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News & Features » September 2019 » “Bones” by Elliot Harper

“Bones” by Elliot Harper

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, a mother and child cross the desert in a post-apocolyptic world . . .

by Elliot Harper
Post-Apocalyptic world 

I squeeze my mama’s hand as tightly as I can. I worry I have hurt her but she doesn’t seem to mind, she even gives me a light squeeze back. That gesture, that tightening of the hand, such a simple thing, simple but it reassures me. Reassurance against the blowing sand filled wind that swirls and whips around us. I lift my hand and adjust my scarf around my mouth making sure I leave enough of a slit so that I can see in front. Not that there is much to see but mama told me firmly that that is what I must do. Mama knows best. We keep walking forward into the wall of biting sand, I can feel it in my shoes as we walk through the desert. Walking, walking, endless walking.

I must have stumbled because I feel my mama’s hands grip me on both shoulders. I was daydreaming, letting my mind wander. At first, I was in control of my thoughts, sifting through memories, until my mind inevitably settled on to water, that precious liquid, of which we only had a small amount of left. At some point fantasy had turned to uncontrolled thoughts that flitted around like the swirling sand storm. Maybe I was dreaming, maybe I wasn’t, it doesn’t matter now, I am awake again. Awake to what? The desert? The storm? I readjust my scarf around my face once again just for something to do and plod forward.

We walk for what seems likes an eternity until finally the sand storm begins to lessen. I feel excited at the prospect of being able to see the real world for once, not whatever my mind decided to create for me, the actual world. My mama must be excited as well because her pace begins to quicken until she is dragging me along beside her. We plough on through the sand, each step becoming easier. I can feel my heart beat faster as the storm slows, clears and then stops entirely. My mama squeezes my hand one last time and then releases me. This is my cue to uncover my head. I quickly pull back the scarf and shake my head, sand bursts from my hair creating my own tiny storm but it is not for long.

I blink my eyes as I take stock of our surroundings, the first thing I see is the beautiful blue sky, the blue is so deep that it nearly brings tears to my eyes. My mama stands beside me, she too looks up into the air, a look of pure happiness spread across her face. She covers her eyes from the beating sun above and scans the area. I follow her line of vision and see it at the same time as she does. A glint in the distance, it flashes in the bright light. She smiles, turns to me and grabs my hand without saying a word. We head towards the glint as quick as our tired legs will allow.

We have reached our destination; it was closer than it appeared. As we move over the final sand dune, I can see the source of the reflection before me. It is large and made from some kind of silver metal. It is half sunk into the sand. It is strange to my eyes; I have never seen anything like it before. My mama stops dead when she sees it and holds me by the hand firmly in case I was to run towards the thing. We stand for a few moments before I dare ask her a question. “What is it mama?” She answers without averting her gaze from the thing in the sand. “A beast of the old-world child.” Her words settle into my adolescent mind as I stare at the thing. Mama seems sad, almost melancholy at this discovery. I dare to ask her another question. “A beast from the old world? What does that mean Mama?”

She does not answer, I wonder whether she has heard me, I even begin to ask the question again but I notice that she is quietly crying. This shocks me, I have never seen Mama cry, not since Papa had succumbed to the pox. I squeeze her hand; it is the only comfort I can give her. She finally answers my question. “Do not worry child, the old world is gone, gone to dust and sand after the war. Come, let us carry on.”


ELLIOT HARPER is an Englishman living in Houston, Texas. Author of the upcoming novella The City Around the World to be released by Sinister Stoat Press (imprint of Weasel press.) A bloke with a ginger beard who writes speculative and weird fiction. Find him on Twitter @e_harper_author and at his website elliotharper.com.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Sep 27, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,