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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.


H.G. Parry writes from a tiny book-filled flat in Wellington, New Zealand. She has been published in InterGalactic Medicine Show and has fiction forthcoming in The Temporal Logbook.

The police had been again in the night. Tommy's bedroom was right near the stairwell, so he could always hear their footsteps thundering up before the sound of glass smashing and the screams. In the morning he went into the corridor to see which door it had been. There were always glass shards crunched into the linoleum afterwards, so he wore his slippers.
"The neighbors from Flat 705 have gone," he informed his mother as he came back. "The Wallaces."
"Nobody ever lived in Flat 705," his mother said. She was frying ham, and her face was pink. "It's always been empty. We never had neighbors there."
Tommy sighed. "Well, they've gone," he said, and pulled himself up on his seat to wait for breakfast.
When his plate came, there was less ham than there had been this time last year, and the butter on his toast was scraped very thin. His mother had no ham at all.
Tommy went to Lilith's house for lunch. Lilith had pretty blonde curls and wore dresses, but she was his age and knew how to play all the games that other kids didn't understand. She was his only friend, and sometimes he thought he loved her, even though her curls were so pretty.
Her mother gave them water and sandwiches, and then they went to Lilith's room and sat on the yellow woolen blanket that covered her bed. Tommy loved the blanket. It was the only wool he had ever seen.
"Did you hear the police come last night for the Wallaces?" Lilith asked.
Tommy plucked at the blanket. "Mum says there are no Wallaces," he said.
"That's silly," Lilith said, not unkindly. "I remember them. They had a baby, and once they asked if I would like to hold it. I didn't want to, though."
"No way," Tommy agreed, making a face. "It smelled."
"Mum and Dad are going to see about getting them back," Lilith said.
"Back from where?" Tommy asked.
"I don't know," Lilith said. "Where they are."
"That's silly," Tommy said. "If there never were any Wallaces, they can't come back."
When he was younger, Tommy would say goodnight to the people who had no longer ever existed. He thought dimly that if he kept their names in the world, they would still be there, too. His mother came in one night when he was in the middle of telling Mr. Shrieber to sleep well.
"Mr. Shrieber's not here, Tommy," she said. "He was never here."
"He was," Tommy said. "He used to play the violin."
His mother sighed. "When we lose people, Tommy," she said, "it's better to pretend that we never had them at all."
"It's just better, that's all."
"Does that go for things, too?"
"Yes, it does."
"Like when the teacher took away my storybook?"
"And when there was no ice cream anymore, or cake, or milk?"
"And when--"
"It goes for everything, Tommy," she said. "It never does to dwell on what we no longer have, if we want to survive."
"Do we want to survive?"
"I want you to survive," she said. "More than anything else in the world."
The police came for Lilith's family when Tommy was lying in bed. He heard the smash, and he thought he heard her scream, although he had never heard her scream before so he could not be sure.
The next day, he went to look in the corridor, to make sure the broken glass did lead to her flat and not one of the others. He went in, and checked the rooms, in case they had left her behind. The chairs were kicked over, and her yellow blanket was on the floor.
He felt like crying then, but he didn't. There had never been a Lilith. He had never had a friend.
Maybe that was why he was crying.
One night Tommy woke to noises that were not in the stairwell, and not the police. They were quiet noises, scufflings and whispers, and he could see light passing under his door. For a second he pulled the covers over his head, then he threw them off and got to his feet.
As he got closer, the voices grew clearer. One was his mother's; the other, a man's.
"--dissenters, they say," the strange voice was saying. "But I'll tell you what, Lucy, the majority of them have no more dissent in them than a block of wood. It's the food thing. The more dissenters they get, the less mouths to feed, the further we are from starvation. And right now--"
"This will hurt," Tommy's mother interrupted. A second later, there was a strangled noise, like a cry trying not to be heard.
Tommy's heart was pounding, and he wanted to go back to bed and hide. But his mother was there, so he put out his hand and opened the door.
The lamp was lit, pooling soft yellow light over the couch. On the couch was a man Tommy had never seen before, stretched out with his leg resting on a pile of towels. There was a towel wrapped around his knee, too, as though he were hurt, but the rest of him looked lithe and fit. He was old, but not very old, and his face had stubble across it and interested blue eyes peering out of it. They fell on Tommy.
"Hello," the man said softly. "Who's this?"
Tommy's mother turned, and her eyes widened. "Tommy!" she whispered. She sounded angry. "What are you doing up?"
"I heard noises," he said. He blinked at the man in the lamplight. He looked very pale, more pale than anyone Tommy had ever seen, and there was a thin sheen of sweat shining his brow. "I wanted to see what it was."
"And if it had been the police?" his mother demanded, still whispering.
"I know what the police sound like," Tommy protested.
"Of course he knows," the man said. "Is this Tommy, then?"
"I don't have any other small children secreted about the place," she said tartly, then immediately shook her head. "Oh, I'm sorry, both of you. I'm all on edge. I did want Tommy kept out of it."
"He will be, Luce," the man said. "I promise."
"You can't promise anything," she said, but without anger. She rubbed her brow with one hand, and a streak of something red rubbed off. It was then that Tommy noticed the tweezers in her hand, and that the towels about the man's leg were red as well.
"Tommy, this is your uncle," his mother added. "He's in trouble with the police."
"I'm at war with the police," his uncle said. "And all they stand for."
"Oh, don't make this any worse," his mother sighed.
"How do you do?" Tommy said politely. He hadn't known he had an uncle, but this made perfect sense to him. Until his uncle was here, he had not existed. "Real war?"
"With real bullets," his mother said. "Tommy, please go back to bed."
"We'll talk later," his uncle promised. "When I'm not dizzy and seeing two of you."
"No, Jonas," his mother said. It was the only time he heard his uncle's name. "You're going to have to be gone by the time Tommy gets up again. I love you, but I love him more than life, and I will not allow him to be in any danger."
His uncle nodded very slowly, and swayed. "I understand. Just let me rest a bit, and I'll be gone by daybreak."
"Before then," his mother warned, but more softly. She turned to Tommy. "Please go to bed, my love."
"All right," Tommy nodded. "It was nice to meet you, Uncle Jonas."
"You too," his uncle said. He gave a twitch of a smile. "Remember, my lad. I was never here."
Tommy nodded. "I know how it works when people go," he said.
His uncle was gone in the morning. Some of his blood was still on the floor, and his mother was pale and frightened, but he had never had an uncle.
Tommy wondered sometimes where they went, all those people who no longer were. It scared him, and he felt very cold. Perhaps that was why it was better that they never were. Then they weren't anywhere.
The police came again in the night. Tommy heard them on the stairwell, then the door smashing in and the screams. It was his own door this time, and the screams were louder because they were closer. Tommy hid under the covers, and clamped his hands to his ears.
When he got up the next morning, there was broken glass on the carpet, and one of the chairs had turned over. Tommy straightened it, and went to get a brush for the floor.
He wasn't surprised to find that his mother was gone. He knew he had never had a mother.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 27th, 2015

Author Comments

This began as a story about a mother and child living in a cottage on the edge of a post-apocalyptic world. A mist was encroaching and taking things away, and every night the boy would wake up to find his world grown a little smaller and his mother maintaining it had always been that way. It sat in my head for a year, and couldn't quite be made to work. Then, one day, I realized what the mist really was, and what it was taking away, and that the world wasn't quite post-apocalyptic yet. Once that happened, I wrote it in an afternoon. The last line remained the same in both versions.

- H.G. Parry
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