Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Choral Conductor By John F. Furth

When a respected conductor dies, his son and his son's gay partner discover that behind his socially prim exterior lay surprising secrets; by John F. Furth.

The congregation rose in unison as the organist at the Church of the Holy Trinity on East 88th Street played the introduction to "A Mighty Fortress is our God". The church - a gentle reddish-brown stone building that held the memories of a more considered time in the history of New York - was full to capacity. And suddenly the quiet of the church exploded with the sound produced by 800 professional, semi-professional and amateur singers. It was of such force that it filled the space like a tidal wave.

It was Hensley Lewis's memorial service and those in attendance had come to honor him for his contributions to the musical life of New York City.

I was considered a member of Hensley's family through my domestic partner relationship with his son Tim, and sat in the first pew along with Mary, Hensley's wife, Ashley, his daughter, and Tim. The unexpected power of the moment, so contrary to the repose and stillness I had often associated with this building, opened emotional wounds that had not had time to heal. Tim started sobbing uncontrollably and lost his balance, oblivious to everything but a grief he barely understood. I grabbed him so he wouldn't fall but the majesty of the music moved me in ways I had not expected and was not prepared for - my throat started to constrict making it almost impossible to sing the final verses. But true to form, the two Lewis women stood their ground firmly, practically daring the torrents to knock them down and yet I knew they too were struggling with the same pain and confusion Tim and I were dealing with so pathetically.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Finishing Touches by Rhema Sayers

A novelist with a tragic past witnesses a neighbour's suicide; by Rhema Sayers.

I've made my decision and written the first page. It's terrible. I delete it and walk around the apartment. Irritated, I pick up my cigarettes and step out onto the balcony to think. I'm on my second cigarette when Bill Samuels opens his door and steps out onto his balcony, eight feet away. The strident voice of his wife knifes through the street noises from below.

"Don't you walk out on me, you..." The voice cuts off as the door closes behind him. He walks to the railing and looks down, fishing in his coat pocket. Not finding anything, he looks up and meets my gaze.

"Need a cigarette?" I ask.

"Yes! Please."

I toss him my pack and lighter and he draws on the lit cigarette with pleasure. We stand there in companionable silence for a time, smoking, studying the street fifteen stories below.

He turns his eyes to me, his gaze full of sorrow and weariness. "Thanks for the cigarette." He smiles slightly, steps over the railing and disappears.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Better Than Nothing by Isaac Cooper

A Scotsman, disoriented by the noisy bustle of Sydney, seeks solace in a captivating piano melody; by Isaac Cooper.

The sound thrummed in his ears: cars honking, women shrieking, airplanes roaring. Finding his feet, he staggered to the window - there was Sydney, an overpriced cocktail of sound. The Scotsman covered his ears, but that did nothing, as he already knew. The city's heart continued to beat, louder than ever, forcing him to switch on the television, which just made things worse. Now someone was telling him, in an almost incomprehensible Australian accent, to "pick up tha phone and change ya life taday!" If there was a hell, he thought, it would be here, in this room, listening to that television. The Scotsman leapt for the door, and blundered into the hallway, overtaking three Chinese men who looked completely, utterly lost.

The lobby was dead silent, save for the subtle cry of a piano. He followed the sound, because it was pleasant, and seemed to promise some grand kind of salvation. Past the lobby's front desk, down a small flight of stairs, the Scotsman came to a lounge scattered with people, some typing furiously on laptops, others sitting at the bar, downing drinks. A grand piano stood in the centre of the room, and a remarkably ugly woman sat behind it. He watched her as he stumbled to one of the sleek, uncomfortable, Le Corbusier lounges. Her lips were puffy and her cheeks were pinched, giving her the appearance of a fish choking to death. Despite this, and maybe it was because of the soft, winding dee-da-dee-da-dee filling his ears, the Scotsman couldn't take his eyes off her.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

That House by Michael C Keith

Twelve year old Brendan Quinn becomes obsessed with the preternatural oddness of an old house on his street; by Michael C Keith.

[Boy] your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head! You imagine things... - Max Stirner

The pale blue house with the gambrel roof at 31 Coyle Street sat at the far end of an immense treeless lawn seemingly big enough to accommodate a football field. Spruce trees rose behind the house like rockets set to launch. It struck twelve year old Brendan Quinn as the loneliest-looking house he'd ever seen. His perspective was compounded by the fact that he'd never noticed a single soul around the solitary dwelling. It seemed as if the place had been abandoned, except that it was well maintained. Its shrubs were always neatly trimmed and bright flowers filled its window boxes.

On one occasion, Brendan had dared to check its mailbox and found it empty. Someone was getting the mail, unless none was being delivered. He was convinced that the differently shaped structure - his neighborhood consisted almost exclusively of raised ranches and capes - was occupied, if not by humans, then maybe by ghosts. Someone or something lived there, he concluded. But who or what, he regularly wondered, as he passed it on his way to and from school.

"Mom, who lives in the house with the big lawn in front of it?" asked Brendan.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Taming Your Inner Child By Giovanni Valentino

Mikey struggles to keep control over the voice in his head; by Giovanni Valentino.

His endless staring bores into my soul. I can't seem to get away from his glare. I run into my house and lock the door, but there he is. I run to a public space, the mall. There he is, staring at me. I can't get away from him. I can't tell anyone about him because they can't see him.

Only I can see him.

My skin crawls as he follows me. He isn't dangerous or evil. He's just really annoying.

"Hey, can we get a Cinnabon, Mikey?" he asks. His voice sounds like an out of tune ukulele.

"I want to cut down on carbs, Billy," I say as I touch the bluetooth headset on my ear, modern technology has made it easier to be crazy in our world. The hope is the people around us will think I'm just rude instead of talking to my imaginary friend. Still, we get a number of strange looks.

"What? I can't hear you." Billy cups his ears. I hate it when he does this. How can he not hear me? He lives in my head.

"I don't think I'll have a Cinnabon today. I don't need the carbs," I say.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What is Love Anyway? by Ceinwen Haydon

An old lady misses her bus home and must accept the kindness of a stranger, but fate has a surprise in store; by Ceinwen Haydon.

"Coincidences are spiritual puns."
- G.K. Chesterton

Nora walked into the crowded café, another refugee from the downpour. She attempted to wipe her muddy walking boots on the coir doormat emblazoned with the word 'WELCOME', but her efforts had little effect. She bent over stiffly, loosened the laces and stepped out of them. She left them by the door, claggy and worn. Water dripped from her navy 'Hilltop' jacket and puddled on the floor. She avoided the eyes of the other occupants as their glances assessed whether she was of interest to them. She wanted to be alone, but the weather had driven her in from the fells where she'd gone for solace.

She shuffled into a chair behind a corner table, and picked up the menu. She noticed that after all that had happened, she could still go through the motions of daily life.

A young woman emerged from the kitchen, and crossed the room holding her notebook and pencil. Her name badge said 'Daisy'. She gave a toss of her head that flicked her dyed russet fringe to one side and her emerald coloured earrings, shaped like parakeets, glinted under the overhead light.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Token by Laura Weddle

Pearl gossips in her wonderfully idiosyncratic dialogue about her town and her neighbours; by Laura Weddle.

Say you come down to Polly's Bend to sell Cloverine Brand salve?

Well, I don't know how much you'll sell. Most of us along here don't do much for cuts and scratches 'cept maybe put on a little coal oil or rubbing alcohol. My daddy used to trap polecats and render out the grease after he'd skinned off the hides. That was a good salve, but people don't take the trouble to make it no more. Most druther have a fancy store remedy than one they could just as easy make theirself.

Somebody might buy a box from you, though, just to get one of them pictures you're giving away with it. I'm partial to that one there.

No, that one next to it of the angel flying over them children. Makes it look like God's always gonna be there to protect them. Shame how often it don't work out that way.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sehnsucht by Alex Jensen

Hitler won the war but has lost his sense of purpose in this bold short by Alex Jensen.

The world was blonde and blue eyed but Hitler gazed out his window wishing for an access to purpose. With the canvas now cleaned for his people to paint, he wonders but what do I do? I've traveled through the maze and am now free. Yet every moment of freedom brings with it a burden of responsibility that I cannot explain to any of my friends or family that I sit static with across the finish line.

Adolf felt a bit embarrassed after breakfast. Dietrich, the butler's understudy dropped a piece of toast and Adolf screamed obscenities as the boy scrambled to sweep up the crumbs. He knew as he was shouting that his anger had nothing to do with the accident. It had to do with jealousy. Dietrich was in his early twenties, he had his life ahead of him. He wanted to be a top butler and to some that may seem unambitious, but what Hitler saw was a boy with a goal. The freedom of time and life and choices, stimulated by a constant fear of failure. Dietrich took this for granted, Adolf thought, As if he was not thankful for the world Adolf had created for him. A world of opportunity.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What Next? by Ceinwen Haydon

A woman's relationship with her domineering mother has come to an end, but she can't bring herself to face the truth about how; by Ceinwen Haydon.

Springtime, a blackbird perched in the lime tree sang. I did not notice. Blisters bled on my heels, my new brogues chafed, tight and sore. As I turned my key in the lock, relief washed through me. I kicked off the shoes and blood dripped onto the stripped oak floor. My jaw unclenched, my neck, shoulders, back slackened. Home at last, after my time away.

As I dragged my bulging case into the hall I felt the weight of a lifetime: one that I was unable to lift or leave behind.

I stepped distracted into the cluttered kitchen, headed for the fridge and the chilled Chardonnay. As I opened the door and saw the beckoning bottle, my gut twisted with pain. I lurched to the toilet and reached it just in time.

An hour later, fuzzy headed and pissed, I sat at the breakfast bar and stared at the bulging suitcase, transfixed. Maybe if I'd asserted myself sooner I'd have avoided the carnage? At last I was liberated, but peace eluded me. Memories are persistent and then there's the small matter of guilt, and its pervasive stench.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Crisis by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Prentburg's Sisters of the Church notice that Christina du Plessis is feeling abandoned by her newly married best friend, and they try to make things right; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Hans du Plessis was unaccountably quiet at the council meeting. Most of his mates put this down to the fact that he was intimidated by Brenda Dixon, the councillor who travelled from Slangspruit to chair the meeting. Brisk and self-assured, she fixed cold blue eyes on anyone she considered was talking nonsense. Consequently the meetings, held at the Sports Club, went smoothly and efficiently and were soon over. Most of the local men who attended then retired to the bar to soothe their shattered nerves and egos. This was the time when Hans usually gave vent to all the opinions he had stifled during the meeting, but not tonight. He sat with head drooping, quietly drinking his beer.

"What's up, Hans?" Bennie Ferreira queried, "you're not your usual self."

"Neither is Christina," Hans replied hollowly. "That's the problem. She's moping. She's pining, and I don't know how to handle her."

His friends lining the bar tried to imagine a moping Christina, which was difficult. Obnoxious, yes; bossy, yes; bloody-minded without doubt, but pining?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Date with the Devil by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste's character tries to save her husband's soul from hell by going on a date with the Devil.

I took an hour to choose a dress. And not because I was prissy. It was my limited choices. I couldn't opt for a favorite or anything sentimental since I planned to burn the outfit after returning that night. Even if a drycleaner could remove the brimstone stains, imagine donning the dress you wore to hell for your next Monday morning board meeting. Ironic, sure - just too disturbing to enjoy.

Worse yet, my attire didn't matter. I might as well have arrived naked. I would be that way soon enough.

In the back of the closet, my wedding gown peeked out of its faded preservation box.

"How about you?" I said to the sleeve that tumbled through a tear in the plastic.

Wearing white to perdition - now that was irony I could appreciate.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Pitcher of Sangria by David Foulds

David Foulds' character braces himself for an evening of feigned politeness when his wife's friends drop by.

I might as well just say it outright. We live in a trailer. Yeah, I know that there is a certain stigma to that, but it was all we could afford here in the Sacramento Valley. She wanted to stay in California, and this was about all she wrote when it came to my pocket book and California real estate. And we wanted to own; Mags thought that renting was a waste of money.

"For the eight hundredth time, Mags, you know I don't like the Lewises." I was setting a table for four when I really wanted to be setting it for two. Make that one.

"They're not so bad," Mags said as she entered the room holding a giant pitcher of Sangria. I looked at it and rolled my eyes. Trevor was bad enough with his tobacco chewing and talk of the rodeo, but with a glass or two of this toxic concoction that Mags makes up, which is in my estimation at least fifty percent vodka, his wife Danny becomes swiftly unbearable. First she starts talking politics; she's a right-winger, one of those fundamentalist nut-jobs who says that God's gonna come down and cast us all to Hell for being sinners. And then after the second glass she inevitably starts talking about sex, and then on her third glass she corners me somehow and makes a pass at me. She tried to kiss me once; I never told Mags about it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Thief Coach by Rylend Grant and Dikran Ornekian

After being betrayed by his mentor and spending a decade in prison, an expert thief returns to Detroit's streets with revenge in mind, in Rylend Grant and Dikran Ornekian's cinematic heist story.

It would have been easier just to kill him, but that really isn't my style.

I approached the Bakas Club at the corner of Fort and Brush, right in the heart of Greektown, at around nine. The tall one made me right away and spread the word. Panos was still on edge after I swung on him during an argument in his restaurant last week. I'm not proud of it. Looking back, I'm lucky he and his didn't drag me into the alleyway and put two in the back of my head.

That night, he made sure all the hired guns had a picture of me in their breast pocket. He had my winning smile tattooed on the insides of their eyelids. They were on guard, convinced I had come to cause trouble. But after all the build up, I just smiled and calmly handed the short, pudgy one my invitation. The guy was completely thrown. You should have seen the look on his fat, stupid face. He had what seemed like a five minute long conversation with his supervisor.

I wasn't worried. That invitation was real. I was on the guest list and everything. They had no choice but to wave me in. It was what Panos wanted. He needed something from me. And after fighting for what seemed like forever, I had finally come to surrender.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Spring Break by Phil Temples

Sam goes for a road trip to the Grand Canyon with his buddy Ed, an alien who looks like a giant pill bug; by Phil Temples.

It was Ed's idea, for which he concocted the perfect plan. I merely made the initial suggestion: we escape the snowdrifts and frigid temperatures of the Cornell campus and do something out of the ordinary over the spring break - preferably, in a warmer, more hospitable environment. I was thinking Florida. But, of course, Ed had "grander" aspirations. If you had told me just a few weeks prior I would be taking an aerial tour of the Grand Canyon with an alien, I would have laughed heartily. I had only known Ed for a few short months, but we were quickly becoming best friends.



I'd seen Ed around campus many times. He was almost always alone. People instinctively shied away from him. Ed's appearance can be a little disturbing. He's approximately five feet, four inches, and sports several dozen pairs of appendages along the length of his body that act as arms. His spiny chest and abdomen are encased in a grey, segmented shell. With it, he can fold in on himself for privacy. In short, Ed resembles a giant Armadillidium vulgare, or pill bug. Or a "roly-poly." Take your pick. But, hey - who am I to judge. I can appreciate that we humans must look pretty bizarre to him. Perhaps we're known as Humanus vulgare on his world.

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.