Dani Ripley's short stories have been published on Daily Science Fiction and Everyday Fiction. You can find those here:
And enjoy three more of Dani's favorite flash fiction shorts below!
Emily sits in the first row of desks at the front of her seventh-grade science class, her right knee jackhammering while she waits her turn. Her name is Emily Ziegler, so she’s always the last to go. Other kids brought props as visual aids: dioramas, hanging mobiles, and elaborate poster boards, but Emily doesn’t need props. All she needs is her mom’s cell phone, borrowed just for this occasion, and a roll of good duct tape.
Chuckie Tallman stands at the podium, droning on about gravity and its effect on the sun and planets, pointing to his crudely drawn rendition of the solar system for emphasis as he speaks.
Chuckie always tugs her ponytail and leaves dead crickets in her desk drawer, just because she’s the smartest person in class. Also, his report is incredibly boring.
She sits on her hands to quell her growing excitement. Chuckie is finally done and Susan Vaughn is next. Susan has a large mobile strung up on a wire hanger for her representation of the solar system. Her brightly colored planets are fashioned from Styrofoam balls of various sizes. For Saturn, she’s wrapped a piece of yellow cardboard paper around its corresponding ball like a tutu. The ball itself is painted in dark brown swirls.
Susan is one of the popular girls. Susan and her cohorts don’t pick on Emily. Instead they completely ignore her, even when she says “hi” to them or brings her mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies in for the class. In Emily’s opinion, being ignored is way worse than dead crickets and hair-pulling.
Emily's report will change everything. The kids in her class will finally see her differently: with wonder and perhaps even a little fear. It certainly won’t bring her popularity – she’s way too weird for that – but it might at least garner her some respect.
Emily waits through the rest of Susan’s report, going over her own in her mind. Her uncle, who makes his living archiving old books for the university’s library, helped her locate tons of reference materials for her project. Because part of his job involves programming key words from the old books into the library’s computer, he’d only had to type in the word “gravity” to find some real gems for her to study.
Among the “ancients” collection, Emily discovered one very special book, its binding cracked and dusty, pages barely legible and yellowed with time. She used an obscure website titled “Dead Languages” to translate the text and was astounded by what she discovered.
The day the reports are due, Emily hands in her written portion as late as possible. That way Mrs. Pincetti won’t have a chance to read it before her presentation and will be as surprised as everyone else.
Up front, Susan finishes her talk. Emily is next. She takes a deep breath, grabs the phone and the roll of duct tape off her desk, and walks to the front of the room. On her way, Chuckie sticks out his foot, trying to trip her. She deftly steps over his outstretched calf, smiling to herself. He’ll be sorry in a minute.
“Emily, we said no devices, remember?” Mrs. Pincetti says as Emily arrives at the podium.
“I just need it to play a sound for my report,” Emily tells her.
“Oh, I guess that’s ok,” Mrs. Pincetti says. She takes off her glasses and rubs her eyes. “Carry on, then.”
Emily has always been Mrs. Pincetti’s favorite.
Facing the class, Emily feels a twinge of doubt. What if it doesn’t work? She’d practiced all week in her room with great success, but seeing 26 sets of judgmental eyes tests her confidence. Swallowing hard, she tears off a strip of tape, bends at the waist, and sticks her left shoe to the floor, strapping the tape across the top so it overshoots the toe box by several inches on both sides, then tamps it down firmly. She adds a second piece for good measure, ignoring the tittering from her classmates as she repeats the process on her right shoe.
“Um, Emily?” asks Mrs. Pincetti.
“It’s ok; I’m ready now,” Emily replies. “I thought I’d do something a little different. I know we’re supposed to do a report about gravity and its effect on our solar system, but I wanted to demonstrate what it would happen we could turn it off.”
The other students laugh. “Yeah right, nerd,” she hears Chuckie mumble under his breath.
“Is everyone ready?” she asks, ignoring Chuckie’s comment.
There are nods all around, and a few eye rolls. Emily reaches for her phone. She queues up her special application and hits “play”. The screaming starts when everything not nailed (or taped) to the floor lifts into the air. Chuckie squeals like a little baby and cries when his body hits the ceiling. His desk follows, bumping against him, making him sob harder.
Susan bobs gently near the southeast corner of the room, curled into a fetal position, her long blonde hair brushing against the pocked ceiling tiles, body shaking like she’s crying too. If she is, her tears are silent. The rest of the kids are in a blind panic, yelling and swatting away anything that floats near. One of them drifts toward the open window. Emily realizes she probably should have shut that before starting her report.
Mrs. Pincetti floats with the rest, her hands covering her mouth, her blue eyes round with shock. When she recovers she tells Emily to stop it; stop it right now. Emily would enjoy letting them suffer for a few more minutes, but her teacher’s tone says she’d better do as she’s told. She turns the sound off. Everything drops to the ground. There are many bumps and bruises. Letters containing a lengthy explanation are sent home to parents, along with the school’s sincerest apologies.
But Emily gets an A.
The first time I met Isda, it was an uncommonly chilly evening in August. I'd stopped by Mr. Prim’s to pick up takeout for dinner, and as I approached the counter to collect my meal I noticed her sitting on the stool by the cash register, working her way through a bowl of soup with all the grace and discipline of a wildebeest. While I waited for my order, a second bowl was placed in front of her even though she’d only half-finished with the first.
She must have sensed my eyes upon her because she looked up, caught me staring, and grinned broadly, her smile full of green bits from the soup. “You should try the Thai Beef Noodle Bowl,” she commanded, her grin widening. “It’s beyond delicious. It’s why I came!”
The spinach in her teeth charmed me. I watched as she slurped down the remnants of the first bowl and started on the second, eating like my cat when I’ve stayed too late at the office. Her golden hair brushed the countertop when she leaned forward, almost ending up in her soup. It was hard to believe someone so small could eat so much in one sitting. In a daze, I asked for her number. To my great surprise and delight, she provided it.
For our first date she chose Papa Roni’s on 7th, widely rumored to have the best pizza in Chicago. I waited in the rain on the sidewalk outside for fifteen minutes past our meeting time. Convinced she wouldn’t show, I stalked into the restaurant, shaking icy droplets from my umbrella and shrugging off my raincoat. It was irritating, but not the end of the world. I’d been stood up before.
Imagine my chagrin when I saw her already sitting at the bar, chatting with the maître-d about the specials. The irritation I’d felt moments earlier melted away. I went over, kissed her offered cheek, and settled on the barstool beside her.
On her placemat sat a half-eaten plate of steaming pasta and the remnants of a loaf of garlic bread. After greeting me, she forked more of the penne, Alfredo, and mushroom concoction into her mouth. She declared it delicious but said: “We should order a couple of pizzas, too. They’re supposed to be the best in the city. It’s why I came!
For our second date, she invited me to her apartment so I could try her homemade roast chicken with mashed potatoes. She opened the door just before I knocked, and I stood paused upon her threshold with my softly curled palm in the air, feeling foolish until she laughed and ordered me inside. “That smells amazing,” I stuttered, never sure of what to say in her regal presence.
“It’s what all the little children in Heaven ask for,” she told me.
After dinner, she asked me to retrieve a dishtowel from the top shelf of her hall closet. While reaching for it, I knocked one of her hangers off the rack, almost sending its contents tumbling to the floor. I grabbed for the material, realizing that it was some kind of feather coat. I’d never felt anything like it, so I pulled it out for a closer look and found it wasn’t a coat at all – it was a set of very large grey wings. They looked real, but they were old and worn and rather pitiful, with a stub at the bottom of each stalk that resembled knotted scar tissue. I put them back in the closet and returned to the kitchen with the towel.
Because she had cooked, I insisted on performing the cleanup duties myself. She put on music and kept me company, gliding gracefully around the kitchen on the tips of her toes as I washed the dishes, her delicate hands making indiscernible but lovely shapes in the air.
Later, as we sat on her couch with our glasses of wine, I worked up the nerve to ask her about the wings. “Oh, those old things,” she shrugged. “They’re mine. They came off when I fell.”
Well, I had no idea what to say to that. A moment passed. I asked her what she meant.
“When I fell from Heaven?” she said, with a little up-tilt at the end as if I should have known this all along.
“I’m sorry. From Heaven?”
“Where else would I fall from, silly?” she laughed like pealing church bells on a clear, sunny morning.
“Did it hurt?” I asked. I felt dumb for believing her, but I did.
“When they came off?”
“Well of course it did; but it was worth it.”
“So, you fell on purpose?”
“Have you ever really experienced the food here?" she asked. "I mean, truly experienced it?” She saw the look on my face and sighed. “I know you get to eat all the time, several times a day in fact, but do you ever take the time to really enjoy it? I mean, the sheer variety of foods available right now just boggles the mind!” She closed her eyes and shivered with excitement. “In the higher realms it's not necessary, but that doesn’t mean we don’t experience the pleasures of flavor and taste. I searched through all the centuries on this timeline, and historically speaking this is absolutely the best era on Earth, if you enjoy food. It’s why I came!”
We married the following spring. At the reception we sampled food from over twenty different countries and hosted 150 guests (Izzy has a lot of friends). As we devoured the cake Isda swooned and grasped my arm, waxing poetic about the dark chocolate ganache and the tart puckery layers of fresh raspberry jam. A bit of the filling dribbled onto her chin, and I used my forefinger to swoop it up; then stuck it in my mouth to taste, making her giggle.
“Wow, that really is good,” I exclaimed.
“You know it’s why I came,” she said. I felt stricken but then she continued, smiling. “And the very best part is that it brought me to you.”
We are enemies.
Originally, we were colleagues. Friends, even. But years of spaceflight and close confinement takes its toll. The vessel carrying us marks the pinnacle of human achievement and creation. The best we could offer. The ship works perfectly. It is we who are broken.
There are only three of us left now. I don’t count the sleepers. Them, I envy. May they never wake.
We launched twelve years ago, taking our waking crew of seven plus 5,000 in cryo-sleep, along with enough genetic material to make millions more. The plan: six years of spaceflight; a slingshot around Jupiter; then point the ship toward Proxima B and lock ourselves down into cryo-sleep with the others.
But plans change.
A power surge shot our AI to hell, and without it we got lost and flew off course. When Captain Abara finally got it back online we’d blown too much fuel and instead of looping around the old Jovian and using its gravitational mass to propel us to Proxima, we overshot, dooming ourselves and everyone else on board to a slow, strangled death in the dark.
Years went by. Nerves frayed. Resilience was at an all-time low. The seven of us started bickering. At first over small things but eventually we could barely stand being around one another so we separated, each retreating to our originally assigned sectors, communicating only via COMMS or chatbots. That calmed us, but only for a short while.
A month ago McAllister and Kumar finally killed each other over resources, leaving me, Abara, Liu, Hunter, and Jones to pilot and manage the ship. Then last week, our security officer Hunter and Dr. Jones in BioSciences clashed about rations (again), and when Jones threatened to eject the cryo pod containing Hunter’s family, Hunter punched Jones hard enough to shatter his orbital bone. I tried mediating from the doorway, but somehow in his terror-fueled burst of rage the old scientist managed to shove Hunter out of the mod and lock us both out.
Peering out of the porthole, his left eye purpling and his forehead bloodied, Jones backed up slowly and, grinning like a maniac, theatrically pressed the button, releasing the pod.
Off Hunter’s family floated. In response, Hunter locked down Bio-Sciences. After several warning sirens and three manual overrides, Hunter managed to release the clamps and de-couple the entire module. Bye-bye BioSciences and our medical bay, not to mention Dr. Jones. He’d run out of oxygen in less than a day, and from the look on his face as he floated away, he knew it.
It was ok with me. More resources for those of us who were left.
I waited for Hunter to go back to his room and then ran down to my own. There I grabbed a notebook containing several useful codes I’d managed to ferret out over the past few months, along with all of my food stores, and threw them into a pack. Then I ran to COMMS, transferred my workstation to Abara’s console on the bridge, locked everything down and jogged down to see him. I stumbled in hysterical, sputtering about what Hunter had just done. Abara grabbed my shoulders, demanding to know Hunter’s exact location. I told him. Abara ran out in a panic as I knew he would. He’d left all of his workstations wide open.
I immediately locked him out of OPS and entered the override codes from my notebook into his console.
Next, I security-locked Hunter’s room using the admin login and shut off his oxygen supply. It was a peaceful death, which was more than I could say for the rest of us. I didn’t relish the act, but I couldn’t have a deranged murderer running loose on the ship. As for Abara and Liu (locked in her photosynth lab as usual), I didn’t want their deaths on my conscience, but I didn’t want them bothering me either. I turned down the oxygen throughout the ship – not enough to kill them - just enough to make them loopy and compliant until I decided what to do. Then I settled in to weigh my options.
A day or so later I see something strange. I tweak nav, nudging us closer. On the dark side of Neptune, a wormhole spins. I slow us down, not really caring about fuel anymore, and as we draw near, the COMMS panel lights up. I roll over and squint up at the display. It’s a message. Coming through the wormhole.
I upload it to Linguistics. The translation doesn’t take long. It says: “we are friends, welcome” accompanied by a detailed set of coordinates, but not from any galaxy I know.
I sit back, exhaling so hard I practically knock the wind out of myself. Someone or something is offering rescue. The ship lurches. We’re being drawn toward the wormhole, but not under our own power. Looming over us, it’s like looking at distorted stars in a dark reflecting pool. And I am helpless to do anything but watch.
Traveling through is less dramatic than I expect. I blink and it’s over. A brilliant nebula of orange and pink swirls lazily off our starboard side; infant stars wink out at me from the glittering fog. Before us, a sparkling green-blue planet with high, thin clouds visible in its atmosphere. Behind it at least three suns burn brightly. One of them is blazing white.
We are released from whatever drew us through the wormhole. I have navigation back. Landing coordinates are provided. I run them to see where they want me to go. The weight of many lives rests upon my shoulders.
I punch in coordinates for their closest sun instead – the fat white dwarf suspended above their northern pole. It must be the closest of the three; if they see what I intend, they will persist. They don’t understand. They’ve never met beings this hungry.
They can’t possibly know.
We are enemies.