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News & Features » October 2017 » “The Hatching” by Robert Arellano

“The Hatching” by Robert Arellano

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. 

To launch Fri-SciFi, Robert Arellano (author of the forthcoming Cuban noir novel Havana Libre) imagines a not-too-distant future where we will have no choice but to incubate underground . . .

The Hatching
by Robert Arellano
Susanville, California, near future

It was a time when none of us had money and few of us had steady jobs, but those of us with any credit hurried around making preparations.

“Guaranteed to preserve a healthy specimen in a semi-dormant state for 9,000 days or your money back”—twenty-five years being the half-life of the most lethal radiation, at least according to nuclear weapon capability the year you came down. At first it was earthshaking, now it’s been quiet a long time. You try to remember music. I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell, bum-bada-bum-bum-bump! So fucking tired of that song.

The President went to his underground palace in Virginia, so why shouldn’t you descend into your Lifestay Solo from Costco, $995.00 installed? A local phone company worker, pulling weekend hours as regional contractor for Lifestay, had dug it into your basement in half a day, below grade but above the sump pump. Your Solo is equipped with a quarter-century supply of Alimenta, plus a composting Evacusac, and most importantly 40 gallons of Morphall, guaranteed to keep your body in a “pleasantly sedated, semi-dormant state” that will “cause time to fly by as in a dream” while “retarding the aging process up to 75%.”

Or your money back.

There was no preparing for the psychic toll. Incubation has been a long, slow torture. Mercifully, there is little physical discomfort because the relaxant is so powerful, although you’ve built up a hell of a tolerance. And you never have to piss or shit, you just constantly drip, because I’m on a drip. Last thing you saw before coming down was a FEMA worker with her reflective vest directing traffic, sticking to her post despite imminent-casualty projections, and you thought to yourself people are good, we’ll make it through this. Now you cling to those remembered shreds of kindness, because the news that day was so grim: CNN, NBC, and Fox each said get out of the cities, take shelter, we’re all fucked.

It was a time when some were angry and some were pleased, but all with few exceptions went around and cracked jokes, and even when those jokes were nervous we smiled because we had to hold onto those times when things were only bad, before they went to worse.

Sometimes you dream about the sign, a very lonely For Sale sign planted in the grass in front of a very big house two years before coming down. The grass kept getting higher, and if you pulled over on the shoulder and cut the engine you could hear the keening of grasshoppers and crickets in the heat. The heat was its own noise: a bottomless lake of throbbing sound, and we were all a half-mile underwater. Time went more slowly, and the For Sale sign just sat there in all that heat and noise.

You have plenty of time to think of these things.

It was a time when we had all the best drugs and we took them in private, although occasionally together watching our widescreens it would pop out in conversation, what we were taking, and we’d crack chill smiles. Those who had kids had an obligation to let those who didn’t coo and fawn because that’s all there was left to do, to look each other in the eyes and say, “Here’s someone who’s not yet done—there may be a chance to patch things up by the time this one’s grown.”

Underneath it all: the steady hum of understanding we would someday have to pay for all this. Unless…. And so we rushed from place to place, speed like a drug—not the drug speed, but a dependency on getting faster to the next thing, even as good times diminished in the rearview mirror to the vanishing point.

It was a time when the cheat grass would grow and go brown, and the buffalo grass grow and get cut, and the sagebrush grow, and a sign would go up and two years would go by. It’s probably still there, upstairs. Unless….

It has been quiet a long time. The Alimenta is getting low. You try to remember looking someone in the eye. How many other Solos lay dreaming, playing songs in their heads? What if you can’t find any Morphall? Is there anyone left to talk to? Anybody to give you your money back? It has been twenty-seven years since you planted that For Sale sign on your front lawn. You hesitate.


ROBERT ARELLANO is the award-winning author of six novels including Curse the Names, Fast Eddie, King of the Bees, and Don Dimaio of La Plata. His latest novel, Havana Libre, the standalone sequel to his Edgar-nominated Havana Lunar, is available now exclusively from our website, and in bookstores everywhere on December 5. Arellano lives in Oregon.


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: Oct 13, 2017

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