Friday, May 29, 2015

My Little Amygdala by Tyler Tristao

A man who hears pain as musical notes longs to experience an entire symphony; by Tyler Tristao.

I bring the hammer down onto my finger. It is not an accident.

What should be pain is sent to my brain as a confused signal and I hear the fragment of a song; a note suspended in thin air. I pull the hammer back to hit my thumb again, wanting still to hear more of the strange music, when I am interrupted.

"Hey what did I tell you, huh? Hit the goddamn nail and not the one on your finger," my boss says. He walks over. His name is Rick and he is currently shaking his head. There are goggles pulled up onto the top of his head, pressing flat his long blonde hair. "Look man, it's a liability. Stop with the black fingernails. Please. I'm not going to ask again."

"Sorry Rick. I understand."

That's not true. Of course I understand Rick's dilemma: an employee of his comes to work with mutilated hands, bruises, cuts, scrapes, abrasions of all manners and depths, and it looks bad when the homeowners come by to see the progress of their house and see a cretin such as I hammering nails into what is to become the framing of their new home. Sure, I get that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Listening to Arvo Pärt by Fred Skolnik

Music lover Brand's marriage to Myra has lost its strength and seems mirrored by neighbours and old friends Larry and Marje; by Fred Skolnik.

He listened to Spiegel im Spiegel on the Alina disk about 20 times. It was recorded in three different versions, on the first, third and fifth tracks, while Für Alina was recorded in two different versions, on tracks two and four, so he copied the three Spiegel tracks into his computer so that he could listen to them consecutively. That gave him around 30 minutes of music. He also read the notes, which he usually did when a piece of music interested him. Though he didn't understand much about music from the technical point of view, he understood what the notes were saying in a general way, how the violin mirrored itself and the piano mirrored the violin and the stringent formal development.

He had first heard Spiegel im Spiegel in a film called Wit with Emma Thompson, an actress he always enjoyed watching. The film had brought him to tears, not because of its sadness but because of the perfect art of it, of her brilliant acting and the way the music brought everything home. He played the music while he sat at his drawing board but had to put everything down from time to time and just listen to it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Tale of Hell by Phil Slattery

Phill Slattery's chilling vision of hell.

The last face Jack saw was the executioner's as he slid the needle into Jack's arm.

"I didn't mean to kill him," said Jack.

"The jury decided that you did," replied the executioner.

What seemed like several minutes passed while Jack, strapped to the gurney, sweated and waited, head throbbing with tension, watching the buzzing fluorescent lights overhead, until a black fog enveloped him.

He awoke standing naked holding two buckets overflowing with concentrated sewage. Sweat mixed with grime and soot rolled down his arms. The atmosphere, a mixture of steam, tear gas, sulfur, and the smell of death, burned his throat and stung his eyes, filling them with tears. What little he could see glowed mottled orange and red. Thousands of naked men and women, covered in grime and sweat, cringed whimpering among jagged rocks or ran about in terror while lugging buckets of sewage, blood, or God knew what else.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Half Moon Bay by Sara Jacobelli

Sofia throws her lot in with an ex-con, planning to abandon her lover, leave California, and steal back her children from their adopted family in Texas; by Sara Jacobelli.

San Francisco, 1987

If you're looking for someone to kidnap your kids, you need look no farther than a forty year old ex-con out-of-prison-for-a-week, already broke parole, driving a stolen van with a stack of credit cards in his hand. If you weren't paying attention, Sofia felt, you might mistake him for a husky rough voiced businessman who looked out of place in the crowded semi-punk Mission District bar. She knew better. The way he looked at JT the bartender when he ordered his beer, the way he sat next to Sofia and sized her up, the way he noticed everyone who walked in the door. This guy's Done Time.

"I know your type." He took a swig of his beer. "Number One: You got in a lotta trouble in school for daydreamin'. Number Two: You're not in love with your boyfriend. And Number Three." He paused to light a cigarette. "Number Three: You work too damn hard at your job."

"You did all right with One and Two, but Three's a total bust. I don't even have a job. My teachers could've rode with Jesse James, for all the time they stole from me."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Dilemma by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Christina du Plessis returns from her tour of Europe to find the Church Sisters crabbier than usual, and it's only a matter of time before some stray gossip leads to a big misunderstanding.

Hans and Christina du Plessis's three months' holiday visiting the major European cities was drawing to an end and their return home imminent. The reaction of the "dear friends we are sorely missing" to Christina's e-mail reminding them that they would soon be home was less than enthusiastic. In fact, there was dismayed consternation in the ranks of the Church Sisters at the realisation that the peace they had enjoyed during her absence would soon be a thing of the past.

"Christina will soon be bossing everyone around again," Marion Klopper moaned on bumping into some of the local ladies in the new minimarket. "We won't be able to call our souls our own."

"Perhaps she's changed," comforted the soft-hearted Sarie Blignault. "After all, three months is a long time and seeing all those wonderful places must have had a positive effect on her."

"Leopards don't change their spots!" barked that snide old battle-axe, Mrs Merton. Certainly in her case age had not had a softening effect, the other two thought regretfully. You'd think that, nearly ninety, she'd have mellowed, but...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

One Sight by Jessica Marie Baumgartner

Jessica Marie Baumgartner's sci-fi vignette about aliens discovering a disturbing artefact from human mythology.

No one could believe what they saw. Unearthed deep beneath the vaults of Rome laid a head the likes of mythology. The severed body couldn't be located, but that concerned none of the crew sent in to explore.

Alien curiosity matched that of the former humans' own. The well trained individuals removed blocks carefully, brushed away layers. Beneath them were revealed passageways that led to unimaginable cultural treasures, relics that had intrigued, empowered, and instigated.

These were expected. But when the glazed eyes of the creature were looked upon, everyone present felt a rush of fear. The head was terrifying. Emerging from the follicles of pale skin protecting the skull were the flaccid forms of multiple serpents.

"Enough for today," Wirale announced from her post. As commanding officer, she'd grown weary of traveling to distant reaches and collecting the once loved items of unknown species. It gave her no peace. She wasn't a scholar like most of her companions, but a hired hand armed to protect. Instead of taking pride in her many exploits, she compared herself to a thief stealing memories from dying planets.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Life Examined - Found in a Recorder of the Deceased by Doug Hawley

An unrepentant drug addicted party animal reflects on his petty life; by Doug Hawley.

Well that felt like the big one. At least the first jolt. OK, I had been warned. The docs said I should stop with the alky and pills, but I thought that I knew better. Isn't modern medicine supposed to fix all of our mistakes? Especially at 48? I guess not. I had never been introspective. This may be my last shot at explaining myself to anyone who cares. What could I have left, maybe an hour or so?

I suppose it would be fair to say that I wanted to get ahead the easy way. In grade school I wanted to get attention and the easiest way was to be the class clown. As long as I picked my spots right and stayed in bounds, the teachers even liked it. I didn't get good grades, but I won all the class offices.

In high school the stakes were much higher. The cool guys were bad boys. I smoked plenty of grass and lied my ass off about using the harder stuff. I partied hearty with all of the popular kids, but was discrete enough to not offend the parents. Okay, I was in school to have a good time. I had no plans and no thoughts. The idea was to get loaded and get the best babes. And I did just that. One of my best moves was getting a job for an insurance agency getting leads for the agents to follow up. I learned all that I needed in that job. High school taught me jack. People didn't succeed by being smart; they succeeded by being great with people. More cynically, you got ahead by being manipulative. Can we say sociopath? I think so. Let the geeks in the back office understand the premium rate structure. Salesmen know the latest joke, the best gossip, and what the trends are. I got so I could say "Impact the bottom line at this point in time" without blowing chunks if that's what it took to sell the biz droid.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Body of Proof by William Quincy Belle

William Quincy Belle's gross-out sci-fi about a boy approaching puberty who gets a nasty shock - don't read this while eating.

Luke leaned over the toilet, lifted the seat, and unzipped his pants. He hesitated, remembering his mother's last mention of splash marks, then put the seat back down and unbuckled his pants. Hooking his thumbs in his waistband, he also caught hold of his briefs and slid both items of clothing down below his knees. Luke turned around and sat on the seat, then leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs.

An odd tickle was developing in his nose. Luke twisted and pulled up a few sheets of toilet paper. It felt like a sneeze coming on. He folded the paper to reinforce it, then held it in one hand to get ready. He continued to pee as he waited to see which way the tickle would go.

The tickle got worse, and Luke knew he would let go. He brought the tissue up and covered his nose. He inhaled, paused then sneezed full force into the toilet paper. Luke wiped his nose and held the used paper to one side. With his other hand, he reached between his legs and shook himself. He stood up, half turned, and pitched the paper into the toilet. Something caught his eye, and he looked again in the toilet bowl. There was something red on the tissue. Did he have a bloody nose?

Luke took more toilet paper and blew his nose. He looked at the tissue and didn't see any red. Using his pinkie, he poked tissue first into his left nostril, then into his right, but it didn't come back red. He tossed the tissue, then reached down and pulled up his underwear and pants before turning around to glance at the red mark. He leaned closer. The red mark wiggled.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Work Out by Andrew Elsakr

When Andrew Elsakr's character is offered a job on the side by his boss at the gym, he is tempted by some easy money, but he will have to face the consequences.

It wasn't what you'd call a real job. Not something I'd worked for or earned or maybe even deserved. I was the assistant to the receptionist of the local gym and in my opinion, the only thing more pathetic would have been to have no job at all. My friend Juan, a personal trainer there I worked out with a lot, was the one who set me up with the gig after I'd told him about my problems, about how I couldn't keep away from the drinks and how that was the reason I was no longer in college. We'd talk between sets and usually when I got too caught up in self-pity he'd change the subject by correcting my form and telling me I was going to tear something if I wasn't more careful. Compared to him I was pretty out-of-shape but that didn't bother me as much as I think he believed it did. Don't get me wrong, we were tight. He just had this thing when it came to health. He never took girls on second dates if they ordered a soft drink the first one, and rumor had it he broke up with his girl of nine months because he'd caught her taking a Zumba class. Outside the gym he was a good guy though. He could drink anyone under the table (although he only drank Saturday nights and would do 50 push-ups after every shot) and he could grill a steak like no other. He'd invite me over for dinner from time to time to watch Grizz and Ravens games and every time, his steaks would have just the right amount of tenderness and just the right amount of seasoning. I'd forget all about the game and get lost in a world of flavor. "Juan," I told him one time. "Forget making fat people skinny. You could make a killing off making them fatter if you became a cook." And he said back, "If I was meant to cook, I would've been born without these bits of dangling meat between my legs." And I laughed and he laughed too. We weren't too similar those days, aside from our taste in sports teams, but back in high school we'd been best friends. Those had been our days of basketball, when he and I had been stars. Our junior season had been like a golden era, with me leading the county in assists and Juan leading the entire state of Tennessee in points. Everybody in school knew us and wanted to hang with us, and we felt like celebrities. Senior year didn't go so hot, though. Juan tore his ACL early in the season and without him I didn't play nearly as well. And that was that for our basketball careers - no college offers, no pro tryouts, nothing. Now all we did together was drink and work out.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Lavender Therapy by Bruce Costello

While searching the mangroves for crocodiles, an unexpected reunion; by Bruce Costello.

Look to the left, folks,” called the skipper’s voice over the speaker. “There’s a croc on the bank, at the top of the mud slide.”

“I see it! Ugly brute!” exclaimed the woman next to me, gripping the railing.

“Mean-looking beast,” I answered.

Just a baby, about one and a half metres,” continued the voice overhead, chuckling.

“Ugh! Look at those teeth,” said the woman.

“Like a sawn-off picket fence.”

She turned to me. I was struck by the lavender blue of her eyes and the way her face lit up as she laughed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pastorale #2: The Mill by Gerald Warfield

Kayla is forced to confront her twin obsessions: the mill she tends and her forbidden love; by Gerald Warfield.

Through a window of the mill Kayla saw a figure approaching on the path by the river. Dried blood caked one side of his face and streaked his homespun shirt. Looking down, he stepped hesitantly as if unsure of his balance. When he reached the sluice gate that diverted a swift channel to the mill he grabbed hold of one of the upright posts to steady himself.

Kayla backed into the shadows of the room. She had failed to stop him. Defiantly, she yanked on the bow beneath her chin, loosening her white, starched cap and tossed it onto the wooden table.

Around her the room vibrated to the great wheel that turned beyond the wall. Inside, only the axle moved, but the millstone did not. The knobby gear wheel that drove the connecting shaft had been disengaged, pulled back by a wooden lever on the side. Several sacks of millet and barley corn rested against the wall waiting their turn beneath the stone.

When the figure reached the porch, Kayla heard the squeak of boards yielding to his weight even above the low rumble of the wheel. He passed the window without looking in and lifted the bar latch. The door squeaked as he pushed it open.

"Hello, Able," she said.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Life is Like a Dry Martin by David Haight

Martin turns to his school friend Whitey for help and companionship - and stories about their past sexual conquests - until he is finally forced to choose between the two girls he is dating; by David Haight.

By the time they turned nineteen years old there were no two people who knew each other better than Martin and Whitey. They had been friends since the second grade when Martin opened his front door to the greasy, over-eager face of Sammy Schneider, the cuffs of his red and blue stripped shirt moist and frayed from being nervously sucked on. His shoulders dropped. Sammy had been stealing baseball cards from him. Such was his resentment of his fish-faced neighbor that he hadn't noticed the stranger with the protruding crooked teeth and white hair standing behind him. Maybe this new kid heard how well Sammy had done and is here to steal from me too, he thought. "This is Whitey," Sammy said. "He's cool." Martin reluctantly showed them both in and watched closely as they sat in the middle of his bedroom floor, passing cards among them, no doubt evaluating their relative worth. It didn't take long for Whitey to confide to Martin that Sammy had stolen from him as well and Sammy was quickly jettisoned from their circle. From then on they were two parallel lines travelling in the same direction: they graduated high school together, had a joint graduation party and now having finished their first year of college at the University of Needmore had their future mapped out. They would travel to New Zealand, exhaust all of its bars, charm its women and venture back to Minneapolis to open a restaurant, Martin managing and Whitey as head chef. They were filled with that sense of possibility and autonomy that comes from escaping the confines of your parents' roof. It was also the summer when their should-have-been-lifelong friendship would end.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Crazy Jug by Patricia Crandall

Two ladies dig for old bottles at an abandoned dump, and a neighbour takes a particular interest; by Patricia Crandall.

"Thanks be to God," prayed Nina Westacott. She genuflected and filed down the aisle along with the other congregants of St. John's Catholic Church in Indian Falls, New York. Once outside, she bustled along Maple Street to her tree-shaded gingerbread house.

Eager to get started, Nina slipped out of her go-to-church clothes, and changed into a jogging suit and sneakers. At ten o'clock, a horn tooted in the drive - Gert, punctual as ever. Nina smiled in anticipation of the adventure ahead.

Today, the women proceeded to a small dairy and Christmas tree farm five miles south of Indian Falls. They drove past a neat white farmhouse on a small hill where ancient trees spread their twisted limbs full of large green leaves. Soon they arrived at a wooden fence bordering the Gilhooley farmland. Gert parked her Subaru Outback off the road. She opened the trunk and removed pairs of rakes, shovels, hoes and garden gloves.

Mining tools in hand, Gert and Nina tacked off in the opposite direction of the house to a field of high grass. They slipped beneath a fence, glanced at the cows grazing in the lower field, and continued along a path to a steep embankment. Gert's short, square frame half-slid, half-shuffled downhill. Plump Nina's girth made it difficult for her to descend, still she managed to make it to the bottom without losing her ladylike composure.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Remorse of Mayor Hadly by Michael Stewart

Charlie Roundtree returns to the Alaskan mountains where his Native American father died, to spend time with his so-called uncle whom he suspects of murder; by Michael Stewart.

His father's body parts had been strewn out over a quarter mile. They found half a torso by itself, then a femur and finally a foot, mostly all bone. At least, that's what the men told his mother when they came back from the search party thirty three years ago.

Cracking the window in the cab of his truck the cool Alaskan air rushed in. It smelled like the mountains, like evergreens, fresh and uncorrupt. But offered little relief for his queasiness. Another hour passed and Charlie Roundtree breathed in deep trying to quell the feelings that brewed inside him.

He dreaded this trip for years now, yet he knew it needed to be taken. Feeling all the signs of sickness, coming on like a cold fever, he wondered if he would pass out from the anxiety. He didn't like confrontation, it made his chest tighten. Charlie stepped out of his truck in the sunny forty-degree weather and stretched out the soreness of his seventeen-hour drive from Juneau.

He stood in front of the one-story building with town hall written on the glass door. A slight breeze blew from the west and made the air feel a few degrees cooler.

Mayor Hadly, Uncle Steve to Charlie, had been after him to come spend a little guy time for years now. Do a little hunting or just get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stuffed Dates by Maui Holcomb

Maui Holcomb's touching tale of a pot-addled student who goes to dinner with friends of his parents in search of home-cooked food, and finds something more meaningful.

"These amazing stuffed dates for starters," I said. "Downed a bunch of those."

"Oh," said Pete, pointing at me, "and that bread."

"Oh, hell yeah, the garlic bread," actually rubbing my stomach. "Mmmm."

We were sitting in Stuart and Zeke's room afterward, bong on the floor, Floyd in the air. Zeke cross-legged on the floor, breaking up the bud, Stuart sulking in his desk chair, eyes hooded, smoking a Dunhill and still wearing his trench coat. He had walked into the dorm with a new bag and announced it was time for a "debriefing".

"Some sort of casserole for the main dish. Then cobbler."

"Cobbler?"

"Yeah," I nodded. "I mean, it was a real home-cooked meal, man."

He peered over his cigarette.

"Yes, I do recall it was to be a 'home-cooked meal'," he said, his air quotes scattering ash on the grungy floor.