the girl who happens to be your soul mate, and while yes, you should probably mention your discovery of your cosmic entanglement to her, particularly given her already fraught relationship with the universe, maybe the whole world should remember that you are terrified of conversation, especially about yourself, and cut you a little slack and oh holy hell there are Englishmen everywhere.

No really.


When Connor catches the bus to work, the driver is an Englishman. So are half the passengers.

Mailman? Englishman. Amazon Prime bike delivery guy? Englishman. Barrista? Who are we kidding? The entire coffee shop is English. They’ve started serving crumpets. Connor doesn’t know what a crumpet is. The homeless people living in Cal Anderson park all wear tweed and play cricket.

“I think I would like it if Englishmen took over the world,” Kayla said on their sixth date.

“They did that once,” Connor pointed out. “We call it colonialism.”

“Sounds like fun. Let’s start with Portland.”

“You did get the memo that colonialism is bad, right?”

Kayla rolled her eyes. “Duh. I didn’t mean we should all fall under the Queen’s rule. I mean everybody should adopt the English reserve. Their ability to repress emotions and cope with everything by drinking tea. It’s so healthy.”


“Mm-hmm,” Kayla said, sipping from her coffee. “It’s important to keep your feelings inside. If you let them out, you become structurally unsound and run a high risk of deflating. That’s why everybody in Seattle is depressed.”

That didn’t sound right to Connor. “I thought it was the rain.”

Kayla leaned back in her chair, then raised her arms. “What rain? The weather hasn’t been right since I moved here.”

She was definitely wrong about the weather changing to thwart her. But she had a point. The last two years had set records for sunshine and warmth.


Is it still creepy to date somebody who doesn’t know you’re dating when you are sincerely concerned that, if you try to have a conversation about how you feel, you’ll horribly embarrass yourself and ruin everything? What about if there’s a real risk that she’ll turn you into an Englishman?


Connor and Joe were supposed to have a planning session for the hack-a-thon, but Joe was late. Being late is a classic practice for west coasters in general. Flaking out and canceling is a specialty of the Pacific Northwest. But Joe was usually pretty good about hack-a-thon related things. Connor gave him twenty minutes, then called.

“Joe?” he asked when the call connected.


“Are you coming to the meeting? It’s getting late.”

“Goodness gracious, what are you nattering on about?” Joe asked.

Connor dropped his phone. Then he looked around the coffee shop. There were no mugs. Instead, everybody was drinking from porcelain tea cups with saucers. The tables were covered in doilies. Every single other patron in the coffee shop was wearing either wool or tweed and there were an alarming number of ascots on display. Connor, in his blue jeans and T-shirt, was the only non-Englishman in sight.

He scooped up his phone and fled into the street. Without thinking, he ran to Kayla’s, weaving through Englishmen out and about in the course of their day. As far as he could tell, everybody in Seattle had been transformed into an Englishman. He ran faster. He had to reach Kayla before she packed up her ray gun and went to Portland.

“I say!” somebody protested when Connor pushed them aside to cross an intersection.

“Pish tosh!” another exclaimed when he accidentally bumped into them.

“I’m pretty sure English people don’t actually say that,” Connor shouted over his shoulder has he ran on.

Finally, he reached Kayla’s door. Sweaty, chest heaving, gasping for breath, he rang her doorbell. She opened the door almost immediately.

The ray gun was in her hand.

She had to be stopped. Somehow, Connor was going to have to talk some sense into her. It just wasn’t okay to go around transforming people because you didn’t like the way they behaved in public. He took a deep breath, preparing the words he was going to say. What came out was, “I think we’ve been dating for three months.”

Kayla frowned at him, the gun held close to her body. “Three and a half.”


“Our first date was that time we caught the bus together to go to Debra’s. When that weird guy started ranting at you about lutefisk. I figured that was the end of it, but you were so discombobulated, you asked me out for coffee.”

The whole world spun away from Connor. He’d completely blocked out the memory of that bus ride. Had there been glitter or cherubs then? He’d never know. “You didn’t turn a crying girl into an Englishman on our first date?”

“God, no,” Kayla said. “You can’t do things like that on a first date.”

She was right. Waiting until the second date to assault strangers with a ray gun changed everything. And, Connor realized, he wasn’t a giant creep after all! They’d both known they were dating the whole time. He just hadn’t known they’d known. “I think I’m in love with you.” The words poured out of him in a rush, relief masquerading as courage.

Kayla’s whole frame slumped. “Aw, Connor. What’d you have to go and do that for?” She raised the ray gun. An intense white light enveloped him.

He had a desperate hankering for a good pot of tea.


© 2018 by Anaea Lay


Author’s Note: This is the real life, completely true story of how I moved to Seattle, discovered some charming cultural quirks, and helped fix them.  Everyone in Seattle is now very stoic, if not happy, and nobody drinks coffee anymore.  You’re welcome.


Anaea Lay lives in Chicago, IL, where she engages in a torrid love affair with the city.  She’s the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons, where you can hear her read a new short story nearly every week, and the president of the Dream Foundry, where she gets up to no good.  Her fiction work has appeared in a variety of venues including LightspeedApexBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and Pod Castle.  Her interactive game about running a railroad and finding love, Gilded Rails, is forthcoming from Choice of Games.  She lives online at anaealay.comwhere you can find a complete biography and her blog.  Follow her on Twitter @anaealay.


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DP FICTION #35A: “Six Hundred Universes of Jenny Zars” by Wendy Nikel

Sometimes I forget which universe I’m in.

It happens most often on days like today. I’ve spent the last twelve hours in the makeshift lab I threw together in the basement of the University, tucked away in some long-forgotten storage closet where the boxes of toilet paper are so old that the brands that produced them don’t exist anymore.

All I want to do now is go home, nuke myself one of those Salisbury steak meals that always burns my tongue, boil a pot of tea, and curl up with a good book. Something fluffy and filled with the kind of one-liners that transcend dimensions, jokes that I can laugh at without worrying whether they have a deeper meaning somewhere else or what my shrink would say.

I ride my bicycle home. It’s the safest mode of transportation when I’m dimension-jumping, and it’s all I’m allowed here. I’ve tried to drive cars in parallel universes, just because no one stops me, but they’re tricky. Even in this dimension, cars have each got their quirks, but elsewhere, those little differences can be deadly. In #497, people drive on the wrong side of the road. In #287 and #381, the gas pedal’s on the opposite side. In #088, they’re all equipped with self-eject buttons, labeled with the same symbol that’s used for in-seat heaters in our universe. Good thing I checked the manual that day.

When I get to my apartment and the key doesn’t fit, I realize I’ve done it again.

Somehow, I’m in the wrong universe.

I duck into the row of rhododendron that run along the edge of the apartment building (they’re magnolias in my universe) and try to sort out my thoughts, figure out where I went wrong. I didn’t see anyone else as I was leaving the lab, but considering it’s a Saturday (unless I’m in universe #185, in which case it’s Bananaday, I kid you not), that didn’t automatically tip me off. The apartment building is the same, beat-up, ugly, low-income housing unit as in my universe, the only place that would let me rent with my record.

I must have overshot my return trip, but to what degree? Am I in universe #549, that uses social media “likes” as currency and that tried to legally elect a toad as president? Or #599, where buffalos are kept as pets? From my limited view through the rhododendron blossoms, it’s hard to tell, though the lack of buffalo droppings on the sidewalk makes me think it’s probably not the latter.

I take a deep breath. I’ll be okay. Just as long as it’s not #600, where all food has been replaced by Ranch Bee’s All-Natural Protein Bars… those things are revolting, and it’s getting dangerously close to dinnertime. I’d rather starve than choke down another one of those.

The dimension-hopping device and my notes are still in the lab across campus, so — despite my stomach’s grumblings — I have to head there first to sort this out. And I have to do so without running into my other self.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I hate myself. As if my own consciousness and what I’d done weren’t bad enough, then there’s all of the alternate ‘me’s whom I have to work around. As far as I know, I’m the only one that’s figured out how to hop from one dimension to the next, and who knows what the other ‘me’s would do if they met me on the street. For some reason, we’re all stuck here in this same pretentious university town with its same pretentious street names (Liberty Row? Freedom Lane? Albert Einstein Avenue?). Me, I can’t help it that I’m stuck here; I’m not allowed to cross state lines. But all the other ‘me’s have somehow gravitated here by some twisted cosmic joke. Probably just to thwart me.

Think, Jenny, think.

It’d help if I knew what universe this was. Then I’d know where the other ‘me’ might be and which of the people and places in this town to avoid. But unless I see a buffalo tromp down the sidewalk on a leash in the next few seconds, hiding in the bushes isn’t going to help.

I step out onto the sidewalk, mount my bike, and enact plan A: ride as fast as I can back to campus, grab the device, and get out of here as fast as humanly possible before I really screw things up.

I’ve just turned onto Madame Curie Memorial Drive when a pickup with 22-inch rims barrels through the intersection, cutting me off and nearly turning me into squashed buffalo dung on the asphalt. I swerve and somehow avert disaster, but the whole time my head is spinning because I’d know that Hulk-green pickup anywhere, in any universe. And here it is, all in one piece, with its fender intact and an uncracked windshield. Which means this is one of the universes where I didn’t take it on an adrenaline-fueled joyride and crash it through Mr. Wilson’s fence, killing his prize dairy cow Buttercup.

“Hey, Jenny! Want a ride?” The voice somehow rises over the engine’s din.

I avoid eye contact and wave a hand in the universal gesture for “go away” (at least I hope it’s universal, that it doesn’t mean something embarrassing here), but I can still feel the truck rumbling behind me. Why can’t he just leave me alone?

Some people believe in soul mates, the one person whom you’re destined love. If such a thing transcends alternate universes, then Lex Fischer is my soul hate, the one person who’s destined to be my downfall.

“C’mon, J-Zars,” he calls, using a nickname he knows I hate (then again, maybe the alternate Jenny here doesn’t mind it). “It’s been almost two years since Dougie’s party. You have to forgive me sometime.”

My feet drop from the bike pedals, stopping me dead on the sidewalk.

So there was a party in this universe.

Seeing the truck in one piece, I’d assumed that none of that night’s events had happened here. But obviously the divergence between my timeline and this one was sometime after the fact. Here was my chance to find out how things might have turned out differently.

I shouldn’t… but my curiosity wins out.

Lex has got the door of his truck swung open for me, but I don’t trust him in this universe any more than I would in any other, so I just stand on the sidewalk and shout to him. “Forgive you for what?”

“For…? C’mon, Jenny,” he pleads. “You know what I mean.”

I hold my ground, though I know what I really should be doing is ducking out of sight, running away, and getting back to my own messed-up version of the universe.

“You know… for slipping the vodka in your drink. It was a joke.”

It was a joke. That’s what he’d said that night back in my universe, right before I screamed something intelligible at him, grabbed his keys, and raced off to his truck. Not my brightest idea, but hey, I don’t handle alcohol well. Unfortunately, since Lex’s dad is friends with the DA, that one bad idea and the involuntary cowslaughter that followed led to six months of jail time, a big, ugly mark on my permanent record, and a parole officer from whom the only escape is darting in and out of parallel universes.

In short, that joke ruined my life.

“Come on,” he pleads. “Can’t you let it go? I called you a cab like you asked! It’s not like anyone got hurt!”

Huh. So that’s how it happened here. Now that I have the information I wanted, I turn and pedal across the grass before I can do something that the ‘me’ here might regret. I duck between two of the University’s buildings at the first opportunity. When I finally reach the building where my makeshift lab is located, not only is the outside door propped open, but the one to the storage area is ajar as well. I throw my bike to the ground, hoping that this universe’s ‘me’ wasn’t too inconvenienced by its disappearance, and press myself against the wall to listen.

No doubt about it, someone’s shuffling around downstairs in the storage area, right where I’ve left the teleport device and my notebook. I promise myself that if I get out of this, I’m going to be more careful about where I keep it. Impatient, I inch toward the door and nudge it open further so I can peer in. After running into Lex, my nerves are rattled, and I need to get out of here now. This day couldn’t possibly get worse.

Except it does.

The body that’s kneeling beside my green backpack is all too familiar. So are the hands flipping through my spiral notebook and the eyes staring at the teleportation device. I chomp down on my thumb to keep myself from screaming at the other ‘me’ to back away and leave my stuff alone. I should’ve known that another ‘me’ would be the one to seek the solitude of this abandoned storage room; that’s totally something I would do.

Her eyes are wide in surprise as she reads the notes written in her own handwriting. Her hand is on the device, now on the dial, now on the button. The button that would shift her from this dimension to another.

I have to say something. My hand is on the door, ready to push it open. I have to stop her before she leaves with my only means to get back home.

Or do I?

If she’s anything like me (which how could she not be?), she’s not going to take no for an answer. She’s not going to sit by and simply watch me go on my way. No, she’s going to want in on this, too. She’d see it as an adventure. So why not let her?

This is what I’ve been searching for all along, isn’t it — an escape from the wrong turns of my past, a universe where Lex Fischer hasn’t ruined my life? And all I have to do is let her disappear from it, and it’ll be mine for the taking.

It’s now or never. Once she’s gone, the device is gone with her, along with it the notebook that contains my last two years’ worth of work. It’d take me months to reconstruct the plans for another device, and even longer to figure out where ‘home’ is from here without my notes on the six-hundred different universes I’ve explored so far. But why would I ever want to go back there, to that universe where I was imprisoned by my past?

I take my hand off the door and step back. A noise like “zolt” fills the air, and I know even without looking that she’s gone. I’ve done it. I’ve stolen my life back.

I duck into the room and grab the purse she left behind. I gleefully rummage through her (my!) class schedule, car keys, and the keys to the off-campus housing that — from the address on the tag — is probably a million times nicer than the place where I’d been living.

I fly up the steps and nearly trip over my bike. Never mind that old thing. I have a valid driver’s license again. At the parking lot, I jam my thumb down on the unlock button, watching for the flashing lights that will indicate which car is mine. A newish convertible winks its headlights at me.

“And this is where the heroine rides off into the sunset,” I mutter to myself as I slide into the driver’s seat. My stomach grumbles a protest. “Fine, fine. First a drive-thru.”

I pull into the drive-thru and nearly ram my brand-new convertible into the car in front of me in shock.

In place of the menu, there’s a giant advertisement for Ranch Bee’s All-Natural Protein Bars, the only food sold here or anywhere else.

© 2018 by Wendy Nikel


bw-gp-treeWendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationDaily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, will be available from World Weaver Press on January 23. For more info, visit wendynikel.com


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DP FICTION #29A: “Monster of the Soup Cans” by Elizabeth Barron

“I created a monster the other day, but I’m trying not to think about it. These things usually take care of themselves, don’t they?”

The scientist’s words echoed against the grey walls of her tiny kitchen laboratory, while the orangutan she was training to speak just stared at her with a bored expression, like he’d heard all this before.

Even the fluorescent frogs, hopping around in their tank above the microwave, looked bored whenever the scientist talked about her problems. She’d created them to cheer herself up, but there was only so much that bright colors could do.

The orangutan’s speech training was a failure so far, which was actually a relief to the scientist. If the orangutan ever did start to talk, he would no doubt feel entitled to offer his own opinions and tell the scientist exactly what her issues were and that he was done listening to her babble instead of resolving them. Conversing with a silent orangutan was just easier.

“I put the monster in the cupboard,” said the scientist. “I didn’t know what else to do. I know, I’m so scattered. I try not to be, but I’m getting worse, aren’t I?”

The orangutan hooted and puffed out his lips, and then started taking apart the coffee maker. The scientist hoped he meant, “Why worry? You’re just fine the way you are, this monster thing will work itself out.”

The monster waited patiently in the kitchen cupboard, rearranging all of the scientist’s jars and cereal boxes and building little towers out of the soup cans—a tower out of tomato, another out of minestrone, another out of corn chowder. The monster was hungry, but he didn’t dare eat any of the scientist’s soup. He didn’t want to upset her. The monster only ate food from the back of the cupboard, things she wouldn’t miss—dusty cereals left behind by ancient boyfriends, or fancy dried pastas brought by guests who never came back.

The monster felt like he knew everything about the scientist, just from watching through the crack in the cupboard door and listening to her talk to the other experiments, the ones she could stand to look at. But surely the fluorescent frogs and the orangutan didn’t know that her favorite soup was minestrone, or that she always left her keys in the same place and then forgot where they were, sparking a frantic search whenever she left the house (which she hardly ever did).

The monster liked this about her. She was always nearby, even though she never went near the cupboard door. The monster caught a blurry peek of his reflection in the dusty metal lid of a soup can and shuddered. No wonder she wanted to forget him.

The scientist busied the rest of the day away with observing the fluorescent frogs and finger-painting with the orangutan, but soon it was late and she got hungry. It was Monday, she realized with relief, the day she ate Nepalese take-out, so she had a practical excuse not to go into the kitchen cupboard.

The monster would be fine for another day, or even longer, she told herself as she searched for her keys. In fact, the longer she put off dealing with him, the easier it would be—he was probably just sleeping anyway and wouldn’t want to be disturbed.

All reasonable creatures, she’d often concluded, preferred to be alone—it was as natural to her as the thing in the cupboard was not.

The scientist finally found her keys on top of the organ cooler. “One of these days, I’ll remember where I left them. Tomorrow, I swear it. It’ll be a new day.”

The orangutan rolled his eyes.

The monster held his breath all the while she was gone, wishing that he’d gotten up the nerve to tell her where her keys were before she’d worked herself into a panic.

One of these days, he would be brave enough to say something, and she’d be so grateful she might even look at him.

When the scientist returned home, the monster pressed against the crack in the cupboard door, watching with wide and hopeful eyes. She looked crestfallen, an expression he’d seen on her only once before—when she’d created him.

“I can’t believe the Nepalese place was closed,” she said to the fluorescent frogs. “I was really hungry for yak curry too.”

The fluorescent frogs blinked their pink and yellow eyes, and the scientist hoped they meant, “You could eat soup two days ahead of schedule, but you’d have to deal with you-know-what . . . better to go hungry. You could stand to lose a pound or two anyway.”

The scientist started to agree over the sound of her growling stomach, just as the cupboard door began to creak open. Her heart raced as a cloudy grey eye blinked and then recoiled. Delicate fingers reached out and handed her a metal can, then closed the cupboard door with barely a sound.

The scientist turned the can over in her hands, unsure of what to think—how had the monster known that minestrone was her favorite? Probably just a coincidence, she thought. She walked out of the kitchen, turning the lights off as she left.

© 2017 by Elizabeth Barron


Author’s Note: A struggle to connect with others and break from the normal writing/class/take-out routine inspired this story. It’s lonely being trapped in the cupboard, but it’s just as hard to have no other company but your half-formed creations. I’m much better at letting them out of the cupboard and into the light nowadays.


elizabethElizabeth Barron lives in the dark, football fan-infested forests of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has a degree in creative writing from Oberlin College and an MFA from Hamline University. She and her partner have a dog and three cats that really should know better than to sneak into the cupboards. She has also been published at Empyreome, Fiction on the Web and The Fable Online.






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