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Art by Melissa Mead

I is for Inertia

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.

I see Millie at the bus stop every morning. She's there when I arrive, knitting something shapeless that she never seems to finish. When my bus pulls up, she glances at the destination ticker, shakes her head, and goes back to her yarn. She had cats, but they're all dead now. A man at the stop asked about them last week. Yet fur clings to her black pea coat, and probably always will.
I see her every morning, but I forget her every day. Filing is dull, but it requires focus. So do phone calls, travel arrangements, and ordering lunch for a conference room full of wankers. I asked for mustard, not mayo, sweetheart. Didn't you write it down? My Ph.D. in medieval studies means nothing here, but admittedly, it means nothing most places. I doodle swords in my day planner and dream of peasant uprisings. I asked for cows, not pigs, wench. Grow thee a brain.
At night, when I get off the bus, Millie is still at the bus stop. Or maybe she's there again. She's wearing different clothes under her cat-marked coat, and knitting something shapeless in a different color. I will forget all about her by the time I get home.
Except tonight I've got a mustard stain on my best blouse, a papercut on my thumb, and the bitter tang of entitlement on my tongue.
I sit next to Millie. I'm obviously not the first person who has done so, because she starts talking right away.
"I'm waiting for a bus. A special bus," she says. "Don't know which one. Don't know the number or the line. But when it pulls up to the stop, I'll know it's the right bus. Magic, they say. Take me somewhere glorious. Somewhere I get respect, where children are grateful for what they've been given. Where it doesn't matter how many cats I have. Maybe where the cats are in charge. Wouldn't that be a hoot and a half? Naps and toys for everyone!"
She laughs then, and I can almost see the images dancing in her head. A utopia of humans chasing feathered sticks and sleeping in piles in the sunshine. It doesn't sound too bad, actually. Then she comes back to the bus stop, back to me, and her features drift back to their normal, resolute lines.
"Bus goes a different place for each of us," she says. "When it comes, I'll be ready. No way I'm going to miss that bus, after the life I've had."
I stumble home by the flickering light of poorly maintained street lamps and throw some leftover tilapia in the microwave. When I try to resuscitate the fish with lemon, the juice burns the paper cut on my thumb. I squeeze the lemon until every last drop has slipped through my fingers.
I don't have any cats. I don't know how to knit. But I've been waiting for that bus just as long as Millie.
Thing is, if I'd walked, I'd probably be there already.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
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