Cole Hardman
Nov 11, 2018 · 6 min read
artwork by Graham Hardman —


HANNAH sits in front of her aged computer as if it were a mirror. Her room is simple, except for a bookshelf that overflows with novels, books on physics, wizardry, travel guides, cookbooks, computer programming, engineering, poetry, painting, religion, performance art, etc. that stretches along the only full wall, where it barely fits. The way the colorful spines of the books are arranged spells out the word “KEY.”

Hannah purses her lips. Her disembodied face floats in the confines of a software window, displayed on her computer monitor, that analyzes her appearance as she tries on different types of lipstick.

(a tad electronically

Purple was a better choice.


Shelly —

Hannah turns to face SHELLY, who is stretched across her bed and coloring on a large piece of posterboard with an oversized marker.


The stupid computer says this color’s off.


Then turn the stupid computer off.


I can’t

give up just like that. And it isn’t wrong…

Hannah shows Shelly her lips using the worst face she can muster. Shelly adjust her gold-rimmed glasses and looks up.


It’s just that the advice it gives on how

to fix it doesn’t make sense. If I paint my nose

it tells me that I need a lighter shade,

and if I smile the wrong way, it will say

I need to add more blush to look alive.


How long have you been working on it?


For months…

Hannah wipes the makeup off her face and looks back at the screen to analyze whatever results are there for her to see.


Then maybe it would help to move onto

something else?

(occupied by matrices of
multiplying mistakes)

It only needs a little tweak.


And then?


And then I’ll put it on the web

and build another newer version for your phone

that’s integrated with your social apps

so you can have a Magic Mirror — that’s what

I’m calling it — everywhere you go

while I sit back and rake in all the cash.


That’s nice.

Hannah gets up from her chair in front of the computer and goes to the bookshelf. She breaks the “KEY” by pulling off a stack of books, which she tosses down in front of Shelly.

Shelly lifts her posterboard to take a look. She picks a tiny pocketbook titled, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Inventions, 2020 and Beyond, out of the pile and eyes it suspiciously. You could easily imagine her smoking a pipe and twirling a mustache, at least for a moment.


It’s not nice — it’s a plan. In twenty years

I’m going to be the queen of fashion, and all

because I’ll be the person writing the programs

that tell designers how to dress.


Is that so?

Hannah slaps her hands together, like she’s catching a fly, and slides energetically across the room.

(stretching for a metaphorical
balloon as it flies between
jumbojets and bluejays)

It would be so easy if it wasn’t so hard

to get ahold of proper software suites.

Do you know how much it costs to buy

a seat for LabNET? A single seat?

(setting the book aside
to study her friend)



Ten thousand dollars. If I had that seat,

I could build a neural net that would

make you into a fashionista in an hour,

but it costs as much as a good car! And I need

a car that runs more than I need a shade

of independence — at least, that’s how it feels.

(struggling to help)

That’s the way it is…


When in doubt, reboot.

Hannah sits back down and moves to turn off her computer. But before she can, the afterversion of her dad, PAUL, appears on the screen in his own software window. His disembodied face floats next to hers. The Hereafter window he inhabits, unlike the grey work-in-progress GUI Hannah’s face floats in, is constructed of a soft blue background and framed by gentle ivory bars, which brings warm blankets and ocean lagoons to mind, and his face is digitally serene in a way that her living gaze could never replicate.


Don’t you worry, Han. I’m sure you’ll

be right off to better places

soon enough — a little less than

twelve parsecs is all it takes to

turn your fate around.

(seemingly relieved)


Hannah powers down the computer, while Shelly, visibly irritated but unnoticed, goes back to working on her poster. A pause passes like a poltergeist through the room. Hannah looks into the blank screen of her computer. Shelly watches her before speaking.


Is your mom used to seeing your dad in

Hereafter yet?

(bristled by the subtext)

She loves it more than me

now that the preacher says it’s fine and dandy.

It’s not much different than a grave or urn

when you think about it.



that people in Hereafter talk just like

the person in a grave or urn. And then,

they all pretend to know you, even the ones

you’ve never met. It’s creepy when you get

suggestions for connections to a person

who died the day before, who you don’t know,

because some hackers in a country where

the laws about the dead are lax, have gained

complete control of someone’s afterlife.

(thinking about how
to say what to say when
she decides to say it in
a way that helps Shelly
think about it without
giving too much away)

It’s worth it when you think about the good

Hereafter does for people…how it connects

people everywhere with people that

they can’t talk to otherwise…even if they’re fake,

the people in Hereafter help the living

fill a gap they couldn’t fill before. Just think…

when was the last time people loved a thing

this much across the board — could it be so bad?


You’re missing the point —

(hiding how upset she is)

The point is that it helps.

Hannah presses the power button on her computer and the monitor flashes back to life. Numbers flash across the screen while the computer reassembles its thoughts and reboots.


The point is that they’re selling happiness

by commodifying the lives of people that

can’t fight to own them anymore.


As if

we own our lives when we’re alive.

Shelly holds up her poster, and Hannah turns to look. The poster reads, “Who’s LEFT after HEREAFTER?”

(after turning back to her
flashing computer)

You didn’t

have to make that here, you know.


I thought

that we could go together. Leo’s going —

I think.


I’m busy with something right now.

The computer loads its OS, and Hannah starts her program again. She makes faces at it, which are shown on the monitor, absentmindedly.


You look distressed. Powdering your nose

would help, unless that’s what you’re going for.


I know we didn’t know him that much, but still,

how would you feel…?


I’ll catch RJ in the app

and say I’m sorry.

The ghostly silence returns again, begging to be remembered. Both Shelly and Hannah pretend not to notice one another until Shelly picks up the small book from before.

(obviously stretching for
an excuse beyond the truth
of how she plans to spend
her time protesting at the
funeral, and showing
the strain of it)

Can I borrow this?

(equally strained, not
realizing how ridiculous
a proposition it is to read
out of boredom at a protest
you had just spent a good
part of your morning
painting a sign for)

Fine with me.


And can I bring

it back after the funeral?


No problem — sure.

Shelly puts the book in her purse and starts out the door.


Don’t tell anybody I skipped — I don’t

want to go to school right now.

(bringing the ghost
of silence with her
as she leaves the room)

Can do.


Lit Up

Welcome to Lit Up -The Land of Little Tales. Here you can read and submit short stories, flash fiction, poetry - in brief, your own legend. We're starting little. But that's how all big stories begin.

Cole Hardman

Written by

I’m an engineer with a passion for poetry and literary theory. Find more at:

Lit Up

Lit Up

Welcome to Lit Up -The Land of Little Tales. Here you can read and submit short stories, flash fiction, poetry - in brief, your own legend. We're starting little. But that's how all big stories begin.

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