The Laundress of Silver Lake by Julie Jansen

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In a future world of deadly solar flares and cloned dinosaurs, an investigative journalist sets out to uncover the truth about an urban myth: the Laundress of Silver Lake. As he wanders the banks of the lake he discovers some mysteries are better left unsolved.

A short story from our Orbits sci-fi/fantasy line.


Josephine Fritzkiev used Silver Lake’s granite boulders as washboards. She scrubbed until the sweat and grime disappeared from every citizen’s shirt. She rinsed, swirled, and spun clothes in the lake until they turned whiter than white.

“You have a magic touch,” the townspeople said. “How do you make our shirts so white?”

“Shhh,” she’d say and touch a pruned finger to her lips. She never told.

On a dreadful day in 2270, Josephine Fritzkiev vanished just like one of her stains. In fact, the entire population of Silver Lake met their demise that same day. The town vaporized in a massive solar flare.

Some blamed the disaster on Josephine. They said she fused naturally occurring elements that never should have been mixed, creating a radioactive nightmare. Perhaps the people of Silver Lake wore clean shirts coated in a mineral abomination that attracted the sun’s rays like a magnet.

Arvid knew the theory was hogwash. Meter readings showed no elevated radiation in the area.

He’d come to Silver Lake working on his first article for the magazine Lifestyles of the Presumed Dead and Mysterious. A story about Silver Lake’s Laundress was the current assignment. As he sailed across the lake, he focused his binoculars on the site of the once prosperous settlement.

He imagined the town in its heyday: hovercraft outside offices, children playing, a man walking his dog, and the genetically reproduced baby plesiosaurs huddled near the incubator at the zoo. Now the streets were empty except for stone rubble baked black by the infernal heat of that fateful day. There was not a human in sight.

Yet so many tales existed of Josephine Fritzkiev after the disaster, healthy, alive, and still washing clothes. She’d become an urban legend. Children’s books portrayed her as a girlish figure with bouncy blonde curls who sported a blue apron over a white dress and carried a green plastic laundry basket. Arvid reasoned, however, if the woman was still living, she’d be 83 years old.

The last person to see her was Mr. Hans Clovax, of Clovax Industrial Cleaning Corporation. Clovax knew the woman before the decimation of the town. He wanted Josephine’s secret detergent recipe. He wanted it so bad he offered to pay her five million kubacs. But she disappeared before she could give him an answer.

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