Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Maladious Piscis by Phillip A. Myers

Two doctors visit a couple who have contracted an incurable typographical virus; by Phillip A. Myers.

It took three raps on the door before it opened. A woman in her mid-forties stuck her head out, her face distressed.

"Good morning ma'am," the doctor said wearing a gray suit and a formal smile. "I'm Dr. Francis Andrews of the Pan American Health Organization."

Standing next to him was a young woman in a dark business dress with a serious gait. He introduced her, "This is my colleague, Dr. Emily Giern. We were assigned to you and your husband's case this week. How are you feeling today?"

The woman refused to respond. She shrank her head back enough that Dr. Andrews could see her brown eyes squinting back at him. Looking past the doctors, she spotted a small white sedan parked outside her home, the PAHO logo printed on the door.

"Mrs. Lydden," the doctor called out the woman's name, "my supervisor received your message. We want to help your family's condition, if you'd please let us in?"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Smell of Paint by Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin's character prepares for her artist daughter's return home.

Today my daughter is coming home. At last. Her brother has gone to bring her back to the house of her childhood to paint pictures and be mothered back to herself.

Left behind, I shuffle from room to room, arranging curtains, fluffing up cushions, nudging pictures into position on the walls. I'd like to fill the space with the scent of baking: flapjacks and sultana scones and a rich Victoria sponge. Then we might play at cafés again: she, with a tea towel wrapped around her waist, clutching a spiral-bound notebook, me at the table in a dressing-up-box hat and my little finger extended as I sip from a doll's tea cup. Instead, I drift out to the garden to pluck daffodils for her room. Custard-yellow daffodils and double-cream daffodils and icing-sugar-white daffodils with a cheddar-red trumpet in the middle. Perhaps they'll move her to paint.

Not thinking - surely, not needing to think after twenty-two years of mothering - I take the flowers up to the apple-green bedroom at the back. I push open the door and stop short, drops of water shooting out from the vase onto my hand. It's not her bathrobe that lies slumped across the duvet, but mine. Not her Pre-Raphaelite prints that clothe the walls, but mine. Not her lipsticks and lotions that litter the dressing table, leaving barely a gap for the vase, but mine. For a moment I'm disorientated, not by the incongruity of finding my things in her room, but by how right it feels. As if this was how it was always meant to be. Mother inside daughter, like Russian dolls.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Knighting of Sage by Jannessa Cruzan

Jannessa Cruzan's fantasy parable about Sage's quest to protect his mother from the monsters determined to claim her.

In a house where the windows never close, the Shrouded Princess and her son wait for the sunlight to filter inside. Beside one of those windows, Sage listens to the dejected trolls snort and stumble their way back into the forest. Their guttural tongue confuses him, yet he knows what they say. If even a single finger passes through those windows at night, the beasts will capture his mother. She loves the way the night sky looks like a painting with veins of plum and iris, but he knows the darkness comes with a price.

"I don't know why you have to go," Sage says.

The Princess' eyes crinkle like paper when she frowns. She fastens the rose scarf around her head and shoulders, covering the baldness there. Sage imagines the sun rising through her thin skin when she stands in front of the window. The light does nothing to dim the dark bruises on the inside of her arms.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Daisy Chains by Rufus Woodward

Rufus Woodward's character recounts how a serendipitous series of events stoked a precious old memory.

I was moving boxes from a store cupboard. I had piles of things I still needed to keep, and piles I'd made of things I didn't want anymore. Everything on the second pile I was moving out of the house, taking them outside to be picked up with the rest of the trash. That's when I first noticed it.

It fell out from a box of old notebooks. Some were mine, some were books you'd left behind when you moved out. I'd decided I didn't want any of them anymore. I didn't stop to look at them or check what was in them or anything, I just decided they were to go and that was that. A small folded scrap of looseleaf paper slipped out of the box as I lifted it and fell down on the floor beside me. I saw it as it fell. I don't like leaving a mess behind me, so I bent down to pick it up and stuffed it in my back pocket. That was all. I didn't think anything of it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bugged by John Jones

John Jones' creepy flash will get your skin crawling.

When he heard a loud, sharp crack, he instantly knew what it was. He checked the sole of his sandal and saw that he had stood on a cockroach, one of its legs still twitching. It didn't matter. He was always standing on them, most of the time on purpose. Stanley Marwood was on his way to the fridge to retrieve milk. Upon opening it, the sudden light sent more cockroaches scuttling around, trying to find darkness. The milk had taken on a light yellow tinge, as it been there for three weeks, its purpose only for putting in mugs when he made tea. He put it back, and the cockroaches felt safe again to feed on the mouldy butter, the fungicidal cheese, the brown grapes, and the half eaten pot of yoghurt which he had every intention of finishing. From a tin next to the sink, he picked out a tea-bag. Around it, in the sink and crawling around the cupboards beneath it, many ants dashed around for some unknown purpose, on a never-ending search for food, or for some token to take back to the nest, which had to be nearby, or there wouldn't be so many of them. There could have been around four hundred in and around the sink, but Stanley didn't care. There were also glistening lines criss crossing the sink, walls and counter, marking the path where slugs had slowly crawled. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he amused himself by crushing the ants beneath his thumb on the drainage board next to the sink. He wiped blood on his trousers, made the tea and walked back into his living room.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Normal Girl's Tale by James Krehbiel

Wealthy parents abandon their disabled daughter to the care of a religious nanny, who is promised generous compensation if she fulfils one terrible condition; by James Krehbiel.

Suzanne tripped over the threshold and fell down. She pulled herself up, wobbled a few more feet, stumbled into a floor lamp and fell down again. Over the next few weeks, she'd continue to collide with everything in her path. But what could you expect? Besides the obvious, she hadn't even had her second birthday. Immediate acclimation? I don't think so.

How was it possible? Why us? Those were the first two questions Suzanne's parents asked themselves. "Certainly it couldn't have been hereditary. We come from such solid stock, healthy as a horse," they said. "It had to have been some cruel fluke. Some sort of punishment for our success and wealth." God was getting back at them, they thought.

Asinine. That's what it was. Did God really give a rat's ass about them or their wealth? Although it might not be out of the realm of reason to assume that it was a test, one of life's hurdles that pops up and pushes you to extremes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

One White Rose by Don Herald

Sarah resolves to face up to an old secret that has kept her at odds with her mother for decades; by Don Herald.

THE PRESENT: SUNDAY MORNING

As was their New Year's Day tradition, Sarah and Andrew were sipping hot coffee, taking turns sharing from their list of ten items on a personal 'To Do This Year' list. Sarah was on item seven.

"Probably it's the most important of all of my ten. It's short and sweet."

She paused and then read aloud. "Rebuild my relationship with my mother."

Sarah looked up at Andrew, searching his features for a response. His reaction to this item was very important to her. She waited silently for him to speak.

"I agree. It's a big one. Fixing the relationship with your mother. For as long as I've known you, you've pretended it wasn't a big deal. But I see how it hurts you almost every day. I don't pretend to understand all that's going on between you and your mother. But I do know this. If you can set it right with her, you'll be free."

Andrew had spoken softly, carefully measuring his words. He knew how sensitive an issue Marjorie was for Sarah.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Riley, Redeployed by Nancy Lane

Nancy Lane's touching story of a couple who agree to look after a dog when its owner is sent on a military tour.

Deployment must seem like the dirtiest word in the dictionary to military men and women and their families. Deployment can drag with it disturbance, disruption, distress, discord, doubt, depression and sometimes divorce. Sometimes deployment separates a soldier from his or her dog. It happened to Sergeant Martin Halloran and his dog Riley. A desperate Martin turned to social media to find a safe place for Riley for six months, giving up on the agency that was supposed to help when the family the agency found to foster Riley reneged five days before the deployment date. An animal activist friend of mine had shared the post.

"Dave, do you know what we need?" I said.

"No, Linda, but you're about to tell me."

"We need a temporary dog," I said, holding out Martin's social media post on my phone for Dave to read.

Two years before, Dave buried our Jack Russell terrier, Petula, by the gardenia bush behind the house. Her little heart had weakened and euthanasia was kindest. Grief poured like a mudslide through our lives, knocking us down as we tried to get up and get on. A pet bereavement group introduced us to "The Rainbow Bridge" poem, with its comforting description of a paradise where pets and their owners reconnect on their way to Heaven. With the group's help we recovered but agreed not to adopt another dog. Our hearts couldn't handle another loss.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Artificial by Celia Coyne

Ageing, bedridden Daisy is in awe of the artificially intelligent robot that cares for her; by Celia Coyne.

Have you ever seen a dead AI? Ever wondered what one would look like? There's not much to see, really, if it has simply been decommissioned or 'switched off'. The eyes close and everything stops. But suppose one has been beaten around the head with a blunt object - that's a different story. You'll see wires, of course; they still have them. But there is also a lot of jelly-like matter - neural networks and stuff - which just oozes everywhere. Then there is a kind of milky white fluid, a bit like blood, that runs between the neurones and brain centres, keeping everything going. Smash an AI's head in and there will be a lot of this white fluid; it will splatter everywhere.

The saddest thing is that even when you are bashing them in, they will not retaliate. Cave in the face and whack the central processing unit and they just stand there and take it. And they won't even try to keep themselves going. They just give up the ghost and die.

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking about that old chestnut that AIs cannot die because they've never been 'alive' in the first place. Well I would beg to differ.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Man-I-Cure by Kelly Kusumoto

Kelly Kustmoto's character gets more than he expects from a visit to his friendly local Korean manicurist.

An affront to the senses met me in the form of crashing wind chimes as I opened the door to the manicure shop. It must've annoyed everyone else's senses too, for they all stopped what they were doing and shot stares that could have ended the war with the north in an instant. I tried to settle the chimes the best I could, but they were tangled and I was wearing gloves that were slightly too big. I think I did more damage than anything and decided to quit while I was ahead.

One by one, everyone in the shop went back to whatever it was they were doing. The manicurists lowered their heads and continued to study or file or polish their clients' nails. The clients themselves continued staring at the TV or at nothing at all while the receptionist went back to studying her own nails, ignoring me even though I stood in front of her patiently.

After three or four minutes - which is an eternity for a man by himself-the receptionist raised her head and looked at me as if for the first time. "Salamdeul i chajgoissneun salam-i issseubnikka?" she said.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Swinging By Mary Ordos

Mary Ordos' beautiful story about a widow reflecting on her life as she tries to get her husband to his funeral.

Rachel hit her head, hard, on the garage stoop. The ribbon of flesh under her hairline rang and pulsed. She clapped her hand to her forehead and pressed in, trying to push the pain back through her skull and down the tunnel of her throat where a gasp was rising. She stomped her black dress heel against the cement and shouted an obscenity into the darkened bowels of the garage. It was just one of those days.

Rachel was looking for the jack. The large black one which for three years had been in the back of her husband's car. Her husband, Brandon, was in the back of a hearse, which was on the side of the road with a flat tire. Her son, Isaac, was waiting for her in his carseat with a poopy diaper.

When the tire popped, Rachel had been following the hearse down Capitol Way towards the cemetery. She had seen the rubber burst and glided off to the shoulder behind the hearse. When she stepped out of her Honda, Norm, the funeral home driver, had yelled to her that he needed another jack, so she had slipped back in with expressionless acquiescence and driven down Capitol Way, past the Frog Pond Grocery and the Capitol grounds, down on Union to her neighborhood on the east side.

Friday, April 29, 2016

At the Fourth Annual Sharm El-Sheikh Freedom Fighters Convention by Fred Russell

Nothing is sacred in Fred Russell's absurdist satire, in which freedom fighters of all stripes try to survive a convention.

All that was left of Walid al-Nishkeini was a torso the size of a shoe box and a big head. He got around on a battery-powered skateboard, accompanied by his faithful companion Mustafa Dawin, who carried a steamship trunk filled with plastic organs and Walid's life support system. When Walid spoke at the rallies he would be propped up on metal legs like a card table, the product of North Korean technology. He was always the last to speak, already jacked up to his full height among the dignitaries in the first row, the tears streaming down his cheeks as he listened to the other freedom fighters talk about Palestinian rights.

I had arrived with the Israeli contingent, mostly Peace Now types. Some of them had participated in the Great March to Herzliyya a few months back when over two million Israelis had taken to the roads to try out for the season's new reality shows. We were on a package tour this time, getting bussed down to Eilat from Tel Aviv for a day of fun and then across to the old Bir Gafgafa airbase in Sinai where an ancient Tupolev transport plane disguised as a blimp took us down to Sharm. Our bus driver made it clear that he expected a big tip.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reaching You by Ceinwen Haydon

When Shelley's brother dies, she and their friend Jo are compelled to return to the site of the tragedy; by Ceinwen Haydon.

'For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.'
- Khalil Gibran

1.

I came round in my own bed, as the August dawn was breaking. I sat up slowly, and next to me on the camping mat, on the floor, was Shell. The pain behind my eyes made me shrink from the light as I tried to remember the night before. We'd been on the beach, just the two of us. No, wait, Ben had been there as well. He'd been in a bad way; he'd lost his place on the Job Centre 'Back to Work' scheme for turning up late three days in a row. That meant his benefits would stop. We'd gone out with cans of Magners to try to cheer him up, and if I'm honest, to keep an eye on him. So, where was he now?

I stumbled out to the bathroom and heard my mum call, 'Jo, I'm off to get the bus to Newcastle. Could you give Shell's mum a call, she wants to know where Ben is. Bye, love.'

The front door slammed shut. Mum's words jangled in my head, 'She wants to know where Ben is.'

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mistaken Identity by Steve Slavin

A lonely man gets a glimpse into the lifestyle of his namesake on the other side of town; by Steve Slavin.

I have a rather unusual name. If you checked the residential phone listings in all five boroughs of New York, you would find just sixteen Kanadlehoppers.

You might assume that someone with a name like that must be some kind of nerd. But nothing could be further from the truth. OK, maybe I haven't had an actual date in eleven years, but that's just because I happen to be extremely selective. Just the other day I got a call from a young woman, and I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was very attractive.

"Hello?"

"Marty?"

"This is Marty."

"Are you sure you're Marty? Marty Kanadlehopper?"

"Trust me, no one pretends to have that name."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn by Bruce Costello

An ageing grandmother meets an old physics teacher who helps her to reframe her problems; by Bruce Costello.

"To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season..." my mother hums in her hospice bed, mind and memory very much alive.

"Remember us singing that in the old Wolseley, Paula?" she says. "It's okay to be old and dying. Old people know they've had long lives. Young people never know when they'll be struck down. You have to make the most of now."

I was going to tell her Derek's drinking again, there's another hole in the kitchen wall and these bruises aren't from banging into a door - but what's the point?

Her fingertips glide over the bruise on my wrist.

"He's a lost cause," she says. "Life's too short. Find someone better."