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News & Features » December 2019 » “Stinkbug Apocalypse” by Jean Wolfersteig

“Stinkbug Apocalypse” by Jean Wolfersteig

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, humans are living in a world of near-extinction . . . 

Stinkbug Apocalypse 
by Jean Wolfersteig
Earth, 2100

Rosalie took one look at the tarot cards this morning and gazed up at me. “Molly,” she said, “I need to get away from you.” Then she bolted down Psychic Alley. The Alley is a narrow street lined with fortune-tellers, crowded with people wanting to hear good news and willing to pay if it’s true or not. I gaped after her as she shoved her way through the swarm, eager to be free of me.

We at the world’s margins carry the feet of extinct rabbits and check with the stars on the most minor decisions. We don’t measure the progress of technological advances, comfort, freedom, or morality. We’re a lawless society, sliding backward into hardship and incivility. Worn out by the daily decrees, the rationing of water, food, and energy credits in the face of perilous storms and mudslides, and the punishing heat waves and winter whiteouts—we’d trade our life savings for a sliver of hope.

I studied the cards. The Reversed Devil’s implication of a dark secret had given me away. And the Tower of Destruction, built on the shaky foundation of a false promise and toppled by a single lightning bolt, with two people hurdling headfirst from the windows, must have bolstered Rosalie’s instinct to run. Reluctantly, I quit the Alley and went home.

Joshua and I live in an empty boutique in one of the concrete malls left over from the twenty-first century. It’s stark, but a welcome upgrade from the lethal tent city we were allowed to leave when Rosalie announced my condition. Joshua was waiting inside for me.

“You promised you’d tell me as soon as you knew.” His glare was unforgiving.

Two stinkbugs whirled around the light. Out of meanness, I turned on the ceiling fan, and they fled. Most insects are extinct. Scientists called it the Windshield Effect because humans didn’t notice their demise until the splatter on windshields all but disappeared. Along with the birds, amphibians—and food.

The invasive human species is going extinct, too. Like Pandora and her Jar, we released a plague of miseries on the earth. Too late, we slammed the lid shut, trapping “hope” inside. Now, more than anything making babies is what we covet. But most of us are infertile.

Everyone thought Joshua and I were pregnant. But I’d known for a few days I wasn’t. Now Joshua knew, too.

“I was on my way to tell you.” It sounded like a lie, and I suppose it was. I’d have put off telling him as long as possible to keep the extra helpings of food, water, and energy credits coming. The extra love. The hope.

“It’s over.”       

“We can try again,” I whispered, swallowing my disbelief. He’d always been the strong one, never admitting defeat.

He shook his head and stormed out.

I watched, desolate, from the doorway as he strode through Psychic Alley. Rosalie was back in her booth, bent over the cards when he passed. It’s great luck for a medium to predict a baby. Then everyone wants her services, longing for good fortune to rub off on them. But when a pregnancy goes wrong, there can be repercussions.

Joshua climbed the rise to the Bridge to Nowhere. The river’s surface is slick and gray, with a few bottom feeders surviving in the depths. He dug his identification chip from his wrist and slipped it in a locked box secured to the railing. Then, he clambered over the chain-link fence serving as a poor suicide barrier—and leaped. 

A riot broke out in Psychic Alley. They’d been counting on Joshua and me, and they blamed Rosalie for our failure. The mob threw stones at her, chanting the words of Ezekiel. “The end has come!” They carried her to the river, tossed her in, and returned for the other charlatans.

Extinction is gradual, with members of a species disappearing slowly until a single pair remains. Or an individual with no mate. Like me.          

Tears welled and I wheeled from the turmoil just in time to spot one of the stinkbugs tumble to the floor, as if stricken by lightning. Bravely, the lone stinkbug left behind circled the light, her wings clicking and buzzing on a current of air. The sound touched a precious well of something I scarcely recognized deep within me.

I packed my bag, walked to the river, and crossed the Bridge, heading for Nowhere—the tent city.

I’m changing my name to Hope. I won’t give up.


JEAN WOLFERSTEIG retired as CEO of a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York and turned to writing fiction and teaching yoga. She is currently looking for a home for her novel, The Room Where the Elephants Go to Die. She lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband.


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: Dec 27, 2019

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