Warning: this story contains explicit violence towards a child. If the subject matter disturbs you, or if you just don’t feel like reading this kind of thing now, you should probably move on. Check out our archives: there’s lots of stories in there that you might like.

Limp crept into camp. He hoped to get good night’s sleep before having to face Chief. He thought of the nano in his secret pocket, enough to buy a house, and leaned on the branch he carried for balance. He’d been away for three days and he’d lost the crutch. His mother wouldn’t be happy.

“Patrice, is that you? Where have you been, you idiot boy?” Only his mother called him Patrice.

He tried to look as tired and bruised as he felt, but she came at him at full speed and slapped him before he could talk.

“You better have something for Chief, boy. He’s been looking for you everywhere and he’s not happy. What are you hiding? Where is it?”

Limp produced a couple of computer chips, a vial of penicillin and some nano. Finally, his mother was satisfied and stopped hitting him.

The boy got up and hopped to his tent, but was intercepted by Chief himself. Limp was prepared. He threw the rest of the nano at Chief’s feet. Chief looked doubtful. It was more than could be expected from three days of scavenging, but he kicked Limp a couple of times for good measure. Limp sighed and took the wad of compressed nano out of his secret pocket.

“That’ll teach you to keep things from me!” Chief threw Limp a worthless chit.

Limp washed the blood off his face and examined his body for broken bones. The lead residue under his skin protected him from the worst of the sun’s radiation, but it also gave him a molted color that kept most of the bruises from showing. He blessed the missionaries for geneering his ancestors to survive in the Waste.

He thought of the skid he’d stolen from one of them. It was worth more than all the nano in Chief’s coffers and he didn’t plan on handing it over to him. It had taken two days of digging, but Limp had made sure it was buried deep.

This story is part of the Children of the Waste series. You can check out a longer story set in the same world at

“Most ghosts, when all is said and done, do not do much harm.”–E.F. Benson, “Caterpillars”

She liked NASCAR via surround-sound speakers:  the rev and whine of engines rattling the china cupboards in their little Italian villa, echoing across the hillside village.  He liked gaudily colored knick-knacks–doilies, cute ceramic dolls, figurines of farmers and barnyard animals.  These held them together because these kept away the ghosts.

It hadn’t always been this way.  As ambitious young sculptors, they attended University of Texas at Austin during the “DotCom” bubble.  They saved enough to sculpt the rest of their lives in Italy, eying quaint villas outside Rome where they’d visit Western society’s greatest works of art at their whim–especially the Italian Renaissance, which they felt they had a foolproof plan to reinvent.  All they had to do was invest aggressively for ten years, and they’d live happily ever after.

In ten years, the housing bubble gobbled up much of their savings.  Enough remained to buy a remote Italian villa, just not near Rome.  “Villa” may have been too kind:  ceramic gargoyles falling off the rooftop at the hint of wind, a battered if tasteless cupid water fountain, moth-eaten draperies, decrepit furnishings–a haven for wandering ghosts.

Into these quarters, ghosts slipped in and tipped over alabaster sculptures or knocked the half-formed granite gulls from a windowsill–how had it gotten there?–or whatever the couple had been working on.  Critics, no doubt.   The car noises and atrocious crafts warded away most ghosts, but not altogether.

The villa’s decay and their art’s attrition infected waning late-night caresses.  They cohabited together alone, in separate bedrooms among the rubble of their sculptures.

One night leaning out on the veranda smoking a cigarette, he spotted something glowing below in the water-fountain’s basin.  He fetched it out and cradled the foot-long, grub-like creature into the light of his wife’s bedroom.  A ghost banging a shutter caught sight of the grub and fled.

He laid the grub upon the sheets between them.  Water slicked it satin carapaced belly.  His wife cooed, stroked its abdomen which squished and sloshed as though it held a chunky, viscous liquid.  Its pincers squeezed his finger hard enough to tickle out a drop of blood.  He babbled in a prehistoric tongue.

She laid a hand on his cheek, brushed his forehead with the backs of her knuckles.  She thought of days soaking up the sun on Padre Island, of blueberry sno-cones and beignés, of ridiculously floppy straw hats, of his warmth next to hers.   He grabbed her hand and kissed its palm.

This is a sequel to

Martin was not in Heaven. He appeared to be in a suburb of Heaven at about one in the morning on a weekday. He wandered down vaguely curving streets through 70′s- and 80′s-era raised ranches that were uniformly dark and silent. Martin felt like he had been wandering for hours. If that was true he was late for his meeting with God.

Another intersection: Pinta Street and Apple Tree Way. He’d been here before …  right? Or was it just someplace like it? No, this was the place: there were those concrete, warehouse-looking buildings he’d seen before with the signs that said things like “Platform 3″ and “No Lifters.” He had a choice of either a grimy alleyway by the “No Lifters” sign or going back into the winding suburban maze. The maze was beginning to creep him out, so he decided to take his chances with the alley.

The alley was short, it turned out, and ended in a wooden door that was a little bit ajar. Martin pushed on the door, but couldn’t see anything in the dimness beyond. He went through.

“Oh, wait, hang on!” said a trim little guy with beautiful teeth, stepping out of the gloom and putting a hand on Martin’s chest. “What’re you doing here, now?”

“I’m Martin?” Martin said.

“Is that a question, or are you actually Martin?” said the trim little guy.

“Actually Martin.”

The trim little guy smiled and dropped his hand to a “shake” position. Martin shook it. “Martin, I’m Timmy Gates … they call me Pearly. You here to see God?”

“He said 3:00.”

“Well, time is immaterial here, and you died at 2:57, so you’re all set. OK, people!”

This last thing was said to the gloom, which lit up with golden and misty white light. A host of angels–a large host, as in probably more than a thousand–burst into song. Martin had a hard time tracking the song, but it was so gorgeous his head nearly exploded, and it seemed to be more or less on the theme of “We love you, Martin! Welcome to Heaven!”

After about a week of that–which was less than Martin wanted–the angels wrapped it up and then flapped off without a word, leaving Martin alone with Pearly.

“Is that because God … ?” Martin began.

“Oh, no,” said Pearly. “They do that for everybody. You can’t stop angels from singing, am I right? Come on, let’s go see the Big Guy.”

So they went to see the Big Guy.

“Three …” she said, staring out the window. We could hear the first distant cracking noises. It was going to hit hard.

“I feel pretty calm,” I said, which immediately made me feel jittery. Ann nodded agreement, but wrapped her arms around herself as though she were cold. I wanted to get up and hold her, but I was afraid to move, as though sitting completely still was somehow going to keep me–or us–safe.

“Two …” Ann said. The floor began to vibrate very faintly, and then the walls, and then the air. Everything seemed to be humming, a high-pitched, brain-penetrating sound.

What do you do in the last seconds? Do you prepare yourself, relax, try to be at one with the universe? Do you scream at the sky and say No, no, no! just to show that you aren’t going willingly? Do you cry? And in that last breath of time do you celebrate everything you’ve done, or let yourself admit that it hasn’t made any difference? But then, if you celebrate in your last moment, maybe that’s the–

“One …”

The whole room began to shake, and a washed-out, violet light grew outside the windows, making Ann and the furniture and the the motes of dust trembling stuck in the air all look flat and sharp. I finally came to myself and realized I was pity partying through my last moment when the one person who meant the most to me in the world was only steps away. I lurched out of the chair and reached for her, thinking maybe it was somehow not too late.

She turned toward me, and her eyes went wide. She opened her mouth to speak, but she only got as far as “I …”

Then it hit.

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