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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


Over the past five decades Bruce McAllister's stories have appeared in major fantasy and science fiction magazines, literary quarterlies, college textbooks and "year's best" anthologies, including Best American Short Stories 2007. His short stories have been finalists for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Shirley Jackson awards. He is a full-time writer, writing coach, and book and screenplay consultant, and lives in southern California with his wife, choreographer Amelie Hunter.

The piece of amber that held the inclusion--the fragment of shed snakeskin--had arrived in a load from Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. There were also twelve pieces that had leaves and tiny bits of bark--a fruit tree, it would turn out. When the material was isolated, removed, and its DNA analyzed, the company--one of the "species resurrection" companies providing collectors, museums and wealthy consumers with product--knew it had both a non-venomous snake of a new genus and a fruit-bearing tree in the ficus genus. When the techs had made their report, a young man in Marketing suggested that they package the two as the "Eden Pair." The amber, after all, was from one of the three locations that might, scholars believed, have been the location of the mythic Garden of Eden. "A snake and a tree," his boss responded. "Why not?"
The tech responsible for DNA scanning noticed anomalies, but had seen such things before. Like leglessness in some lizards, it wasn't a red flag. What mattered to the company was that it wasn't venomous and that it couldn't breed with living species. If the buyer wanted more, the company would clone them.
The fertilization tech used an ovum from a black racer, Coluber constrictor priapus--the closest to it in the living snake genome--and in three weeks the growth techs, using the standard accelerators, were laughing and shaking their heads. It was a bigger snake than the DNA scanner had predicted. They remembered the three-foot Pleistocene kangaroo that had turned out to be six feet tall--and very heavy--and wrecked havoc in the lab. They'd had a bone to extract the DNA from, and still the predictive model had missed it.
The head growth tech--a man named Parsons--was often the last in the lab. This night he found himself staring at the snake and the snake staring back. It was ten feet long, as thick as a cobra, and he tried to remember whether he'd started staring first or the snake had. He could feel something in his head, more a presence than a voice, and before long he'd agreed to something the snake wanted. It took seconds, the negotiation. He didn't know what he was going to get in return--if anything--but before he knew it he'd opened the immense terrarium and released it. It stared at him from the floor, and he thought of the folk myths about snakes charming their prey. And then the snake was inside him, getting in through his mouth and not staying long. He didn't have what it wanted.
The motel, a weekly-rates embarrassment whose swimming pool hadn't held water for decades, was on a seedy street three blocks from the bright light-industry zone where the lab performed its miracles. The girl's name was Emily, and she was sitting in one of the motel rooms trying not to cry anymore than she already had. But what else was there to do? She could be with her aunt, who had a clean little stucco house off 18th with a wonderful yard, but she knew she'd start crying when she got there—unable to control it--and her aunt would ask, and she wouldn't able to tell her why. Her aunt would also ask why she wasn't with her mom and dad.
She wanted to get James to agree to an adoption if she had the baby. They were both sixteen. She wanted to get him to say he would stick with her until it was born and be there to sign papers at the hospital when she had it, so that it could, boy or girl, be adopted. She didn't want to kill it if she didn't have to. She'd always hated killing things, even bugs--which was silly, of course--and she thought more than she wanted to about her baby sister, who'd died the same day she was born. Her mom still cried about that--which drove Emily crazy.
James wasn't going to appear, she knew now. He was scared, and she couldn't blame him, but she was the one in a hotel room, not him. She'd been crying for a whole hour, and she had to get out of here. The room stank. There were cracks in the walls that scared her. She doubted the sheets had been changed in weeks.
She opened the door and as she did, blinded by the sunlight, she thought she saw something move into the room, down near her feet, like a big ribbon. It was so fast--and the sun so bright--she wasn't sure it was real. She turned. Had it gone under the bed?
No. There it was on the rug, looking up at her, coiled like shiny rubber, its head moving up higher as its neck rose, its black eyes on her. It looked huge.
A snake.
She wanted to move, but couldn't. It was trying to talk to her--that's how it felt--but what was it trying to say?
It wanted something from her. That was it.
What did it want?
It told her.
She couldn't, and she wanted to run terrified from the room, but its eyes--and behind them, its voice, its incredible voice--held her.
"I can't do that," she said out loud.
Yes, you can, the snake said. It needed what she was carrying inside her. That is how it had lived--on the unborn--sixty million years ago, and now that it lived again, that is what it needed to do now.
It would give her wonderful things. It would make her happy beyond her wildest dreams. She would live forever.
"No!" she said again.
The snake's tongue flickered on her thigh, promising so many things, and then the creature was pulling back, dropping to the floor, and moving like a flash of sunlight through the still-open door.
It could not enter her without her permission, she saw.
You will fight too hard otherwise, it had said. I do not have poison. I have only charm.
After a shower in the cracked shower stall--after the crazy feeling that a snake (yes, a snake) had touched her had passed--she drove to her aunt's house, and there it was: the yard and its garden. The roses, the snapdragons, the fruit trees older than the house itself. Her aunt wasn't home. She wouldn't have to explain.
Her aunt, she remembered, would not sell her house until she was old and could not take care of herself. Her aunt's garden would be there for them forever. She and the child--the two of them--would come here often to sit under the biggest tree--the big fig tree--the one she remembered from when she was little herself, playing on the pink blanket her mother had bought, looking up at the tree in delight and joy. In the garden they would be safe. It would feel like heaven.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Author Comments

The idea behind this story began as one of six feature-film ideas pitched in '91 to a major Hollywood producer who liked my esp-in-war novel, Dream Baby, but couldn't option it because of a project overlap. The producer wanted to see a treatment for the idea behind "Emily," but, given how crazy life was at the time, I never got around to it and two other treatments she asked to see. The idea haunted, and four years ago became the first chapters of a novel--and not a very good one. More recently it became a longer short story, which also wasn't working. Finally, it found this short-short form, in which all of the elements of the screenplay and novel could work together with a get-to-the-point focus they'd obviously been craving all these years.

- Bruce McAllister
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