How could I resist? A Galatea to my Pygmalion – but something infinitely more intriguing than an ordinary woman.

I’d read about sailors who’d caught a mermaid in the South Seas and tried to bring her back to Portsmouth. They kept her in a barrel of water on the deck, but it seemed she jumped ship not far out of the harbour, waved the men goodbye and ducked under the dark, cold roiling sea.

But if I could create something that knew no home but mine?

The mech-monkey had been easy, comparatively. This was far more complex, far more challenging. I do like my things to be beautiful and the mermaid had to be exquisite.

It took two months of solid work, the mech-monkey labouring madly by my side. Sometimes it refused to participate. I just thought it was being, well, monkey-ish. After I yelled and threatened to turn it into the guts of a harpsichord, it obeyed, albeit bitterly, dropping things, straightening things that were meant to be bent and bending things that were meant to be straight.

In the end, though, she was finally ready. Polished brass for skin, covered with engraved scales, an articulated tale where the smoke came out (a farting monkey was one thing, a farting mermaid another entirely). Her irises were emeralds, her lips embossed gold. Her hair I bought from a magnificent whore in Spitalfields who let me take the whole glorious flaming red torrent for twenty guineas. I spent another twenty guineas having it made into the finest wig you’ve ever seen, then fitted it tightly over the metal egg of the skull.

The breasts were my pride: jutting things, ruby tipped, inviting, hard to the touch, and cool in the mouth. I thought about making her a voice-box, but then decided that her smile was enough, the way the corners of her mouth slid back like a sled across an icy lake.

The monkey, needless to say, hated her. My clever little creature, so smart, so learned, such a happy companion when we were alone. And I started to neglect him, poor little sod. But in all honesty, dear reader, I thought her too large for him to do anything about.

Every few weeks I checked the mail, because we didn’t use the shortwave, and who knows? There might be something some day.

And this time, there was something: a bible-sized envelope stuffed with pictures. George was in the garage, working on the backup generator, so I took them into the kitchen, poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat down to look them over.

They were just of people, with no explanations or labels except the date printed on each one. They were all recent pictures: everyone in them was still alive.

People in a walk-in freezer among hanging corpses of cows and pigs. People watching a movie. Half a dozen people having a dance in a ballroom the size of an airplane hangar. Someone waving from the cockpit of a twin-engine plane. People playing monopoly. People kissing. Children on a playground. A whole series of shots of people playing at a water park that apparently someone had started back up for the occasion.

Of the few tens of thousands of people left in the world, as far as I could tell, most wanted to join others and rebuild. George and I had kept to ourselves for years and years, and we liked our lonely house out at the end of a lonely road with our well water and George’s lonely job fixing cell phone towers. We hadn’t had neighbors or cable or an Internet connection before the End, so we didn’t miss them when they were gone: we just expanded my garden into a tiny vegetable farm, erected a small barn so we could start keeping goats, filled the basement with chest freezers, and hooked up two big generators that we powered from a gasoline delivery trucks we kept down the road at the turnaround, so we wouldn’t have to look at it every day.

George came in from the garage, looking grim and satisfied, and went straight to the refrigerator for a glass of lemonade. He noticed the photos as he was pouring.

“What’re those?” he said.


“What do they want with us?”

I shrugged and pushed the photos toward him. “Everything, I guess. What do you think?”

He looked the top few photos over carefully, then flipped through the rest to see if they were the same kind of thing. Then he tossed the whole pile into the “to burn” garbage can. “We already have everything we need,” he said, and headed back out to the garage.

I went over to look at the tiny, flat faces shining on the glossy photo paper atop the “to burn” pile. For a long moment I scanned their faces, looking for reasons, for why this all happened, for any reason we had to all come together now that it was over, even if we didn’t want to.

I didn’t pick the pictures back up. Instead I turned and went back out into the corn patch to weed. Half an hour later, I think I’d forgotten about the pictures completely.

“Hey, there’s a message in this bottle.”

Kai looked up. Jenine held up her beer. Sure enough, a piece of paper floated near the bottom. There was some writing on it.

“Looks like a fortune. Drink up so we can read it.”

“Don’t be silly. It would stick to the inside of the bottle and we’d never get it out.” She drained her water glass, poured the beer into it, fished out the note, and laid it carefully on the table. She leaned forward to read the tiny letters that almost completely covered the paper.

“Where is that girl with our food?” Waiting for Jenine to puzzle out the note reminded Kai how hungry he was. “Carla! Can we have more chips and salsa? The hot kind. And more beer.”

Jenine frowned. “It’s hard to read. The font is weird. Anyway, it starts ‘Don’t tell anyone the contents of this note.’” Her voice trailed off.

“And then?! Is it like a chain letter? If you don’t do what it says your dog will be repossessed?” While Kai was talking, Jenine was reading. Then, she carefully folded the paper in half and tucked it in her pocket.

Now it was Kai’s turn to frown. He leaned forward and whispered loudly. “Your nipples are hard. Only two things do that and I don’t think you just read some beer-note sex. What’s going on?”

Jenine whispered back, so quietly he could barely hear her. “It’s a prediction. We should get out of here. Now.” She stood up.

“No! What? Why do you believe that stupid note? I’m staying right here till I get my chimichanga.”

“Wherever that note came from, they knew things. About me. I think it’s real.” She backed away from the table, motioning to Kai to get up.

He leaned back and folded his arms. “I want my lunch.”

The window exploded inward and a red Ford F150 plowed into the table and Kai. Jenine screamed and jumped.

She ran to the truck, but when she got there she could see that Kai’s entire chest was crushed. She stood up and turned around just as a police officer ran in. He was tall and broad-shouldered. His eyes were the color of the summer sky.

“Hello Officer Smith,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Have we met?”

“Not really.”

“You’re bleeding. Sit down, I’ll be right back.”

“I know,” she whispered.

The end

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