Final flight by Gary Hewitt

Tony chucked in a coin. Penny after penny, day after day. No reward except clanking metal from the bandit. He walked away with no bus fare. At least it the sun still smiled. He watched a boy secure himself in a phoney plane. It began a laborious ascent up the rusty ramp. The flight halted short of the prize line. The gears cranked and the pilot returned. He looked at the golden chocolate rabbit and asked his Mum if they could return tomorrow. 

“No, it’s a con, Mark. Never mind, Mummy will buy you chocolate later.”

Tears formed, no protest came. Mother and daughter disappeared.

“What’s your problem?” the stall keeper asked Tony.

“It’s rigged. I’ve never seen it pay up and you keep stealing from these poor kids.”

“Hey, that’s not fair, we’ve given out ten golden rabbits this week.”

“I’m supposed to believe that?” snorted Tony.

“Why would I lie. I tell you what, you have a go?”

“Damned if I’m paying three shillings.”

“You don’t have to. First one’s on me.”

“I won’t fit in there.”

“Give it a try.”

Tony looked at the trophy cabinet stuffed with golden rabbits. Their advertising said biting into the chocolate released a velvet marsh of luxury to the taste buds. He glared at the beaten up red plane and tossed himself into the pilot seat. He settled and the stallholder pulled several levers.

The plane accelerated. Tony relaxed. He braced for the inevitable shudder yet flew straight to the golden target. 

“Well I never. Congratulations young man, you’ve won a rabbit. Care to go again?”

“How much?”

“One shilling for you. Come on, you’re on a roll.”

The plane reversed back down the ramp. Tony tossed the man a shilling and seized his golden rabbit. 

“Check under your seat. There’s something you should put on.”

Tony discovered a leather helmet and a pair of goggles. 

“You expect me to wear these?”

“Come on, it adds to the fun or are you just a bore?”

Tony adorned his new regalia.

“If you win twice in a row, you claim everything. The whole caboodle. Good luck.”

The plane lurched. The golden target approached and victory. Tony punched the sky. The plane accelerated.

“Hey, what’s happening. Jesus, I’m running out of ramp.”

The plane burst through the protective barrier. Tony awaited his demise yet his ascent continued. He looked below. The stallholder leapt in excitement whilst pointing at his departing customer.

On an on the plane flew before levelling out. Clouds of forgetfulness claimed him.  Great ocean grey giants stared up at the flying boy. Grey blocks of metal streamed back and forth and great gamuts of smoke came from their front. He yelled when a pile of steaming metal passed all too near. 

The plane altered trajectory and descended at incredible speed towards the metal titans. A rat-a-tat racket burst from both wings and to Tony’s astonishment one ship erupted in flame. One after another went the same until all were heaps of dying smoke. The plane continued onwards. He thought of Amsterdam.

Machine gun fire opened up on all flanks. One pierced the fuselage. No loss in impetus though. A gigantic array of guns and cannons awaited. Great boats with men running frantically to and fro pointed to the crimson menace bearing upon them.

Nan’s house. Tony burst through the door, dashed up the stairs which seemed to go on forever. His Grandad awaited him and he burst past and dashed up yet more stairs to his Nan.

“Hello my lovely. You come for your vienetta?”

“Of course. So good to see you Nan.”

She held him close, so close as if she’d not seen him for so long.

They entered the living room and he ran to the window. Outside, all was misty, all was so quiet. Tony took his bowl of ice cream. The sky outside turned marmalade. It must have been five or six years since they said goodbye. 

“Come on lad, sit down. We’re not going anywhere. Nor are you.”

Gary Hewitt’s had a few tales and poems published in some guise over the years. He tends to write rather odd stuff. He also reads tarot and practices Reiki in the UK. Probably explains his strange imagination.

Calculations by Nancy Hoffmann

We are all damaged here.

The lucky ones are missing limbs. The unlucky are missing emotions, but only the shitty emotions we’d all rather do without like fear, rage, and anxiety.

Generations ago, every adult had to choose. Removal of a limb or removal of shitty emotions. The Invaders feed on both. Early on, they called themselves Visitors. That didn’t last long. Not with stealing emotions and limbs.The Empties wonder why we weep. That urge must still be within them, though they no longer have the ability. They ask me and others without fingers, hands, feet, and lower legs to explain what they cannot feel. We tell them, but they can’t hold on to it. There’s a gold and silver inlay at the base of their skulls that pulls the emotions from them as the feelings rise. The Empties look off into the distance, like an old man searching for a word he’s forgotten, hoping, knowing it’s right there, but never finding it. That’s why we call them Empties, like an empty bottle of scotch or can of beer. There’s only the stink of what was once inside.

Our great, great grandparents had to choose and now it’s a family tree that’s hacked and scarred. Emotions or flesh. Back then, no one understood the meaning of their choice. How could they?

The empties are unable to understand when I tell them about the canyon. They know what it means, but they can’t feel what it means. I’ve calculated how important emotions are to understanding, and Empties are nearly ninety times less likely to understand a threat or danger.

Communication with other towns is difficult, though I’ve sent word as best I can. My generation will be the last to lose its digits and limbs.

I tell this to the Empty as we walk along the path to the canyon. As good as my replacement parts are, I walk with a limp. My son will never walk like me, will never have a hand like mine.

On the hill, the lights flare red and angry. The Invaders are hungry.

I begin to weep. There’s no turning back.

“What’s wrong?” the Empty asks.

“I’m going to push you into the canyon,” I say.

He stares at me for a moment. He knows what that means, but he can’t feel what it means. The lights on the hill dim a little.

The Invaders prefer emotions to flesh. It was my second greatest calculation, greater than all the electronic and mechanical calculations needed to wire artificial hands and legs into our nervous systems.

“You’re going to fall more than twenty stories,” I tell him, and I nearly vomit from my cruelty.

The Empties never gave us names. Meanness and sarcasm would rise in them only to be sucked out. We had no trouble giving ourselves names. They started plain enough: gimps, fakes, prosies, for our prosthetics. We settled on Meats. Our cruelty is intact.

The Empty tries to turn back, but others like me, the Meats, shuffle behind us. The Empty follows me.

He doesn’t scream or shake with fear. He doesn’t panic. The lights on the hill dim to a shade of orange. The Empty is feeding the Invaders.

Every town must find someone like me, a murderer, a martyr. One person must do this, only one. In every town. No matter how large or small.

Years from now, maybe sooner, the Invaders will want the pain I carry, the guilt I must face at the end. I have calculated this. The invaders will break their agreement with us and attach inlays to me. Or maybe one day they’ll figure out how to feed on my emotions without the inlays.

From my life as a Meat and from what I have done at the canyon, from what that one person in every town has done, many Invaders will choke and die on the abundance of our pain. Others will become sated, sleepy, and immobile, and then the Meats will slaughter them. This I have calculated.

“Any message for your children?” I ask the Empty. They keep having children, more than required. That’s what happens when the only emotions available are ones like hope, love, and trust.

He searches for something to say, but I don’t wait. Despite my limp, I’m quick and strong. He isn’t prepared. He doesn’t understand to defend himself. He’s an Empty and the absence of fear makes him vulnerable.

I watch the Empty fall. I must watch. Terror never fully rises to his face, and he doesn’t scream because the gold and silver inlay transfers his shitty emotions to the Invaders. Before he hits the rocks, the lights on the hill will be dark.

I watch until the end, then turn away, telling myself not to puke this time though I know I will.

But now I’m falling.

I watch the rocks approach. I’m not afraid. I watch and hope the Meats have calculated correctly.

Nancy has an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in Every Day Fiction, Aperion Review, and recently had a piece of flash accepted by Wilderness House Literary Review. She lives on a horse farm in Maryland.