Irony of Survival

Restitution is finally available. It’s one of my longest short stories in print at over 13,000 words. You can get it in Irony of Survival, an anthology by Zharmae Publishing Press. So far it’s only available on e-book. You can get it on Nook or any other format. Also available in paperback or for the kindle. You can get the main character from Restitution in my new game, Slapback, as well.

Great cover, right?

Here’s how it begins:

A big floating pile of garbage—home sweet home for the miserable twenty-four years I’d been alive. The Green Whale. I’d been on half a dozen of these space scows and all of their names started with Green. It meant something to people on Earth—people I had never met.

Standing in line, I kept my head down beneath a baseball hat and my hands deep in the pockets of a blue bathrobe I wore everywhere. I’d never had a bath in my life. That was another one of those Earth things. My robe had big pockets where I could keep my best stuff. But mostly it was long so it covered my shoes—which were the nicest things I’d ever owned. I couldn’t believe somebody threw them away with almost no wear. People would have fought hard to get them from me if they knew I had them. I was strong enough to defend myself, but it was less work not to.

The thick soles sure made standing in line for stinky soup easier. With space so cold, the floors of the garbage scow we lived in could give people frostbite just waiting in line. I’d seen it.

I usually tried to get in line sooner, but this day I was looking for medicine for Max. I had two pills left. He needed more. My left hand wrapped around the container. I didn’t find them in the container, of course. But when you had nothing to do all day but crawl through tunnels in the mountains of garbage, you learned to find the things you needed. People threw away a pill here or there. At the time, the ship was full. So we all worked day and night sifting for anything useful . . . especially food. We had to get enough to last us through the long months travelling back to Earth when the cargo would be empty.

Gathering and hibernating: the two seasons of a drosser’s life.

An old woman behind me kept coughing. She could barely stand. I pulled my bowl out of the left pocket and held it with both hands. As I got up to the big pot, I saw there was only a little bit of the sludge we ate left in the bottom. The old lady wasn’t in my mob, but I couldn’t bring myself to take the last bowl. I told myself it was because the stuff was cold and smelled worse than the piles I mined every day. I put the bowl back in my pocket and walked away. She whispered a blessing between hoarse hacks, which I only raised one hand to acknowledge. I was used to hunger. We all lived in perpetual starvation.

I followed the main hall along one wall that led back to my mob’s cave. Broken chairs, plastic bags, paper towels, dirty diapers, and half-eaten TV dinners lined the walls. I stopped along the way to tear open a plastic sack that had a cylindrical bulge I thought was promising. An empty water bottle.

As I tossed it, something came over me. Like a dream while I was still awake, it filled all of my senses so that I had to lean against the wall to keep from falling down.

Suddenly I was surrounded by bright light; it hurt my eyes. Tall white walls glistened on every side. High arches filled with stained glass windows surrounded a colonnade. The thing that most impressed me was the smell. A breeze carried the scent of flowers, something I had never imagined possible.

A regal woman sat before an ornate tapestry on a throne at the end of a plush red carpet, guarded on each side by men dressed in shining armor. Long capes of purple fell behind them. Their upright swords glowed with mystical power. I thought, Is this heaven? Have I died?

“You are more than those you are among,” the woman said, her voice filled at once with kindness and terrible power. “You belong somewhere better. The time has come to remember your origin.”

I wanted to stay. I felt a strong connection to these people and this place. I wanted to ask questions, but I couldn’t move or affect anything.

Despite the distance between us, I saw her smile at me as the vision collapsed.

It took time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness again. The tears didn’t help with that. I’d had my greatest possessions stolen at knifepoint before. But I’d never felt a keener sense of loss. It was as if they had taken away my soul.

Back at the cave we had cleared for this trip, Trina was trying to feed her stinky soup to Max. He was sweating atop a pile of rags that served as a bed. I took out one of the pills and handed it to her, saying, “He should have broken that fever by now.”

She kept her blond hair short out of practicality. Still she had to push a lock of it aside for me to see the worry in her skeptical blue eyes. “Come on, Max.”

“Living or dead is all the same to me,” Max mumbled. “This ain’t life at all.” He reached up and touched Trina’s cheek with a filthy finger, opening his eyes for a moment. We all knew he loved her.

“Don’t get any funny ideas,” she said. “Or it won’t be the fever that releases you.”

“I got a promising tunnel,” I said. “I need to get back to it.” I couldn’t say how much I wished I could get back to the place still vivid in my memory.

She nodded. “I’ll get out again as soon as this fool drinks his soup.” Lately she’d been working near the cave so she could stay close to Max. We’d been through that area before and there were low odds we’d missed anything as valuable as medicine.

“Your soup,” he said, feigning chivalry.

“Shut up and drink it or I’ll use a funnel to pour it down your nose.” …keep reading Restitution


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