Royals

Saturday moans and whimpers in his sleep. The noise is one of the things keeping Abbie awake. As he tosses and kicks, soaking the sheets with sweat, she’s torn between stroking his long greasy hair to calm him, or grabbing him by the neck and choking the life out of him. If she dared. But she doesn’t do anything. Unless watching him in the dark, desolate hours when she should be unconscious counts as something.

During the day, he has moments when Abbie swears he’s his old self: funny and energetic. The guy who engages and upsells their customers. It melts her fucking heart, despite herself, despite everything. Despite the fact that he’s high. Those moments let her pretend she’s still charmed by him. Still in love, even.

But as he relaxes into a semblance of normal sleep, a cold numbness settles into Abbie’s chest and brain, and it doesn’t seem to matter anymore how she feels about him. She can’t decide if it’s a relief or the saddest thing in the world. She’s wide awake. Her latest notebook is on the bedside table, the one she writes her lists in. She doesn’t remember when it started, but she’s filled a few. She takes it, slips from their bed, picks up a hoodie from the floor that reeks of sweat, his sweat, and slides it over her head. She shuts the door behind her, taking care not to wake him. He has no idea she’s going to leave him.

She pads down the hallway to her lab and stands in the dark listening to the hum of the machinery. She loves her lab. It’s clean, organized, and unlike the rest of the apartment, which has gone from shabby chic to something more like genuine squalor, it makes her hopeful. But she’s leaving this too.

She switches on the light and goes to the glass tanks lining the back wall from floor to ceiling. She gazes in at the delicate creatures covering most of the surfaces inside, some slowly crawling, others half-buried in moist dirt. Shimmer beetles. But these Shimmers are squat, ugly things, dark and unadorned, glorified cockroaches if not for the secretions they ooze from the tiny glands on the backs of their legs and the tops of their feet. She moves down the rows of tanks to the biggest tank with the fewest insects. The Royals. She pulls one out and places it on her notebook atop the stainless steel table.

It’s still, except for the twitching of velvety antennae. It’s walnut-sized, has a delicately tapered, triangular head, and a shiny black carapace covered in silvery whorls of delicate hairs, arching and spiraling in complex patterns. She bends to look closer, and the whorls stir under her breath, and lo and behold, seem to shimmer.

“Hello, beautiful girl,” she whispers.

She’s tempted to set it on her arm or neck, to let it do its work, but truth be told, she’s afraid. She’s only let a Royal crawl along her arm for a few seconds at a time, and even that? Damn. It was too much for her. And she made them, working month after month splicing genes, chopping and pasting sections of DNA until they were as perfect as they could be. Saturday says it’s the best work she’s ever done. Abbie’s not so sure. It’s only a matter of time before he wants to try one out.

She picks up the Shimmer beetle, gingerly, and puts it back in its tank.




List of Things You Don’t Do Anymore



1. Play guitar.

2.

3. Look at me.

4.

5. Touch me.

6.

7. Notice when I walk into the room.

8.

9. Bathe every day.

10.

11. Laugh.

12.

13. Try to make me laugh.

14.

15. Leave the house.

16.

17. Build things.

18.

19. Paint things.

20.

21. Have friends.

22.

23. Fuck.

24.

25. Be kind.

26.




Abbie wakes on the living room couch to Saturday shaking her arm. He’s gentle but it’s jarring, and she yanks her arm away and sits up, clutching her knees to her chest. Late morning sun sneaks through the gap between the two curtains, illuminating his pale, hairless chest. It’s covered in tattoos, tiny ones and zeros from neck to naval. Binary code. She used to ask him what it meant but he’d never say, acting cagy and mysterious. Now she suspects it doesn’t mean anything.

“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” He frowns, and hugs his arms tight into his chest, like he’s mimicking her posture. “Why are you sleeping out here?”

“I didn’t sleep out here.” Abbie knows she sounds defensive. “I couldn’t sleep so I went to mess around in the lab. I was going to come back to bed but I must have drifted off.”

He’s nodding, biting his lip. There are Shimmer tracks along his neck and arms, the older ones pale and dull, and last night’s, pink and shiny. In their own way, she has to admit, they’re sort of beautiful.

“Okay,” he says. He shows her his palm. There’s a message there, red letters shining through from the device imbedded beneath his skin. He smiles. “Jota wants them. A big order. Sight unseen.”

“Jota wants what?” She’s still a little fuzzy, still half in the land of sleep. Then she stiffens. “Wait. The Royals?”

“Yeah! Isn’t it great?”

“No! I told you they aren’t ready yet. I haven’t even given them a full test run.”

His hands go up like she’s pointing a gun. “I know, I know, Abbie. But he wasn’t offering much for the usual. He tried to knock off 20%, mentioned Caputo, going to see what he’s got for sale. I had to do something.”

“Really? Did you?” She’s on her feet now, glaring at him, trying not to melt down. Not again.

“Yeah, I did. Because you’ve been working on those things forever, and it’s taking up all your time, and all our money. Sales are slow. We need to make the Royals pay off.”

He moves toward her, and she can’t help herself, she backs up. He’s a full head taller, all sharp angles and long, pale limbs like old tree branches, skinny but gnarled with muscle. His dark eyes are big, unblinking, and his teeth are bared in the grimace he uses to intimidate difficult clients. The look that made her quit going to drops, the look that makes her wonder if she actually knows anything about Saturday. Then he stops. He sighs and crosses his arms again, shrinking back into himself. It’s a relief. And yet, she wants to reach out and pull him to her.

“I think we need to do this, Abbie, ready or not. Or we’ll lose our biggest customer.”

I don’t care, she wants to shout. I don’t care anymore. I’m leaving. But she stays silent.

“Besides, if we need to give the Royals a test run, I can try one out this afternoon.” He says this quiet and casual, but she hears his desperation. “Better me than you, right?”

Abbie keeps her eyes on the ones and zeros covering his chest, on the message flashing in his palm, on the shabby couch. Anything but his face. She can’t stand the look in his eyes, the burning need that has nothing to do with her.


List of People I Miss

1. Lilah.
2.


She retreats to the lab for the rest of the morning. An infection has taken root in one of the tanks of ordinary Shimmers, spreading rapidly through the beetles. They have noxious looking green fuzz sprouting from the glands on their legs, and it makes her faintly sick to look at it. She puts one in the iso-tank on the table and watches as it lurches from side to side, staggering like a drunk. She directs the tank from her touch screen, the manipulators extending per her instructions, pinning the suffering beetle in place. A tiny scalpel slices off its head. When it stops moving, the scalpel shaves off some samples of the green fuzz for analysis. She’ll have to dispose of the entire batch.

She slips off her gloves, backs away from the table, and sinks into a soft chair she keeps in the corner for breaks. She starts to crunch the numbers, breaking down how much the infection is going to cost them, but stops. What does it matter now?

Saturday appears in the doorway, startling her yet again, looming, half in the dark hallway, half in the lab. He holds out a plate. “I made you a sandwich. You must be hungry.”

He’s being nice, trying to make up for the morning, even though he thinks it was a minor skirmish. And it was. But there’s been so many of them. So, so many. She’s living like a frightened sparrow in her own home.

She shrugs. “I guess. How long have I been in here?” She always loses track of time when she’s working.

“Dunno. A few hours at least.” He moves into the lab, which suddenly seems cramped, ill-lit, and sets the plate on the table. He peers into the iso-tank. “How are things going?”

Abbie hops out of her chair. Saturday is right, she’s starving all of a sudden. “There’s an infection,” she says, taking a bite out of the sandwich. Peanut butter. Something he slapped together. “I’m running analysis.”

He bends to get a closer look. She chews, the peanut butter sticking to the roof of her mouth, swallowing as he frowns and furrows his brow. The wad of bread and paste crawls down her throat, sticky and uncomfortable. He turns and glares. The food settles like a rock in her gut.

“What are you…” He stumbles over the words. “These aren’t…” He jackknifes up and slams a fist on the steel table, causing the plate to bounce and rattle. “Abbie, you need to be working on the fucking Royals! I thought I explained.”

The air feels like it’s been sucked out of the room. “Well,” she says. “This has to be dealt with; it’s killing a lot of Shimmers. And you said sales are slow, we need the money.”

She doesn’t back away this time, not in her lab, even though she’s scared. He comes home from drops sometimes, or “meetings” he won’t explain to her, with his hands cut up. Once or twice he’s had a fat lip or a bruise under an eye, “nothing to worry about” his only explanation. But she can’t give any more ground, not this ground.

“Yeah.” He runs a hand through his hair. He paces back and forth along the table, shaking his head. “Yeah. Yeah.” He’s working his jaw.

She wants to close her eyes, tries to, but can’t quite. She stares through tight slits at the tattoos on his chest, the bones beneath them more prominent than they used to be.

“The thing is,” he says. “It’s not just the sales.” He stops pacing and for a moment he shrinks a little, hunching his shoulders. “We owe Jota some money. He wants the Royals. As payment.”

“What? What do you mean, we? What happened, Saturday?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it fucking matters.” Now she feels the hot flush of anger. “I built this. I’m the one who grows the goddamn things, I’m the one who spends every moment in here making them better, while you fuck around getting high all day. How can you owe Jota money? He’s the customer!” She grabs him by the shoulders intending to shake him.

His hands clamp around her wrists, hard, she yelps in pain, and he’s shoving her backwards through the lab. She lands on the chair, gasping for breath and he towers over her, eyes wild, mouth open, grunting like an animal. She flinches.

But he moves away. He leans against the table, head down, breathing heavy. “Okay. Let’s…” He shakes his head. “He’s coming tonight. He wants the Royals. That’s the way it is.”

There’s fear in his voice. She feels like she might throw up.


There’s nothing else to do with the Royals at this point, except try them. She scans the weathered piece of paper with all her notes on it. She thinks she has everything in place, all the lines of code in the proper order, all the chunks of DNA nestled next to each other in a way that makes sense. They’re potent. She knows that.

There are seventeen. They breed slow, much slower than regular Shimmers, and they require exacting, tender care. Too hot in the tank, they die. Too cold, they die. The decaying vegetable matter that makes up their diet has to be just the right mix (beet greens, radish, and kale), and at the right stage of decomposition or they’ll sit there and starve rather than eat. They could never survive without her, outside the lab, even outside their tank. They shouldn’t even exist. But it’s entirely possible they could kill you in an hour with the acidic secretions from their glands.

She doesn’t have much of a plan, only to leave. Saturday, the Shimmers, the lab, her life. There are places she can go. New Reseda, a free enclave. Lilah is there, her sister, a sister she chose, not an accident of genetics. She hasn’t spoken to Lilah in months (How did so much time pass?) but she knows she’ll take her in. She’s sent a message, but so far her palm hasn’t flashed with a reply. She sees Lilah, working beside her in the dingy lab where they both cut their teeth, making next to nothing, but learning what seemed like at the time to be the most closely guarded secrets of the universe.

Then Lilah left to go to school, to learn more. And Abbie went with Saturday. Why had she done that?


List of Things That Made Me Love You

1. You can cook.
2.
3. You’re not afraid.
4.
5. You can play that Bach piece by memory, the one I like.
6.
7. You listen.
8.
9. You remember the things I tell you about myself.
10.
11. You’re an incredible salesman.
12.
13. You let me sleep with my head on your chest.
14.
15. You’re honest with people about how you feel about them.
16.
17. You’re honest with me.
18.


Abbie has already picked out a large, healthy Royal for Saturday, her palm flashes red indicating a message. She retreats to her soft chair to read it. It has to be from Lilah. It’s the only message she’s had all week. It’s short and to the point:




Haven’t heard from you in 15 mths

Hope you’re ok

But don’t think you should come here

L.

She stares at it, her vision tunneling, her heart pounding. The vicious anxiety that usually comes at night washes over her now. How could it possibly have been 15 months? Is that right? She squeezes her eyes shut and holds fast to the chair. If she lets her grip slip even a tiny bit she’ll break apart, and all her delicate pieces will blow away into the air. Lilah. She latches on to the hum of the lab equipment, always present in the background of her life, and focuses hard, hoping it will drive away the fact she has nowhere to go. That she never really did.


It’s midafternoon, and the harsh light coming through the living room window makes Abbie squint as she enters. Saturday is on the couch, knee bouncing, hair still greasy and unwashed, but at least he’s dressed. The black shirt clings to his bony chest and she knows it’s been lying on the bedroom floor for several days. She pulls the curtains tight and sets the box on the coffee table in front of him.

“Wow.” He leans forward to examine it. The box is made from reclaimed redwood, a bit rough still along the edges where Saturday never finished sanding, but the grain of the wood is beautiful, and the polished brass lock and hinges make it seem sturdy and elegant at the same time. “When did I make that?”

“A few months ago. You don’t remember?”

“Yeah, of course I do.” He shrugs and smiles, his shitty mood from earlier, the precipice where they’d stood together forgotten now, because he knows what’s in the box. “I should finish it. I will.”

She wants to scoff, to make sure he knows she’s well aware he’s said shit like that a thousand times and he’s never going to finish the box, or any of the other little art projects he’s abandoned around the apartment. But I’m past that now, she thinks, glancing at her palm. Saturday is nodding, impatient to get to it. And those little art projects used to matter to him. A lot.

He reaches forward and lifts the latch, and flips open the box. He stares at her. “There are two,” he says.

“Yeah.”

The Royals perch atop a small mound of damp soil, antennae twitching as they taste the air. Looking at them now, at the silver whirls decorating their backs, the delicate, precise steps they take as they move inside the box, still tasting, Abbie wonders what Lilah would think of them.

“You’re going to try?”

She nods and sits beside him. He puts his hand on her. She doesn’t flinch, but fixates on the Royals, waiting for him to stop touching her. He doesn’t notice. He’s too excited.

“How much time do we have?” She asks.

“Until Jota? Um, he’s not coming until tonight. Late. Is it enough time with these? I need to be lucid.”

“Yeah. It should be enough.” She stares past him when she says it, focusing on the drab, off-white wall.

That’s all Saturday needs. He picks up a beetle and she takes it from him, careful to hold it around the carapace with her thumb and index finger. Saturday beams at the other one, hand trembling as he holds it, so eager to get started. He doesn’t wait for her, pulling off his shirt and placing the Royal on his neck. It nestles into his skin for a moment, as if luxuriating in the warmth, and begins to crawl.

It makes its way along his prominent collar bone, and Abbie can see the glands along the legs and feet swell as Saturday sits back and closes his eyes with a soft sigh. In seconds, the secretions are oozing and a glistening trail appears behind the beetle, tracing its path as it continues onto his chest, slow and deliberate. He exhales, and underneath his breath is a shaky, guttural moan. The Royals work fast.

She examines hers. It twitches its legs, as if it’s as ready for this as Saturday, and she sees the glands are swelling already. I may have gone too far with these. Not the first time she’s thought that. She’s still afraid, but it doesn’t matter. Saturday moans again. Abbie places the Royal on her upturned wrist.

It doesn’t move at first, apart from the inquisitive rotating of the antennae, sussing out the environment. Saturday has melted back into the couch, arms and legs slack, head lolling, eyes closed, smiling. With normal Shimmers it takes him 15 minutes to get this way, and she’s shocked again by the power of what she’s made in her lab. Her arm starts to burn.

The Royal traces a tight circle on her wrist and slowly walks up her arm toward the crook of her elbow, leaving a delicate trail of mucous behind, which glistens as it’s absorbed into her skin, leaving the faintest trace of discoloration. The burning reaches a crescendo, but just as she’s about to cry out in pain, her arm goes numb. It’s as if the limb is no longer attached to her body, and it’s nothing like she’s experienced with her regular Shimmers. Her whole body tingles.

Is Saturday laughing? Abbie wants to turn her head to see, but she can’t manage right now. A rush of pleasure surges up her arm and into her chest, as the Royal crawls toward her shoulder, the trail of secretions growing ever thicker as it goes. She gasps as the rush surges through her stomach, between her legs, travelling all the way to her toes.

There’s light streaming through the window. It’s shocking how beautiful it is, how it seems to reach out to her and she struggles forward to meet it, flopping on to the floor. She finds herself on her back, the Royal creeping across her neck and the warm light is in her eyes. Didn’t she shut the curtains? A dim, far off pang in her stomach. She hears the hum of the machinery, pulsing and throbbing in some sort of rhythm. This soothes her. It’s what she knows. Her constant. The noise reminds her of Lilah, her smile, and how it felt to be bathed in her friendship like the light flooding her face now. Again, that distant pang. But. She’s not in the lab.

It takes a moment of white knuckling the carpet to force some clarity into her brain. The humming. Her chest heaves, and distantly she can feel how hard it is to force it up and down. The humming. It’s her breath, a ragged, rasping noise. I’m drowning, she thinks.

The room spins and flips and Abbie has to close her eyes to control a wave of nausea, terrible and sour, roiling her stomach. Somehow she’s on her hands and knees. She opens her eyes and the Royal is inches from her face, on its back on the carpet, legs waving feebly in the air, glands swollen and leaking fluid, its mission unrealized, its purpose unfulfilled. She inhales deeply, bringing some relief as her lungs fill with air. Stretching out her arm, her hand batters the surface of the table until she finds what she’s looking for. Saturday’s box. She brings it down on the Royal, feels it crunch under the wood, and she vomits.


She wakes in fetal position, her head cradled in the crook of one arm. It’s pitch black and she’s confused about where she is. Then she knows. She’s in her bed, in the basement apartment she shares with Lilah, and Lilah is sleeping across the room in her own bed. There are no windows in the apartment and when they turn off the lights every night, Abbie is always shocked at how dark it can get when you live underground. It’s a wretched place, but they know it’s temporary.

“We’re going to look back on this,” Lilah often says. “And all we’ll remember is how happy we were. We’ll forget the damp, and the mold, and the dark. We’ll laugh about it.”

A dull, red light flashes over where Lilah is sleeping. Abbie pushes herself onto her elbows.

“Lilah, you have a message.” Her voice is a harsh croak, her throat dry, then she smells it, the sour reek of vomit. And she remembers where she is. She lowers her head to the floor and cries in gasping, ragged heaves. She can’t help it; this time she can’t help it.

When she’s done, she stands on unsteady legs, makes her way to the wall and slides her palm along the light panel, just far enough to bring a dull illumination into the room. Saturday is slumped on the sofa, eyes closed, mouth open, one arm splayed awkwardly behind his back. For a moment she thinks he’s dead, until she sees his pale chest rise and fall. Then again. He’s breathing, slow and shallow. The message light continues to flash in his palm.

His Royal, however, is long gone, perched stiff and desiccated on the arm of the sofa, glands depleted. Dead. The way Abbie designed it. There was a time when she felt a little pang at every casualty, even though she made them that way, but not now. The Royals are beautiful, amazing creatures, but she’s made them too strong. They shouldn’t exist.

She moves close to Saturday, lets her hand hover above his lank hair, withdraws it. The fresh tracks along his neck and chest are a vibrant, angry red, deep and wide, etched into his skin by the acids helping the narcotics burn their way into the blood stream. He’s got a full dose and she’s sure he’ll be okay because he’s built up a ferocious tolerance, but there’s no question in her mind if she hadn’t had her lucid moment, she’d be dead. Most people would be.

She grasps hold of his arm, cool and clammy, moves it out from under his back, and arranges his hands in his lap. Now he looks peaceful.

In the bedroom she packs a bag with a change of clothes, jewelry, some small items she can’t bear to part with, and goes to the lab. The hum is there, of course, loud and steady, but she does her best to tune it out, to not let it seduce her. She peers inside the tank of Royals. They’re quiet, most of them half-buried in soil, unaware they never should have existed. She doesn’t want them to kill anyone. She slides a cover over the top of the tank, making sure it fits tight at the seams, and switches off the power. The tank goes dark. She thinks of them suffocating in there—it won’t take long, they’re not hardy creatures—and has to turn away.

She grabs a carrying case from a jumbled pile in the corner and fills the bottom with dirt. It’s nothing like the box she used for the Royals earlier, the one Saturday built special one afternoon. It’s made of white corrugated cardboard, has a couple of fold up handles, and a bunch of air holes Saturday punched in the top with a screwdriver. He uses them for bulk deliveries. She slips on a pair of latex gloves and carries the box over to the regular Shimmers. By the time she’s filled it, then another, the Royals look dead in their dark, cold tank. She peers inside. One is still alive. It has its front legs up against the glass of the tank and is trying to push forward, over and over again, oblivious to the fact there’s a barrier in front of it, one it could never penetrate, a puzzle it will never solve.

“You poor thing,” Abbie whispers. For a moment she considers putting it out of its misery. But she turns and exits the lab carrying her boxes.

She shuffles back to the living room, still groggy, the tracks on her arms and torso throbbing, and pauses at the entrance. Saturday hasn’t moved a muscle, his hands still nestled in his lap.

She pulls out her notebook, and standing in the dim light she makes a new list. It’s short and only takes a moment. She rips the page from her notebook, lays it on the coffee table near Saturday’s knees, and slips from the room.

Outside are the old beach chairs they set up by the front door. How long ago was that? She plays with a fraying nylon thread hanging from one of the arms as she sits and waits, the boxes of Shimmer beetles and her bag by her feet, the evening air cool and dry. She doesn’t have to wait long.

Jota appears almost like magic, a dark form rising from the shadow of the broken street light near their door, and floats toward her, quiet and slow. He’s a big man, not as tall as Saturday, but broader, blockier, and he’s flanked by two more shadows, just as imposing, even though they hang back. Abbie has met him once or twice before, in bars, when she and Saturday still used to go places together, but as he looms over her, scowling and rubbing his chin with thick fingers, she can tell he doesn’t recognize her.

“Abbie.” She gives him what she hopes is a casual wave, even though she wants to shrink herself into a protective ball beneath her chair.

“Right.” His voice is low and full of gravel. “Yeah. Where’s your man, Abbie?”

She stands, which somehow makes her even more aware how big he is, and how flimsy the life she’s built really is. “Saturday is sick. So, I’m here.”

Jota chuckles, glances back at the two bulky shapes behind him. “Yeah, I bet he is. Sick. But not you, Abbie, huh?”

Abbie wonders if he can see the fresh Shimmer tracks on her arms and neck, which are throbbing, slow and steady. Her legs feel weak and wobbly. She shakes her head.

“Well. Sick or not…your man owes me. So.” He folds his arms and looks down at her, his eyes calm and cold. The two men behind him move in a little closer and for a moment she allows herself to imagine she’s back in New Reseda, with Lilah, anywhere but here, as she holds out a box.

Jota takes it, nodding, opens it. He squints for a moment, frowns, and lights up his palm to get a better look. “No. This isn’t what I asked for.” He picks up a beetle, peers at it in the dark; it’s tiny, trapped between his thumb and finger. “I want the new ones.”

“They’re dead.”

“Dead? No. Saturday said they were ready to go. How could they be dead?”

“I put them down.”

Jota stares. There’s no expression on his face, just a peculiar blankness. Abbie can’t imagine him having any type of emotion at all, happy or sad, loving or angry. His eyes remain cold and dead as he crushes the beetle he holds between his fingers, grinding it back and forth, and flicks the carcass. It hits her between the eyes and falls to the ground. He wipes his fingers on her shoulder, gently, but she can feel the raw strength in them.

“Abbie.” Her name leaves his lips soft and quiet.

One of the men standing behind Jota yawns and stretches, shaking his massive head, like a dog just waking up. This is nothing to them, Abbie thinks, and she realizes she’s trembling. She’s afraid. But the fear is swamped by a wave of sadness as she pictures Saturday, passed out on the couch, shirtless and skinny, lost to the world.

“Abbie,” Jota says again.

Somewhere, at this moment, Lilah is probably asleep in her bed, by herself, or maybe with someone Abbie doesn’t know, someone she loves. Maybe she’s holding his hand, the way she used to hold Abbie’s sometimes when they were alone in the dark. She thinks of everything she’s given up, and everything she’s about to.

“Take the Shimmers. There’s more than enough in the boxes to cover whatever debt Saturday ran up. Way more. And take this.” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper,

“What’s this?” He asks, taking it from her.

“It’s the recipe. For the Royals. Give it to Caputo, or one of your other guys. All the info they need to make them is in there. But it needs adjustments, they’re too strong. You’ll kill off your customers if you’re not careful.”

There’s no change to Jota’s grim expression. He puts the box of shimmers on the ground and unfolds the paper, nodding his huge head as he looks it over.

She couldn’t give him the Royals she’d made with her own hands, the ones she tended to, fed and cared for. Not those.

“Just take it and leave him alone. Leave him alone, now.” The last part she whispers. She glances at the bag she’s packed, lying by the chair.

Jota notices. His dead eyes bore into hers. “You’ve finally had enough of him, huh? Getting out before it all goes wrong? Your man,” he says. “He’s been going wrong for a while now. It’s too bad.”

He gestures. His two lackeys come closer. Each one picks up a box of Shimmers.

“He’ll find his way back to me,” he says. “Sooner or later.”

Abbie watches him melt back into the street, the two shadows closing ranks behind him, and all three disappear. She’s still trembling, but she ignores it. She takes her bag, hesitates for a moment, and goes back into the apartment.

Saturday, of course, is still on the couch, still passed out. When she touches his cheek, he sighs and curls into himself, turning his back and burying his face in his arm. She picks up the list she left, scans it in the dim light, reading each item to herself, making sure she didn’t leave anything out. She reaches into her bag for a pen, adds one more thing, and sets it back down for him to find when he wakes.

Christopher Zerby is a science fiction writer and a leading expert on imaginary robots. His stories have appeared in the Five on the Fifth, Ontario Review, Murder Park After Dark, and Revolution on Canvas. In a previous life he mixed records and drove around the U.S. and Canada in a van playing music. He regrets nothing.

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