Welcome back to. A (mostly) short fiction newsletter, inspired by stock photography.
I’m rebelling again. I do it so infrequently, it just seems like a muscle I should flex now and again to stay limber. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the first piece of rebellious fiction I posted back in March.
The post intro will explain my sticking-it-to-the-man vibe today. And the story’s sweet too, (“BTYEW” according to my mom) if you haven’t read it.
I wrote today’s piece back in September of 2022, before I even launched my Substack.
I like it. And I hope you will, too.
After story time, I’ll have a question for you. And an observation.
I stare at the blank numbered spaces on the form and try to shake the feeling I’m taking a test. It’s not a test, because I’m not in school.
And I won’t be. Ever again.
I hover my pencil over the line following the numeral one.
My mind floods with memories, but none I want to take with me.
My mother sobbing in the kitchen, begging me to change my mind. My father locking himself in my bedroom for two days. My one friend telling me I’m crazy and should get help.
I’m not crazy. I’m just done. With humanity.
And I’m not the only one. The whole planet is done. That’s why I’m here, on this flight with three hundred other people, on our way to the ReinCreation facility, where we’ll spend our last moments as homo sapiens.
And this is just one flight of thousands that will take place over the next year. It’s all part of a new initiative: “Spearheaded by a collective of the most affluent nations, to cleanse the planet of excess humanity and tip the scales in favor of the natural world.”
Some are calling it “God’s do-over”. Others are calling it “Judgement Day”.
I’m calling it what it is.
An easy out.
I turn my head away and look out the window. But he isn’t talking to me.
“How much longer until we land?”
“About thirty minutes,” the flight attendant says in a universally cheerful voice, which he’s going to take as an invitation to flirt.
“Is that enough time for a first-time flyer to take a tour of the cock pit?”
I swear he put more emphasis on the word ‘cock’. I roll my eyes into my head. Like she’s going to fall for this.
“That’s the most tempting offer I’ve had all day,” she sighs warmly. “But rules are rules. No fraternizing with passengers.”
He leans toward her and takes her hand in his. The balls on this guy.
“Are you sure you can’t make an exception? I’m only in this body for a few more hours, and I have one space left on my memory card.”
UGH! If she says anything other than “fuck off, creep” I will seriously consider jumping out of this plane without a parachute.
“Sorry, honey. My husband would never forgive me.” She pats his hand and sniffles. Is she that upset about not screwing him? “Bless you, sweetheart. For volunteering.”
My heartbeat kicks up a notch and I steal a lightning quick glance at his registration card.
The stamp in the upper right corner is the same as mine. He’s a volunteer?!
“Are you trying to cheat off me?” he asks.
I meet his eyes and am immediately infuriated by their smugness. And their blueness. And their ability to see me blush through my signature scowl.
“Why would I want to cheat off someone who’s trying to rail married flight attendants during his last hours as a person?”
“I was only trying to rail one flight attendant, not all of them. Give me some credit.”
I grit my teeth. “They gave you the wrong form. You should let someone know about that.”
“What makes you think I have the wrong form?”
I scoff. “You were drafted. They gave you a volunteer form. That’s a mistake.”
He shifts his body so he’s facing me. I stare straight ahead into the seatback of the snorer in front of me. “What makes you think I was drafted?”
Let me list the reasons:
1. You’re nineteen and would have been in the first pool of candidates.
2. You have two million followers on social media, and twenty million legit friends in real life.
3. Your memory card is probably full of epic sports victories and passionate romances.
4. Your life is perfect.
He’s watching me so intently, I wonder if I said any of that out loud.
A wailing sob from the front of the plane and two flight attendants scurry down the aisle toward the source. “No, please,” she begs. “I shouldn’t be here. I need to go home. I’m a good person. It’s not my fault. Please.”
I close my eyes over the sound of her being restrained and then sedated, likely not for the first time. His warm fingers brush the back of my hand and I jerk it away, but part of me wishes I hadn’t been so quick to dismiss his gesture. His eyes are forward, gazing up the aisle at the cluster of flight attendants, fixing their hair and uniforms from their ordeal. One of them is crying.
His brow furrows and he clears his throat. “I volunteered,” he says. “It’s not a mistake.”
He sets his registration card on my tray table.
“Still think my life is perfect?” he asks.
Jesus. Did I say that stuff out loud?
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“I don’t know.”
“Why would you want to remember that stuff?” I ask. “About you being…”
“An asshole?” I look at him and he’s smiling weakly. “Because … if they don’t get to forget that stuff happened, I shouldn’t be able to either. And I don’t want to. It’s who I was. And if I’m going to be someone … or something better, I need to remember where I went wrong.” He takes back the card and runs his thumb over the words on the fourth line. “And where I went right.”
Damn him and his blue eyes and his actual human heart. Damn him.
I reach my hand tentatively across the empty seat between us and find his. He turns his hand over so our palms can rest together, and I see it. The temporary tattoo on his wrist.
My breath catches and I bury my left hand between the wall and my seat.
“What about you?” he asks, nodding toward my blank form. “Were you an asshole, too?”
I laugh and he squeezes my fingers, sending a flutter of warmth across my chest. “Um … sort of. I didn’t kill anyone’s cat or anything.” He puts his free hand over his heart and winces. “Sorry,” I say. “I just … gave up. On people.”
“No,” I say, suddenly nervous. The plane dips gently, announcing our descent. I grip his hand more tightly. “I just … couldn’t stop looking for the bad in them. Because it was so easy to find. People being bad. Doing bad things to each other. It’s all I could see.”
And it was all I could see. All those nights I stayed up until 3 am, doom scrolling, looking for tragedy, finding it and then looking for more. Until my life became a waking nightmare. Everyone was a murderer. A rapist. A pedophile. A Nazi. I even started to doubt my parents, my friends, the people who loved me. I feared everyone and everything because it was easier to hide from the world than live in it or try to make it better. No one could make it better.
It was too late.
“What about before that?” he asks.
I look up and see him eyeing my card again. “Before what?”
“Before you lost faith in humanity. Didn’t anything happen that you want to remember?”
I linger a moment in the blue of his eyes, and then turn my head to the window, the same blue filling the sky in front of me. I see my mother sobbing in the kitchen, my father locking himself in my bedroom, my friend urging me to get help.
But I see the rest, too.
My mother dancing with all the old widowers at the nursing home on Valentine’s Day every year. My dad teaching my best friend how to ride a bike because her dad died before he had the chance to teach her. Me and that same friend, rescuing two baby robins that fell out their nest. Feeding them hamburger and scrambled eggs until they were old enough to venture outside and hunt for bugs. And then … watching them fly away.
My face is wet with tears, and I feel his hand pull away. I look back and he’s offering me a pencil. I take it eagerly and start writing in my memories. The plane dips more earnestly toward the ground, flipping my stomach on itself and setting my heart racing.
I reach number five and find my mind empty.
“Did you know that swans mate for life?” he asks, a hint of flirt back in his voice.
He rests his hand on my tray table, wrist up, next to my left hand. The one I’m writing with. The one with my temporary reference tattoo for the species my conscious mind, equipped only with the memories I’ve chosen to keep, will be transferred to in a few hours.
“You think the first thing on my agenda is going to be finding a mate?”
He raises his eyebrows. “Uh …yeah. Welcome to nature. That’s the one thing on your agenda. That and eating. And not dying.”
I roll my eyes. “Are you saying that on day one of being able to fly, I should waste my time looking for some asshole I met on a plane?”
He shakes his head. “I’m saying that we’re both short one memory. And as of tomorrow … we’re going to be short two perfectly good pairs of lips.”
The plane dips dramatically and my insides swirl with anticipation.
But not for the landing.
I laugh nervously as he takes my hand and slides over one seat until he’s right next to me. Our hips are touching. And we’re breathing the same air. And our hearts are beating in our human chests. Our human minds filling up with images. Our skin waking up to the sensation of fingertips. Our souls grasping for a connection we may never experience again.
He leans in slowly, giving me every opportunity to halt his approach. But I don’t.
His lips find mine and the memory of him is branded into my brain, instantly. The warmth of his breath, the taste of his mouth, and the tenderness of his heart. His human heart.
The wheels touch down, and he pulls away.
He thrusts the pencil back in my hand and slides over to his seat and starts writing. I glance down at the blank line on my memory card, and I freeze. What do I write?
He holds his card out to me, and I glance at his chosen wording.
I laugh and he feigns heartbreak. He nods at the blank line on my card. Then he smiles warmly and turns away so I can compose my thoughts in private. I close my eyes and relive the kiss. The most recent memory I have. And I write this:
“Really? I didn’t win your heart over with that kiss?”
I press my card over my chest and try not to smile. He gets up from his seat and holds his hand out to me. “See you on the other side.”
I shake his hand, relishing its warmth for as long as I can. “See you.”
He nods and makes his way down the aisle. My heart throbs at his departure, as I quickly erase number five on my memory card and write what I really want to remember:
Because at the end of the day, I’m human.
Tomorrow is another story.
If this piece was a prologue or first chapter of a longer story, would you keep reading? If not, what’s missing for you?
As I was polishing this piece up for you today, I had a funny realization. There’s been so much AI related content swirling around in the last few months, it struck me that this story is oddly outdated, or at least, dated, in that the existential threat in this not-too-distant future is humanity. Not robots. Granted, smart people have been fearing AI for decades, but as a SAHM, AI-phobia didn’t really enter my orbit until I started reading and writing lots of speculative fiction. And it’s really up in my grill now that it’s become a threat to my hopes and dreams.
Of course, if we’re being honest with ourselves, humanity remains the existential threat to humanity. We’re the dopes putting the “I” in “AI” after all.
If you’re not sick of AI stories yet, I have written a couple.
Choose OPTION ONE if you like your AI gray-eyed with boyfriend potential.
Choose OPTION TWO if you prefer your robots as demonic overlords.
It’s summertime, guys!
Stock Fiction’s about to get buck wild and like … super spontaneous.
That’s code for “I have no idea what’s next.”
But whatever it is.
P.S. I didn’t inundate you with purple buttons today because I wanted you to have an immersive reading experience. But you know the drill. Thank you for reading!