Contest #196 shortlist ⭐️

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Horror Science Fiction Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Earth is now a whisper--sad, desolate. For many miles, crags drone on in a ceaseless field of black. The rocks left behind are sharp and cracking, their shale falling down into pits of tar and sludge. At the peak of the highest crag is a glowing portal--our slip. It is a gate to another time; another place. We funnel through the slip like lemmings to the cliff, our eyes glazed and desperate. We being the last of us, that is. We come, warped and damaged by radiation, drought, famine, to escape. The seas and forests are gone, our beloved animals with them. The things which remain are warped and ugly: things which should never be trusted, and never be eaten. So, we march to the slip--to places bountiful and beautiful. Pilgrims, that is what we are, come to pray to our swirling god. Beyond and about the world burns, boils, breaks as it has for as long as we can remember. Overhead, toxicrows bark. Their call is a loathsome, lonesome thing--the song of our last birds. Earth, our mother, screams, spewing up green sludge with each cough. Only in the slips is there beauty anymore: a giant, rounded portal to a separate time, surrounded by copper machinery. Its many tubes, electrodes, and vents scream at us, begging for mercy. Big waste tubes run from it down into the crust of out world, pulsing like a sick vein.

One of us steps forward--an irradiated man with burnt skin. He, smiling, steps through the slip and disappears. Not but a second later, a form falls from the sky in the distance and splats into a wide pit. Person by person the line decreases, its backmost reaches leading on for uncountable miles. As the unchanging light of our dying world filters on, I move.

Soon, it is my moment. The slip towers above me--a welcoming swirl. With a nod, the slip-keeper--his fleshless face hidden behind a plague mask of junk--bids me enter. Stepping forward, I am swept up in the cold hug of the slip. Though I have never seen the sea, I know now how it feels to be adrift in it. It's the soothing, amniotic rush through the fabric of many realities. Separate times flicker by like framed photographs behind dusty glass. There: a man learning to ride a bike. There: a lone fish in a wide, endless depth. They come in droves, these moments. The slip was perfected decades ago, and it leads me seamlessly to where I want to be.

Colors rocket by, leading me to a time, a place, where all is clean and good. A time where my child is still alive; a place when flowers still grow. Here, things are foreign, yet familiar. At first, my head hurts--a symptom of slip-travel, or so I was told. But a headache is worth the time I have ahead. There are pools here...lakes...oceans. Forests too, and cities not held together by junk wire. I grow. I laugh. I love. I know it is not permanent, but the knowledge fades in time. What pain is there here but the prickle of pine needles underfoot? What sadness but the bitter-sweet, happy kind? I don't go hungry here, nor fall to bits in the light of the sun. In my original time, rain was a stinging, stinking barrage. Here, it is beautiful. The mountains are clean; the skies are clear. I find I often wonder how I could have ever survived in such a place as the one I left. Yet, there is a ghost--lurking and terrible--in the shape of things. It is the shadow of what is. What will be. What I left. There's something like guilt inside of me; I've sacrificed a life in my own time for a new one here. Is that so wrong? I did leave my friends...did leave my love. Surely, if they could see how beautiful this place is, they would not judge.

A day comes when the slip-trip is done. The portal--once a friend, now angry and red--rips me from the separate place. I am shorn, tossed, discarded. Tired, I am deposited in the sludge pits of my ruined home. The slip had mangled me irreparably. My limbs are twitching goiters. My organs bloat and squeeze incorrectly; my flesh is a colorless bag of veins. My mouth slants up between my eyes, coils over my head, and back over my spine. My eyes--lidless now--are turned forever upwards to watch the blazing sky. Not even the toxicrows dare taste my flesh.

In my world. but a second has gone by.

I hear a friend scream at me from the line. "Look!" she says, "what fun you must have had."

She's right.

Watching the lines pour over the crags--the silhouettes marching into the slip--I grow to resent them. I had my time, but I want more. One by one the people return, cast down to wallow beside me, their DNA mutilated by the slip's rays. We will never die now: the cost of a brief taste of utter serenity. Though we cannot shut our eyes, we sleep and dream all the same. Our lips gibber, teeth gnash, and we remember those separate times. Body by body, we grow in number until our pit is full. When there is no more room, the sun melts our bodies into one. Cobbled flesh, melded bones, our thoughts trail off and merge, our brain cells fusing together. My memories of flowers and my child become memories of slow, dark rain against a ship. Become the gentle breeze through palms on a quiet beach. Become the rhythmic thrum of heavy bass in a noisy club. Become hellos and goodbyes and tears and kisses and dancing and sex, each neural-fusing brining a new brilliant burst of light. Before long, the memories compile too many times over, and we become a mindless legion, our terrible form growing lost beneath falling shale and sludge. trapped in the dark, we can feel the weight of new slip-returnees plopped down. They enter, they live, they land here to bake under the sun.

May 06, 2023 02:44

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7 comments

Brandi Martin
21:42 Jun 06, 2023

wow this is amazing keep up the good work

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Graham Kinross
10:07 May 24, 2023

I can see why this was shortlisted. Well done, Sam. A strong start to your reedsy profile.

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Mary Bendickson
19:30 May 12, 2023

First time out and a win! Well done. Welcome to Reedsy.

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Viga Boland
18:04 May 12, 2023

Golly! Another new writer on Reedsy and shortlisted on first submission? Whoa! What will you write next? 🤔

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Will Oyowe
12:43 May 12, 2023

"What pain is there here but the prickle of pine needles underfoot?" I love this line so much. You have a gift of words, Sam! You really know how to write! Look forward to more of your work Sam. Though it's not the type of writing style I am into, I can make an exception with your way of words.

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Jones Romero
16:51 May 10, 2023

You know what I absolutely love about every good story that's somewhat like this? After I'm done, I'm still thinking about it because it could very well be the truth, and we wouldn't know until it was too late. The Matrix also did this incredibly well. The whole thing is super cool and immersive, please man write more.

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Rebecca Miles
20:07 May 09, 2023

Words, words, words: alive and beating here. What imagery; I feel like the whole story is The Slip and I've launched into a sickening, surreal sea where the poetry is the tide ripping on and on. How much science fiction I wonder...this feels very dystopian; a presence hardly just glimsped through a veil darkly. This is a story full of suffering but, neverthelss, beautifully written! I'm following you.

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