It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world—and, according to these four dystopian authors, the future is about to get a whole lot madder.
Lightning Bugs, by Julianna Baggott
In the suitcase: two gas masks, an extinguisher, the letters bound with a blue rubber band, the girls’ rusty barrettes, jumper cables, the Polaroids melted on the edges. When the smoke clears, we’ll go in. But for now they’re all asleep.
The truck is small, lined as it is with dead freezers and the cages covered with cut-up tarps and cloths. I don’t look in the cages. The girls’ mother told me not to. She said that it was better I didn’t know, better I couldn’t describe the beasts.
I said, Will they turn on us? She just stared at me. “You think I’d let them near my own if they were deadly? Jesus, haven’t you read the letters? We need these beasts to survive.” I have read the letters, but I don’t know if they’re authentic. How can you tell? Yes, they’ve got the government seals, but before all this any computer could have doctored up some seals. Still, I know the mother would die for the letters. She told me so. She said, “I’d let the girls die too so others can live. Wouldn’t you?”
I told her about my one little problem: my will to live. It’s strong and irrational. I’ll kill before I get killed. Not much I can do about it. She didn’t like this answer, but what choice does she have. She has to trust me. I don’t know if trust is still trust when it’s the only option. It’s like believing in God as someone cocks a gun against your temple.
The girls sleep on top of the freezers on one side—twins, can’t tell them apart. One turns, the other turns, and back again. The mother’s asleep on the freezers on the other side. Sometimes I slide open the window—where the kids used to gather for ice cream and striped popsicles—and look out at the night. The smoke’s still too thick. Two gas masks won’t do it for four of us anyway, not to mention the beasts.
I hear wings. I hear tick, tick, tick, like a beak or nails. Sometimes there’s a low growl, a thud. One of the cages isn’t a cage. It’s a terrarium. It’s small and beneath the cloth that hangs over it, there’s a dim shifting glow. I think of lightning bugs that I used to catch in jars in my childhood. I slip my hand under the cloth, put my hand to the glass. It’s warm. These aren’t lightning bugs. This is not my childhood. This might not be anyone’s childhood.
Julianna Baggott is the author of 18 books including Pure, a New York Times Notable Book of 2012. Its sequel, Fuse, is now available.
Cairo Warden, by G. Willow Wilson
From: CAIRO WARDEN <CairoWarden@state.us>
Reply-to: CAIRO WARDEN <CairoWarden@state.us>
To: UNDISCLOSED RECPT
Subject: Water Restrictions and Emergency Info for U.S. Citizens
As iterated in the previous announcement, unless you hold a diplomatic (blue) ID, you MUST queue for water at your assigned station. If you hold an individual (yellow) ID, you must collect your water ration yourself. If you hold a family (green) ID, you may send one family member to collect rations for the rest.
Please do not send nannies, drivers, etc. to collect your water ration for you. They will be turned away.
U.S. citizens are advised that demonstrations continue in 25 January Square and water riots are frequent in areas where the Nile has gone dry (all points north of Helwan). Travel to the delta is prohibited for diplomatic personnel. All other U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid the Cairo-Alexandria agricultural road; farmers whose land has been desiccated frequently set up roadblocks and the Egyptian army no longer polices the route.
Citizens who choose to travel in the Sinai Peninsula are advised to use extreme caution. Drone strikes on militant camps are ongoing and civilian deaths from friendly fire have become increasingly frequent. Always alert the U.S. Embassy in Cairo before planning a trip to Sinai and avoid crowded areas and towns; terrorists often hide in large civilian gatherings and we cannot be held responsible for bystanders.
The overland route from Egyptian Rafah to the former Gaza Strip remains closed. The Warden reminds U.S. citizens that the Strip is still considered a nuclear disaster site and thus remains under quarantine. Anyone who violates the quarantine does so at his or her own peril. There have been several cases in which American political activists detained inside the disaster site have been isolated and forcibly treated for radiation sickness whether or not they displayed symptoms. Be aware that the U.S. government has limited sway with authorities across the border, and plan your actions accordingly.
Voluntary evacuation flights continue to depart from Cairo International Airport twice daily, at 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. This is the last time the Warden will remind citizens that the U.S. government will not evacuate your pets.
G. Willow Wilson is the author of the novel Alif the Unseen, a New York Times Notable Book of 2012.
Indefinite Inevitable, by Lauren Groff
There were no portents, no blotting of the sun, no crows dropping dead from the clouds. It took a week to understand that all the babies being born were male. The newscasters spoke of it in a hush, a wobble to their lips. Nobody understood what was happening. Our own child was due at that time and we, who had seen clefts so clearly ghosting on the screen, held hands and went to the hospital. We were meek like veal.
Two days later, we brought our son home to his pink bassinet, to the ponies I’d so carefully painted on the wall back when he was to be our girl. We had no choice, we were happy he was hale and well. Afterward, everywhere we turned there was a scrum of toddlers, our sons’ sweaty necks, all things turned to guns: sticks, spoons, dolls. We hoarded the color purple, because it had become precious. Our own son was gentle, musical, he loved mint ice cream and hammocks and curling the big soft lunk of his body in our laps, where we could barely contain him. The last girls were in his class and they glowed with a sickly sheen, they were upheld as paragons. They rarely smiled, these girls, they were so terribly serious. When our son was in high school, with the flood of boys at his back, the rhetoric grew harsher, darker: the borders were locked down, skirmishes flared. And when our first crop of boys turned 18, the pandemic that had been latent so long blossomed in their blood.
Our sweet son grew distant, focused. He stopped going to school and only watched the news. We felt a darkness nearing, but we could do nothing. One morning, our boy was gone. We called our friends; their sons were also gone. The wailing was awful in the streets, then, and even now there are times I still hear it in my ears. How belated, our rage, when we should have raged at the beginning. Of course, our boys failed to return. Our son came home on leave once, and then he died in a desert, alone. The last girls grew older, became mothers themselves, but they were only the mothers of boys. How sweet were these last babies, these boys who grew strong, who went off singly and ill-starred, our boys with no boys to replace them.
Lauren Groff is the author of Arcadia, a New York Times Notable Book of 2012.
Summer People, by Peter Heller
Well. The island is cold. The island is where the rain converges with the fog, the boredom. Penobscot Bay, Maine, is not where I would have chosen to outlive anything, to listen to the bells toll for whom, every other day, a steady carillon of clang. Every other day another boat dispatched. Every other day a new grave with no one to put in it. Every night the stars, when there are stars, blow around like dust, refusing their places. At night I walk onto the black rocks of the point. The coast is a flashing cipher of disaster, a semaphore: blink, flash, burn, burn. Stay where you are, look to your souls. Ha! My own soul is the size of a matchbook by now, hard to find in the clutter.
My dreams go like this: I put on the snorkel. I swim out to the reef. Caroline is somewhere, behind me maybe. Sometimes she tugs on my flipper to remind me. Sea fans and parrotfish, dwarf angels, iridescence. I swim back. In the tiny surf wash I sit and rock and pry off the flippers. I stand. Wait—this is not the beach I left. It is another beach with strange houses, with empty doorways. She is nowhere in the water. I begin to weep.
Or the subway—I get on it and, stop by stop, lose the familiar, the others, until… You get the picture. That there was a time to be entertained by anything, to be moved by another animal busying itself in its own house; that we all had homes; that we took a train from anywhere to anywhere with an expectation of welcome at the other end—it’s astounding. That the universe might organize itself like that. Clang clang clang clang. Twelve then twelve then twelve. That someone is at the church nursing the impulse to commemorate. Well. We look at each other the way I imagine ghosts do when they sit down to eat their hopes. Aspiration aspic. Ha! Well.
Peter Heller is the author of the novel The Dog Stars, a New York Times bestseller and a Guardian Best Book of 2012.