Here’s a treat: one of my favorite stories from my science fiction/horror/fantasy (no smut … promise!) collection Love Without Gun Control - from the great Renaissance E Books
Some Assembly Required
She hadn’t thought about Mark in years – then, suddenly, she did. It wasn’t something obvious, like seeing his face on someone else’s who also had pale blond hair, like burnished steel, or eyes like amber marbles, but something swift and intangible, like a floating piece of consciousness you remember as not being fact, reality, but part of a dream half-forgotten.
Lisa had been standing in the warm sunshine down on Solano Avenue, walking back with her sister from seeing a movie – something with explosions and lots of male sweat, details already mostly forgotten. They’d parked far away, and chatted emptily as they marched back to Lisa’s battered little sports car.
He’d had a tension about him sometimes, an almost tangible armor that would slip over him. The first time it had happened they’d fought later in the day, Lisa convinced on some level that she’d been the cause. It had happened, so quickly and without apparent cause and had lingered for hours, and he hadn’t spoken a word about it. When the same had happened to Lisa, in other relationships, it usually meant anger at her, a stewing resentment just needing an impetus to release. Better, she’d learned, to get it out when she wanted to – beat the fight to the punch.
Hot, hard sunlight in her eyes and she replied mechanically to Shirley’s polite sisterly banter. Why now – why think of that and Mark… now? The laughter of children in front of a nearby toy store, an old woman glacially making her way down the sidewalk in a mechanical walker, a burnished Latino man clipping branches from a tree in front of a doctor’s office.
“Some people just shouldn’t have children,” Shirley said, slipping into the passenger seat as Lisa absently hunted for the ignition. Lisa looked up, hunting for the source, and saw the three with the kids: two glowing parents, and a friend. The parents were young and sleek with their own kind of baby fat – the softness that Lisa had seen around her other friends that had the innocence and responsibility of children thrust onto them. “Luckily,” Shirley said, her eyes obscured by sunglasses, “other people can.”
Their friend wasn’t sleek, wasn’t soft. His hair was slightly greasy, his jeans rough and faded to threads in some places – and even though he was smiling with his friends and the children he had to accompany, his tension was obvious.
Lisa knew, that fragment finding it’s place in her mind: the why of thinking of Mark. Yeah, some people shouldn’t have children, but other people – good, kind people – were terrified of them.
It was night by the time she got back to her apartment, parking as usual in the darkness of the alley behind her building. After an afternoon with Shirley, Mark had faded into a cool melancholy – a lazy sadness about many things, old and nearly forgotten boyfriends only some of it.
At first she thought it was an insect, and fear/disgust/revulsion tingled up and down her spine. Then she thought it might be a toy – children being up way to late. Then she picked it up. Looking at it under the washed-out distant lights from the street beyond, she again thought specifically of one old boyfriend and brought it inside.
His breath had been hot – she remembered when it seemed about to scald her neck, how she’d felt she’d had to move – just a little – from under him, feeling it almost ready to burn her skin. He always seemed to have a bruise or two, looking like a swatch of grease on his angular body, from where he’d hurt himself at work.
The apartment seemed empty, cold – so she turned on the coffee machine and absently flicked on the set to keep her company. Her answering machine was beeping one, one, one in dark red – so she didn’t play it, knowing it to be Shirley saying she’d be late for the movie.
The little machine wasn’t a toy – it had a kind of patched-together, crude look to it. Putting it down on her kitchen counter it immediately started a hesitant exploration of its new environment. Smiling despite herself, she lunged to catch it as it neared an edge – only to have it pull away at the last minute. It had a couple of small motors, maybe scavenged from a toy after all. It had wire feelers, and a mysterious cluster of dark glass panels along its back. Its body seemed to be a piece of an old circuit board, the green material almost black in some places from being outside for a long time. It seemed to have eyes, as well, two discs facing forward. Yes, eyes, as she watched it hunted along her counter-top for light. It had a battery, a black box along its back, but must have fed, recharged, on what it could see – eating light through the flat glass panels on its back.
Also on its back was a cigar tube. Picking it up, Lisa shook it, hearing something inside. Carefully, she unscrewed it – and a tightly rolled sheet of paper came out.