First Story: “Never Idle” by David Steffen
(Originally published in Specutopia, July 2012).
Jeremiah listened to each car as he walked through the busy mall parking lot, looking for one who could serve as both transportation and companion. A minivan dreamt of frequent trips with her family to the soccer fields to watch the children play. No, her family needed her, and they treated her well. A sports car dreamt of blurred landscape and the feel of the wind pushing her to the ground. No, too impulsive. He needed someone dependable. She might leave him at any time and never come back.
An aged sedan caught his eye. The poor thing showed more rust than paint and her oil hadn’t been changed as often as it should have been. Her seats were littered with trash. She dreamt of an owner who was more neglectful than abusive, but she was ready for a change, before lack of maintenance was the end of her.
Jeremiah placed his hands on her hood and closed his eyes. The warmth grew deep in his gut and spread through his fingertips into the car.
The car woke.
David Steffen is a writer, editor, and software engineer. He edits Diabolical Plots, which began publishing original fiction in 2015. He runs the Submission Grinder, a tool for writers to find markets for their work. He recently published The Long List Anthology, which is a collection of 21 stories from the longer Hugo Award nomination list last year. His own stories have been published in many nice places, including Escape Pod, Podcastle, Daily Science Fiction, and StarShipSofa.
Second Story: “This is How You Disappear” by Dale Bailey
(Originally published in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2013).
This is how you disappear:
Twilight, Kristina at the stove, Amanda at her homework at the kitchen table. She’s a willowy twelve years old by then, sixth grade, with her mother’s dark eyes and hair, her mother’s ready smile. Susan too is an echo of her mother, and now that she has gone away—a sophomore, you can hardly believe it—you feel her absence like a hollow place inside your heart. The years fly by. Amanda too will soon be gone, leaving you and Kristina to rattle around in a suddenly too-big house. Beyond that decline and death.
How you long to cling to this moment in the kitchen even as it slips like rain through your outstretched hands: the smell of garlic and onions simmering in olive oil, lights in the windows, the cat curled up nose to tail upon the sofa. You’ve made a salad: a bed of tomatoes, arcs of purple onions, topped with perfect white spheres of mozzarella cheese. The leftovers will go into a plastic container, the container will go into the refrigerator—but no one will eat them, no one ever does. Soon enough, you’ll scrape the remnants into the disposal, tomatoes white and soft, cheese slick with some unpleasant exudate. This is you, this is how your mind works. “Why worry?” Kristina sometimes says, and how you long to tell her how thin the world is, how deep is the abyss. But there are no words, there are never any words.
A winner of both the Shirley Jackson Award and the International Horror Guild Award, Dale Bailey published two books last year, The End of the End of Everything: Stories and The Subterranean Season, a novel. He is also the author of The Fallen, House of Bones, Sleeping Policemen (with Jack Slay, Jr.), and The Resurrection Man’s Legacy and Other Stories. His work has twice been a finalist for the Nebula Award and once for the Bram Stoker Award, and has been adapted for Showtime Television’s Masters of Horror. He lives in North Carolina with his family and can be found online at dalebailey.com.
About the Narrators:
Seth Williams is the avatar for a three-kilometer sentient starship that is parked (probably uncomfortably) close to the third planet. Surprisingly he has not yet been discovered. He is very happy that the inhabitants have discovered enough technology to that he can communicate in this limited fashion. Any communications can be directed to theboojum.org.
Rish Outfield is a writer, actor, and podcaster that can be heard as host of The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, which presents genre stories with a full cast. He also performs audiobooks for Audible, and occasionally becomes a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms, and the moon is full and bright.