6:1: “Scrapbook”, by Karen A. Romanko...

Photos of my life-
but not
slid in sideways
from other dimensions-
fake husbands and false kids,
trips I never took,
jobs I didn’t hold

Snapshots of myself-
but not
smothering real life
with pretend possibilities,
false promises,
chimeras that can’t be captured
on this mortal plane Images of my fate-
but not
ersatz epitaphs
on gossamer stones,
testaments to lives of worth,
if only they’d survived
and hadn’t been stillborn


Karen A. Romanko has seen over 100 of her poems and short stories published in venues such as Strange Horizons, Lone Star Stories, The Pedestal Magazine, Dreams and Nightmares, and Full Unit Hookup. Her first poetry collection, Raven’s Runes: Equations in Time, was released by Sam’s Dot Publishing in 2004. She also edits and publishes the speculative fiction and mystery e-zine Raven Electrick.

“Scrapbook” was one of those ideas that just stopped by for a visit one day. What if you opened a scrapbook and found pictures of your lives in other dimensions? It wasn’t a particularly dark idea, but as the poem progressed, it seemed to want to be more about missed opportunities, so I let it have its way.

2:8: “Last”, by Karen A. Romanko...

Some people had to know. I wasn’t one of them.

So the curious had run off to be “read.”

The procedure was simple — an EEG administered during REM sleep — obtain the bitcode, and voila — know when and how you were going to die.

So the curious had run off to be read.

This great leap had been taken, as most are, with the leg‑up of an accident. A researcher had stumbled upon a recurring binary pattern in the EEG’s of her sleep subjects. She’d translated the codes, formulated a not‑immediately‑testable hypothesis, and announced her theory.

Although science had greeted her findings with derision and skepticism, it had been forced to take a second look years later, when people began dying as if on cue — and in the ways the scientist had predicted.

So the curious had run off to be read.

For their trouble, the curious received the date and cause of their prospective deaths. Now, the cause was open to interpretation, as sometimes only one word appeared in a reading. Still, many had sought out medical help in an attempt to forestall whatever fate “heart” or “kidney” might portend.

The medical community had moved swiftly to establish the infrastructure to perform readings for the masses. They’d argued that the possibility of saving lives outweighed any ethical or religious considerations.

A few voices, however, had cried out from the wilderness. Were the bitcodes messages from God? Should the readings be used to thwart God’s will?

We received an answer of sorts.

“Plague.”

The word “plague” began appearing not long after the start of the mass readings. Soon a mysterious viral disease was sweeping the planet. The virus attacked the brains of primates, and consumed victims’ minds and bodies within days.

Disease centers around the world had mobilized. In order to learn the potential extent of the outbreak, our government decided to require all citizens to submit to a reading.

So they ran me off to be read.

I haven’t gone home. They’re treating me well, but they won’t let me talk to anyone outside. They’ve told my friends and family I’ve been quarantined for everyone’s safety.

I’m not sick.

The researchers have been studying me, hoping to learn something that may turn this thing around. Progress is slow, as many of my doctors have fallen ill.

The waiting has given me plenty of time to think: What does it all mean? Why now?

I’m not religious, so I’ll leave the theological ruminations to someone else — whoever may be left. The view from my secular vantage point is that species come and species go. Maybe our time on this planet is just done. Period.

It’s not like my prognosis is bad — or good. My reading just said — “last.” It gave no date.

If I am to be the last, I thought I should keep some sort of record. I’m just not sure for whom.