A World of Possibility Awaits

“Grandmother, look!” Off to the side of the path they walked every morning loomed a large, white tent. It stood in stark contrast against the bleak, gray landscape ravaged by years of weather extremes that fueled famines, pandemics, and wars. “Let’s go inside.”

The woman held the child back.

Spying the pair, a man hollered, “Step right up! A world of possibility awaits.”

“I want to see!” declared the child, mesmerized by a poster of a hummingbird.

The woman covered the child’s ears. “There are no possibilities, only death,” she snapped. “You know that.”

“Yes.” The man nodded. “Still, we’re not dead yet. We have three days.”

The woman scoffed. “Some choice: die a slow death along with this world, or visit the Center in three days, and . . .” She sighed. “An ignoble end to what’s left of humankind, either way.”

He pointed to the child. “She doesn’t know?”

“No. I can’t find the words. She’s so full of life—so inquisitive, caring, optimistic, kind. She’s a force of nature, this one, and she deserves better, but we can’t survive on her will to live alone.”

“Why not allow our simple sideshow acts to entertain you until then?”

“Your distractions will change nothing.”

“No, but perhaps you should let her have this.”

The child pulled away, tugging her grandmother toward the entrance. “Come on!”

“Alright, alright.”

Inside, the tent was enormous. The center corridor extended farther than they could see, with openings lining each side. People were coming and going, chattering among themselves about the marvels they had witnessed, things adults barely remembered and children knew only from stories.

In the first room, they watched in awe as spiders wove their webs. In another, seeds sprouted from rich, dark soil. They grew into plants that produced fragrant flowers, delicious vegetables, and luscious fruits. The child liked daisies and peaches the best but didn’t care for broccoli. In the next room, bees pollinated flowers and produced honey. “This is good!” the child squealed, when offered a taste. Further on, they saw birds build nests, hatch eggs, and teach their young to fly and sing.

They wound their way through the tent, and in each room were given glimpses of nature as it was, before it was spoiled by recklessness and greed. The grandmother wondered how it could be that everything appeared as if it was happening in real time; the child absorbed it all.

When they reached the end, the child asked, “Can we go again?”

“I’m afraid not,” the attendant said. “It’s time for you to go home.”

Hand in hand, they emerged with the other explorers—into a lush, welcoming world teeming with possibilities.

“How can this be?” the grandmother inquired. “How long were we inside?”

“Long enough for the world to heal.”

“Why us?”

“Them.” The attendant nodded at the children. “You’re right. They deserve better, and they need you to help them build a future. Teach them to do things right this time.”

Burn Baby, Burn

We stand under the air-conditioned vents and watch from our enclosed bubbles as the most powerful human stands outside among the sun’s hellfire, hand-like rays punching him.

“Give it up for the Great, the Spectacular Titus,” Lew Graham screams through the speakers. He emerges from his broadcast booth in yellow coveralls with a radiation shield strapped to his head. Hands raised in the air, he prances around the arena. We throw our heads back and chant, “Titus, Titus.” The vents send an echo across the sheltered arena.

The timer above Titus displays the nine minutes he’s stood with us, muscles taut. A record. Even Oil Can Harry, dubbed the great Helios by his stans, can’t withstand the unfiltered sun for more than eight minutes and forty-five seconds. And that’s because of his mutant abilities from surviving an exploding oil catch can. Titus doesn’t need his armor of patchwork skin and scar tissue.

Myra leans in forward until her nose presses against the insulated glass. I yank her back by her shirt’s collar. While we’re safe inside, the glass isn’t foolproof. I’ve seen parents throw their howling children over their shoulders and carry them to the medical tent, palms cinched from pressing on the glass for too long.

When he hits ten minutes, a chirp sounds, and Titus bounces his pecs. Left, right, left. White flecks of skin fall off. His black skin now pockmarked and maroon. Surrounded by nothing except the glass ring filled with spectators, he shines under the light like an organism under a stethoscope. Beads of sweat drip down his forehead, past his chin, and onto the cracked earth. I see his eyes squint against the sun’s glare. We all do and crane our necks forward, faces inches away from the glass.

We watch him bend his shoulder blades inward and turn his head away from the eye of our monster. He bites his blistered lips, shriveled and purple from the sun, and clenches his hands into fists. Parents cover their children’s eyes with their hands and press them close to their bodies.

Inside the tinted announcer box, Lew holds fast to the doorknob. Head tilted to the side, he waits for his earpiece to give him the signal. Lew’s the closest to Titus, and the first to see him start to shake— his body spasming from the heat—tears prickling in the corner of his  eyes.

Finally, he gets the okay and flings open the door. But before it swings shut behind him, Titus’s knees buckle. We suck in a breath. I grab Myra and pull her toward the exit.

When we reach the tunnels, I hear the audience roar behind us. We turn. Titus stands tall, hands clasped in victory. The sun basks him in a halo of light.

Dear Beloved Sister

Dear Beloved Sister,

I write from the center of attention at the 136th show of our Cirqueau, with my 136th letter to you.

I’m sitting in a new booth, marked a sideshow just yesterday. Upper Command thought it best that no one observe an abomination of a girl like me for too long.

Yet the spectators stare, eyes mesmerized by the reflection of ink on paper. The shapes of my letters are foreign, so different from the standardized typeface the rest are required to use, often with the assistance of aI-WRiTe.

There is a lost art in each stroke of my pen. The spectators see it too. Their longing reaches through the glass and nearly takes hold of my words: I wish to tell my story, too. I wish to write like you do. The Cirqueau offers them a place for such imaginations, but as you know a coveted spot in our show is only reserved for those who pass the TEST—the talent examination.

As I have done for the past 135 letters, I will describe the most interesting of the spectators.

Tonight, there is a girl around your age who reminds me of a young woman I once saw in an old photograph from the Archives. Under this photograph was her last letter. The political climate of the Polar Era caused the writer much psychological distress. She could not determine who she was, as she was always trying to appease others, especially those with radically different viewpoints. She became all those views and lost herself within them. She wrote, “I feel like the greatest liar on Earth.” At this stage, what is Earth anymore? She is a lie herself.

The girl is pounding on the glass now. I cannot hear her through the soundproofed booth. She should leave soon, intermission is ending.

She speaks, her mouth forming the same words in circles. The other spectators head back to the Cirqueau tent, occasionally looking over their shoulders at this funny girl’s commotion.

She continues to hit the glass, sending a quiver down my booth. She might break in. Something is not quite right. Hold on, Sister.

She is saying, “I am the greatest liar on Earth.” This is fitting, at the greatest show on Earth. I believe her.

Two officers have just come up behind her. Their presence makes her bang on the glass more furiously. The ground is shaking beneath me, yet there is not a crack to be seen.

The officers steal her hands. The Earth rumbles.

Do you feel the end coming up on you?

The spectators outside fall, and the ground opens up to swallow them.

At least there is water below. I hope there is, anyhow. It may be all dried up.

Now, I will fall too.


It’s funny what people don’t mind when they know they’ve only got so much time left.

Normally, when I swallow swords and hook wires through my nose and out my mouth, they gag. Or they puke on my shoes. Which makes sense. Most people don’t think about swallowing dangerous objects, let alone see it happen. Under normal circumstances, their reaction is a combination of horror and curiosity. Mainly horror.

The day the Sondering Circus went to the Splinter Dimension, there was almost none of that.

We didn’t have time to set up our usual big-top tent, because the dimension was going to collapse in less than twelve hours. But we set our caravan of fancy wagons into a semicircle and drew a nice bonfire. It was enough for the locals who’d braved the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado to see our show.

The rest was up to us.

After our leader, the faceless Magician, did a small act with roses and doves, Celia juggled alongside Benny and Belial, our clown duo. Joseph, our tattooed strongman, lifted our wagons one by one over his head, which impressed the crowd. He was followed by our contortionists, The Medusa Sisters, who were then followed by Dax, our slackline walker.

Then there was me.

No crowd were as wonderstruck as the Splinter folks. They never averted their eyes, as if they couldn’t get enough. It didn’t matter what I swallowed or what I threaded through me. Each daring act was a miracle.

In the Sondering Circus, we have an unspoken rule that whoever gets the most applause does the encore. That evening, the encore was mine. Ordinarily, I swallow an unusual object. I’ve got a whole bag of fun stuff for such a performance. But before I could reach for it, the Magician stopped me.

“What is it?” I asked.

He pulled something out of his red robe— a ball painted to resemble Earth.

“This? You sure?”

A nod was his only response. He rarely ever spoke and he never unmasked himself. It didn’t matter, I always trusted his judgement.

I held out the Earth for all to see. Every heart in the crowd seemed to stop when they realized what would happen next.

The Earth slid down my throat.

My gulp might as well have been a gunshot. Every person jolted, as if the world had ended right then and there. Before they could fret too much, I regurgitated the Earth and presented it to them, intact and unchanged. It reflected the sun’s dying light as their bittersweet smiles tore at my heart.

Our eyes were blinded by their annihilation as we transported back to our dimension.

That same annihilation will find us one of these days. When it does, I’ll swallow and bring back the Earth one last time. If nothing else, to tell the universe that life is as inevitable as death.


I don’t believe in what the circus is trying to peddle. It’s always been smoke and mirrors, even when wonder and joy weren’t part of the charade. It’s obscene to spend any money on pleasure these days, but it’s Ivory’s birthday and she wanted to see the elephant. I try not to flinch when the animal emerges, all bones and sinew held together by piles of falling flesh. She squeals with high-pitched joy when the beast totters. I hoist her up in my arms and try to pretend this is the world I wanted to bring a daughter into.

When the showman pulls the elephant away, the crowds dissipate, trailing into the sideshow tents. “Mommy!” Ivory cries, squirming in my arms. I grab her hand right before she darts off, and she huffs, but pulls me at a more sedated pace.

“…than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” intones another showman, as we join a small cluster of people. The man steps to the side to raucous applause, and behind him, a curtain parts to reveal a dazzling and disturbing woman. Her eyes are the color of slate by a river, and her dark hair is braided down to her knees. But what stops my gaze are the rivulets of scar tissue, starting at the line of her lips and cascading down her front like a gauzy veil.

“I present,” the man announces, “Claudia! The woman who can drink rainwater!”

I frown. Smoke and mirrors, I remind myself. No one can drink rainwater, not anymore. The man hefts a bucket up by the handle, hauling it onto a platform.

“This water was collected during the last monsoon.” He plucks his glove off to show four fingers, the scarred joints stiff and unmoving. With no hesitation, he dips his index finger into the bucket. The crowd stands at attention. When he pulls the appendage out, the skin is red and raw, already weeping and starting to blister.

He smiles, though his lips are tight. “And now, Claudia will demonstrate her undeniable talent.”

Claudia’s smile pulls at the scar tissue on her face. She grabs the bucket between slender hands and hauls it up to her lips. I can’t stop my sharp inhale when she tips the bucket, thin trails of corrosive water pouring down her gullet and falling down her front. Even Ivory is stock-still against me.

The skin around her mouth begins to steam, as though she were hot metal and not flesh. She swallows, and when she opens her mouth wider, I spot the angry flesh inside, scoured and pockmarked.

When she finishes, she throws the bucket to the side like a plaything. And then she turns to face us, her slate gray eyes stark against the devastation of her skin. I want to scream. I want to cover Ivory’s eyes. But I can’t look away.

Smoke and mirrors, I remind myself.

Memory Credit Card

The year is 2200 where money is valueless, and memories are priceless. They have become the most valuable currency, traded and exchanged in markets, auctions, and more. People own and carry devices allowing them to store and capture memories, changing and upgrading them into tangible assets—the richer the memories, the wealthier the individual is.

Sasha, a young woman living with five other roommates in her New York City apartment, depressed, finds herself intrigued by this system. When she was little, she had always been fascinated by the idea of sharing experiences. Memories were the ultimate form of connection. Now she rolls her eyes when the silly memory comes to her. She’s walking through the Memory Market on an early Sunday afternoon, and as she approaches one of the booths, she notices a distant figure in a dark coat. The figure seems to radiate an aura of mystery, one that scents the air with forgotten tales and hidden recollections. She goes to approach the figure. As she gets closer, Sasha realizes that it‘s an older man with more warts on his face than features. He has something tucked away under his coat, and when she approaches him, he cautiously reveals it. The man tells her that what he holds in his hands is a device that able to extract memories from the deepest parts of someone’s mind.

Intrigued, Sasha decides to trade some of her most cherished memories for the strange device. She watches as the man clicks on the machine and sees shimmering memories transfer from her mind to the device. The man then transfers those memories to himself before handing her the device and walking away.

With her newly found and totally safe device, Sasha goes around exploring the market, carelessly trading tales of love, adventure, and heartbreak. She loves immersing herself in the lives of complete strangers, which is probably why she’s gullible enough to approach one and give away significant parts of herself. The market has become a garden of shared experiences to her, where she values each memory not just for its richness, but because it gives her new connections. She also learns of the system’s fragility.

She learns while some people hoard their memories for wealth, others cling to the past, grasping onto nostalgia and ignoring the present. Despite what others will think of her and the deal with the strange, ugly man, Sasha believes in the value of shared memories over the wealth of richer ones. In a world where memories are currency, Sasha makes every exchange of human connection valuable, receiving a wealth of diverse experiences that are priceless.

The Eye of Alice

Money made the world go round, but memories make the world a sphere. 

When they first were able to exchange memories for currency, everyone was excited. How could they not be? Trade in a traumatic memory and get paid for it? People couldn’t wait! Every single person was cashing out, especially with traumatic memories, or Traumemories. The adrenaline rush of hyper-awareness was the world’s new cup of coffee. The wealthy got addicted to the rush that came with the fight-or-flight reactions from a Traumemory—without having to actually be in a dangerous situation. What they didn’t tell you about were the side effects; they only told you about the substantial checks. 

Alice was born with the eye and mind of a creative, and she had the hand, ear, and eye coordination to create anything. She was able to make any of her thoughts into something beautiful: poetry, short stories, drawing, painting, sculpting, music—if it had anything to do with creativity, she would do it.

When memories became the new currency, Alice felt a sense of urgency to learn how to earn a decent wage without giving up her memorable moments. More and more stores and businesses were quickly switching to monetization of the mind. Fortunately, people started paying Alice with their memories. She became quite successful despite the lack of cash flow in the world; people would pay her to own a piece of her visions and to hear her play music and serenade them. Each new memory was an interestingly different perception of life, and Alice would create art from every memory that society would supply.

Life was great until the day she almost died in a car accident and was trapped in critical condition. The doctors gave Alice her options: live out the rest of her days on life support or be put in a Med-Bay and walk out of the hospital that day. A no-brainer, right? She chose the Med-Bay, but she had insufficient funds to pay—unless she exchanged some of her memories away. 

“Traumemories pay the best,” the doctor said.

So that’s what she chose. Unable to remember her accident, Alice went all the way back to her most traumatic experience as a kid and exchanged it.

A few hours later, Alice was healed and back home in her studio, wanting to create something—anything—but she didn’t feel that spark like before. 

“I’ll just wait; it’s probably a side effect of the Med-Bay.”

Days, weeks, then months passed… 

The creative seed seemed to be gone.

Alice forgot how her most traumatic memory was the catalyst that had her crafting and creating in the first place. 

“There has to be a way to get my memory back!” 

Or was it too late? 

The Art of Remembrance

Vista Concepción was seldom seen, but when she was, she was always with her paintbrush, which emerged from her fist like a gnarled finger. Her sole company in her moldy apartment was her belongings—hoarded, imbued with memories of her lifetime, and huddled together like cold children.

Vista wasn’t interested in portraits, still lives, or even the view outside her window. She preferred painting her memories. Her paintbrush was the only souvenir from her childhood. Its body was splintered and haphazardly carved with her name: Vista. A view, sight, vision. Something to behold. She liked to think she and her paintbrush were connected by fate, destined to transform blank slates into unforgettable art.

Currently, she was trying to capture the exact shade of pink the sunrise cast over her family’s farm. She couldn’t go back to witness it; her motherland was seduced by the lucrative industry of Memory Itemization, and her childhood home, once teeming with life, was now punctured by the blank faces of factories.

Vista nearly tossed the wet paintbrush in a violent streak across the canvas. She once made a humble living. People loved the realism of her watercolor landscapes. Now, with purchasable memories, no one wanted replicas. Art was a dying trade, and Vista, unable to let go of the past, often went hungry.

As her stomach growled, the unfortunate truth settled: memory is also a replica of the past. Everyone had convinced themselves that purchased memories portray the indisputable truth. Vista, too, had convinced herself that hoarding every afterimage got her one step closer to her past—but to remember is to constantly repaint a hazy ghost. Each time she conjured the fields of her childhood, the smell of cream skimmed off the top of fresh milk, and the laughter of her family, it moved her further away from the material truth.

If only there was a way to remember exactly as things were, without loss.

Remember. Each syllable reverberated like a clock striking midnight. Inspiration attached itself like a weed taking root straight to Vista’s heart. She began her work.

The Memory Liquidator hesitantly ducked under the caution tape. He’d been consulted for bizarre estate sales before, but nothing like this.

They found the woman’s body fused to her chair, and her hands fused to two bloody canvases. Police informed him that she attached herself with industrial-grade glue, but this was hardly the worst sight. Items were grafted into her scalp and skin, creating grotesque appendages. Her apartment was disgustingly cluttered, yet everything was linked to her limbs, fastened with zip ties, leaving her body a mangled amalgam of accumulation.

What struck the Liquidator most was the removal of her left breast, and the replacement of an old paintbrush shakily sewn to her skin, as if skimming the fat allowed the paintbrush closer access to her heart. A smile still graced her face. Every item here was tinged with deadly memories; nothing could be sold or taken from her, exactly as she wished.