Invasive Species by Kali Richmond

When I imagined our new life, I saw green. Swathes of blades in life giving green. The reflected sky almost aquamarine. Shoes discarded, not needed, soles of feet pressed into earth. Unplugging myself from the simulation; reconnecting to Gaia. Some transference would take place that I could not fully comprehend, because I had lost that primal piece, the language of plants scraped clean from my tongue. But like a child I would relearn it, throw myself down, make grass angels with naked limbs while osmosis occurred.

So I indulged in my contemporaries’ warnings and apprehensions with faraway smiles, certain of their jealousy; their existence ten levels deeper in the game.

Business-to-Business by Dan Brotzel

They were standing in the kitchen by their mugs, waiting to pour hot water onto tea bags, even though as the poster above the sink reminded them, ‘A watched kettle never boils!’ There had been a flurry of stuff to get sent away that morning, and now the pair of them were enjoying the sudden calm of a post-deadline lull.

Behind them, Muriel was discussing the security protocols of online sign-up pages with someone.

‘I’m not a robot!’ she giggled. ‘To prove it, they always ask you to “select all the images that contain a bridge or road sign” or something. But I always find that at least one or two of these pics are a fuzzy area for me. Is that a road sign there in the background in that square, or doesn’t that one count? Which means I could get locked out if I get it wrong – but surely actually proves I’m all too human!!’

Simone Scratches An Itch by Barry Marshall

Madame Simone Dorléac noted with mild indifference that the English still dressed appallingly for summer. For a brief second she idly scratched the back of her head and pondered the true degree of this disinterest, then concluded that it did not especially matter. The important point here was that she was correct.

Simone fanned herself with her bonnet as she peered at the train carriage. It was as though it had been decorated with a fluid wallpaper of obscene floral prints. Worse still, the men had uniformly crowbarred themselves into jean shorts, the poor buttons of which threatened to become projectiles. Were it not for the protection of the sliding glass door, Simone would surely soon lose an eye.

Breath From Strangers by Thomas Elson

His hands trembled as he reached for a shopping cart. He had avoided life for the past five weeks. Now, wherever he looked there were threats. He saw it in the way people veered to the left or the right. He saw it in their eyes.

Past sliding doors into an open area designed to protect customers from winter blasts and summer bursts. He walked around stacks of bottled water, boxes of mac and cheese, and sugared cereal, then to a second set of doors. Clerks who had once smiled now resembled bank robbers – their faces covered and eyes swerving. One employee pointed to a sign.

Answer One Question for The Stay of a Lifetime by Rebecca Houghton

“Have you seen my wife?” says Mr. Blakeney, his hand coming down on the slate tile counter with a thump.

“Ah, hello, sir. We’ve been expecting you,” replies the neatly dressed concierge, his dark red uniform smartly pressed, metallic buttons glinting in the light from the old-fashioned brass desk lamp.

“My wife isn’t here?” says Mr. Blakeney.

Phoebe, or Rapunzel, Revamped by Linda McMullen

Once upon a time, there was a young maiden named Phoebe, blessed with beauty, grace, and intelligence – and enough guile to hide the last, when necessary.

She was the youngest flower of an ancient lineage, the only child of a love-match.  She possessed a wide circle of friends who adored her, and openly envied her loveliness.  She lived in ease in an ancient house in the country.  Indeed, her whole life was a song – except that her parents were in thrall to The Grandmother.