Monday, May 22, 2017

Amelia in Waiting by Leila Allison

Sixteen year old Amy reflects bitterly on the passing of her childhood in Leila Allison's thoughtful flash.

Amy imagines the sky as a swirl of cremated bones. Somewhere in the ashes, the cataract sun hovers low in the west. Harsh and ugly, nothing goes well with the sky and the blind sun other than the desire to stop looking at them.

Amy stands very close to the living room window; a cometary shape of condensation forms on the glass below her nose. In her mind, Amy is certain that only the double paned window lies between her lungs and the poisons of an alien atmosphere.

The cul-de-sac that has always been Amy's home lies beneath the depthless sky like a beloved pet lying dead in the street. All around the remnants of happier times rot softly like the crabapples that not even the crows will eat: Cheerful summer barbecue grills are tucked under blue tarps held in place by cinder blocks; formerly lush and profuse gardens have become fallow mudholes, and what has gone unraked of the fiercely luminescent October leaves lies bunched like milk-sodden cornflakes in the gutters and storm drains.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook by Mitchell Toews

When Canadian Micah James and his wife visit London, an error with their luggage sparks a comic misadventure; by Mitchell Toews.

Micah James was shorter than average and had an interesting kind of face. His eyes were recessed and penetrating and his complexion had the weathered texture and ruddy colour of a mountain climber or a big game hunter. He was neither. Micah James was a quiet, middle-aged family man - an engineer working for the City of Halifax on Canada's east coast.

The Jameses were leaving together soon on a long-awaited trip to London, England. Micah's wife, Marion, had planned the trip from the packing process through tipping and all conceivable forms of disaster contingency.

"I got this," she would say to him - busy at the kitchen table with her lap top - as he walked by on his way to the fridge.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Initiative by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the sleepy South African town of Prentburg, Christina du Plessis misinterprets an overheard conversation and spurs the church sisters into a misguided mission; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

The main topic of conversation of the church sisters during preparation for harvest festival was the newly elected American President, Donald Trump. There was lively argument about some of his actions, some being for and some against. In fact, things became quite heated on the subject of his efforts to curb immigration, especially his travel ban on those from countries he considered a threat to America.

"You can't brand everyone a terrorist," Rina van Wyk declared forcefully. "Many people from the countries he's outlawed already have visas to visit members of their families living in America. To prevent them coming just isn't right! It's a good thing that judge stepped in and put a stop to it."

"In your opinion," Christina du Plessis retorted loftily. "Anyway, he's not giving in and I think he's quite right to ban possible dissidents. Who knows what could be spirited into the country in one of those burkas worn by women from those parts. All you can see are their eyes, and they hold a lot of secrets!"

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Man Who Lived Michael Shammas

A Roman slave fleeing persecution after falling in love with a priestess decides to return and face the people; by Michael Shammas.

"I was dead before I died," says The Man Who Died. "But now I am risen. Now I see."

The thought calms him. He stops rowing, sighs, reclines, looks up at tonight's glistening spectrum. Even so bright, the laboring stars cannot defeat a moonless night. So aside the fugitive's boat there is the sea and there is a darkness, a deep darkness, a still darkness, a blackness rendering him completely at nature's thoughtless mercy, and yet the notion does not frighten him, for yesterday against the blood-stained cross he was at the whim of a more dangerous force - Man.

During his first encounter with the priestess when he moved as she moved and breathed as she breathed he realized that he is nature, not above it, not below it; that this is a most beautiful thing, this which the priestess shared; that the essence behind this thing moves life.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Stool by Jane Swan

Upon retirement, a loyal butler is insulted by being accused of thievery; by Jane Swan.

William Shakespeare Pavrati placed a grey wooden stool on the verandah of his modest cottage and sat down. The sun was just going off the porch though it was still hot. He closed his eyes and listened to the cries of the market traders a street over. An occasional bicycle came past loaded with bright cloth or buckets, baskets of fruit or cages of small animals destined for someone's plate.

William sighed. His thoughts crossed the city to the leafy outskirts. Would that lazy garden boy have brought up the vegetables to the Big House or would Cook be chivvying him up as usual? Had the new butler prepared Lady Marigold's G & T just the way she liked it? Perhaps the laundry delivery had been delayed and...

He stopped, opened his eyes and looked across to the mauve hills shimmering in the heat. That life, the life he'd had for sixty years, man and boy, was as far away from him now as those foothills. And he was tired.

William looked down at his bare feet. Bare feet in the middle of the day! It still surprised him. He wiggled his toes. The hairs on them were grey too. Where had the years gone? These feet had carried him faithfully across the city to The House every dawn and back again, often well after dark. Now they had their ease, so why should they be so restless?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Sheriff Quade Goes to Hell by Dave Henson

Drunkard Sheriff Quade is on a path of self destruction, and unfortunately there's some collateral damage; by Dave Henson.

It's dead dark when a noise wakes up Sheriff Josh Quade. He quietly slides the Colt out of his holster and fires twice in the dark. There's a gasp, a thud, and a groan. The sheriff reaches for the lamp on the table beside his bed and jambs his hand into the bars of the cell. "Shit," he says, realizing he fell asleep in the jail and isn't in his room above the feed store.

He sits up and a mostly empty whiskey bottle slides off of his lap to the floor. He takes a wooden match from his vest pocket, flares it with his thumbnail, and walks unsteadily toward the sound of moaning. Just as he feared, his deputy, Harp, is on the floor, a puddle of blood spreading around him.

"You shot me, Sheriff," Harp sputters. "Why'd you... shoot me? Why?"

"Sorry, Harp. I thought you was somebody in my room. Somebody after me."

"Your room? I was just... coming back in... from taking a piss... Your room?" Harp says, gulping for air.

"Ouch, damn it," Sheriff Quade lets go of the match, which falls onto Harp. He slaps out the flame, causing the deputy to groan loudly.

"Get Doc," Harp says with a rattling breath, then goes quiet.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ghosts in her Head by Maryangel Mendoza Chapman

Maryangel Mendoza Chapman's characters are chased by dark dreams.

There are ghosts in my head. There are ghosts in my head.

I wake up and cannot see. My eyes have been ripped out! No, wait... I can feel them; it is just too dark to see anything.

A piercing siren vibrates inside my head, bouncing around and causing my thoughts to scramble. I can't think with this noise. Woooop-woooop-woooop. The sound is mechanical and sinister in its regularity. I stumble out of the bed and scream. The floor is not there. It's a mossy bog and I slip through the top until I'm thigh-high in cold, slimy bog water. I can feel the moist green growth even though I see nothing. I pull myself to the edge and feel the cold pane glass that must be my window. I have to escape.

Once I am outside it is no longer blindingly dark. Fog covers the landscape casting cars and houses into shadows. Fog so thick anyone could be hiding in it, ready to pounce. The siren abruptly stops and is instantly replaced by the hiss of flames licking dry timber. I spin around wildly in circles. Once, twice, three spins. Nothing is on fire but the sound follows me every way I turn.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Degenerates by Tim Grutzmacher

Two hopeless regulars at Lefty's bar undertake a drinking contest with unusually high stakes; by Tim Grutzmacher.

Shot number 8

Darlene inhaled her shot. She absorbed it. To her it was as essential as oxygen. I started to feel as though I had been duped, that she had this whole scheme cooked up before she sidled up next to me. I've thought that others think of me as an easy mark, a real rube. I like to think that my gullibility isn't entirely a product of stupidity, but my belief that people aren't really as awful as they are. The ounce of Jim Beam slid down her throat without her face betraying even the slightest look of pain. To her it was sustenance, she thrived on anything toxic. I felt a green wave of nausea rising up in me and I hung my head and let out a sigh that seeped out as a sickly groan.

I was at Lefty's, as most of my stories these days start, looking out the window, willing the sun to go down so as to soften the ramshackle establishment. The barroom was small, a house of its size you would call cozy, but I can confidently say nobody has ever affixed that description to Lefty's. Around the L-shaped bar were about ten stools in varying degrees of disrepair held tight to the ever sticky floor like vinyl stalagmites. A well worn pool table was relegated, like a disobedient child, to a dimly lit corner. Billy was behind the bar, dumping buckets of ice into the bin, seemingly disappointed that the menial task didn't kill as much time as he'd hoped. He and I rarely discussed anything other than baseball, and with the home team twenty games out of first in late August we found ourselves without anything to talk about.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mister Polio by Raymond Holmes

Raymond Holmes recounts his experience as a child during the 1950s polio scare in America.

That hot, humid Saturday evening in July, 1951 was the scariest time of my young life - one I would never forget.

The air was like a blanket that covered your body as soon as you stepped outside. The slightest exertion drew perspiration through your skin immediately.

As a respite from the oppressive heat, Mother took me to an air conditioned neighbourhood movie theatre. The cool interior of the building was a blessed relief after enduring several days of that summer heat wave.

We saw "The Bride of Frankenstein." It was a terrifying movie for a seven year-old child to experience. Henry Frankenstein, creator of the monster, was delirious with excitement screaming, "It's Alive! It's Alive!" as he revelled in successfully animating the ugly living thing he had cobbled together with body parts purloined from cadavers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Our Song'll Go On by Scott Bassis

Nineteen year old art student Kristin struggles with the scars of having been sexually abused as a child, and expresses her anger with a painting she fears is too bold for her professors; by Scott Bassis.

"Just the lyrics keep changin.'

We'll dance on too,

Duel with nimble moves,

Engage and defend, but no one'll win."

Feeling a tap on her shoulder, Kristin jumps. She pulls out her earbuds.

"Who are you listening to?" Professor O'Neil smiles the same fake smile she has when she ruthlessly tears down her students' work. Kristin was spared today. During class, Professor O'Neil was speechless each time she passed Kristin's piece.

"Lori Drake," Kristin mumbles.

"Never heard of her. Why don't you ever connect your music to the speaker? You always seem so into it after class ends."

Kristin shrugs. If she were to play Lori Drake for everyone, she wouldn't be able to enjoy it. She would only be thinking how no one else understands what Lori is really saying. "Our Song'll Go On," for example, might sound to some ears like a torch song of lost love. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It's about Lori's struggle with the ongoing effects of childhood sexual abuse.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Down East Homecoming by Michael Beneszewski

Cassie takes her recovering alcoholic husband to the back-country island of her childhood, where he seems thoroughly out of place; by Michael Beneszewski.

I pull the Subaru into the dirt parking lot alongside Doris' Luncheonette and stare at the yellowing white siding of the two-story building for a few minutes. I turn anxiously to Will, and see the fresh scar from his last blackout spread across his face.

"This is steak and potatoes territory. No scenes over not seeing tofu hotdogs on the menu, okay?" I ask. He doesn't answer me and I repeat, "Okay?"

"Fine," he finally mumbles.

"Think about first impressions, alright?"

"Fine," he says again. We get out of the car and Will follows me up the steps.

I open the door, wave Will through, and step in. Twenty or so people spear their eyes at us, curious.

"Anywhere, hon," Arlene the waitress, a distant cousin, says passing us without stopping. As she walks by, I smell the chemical of her hairspray, fryer grease embedded in clothing, and the tangy pungency of cheap perfume. I am home, I think to myself.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Every Cloud by Ceinwen Haydon

Upon the death of her father, Becky McCauley turns to her abusive ex for support; by Ceinwen Haydon.

1.

Becky McCauley leant on the banister at the foot of the stairs, frozen. She knew she had to go up, wake her mother and tell her, but she wanted to run out into the night and never return. They'd said that if he survived for two weeks after the amputation then his chances would be good. He nearly got there, it would have been two weeks tomorrow. There was so much she'd wanted to ask him and now she'd missed her chance. Her bladder was full and painful after too much wine so she made her way to the toilet. As she sat there she vividly remembered random scenes from her life. She'd adored Dad even when he was wrong and he often was. Her mother was a different story.

Becky stood up and washed her hands; she wondered how it was that she could run a primary school that OFSTED rated as excellent and yet she experienced nervous anxiety every time she saw her elderly mum. Of course, it was natural tonight and anyone would have balked at what she had to do. But that didn't explain the other times. She wished Dan was with her tonight, if not him anyone, someone to diffuse the intensity of what was to come. She checked the time, it was two thirty, half an hour had already ticked by. She returned to the living room, poured herself a large gin, downed it and mounted the staircase. She knocked at her mother's door but there was no response. Light snores came from within the bedroom where the old woman slept a Zopiclone induced sleep. Becky opened the door and winced at the stuffy, fetid air. She walked slowly across the shag pile beige carpet and reached out to shake her mother. Becky forced herself to be gentle but withdrew her hand as soon as her mother stirred.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Love Floats by Don Herald

Nathan and Tilley's blossoming relationship is reaching a tipping point, but it's not just Tilley's psycho cat that threatens to come between them; by Don Herald.

NATHAN

The cat woke me up.

How can that be? I don't even own a cat. I always thought a dog would make a better pet; maybe a ferret. One or the other. A ferret wouldn't require that much care. It would fit my lifestyle better. Yes, a ferret would definitely be better than a dog. Way better. At least for me.

I lie still. Eyes deliberately scrunched shut.

Street sounds. Cars. Rock music from a distant radio. Rises, falls, fades. A deep motor growl. Diesel engine. Probably a city bus. Bird chirps. Robins. They're flocking back to favourite trees. Making muddy nests of dried-out grass blades in protected places. Fighting the doves for prime real estate. Nature never changes. Urgent voices. School kids - teenagers judging by the swearing and loud tones - actually talking to each other. Not texting. Amazing in this day and age.

Breath sounds. Light, wispy, slight fluttering at the end. Steady, rhythmic. Soothing. Is it me or someone else? No, it's someone else. But I don't live with anyone. No room-mates. No ferret. At least not yet.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Comet with a Nasty Tail by Tom Sheehan

Professor Clifton Agnuus brings a prop to impress his new students for the first lecture of term; by Tom Sheehan.

The morning, at the outset, had no promise of being ecstatic, though Professor Clifton Agnuus put the rock into his briefcase. Every time out it was about eight pounds of drama for him, at least at the start of every term, and here he was off on a new year. A storyteller he should have been, he argued, a spinner of yarns, the kind of a writer that Professor Albie Short, over in A&S, his one good buddy, drooled over, and had been doing for almost forty years. Albie was apt to open a conversation by saying something like, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge." There was a time Albie would likely answer a telephone call the same way, or with Bartlesby the Scrivener's opening remark, "I AM a rather elderly man," but all that had sloughed off when he was burned by some wise-ass responses. For reasons best known by them, he and Albie liked each other. If anything, Agnuus might say Albie was the other side of the coin.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Come Rain or Come Shine by M M Lewis

M M Lewis's comic steampunk story about a post-Apocalyptic postman with a precious cargo.

The end of the world had worked out rather well for Paddy Fenton. He smiled and took a shot of whisky as the bright red hot air balloon with the yellow 'Royal Mail' insignia rippled in the breeze. Far below, the remaining buildings looked like post-tantrum toys, scattered and overturned. The Noah floods had changed everything, most of it for the worst, but Paddy's job had vastly improved since hot air balloon had become the only way to deliver the post.

The Royal Mail's post-Flood motto was "Come rain or come shine we'll get it there... eventually." He refilled his shot glass. As much as he enjoyed whisky he missed tea. The great tea shortage was one of the worst things about the new normal. Paddy remembered meeting James Finchley, one of Royal Mail's most feared customers, all moustache, bluster and tweed. He had passed over the small cardboard box and told Paddy: "This parcel is valuable and very urgent." It was always 'very urgent', never just urgent.

"Sir, we work hard to provide an adequate service in these difficult times. Your delivery is reasonably safe with us," Paddy said.