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News & Features » November 2017 » “The Old Bird” by J.M. Williams

“The Old Bird” by J.M. Williams

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, the past comes back to haunt the future . . .

The Old Bird
by J.M. Williams
New London, the Future

The body was crumpled on the floor. Purple blood spilled away, taking the shape of a crooked tree. Bits of the alien man were plastered on the wall, clearly ejected from the large hole in the back of his head.

Storm Hamilton replaced the brown fedora on his head and pulled the brim down to hide his scowl. He had seen the carnage of archaic projectile weapons once before. Bullets did much the same damage to aliens that they did to humans.

Around him swarmed a dozen grey-skinned aliens in blue police tunics. Their stiff faces betrayed a level of shock he had not noticed in their kind before.

Of course they were anxious. This sort of thing was not supposed to happen in New London. The crime was as outdated as the bullet used to commit it.

When they had descended in their massive ships—ending mankind’s violent war—they had promised an end to all violence. Now these grey newcomers who saw themselves as cops were seeing themselves in the place of the victim. One of their kind.

One of the aliens handed him a folded piece of paper. “Any idea what this is?” she asked.

Storm opened it and his mind filled with an image, of his father’s name in his mother’s lifeless hand.

“It’s a name card,” he said, examining it.

On one side was the name of a business: Ground Zero. On the other was a scribbling of numbers and words in ink: 54831, Penguin 142p.

“Do you know what it means?” the alien asked.

“I might.”


The name led to a pub on the edges of the fallout zone, where Old London had been nuked during the war. The greys had cleared the radiation away, but the rubble remained. Few people ventured this far from the new city, only those with a bond to the human past that the greys tried their hardest to sever.

The number unlocked an antiquated, battery-powered lock on one of the pub’s basement doors. The door opened to the barrel of an old, semi-automatic pistol.

“How did you get in here?” the large man behind the gun asked.

A second figure shifted over to Storm’s side, bearing a knife. Storm brandished the name card between thumb and forefinger.

“You shouldn’t have that,” the big man said from behind his desk.

Storm glowered at the skinny man to his right. The thug—significantly smaller in stature than the detective—withered under the glare.

“So what’s the deal?” Storm asked.

The big man leaned back into his creaky leather chair. “Maybe you can help us,” he said.

“How so?” Storm raised the brim of his hat with a finger.

“The man who owned that card was a smuggler. He has something for me. You are looking for him. I imagine that’s what brought you here. I am looking for him as well.”

“I’m not inclined to turn over a murderer.”

“Murder?” the big man spat. Composing himself, he said, “He has something that belongs to me.”

“And what is that? Maybe I’ve seen it.”

“If you had, you’d know…It’s an eagle made of gold. The battle marker of a Roman legion. It’s a lost relic from a time when men were still powerful, not the pets of some grey- skinned barbarians from another planet. We cannot let these aliens strip our past from us.”

“So, it’s just about preserving the past? How noble.”

“The past is part of who we are. Your sense of fashion suggests you understand this. You know of Rome, don’t you detective?”

“A thing or two.”

“I bet you know a thing or two about the location of the bird as well.”

“If I do, I’m not saying.”

“You don’t have a choice.” The big man pointed his gun.

Storm grabbed the hand holding the knife, dragging the skinny man in front of the gun.

Shifting his momentum, Storm tossed the man over the desk. The gun clattered to the floor. Storm picked it up. He smirked.


Back at his apartment, Storm ran his fingers along the cracked bindings of the old books stuffed in his bookshelf. His finger stopped on a volume. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The finger dragged down the spine of the book. It settled on a word at the bottom, the publisher’s name: Penguin.

In a few moments, he knew right where to find the eagle.


Author, teacher, historian, veteran. J.M. WILLIAMS is a Fantasy and Sci-Fi author who is unabashedly into anything pulp. In the past year alone, he has had more than thirty short fiction pieces accepted for publication in a wide range of venues including Flash Fiction Magazine, Bards and Sages, Left Hand Publishers, and the Uprising Review. He also earned an Honorable Mention in the third quarter of the 2017 Writers of the Future contest. He lives in Korea with his wife and 10 cats—teaching, writing, and blogging at www.jmwilliams.site.


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: Nov 10, 2017

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