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News & Features » January 2018 » “In the Cloud” by Mark Budman

“In the Cloud” by Mark Budman

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 man struggles to express his love in the wake of our society’s collapse . . .

In the Cloud
by Mark Budman
November 29, 2027

Good morning, love. I guess it’s morning, though it’s hard to tell. It’s just too dark all the time now and this green, dense fog is creeping into every orifice. Even the fires are not that bright anymore, and we haven’t seen the sun or the moon or the stars for months. Sorry I didn’t call for a while. I had my reasons. Excuses, excuses, excuses, right?

I wish we still had answering machines. The electronic types, in the cloud, or the old-fashioned ones, with tapes that beep and rewind and make your recorded voice hoarse. Forget the answering machines. I wish we still had phones. The smart types that play Angry Birds or can show me my way to you. Even clam-shells or wireless land-lines. Or even corded rotary type. Anything that would let me to talk to you over the distance. I would even take the telegram or Morse code.

.. / .-.. — …- . / -.– — ..-

Which means: I love you.

Because you know why I can’t come to you and tell you what I want to say to your face. But let me pretend I have a working iPhone666C with a freshly-charged battery and a strong signal. Let’s pretend I can leave you a voicemail message in the cloud. And let me pretend you would listen and call me back.

Speaking of clouds. When the TV and the Net were still working, I saw an image of a huge mushroom blossoming in the distance and obliterating everything. The anchors argued if it was Iran or China, or Russia, or ISIS, or even the space aliens. They couldn’t stop arguing until the next one hit them a few minutes later. I still can’t believe it was real. The next ones no one broadcasted and a few people could see anyway even if they did.

Love, I never had the guts to commit. Like the next guy, I cherished my freedom and independence. I was cold and calculating. I assigned points to every girl I knew. Ten points for the looks. Nine points for the love-making. Eight points for intelligence. Seven points for the posture. Six points for the income. Five points for style. Four points for the cooking skills. Three points for the sense of humor. Two points for connections. One point for the non-nosy in-laws. I hesitated even though you had accumulated more points that all the others combined. So many in fact, that I stopped counting. What can I do with my freedom now? I can’t exchange it for a serviceable gun, a can of beans, or a working phone.

I can’t say I have magically acquired guts, but let me drop on my knees and propose to you. Never mind that my right knee is shattered by a looter’s bullet. Never mind that I have no ring or that my wedding outfit is a grimy sweater and bloodied jeans. Never mind that our honeymoon would have no drop of honey, and that we couldn’t see the moon. You have always wanted me to propose, right? That’s what you kept hinting at, if I understand women at all. I was stupid, wasn’t I, right? Forgive me.

I hope you are still alive. But even if that’s not true, even if your beautiful body is burned beyond recognition, let me tell you that I love you and that I want to marry you and that I want to have kids with you, even if that is the last thing I say. Until death do us part. That’s my message for you. Call me.



MARK BUDMAN was born in the former Soviet Union. His writing appeared in Five Points, PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Daily Science Fiction, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, the London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Short Fiction (UK), and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton. His website is markbudman.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: Jan 26, 2018

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