How to Live in the Sunshine, and Other Advice

Evil vampire with scary eyes eating garlic stock photoGarlic: Friend or Foe?
Many of us find garlic hard to tolerate, but did you know it contains many healthy chemicals such as the antimicrobial, allicin? After all, once you’re dead, you could use the extra help! Garlic may reduce blood pressure, too, which might be something of a relief after a heavy night. If you really can’t stomach the smell and taste, why not try odourless garlic capsules?

One Small Step
Crossing thresholds is hard, isn’t it? We get it. But sometimes you have to make that leap, invitation or not – it’s literally the only way to move forward. Try it!

Cutting Back on Blood
We all love blood of course, who doesn’t? But moderation is key to everything. Have you considered the Eat-Stop-Eat diet, which involves fasting for one or two days a week? Many that try this find it’s challenging at first, but once they get used to the routine they have more energy than ever before. Why not give it a go? It might be easier than you think.

Getting Across Crosses
Do we really need to live in fear of religious symbols? Could you overcome your iconophobia? After all, how rational is it, really? When you think about it, there are crosses everywhere. Why not start by looking for these sorts of shapes in furniture – window frames don’t burn, do they? Type some † symbols into your word processor, or get a piece of paper and doodle them. Lay one pen across another pen. Start slowly, and you’ll be handling crucifixes in no time.

It’s All Sun and Games!
We’re traditionally told to stay out of the sun, but is old advice truly good advice? Some have suggested that vampires need vitamin D, too – strong teeth and bones are important for everyone! But if you do decide you’d like to try a smidge of sun exposure, build up slowly. Glass filters a lot of ultraviolet light, so you can begin safely by standing near a window in daylight hours. Once you’re okay with that, you can try a few seconds outside, but make sure you stay close to home and in the shade – at least at first. Experiment with sunblock (remember, even the highest factor formulations don’t block everything). Once you’re used to daylight you can venture further, but do be sure to take a dark-coloured umbrella, just in case. Give it a go – a little sun might just do you the world of good!


Author’s notes
A lot of similar advice for humans is nonsense, too. Biscuit?

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© Kat Day 2022

A Moment of Brightness in the Dark

Figure sitting in front of bright swirling smokeHave you ever wondered what ghosts are, really? It’s easy to say things like ‘unquiet souls’ and ‘memories of the past’, but then, why do we so often portray them as bright, glowing things?

A floating white sheet. A headless man limned with green fire, a black-haired girl in a brilliant white nightdress…

Lights in darkness, leaping up to say boo. Why? Is it just because the brightness stands out? Something sudden and different? A shock?

I’ve heard it said that stories tell us how we expect the world to work, that they follow familiar patterns. Maybe it’s half true. But what would be the joy in a tale that went: I got up, I ate some yoghurt, and I sat in front of a computer, and drank some coffee and ate some other things through the day, and eventually I went to bed?

None.

No, we want stories that take the everyday and give it a good shake. That jam a stick into the spokes of our wheels. Or someone’s wheels, anyway. The girl who’s walked the same path a hundred times one day meets a wolf. The screen a man has watched in safety for so many hours becomes a portal to something dark and dangerous. The person you thought was a trusted friend… turns out to be neither.

And we learn that the world is not always quite what we thought it was. It’s a darker place. A more complicated place. Different shades of shadow. Sometimes, in fact, there’s precious little light.

And in all this, here we are seeing ghosts as bright, glowing things. Moments of brightness in a dark world.

All of which begs the question…

Should I trust the ghost, do you think?


Author’s notes
A tiny ghostly thing for Halloween.
By the way, this year, PseudoPod has created a special, one-off original drama for Halloween called The Witching Hour. Do listen. We promise you, it’s true.

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© Kat Day 2021

A Guided Meditation, by Alastor Damon

We’ll begin today’s session with our eyes open.

Make yourself comfortable.

Now, I want you to gaze into space.

It doesn’t matter what you can see. Allow your gaze to be very wide. Allow your focus to relax.

Become aware of the sensation of breathing.

In, and out…

In, and out…

As you breathe in, follow the breath back to the one who is breathing.

Visualise breathing in your surroundings.

Let all that colour, light, sound… everything… pass into your body. Let it seep into every part of you. Into the air in your lungs, into your blood. Let it flow all the way to the ends of your fingers. The very top of your head. The soles of your feet. Your toes.

In…

… and out.

Now let’s try the reverse.

As you breathe out, I want you to imagine your consciousness moving out of your body. Remember, your mind creates everything you see, hear, taste and feel. There’s really no hard line between you and your external experiences. There is no reason that you, the person who is seeing and feeling, should remain locked inside your own head.

Rest your mind, calm and open.

Completely, wide open.

Stay calm, relaxed, peaceful.

Cast yourself out into your surroundings.

Out…

… and in.

Now, let’s work on really synchronising these two practices.

On the inhalation, breathe in your surroundings. Just allow it all to flow into you. On the exhalation, breathe yourself out into the world. Everything that is you, the one who sees and feels – push out. You may feel a little resistance. That’s natural. We are so very comfortable inside our own bodies. Relax, and focus. Follow that breath out and…

… there you go.

Well done.

Can you still hear me?

I don’t believe you can.

But still, I wish you a peaceful day. A peaceful eternity, in fact.

Thank you for your time here today.

And your body.


Author’s notes
This piece of flash fiction brought to you by an author who might have listened to a lot of guided meditation sessions, and who might have too much of an overactive imagination for that, really.

I’m an associate editor at the horror podcast, PseudoPod. If you’re not subscribed, whyever not? Submissions for our flash fiction contest open on 10th August. We open for general submissions on 1st September. Send us your stories.


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© Kat Day 2021

At Least There Are No Shadows

The room is filled with the sorts of tiny sounds you don’t notice in the busyness of the day. The feathery sound of moving air, the almost-inaudible purr of something electronic. The soft, irregular peals of next-door’s wind chimes.

The blanket on top of me is a heavy, soothing weight. I burrow a little further under it. Just so that my mouth is covered.

It’s not dark in this room, either. That’s okay, I suppose. I’ve always felt that full darkness—the kind where you’re not sure whether your eyes are open or shut—is unsettling. On the other hand, the not-completely-dark creates shadows. There’s one near the window. I’m fairly sure it’s just clothes, left near the curtain. It’s just that it seems a little too tall. A little too narrow. A little too… limbed.

And there’s a gentle thumping. It might be my heartbeat.

I tuck my nose under the blanket. The air is warm, thick and heavy. I can hear the blood rushing in my ears. Come further, I imagine the blanket murmuring. It’s safe, under here.

I’m tired, but I’m also not. I need sleep, but I also don’t welcome it. I want to stay in this world, where I can see and hear and touch. A place where, if I do A, then B happens.

At least, usually.

My mind spins thoughts. Over time I’ve learned—oh, not easily, but I have—how to step away from them. To notice the feelings and hopes and anxieties but not be caught in the rushing, crashing storm of them. But sometimes, in the dark and the quiet, I do wonder… what’s outside the thought?

Isn’t it just another layer? I’m still caught, aren’t I? Like a fly that can’t see beyond the web.

My head is fully under the blanket, now, and the air is dense, turbid, full of the faded, creamy scent of deodorant, half-forgotten motes of laundry detergent and the redolence of my own body. That thick fug of molecules that all living humans produce. It’s reassuring, in a way. My chemical reactions are still happening. I’m still here. I’m still alive.

Yes, whispers the blanket. It’s good. Stay here, where it’s too dark for shadows.

It’s not that it’s hard to breathe. The motion is easy. In, and out. It works. But the air isn’t quite satisfying. Like sips of warm water on a hot day when you’re craving gulps of something tall and icy. I imagine the air above, outside. Cool and sweet. I can almost taste it.

No, says the blanket. No. There are… things out there. Stay here, where it’s warm.

In and out. In and out. If I sleep, I think, I won’t need so much oxygen, and then I can stay safe. Under the blanket.

There’s music. Just something caught in my head, a worm in my ear. Moving, twisting. Squirming. Thumping.

Funny, though, I don’t remember the tune. My mind trips along with it, soothed by it. Come with me, it croons. Drift with me.

The air is so dense now it’s like a blanket of its own. A blanket of air under a blanket of cloth. I can hear… soughing. Yes, that’s a good word. And that soft, thudding beat, ever slower. Slower.

Sleep, says the blanket.

It’s so dark, I can’t tell if my eyes are open or shut.

But at least…

…there are no shadows.


Author’s notes
A little slice of something unsettling in recognition of the fact that, through July, August and September, I’ll be acting as Assistant Editor at the horror podcast, PseudoPod. If you’re not subscribed, please do. Oh, and by the way: we open for submissions in September. Sleep well.


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© Kat Day 2021

The Natural Selection

The middle-aged man was wearing a sandy-coloured shirt and a panama hat, but Caroline wasn’t really paying attention to his clothes. She was more concerned with the enormous white placard he was waving.

It read: “If you don’t teach your child to obey Jesus, the devil will teach them evolution, sexuality, psychology, witchcraft!”

He glared at her from the other side of the street, no doubt taking in her blue hair, visible tattoos and spiderweb-patterned facemask. He wasn’t wearing a mask. Big surprise. She turned and walked briskly in the other direction. Some fights just weren’t worth it.

At home she unloaded her groceries. Jennie, her fourteen-year-old daughter, sat at the kitchen table chewing a pencil.

“Mom?”

“Yes, sweetie?” Caroline slotted a container of fresh sage into the refrigerator on top of a punnet of blueberries. She picked up a packet of mustard seeds.

“D’you know anything about inherited characteristics?”

“What?”

Jennie gestured vaguely at one of the books spread out in front of her. “I have to write about inherited characteristics and how they change over time.”

Caroline shoved a tub of ice-cream into the freezer, judged the rest of the groceries could wait awhile, and pulled out a chair. “Um. Can I see the book?”

Fifteen minutes later, she had fallen into a hideous tangle of words and was, not for the first time, cursing the fact the schools were currently closed.

“Why don’t you go out to the backyard for a while?” she said. “It’s nice out. Maybe it’ll make more sense after a break.”

She watched as the door closed behind her daughter.

Caroline headed for the basement. It was a sparsely-furnished but clean and well-lit space. She started pulling supplies from a shelf near the dryer. Candles, chalk, spray bottles containing her own special mixtures, a well-thumbed book, salt.

She knelt down on the concrete floor and began to draw.

A little while later, she studied the sigil she’d created. Someone who’d watched too many bad movies might have been surprised. There wasn’t anything even slightly star-shaped, let alone a pentagram. This was all swirls and spirals that twisted and curled inward, forming an unbroken circle in their centre. The outer ring was, likewise, unbroken—and this she sprinkled liberally with salt. She placed candles at intervals around the edge and lit them, sprayed the air, and sat down on a small cushion.

Caroline picked up the book and began to chant.

Here, again, someone expecting mist, banging and general flickering would have been underwhelmed. A figure simply appeared in the central circle with a gentle pop. Slightly smaller than a man, bat-like wings folded neatly against his back, wearing spectacles.

“Ugh,” he said, peering down at the sigil. “Fine. Fine. You clearly know what you’re doing. Let’s forgo the nonsense. What do you want, witch?”

Caroline smiled.

“Well,” she said, “I really need someone to teach my daughter about evolution.”


Author’s notes
A little something I threw into a flash fic contest. It’s dating quickly, but then, I guess, that’s change for you…


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© Kat Day 2021

Excerpts From the Browser History of Item 662-70519MP, Location 2

1) https://www.healthline.org/health/insect-bites#pictures

“Bites appear as welts, blisters, pimples, or hives […] try to avoid scratching […] It is safe to use over-the-counter anti-itch medications like hydrocortisone cream or to take mild painkillers such as paracetamol […] If symptoms do not improve, see your doctor.”

2) https://www.healthline.org/health/paleness

“Paleness, also known as pallor, is an unusual lightness of skin colour compared with your normal complexion. It may be caused by reduced blood flow, or by a decreased number of red blood cells.”

3) https://www.sleepfoundation.net/insomnia/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep

“If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and engage in some other relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music. Avoid brightly-lit screens.”

4) https://www.medicalnewsnow.co.uk/loss-of-appetite

“A loss of appetite can be physical or psychological […] It can be caused by infections or digestive issues, in which case your appetite is likely to return once you have recovered.”

5) https://www.livelong.com/article/allergic-reactions-to-silver-jewelry/

“The skin around and beneath the piece of jewellery can become inflamed, itchy and dry […] Allergic reactions to silver jewellery can take years to develop, however once sensitivity has developed it is best to avoid further contact with silver, as the reaction may become more severe with time.”

6) https://www.harvard-health.edu/sun-allergy-photosensitivity

“A sun allergy is an immune system reaction to sunlight […] Symptoms are commonly mild, but can be more severe, for example hives, blisters or even small areas of bleeding under the skin […] It is important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible.”

7) https://www.yorkest.org/do-you-have-a-garlic-allergy/

“People with garlic allergy can suffer from rhinitis (runny nose), skin problems such as urticaria and dermatitis, and even asthma […] In very sensitive individuals, garlic may result in anaphylactic shock, but this is very rare.”

8) https://norapax.net/why-cant-you-look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror/

“If you find it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror, you may be struggling with low self-esteem.”

9) http://www.phobiasinfo.org/hierophobia-an-exaggerated-or-irrational-fear-of-sacred-objects-or-priests/

“Hierophobia may manifest with the following symptoms:- irrational worry of sacred objects; feeling of panic; feeling of terror; feeling of dread.”

10) https://www.wikidinfo.com/Know-if-You-Have-Renfields-Syndrome

“Throughout human history, people have consumed blood for nutritional and ritual purposes […] However, if you have a strong psychological desire to drink blood, you may be suffering from another condition.”


Author’s notes
This piece won the Writers’ Forum Magazine flash fiction competition, in issue #213, July. Hurrah! The prompt was simply to write a story in the form of a list. By the way, none of the links are real, but I cannot persuade WordPress to ignore them — if you click on them you will get ‘not found’ errors, which is pleasingly ominous, in a way…


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© Kat Day 2019

The Last of the Eggs

broken eggI used the last of the eggs today. I scrambled them. They were delicious.

Afterwards I put more duct tape around the front door. I couldn’t help looking through the little square of frosted glass, it’s like scratching a mosquito bite. The blurry shape was in the same place. So his body is still there. I think.

I found an old copy of War of the Worlds on the shelf in the spare bedroom. Actually, I didn’t so much find it as stop avoiding it. I’ve read everything else. Monsters used to be big things, in the old stories. Big, and easy to hide from.

The house is stuffy. Not surprising, since I’ve sealed every window and door. Air still gets in. I don’t know exactly how, but I can breathe. I don’t think they can get in, though. It’s been days, there’s no sign of silver trails.

I want to breathe cold air.

I know there are some other people left. Trouble is, even if they flew right overhead, they wouldn’t know I’m here.

I had to push him out there. It was too late. He had streaks of silver where veins should be, and eyes like mirrors. They’d only have got to me. I scrubbed everything, afterwards. With the bleach spray we had under the sink for vomiting bugs. God, I hated those. Every October, regular as clockwork, someone would start throwing up and then, bam, the whole house would come down with it.

I’d give anything to be cleaning up puke again.

I wonder if I can get up to the roof? And how long I could stay outside?

I got a bed sheet and painted it with the leftover gloss paint we had from the front door. The smell gave me a headache. Use in a well-ventilated area, the tin says. Hah.

I went out of the window in the attic room backwards, my arse dangling over the sill. I reasoned that if I fell at least it’d be quick. I managed to throw the weighted sheet so it caught. They should be able to see it.

I heard helicopters. They didn’t stop. But maybe they’re planning something.

There’s a bruise on my belly. It looks like a fresh blackberry. I probably did it crawling out of the window.

I woke up in the night with a craving so intense it felt like my brain was on fire. To be high, on a mountain, where the air is thin but clean. Untainted. To shout my name and hear it come back to me.

My belly aches. The bruise is low, under where my skin sags. I can only really see it in the mirror. The beautiful, silvery mirror.

My skin seems brighter today. It almost glints in the light.

I heard the helicopters again. I’m sure they’ve seen my sign. They’re only working out what to do.

Next time I hear them, I’m going out of the window.

At least it will be quick.


Author’s notes
This is quite an old story that I wrote for a Pseudopod flash fiction competition. It did quite well, but it’s one of those pieces where people say ‘I want to know more about….’ and the thing is, I like it like this. Sometimes the most horrific thing is not knowing.


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© Kat Day 2019

Magma on the Inside

Content warning: violence, abuse

***

Don’t cry. If you cry, your lamina won’t form.

Adamite the troll forced the sting from his eyes as he stared at his damaged knee. He had fallen on the scree, and the sharp stones had bitten hard. There were specks of dirt and ragged pieces of torn skin in the centre of the wound, but its edges were already beginning to darken. Streaks of red, like veins of ruby running through rock, glinted in the sunshine. His leg burned like a stone left in the noonday sun.

He was young, and his skin was still soft. For now.

In time, a scab would form, and then it would fall off leaving a new surface of smooth rock, and the warm softness would become hard and cool to the touch. It was called a lamina, and it was how trolls became stone. It was how they became truly trolls.

Don’t cry.

The air in the mountains was crisp, almost crystalline. It chilled his skin and, just for a moment, he felt sadness that he might lose that sensation, soon.

Adamite took a deep breath and stood up.

#

It was not long after that day that his grandfather was broken. Men had come to the mountain with their red tubes which hissed and made smoke that smelled of overripe fruit. The men looked harmless – too fragile to harm a creature such as a troll – but humans could be remarkably, surprisingly destructive.

His grandfather had been too old to move much, preferring to sit and let the thin sunshine warm his rhyolite skin. The men’s sticks called the thunder and focused the lightning, and the old troll’s head had shattered into a hundred thousand pieces.

The men had taken his calcite eyes. Amazingly clear, they said.

Adamite and his father studied what was left of the broken remains.

“We must be the trolls he can no longer be,” said his father, quietly.

Then he scraped the flint-sharp side of his foot down the back of Adamite’s still-soft legs. The pain was excruciating, but he didn’t cry.

“You must be strong,” said his father. “This will make you strong.”

#

Shattering stone. Breaking skin. Adamite cried out as Psilomelane’s fist slammed into his cheek. His mouth was full of wet copper. His father had left his face untouched, but other trolls had no such hesitancy.

The rock beneath his back was too hard, and that was wrong. A real troll marks the ground, not the other way around.

“Stupid baby,” hissed Psilomelane, through amethyst teeth. “You’ll thank me for this.”

Psilomelane was mostly stone. There were, Adamite noticed with a strange sort of detachment, only a few patches that were still unchanged. One was around his neck. The matt skin there contrasted sharply with the dark grey that covered his face.

Adamite wondered how it would feel to lock his fingers around that soft neck.

It wasn’t only the outside of trolls that changed, of course. They had to become stone all the way through.

#

It was a summer day when Adamite first broke his own son’s skin. Harebell flowers were scattered over the landscape, and the air was full of grass and sunshine. Adamite’s lamina was long complete. He glittered in the sunshine, smooth stone which almost seemed polished, dotted with flecks of silver and green crystals. His eyes were perfect ovals of green chrysoprase. His teeth were shards of yellow corundum.

His son was still soft and warm to the touch. When Adamite looked at him, he felt a twinge of disgust.

He had to do it. His son had to be strong, as he himself had become strong.

And so he picked up handfuls of sharp gravel, circled his son’s arm with his own hands, and forced the small stones into the child’s skin. In, and down.

Dark fluid welled in the wounds. The young troll didn’t cry out, and that was good. His eyes, though, were too bright.

“Don’t cry,” said Adamite sharply, “it will stop your lamina from forming. Trolls must never cry.”

The child nodded. “I know,” he said.

His voice was full of the determination of youth. Somewhere inside, Adamite felt the heat of molten rock. The energy could not escape; it was locked in by his cool, rocky surface. The fires inside roared, and swelled.

He looked away from his son, and his chest burned.


Author’s notes
I wrote this story 9 months ago and it has nagged at me ever since. It was difficult to write and it is still, even though of course I know what it says, difficult to read. And I’m agonising over the submit button even now. But it’s here because I feel it’s imporant. I’m a woman and I fully support women’s rights, but I also understand that it can be hard to be a man in modern society, particularly if you are not a man who fits traditional male stereotypes. When you force someone, anyone, into a box that doesn’t fit them, they have two options: to defy and break the box, or to become misshapen. Both of those options involve pain.

Perhaps, as a society, we could decide to stop forcing people into boxes in the first place.

If you need support, please know that there organisations who can help. One is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM. Follow the link for more details.


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© Kat Day 2018

Scribble-Eyed Girl

Xartimon skipped across the pavement, finding little to amuse him. It was night by name but not by yet by nature; the sky remained the colour of bloom-dusted blueberries.

A dog-walker who’d paused to study her phone yelped as she realised her dachshund had decided to warm her shoe. The imp giggled and let the animal’s mind go. Then he sighed. Scents of warm dog and tarmacadam filled his nose, making him want to do something different.

That was when he found the clear rubbish bag outside a house with amber light dripping from its windows. It was full of a child’s paintings.

Xartimon’s eyes glowed as he sliced the plastic with a fingernail. A rainbow. Handprints. Something, perhaps a whale, drifting in a black ocean.

A door slammed in the house but he didn’t turn, engrossed in the treasures.

He flicked a hand and a swarm of jewel-bright butterflies lifted from the paper, scattering into the night. He watched them for a while, their wings gradually becoming monochrome as they flittered further into the orange light cast by the streetlamps.

Xartimon turned his gaze back to the torn bag and absently clicked his fingers.  Seventeen puffs of dust fell from the air. The dog-walker cursed and brushed at her arm, then frowned as the glittering residue faded under her gaze. She looked around but saw nothing, of course. People rarely see anything that doesn’t fit into the world as they know it.

The imp continued flicking though the papers in front of him. The next picture he stopped at was recognisably a girl. The image had wild hair and black scribbles for eyes. A straight smear of pink formed her mouth.

A moment later she was sitting up, flexing her stick wrists and wriggling her fingers.

Now, something for her to do…

Paper on the ground caught Xartimon’s eye. Brown and gold on a black background. Red fingerprint eyes. A wolf, maybe.

The scribble-eyed girl looked around as the newly-animated creature made a crackling, crunching sound. She took a step backwards.

Xartimon sat on the low wall that bordered the garden of the amber-windowed house, balanced his left foot on his right knee and tipped his head to one side.

The wolf snapped. The girl dodged and made a whistling sound like someone blowing across a piece of paper. The wolf dropped back, tail low.

Xartimon clapped.

The girl picked up a stone and threw it awkwardly. The wolf caught it in its jaws as though it were a ball.

Xartimon shook his head. Stone never beat paper.

The beast charged, gaping mouth revealing sharp, white triangles. It caught the girl with an unpleasant tearing sound. She squealed and pulled, losing her left arm. She lurched to her right and grabbed for the wolf’s tail.

It slipped through her fingers and the creature snapped again, catching her head. She pushed and kicked, but it was no use. This time there was no tearing. The beast pulled her into its mouth, chewing and mashing the paper until it dissolved into fragments.

Silence fell and the wolf looked at Xartimon, hopeful expectancy in every dry breath. As one, they looked up at the perfect half moon. There are those that believe that full moons are magical, but there’s nothing magical about something which can only go one way.

A high-pitched sound emanated from the house behind them. Not quite a scream. Not quite.

The imp pointed a finger at the child’s monster.

The jet of blue flame left nothing but specks of ash drifting in the air. Xartimon glanced at the amber-windowed house.

His game was mischief. Evil, well.

That was the business of others.


Author’s notes

This first version of this dark little tale was written for the 2017 Podcastle flash fiction contest. It didn’t win, but it did get a good handful of votes. There were some truly amazing stories, by extremely talented writers, in that competition, so any votes at all was an achievement! You can listen to the winning stories here. At the time of writing there’s still time, just, to enter the Escape Pod flash fiction contest for 2018 – you need to submit your up-to-500-words Science Fiction story by the 30th of April. If you’ve missed the deadline, never mind, sign up for the forums and come and vote for your favourites anyway. See you there!

If you’ve enjoyed this story please considering buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com. The more coffee I have, the more likely I am to write more stories! 🙂
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© Kat Day 2018