THREE ALTERNATE VISIONS











1> I THOUGHT I WAS YOUR BABY



JESSICA MCHUGH









“Bad time to run out of gas.”


Patrick side-eyes me and expels a sigh that makes me want to explode like an incredible crash test dummy, my limbs and torso scattering while my skull continues yammering about why I didn’t get gas yesterday. But stuck in traffic, in a dead car, in the middle of a mandatory evacuation, my husband’s clearly not in the mood for excuses. He just wants to get out of this alive.


I didn’t intend to leave the house yesterday anyway. The clouds were thick as oatmeal in the soupy charcoal sky, and starting at sunrise, small chasms opened like moist eyelids in the soil along our driveway. I watched the little holes form and flex for hours before I heard them whispering, which was too faint to understand until I opened the window. Then it was everywhere, in everything. And with it came the boggy stench of a secret infancy and an ancient plan coded in my bones. I’d almost forgotten it. Worse than that, I’d almost become human.


The earth trembles, and Patrick and I stare at each other. It’s not so scary realizing I never loved him. Or that my whole life to this point has been a sham. I'm part of something bigger than whatever I tried to cultivate as a mild-mannered pharmacist with a milquetoast husband. I’m a newly split seed from which the tentacles that swaddled me as an infant will emerge again and draw to my mother’s breast a millennia of sustenance for our people. In that way, I guess Patrick’s part of the future too. I don’t love him, but I’m grateful for his sacrifice. The passenger in the car to my left taps on her window and smiles at me. Does she know what I am? Is she one of my brood? We lower our windows and inhale each other’s histories.


“It doesn’t look we’re getting out of here any time soon,” Patrick says.


I nod, scanning the traffic. I see more now. Newly woken brothers and sisters roll down their windows, nod in camaraderie, then gaze ahead to the portals that will deliver us home. The radio screeches nonsense about airborne toxins and mind control, about monsters like gargantuan winged toads rising from chasms across the world and destroying everything in their path.


“Stay inside,” they say. “Get underground. Hold your children tight until these ugly and consumptive beasts are neutralized.”


Ugly. My gut jumps. Consumptive. I vomit on the steering wheel. The smell hits Patrick, and he jumps out of the car to puke--as do others. The commuters disgorge as one and the tilting earth drenches us as one, sloshing our sick in frothy yellow waves through the lines of stranded motorists. We are slimy and reeking of alien birth when the holes along the highway widen to gaping maws. There’s screaming, but there’s also singing as our mothers rise from their wet nests to greet the children they left behind an eternity ago.


The tentacles wriggle out first. They entangle cars, shaking and pounding them like Cracker Jack boxes with peanuts stuck to the bottom. But it’ll be quicker for Patrick. They’ll take him any moment now. He won’t have to know he meant nothing to me. I’m warbling with my brood when my car suddenly lifts into the air. A coiling tentacle crushes the roof and floor and forces me into the fetal position, but I’m not afraid. Not when when she draws me close to her glassy unblinking eye, not when her pupil spreads and splits and I feel it scanning my molecules. Not even when she parts her slippery ridged lips and begins lowering me to her pulsing gullet do I fear the darkness. It’s Patrick’s voice that scares me.


“I’m sorry I never loved you,” he screams from the highway. “I’m sorry it was a sham. But you’re a part of a better future, baby. I’ll never forget your sacrifice.”


The beast shakes my car, and out I fall. Forever, it seems, while others plummet around me. Some are still singing as they fall, but it’s ended by the time we splash into a reeking pool of bitter fluid. Strangers I briefly called siblings surround me, shrieking and clinging to each other as our flesh tingles in digestion. I scream my husband’s name, and someone grabs me in the dark.


“I love you, Meredith. I didn’t know what I was saying. Please believe me. I love you.”


“I’m not Meredith,” I say. “I’m looking for Patrick.”


I scream his name again, but everyone else is screaming too, desperate, melting into one. We are fools in the dark. We are only human. As the new world begins, we die unloved.







2>I LIKE TO BREED WHILE I’M DRIVING



Richard A. Becker



If there’s anything human beings are, it’s adaptable. I agree with ol’ Bobby H.—specialization is for insects, and you’ve gotta be able to do it all. Still, it’s nice to be able to choose what you want to do and what you want to be. Me? I’m a wanderer! I roam around, around, around… It gets a little edgy sometimes, though!


Here’s a case in point, and I don’t want you to worry too much. It’s not as bad as it looks. There’s an infinite number of infinities, and from the stone age to the space age, you’re never too far away from accessing all those infinities. Now, if you were a wimp, which I am not by the way, you would look into that abyss and see it looking back into you and start thinking, “Oh, lordy, this is surely an unspeakably and indescribably loathsome disclosure of incomprehensible, non-Euclidean madness that defies all sanity in a cascade of blasphemous truths that no sane mind could ever tolerate!”


You wouldn’t think that? Neither would I! We (and by we, I mean the species I belong to, which is homo sapiens sapiens, like many if not most of my readers/telerecipients/empathic intuitors) invented an easy, safe-ish and very cheap (most important part!) method of journeying out into endless vistas of reality, from the bubbling horizons of psychospirituality to the crack-crazed crania of consciousness itself, across time and space and notion and being and a few other dimensions we’re still a little hazy about.


According to certain people who will not be named, that should’ve been just about it. You know? Time to circle the wagons, burn the spinning blue British police boxes in effigy and retreat to the comfort of a new dark age. I’ll admit right here to a Golden Age mentality, friend, and that’s the only kind of mentality to have if you’re starting up a Golden Age. If a melting pot’s gonna overflow and start to melt the whole blessed Omniverse, you have to do a little overflowing yourself! It was easy to grok other Americans, other humans from every nation and of every gender and race and age and ability. That part was easy. What’s challenging is making ourselves understandable to not just the outsider, but the Outsider. (And others.)


But world by world, realm by hazy realm, we change. I mean it! We change. That is hard.


The voyage west was hard as dysentery on the pioneers, you know. But God damn it. God DAMN it, I am an American! A man of the 21st century in a very general sense, born with an open mind and a big, bold all-encompassing sense of self. Me, and pioneers like me of every shape and size, every creed and combo, we saw that frontier and we shed a tear. No new worlds to conquer? Damn those torpedoes, Al! We’ve got INFINITE worlds to conquer! And by worlds to conquer, what exactly do I mean? Yes! You do know! WORLDS TO FUCK!


Which brings us to this baby right here. Now, I know I look a little scared at the moment, but I always look that way when I’m cumming. On this planet, in this dimension, in this eon, in this spiritual plane, in this something-the-fuck-other, you’ve got shapeless frog-things with just one tooth and bat wings that won’t even help it fly. Don’t mock the poor bastard, you could be born with webbed feet but you’re not goddamn Namor the Submariner! He’s picked up my car—my precious altermobile—in his tentacles and he’s taking “tires” and eating them.


Wheels, in fact, and yes, my altermobile is a four-wheeler but he’s eating my fifth while holding onto my fourth. You’re going to talk about consent, but hear me out. This is an act of love. Batrach (that’s what I call my new sex partner) is eating “tires” infused with a nearly infallible aphrodisiac/hallucinogen. Batrach doesn’t know my species, but you know what? In a few minutes, Batrach is going to know my species.


After big B’s done stripping off the tires… sliding off my doors… caressing my altermobile’s quivering chassis… then, oh yeah, it is going to be time. When the rugose parts of B combine with the liquid-squamous parts of me in a mind-shattering orgy of… orgies… the manifest destiny of Real Earth will have opened another rich port in an empire of adaptation.


By losing… we win! It’s love, baby, mad love. That’s the only thing that the Omniverse really needs, you know. We try to express it so many ways, but it all comes down to this: Fucking the unknown. Running out in every direction, every which way, taking and giving in the Cosmic Fuck of Unambiguous Fate. But don’t worry. I will call later!





3>DARK ROAD BETWEEN SOMEWHERE AND SOMEPLACE



Robert Catinella



The miasmic darkness of the moonless evening made it impossible to see the pothole come up, until the second before William felt the tire slam into it. He drove along for another 50 feet, silently praying the uneven rumble he felt was just the little orange rental car trying to stabilize itself. It wasn’t. He had blown a tire.


“No, no, no”, he screamed as his fists impotently assaulted the steering wheel. The day had already been so long, and now this. A red eye this morning to manage one of his more petulant suppliers, and then an entire day to remind them they had already signed a contract that committed to a ship date and price. He had miraculously succeeded in getting them back on schedule, but now he would now almost certainly miss his return flight. He was tired. He was hungry.


The section of road he found himself on the side of was not a location in its own right, but a connecting space between other places people left from or were going to. Except for the asphalt, there was no fingerprint of human interference with the wilderness. Hoping the rental company had some contingency, he fished through the glove box, looking for any scrap to point him towards a local towing company.


A brightly colored threefold was buried below the rest of the paperwork. “Dylan-Lee Stellar Roadside Service”, piped the cheery voice on the other side of the phone that miraculously had coverage. There was an odd quality to the speech, as if the customer service representative was talking through a mouth stuffed with marbles. “Quick, professional roadside repair while you wait. How can we help you today?”


“I hit a pothole in a rental car while I was on my way to the airport, and I need it fixed.”


“I am so sorry to hear that”, the representative emoted. “I will need your location, your phone number, email address, as well as your preferred payment method.”


After succinctly relaying the information, William asked if there was any estimate as to how long it would be before the repair crew showed up.


Computer keys clacked for a few moments on the other side of the line. “It does appear one of our agents is in your area, only ten to fifteen minutes away.”


William waited, fingers thrumming on the fake leather dashboard and hoping the radio search function would eventually find something other than religious talk shows. The red hazard lights blinked rhythmically, painting the barren road and sparse forest with evil colors. He stared out into the alternating darkness and shadow, and waited for something to change. Twelve minutes after the call, high beams screamed across the barren landscape. He had just enough time to think it was a tow truck before the sedan continued past him. He figited and stretched in his seat for a good two minutes before he settled back into waiting.


Shadows thickened behind his car and pooled in a gelatinous mass. By the time he noticed it, the roiling volume began to blossom into a grayish-white body with a slippery fungal texture. He shook his head and blinked his eyes, expecting the apparition to dissipate, and was instead met with increased definition that coalesced on an amphibian beak erupting from the behemoth lump. Inflating and swelling, the form loomed twice as tall as the tiny car.


The maw cracked open and innumerable prehensile tendrils whipped and vibrated about the vehicle. William started screaming when he realized the rental was being lifted into the air. Everything rocked with the assault as the car was brought directly into the gaping toad-like face and he could see parts being picked clean from the hull. Such was his shock at the nightmare on display before him, that William failed to notice when the car was gently set back down again, the tendril filled mouth was refolded, and the moist flesh had shrunk back into the dissipating shadows.


It was some time after everything had stopped moving before William stopped screaming and just sat shivering in his damp seat. He was dragged back to reality when his phone pinged the receipt of a new email. The glowing screen illuminated his pale face, and then he was out the door and retching upon the now intact front tire. He never did complete the customer satisfaction survey from Dylan-Lee Stellar Roadside Service.



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