Following is my winning entry in the Aphelion Webzine flash fiction contest for December 2009.
Winter of My Disc Content
Samantha held a cup of cocoa under her nose and blew steam from its frothy surface. Despite the aroma, she found she had no real desire for the stuff. After two mugs the third was just a brace against the cold. It was either this or the bourbon, and she knew what lay at the end of that road.
Hoarfrost coated her apartment's one tiny window, nearly occluding its view of Sixth Avenue traffic as it muddled through the Village, churning last night's snow into gray-black muck.
Samantha ignored it. The cold outside was the last thing she wanted to think about. She wrapped a free hand about her middle, took a hot sip of chocolate, and turned to consider the cerebral-net system occupying an entire wall of her Spartan living room.
It was the only piece of furniture left in the place, save the secondhand couch balanced on one side by a cinderblock, and an air mattress. She had sold everything else.
At some level Samantha supposed she should be concerned about her preoccupation with the bral-net – she spent most of her free waking hours there – but really, what did that matter? She was three months a widow, and if this was her only way to see Upton, so be it.
"Power," she said. One blue, three-dimensional word appeared, floating and slowly rotating before her: Standby.
Then a feminine voice said, "Hello, Samantha."
"Shall I cast file Upton-three?"
Sam smiled, nodding.
"Please put down the hot chocolate," said the computer woman.
Samantha placed it on the floor near the couch.
"Casting," said Rose.
Summer light spilled from the apartment window, bringing with it June heat. Passersby on the street traipsed along in shorts and T-shirts.
Upton lay on the couch, pretending sleep, his lithe form stretching from one armrest to the other. No matter how many times Samantha played this disc, she always felt a little thrill of happiness pass through her middle when saw him there.
He peeked at her through one half-lidded eye, and a grin spread his lips.
"You're a horrible liar," said Sam. "That's why you can't act for beans."
He chuckled, opening his dark green eyes.
"Writers don't have to act, sweetness. We do it on the page."
"You should write bumper stickers."
He laughed again, the rolling sound making Sam's heart beat hard with longing and regret. She knelt beside him, running her fingers through his hair, and across his thick chest. At moments like this it was hard to disbelieve her eyes, her hands, her nose. With Rose's help, Sam had reconstructed her husband down to his scent, that slight alkaline aroma that reminded her of fresh spring air along mountain trails.
He was perfect.
"Affection in the afternoon?" he asked. "I feel like the benefactor of government largess."
A certain knowing smile played across her husband's lips, and Sam said, "If you make that large ass joke again I'm walking out."
He started to laugh, but she stopped him with a kiss, pressing hard against his warm, full lips. When she pulled away Upton had an entirely different look on his face.
"Do you love me?" she asked.
He gave her an indulgent smile, his eyelids drooping in that way they did when he was randy.
"You know I do."
She rested her head on his chest, hiding her face, and began to softly cry.
Upton's hand pressed into her hair and she felt him sit up.
"Babe, what's wrong?"
She couldn't tell him he wasn't real. She couldn't tell him he died and left her alone. Cerebral Upton believed in himself, in his make-believe world.
"I wish we had gotten pregnant," she said instead. "I wish we had shared that."
He was silent for a long moment, the sound of traffic filling the gap. Then Upton whispered, "It's not too late, Sam. You know I love kids. We don't make a lot of money, but hell, who does anymore?"
Samantha smiled. It was bitter, and wry, but somehow happy despite that. Upton would have said the same when he lived. He would have given her a baby anytime she wanted, but she had insisted on waiting until...what? More money? More stability? Since Upton passed she had less of both. Whatever she had been waiting for hadn't come.
"You're right," she said, rubbing the tears away, giving herself back to the computerized dream – playing her part to perpetuate the fantasy.
"And there's no time like the present," said Upton, pulling her atop him. He sank one strong hand into her black hair and kissed her thoroughly.
# # #
Doctor Morris stepped into the tiny examination room, a file in his hand, a smile on his lips.
"Well, it's official," he said.
Samantha swallowed, her eyes wide, bulging even.
Morris looked taken aback for a moment, as if he were instantly changing gears in his head. He knew Samantha as a newlywed – she had never bothered to tell her GP about Upton's death – and probably assumed his news was confirmation of a planned pregnancy. Now the look on his face said he might have just given a cheating bride some very bad news indeed.
"No joke," he said. "You're about two months along." He paused, watching her expression. "Is something wrong?"
"I haven't had sex in nearly six months. My husband died." Sam hated being so blunt, but it saved further explanation.
Morris thought she was lying; she saw it in his eyes.
Sam shook her head. It didn't matter. She was pregnant.
# # #
"That's wonderful, babe!" said Upton, swinging her in circle.
"It's nuts," said Sam. "You aren't real, Upton. You're a computer image in my brain."
Upton tilted his head. "It's all a story, Sam. And I'm a writer."
"The hell does that mean?"
When next he spoke, Upton's voice lifted, taking on a familiar, feminine tone. "It means, Samantha, that you get your wish."