“You’ve been doing a wonderful job for us, and we’d like to offer you a promotion.”

The memo on her desk did not state her name or who it was from, but Madeline appreciated the sentiment. She rather wished the document went into more details as to the nature of her advancement, but she would not complain. She would just keep doing what she was doing, because it seemed to be woking.

“I got a promotion today,” she told her partner, who improvised a quick celebration.

“Don’t lift a finger. Let me handle everything.”

An hour later, they were eating cake and frosting from two distinct piles, and they opened the bottle of wine they were given when they moved in together.

“Where are they putting you?”

She was already in a supervisory role. As the head of engineering, she really wasn’t sure what more she could be doing. “The next step up, I guess.”

She didn’t mention the promotion to her department. They performed a solid day’s work, and she was the orchestrator. She stayed late organizing invoices. By the time she was finished, Mr. Gerkin had already gone home.

“We haven’t discussed the details yet, but I’ll talk to my boss soon.”

“Don’t let them jerk you around like that. You go in tomorrow and you find out what’s going on.”

Mr. Gerkin looked surprised to see her when he came in and saw her in his office. She showed him the memo.

“Thank you for all your hard work. You’re the only one I can trust.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Who’s watching your department while you’re here?”

Madeline wasn’t sure. Mr. Gerkin gasped and jumped into the hall, now flooded in a thick black liquid. It continued to rise, over their heads.

“So, about my promotion…”

The other people on the train had no faces. Their conversations were not made of words, but overlapping differently colored noise, looped in waves of approval. They were cardboard cutouts, animatronic puppets there to give a sense of legitimacy to the whole enterprise. Only one seat remained. Leslie went straight for it and fell immediately asleep.

Ezekiel stood and surfed with the curves of the rails. On occasion, he had to take a step forward or back to maintain his balance, and sometimes he was knocked to the ground by a sudden stop. He bumped against a couple with their lips locked against the other’s. The heads came off together, and the hydraulics behind them continued to pump and gyrate.

“Excuse me,” Ezekiel muttered, propping them back on their perch. The train lurched to the left and to the right until he admitted to himself that he had to hold onto something, lest he end up in someone’s lap.

When he held onto the pole, the train seemed stopped. He felt foolish clutching so tight, but he had nothing else to steady him. He was on display. The audience was trying to ignore him, which only made him more self-conscious. They looked in no direction without faces, all facing the center where he was dancing. They were not looking at him. They were not looking at anything. They were incapable.

Leslie sat in the corner, asleep. Ezekiel told her she had the right to remain silent, and that anything she said could be used against her in a court of law. She had the right to an attorney.

Some of the cutouts scoffed and sputtered. One of them spit in his direction, though it was just a malfunction. Ezekiel had a conversation.

Because he had invested everything he had and several hundred thousand dollars besides in what had been all but proven impossible, Lowell was getting desperate. He hadn’t even proven the theory, and in a month, he was supposed to have a working prototype of what was basically a science fiction premise.

“I guess you’re pretty upset right now,” he heard himself say. “Don’t worry, I’m here to help you.”

Seeing himself standing there was an immediate relief, proof that he would succeed in his research.

“Go get a pen and a video camera,” his future self dictated. “And remember everything I’ve said so far. Don’t take your eyes off me. Remember everything I do.”

Lowell understood. In order to preserve the fabric of the universe, he would have to act exactly as his future self acted when in the future that was him. One word out of place, one extra breath, and reality could fall apart. His future self was being careful, not making any sudden movements. Lowell would have to be that still, too.

“Try to relax,” his future self said, though he sounded like he was just saying the words. Once Lowell had the camera set up, he sat in his most plush office chair. He noticed, his future self looked more nervous and uncomfortable than he did.

“I’m going to help you relax,” he heard himself say, gritting his teeth. He watched himself get to his knees. He rubbed Lowell’s thigh and unbuttoned his pants. “I’ve never done this before, but I have to.” He took Lowell’s still flaccid penis into his mouth and rubbed it with his tongue. Lowell didn’t try to stop him. The universe depended on it.

“Pay attention,” his future self said. Lowell closed his eyes. He would figure it out.

A nice breakfast would work. She woke up especially early to mix dough for the cinnamon wheels, which were his favorite. Her recipe used yeast, so she had to start it several hours in advance. With that time, she could finish cleaning the kitchen, the bathroom, all her favorite parts of the house, where she was so lucky to live.

She was scrubbing the floor when her uncle bellowed, “What’s all the racket? Don’t you know I’m trying to sleep?” He was standing behind her, red-faced and unmade. Tabitha could think of nothing to say more articulate than “I’m sorry.” When she said it, her uncle mocked her, “I’m sorry,” and stomped off back to his room.

When the rolls were in the oven, Uncle Bert came out again. “I’m late for work. I have to go. Try to do something productive today, huh?”

“Oh. I made cinnamon buns. They’ll be done in a minute.”

Her uncle smirked in exasperation. “Sure, I’ll tell that to my boss. Sorry I couldn’t get to work on time, my niece insisted I eat junk food. Are you trying to embarrass me?”

Tabitha lowered her head and swallowed. “I’ll save them for you.”

“Don’t bother. They’re only good warm.”

She watched his car drive out down the gravel path. She’d have to spend the rest of the day figuring out an appropriate apology for wasting all that flour and butter, which isn’t free. Not to mention the rat poison. She was really sorry to have wasted that.

As soon as he got to work, Trevor would ask him what he thought of the movie. He had been insistent that he see it, and had even bought him tickets. Two tickets in fact, though Jacob hadn’t used either. While he had had every intention of upending his life last night for the light, affirming conversation they were supposed to have this morning, Jacob couldn’t push himself out the door when the time had come.

He leaned on the door to the lobby, preparing himself before going in. He pulled the door and stepped inside.

“Did you love it?” Trevor asked. “Wasn’t it something else?”

“It was alright,” Jacob replied, trying to seem evasive. A neutral opinion seemed best. If he said he loved it, Trevor would want to commiserate over favorite moments, and if he hated it, he would have to defend his position. Apathy needed little proof.

“‘Alright,’” Trevor repeated, scoffing. Jacob shrugged.

“You know, it was well-made, but predictable.” This seemed safe. Most movies were well-made and predictable. “Thanks for the tickets.”

“No problem,” Trevor said. The way he said it sounded like a problem. They rode the elevator up seven floors, not talking about the movie. As they dinged to a stop, Trevor waited behind, curtseying for Jacob to go first.

Jacob stumbled out, all the way to his desk. He heard Trevor talking.

“I guess I was wrong. I didn’t like it. Jacob said it was boring.”

He felt like he should say something, but he couldn’t.

“What should I have for lunch today, Jacob? Should I eat the sandwich I packed, or something more exotic?”

Jacob promised himself that he would see the movie soon. As soon as it wasn’t important.

Congratulations on your new pet fish! Though you can’t necessarily “pet” them, goldfish can still be fun and rewarding friends for you and your whole family. As long as you feed it and keep its water clean, your goldfish will prove a faithful companion for years to come.

These precious, metallic fish friends have long been popular among city dwellers who have neither time, space or energy to devote to another creature, yet who still want to feel their lives matter to someone. Your goldfish will swish around excitedly every time it sees you approach, and when you pinch some food into its bowl, it will not know the difference between hunger and love. Despite what people say, goldfish remember what they want to remember, and once it realizes you are keeping it alive, it will remember you. You have power over life! You’re important! The goldfish thinks so.

Always make sure your goldfish has clean water. Your new “pet” is a very good listener, but it can’t complain when it’s uncomfortable. When you’re unhappy, you can take steps to improving your situation. You can eat a candy bar or a box of donuts. You can smoke a cigarette or down a bottle of spirits. You can buy a goldfish! Your goldfish has no such luxury, and if you forget about it for even a day, it will be suspended in a tank of horror, starving, soaking and breathing in its own leftover filth, with no possible escape. Worst of all, it will think you’ve stopped caring about it. In its last clogged and painful gasp, it will think of your best moments together, and regret that it couldn’t keep you interested.

Try singing to your goldfish! Take off your clothes and feel comfortable! Don’t you love it?

Though the caravan was lined with lights in all manner of color and size, they did little to clarify the evening. Glorn could not see far, and he could not hold his hand over his eyes to find the balance between glare and dim. His hands were secured over his head. He could break the rope at any time, and he took comfort in the thought, but it was just a thought. A number of baseballs struck him in the chest from where he could not see.

“This brute comes from a race that doesn’t feel pain, so throw as hard as you can!” Edgar announced. The balls seemed to come in a quicker rhythm. Their impact was not precise enough to be a massage, but Glorn was not uncomfortable.

“Eight hundred years ago, these monsters were employed by the great Genghis Khan in his takeover of The Far East, until they threatened to take over themselves. Your abuse, ladies and gentlemen, is all that is keeping this one docile. Three balls for just one dollar! Five swings of the the whip for ten!”

A child stood on the platform behind him, with his father. Glorn heard the three of them talking — Edgar and the customers — about the proper technique and protocol for whip swinging.

“The follow-through is important. Think about where the tip is headed.”

Edgar demonstrated with a strike of his own, well-practiced. No one would hit hard enough if he didn’t show them that they could.

The boy’s attempts were sloppy and soft. Edgar told him to try a few more times.

“I think that’s enough.”

“No, Dad, he likes it!”

The whip snapped just once more, and the baseballs stopped coming. Glorn snarled at the empty fairground.

“Pervert!” someone shouted.

It kept him docile.