The Last Change Agent
By JD DeHart
Recognizing the empty office,
the photos of family members
never seen, the last change agent
knows the street outside is full
of picket signs. They are tired
of his meddling.
The room is not what it used to be
(ironically) when we he first took
the job. Change history, they told him
(and sold him), but now his last
change comes with a quick motion.
- - -
JD DeHart is a writer and teacher. His first chapbook, The Truth About Snails, is due Fall 2014.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Last Change Agent
Thursday, October 23, 2014
The Button Workers
By Donal Mahoney
Since the United Nations passed the Universal Right to Work Law in 2093, Skewer International has brought back from other planets thousands of migrant workers on its company spaceship.
On the last trip, Manfred, an interloper, somehow boarded the ship even though he lacks one of the prerequisites for a United Nations green card--namely, a button in his navel that can be turned off to prevent him from speaking.
The navel button is a requirement of companies on Earth for any interplanetary worker. Manfred talked incessantly while the company pilot flew from planet to planet taking on board hundreds of other migrant workers, all equipped with navel buttons. His job was to bring them back to Earth to work in potato fields all over the world.
"Manfred, will you please quiet down," Wally, the pilot, said. "You're keeping the others awake and it's tough on my concentration. There are lots of planets and I wouldn't want to land on one that has no workers waiting to get on board. I'd waste a lot of fuel taking off again."
"I'll do the best I can," Manfred said. "I never got a navel button like the others so it's hard for me to keep quiet. But I'm a darn good worker. All I want is a chance."
The United Nations' version of a "green card" allows migrants to work in any nation. Talkative Manfred is unaware that he will be sent home on the next spaceship that leaves Earth to pick up more workers. Once he has a navel button installed, he can apply again to come back to Earth for a job.
"No navel button, no job," Wally whispered to himself. "A long day's journey into plight."
In 2093, the demand for button workers continues to grow among farmers in the United States, Italy, China, Tajikistan, Moldova and Belarus. Other countries are expected to begin hiring them as well.
The workers are valued by institutional farmers because migrants don't complain about working conditions or low salaries the way domestic workers often do. And the button workers don't need health insurance or retirement benefits. If a button worker gets sick, he or she goes back to the home planet on the next spaceship. And when they are too old to work, it's back to the home planet as well.
"They're always surprised," Wally thought to himself, "when they get sick or old and home they go, the same way they came. It saves companies a lot of money. If they die in the fields, however, they're put on a company pyre. It's a cookout, as one manager calls it."
At the present time button workers, no matter the nation in which they work, do only one kind of labor. They plant and harvest Yukon Gold potatoes 12 hours a day. During their workday, they have their navel buttons turned on so they can say yes to the foremen on horses overseeing their work and giving directions.
"Let's get a move on" is typically what workers hear from foremen. And they respond by working faster. Domestic workers don't respond like that. They're apt to protest, maybe even picket. And pickets around the potato fields won't get the Yukon Golds planted or harvested. The button workers can be counted on to get the job done. They have no idea what "unions" were before legislation led to their disintegration.
At night, with their buttons turned off, the workers head back to their sheds for a bowl of cabbage soup before they bunk down for the night. Libations are limited to water. On Sundays, each worker gets two bowls of cabbage soup and a Pecan Sandy cookie.
Monday through Saturday, reveille sounds at 4 a.m. when the foremen on horses blow trumpets, ready to lead the button workers back to the fields.
"Let's go, you buttons," the foremen yell between blasts on their trumpets. "The potatoes are calling."
Research is under way at several universities to fabricate navel buttons for domestic workers who perhaps can then be hired to work in the fields. The media remains critical of industry because the unemployment rate is so high among domestic workers.
But, currently, domestic workers are not an attractive pool from which to seek new employees because of the tumult created for many years by fast-food workers seeking a living wage. Their wages have never gone up but the workers now get an extra sandwich for every 8 hours they work.
"Some of them are barely skilled enough," complained one company president, "to put a pickle slice on a hamburger, never mind adding condiments as well."
Industry predicts that eventually farmers from every nation on Earth will hire interplanetary button workers and that they will soon work in factories as well. Manufacturing jobs will then be brought back to the land of the free and the home of the button worker.
Stock Market savants say the Dow Jones average will rise dramatically as a result. What more could anyone want in a free market economy.
- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
By Barbara Christina Witmer
The stars are a cacophonous lot. Singing, dancing to the rhythm of their luminous twinkles. Their rotation, a slow gyration like a twist of a woman’s hip, a celestial-body response to the mating ritual of the heavens. They call to me, muffled through the walls of my room, intensified when I step outside in my silver sequined dress.
Star Shudder: Celestial dance revolution, encircling a mate, twirling, turning amongst the bursting pulsations of the other stars and galaxies light years away.
Music is the most complex of the human art forms. It is internalized to evoke emotion and then like a calculator, the body converts it and externalizes in the manner of dance.
Not all music is auditory.
AstroBeat: The one individual pulse of a celestial body, one among trillions; its own tiny voice in a symphony of visual majesty.
You can go to your clubs, sweat in the dark against the skin of other bodies, forgetting that under normal circumstances you would never get so close to a stranger. I, on the other hand, would like to drive out to an empty field where the tall grasses reach toward the universe, swaying in rhythm. I jump in with them, the sequins on my dress shining by the moonlight, echoing the twinkles of the stars. The grasses will brush against me like bodies in a dance club, the great arm of the Milky Way looming over us, and we will all lose ourselves.
Earthbound: A myth of gravity.
Listen. Tune your heart to AstroBeat, close your eyes, let your consciousness leap from the tethers of flesh and gravity. Pull yourself into space. Look down and view the earth for what she really is: beautiful, a blue and green crystalline goddess with sensual curves and crevices,
Freedom: Undefined. Or rather, infinite.
What is freedom? Well, what if I could tiptoe over Mars so as not to wake him, leapfrog over Neptune, and then boomerang back around Pluto? Maybe I’ll rewrite the ancient myths of Hades and everyone will see that he’s not so bad—just lonely and in need of a good swift kick in the right direction.
I’ll tame the storm in Jupiter’s eye, find the lash that’s got him all red and irritated, pull it out and give him some eye drops. Then I’ll ride on the rings of Saturn as if I’m sitting on a spinning record on a record player. I’ll shriek in delight, then fly off the edge and laugh as I am flung into space away from our glimmering sun. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. There is no friction in space. I can do back flips without worrying about hitting my head.
Then I’ll float on to Andromeda, check out some celestial stardust. Maybe I’ll take a bite out of the Horsehead Nebula. Each baby star will taste like a sugary glint on my tongue. And if I open my mouth, my breath will twinkle and you’ll see it from the telescopes before I swallow. In my belly, the baby stars will Baby Star Shudder in a limitless party. But don’t worry, there’s more cloud nebulas with more twinkling baby stars. I’ll leave you some and you can sell it to the finest restaurants to serve to the richest people who will now want to eat star meat instead of gold-flaked ice cream because it’s the “it” thing to do, and their breath will sparkle with the leftovers.
Then I’ll spend some time standing in the center of a galaxy, set it about my hips and use it as a hula hoop. Around and around it will go, its spiral arms flaring out around me like the edges of a skirt as I twirl.
I’ll tie an asteroid belt around my waist and bungee jump head first into a black hole to see what’s on the other side. I’ll wait for the hands of time to slow as the skin on my face is vacuumed into the abyss, my body evaporating and assembling into a parallel universe.
BackAstrowards: The inversion of AstroBeat on the other side of a wormhole, comprising dark matter and dark pulses in a universe of light.
I will only get a glimpse before I am again yanked back into our own universe. I will be glad to be home, and my heart will shudder with relief, and the stars will shudder in response. I’ll backstroke to a red giant and bask in the light of his burning waves of fire lapping and ebbing in no particular direction like a shoreless ocean.
Human Condition: Finity.
And when I grow tired, I’ll sit in the ladle of the Big Dipper, curled up, my feet propped up on the North Star, careful not to dislodge it lest I inadvertently throw off the sailors or the lost and weary campers in the dead of night, while I, in space, squint down to see what they’re up to. Squinting in part because I cannot see, but also because the heaviness of sleep will set in upon me. Then in my sleep, I might drip from the bottom of the dipper as it leaks onto Leo’s head. I’ll land in his fur, and I’ll hold on tight as he leaps and bounds, hunting for food amongst the creatures of the sky. And sometime in my dreams, the gentle hand of Virgo will pluck me from Leo’s mane and place me on the soft currents of the Northern Lights as they cascade over Greenland. Then I’ll land safely on an iceberg, just as it’s breaking away from a glacier, which will carry me home, but not before I awake to see the last remnants of Star Shudder fading into the light of dawn.
- - -
I am a New Jersey native with a degree in English: Creative Writing from the University of Rochester. My work has been previously published in Eunoia Review, Whole Beast Rag, and Xenith. I can also be found on Twitter via @bwchristina.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Changes Are Coming in 2085, the Senator Says
By Donal Mahoney
It was the first time that senators had been asked to go home and address parent-teacher meetings at all the middle schools in their states. Each had been given a sheet of talking points to make the task easier. But Senator Stumpf found the task difficult inasmuch as he would have to speak at half the middle schools in his state while the other senator from his state addressed the other half. Both had to do their best to explain an executive order signed by the president on Labor Day, 2085. It would result in major changes in how people live.
Senator Stumpf chose to arrange his first middle school meeting in a small town in the rural part of his state. He thought that might be a good place to explain how wonderful this new program was. More than 300 parents were sitting in the gymnasium when he took the podium. Most of them were farmers, and they had worked hard that day.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Senator Stumpf began. "I am here to brief you on a new program that will take effect in all middle schools beginning this term. It's the happy result of an executive order just signed by our president. Additional details will be passed out later by your school principal."
So far so good, the senator thought. He took a sip of water, looked over the crowd and continued.
"Now that the 2014 Common Core educational program has kicked in and students everywhere are doing better in school, we are going to begin this year a new approach to preventing unwanted pregnancies in all middle schools. The benefits of this program will continue on into high school, college and even after that. In fact, once in place, this program will make certain there is never again an unwanted pregnancy in our great nation."
Some of the parents in the audience shuffled in their seats. This was a small town in the middle of a farm belt and unwanted pregnancies were not a topic of conversation. They happened, of course, but when they did, no problem. They could be taken care of free, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
The senator noticed more shuffling in the audience but after taking another sip of water, he continued.
"This new approach will be far more effective than our current programs in sex education because we are still faced from time to time by unwanted pregnancies despite the national distribution of free condoms and other contraceptives as well as coast-to-coast access to no-cost abortion. What a great country we live in!
"Here's how the new program will work, according to the new executive order:
"At puberty all adolescents will receive mandatory free vasectomies and tubal ligations, after which conception will occur only in petri dishes. This will be made possible by using the many banks of ova and semen donated by the best and the brightest adults from past generations. Previous presidents, senators and representatives are among the donors. We have these banks all over the nation now. Although we can't see them, they are as common as silos in this part of our state. Your generation, we hope, will be the last one to have to reproduce the old-fashioned way."
There was mumbling now among the people in the seats. Many of them had enjoyed and saw no fault with reproducing the old-fashioned way.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am also happy to report that all donors to the Ova and Semen Bank Program will receive tax breaks for the rest of their natural lives as well as an extra week's vacation each year. Of course, as farmers you don't get any vacation, except maybe a few lighter days during the winter.
"And as an additional incentive to participate, should any of you in your senior years grow weary of life with the many illnesses that come with old age, you will not be charged anything should you choose to participate in our National Euthanasia Program. Just walk into your local People's Exit Zone--or have someone roll your gurney in--and you will be promptly taken care of. Your designated power-of-attorney will be able to pick up your ashes the next day. No charge. And you will be comfortable in a very nice urn. I showed one to my aunt and she was pleased to see where she was going. She didn't want to be a burden to us in her rust-belt years."
Senator Stumpf had a big selling job ahead of him. Since 2035, the National Euthanasia Program had been available in every state, but not one person in this community had ever applied for its benefits. Sick people still lived at home with family members or in one of two nursing homes on the outskirts of town. Most folks were still buried in the town cemetery although some of the ecologically concerned sometimes chose cremation.
The mumbling in the audience had begun to grow louder now and Senator Stumpf could not help but notice it. He nevertheless went on to explain the program as best he could. So far it had proven to be one of the toughest speeches he had ever given.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the president has promised that once this program is in effect, several advantages will be noticed immediately, especially by future generations of our young ladies. They will never again suffer from morning sickness or waddle around with protruding stomachs or have to wear unattractive maternity wear.
"What's more, they will no longer have to spend nine months pregnant. Every conception will occur in an approved petri dish and gestation will take place in one of the millions of new brooders designed for human fetuses. They are being manufactured now in a small town in Belarus. We're not talking here about one of the brooders used for poultry on your farms. These are top of the line appliances that will fit right next to your microwave at home.
"And marriage from now on will become optional. Since women will no longer be able to get pregnant, there will be one less reason to get married. A man and woman will be able to spend as much time together as they want but they won't have to spend years together rearing children. Adults will be free to do what they want when they want. What could be better than that?"
The mumbling in the audience had now grown to outright grumbling. One man in the back row stood up and hollered, "Go back to Washington, you doofus. What do you take us for? Hicks? Whoever heard of such a thing?"
There was no more water in Senator Stumpf's glass so he decided he'd hurry up and give the last few talking points and leave. He was glad now that he had parked his BMW in the back. This could turn out to be a rough crowd.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, one final note in closing: The terms 'father' and 'mother' will be eliminated from the vocabulary in our country once the new program is in place. Technically, there will be no more fathers and mothers--just donors, petri dishes and brooders. It will make life simpler not having to wonder who's your daddy as they used to say back in 2014.
"Parents will no longer be necessary. Children will be reared in community nurseries and later in adolescent homes staffed by specially trained people recruited from the long-term unemployed. New jobs by the millions will be created. And as a nation, we will finally have complete control over population growth. Don't believe that bunk that there's still lots of room in Wyoming. Maybe if you're a bison you'd want to live in Wyoming.
"In closing, I'd like to remind you, as our president reminded all of us senators when giving us this assignment, in our great nation all things are possible when in Democracy we trust."
The Senator had finished now and was headed toward the back door when two huge men in bib overalls and John Deere caps grabbed him by the back of his suit coat and led him into the Men's Room for a consultation with his constituents. The senator's hair got tousled in the process.
When the noise coming from the Men's Room reached a crescendo, the others in the audience quietly rose from their folding chairs and proceeded to walk out to the lobby, single file, and then silently into the night. There seemed to be an Amish solemnity to their deportment. Some of them couldn't remember voting for this senator. But they knew he was in good hands now. Butch and Bubba would be able to explain the facts of life to him.
- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
By Katherine Rockwell
“The doctor said it could be any day now. . . I know, I wish she was here too. . . okay, love you too, Dad.” Lily hangs up and paces in front of the bay window stroking her swollen belly. She glances out the window and spots a 1966 Ford Fairlane. “Hmm, that’s odd. Looks like dad’s old car.” Exhausted, she collapses onto the sofa.
At the sound of rain falling on the roof, Lily sits up and lets her eyes adjust to the pale light coming in from the windows. How long was I asleep, Lily asks herself. She shakes her head and wanders into the kitchen. She flips the lights on and her heart skips a beat. “What the hell!”
The entire kitchen transformed while she slept: green floral wallpaper covers the once purple walls, marble countertops are now laminate, and the floor is no longer tiled but wooden. An old rotary phone sits on the counter where her cell phone had been.
“I must be dreaming. This is how I remember the house when I was a kid,” Lily says.
The rain outside hammers down and thunder rumbles in the distance. Lily steps closer to the kitchen window and glances outside. The entire town changes before her eyes. The Tribbett’s house shifts from blue to yellow and the recent addition vanishes. A small grocery store plants itself further down the street and cars from the 1960’s era line up at the curb.
“Yep, definitely dreaming,” Lily says. She glances down at her pregnant stomach and says, “What are you doing to my brain, little one?”
Lily retreats back into the living room, turning on all the lights as she goes. The TV is still on and William Hartnell is fighting off Daleks in Doctor Who: Destruction of Time.
But…that episode’s been lost for years, Lily thinks.
Upstairs, a window slams shut and startles her. “Oh shoot, I forgot about those,” she says as she waddles up the stairs. Lily moves down the hall into her bedroom and closes the windows. As she stretches she feels something pop and a warm fluid runs down her legs.
“Oh no, my water broke! This can’t be happening n-ow!” Lily grabs onto her dresser as labor pains ripple through her abdomen. She settles herself onto the bed and concentrates on breathing. Thunder outside grows in intensity and rain pounds against the windows. Inside the bedroom, things start to change: the dresser turns into an armoire and the walls turn pink.
“Who are you and how’d you get in here?” says a middle-aged woman standing in the doorway.
Lily wipes her sweat soaked hair from her eyes. “I…I…ahh…I don’t know.”
The woman considers Lily and her eyes grow wide. “Oh my gosh! Are you in labor?”
“Yes, and I think she’s on her way out!”
“Oh sweetheart, I don’t know how you got here but it’s lucky you found me! My name’s Mary; I can help you.”
At the mention of the woman’s name, Lily looks at the woman’s face for the first time. Oh my gosh…she’s my mom! Another contraction forces Lily’s attention back to breathing and pushing. Mary wipes at Lily’s brow and helps her through each contraction.
“You’re almost there, just a few more pushes. That’s it and…push!”
Lily gives one final push and she hears her baby’s first cries. “Can I please see her?” Lily says.
“She looks just like you,” Mary says as she hands the child over to Lily. “You look pale, sweetie. I’ll get you some water.”
“Yes, that would be great, thank you.”
Mary leaves the room and Lily stares down at her daughter. She does look like me…she’s beautiful. She smiles at her daughter and laughs. “You’re more than I could have hoped for.”
Mary returns smiling at Lily and says, “You look exhausted. Do you want me to take her and let you rest a bit?”
“I don’t want to leave her with a…stranger.” Lily looks at her mother’s face and caves in. “I’m sorry. You’re right; I’m too weak right now. I know she’ll be in good hands.”
Mary smiles and cradles the child in her arms. “Have you thought of a name for her yet?”
“No, not yet. I have to think of a good one.”
“Alright, Hun. You get some sleep and we’ll be downstairs.”
Lily watches Mary leave the room with her daughter. As she does, she smiles knowing she got to see her mother one last time. Content, she closes her eyes and feels herself drift away.
An hour later Mary sneaks past the sleeping child and heads upstairs to check on Lily. When she enters the bedroom, the bed is empty with no trace of Lily anywhere. Where on Earth could she have gone, Mary thinks. Downstairs, the baby cries and Mary rushes down to her.
“There, there, Sweetheart. Everything’s going to be all right,” Mary says as she rocks the baby back and forth. She walks into the kitchen and dials Joseph’s work number. When he answers, she tells him the events of the past few hours. Not knowing what else to do she says, “Joe, I think we should keep her: she’s a gift. I doubt the mother is coming back.”
Joseph is silent for a few moments and says, “We’ll talk about it. God knows we’ve tried to have our own child and failed. I’ll be home in a few hours to meet her.” He hangs up.
“If I give you a name, he’ll have to let me keep you.” Mary glances around and sees a vase of white Lilies Joseph gave her. “Welcome home, Lily.”
34 Years Later:
“The doctor said it could be any day now. . . I know, I wish she was here too. . . okay, love you too, Dad.” Lily hangs up and paces in front of the bay window stroking her swollen belly. She glances out the window and spots a 1966 Ford Fairlane….
- - -
Katherine Rockwell is a creative writer with a passion for fantastical and scientifically rich worlds. In 2010, she earned a National Silver Medal from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry.
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