Remember gremlins? Not the ones in the movie, that you don’t feed after midnight. Before that, gremlins were what airmen called the mysterious critters who messed up aircraft. The term seems to have originated with British airmen in the 1920s, but I heard about them through Americans in World War II and see no reason why the legend should ever end.
Here’s an excerpt from “Solo For Multiple Instruments,” my short story in the Southern Indiana Writers’ Group’s anthology FUTURE PERFECT (TENSE IN SPACE), in which gremlins are referenced on a science colony on another planet. FUTURE PERFECT is now available for Kindle as well as in print.
The colonists have been severed from their brain-to-cloud social networks, and Gale, the main character, has been suffering from intense loneliness without her connections.
“Solo For Multiple Instruments” — excerpt
by Marian Allen
“What do you mean, ‘If we’re here in another year’?” Gale checked the commissary order and broke off some dill fronds. The bright, thick scent almost made her giddy. Even after she sealed the harvest into a freshbag, the air and her hands were redolent with the herb’s clear note.
“Because of the– What do you call them?” Anouk cocked her head, then grimaced.
With a not-entirely-compassionate pang of empathy, Gale realized Anouk had been trying to access a French/English dictionary site that wasn’t available to her anymore.
Anouk frowned briefly, then said, “Gremlins. We have gremlins.”
Does she even know what that means? Gale smiled at the secret freedom of thinking what she wanted as directly as she wanted. No checking to make sure she was thinking off-line, no worrying that she might have been hacked, her stream of consciousness broadcast on rogueband. It was this freedom, dimly dreamt, that had nudged her toward the Volunteer Pioneer program in the first place.
Anouk misinterpreted her smile. “It’s true. Ever since construction started. Tools missing, equipment scratched and dented overnight, food contaminated. Once, a storage bin was found forced open and an atmo suit had been taken out of it and turned inside out. What do you say to that?”
“Sounds like somebody has a sophomoric sense of humor.”
“Huh!” Anouk made one of her vast repertoire of unattractive sounds. “No one would contaminate food in space. Not for a joke.”
The Frenchwoman gave an eloquent shrug–something no emoticon could ever fully convey. “They say it was gremlins. They say we still have them. The ones who have been here the longest, they say it.”
“They’re just trying to intimidate us.” Gale stopped working and stared at the skin of the dome, as if she could see through the shielding. “They’re telling scary stories to the new kids.”
“Perhaps,” Anouk agreed, her voice implying that she didn’t agree but didn’t want to argue.
Gale shivered. It was, possibly, the most disconcerting thing about being off the network: having to pay such intimate attention to non-verbal communication with mere acquaintances and even strangers. No, worse was the feeling that other people were paying that kind of close attention to you.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write a story with a gremlin in it.