Hope

“Are they fresh?” I asked. A colorful flame danced in each vial, but many flickered fitfully in a way that made me nervous

The man at the cart clutched his heart with a practiced gesture that illustrated how wounded he was. What do you take me for? You think I would set up here on the corner to sell delusions or mania, something like that?”

He had named my exact fear, disarming me. Of course Hope could be incredible, exultation tinged with the risk of despair. But everyone has heard stories about what happens to a person with a bad Hope. I fidgeted, not wanting to linger here playing games. So I said, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“They’re good, the vendor insisted. “I picked them up from the Dream Docks this morning.”

It was as good a source as you could ask for if it was true. That was where I had sold my last dreams all those years ago. “Fine,” I grunted.

“So you’ll buy?”

I almost walked away then. Maybe I should have. But it had been so long since I had any Hope. Colors danced within the glass, dangerous and inviting.

I picked up a vial.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Skip

Jun was waving as I stepped out of the skip station, but I didn’t rush to meet them. They reached out to take my hand, and I flinched, startled by the contact.

“Is something wrong?”

“I . . .” I hesitated. Uncertain? Embarrassed? Afraid? “I think I had a bad skip.”

I tried to read Jun’s reaction, but their features suddenly seemed foreign in a way they never had before. “Let’s get some food,” was all they said, “then you’ll feel better.”

There hadn’t been anything strange about this evening’s skip. I had stepped into the pod in Philadelphia and 17:23:51 planetary standard time and stepped out in Kyoto at 17:24:07. Practically instantaneous transportation. Not transportation, I reminded myself, reconstitution.

“Is something wrong with your noodles?” Jun asked. Was that concern on their face? Confusion? Fear? How long had I been staring at my noodles lost in thought?

Lost echoed in my mind.

“Bathroom,” I muttered, then left the table.

I studied my reflection and found every freckle, every hair, every scar exactly where I expected. Something still felt wrong. I splashed water on my face, gripped the edge of the sink, tried desperately to convince myself I was more than a ghost.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox