Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lucile the Lumberjack from Minnesota by David E J Berger

Away from home and upset by an encounter with an old enemy, writer Amber Dunn decides to be someone else for a night; by David E J Berger.

Usually, my morning routine is to order only coffee while I stare at the blueberry muffins behind the glass display until I remember the taste well enough to satiate the urge to actually eat one. But not today. No, today, I'm being bad. After all, I'm free to roam here in downtown Los Angeles since my flight home to New York has been cancelled. And a day untethered to one's usual responsibilities is certainly one to allow yourself vices. The barista at the Italian inspired coffee shop near the Standard hotel, where I've been staying, hands me my perfect golden, berry speckled muffin. I taste it and it's gloriously gooey. I feel no regret, just an anxiousness to move on to my next vice: shopping. Retail has always been my designer drug, but in this instance it'll also be a helpful distraction from the fact I haven't spoken to my husband Dan since my arrival last week. It seems strange how natural this pattern has become during my work trips now. But here's what I do know: it's always a reluctance to leave each other and a relief to see each other. The moments in between I'm usually too pre-occupied to think about it.

I finish my muffin and hit the streets. For inspiration, I study the looks of women I pass: pants suits and pencil skirts, stilettos and strappy sandals, trimly cut blazers and blouses that walk the fine line between suggestive and professional, girls wearing Beats headphones, skinny jeans, wedge sneakers, short flirty dresses with oversized cardigans that seemed like they belonged to their father's but probably cost way too much money at some ridiculous trendy store, so many gladiator sandals, yoga pants, and gym wear. Nothing enthralls me. A homeless man openly pees against an office building and I'm reminded that these streets aren't the runways of Paris.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Rethinking by Kent V. Anderson

Kent V. Anderson's character gives a whole new meaning to drinking himself to death.

I'm sitting on the couch in my apartment. I get depressed thinking about my cheating ex-almost-fiance Maria.

I decide to kill myself.

I research online the many methods for doing this. It's hard to decide which one is best.

Then I come up with one that I hadn't considered before. I read that drinking too much water can kill you. I figure it's an excellent way to die.

I go out and buy two cases of bottled water, and I start drinking. I'm not sure how much it takes to kill, but I'll find out soon enough.

I drink one bottle, two bottles. It tastes good. This is an awesome way to die!

Three. I wonder if I'll be killed by bursting. Maybe not. I think perhaps all my cells will be drowned.

Four bottles. Not that easy to drink a lot of water.

Then number five. I should have purchased smaller bottles. I was stupid and got the 20 ounce size. If I'd been thinking, I would've bought 16 ounce bottles. Then I'd be at number six.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Jacket by Hannah McKinnon

Louise gets more than she bargained for when she buys a beautiful vintage jacket in a second hand store; by Hannah McKinnon.

"That's a bit big for you, Louise," Asha called over. "The colour really suits you though. I don't think I have anything else like it."

The sweater was indeed far too big for Louise's slender frame but the emerald green colour warmed her English-rose complexion and was a stunning contrast to her long, fiery-red curly hair that poked out from underneath her black beret.

"I could take it in," Louise replied. "And it's only five bucks." She draped the sweater over her arm and continued looking around.

I watched her slowly peruse some more items, her delicate fingers touching a pair of jeans here, a T-shirt there. She held up a grey, knitted V-neck sweater, cocked her head to one side, wrinkled her nose and put it down again. Good idea, it wouldn't have looked good on her.

I waited patiently until she stopped in front of me.

"Hello," Louise said, as she touched my sleeve softly. "You're lovely."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Boots by DC Diamondopolous

An Iraq war veteran struggling to get by sees an old comrade down on his luck on the streets of Los Angeles; by DC Diamondopolous.

The same sun scorched downtown Los Angeles that had seared the Iraq desert. Army Private First Class Samantha Cummings stood at attention holding a stack of boxes, her unwashed black hair slicked back in a ponytail and knotted military style. She stared out from Roberts Shoe Store onto Broadway, transfixed by a homeless man with hair and scraggly beard the color of ripe tomatoes. She'd only seen that hair color once before, on Staff Sergeant Daniel O'Conner.

The man pushed his life in a shopping cart crammed with rags and stuffed trash bags. He glanced at Sam through the storefront window, his bloated face layered with dirt. His eyes had the meander of drink in them.

Sam hoped hers didn't. Since her return from Baghdad a year ago, her craving for alcohol sneaked up on her like an insurgent. Bathing took effort. She ate to exist. Friends disappeared. Her life started to look like the crusted bottom of her shot glass.

The morning hangover began its retreat to the back of her head.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Bird on Silver Strand by Nancy Lane

Childhood sweethearts Sadie and Milton navigate the pranksters and wannabes of Silver Strand beach during Hollywood's Golden Age; by Nancy Lane.

Hollywood-by-the-Sea, California - July 4, 1929

Sadie pulls up her coat collar against the brisk ocean wind this sunny Thursday morning. A lady, scarf wrapped around her head, tendrils of light brown hair whipping her face, crosses Ocean Drive to meet Sadie on the sea side. "Little girl," she says, "you can't recognize me bundled up as I am against this cruel blast. Behold Gloria Swanson, famous on the silver screen."

"Glad to meet you, Miss Swanson." Sadie says. "I've seen your wonderful movies."

"What's your name, young lady?"

"Sadie."

The lady pulls paper and a pencil from the depths of her coat pocket, scribbles, and then hands the autograph to Sadie. Sadie curtsies, thanks Miss Swanson, places the autograph in her pocket and continues her stroll south toward Silver Strand as Gloria Swanson treks north.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pillows at Dawn by Hannah McKinnon

An ageing man reflects bitterly on being in an old people's home, until he bumps into an unexpectedly invigorating companion; by Hannah McKinnon.

"Aquafit?" I peered over my glasses at the bright orange poster hanging on the retirement home wall. The boisterous colour did little to brighten up the place and everything to darken my mood.

"Aquafit," I repeated, shaking my head. "What the Jiminy Cricket is that?"

"A fitness class."

I glanced down at the woman who'd appeared next to me.

"You know," she said and smiled, her face crinkling up like a used paper bag. "Aerobics. At the pool. Aqua means water."

I grunted, squinted at the poster, then looked down at her again. She was so short, the top of her head barely reached my shoulders. Good figure though. Probably had a fine ass at one point.

"Do you fancy it?" she said.

Christ, did I say that out loud? I cleared my throat. "Sorry?"

She pointed. "The class."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Snakebit by Sharon Frame Gay

A Navajo Indian at the start of the 20th Century tells the story of his life and imminent death; by Sharon Frame Gay.

I'm about to die from snakebite. The snake and I were both surprised. Of all the things I thought would kill me, this was pretty far down the list. But not as far down as being hanged for rape, so I guess if you look at it that way, it turns out that maybe this won't be half bad.

I stare down at my forearm, and the calf of my leg, turning red, purple, then black. That rattler must have had a helluva lot of juice in him, is all I can say. Things are feeling pretty bad right about now, I admit to feeling foggy and grey sighted, and I think it's what those bible thumpers say - ya start to see your whole life spin out right in front of your eyes, before God or the Devil comes to fetch you up and lay claim to your sorrowful soul.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Bouquet of Daisies by Robert Levin

Robert Levin's character tells of his strange obsession with a codependent Floridian couple and the incident that brought their relationship into the headlines.

This time the news was completely delivered in under a minute, but I caught it and it made me rise from my seat.

"Yes!" I heard myself say to the TV. "Yes! Of course!"

It was 1992 now and while years had passed since Walter and Anna Marie were an object of media interest I, for one, hadn't forgotten this couple. I'd first become aware of them - and been as aghast at Walter's actions as everyone else - on the evening of the incident, an evening in July of 1985, when New York TV stations carried reports from their South Florida affiliates. It wasn't until the fall though, when they made the wires again on the day Walter was sentenced, that they got a serious grip on my attention.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Strangers in the Garden by Jane Sherman

Catherine wakes to find unwelcome intruders in her garden; by Jane Sherman.

Catherine woke suddenly. It wasn't the slow, slithering into early morning that she usually experienced. The back of her neck prickled. She held her breath and listened. What had she heard? The humidifier fan was audible, but would never have caused her to wake up. It was too early in the morning for the next-door neighbor's lawn-care people to be working.

Catherine listened to the raspy scrape of the garden-shed door slide along its track. Now, she was completely awake. No one used her garden tools except her. Barefoot, she walked from the bedroom to the living room, taking care to stay back from the windows in case someone was in the driveway.

I should call 911, she thought. But before I do, I'll make sure it's not someone I know. Maybe a friend's come to visit the garden, although it's way too early and there's nothing in bloom.

A rusty, green pickup truck was parked in the driveway, not one she recognized and she was certain no one was scheduled to work at the house today.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Waiting by Hannah McKinnon

Hannah McKinnon's poignant story about a beach full of the left behind.

The sun shines brightly, and I watch the light dance across the waves. A gentle breeze whistles in the grass behind me. I shiver despite it being a warm day. Sitting on the beach, I dig my toes into the sand and hug my legs for comfort.

My friend Juliette is sitting a few yards away. She turns and smiles, so I wave. She's here every day, too, waiting patiently. We don't always talk. Sometimes we just sit in silence.

Juliette is wearing an emerald-green bathing suit. Her hair, long and blonde, blows gently around her face. She keeps saying it's messy and that she wishes she could have had it cut, although she looks beautiful to me. Her kind, blue eyes sparkle, but I see the sadness in them, even though she tries very hard to hide it. She's waiting for her husband John to come to the beach. She's been waiting for twenty-five years.

Juliette keeps me company, especially at night if I feel lonely. That doesn't happen often - I'm used to being at the beach now - and I'm not scared anymore.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Hundred-Year Storm by Leo X. Robertson

Dr Brook lives in subsea power station Asclepius, in which Dr Schwartz carries out sinister dream experiments in an attempt to preserve their existence in a doomed world; by Leo X. Robertson.

'I like the miscalculations,' I said to Dr Schwarz.

I stood on the viewing platform in the crystal globe's centre, listening to the dull rush of silky purple fluid across its outer surface. In front of me was a triplet of screens with readings on high contrast backgrounds: warnings beeped across them in warm colours, and a 3D diagram of the globe registered the external disruption in its seismometer-like reading.

'I can't get used to it,' Dr Schwarz said.

I turned around to look at him standing there behind me. A stream of corridor lights began to die, starting with those furthest from him. Dimples tightened and broke through his scarred cheeks. His scalp shifted as he smiled, but his hair didn't: it was gelled into a rigid bowl.

'If there's no chance of us evacuating, maybe a chain will crash through the globe and have us all drowned,' I said. 'Save us the daily "what-if" heartache.'

'Yeah, yeah,' he said, laughing.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Not With a Bang But a Whimper by Brennan Lombardi

James goes to pick up his daughter, bearing a terrible secret; by Brennan Lombardi.

When James pulled up to the three story, red brick building, with white pillars supporting the porch and a variety of colored balloons tied to the mailbox, he felt ashamed and disgusted by the sight of it, and hoped he would never have to see the superfluous mansion or its owners ever again. Since he arrived a little earlier than expected, he prepared a plausible story for his daughter and the owner of the house but his real objective was to get out of town as soon as possible.

His stomach made an unsettling growl, and he felt a sharp pain as if he was about to pass a kidney stone. James fumbled in his jacket pocket for the Imodium bottle and took two big gulps before putting the lid back on. After he slipped the bottle back into his pocket, he unzipped his jacket halfway down and reached inside his interior pocket for his six-shooter revolver, afraid he might have lost it since leaving his house. James was tempted to pull it out and make sure it was fully loaded again but fought off the compulsion for fear of neighbors and passersby witnessing him with a deadly weapon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cod Beck by Glenn McGoldrick

Ken grieves for his dead wife and decides to look for consolation by returning to his childhood home; by Glenn McGoldrick.

Ken stood by the open grave, not feeling the rain or hearing the priest's words. He looked at the weeping faces beside him, but did not cry with them; he felt only shock.



He opened the kitchen door, shaking his head as he watched the cigarette smoke escape.

"Good idea, Ken," said Bernie. "Let a bit of fresh air in."

"Well, I don't smoke, so I don't -"

"Best way to be," Bernie said, taking a big drag on his cigarette. "Nasty habit."

Ken nodded. "How long do you think everybody will be staying?"

"Just a little while, Ken. Give you a bit of company. It's not a day to be alone."

"I'm fine."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Notes from a First-World Battlefront by Megan E. Cassidy

Megan E Cassidy's bitingly satirical epistolary account of a middle class war between neighbours.

September 4, 2015

Dearest Momma and Papa,

It has been a fortnight since a banana was left atop our refrigerator, yet the pestilence of the fruit flies lives on. I have tried to capture them, but to no avail. The suggestion provided by the kind editors of The Online Home Journal for Ladies of Virtue and Courage detailed snares of paper cones leading to rotting apple slices. Sadly, the wily fruit flies used the traps for breeding purposes and have now multiplied beyond measure.

As our Sophie is absent for the evening, I endeavored to cook my darling Madison's dinner, a complex meal of all-natural soup from a can. But the dastardly swarm of flies blocked my path to the microwave, and I was too anxious to carry on. Hunter has bravely sacrificed his salt-intake to partake in Chinese takeout. Madison was content enough to dine on the remnants of yesterday's meal. I fear I am lacking their fortitude, and since the gluten-free pizza parlor across the street has terminated their delivery service for the night, I must go hungry.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Murder on Mykonos By J.R. Sparlin

Ginny is asked by her wealthy former roommate to accompany her characterful family on a yacht trip to Mykonos; by J.R. Sparlin.

As a scholarship student at Sarah Lawrence, I was fortunate not to have a snob for a roommate. Ariana Hampton obviously had money. She was beautiful and wore beautiful clothes (always matching bras and panties) and went skiing in Vail on spring break and to Barbados for Christmas. But she never looked down on me (even though I never had matching underwear).

A few months after graduation, she asked me to go on an Aegean cruise on her family's yacht. "It's a small yacht," she assured me. "It only sleeps twelve."

I am not very knowledgeable about yachts, but that didn't sound particularly small.

"It will just be a small group," she continued. "Me, you, my parents, my brother, Aunt Agatha, and Sir Clyde. And the crew."

The crew.