Short Story

Briana Luck: “Rebirth”


A glassy, lifeless eyeball stared right at me. My boots crunched wetly underneath the muddy ground. Oh, there it is. The other eyeball was tucked behind his grotesque, spindly arm. His right arm was missing too. I clicked my tongue. It must’ve been the minefield that got him then. A real shame––just more work for me.

My eyes watered as the tang of rotting meat hit first.

I whipped my body around to see the straggling form of a decomposing corpse. He was inches away from me, with the speed of a tortoise. Why the hell was this one moving? I don’t get paid enough to clean up the mobile ones. The mutation didn’t set into him as badly as it did the others. Well, aside from the blackened, decaying teeth and the massive green, pus-filled welts along his skin.

He dragged his crooked knees closer. Now it smelled like a damn sewer. I had to prop him back with the long end of my grabber and crinkled my nose. The rancid odor of him became increasingly pungent. His disgusting teeth gnashed desperately at the air. Yellowish saliva dripped down onto my staff. It sizzled and burned through the wood.

The most notable part about him was his hair.

After all this time, he still managed to keep a voluminous set of golden locks on top of his head. If he was still alive, he much resembled someone I knew in the finances department of my old firm. I recognized that square jaw and pair of deep set eyes. And of course, that golden hair. Noah Johnson. Fucking, Noah Johnson.

Noah claimed to be a feminist. It was an office party. He didn’t drink an ounce of alcohol that night. I caught his face stuck to a very drunk Lindsay Brown in the hallway. Yeah, he was a real feminist.

The mutant reached out for me with his long, green fingers. He was wild, desperate. Like a kid trying to reach for the cookie jar. I was his mean mom, not letting him get his cookie. My arms began shaking. I sucked in a breath and tucked a thick strand of dark hair behind my ear. Beads of sweat streamed down my neck as the sun beat heavily upon me.

I kicked his shin. Hard. His weak bones cracked beneath the impact. Taking the end of the grabber, I rammed it through his chest.

He shrieked, taking hold of the staff.

Of course I missed the heart. I slowly removed the staff and tried again. He wheezed one last breath and fell. Just another unmoving corpse among a sea of many. I carried him into my cart. And wiped the sweat and dirt and blood off my face.

I stared blankly at the open muddy field. “Just a few more hours of this.”


I dragged my cart, heavy with mutated parts, outside the wall. The dry and dust-ridden air stung my eyes, causing them to water.

Constructed of a grimy red metal was a wall: splotches of its surface were oxidizing purple. Made from a metal completely foreign to Earth.

I stood before the gate, also made of the same material. It rose a good five feet above me. My callused hands banged against it roughly, the metal echoing.

“Jeb? You there? I’ve been out here all day!” Nothing but silence. I slammed my fist harder. A groan escaped me. “Damn it, Jeb! I’m starving.” Another few moments passed. The gate slowly creaked open. Only halfway.

A male voice, raspy and worn, spoke. “Identification, please.”

“You already know it’s me, do we have to do this every time?” I pleaded, hearing my stomach growl.

“Well, yes.” Jeb answered.

My hands found my lanyard in the front pocket of my khaki jumpsuit; attached was a photo ID of a woman with cropped dark hair and a sharp face.

I read the card, “Daniella Chen. Janitor duty. Outer Wall B–07.” And scanned it against the pad next to the gate.

Metal creaked as the gate opened entirely, leaving a void in its wake. I stepped inside the dark hallway with my cart. Fluorescent lights flickered on. Jeb was cast in the artificial pale blue hue of them.

Upon first glance, Jeb looked akin to something of the Eldritch horror variety.

They all did.

Jeb towered over me with his gangly, skeletal-like frame. His hairless skin was the shade of mottled gray; where his eyes should have been were dark, hallowed out pits.

His brilliant white teeth were the most human-like––his most unsettling feature. “This is unacceptable.” Jeb said, as he shook his head.

I peered over at the cart of bodies and other parts. The bin was indeed, quite swampy.

I said, my lip tightening into a thin line. “Listen, it’s from the rain last night. Not my fault they’re all mushed up.”

Jeb clicked his tongue. “I’m going to have to take this out of your wages.”

Sticking my hand into the slew of body parts, I brought out an eyeball. I said, “Come on, Jeb. Look at this eye. Still usable, no?”

Jeb’s long fingers reached out for it. He put the eyeball closer to his own set of dark pits. He mused, “Mmm, perhaps.”

“How long have I been working here, huh? Four years? Five?” I said, giving him an emphatic smile.

“You know I favor you, Dani. But Reyn would be most displeased with this batch.” Jeb replied mildly.

I rummaged around in my satchel. For something. Anything. I came up with an orange bottle and rattled the pills around.

I said with a forced smile, “I give you these…And you keep my wages the same for the day.”

Jeb’s jaw slackened. The slits where his nose should’ve been flared. “Are they—?” “Xannies. To take the edge off.” I grinned. This smile was genuine.

Jeb craned his head, observing the surrounding area. We were alone in the blue-light tunnel. The humming of the fluorescent lights was the only sound to be heard. I shook the bottle again. He gulped, those darkened pits of his observing the clink each tablet made.

“I know you’re closeted. And I know how hard these are to come by. So, what will it be?” I said, extending my hand forward with the bottle.

Jeb’s claws swiped the pills. He put the bottle inside his right eye socket, smiling so wide I could see all of his dentist white teeth. Jeb asked, “How shall I deal with Reyn then, hm?” I shrugged. “She’s kind of a bitch, so like, beats me.”

Jeb’s body tightened at the insult. I detached the small flask from my belt and took a swig. The lukewarm water was a welcome feeling against my parched, cracking lips. “She ain’t here so don’t worry about it.”

I chuckled and thumped his bony arm playfully. It’s where Jeb’s shoulder would be were he a normal height. He sighed. “She is, indeed––unpleasant to be around.”

“Well, if you don’t need anything else.” I said, attaching the flask to my belt. “I’m gonna clock out.”

Jeb looked over my batch one last time. He said carefully, “Yes, everything looks to be in proper order.” The pills jangled around in his socket. “I’ll see you at temple tomorrow?” His fingers go into the pouch attached to his side. Jeb dropped three silver tablets into my palm.

I blinked indifferently and said, “Sure. Like every week.” I paused before adding, “Thank you.”

Jeb picked at his grotesque nails nervously. He whispered, “How did you––”

I overheard you and Zira practicing English. There’s no shame in it.” I replied matter-of-factly. A few years back, the Confederation prohibited the use of any human language.

Jeb shook his head, not understanding. “Could you help teach me?”

I studied my dry, flaky cuticles. “Uh, I don’t know. It’s not really worth the risk.” Jeb said, “I’ll raise your wages. It’ll be from my own pocket.”

You got yourself a deal.” I put out my hand. He left it there, untouched.

Those dark pits stared back, blankly. “What did you say?”

I grinned. “It means that you better prepare to raise my pay soon.”


The bazaar was more crowded than usual today. Young human kids ran through the market, laughing. A pot-bellied, green skinned man stormed after them: smoke spewed from his pointed ears. An older human couple kept to themselves in hushed whispers. A towering brown furred woman brushed past. Mostly humans, their demeanors dull, walked through the outdoor marketplace.

A body slammed into me. It was a thick, one-eyed man with a full, bushy beard. He scowled. “Are you blind, woman?” He looked as if he could be a sumo wrestler, or maybe the WWE?

I met his glare with a measured stare and said, “It was an accident.”

The man inched close enough to where I could smell the stench of his breath. Alcohol. “Nah, you did that on purpose. You lookin’ for trouble.” His voice slurred as he cracked his knuckles.

“Look, I’m not really in the mood to get into all of this.” I tucked my hands into the pockets of my cargos. “So let’s just––”

The man swung at my face before I could finish. I took the full brunt of the punch, hard enough that the pain lingered. My teeth clenched and a snarl escaped me.

I countered with a knee to his stomach. The man stumbled backwards. He glowered, spitting into the ground. He sneered, “You people are like parasites.”

A small crowd formed around us, curious. Some offered nervous glances.

Rage crashed into me like a wave. I seethed, “We’re the parasites?” My heartbeat was pounding against my eardrums. “Who brought the disease that fucked the human race over? Now most of us walk the Earth like braindead monsters.”

A few humans in the crowd murmured their agreement. The other aliens hurled dirty looks my way. The one-eyed brute readied to throw another punch. I curled my fists defensively, preparing for more blows.

Before another scuffle ensued, a male voice shouted, “Wait!”

We both turned to see a feathered man with the head of a bird. His beady, avian-like eyes welled with concern. The bird man said, “I apologize on behalf of my partner. He’s usually a very mellow guy.”

The one-eyed man swayed on his feet. He breathed, “Not now, babe. Not before I beat this human girl to a pulp.”

The bird man took his lover’s arm and began dragging him away. He puffed out his chest feathers and announced, “We’re going home, Astarius.” He threw me another apologetic glance. “He’s just going through a lot right now.”

I murmured under my breath. “We all are.”

Cradling the spot where the one-eyed man hit me, I sighed. This was definitely going to bruise. The sun barely dipped below the horizon. I sucked in a breath and closed my eyes. The evening air was crisp and refreshing. It held the aroma of spices and smoking meat.

I focused on the vendors that lined the streets. Dreamy tangerine hues were cast onto the booths. A wooden stand draped with teal tapestries embellished with gold caught my eye. I found myself at that stand.

The vendor offered a kind smile. Her teeth were jagged, like a shark. She was so short I could barely see her head over the table. Massive, pointed ears protruded from her bald head. Her skin was a scaly, purplish-blue. Her eyes were yellow, with dark slits akin to a reptile. Magrival was one of them.

My stomach rumbled something awful. Mag sold exotic fruits.

Most importantly, human fruit.

I picked up a golden mango. “How much for this, Mag?”

She opened with blandly. “You know it was an accident, when we brought the lusus fever over here. We were already immune.”

I was too tired to argue, so I ignored her. “How much?” Thumbing my way across the other fruits I eyed: apples, strawberries, and bananas.

“You can’t afford it.” She said, the slits in her yellow eyes narrowing.

“Name the price. We could always strike a sort of deal, you know.” I tossed the mango in the air and caught it.

Mag pursed her lips. “Six silver tablets.”

I raised an eyebrow. “It was one silver before.”

She crossed her little arms together and said, “That was before they raised the vendor tax.”

I set the mango down. “Right.”

“But right now I can make a special deal for you. I’ll give you three pygews for one silver.”

Pygews were fruit from Magrival’s planet. They looked like shriveled blue bananas and tasted like chalk. I said, “Maybe another time. Thanks.”

“They also have healing properties. Good for physical injuries.” Mag stared pointedly at the bruise starting to purple under my eye.

“Ah, what the hell.” I muttered and slammed the silver tablet onto Mag’s table.

Mag placed the pygews in a plastic bag, her sharp teeth flashing broadly. “You’re my favorite human customer.”


My apartment complex was tucked away in a shoddy little alleyway next to the bazaar.

Puddles of murky water were scattered across the concrete floor.

Someone in the neighborhood was blasting Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”.

When it came to human music the Confederation only allowed classical to be played. In front of me waddled a little old woman, my landlady, Rora. The contents of the paper bag she held soared a good two inches above her small reptilian head. Rora’s lizard tail shot up in surprise as she stumbled, her groceries falling onto the floor.

I stopped to pick them up, glancing at the alien fruits and vegetables. But she also had human fruit, three mangoes caught my eye. They were bruised from the fall, but still good.

I carefully pocketed one of her mangoes.

Rora regarded me warmly. Or at least, that’s what her nearly crocodilian face looked like.

She bowed her head and said, “Gratitude.” Her green eyes sparked with recognition. “You remind me of the young China woman who cleans my room on Tuesdays.”

I said, shuffling my feet. “I’m Taiwanese. But, thanks?”

“Apologies. You humans all look the same to me.” Rora replied, taking a mango from her bag. She held it out.

“Are you sure?” I couldn’t stifle my shock. “Those are really expensive.”

She blinked. “I am quite sure.”

I grabbed the prized fruit and plopped it into my plastic bag, smiling as Rora hobbled into her room nearby, knowing I now had two mangoes––free of charge.

The newspaper was left on our doormat; I shoved it in my pocket. My apartment door failed to budge. The key fought against me when I plunged it inside the knob. It finally opened with a loud groan from the rusted hinges. The most familiar odor the room took on was mildew and the fresh scent of rain. Its walls were eggshell white, yellowing and cracking on the edges.

I turned to the kitchen and put the fruits down onto the table. The 90’s lemon yellow wallpaper was barely on its last legs, peeling and faded, against the kitchen walls. I heard a drip. The metal bucket next to the shoe rack was starting to overflow. We used it to catch the leak seeping through the moldy roof. I grabbed the bucket and dumped it outside.

Some of that water soaked my shoe.

“Shit.” I placed the bucket in its usual place and went back inside. My wet shoes sopped into the musty, stained carpet of the room. I kicked them off and bounced onto our two piece leather sofa. The leather: old and peeling and cracking. My eyes went to our sagging ceiling, the pool of brown looked bigger today. Instead of the size of a pond, it looked more like a lake. I turned my face towards the cushions, breathing in the smell of burnt nachos. Shutting my eyes, I imagined the ceiling collapsing onto me. Finally, being granted a peaceful rest.

Someone had burst through the door like a madman. I instantly jolted awake. My muscles relaxed as I saw who it was.

Wesley Hayes was a man in his fifties with dark brown skin: he was my roommate and a good friend.

He kept his graying locs in a loose bun today. His tall stature, broad shoulders, and thick neck made it easy to assume he was an athlete in a past life. Wes claimed he was an actor on Broadway, but I never saw any of his shows to really know.

“Christ, Wes.” I groaned, slumping back onto the couch. “Why’d you have to be so loud?”

Wes had two bags: a large, beige canvas one and a smaller brown paper bag. The meaty stench of ground beef wafted in the air. I perked up like a dog. “Wha’cha got there?”

Wes put the paper bag on the coffee table in front me. “What’d I say about using the Lord’s name in vain? We talked about this.” A frown tugged at his lips.

I put my hands together in a mock prayer and looked up. “Sorry, Jesus.”

“Now that’s just fucking disrespectful.” Wes set the other bag down in the corner of the room.

I raised an eyebrow and said, “Isn’t there something in the Bible about cursing?”

Wes shrugged. “Not like I can fact check or anything.” The Confederation banned religious texts. His eyes narrowed, staring at my purpling cheek. “You got into a fight again?”

I picked at a loose thread on my shirt and muttered, “He started it.”

Wes shook his head. “One day you’re gonna pick a fight you can’t win.”


I grabbed the paper bag and lightly shook it. Grease soaked through, dripping from the bottom. Wes swiped it from me. “Ah, ah, ah.” He held it up high where I couldn’t reach. “We’re saving the best for last, birthday girl.”

Craning my head to determine what was in the bag, I asked, “Is that today?”

“Did you really forget?” Wes smiled. “You’re forty now.”

I sunk deeper into the cushions. “If I’m forty, then you’re fucking ancient.”

“Woah, there. I’m not that much older than you. But also old enough that you gotta respect me.” Wes said, a smirk forming on his lips. “You know like respecting your elders’ type of shit.”

I sat up and rubbed my temples. “God, forty. Years. Old. Guess I’ll be joining you in the retirement home soon enough.” I turned my attention to the larger bag in the room. “So what’s that then?”

Wes opened the bag. A large piece of brown cardboard slid out of it, in the shape of a man. I grinned sardonically. “Cardboard. Just what every woman my age wants.”

Wes turned the cardboard standee around.

Printed onto it was an image of Jack Black in School of Rock.

I stood up to take a better look at him. Although slightly pixelated it was still very decent quality. I beamed and grabbed Wes by the arm. “How’d you pull something like this off?” Wes winked. “Let’s just say I have my ways. And a good network.” He handed me the paper bag. “Here.”

I opened it, my fingers reaching into the depths of the bag. They met with the familiar squelch of an oily bun.

I fished out an honest to God hamburger.

It was dripping with grease––stacked together with fresh pieces of lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. And of course, melted into the meaty beef patty was a slice of all-American cheese. At the very bottom lay a bed of french fries. I grabbed a golden fry and took a small bite, savoring the saltiness and potato flavor.

I said through a mouthful of burger. “Oh my God. You sell a kidney for this or something?” The grease and sauce dripped down my palms.

Wes’s eyes shined proudly. “Of course it wasn’t easy.” He stole a french fry. “How was work today?”

“Tiring and smelly. Like everyday.” I bit into the burger, savoring the umami flavor of the patty. “Actually, I had to kill a mutant today. Kind of annoying because they definitely don’t pay me enough to do that.”

Wes plopped down next to me, the cushions deflating underneath him. He said, “I’m right then.”

“About what?” I chewed through a crunchy and fresh bit of lettuce.

“About mutants being able to reproduce asexually. How else could a living one be wandering so close to the wall?”

I scowled into my burger. “For all our sakes I hope you’re wrong.”

Wes’s eyes widened when he saw something glisten on his coat.

We both made unflinching eye contact.

He feigned a cough and turned away. I pulled his weathered trench coat towards eye level. A dollop of slimy blue goop shone at the lapels: female alien discharge. I chuckled dryly. “Reyn? That’s the last person I’d go for. Maybe Bezzy if I had to choose.”

Wes coughed and said nothing.

Bezzy had insect-like claws for hands and a large, bulbous forehead. Reyn could pass as completely human, save for her needle-like teeth and serpentine tongue.

Reaching for a fistful of fries, I put two and two together. I frowned and asked, “Did you sleep with a coworker to get a damn hamburger?”

He shook his head, his habitual lip licking betraying him. Liar. I snorted. Wes noted the small puddle of grease on the coffee table.

He said, “Come on now, we aren’t animals.”

I rolled out the newspaper in my pocket and smacked it onto the table. Grayish-brown paper soaked up the grease. The headline read: “15 Years Since The Rebirth, A Glorious Step Forward For Humanity”. I finished my burger and began licking the grease off my fingers.

On the front page of the paper was the image of the former American president, smiling forcefully as he stood next to the leader of a world alien to our own. Thallax Urien, humanoid from the waist up except for her bottom half, which was that of a snake. Urien was the High Leader of Reveria Novus, which was made up of a confederation of multiple neighboring planets. I began reading out loud: “The human race has seen much improvement over the years under the kind guidance of our allies from beyond the stars.”

It was all bullshit. But the Confederation controlled the media so it never came as a surprise anymore.

Wes peered down to take a better look. “You still reading that puff piece?”

“Nah. One sentence in and I’m bored.” I looked at the headline again. “Rebirth,” I frowned, “that’s a cute way of saying when shit hit the fan.”

I heard the crinkling of plastic in the kitchen, followed by the shrill of Wes’s high pitched voice. “How’d you get these?!”

Popping my head over the couch I said, “Rora gave them to me. You can have one.”

The clink of the metal knife reverberated against the counter. Then came the squelch of the mango skin breaking. I moseyed into the kitchen, my feet dragging behind me.

I asked, “Can you cut me the second one?”


We decided to end the night by watching TV. The screen cast our faces in a ghostly sheen, the only light in the darkness of the room. I flipped the channel to a game show, Quizhead, hosted by Xeno Purella, a fox man known for starring in the sitcom What Does The Fox Say?. Not to be confused with the song, they’re totally separate. Xeno, dressed in a green pinstripe suit, looked like he walked out of an animated film. Just as a woman with pointed ears was about to announce her guess, the screen turned black. Continual, high-pitched beeps filled the room.

Large white text against a harsh blue screen appeared on their television: “We Interrupt Your Daily Scheduled Programming For An Important Public Event.”

The patriotic anthem of the Confederation played alongside the text. I looked towards Wes who also met my gaze, our expressions grim. It was a live broadcast at what was formerly the Angel Stadium.

Instead of bringing crowds lighthearted entertainment, the stadium became a breeding ground of death.

The camera zoomed in on a kid, no older than eight or nine. The boy fidgeted nervously in place. My nails dug into the armrests of the couch, leaving behind crescent moons in the leather.

I rasped out. “They wouldn’t. That’s a child. A fucking child.”

Wes continued to watch intently, his eyes glued to the screen. Next to the kid was a lizard man. The lizard spoke as if he was delivering a speech at a corporate event. Indifferent.

“Today we’re here to witness the punishment of Caleb Lai, who has been found guilty under statute B–06 for possessing religious texts not approved by the High Priestess. The High Council has voted for stone imprisonment to be the punishment that befits the crime.”

Today, I turned forty years old. I was spoiled with burgers and french fries and mangoes. It didn’t matter anymore, as I watched the little boy become entombed in stone forever.

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