by J.N. Powell
There she went, strutting down the street with the mad tenacity of a drunken stilt-walker—stumbling, wobbling, yet determined to keep moving as if nothing was amiss. On her perfectly opposable and slightly furry left foot, she wore a killer six-inch stiletto, glittering bright red in the streetlights, while the other foot was bare. Her shoe had gone missing on the dance floor. It probably got stuck in one of the holes of the crumbling wooden planks that urgently needed refinishing and was by now trampled down to its makings: rubber, leather, rhinestones.
I knocked back the remaining ounce or two of my amber stout—poignantly bitter—tossed my last dollars at the bartender, and ran after her feverishly debating: Should I say something this time? Do I let her simmer in the silence? Would she want me to hold her hand? That’s the thing with Maren; you never know what she’s thinking until you do something wrong and then it’s too late to apologize or even get a single word in before you find yourself running down dark streets like a lovesick puppy.
When I was a few feet behind her, I could hear her crying—or, at least, seeming to cry (Udantus don’t have tear ducts)—so I figured that was my signal to speed up to her side and comfort her with my strong arms and sexy-yet-sympathetic-voice.
“Maren, baby, don’t cry,” I said.
“Only humans cry, Darren. I’m not human, remember?”
Her species looks pretty similar to humans, minus the completely opposable joints, purple eyes, softly fuzzy skin, and split tongue. All bonuses, in my opinion. But it was true her purple eyes weren’t glistening when she turned them on me. If anything, they were bone dry and bloodshot with little red tendrils of rage running through them.
I told myself: Quick! Fix something to make it better!
I said aloud: “Well, hey, why don’t you take off your shoe? Isn’t it awkward to walk like that?”
“Oh, so now I walk ridiculously, too? For your information, these shoes are Udantu stilettos and only Udantus can wear them because of our superior movement, balance, and flexibility. Nothing is too awkward for—”
It was then my savior arrived, stepping out from the shadows of the street.
I say savior because I didn’t have anything else in my arsenal to make her feel better and forgive me for what happened in the bar, whatever it had been. I was doomed to her ‘if-you-say-one-more-thing-I-will-break-your-arms-off-and-slap-you-with-them’ stares for the rest of the night and probably the rest of my life.
Right off, I could tell Savior was an off-worlder, too. He or she or it was wearing a mechanized breathing mask, and its scaly tail whipped around in the shadows. It shouted “Kiss the sky, mammys!” through the mask; the voice made me assume female. A really, really old female who had smoked five packs a day for 200 years.
Maren’s purple eyes seethed at the masked mugger’s words. As much as she tried to fit in with the Earth lifestyle, she hated being mistaken for a mammal/human, or mammy, as was the derogatory term. One time, she tried to strangle a particularly rude and particularly drunken heckler with her hands and her feet. I knew then to never cross that line…although there seemed to be new lines popping up almost every day.
“Kiss the sky or you’re dead!” the snaketail-mugger garbled. She had a gun of some kind and it was pointed right at us.
I snapped my arms up as if I was reaching for cookies on top of the fridge, but Maren didn’t move. “Babe, I think she means touch the sky, like, raise your hands up.”
“What do you mean? Get your hands, up, babe, quick.”
She raised them all right, but in slow motion and only halfway. “You’re always correcting me, like I’m your special little idiot.”
“I don’t think that. Why do you think I think that?”
“I’m not an idiot, Darren.”
Savior chimed in with her godawful smoker voice: “Throw me the backpack!”
I glanced around, but there was no backpack in sight. You’d think a mugger would at least practice the script before going on a crime spree. My eyes eventually found the glittering red purse that hung on Maren’s shoulder. It matched perfectly her single six-inch Udantu stiletto shoe.
Timidly, I suggested, “So would that be your purse, Maren, babe? She wants your purse?”
“I know what a backpack is, Darren, and a purse, just like I know what a Running Man is and a Gangnam Style and a Mashed Potato.”
Ah, yes, it was coming back to me, what happened earlier on the dance floor with everyone laughing at her—and so also me.
“I embarrass you, don’t I? Me, your idiot Udantu girlfriend!”
“Backpack!” Savior said again, but some of the intimidation in her voice was replaced with frantic exasperation. She wildly waved the gun back and forth between us. The dim streetlight reflected off the modified laser cartridge attached to the barrel.
I cleared my throat and smiled at the masked marauder, a kind of ‘would you mind waiting just one moment?’ expression on my face. “No, never, babe, I love that you’re Udantu, and I love your dance moves.”
Really, I hated all dancing. At the bar, when she started doing some kind of Smack and Hey Hey move that all the kids were raving about, I’d slipped away to get a drink. And that’s when her shoe got stuck and she screamed at me and ran away and all this mess got started.
“You’re such a liar! You think I do everything wrong!”
I thought I saw a tear fall down her cheek. Could it be possible she was focused on us at this moment when I could barely keep from peeing myself? I wouldn’t have put it past her. Maren could do anything if she put her mind to it. She was strong and independent and passionate—
The gun went off.
I felt the heat from the laser brush past my arm, still stretched upward to touch the sky. Maren’s eyes went wide as her purse was hit and went flying into the dumpster behind us, bursting into flames. I couldn’t tell if it was meant as a warning shot or if Savior had very bad aim, but, either way, now the object of the mugging was mostly obliterated.
“Cash! Cash!” Savior screamed through the mask, stepping closer and whipping her tail.
The gun was shaking and there was no cash to speak of anywhere. I’d spent my last few bucks on that damn amber stout.
But, miraculous as a Hail Mary touchdown when its fourth and fifty to go, I had an idea. “It isn’t you, babe, it’s me. I never dance with you because I don’t know how to dance, and you’re so good at it.”
“What? We’re about to die and you want to keep talking about dancing?”
“Like the cancan. You’re so good at that one.”
“You hate when I do high kicks.”
“Are you kidding me? I loved it when you kicked over my lamps and smashed the coffee table. That was amazing. You even kicked the cat clear across the room.” I tried to emphasize the words like some secret code between us. I’d seen it done before in movies. I even wiggled my eyebrows for double effect.
Maren squinted her amethyst eyes and started to lower her hands, pondering my words and momentarily forgetting that our lives were at stake.
“Kick. The. Cat,” I said, slower, clearer, louder.
“I’m not an idiot, Darren!” she said and spun to face our breathing-challenged attacker. With the grace of a cabaret dancer, she high-kicked from her six-inch stiletto perch and made perfect contact with the outstretched laser gun.
It went flying up, straight up, until it kissed the sky.
Startled and now unarmed, the mugger immediately hightailed it to other shadows on other streets as her raspy, mechanical breathing echoed in her wake. Maren limped a few steps forward shouting Udantu obscenities at the fleeing off-worlder.
“Maren,” I said.
She turned around and looked at me with her violet eyes.
I knew if I said anything else I would ruin the moment, so I took her in my arms, tango style, and kissed her for a solid thirty seconds—split tongue and all.
“Darren….” she whispered.
I wanted to say some kind of clever one-liner, but, again, I resisted. What did I know, anyway? We walked back to the bar, hand-in-hand. It didn’t take long to find her other stiletto stranded in the middle of the dance floor, serendipitously in one piece. I placed it on her perfectly opposable foot like some kind of prince from a fairy tale, and we danced together until dawn.
About the Creators
Jalyn “J.N.” Powell is a recent graduate of the Goddard College MFA program in Creative Writing, which now grants her the title of “magister” in certain archaic circles. This is pretty much the sole reason she decided to go back to school. Magister Powell is an alum of the Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop at KU, fiction editor of James Gunn’s Ad Astra, and one-time editor-in-chief of The Pitkin Review literary journal.
“Mauve Walls and Manila Folders” in The Pitkin Review
“Soul Candy” in The Pitkin Review
“Heart Box” in The Overcast SF podcast
“Coffeehouse Christmas” in The TU Review
World’s Shortest Creator Interview
You could either be frozen for future revival or immediately reanimated after death. Which do you choose and why? Are you a zombie afterwards? If so, what zombie cliches do not apply to zombies?
Without a doubt, I would rather die, have my blood drained from my body and replaced with cryo-protectant fluids, be submerged upside down in a dewar full of liquid nitrogen, and remain frozen at -130 degrees Celsius for an indeterminate amount of time (presumably for long after everyone I know has perished) with the obscure hope of being revived in a utopian future than be immediately reanimated after death. I’ve seen Death Becomes Her. Zombie life sucks.
What do you like best about Roombas? What about Zumba?
Roombas are essentially the little dust-eating mice in Ray Bradbury’s short story, “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” except they have the misfortune of looking like boring disks. I would like Roombas a lot more if inventors had done what they were supposed to do in the first place and followed Bradbury’s instructions to make them look like adorable, squeaking mice who live in warrens in the walls. Other than that, they’re aight.
As for Zumba, Bradbury never wrote about that. I suppose it’s great exercise?
About the Artists
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology. He does the Space Squid cover designs and other squid stuff.
About the Sponsor
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Available now from www.strangebooks.com.