Pretty Deadly: The Rat – A Book Review

pretty deadly the rat

This is the third book in the Pretty Deadly series. It’s written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, drawn and inked by Emma Rios, and colored by Jordie Bellaire.

If you’re unfamiliar with this series, it’s a little … hard to describe.

It’s narrated to us by a skeletal rabbit and a butterfly, and it’s generally about a young girl who is also partially a bird and has taken over “the Garden” from Death, thus becoming Death herself. She is trying to revitalizing “the Garden,” and in doing so must recollect the Reapers, former tools of Death.

This particular volume focuses upon a man whose niece has died in 1930s Hollywood. He takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of her death, and in doing so runs across Ginny, the Reaper of Vengeance and friend to the new Death. Ginny helps the man, and the two of them realize that the niece led a complicated life intertwined with several other Reapers.

Pretty Deadly has never followed narrative convention, and The Rat is no different. It has a plot, but the plot doesn’t unfold or conclude as you might expect. This is what I admire so much about Pretty Deadly. It tells stories, but it does so in a unique fashion that really is unlike anything else out there. Some will find it too convoluted, or maybe even too nonsensical. I can’t argue with those who have that opinion. For me, though, it’s a breath of fresh air.

If you’re looking for an innovative read, Pretty Deadly: The Rat might just satisfy. This particular volume is a little bit horror, a little bit mystery, a little bit noir, and a whole lot of inventive mythology.

Rios’ art is captivating; Bellaire’s colors are mesmerizing; DeConnick’s stories and dialogue are cutting-edge. What more could you want?

Follow Me: My Short Story Of the Week

FOLLOW ME

 

“TJ, wake up!”

TJ rolled over, reached down to the outlet, and flipped on his race car nightlight. His grandmother must have turned it off at some point after he fell asleep. His room suddenly illuminated in a weak blanket of light. Brent had done this exact same thing to him a few weeks before, so TJ fully expected an encore of the rubber Wolf-Man mask glaring at him again. This time, though, TJ told himself he wouldn’t scream.

Nonetheless, he was quite relieved to see only Brent’s narrow face hovering a few inches above his own. No Wolf-Man this time.

“What’s goin’ on?” he mumbled. When his lips moved, he was vaguely aware of dried saliva cracking upon his face.

“Put your shoes on,” Brent demanded.

As little brothers are prone to do, TJ plopped out of bed without hesitation. He slid on his sneakers and pulled their shoelaces tight.

Rubbing his eyes as only a child can, he next peered expectantly at Brent, his elder by an immense chasm of five years. He noticed Brent wore his army man belt fastened about the waist over his pajama pants and St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt. He’d even gone so far as to attach the canteen. TJ wondered if he’d bothered to fill it with water.

In Brent’s left hand, he held the rifle.

Although TJ did not make a habit of questioning Brent, he innately understood that the middle of the night coupled with his brother and a rifle boded well for no one.

“What’s the gun for?”

“Don’t be a baby.”

Though he couldn’t quite articulate why, the younger boy’s face flushed.

TJ couldn’t see the rifle in any great detail due to the frailty of the nightlight. However, he had carefully studied it in the past. For instance, he knew there were six kill marks notched in the wood just in front of the trigger.

Brent ordered, “Follow me.”

The two boys moved silently throughout their grandparents’ house and, at Brent’s insistence, were careful not to turn on any lights. They slunk to the front door.

TJ watched, his heart giving off a sonic boom with each beat, while Brent slowly undid the deadbolt with the precision of a bomb technician.

He eased the door open just a crack, then turned his head so he could face TJ.

“Okay,” he whispered, “you’re going to back me up on this thing, right?”

Despite the fact that TJ had no idea what they were getting into, he found himself nodding like a neglected dog.

“I’m going to throw open this door, and then we rush ’em, okay? That’s what we’re gonna do.”

“Okay.”

Before TJ knew it, he sprinted madly behind his brother into the cool, November air. He watched in unabashed admiration as his brother, in one graceful motion, leapt over the decorative wooden fence lining the front walk while lifting the rifle to his shoulder.

Planting his foot with every intention of mimicking the agile move, TJ powered into the air as well, but his pudgy little body proved too much a disadvantage and he caught his right foot. He fell face-first into the grass.

Brent exploded, “Get outta here!”

TJ next heard screams. There were the terrified sounds of people decidedly . . . older.

“Crazy kid’s got a gun!” he heard a man’s panicked voice erupt above all the others.

Thousand of confusing thoughts tore through TJ’s nine-year-old mind as he noticed the toilet paper billowing in the light breeze. It hung from his grandparents’ trees. He found the moon peeking through the dark limbs with the swaying toilet paper quite beautiful. In contrast to the loveliness of the moon, the toilet paper, and the trees, however, was the stark image of grown-ups racing through the yard toward their trucks and mini-vans while Brent chased them, his unloaded World War II relic of a rifle positioned to kill.

After Brent and TJ came to live with their grandparents, Brent took an immense interest in his grandfather’s father, who had been killed while on patrol in France during WWII. TJ and Brent’s grandfather was only too happy to allow the boy to keep some prized mementoes in his room, including the antiquated rifle.

Brent’s primary objective had been met. The trespassers feared for their lives and were executing a resounding retreat.

Light suddenly showered TJ. He spun over on the itchy grass, lifted his hand in front of his eyes to better see, and then discerned a large silhouette garbed in a tank top and boxers filling the doorway to the house.

With one of his grandsons eating a face full of grass and the other pointing a rifle at his co-workers, TJ and Brent’s grandfather groaned, “Aw, hell …”


Copyright © 2007 by Scott William Foley.

Originally published in the November 2007 issue of 60 Plus News and Views.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

The One True: My Short Story Of the Week

TheOneTrueCover

 

I had about two hours before my first session, so I decided to grab a coffee. When the cab dropped me off in front of my hotel, I noticed a Starbucks across the street. Sure, I’m in Chicago, and there’s probably some great coffee places pretty close by, but I’m not exactly from the city, and let’s face it, Starbucks is really good.

Some Chicagoans gamely played Frogger with the traffic, but as an out-of-towner, I figured I’d better go the safe route and use the crosswalks. My death would probably disappoint the hundreds of misguided educators planning to listen to me deliver a speech pathetically titled, “Be a Hero To Your Subjects.”

I originated the speech for a School Improvement Day, mostly because the principal asked me, and since I’ve been disappointing her for years, I figured I’d better take the opportunity to shine. I made it as sappy, clichéd, and pandering as possible. Just as I knew would happen, the administrators loved it. Unfortunately, my plan backfired to a degree. Sure, I regained my principal’s faith, but she made a point to share a video she took of me with her peers. (She did so without my consent, by the way.) This resulted in some fairly generous offers to visit other schools and deliver the same speech. Before I knew it, I found myself in great demand across the Midwest. Finally, the most lucrative offer yet arrived—an invitation to speak at the Illinois Educator Association’s conference.

Intended to be a play on words, my speech encouraged teachers to really focus on why their particular subject is super cool. I suggested they find heroes within the field and focus on that person. Try to recreate what those luminaries did—whether it be a scientific feat, a groundbreaking work of art, you know, whatever. By allowing the students to imitate the hero, they become the hero themselves, connect more deeply with the subject of study, and may even feel inspired.

Of course, I’d taught for twenty years, so I believed none of that would actually come to fruition, but my bosses ate it up, as did the more optimistic among my coworkers. People are paying me well to give the same damn talk over and over, so it must be striking a nerve with somebody. I’d feel a bit hypocritical, but my wife and I have always dreamt of finishing our basement, and this whole fantasy is making our dream a reality.

As I approached Starbucks’ door, a … mumbling person sitting on the sidewalk next to the entrance of the coffee shop extended his hand to me.

I recoiled, saying, “Sorry, guy, I don’t have any change.” After I spoke, tiny puffs of vapor hung in the frigid air, refusing to dissipate, much like my shame.

The … person … okay, I’m just going to call him a bum. He was a bum, right? I know that’s not a polite term, but there’s really no other way to describe him. He had long matted hair, a scraggly beard full of crumbs and grime, a long overcoat that looked like it came out of a dumpster, and boots with several toes poking out.

Anyway, the bum kept his hand outstretched as he gazed straight up into my face. His eyes were blue—a blue unlike any you’ve ever seen. This blue evaded the boundaries of time, space, and reality itself. I instantly recognized this man as something … unique.

I took his hand and lifted him to his feet. “Who are you?”

“It is I, the one true King of England.”

I shook my head, saying, “But this is Chicago. We’re not in England.”

“Impossible. All the world is England,” he muttered with eyes squinted.

“Hey,” I said, “look, is there someone I can call for you? Do you need help?”

“Indeed I do,” the man said. “I am in need of knights. You will be my first.”

“Um … I’m not sure I’m really qualified.”

“What is your name?”

My every instinct told me to walk past the man, to go get my coffee, to head back to the hotel, to set up my space in the conference hall, and to leave this crazy situation behind.

Instead, I said, “I’m Lance. Lance Dulac.”

The man’s electric eyes blazed. He whispered, “A sign!”

“I don’t think so,” I said while waving my gloved hands back and forth and shaking my head.

The man took one of my hands. He pulled me in close while proclaiming through rank breath, “It is I—Arthur! Do you not recognize me? All is forgiven, my friend. We have been given a second chance! We will bring peace back to the Kingdom—together!”

I forced Arthur to release me, backed up a step, then said, “Look, this is a little crazy, okay? There is no Camelot. We’re not even in England. This is Chicago, Illinois. You know, in the United States.”

“I know of no such thing,” he said. “Is this the same world it has always been?”

“Well … yeah, I guess,” I stammered.

“Then the Heroic Age begins anew!”

“Um, Arthur, really, can I help you get in touch with family, or …?”

“You look different,” Arthur said to himself while nodding. “I look different as well. You need proof. I would expect no less.”

Arthur pulled open his overcoat to reveal an enormous sword hanging from an old leather belt. I won’t pretend to be an expert at swords, but I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. The craftsmanship of the hilt, the pureness of the blade … it did not strike me as a weapon so much as a … spirit.

Doubts flooded my mind. Rationally speaking, I knew King Arthur grew from myth, that no actual man by that name executed the adventures of such fantasy. Of all the legends surrounding the figure, the magical sword proved the most unlikely.

And yet … when Arthur held the sword above his head and pointed to the heavens, the gray clouds parted and a beam of light showered both the man and his sword in gold.

I felt a smile spread across my face as I lowered to one knee.

But then someone yelled, “Holy shit! He’s got a sword!”

Another shrieked, “Terrorist! He’s gonna kill us all!”

People scattered in every direction as screams erupted. I fell flat on my face when the panicked crowd knocked me to the ground.

“Be not afraid,” Arthur bellowed. “I am here to restore peace, honor, and chivalry!”

“Drop the sword!” a voice demanded.

Still prostrate upon the sidewalk, I glanced to my right and saw a police officer leveling his gun at Arthur. His expression guaranteed not one citizen would suffer a beheading on his watch.

“Arthur, put down the sword!” I implored.

“Are you a knight?” Arthur asked the police officer.

I looked through Starbucks’ windows and saw people cowering beneath their tables with their cell phones held aloft. They recorded the unfolding horror.

The police officer finished calling for backup, then said, “Drop the sword now, or I will shoot you! Do you understand?”

Convinced bullets were about to fly, I scrambled away from Author while begging him, “God almighty, Arthur, put the sword down!”

Arthur instead assumed a battle stance, and, while staring at the police officer, said to me, “Why do you withdraw? Join me, my friend, for together we will help the people achieve glory!”

“I don’t want to kill you,” the police officer said. “Put it down—now!”

“And I don’t want to hurt you,” Arthur responded. “Within your eyes, I see a brave warrior, a man worthy of my crusade. Join us!”

Oh, shit. Sirens blared, tires squealed, doors slammed, feet pounded, guns clicked.

“Please, Arthur, give up,” I groaned while scooting back on all fours. “You’re delusional. What you’re trying to do … it’s not the way the world works anymore.”

“Then this world is doomed,” Arthur groaned.

“Last warning,” the original officer yelled.

“Don’t do this!” I screamed to Arthur, to the officers, to myself.

“I bow to no man!” Arthur declared. “I serve God, and through Him, I serve the people! I will never put the sword down, for the sword gives me the right—”

The lead officer made the shot. It hit Arthur precisely in the chest. The sword fell. Arthur fell. Everything fell.

The police officers gathered me up and took me in so that I could make a statement. My speech had to be canceled. The media got hold of all the cell phone video and somehow twisted my actions into that of a hero. They said I tried to help the police by talking the man down. As a result, my speech became more popular than ever, for I appeared more authentic than ever. Truthfully, I grew rich from it.

I’ll never forget those eyes as they dimmed.

While in the precinct, the officers were kind. When they realized I only meant to grab a coffee, they offered me one.

It did not taste good, but I drank it anyway.


Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

The Back Pew: My Short Story Of the Week

THE BACK PEW

 

Alice Goddard attended St. John’s Lutheran her entire life. She was baptized in the eloquent old church twenty-nine years ago by Pastor Stone, who had long since left and later died, rest his soul. She went to Sunday school without falter, took part in Catechism, and was confirmed in the eighth grade—there she publicly vowed her allegiance to Jesus Christ. She later married a man named Richard, whom everyone called ‘Dick,’ when she was twenty-one. They reared two children, Clive and Anthony, during their four years of marriage, and then they divorced. Somehow, Richard got custody of the children. He then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in pursuit of a high school sweetheart.

Alice gave up believing in God around the time the State granted Dick her children, but, as was her custom, she never missed a Church service.

There was a time when her friends would have come to her rescue and taken her mind off so many problems, but they all left town for various reasons or became so busy with their own children that they didn’t have enough time to use the bathroom, let alone tend to her desperate needs.

The current pastors—Hadden, Byus, and Scholfield—each visited her empty home on several occasions, quoting Scripture and inviting her to Church functions, but Alice always presented some reason or another as to why she couldn’t visit such things. She did, however, sit and listen quietly as they reiterated the Gospel and reminded her of the wonderful Christian she had once been. They vowed to her that God was waiting for her to come back to Him, she just had to open her heart again.

But by that point, it was too late. She had already decided that if God was going to turn His back on her, she would do the same.

However, a lifetime of being in a certain room at a certain time could not be broken, so she continued to attend St. John’s, sitting silently in the back pew—alone.

One Sunday, near the end of January, a young man sat in front of her, breaking the boundary the congregation unconsciously established around Alice Goddard. He was apparently a visitor to the church, for Alice had never seen him before. He wore a dark brown sports coat, the kind you could get for under thirty dollars, a pair of jeans, and a plain white shirt. His hair was a deep oatmeal, unkempt, and somewhat greasy.

Pastor Byus began the morning announcements, and then initiated the opening hymn. Alice was certain she could hear the man singing, but it wasn’t nearly loud enough to appoint as a falsetto or baritone. In fact, he seemed to be one of those singers who sang just above a whisper.

She once had a beautiful voice, but she quit making a sound of any sort while at Church, and, frankly, outside of Church as well.

Then came the dreaded moment when all were supposed say, “Peace be with you,” to whomever sat nearby. Fortunately for Alice, as already established, no one ever sat near enough for it to be an issue. None came to her, nor did she make any attempt to go to them.

“Now take a moment to greet those around you,” Pastor Byus prompted.

Alice lowered her eyes and hoped the man would be shy—shy or rude. Either one was fine with her.

No such luck.

He turned to face her with his brown eyes catching the winter sunlight through the windows. She lifted her eyes and noticed his light beard.

“Peace be with you?” he asked while extending his hand. They were ragged and calloused.

He raised an interested eyebrow when she said nothing in return, but instead, literally turned her entire body so that her back was to him. He clenched his outstretched hand into a confused, passive fist, flattened out his modest sports coat, then turned to the people in front of him.

Alice slowly spun back around when the service resumed. She was shocked when the man remained seated at the end of the service.

Again, he turned around slowly, cautiously, and faced her once more. She lifted her eyes until they met his own, but she said nothing—not an apology, not an excuse, nothing.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded once.

“Do you need to talk?”

She shook her head.

“You sure?”

Before Alice could answer, some congregation members stood at the end of the man’s pew, welcoming him to their Church. He smiled politely to Alice, then walked down the length of the pew to converse with them.

Her eyes followed the visitor as he approached those who turned their backs on her. They held a nice conversation with him, laughing and smiling, doing all the things that humans are supposed to do when they take joy in being a Christian and living a Christian life. She’d been one of them once, before everything she loved about her life was ripped away.

The next week, like clockwork, she sat silently in the last pew at the ten-fifteen traditional service. It was Communion Sunday, and this would mark the fifty-fifth consecutive Communion she chose not to receive.

After about four missed Communions, some friends in the Congregation attempted to persuade her to reintroduce Christ into her system again, both spiritually and physically. She instead chose to insult their idealistic, utopian lives and sent them away. Those friends never contacted her again. Alice decided they were total failures as Christians. She didn’t consider herself a disappointment, though. Her disdain for God and Christ was a conscious decision, not some accidental shortcoming due to lack of character.

At any rate, for the second straight Sunday, there was the mysterious man. Wearing the same outfit, he sat down, looked over his shoulder, and nodded at Alice with a sincere but wary smile. She looked away from his kindness, finding it both pretentious and awkward.

There they were, one in front of the other, without any sort of communication at all until the greetings. Once more, he faced her, held out his chapped hands, and said, “Peace be with you.”

This time he uttered it as though an order. His voice was solid, and because of his sureness, she couldn’t help but reach for him. She took his hand and found that it was indeed quite coarse. As they shook hands, she glanced about the Church and saw that the entire Congregation gawked at them.

Her hand shot out of his.

“I’m Josh.”

“Alice,” she mumbled.

“Nice to meet you, Alice.”

Josh was then pulled away by the people in front of him who did not realize what a pivotal moment this was in Alice’s life, for she was about to return the sentiment, making more progress than she had in years. Josh had no choice but to turn and greet those before him in order to grant them peace as well. He would not turn anyone away.

When it came time to arise and take Communion, Alice despised herself when she realized she would take it if only Josh invited her to walk with him.

But, Josh did not invite her, because he did not rise himself.

At the end of the service, Josh stood, stared at Alice for just a moment with a pleasant look upon his face, then said, “It’s nice to see you again.”

“You, too,” she muttered. She forgot how to talk civilly with someone. However, she told the truth. It was nice to see him again.

“Why do you sit back here?” he asked.

Although it strained her to maintain the conversation, she pressed on: “I don’t believe in God anymore.”

He said, “Not really sure what you’re doing here, then.”

She didn’t respond, so he continued by saying, “Yeah, it can be hard, can’t it? I mean, He used to talk to people directly all the time, like it was going on every other day, whereas now, well, not many of us have that sort of familiarity with Him. And His son, wow, that’s a hard one to swallow, too, huh?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, her eyes becoming alert.

“Well, they want us to believe that two thousand years ago some guy who was supposed to be God in human form died for our sins? Where’s the proof? I mean, the Bible? That’s the proof? That’s not much for today’s Information Age, is it? Seeing is believing, and no one’s seen Jesus in quite some time.”

Beyond belief, Alice found herself growing argumentative, countering with, “Maybe we see Him more often than we think. Maybe He just doesn’t walk up to us and say, ‘Hey, I’m Jesus, what’s up?’”

“Oh, come on, Alice,” Josh laughed, “you don’t really think Jesus walks among us …”

Before she met Richard, the man many called Dick, she fervently believed such a thing possible—that it was even a fact. Finally, she whispered, “I think He could, maybe He doesn’t, but I think He could.”

Josh walked around his edge of the wooden pew, then sat down next to her. “Alice, you either think He does or He doesn’t, you can’t take a ‘maybe’ position on this.”

Meeting his brown eyes with her own green ones, Alice thought a moment, bit down on her lip, then confessed, “When I was younger, even as a little girl, I swore I saw Jesus sitting here, right where you are now.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Josh chuckled.

“It’s not ridiculous,” she disagreed. “He sat back here all the time. Even at my wedding, I told the ushers not to seat anyone in that spot. Guess what? He walked in just as the ceremony started.”

“Really? What did He wear?” Josh asked.

“Kind of what you’re wearing,” Alice replied.

“Seriously?”

“Of course,” Alice replied. “He always wore nice clothes, I mean, nice enough. Just nice enough to show respect in His Father’s house, but never showy, never too glamorous. You’ve got his style,” she said while narrowing her eyes.

“I dress like this because I’m poor,” Josh answered with a grin, “not because I choose to.”

“What do you do for a living?” she asked.

“Carpenter.”

She felt a wave of euphoria wash over her heart, something she used to believe was the Holy Spirit, and she cried.

“Why are you crying?” Josh asked, reaching out and taking her hand as he did so.

She did not pull away.

“I’ve been telling myself and everyone who would listen to me that I reject God,” she sobbed. “I’m not mad at God. I’m mad a Richard!”

“Don’t most people call him ‘Dick?’”

With laughter and tears, Alice confirmed, “Rightly so.”

“I want you to make me a promise,” Josh demanded while squeezing her hand.

“What?” she asked, paying no heed to the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I want you to sit with your pastors and talk things out. Real talk, no holding back due to pride or resentment. Tell them the truth, even if you think you shouldn’t. Trust me, pastors have made mistakes in their pasts—that’s just part of being human, right? That’s why He died for us, right?”

“Yeah,” Alice choked.

“Good. It’s okay to be mad at God, Alice. Everyone gets mad at God at some point in their lives. But, you can’t stay mad at Him, not if you truly believe. He’s given far more than He will ever take.”

“He took my sons,” Alice cried.

“No, Dick took your sons, and that’s because the judged owed him a favor. You were supposed to appeal his decision, remember? But you didn’t; you lost heart, stopped praying, turned your back on the Church and God, and descended into this shadow of your former self. You came to rely on Dick more than your Creator, and when Dick left, you revoked your entire foundation. But God is always willing to take you back, no matter how long you’ve been away. He’s been waiting.”

“Yes,” Alice responded.

Josh stood up, flattened out his sports jacket, nodded at the pastors who watched incredulously along with the some of the congregation, and called out, “Hey, do you think you could whip up a Communion for her? It’s been a while.”

The pastors all but fell over themselves as they rushed to the front of the Church, and the ushers sprinted as fast as their legs would allow for the materials they needed.

“Will you take it with me?” Alice asked as she held onto his rough hands.

“Me?” he asked with a grin. “Oh, I don’t so.”

“Of course,” Alice said while closing her eyes.

Josh let go of Alice’s hand, then said, “You keep your promise, because God will keep His. Okay?”

“We’re ready,” Pastors Hadden and Schofield said as they stood with joy in their hearts at the front of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

There would be many apologies in the coming weeks, both from Alice and to her as well. For all were in the wrong, and it took only the reminder of their purpose to bring them together again.

“I’ll keep my promise,” Alice pledged before opening her eyes.

“Say ‘hi’ to the kids for me, and even Richard, too,” Josh said before he started to walk away.

As she approached the alter, Alice reminded, “Most people call him ‘Dick.’”

“Rightly so,” Josh said with the flash of a smile. He then moved along.


Copyright © 2005/2020 by Scott William Foley

This story originally appeared as “Sitting Silently In the Back Pew” from The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Phasks™: My Short Story Of the Week

PHASKS

 

She lifts the Phask™ to her face, holds it nearer and nearer her skin until it connects with her Tempts®, and then exits her apartment. As she heads for the elevator, she tells her quarters to lock up before also hailing a DrUber©.

While riding down the elevator, she dictates a few messages to her friends, confirms the weather, and watches a cat video her sister sent. It’s hilarious.

Her building is an older one, practically historic by the city’s standards, and it hasn’t yet been outfitted with exterior ports. Keeps the rent down, but definitely an inconvenience to actually have to ride an elevator.

After exiting her building, she finds her DrUber© waiting at the curb. She climbs in and takes the only empty seat available. It’s at the front, on the left. There are five other people.

DrUber© flashes a message across her visual welcoming her and then prompting her to confirm the destination. She does so, and it next merges seamlessly into the city’s ever-flowing traffic.

A call pushes through. She sees it’s Alejandra and quickly answers.

“Hey, Alejandra!” she greets.

“Hey, Zee! Just wondered when you’re going to arrive?”

“Hold on, let me check …” Zee asks for an ETA. Her DrUber© messages that it will be three and a half more minutes—they have to drop off one more passenger first. “Just a few,” Zee informs.

“Cloo,” Alejandra says. “That’s about the same for me, too.”

“I’m so excited,” Zee says.

“I know!”

“How many people do you think will be there?” Zee asks.

“Well, fourteen confirmed, so let’s hope we have at least that many, right?”

“I never dreamed we’d get enough people together to start a Jill Thompson fan club!”

“I know! I loved looking at my dad’s copies of her graphic novels when I was a kid, especially Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. She’s such an amazing artist. This is going to be so much fun!”

Zee’s nose suddenly tickles. “I’ll see you there, Alejandra. I gotta go—I think I’m going to sneeze!”

“Get your Phask™ off! You’ll gross it!” Alejandra cries.

Zee disconnects her Phask™ just in time to hold her finger up to her nose and belay the sneeze. “Whew!” she says. “That was close.”

Before replacing her Phask™, Zee waits to see if another sneeze threatens. She relaxes while enjoying the slight hum of the vehicle. The three remaining people surrounding her—two men and a woman—all wear Phasks™ and, judging by their hand motions, seem to be carrying on fairly animated conversations. That, or they could be gaming. Maybe both.

Now alone in the front seat, Zee slides to the right side of the vehicle so she can look out the window at the few people walking. It always amuses her to see all of the adults wearing their Phasks™—No Two Ever Alike—and their children walking alongside them, barefaced. Kids are too little for Tempts®, so they have to make do with handheld devices. She remembers when her doctors said she could finally get a Phask™—it was the best day of her life.

One pedestrian catches her attention. He wears no Phask™, has no device in his hand, doesn’t seem connected at all to anything or anyone. In fact, Zee thinks he looks a little horrified.

Confident her sneeze has completely abated, she puts her Phask™ back on and G-Scans the guy.

No matches. Weird. She can’t remember a single time that’s ever happened.

The DrUber© reaches her destination, attaches to a lift, and then ascends. Even though she’s received thirty-two messages during her sneeze dilemma, she pauses all the activity on her visual and marvels at the parked cars sliding to and fro in order to make way for her DrUber© as it climbs the building. It reminds her of the ant farm she loved as a kid.

“Hey, it’s me again,” she says to Alejandra. “You there?”

“Yeah,” Alejandra replies. “Did you sneeze?”

“Sneeze avoided.”

“Cloo.”

“You know it!” Zee giggles.

“Hold on,” Alejandra says. “I’m talking to Eve. She says Jill Thompson might drop by!”

“No way! That would be fantastic. Makes sense; she does live in Chicago and all …”

“Give me two secs,” Alejandro says before cutting out.

The DrUber© docks at the 201st floor, unloads an occupant, then travels to the 218th. After docking again, the DrUber© alerts its occupants that they can safely exit the vehicle.

Zee double checks her evite to verify the apartment number when Alejandra breaks back in by saying, “Hey, I’m here!”

“Me, too!” Zee responds.

“At the party?”

Zee answers, “No, I’m in the hall, walking to the apartment.”

Zee abruptly feels a tap on the back of her shoulder. She spins around to see one of her fellow passengers standing behind her, removing her Phask™.

“Zee?” the person asks.

Flinging off her own Phask™, Zee questions, “Alejandra?”

“Yes!”

The two women hug while laughing hysterically.

“Oemgee!” Zee shouts. “Did you just get out of that DrUber©?”

“Yes! We’re such itzes! We’ve been together the whole time!”

“Ha! My dad would have a field day with this!”

Alejandra agrees, saying, “Oh, man, don’t even.”

“Well,” Zee continues, “it’s nice to meet you, Alejandra.”

“Yeah, like, in person and for real,” Alejandra says with a grin.

The two women resume walking, side by side, with their Phasks™ by their sides.

“So,” Zee begins, “is Jill Thompson actually coming?”

They reach the apartment.

“This is it,” Zee says. “Let me put on my Phask™ and I’ll let them know we’re here …”

“Girl!” Alejandra chides.  “Just knock!”

Zee raps against the door a few times, then repeats, “So? Is she here or what?”

Alejandra smiles brightly at Zee as the door opens. She says, “Just you wait, Zee. I think you’re going to like what the future holds.”


Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.