Take me to a...
Enter any portion of the author name or story title:
For more options, try our:
Sign up for free daily sci-fi!
your email will be kept private
Get a copy of Not Just Rockets and Robots: Daily Science Fiction Year One. 260 adventures into new worlds, fantastical and science fictional. Rocket Dragons Ignite: the anthology for year two, is also available!
Publish your stories or art on Daily Science Fiction:
If you've already submitted a story, you may check its:
Not just rockets & robots...
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Pick-up time at the Daycare

By day, Filip Wiltgren is a mild-mannered communication officer and lecturer. By night, he turns into a frenzied ten-fingered typist, clawing out jagged stories of fantasy and science fiction, found in lairs such as Analog, IGMS, Daily SF, and Nature Futures. His books, thoughts, email, and free stories can be found at wiltgren.com.

Dr. Octopus stomps in through the front door, the fire engine-red, reinforced steel squealing slightly in his grip. For a moment, I'm afraid the thick window-glass in the middle is about to crack.
"Sorry," he says. "Bad day."
He's tried to wash up, I can see that, but there's still dust on him, and dark stains on his green uniform. He's holding one of his two left arms curled up in a white medical sling.
"Benji," I call, "your daddy's here!"
Before Benji can arrive, the tiny brass bell above the door tinkles again, and Captain Infinity walks in from the dark playground.
Dr. Octopus shifts slightly, pressing up against the hall's wall, craning his neck to see into the daycare proper. Ignoring Captain Infinity.
Captain Infinity ignores him right back. There's a big, purple bruise on his cheek, looking suspiciously like it could have come from a tentacle, a round sucker mark painted in broken veins.
One of those days. I don't ask. It will make the news. At least the Captain wears a fresh uniform, all crisp blue and starched collar.
"Daddy!" a high-pitched voice calls from behind me.
"Jo-Jo!" Captain Incredible kneels, somewhat stiffly, and envelops his daughter in a hug so big only her bright-white pigtails stick out from it.
"Benji!" Dr. Octopus' tired, dusty face breaks open into a wide grin, with teeth just a tad too small. And too many of them.
It doesn't bother me anymore. Working with kids, you learn to get used to anything. Benji rushes up to his dad, his four tiny indoor shoes tip-tapping against the laminate floor.
"Can we play?" he says, his right arm unfurling and reaching for Jo-Jo. The girl untangles herself from her father's embrace and reaches for Benji. "Can we play, daddy?" she says. "Please, please, please?"
"Well, ah..." Captain Infinity begins, falters. Still not looking at Dr. Octopus. It's hard to do when your kid is reaching for the kid in the other man's arms.
"He slept half-an-hour today," I barge into the conversation. "Benji was very tired after lunch, and considering how he's been handling his tantrums when his tired..."
"Good, good," Dr. Octopus replies. "We had a late night yesterday, and he woke several times...."
"These things happen," I say. "It's a stage. I remember my own kids at that age--"
I'm about to launch into my story, but Benji wraps his four arms around his father's head and hauls himself up between us.
"I want to play," he says.
"Not today," Dr. Octopus says in a firm tone. A shadow of relief flashes across Captain Infinity's tired face. His head twitches toward Dr. Octopus, before he catches himself. If I didn't know better, I'd have though he was going to say thanks. That would have started a row. Better to let the kids down gently.
"Why not?" a voice says behind and above me.
"No flying in the hallway, Mei," I say, without turning. "And no listening in on people."
"Awww." A petite girl flutters to the ground beside me, materializing from the shadows near the ceiling. "Why not?"
"It's not polite," I say. "And it's something for Benji's and Jo-Jo's dads to talk about. So it's settled, then?"
"Yes, Mr. Chides," Mei says. She leans against me.
"Why not?" Jo-Jo chimes in, giving her father a serious look.
"We're busy today," Captain Infinity says. "Dad's waiting with dinner at home, and you know how sad he gets when we're late."
"We could play on the weekend," Benji says. He isn't one to sense tension around him. Or to be denied.
"We're going to grandma's," Dr. Octopus says.
"That's on Sunday," Benji growls, if a five-year-old can growl. He's trying, anyhow, and trying to be all serious, too. Makes me want to tussle his spiky hair. He's a good kid.
They all are. "On Saturday you're going to paint the lair. We don't have anything then. You said so yourself."
"Please, daddy, can we play on Saturday?" Jo-Jo says, not giving him the chance to answer before launching into a barrage of "please" and "please" and "a thousand times pretty please." They're good kids. Good, but manipulative.
"Well..." Captain Infinity says.
"Maybe..." Dr. Octopus says.
Benji squirms out of his father's arms and lands lightly beside Jo-Jo.
"Want to play on Saturday?" he says, reaching out to Jo-Jo.
"Yes," she says, grabbing hold of his tentacle.
"It's settled then," Benji replies in such a prefect mimicry of my own tone that I have to hide a smile behind my hand.
Hand in tentacle, the kids push open our reinforced door and step into the evening gloom, leaving their parents standing dumbfounded in the hall. The door closes and the silence stretches.
"Here," Captain Invincible says, reaching out with a clear blue rectangle held lightly between the tips of his fingers. "My card. Our home number is on the back."
"Thanks," Dr. Octopus says. "I'll have my wife give your partner a call."
Behind them, two small, grinning faces press against the door's thick window. They're good kids.
They'll make great adults.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 16th, 2022

Author Comments

I've got kids. Picking them up at the daycare is one of those moments that can go great (smiles, hugs, happy kid rushing toward you) or not so great (standing helplessly in front of teachers and other parents while your kid rage-cries about you having the temerity of interrupting their fun). This story popped up in one such moment (who said rage-crying can't be productive?)

- Filip Wiltgren
Become a Member!

We hope you're enjoying Pick-up time at the Daycare by Filip Wiltgren.

Please support Daily Science Fiction by becoming a member.

Daily Science Fiction is not accepting memberships or donations at this time.

Rate This Story
Please click to rate this story from 1 (ho-hum) to 7 (excellent!):

Please don't read too much into these ratings. For many reasons, a superior story may not get a superior score.

5.2 Rocket Dragons Average
Share This Story
Join Mailing list
Please join our mailing list and receive free daily sci-fi (your email address will be kept 100% private):