The Forgotten People

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

As she turned toward the window, Chloe’s breath stuck in her throat. Either her window was gone, or the wall had become one large window. In any case, she no longer saw her Ford parked outside. Instead, the blonde woman from the painting stood near her street, crying for help. Beside her, the young man splayed his hands around his neck in a universal choking gesture. His blond hair wavered like plankton in the wind. Some of the balloons broke loose from their posts and drifted into Chloe’s living room, where pieces of uneaten bread lay scattered on her rug.

Another cry for help split the air. The wind howled, but Chloe focused on the young man who was turning blue. The hem of her lab coat fluttered against her pant legs as she walked toward the picture now covering the wall, floor to ceiling and side to side. The wind blew at her clothes, and she smelled cologne again.

“Oh, my God!” she cried, rushing up to the painting.

“No more rotations through the critical care floors,” Russell’s voice echoed in her mind.

Russell can go to hell, she decided. Just five feet away, the young man lurched in the street, gasping for air. His companion gazed at him with wide, frightened eyes.

Taking a deep breath, Chloe raced into the picture.

The air was chilly, and the bobbing balloons rubbed her cheeks. She barely noticed them as she stepped up behind the man and laced her arms around his waist. She thrust inward, jamming her thumb knuckles up against his gut just below the ribs. Morsels of food flew from his mouth. The man slumped to the ground, gasping and dripping with sweat.

Balloons like these flourished in “Popple Land.”

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