His father would have slapped his hand away. A stupid habit of a stupid boy. A stupid starving boy who counted his ribs when he was hungry even though it only made him hungrier. Izam knew it was stupid
but he could not help it. He was so hungry.
The ocean was silent. The boat was still, the fishing line as motionless as ever. The last rays of sun sparkled on the waves. There would be no fish today. No food. Izam’s fingers brushed his chest and began counting his ribs again. No food for another day.
The line tugged. The rod tore from his hand.
Kinda Like Salmon
By Keffy Kehrli
Sophie woke before dawn on the first Monday in her new house. She lay
in the darkness of her bedroom in her fixer-upper and tried to figure
out why she was awake. The creature, for it must have been some kind
of animal, made noises that reminded her of a cat in heat. She
wondered if they were ferals, or if she was going to be telling her
neighbors that no matter how cute kittens are, they needed to get
their cats fixed before loosing them on the unsuspecting community.
She frowned and then rolled over, holding the pillow over her ears.
Even muffled by the pillow, she couldn’t help but think that what she
heard sounded less like cats and more like a person moaning, though
not enough so that she’d comfortably assume it came from a human
She huddled down under her blankets and fought the urge to check her
locked doors. The noise cut through the walls of her house like the
wind through thin clothing, but she didn’t dare go outside to see what
it was. She’d seen enough horror movies to know better.
The next day, Sophie bought milk, eggs, and bread from the small
grocery store in town. The bored teenager at checkout barely looked at
her, just zapped barcodes with her zapper and keyed in codes. Her name
tag said, “Jess.” Jess chewed her gum and didn’t say more than a
muffled syllable that might have been, “Hi.”
Annoyed, Sophie said, “I heard some animals last night… feral cats, I
think. Is that much of a problem around here?”
Jess actually met her eye for a second. “It was probably just the
zombies,” she said.
Sophie didn’t move. “Excuse me?” she said.
“It happens every year,” Jess said, popping her gum. “You get used to
it. It’s just part of their life cycle. You know, kinda like salmon.
They come home to where they were born, breed, and die.”
“Right.” Sophie said.
Sophie was glad there was no line behind her when she leaned on the
check-writing platform and asked, “Okay, assume it’s zombies. Now how
do I get rid of them?”
Jess popped her gum. “I don’t think you can, zombies are pretty
territorial. Most people just wait for them to die. Again. You get
used to it.”
Unsatisfied, Sophie went to the County sheriff. He just smiled at her
from behind his desk and said, “Oh, there’s not a lot I can do about
that. We sell a lot of zombie hunting licenses every year, but it’s
not legal to fire a gun that close to a residential house.”
“It can’t be very hygienic,” Sophie said, starting to despair of ever
getting a full night of sleep in her new house. “What with them being
dead and wandering around and losing pieces everywhere.”
“Nope,” the sheriff said, quite agreeably. “It sure isn’t.”
Sophie bought a shotgun and the next time the sound started up, she
loaded the gun and sneaked out her back door by the light of the full
moon. This time, it sounded more like a dogfight than anything else.
When she found them, she could tell by the way that the grave dirt
stood out stark against their pale grey skin and by the number of
fatal wounds that they were, indeed zombies. Zombies so busy that not
even the proximity of Sophie’s large brain distracted them. She didn’t
look real close at what they were doing, not needing to know about
secret unlife cycles to shoot the writhing undead corpses through the
The undertaker came out the next day to gather them up and return them
to their abandoned graves, tsking at the damage to their craniums.
After that, Sophie slept well, all the way up until one night in early
spring when she woke at the dead of night, straining to make out what
had startled her from sleep. When she couldn’t hear it again
immediately, she started to drift back to her dreams.
Then it started up again, from somewhere out behind her house, the
plaintive wailing of an infant, lost, alone, and hungry.
In the Eyes of the Needy
by Jonathan Schneeweiss
Izam’s fingers moved on their own. They found his sunken chest. And
counted his ribs.
His father would have slapped his hand away. A stupid habit of a
stupid boy. A stupid starving boy who counted his ribs when he was
hungry even though it only made him hungrier. Izam knew it was stupid
but he could not help it. He was so hungry.
The ocean was silent. The boat was still, the fishing line as
motionless as ever. The last rays of sun sparkled on the waves.
There would be no fish today. No food. Izam’s fingers brushed his
chest and began counting his ribs again. No food for another day.
The line tugged. The rod tore from his hand.
Izam lunged and caught it. He braced himself against the gunnel. The
boat quaked beneath him as he reeled in the monster at the end of the
line. He gritted his teeth and pulled with his entire body. The
surface rippled and broke, and the monster exploded from the waves.
Izam blinked. There was a splash, and it was gone.
The line went slack. Izam fell backwards into the boat.
But he had seen it. Seventeen pounds! Maybe even eighteen! Enough
to eat for how long? Enough to sell for how much? Father would have
been so happy. And now it was gone.
Izam scanned the surface of the water again, but all he saw was
endless blue rippling gold and orange beneath the setting sun.
Eighteen pounds. Enough to eat for how long? His fingers moved to
his ribs again, but he caught himself. Eighteen pounds.
A splash came from behind him, but it was small, barely even a splash.
More like something coming out of the water, only…
She held the fish in scaled hands. The skin of her arms and shoulders
was bluer than the water around her, growing paler at her chest and
face. She looked up at him with large dark eyes.
“Is it yours?” she said. Her voice was small and delicate and multitoned.
“It… got away,” Izam said.
“Here it is.” She offered the fish in her hands. It flipped and
wriggled, but her scaled fingers held it easily.
There was a net in the bulkhead.
How many times had his father prepared him? But he looked at her dark
tangled hair glistening in the sunset rays. He saw the blue-green
skin of her chest and the way she smiled at him.
The net was right there in the bulkhead, but he hesitated. The fish
was forgotten. Eighteen pounds? What was eighteen pounds of fish
when right before you was…?
“Do you want it?” She smiled and held the fish forward.
Izam could not speak. Her dark eyes beheld him calmly, easily. He
wanted to stare forever. And he wanted also to look away and grab the
net and never look again.
No one had ever told him. No one had ever said they were this
beautiful. How was he supposed to use the net on such a magnificent
“Do you want it?” she asked again.
Father would not have hesitated. He would have fetched the net
immediately. He would be rowing home now. It was the right thing to
do. Izam knew that. He thought of the houses on the hilltop that
overlooked the town. Great big mansions of marble, kitchens filled
with cooks and servants to wait on you day and night. Everyone would
be happy. No one would ever starve again.
All he had to do…
I’m sorry, he wanted to say. I’m so sorry.
He reached into the bulkhead.
He grabbed the net.
“Come,” she said.
A sudden gust of wind rocked the boat and Izam stared at the mermaid’s
outstretched hand. By now, the sun had dipped below the horizon
though the sky still shone gold and red with its rays. Around the
mermaid the water had darkened, but her skin glowed with the final
flickers of crimson in the trembling waves.
A smile came to her face. Life came into her eyes.
Izam grasped the net tightly.
Behind her smile, Izam saw sadness. And hesitation. And fear. He
knew those feelings.
But still, she smiled.
The net fell from his grip.
He took her hand and he dove into the water.
A thick rope wound around his body and wrists. He struggled against
his bonds, but all he could think about was the pain in her eyes as
she tied him with the dark rope. It was the same pain he had felt
just moments before.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
She dove deep into the sea, dragging him down with her.
Izam fought for air and thrashed. As the darkness closed in around
him, his gaze moved on its own. He found her sunken chest. And
counted her ribs.
by Erica L. Satifka
The room my father dies in is green: green like his eyes, green like
the carpet of the house we used to live in, when we lived under the
sea. He dies with those green eyes open, gone milky under a film of
cataracts. The nurse who comes to take away the body looks at him with
disgust, but then, they all do.
“Are you the daughter?”
She inspects me with her bureaucracy eyes, and I sense her grudging
approval. I only spent two years there, two years in the pressurized
dome that was our family’s refuge. I am not like him. I’m not like her
either, but at least I’m not like him.
My father was not a strong man. His limbs were rubbery and slack from
the years spent underwater. Some people, like my old foster parents,
said his brain got rubbery too, clogged with the seawater seeping
through his eardrums. That’s nonsense, of course. My father was always
well protected whenever he left the airlock, in the bulky scuba suit
that made him look like Superman instead of the hundred-pound weakling
he really was. But people will believe what they want to believe.
While the nurse rolls my father onto a gurney and heads for the
incinerator, I gaze out the window at the skyscrapers that line the
avenue, polished black surface as far as the eye can see. I don’t turn
around until I cease to hear the nurse’s squeaky shoes, and then I
On Tuesday afternoons I take the bus out to the suburbs, to attend my
support group. They have all kinds there: sea people, glacier people,
people who grew up in floating villages the size of three square city
blocks. It is hard for people to adjust after living in these
conditions, they say. It is a state requirement to attend.
It takes all kinds of people to build America.
A woman named Dolores leads our motley group. She is young and eager
and hopeful and mindless. Every session begins with a variation on the
“When did you figure out you were different from other people?”
When you told us, I want to say. But if you do that, you don’t get
your subsistence check. “I… I was nine years old. Some kids pushed me
down into the mud on the playground. They called me mermaid. They were
so cruel.” I hang my head, putting my hand over my mouth so she
doesn’t see the smirk.
That’s the kind of answer she loves to hear. Her pleasure is evident.
“And how did it make you feel?”
“Awful,” I say. “Awful.”
Dolores grew up in a split-entry house in a subdivision called
Mulberry Creek, with fifty other families exactly like hers. Despite
its name, there is no water in Mulberry Creek. Just a lot of
In the ocean, there are no subdivisions. That’s only one of the things
that make it so dysfunctional.
“Today we’re going to do a little bit of art therapy. I want you to
draw a picture of your ideal home. What would it look like? What would
it contain?” Dolores passes around pads and crayons, enough for the
Also, there is no art therapy in the ocean, as there are no counselors there.
The secret I don’t tell them is this: I loved it there. I loved every
second of it.
When you grow up in one of Earth’s most uninhabitable locations, you
don’t expect much in the way of amenities. That’s why they house us in
dormitories, one person to a postage-stamp-sized room. Communal
bathrooms and kitchen, a small backyard for us to pace around in and
tend. It’s not much, but between the monthly checks and the free
medical care, it’s a pretty sweet life for someone like me.
But it makes some things hard. Dating, for one. Can you imagine
bringing a guy back to a place that’s designed to mimic your abusive
childhood home under the sea, and trying to convince him you’re a
nice, normal girl? That’s why we usually date each other, though that
has problems of its own. Namely, the self-pity patrol.
“I grew up on an ice floe near Greenland,” a guy named Mark or Matt, says.
“It was a very traumatic experience. I mean, I was really affected by it.”
“Takes one to know one.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,” Mark-or-Matt says, shaking his
head. “There’s just no way.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“It was a terrible way to grow up.”
It’s a good thing I like being alone.
When night comes, they turn on the wave machines in the ocean peoples’
wing, to remind us of home. We’ll go crazy if we aren’t immersed in
our natural environment, no matter how dysfunctional our natural
environment is. That’s what the top experts say, so it must be true.
At first it kept me up, but now I’m indifferent. You don’t really hear
it after a while.
But when it does keep me up, I like to pretend that I’m back there,
back underneath the ocean, in the thick wool blankets my mother used
to wrap us in. Together in our aloneness, my brothers and me, the only
children for miles.
A hologram of a fish swims past me, on the wall above my cot. You
can’t even see fish in an underwater sea-floor dome, but they don’t
I don’t know where my brothers are now. They probably live a life a
lot like me, in the cities they were taken to after we were all
rescued and separated. I wouldn’t know how to contact them if I wanted
Sometimes memories are enough.
When I met my father for the first time in thirteen years, he was
starving and homeless, having hitchhiked from Albany, New York, which
is where he was placed after we were rescued. He bribed my address out
of a state worker sympathetic to our case. They exist, though they
still don’t like to touch us. He was dying of cancer. I took him out
for coffee, and we got to talking.
“I never should have made your mother move.” His walrus mustache
trailed into his coffee cup.
“You don’t have anything to apologize for.”
“I’ve ruined your life. You can’t ever be normal because of me. I’m
the one that made us move.”
“I liked it there. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“You can’t get a good job because you didn’t go to school. Because of me.”
“Drink your coffee,” I said.
“We shouldn’t have run. Things aren’t so bad here.” I followed his
gaze out onto the street. His breath quickened as he watched the riot
of flesh and metal streaming down the street, the crowded angry world.
“We thought they were bad. There were too many people, too much noise.
Life wasn’t exciting anymore. But excitement doesn’t matter. We should
have stayed put.”
With a quick gesture I turned his attention back to the table, back to
me. “I love you, Dad.”
He sighed, added cream to his coffee, and swirled it around, a
I touched his gnarled hand with its delicate network of veins and
looked out the window, up to the sky. The stars weren’t out right
then, but they would be soon. And I thought then that someday I would
like to be among them. In my mind, I buried my feet in the soil of a
virgin planet, strange waters lapping at my shinbones. Here and now, I
traced the blue highways of my father’s hand.
Twabble by pondspider
Forms combine and break apart, only to rejoin. Again and again. What is that place where I gasp for breath, above the sky?