Sunday, November 23, 2014

Konichiwa, Mr. Miyashita by Gary Ives

An ungrateful Baby Boomer rants about his parents boring stories about their past; by Gary Ives.

I suppose just about everyone of my generation, that's us Boomers, would admit that his parents had it rougher. But so what? Mom and Dad both grew up on farms during the depression. Instead of heading to college after high school Dad was drafted two days after his wedding and sent off to the war someplace over in the Pacific. Mom worked on her folk's farm. Yeah, yeah those tough times with all that hard work and privations; they're such a big deal now. That war, how long did it last? Four years? Whoop dee doo! But the way I see it theirs is the donkey work generation. We're the smart generation. I'll put my money on smarts every time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ordinary Average Guy by Jim Bartlett

Jim Bartlett's character Lee makes small talk with a friend about a visiting politician, but he has something to hide.

Lee slips out of the car and stretches from the long ride under a sky that looks like rain. Finding a dry spot on the cracked asphalt, he leans his wrapped package against the back door of the car and works his hand trying to get some feeling back. He glances over at Frazier, still behind the wheel listening to the radio.

Damn news. He'd heard enough of those reports over and over again on the trip here to last a lifetime.

He takes a step away from the car and looks around. From where he stands he notes the employee parking lot to be only half full, but it's still early. And it's a Friday.

"Gonna be a big day today," Frazier says, finally stepping out.

Lee shrugs, says nothing. He watches Frazier move to the front, kick a foot back against the bumper, and light a cigarette.

"Not sure why that asshole is comin' through these parts, ain't no one here gonna vote for him no way."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maintaining Appearances by Michael C. Keith

When Hank dreams his deceased friend is calling him from the grave, he decides to take action in Michael C. Keith's silly story.

 I wander in the ways of (dead) men,
Alike unknown and unknowing.
- Robert Burns

Like most everyone else, Hank Capron had an occasional nightmare. Lately, however, they had become more common and taken on a more personal and intense nature, as they centered on his longtime friend, Jacob Howell, who had died three years earlier.

Normally, his dreams about his close buddy dealt with events from their mutual pasts, such as the many trips they'd taken together, gatherings with close friends, games at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, and similar happenings. In other words, nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, pretty mundane stuff.

Over the past week, however, Hank had dreamed that his always-dapper friend was talking to him from his grave. For five consecutive nights now, he had awakened in a cold sweat after dreaming of standing over Jacob's grave and hearing his voice beckon him. The message was the same each time, a plea to dig him up so he could make a crucial appointment. The otherworldly entreaty remained with him during his waking hours.

"Please, Hank, get me out of here. I must get somewhere. It's very important and can't be put off any longer!"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Water Baby by Jane Percival

Jane Percival's creepy story of an orphan girl whose strange behaviour and affinity for water grow gradually more acute as she grows up.

Zoe was an odd little girl, there was no question of that. From the day that she first joined the family - a small scrap of a child with a shock of black hair - she was different. She had such a grave way of looking at the world. Her aunt, uncle and cousins would take turns to try to make her smile, but she would just look back at them neutrally. When she was a toddler, she was content to play by herself, although she did play alongside other children if she had to. And it didn't go unnoticed that she had a habit of staring at people, watching. Jo would often look up and catch her gaze.

Zoe was a collector. In itself, that wasn't unusual. Her father had collected those cardboard coasters that they have in bars, and her mother's childhood stamp collection was still up in the attic. But Zoe collected round river stones and had a pile of small twigs that she'd found somewhere. She'd spend ages sorting the stones and rearranging the twigs into different shapes. When not playing with the twigs, she'd bind them up in her old baby blanket, the one she'd been wrapped in on the day she was rescued.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Sea of Trees by Greg Leader Cramer

Greg Leader Cramer's moving flash about a schoolboy trying to cope with the stigma of having a dead mother.

"Take it back." I've got Pank in a headlock, his head hovering over the cracked and dirty toilet bowl. Our faces are inches apart, which seems weirdly intimate. He's struggling now with everything he's got but he can't get free.

"She was a whore and you're a -" I don't give him a chance to finish. I yank the lever and shove his head into the bowl. He tries to shout but just chokes on the filthy water. The other kids go quiet. I let him up on the count of five Mississippi.

"Take. It. Back." I brace for another flush but then my collar is yanked across the cloakroom and Mr Leighton is yelling at us, at everyone. Pank's face is stained blue from the disinfected water and a small puddle forms at his feet. He is out of breath and panting like a greyhound. I realise I am too. Mr Leighton stands in between us, barking orders, but I don't hear him. The other kids drift away. Fun's over.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

River Cats! by Jonathan Danielson

When the levee bursts and floods Jess and Scott's neighbourhood, they welcome the tragedy as an opportunity to be the centre of attention - but how much suffering is too much? By Jonathan Danielson.

When the levees for the Delta and American River burst that morning, Jess and Scott laughed. "At least they bought their house on short-sale," they said, before gathering everything they could, water seeping through their doors and rising up their legs.

"Should've listened to FEMA!" Scott joked, carrying photo albums upstairs, the fact that they paid eighty-five thousand under asking price putting in perspective that black mold wouldn't be as expensive as it could have been.

"But who knew!" Jess laughed, following with cans of food.

Before Katrina, when the Army Corps of Engineers determined the levees bursting in New Orleans was the number one potential disaster facing the US, people accused the Corps of being Debbie Downers and buzz-kills. Something like that would never happen, they argued. This was the Big Easy. The city of Mardi Gras.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding Out by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon's character looks forward to a lad's holiday in Spain with his housemate, but unexpected tensions roil under the surface.

I open one eye, squinting as the streams of sunlight flood through the gap between my curtains. I get up on autopilot, stretching exultantly before yanking them open. The warmth of the sun hits my sleep fuddled face, and I remember, today's the day. Finally, Saturday morning: holiday time, Spain awaits!

I look in the mirror, I look pale and knackered. That's a harsh reality for a twenty-two year old. My hair is wild and out of control, like an Irish werewolf. I pull a face, stick my tongue out, then bare my teeth. Bring it on: Viva Espagna.

I am desperate for a break. I work too hard, burning the candle at both ends. Sleep is a luxury. Two years into my media degree at college, and working twenty-five hours a week at the Indi Cinema to keep body and soul together (whilst still getting into a shitload of debt). I never seem to stop, except on occasional Friday nights when I go out with some mates after work. A few beers, then bed, I'm hardly grooving through as a dissolute student: chance would be a fine thing.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What the Creek Carries Away by Miranda Stone

Miranda Stone's powerful story about cousins who meet twenty years after a terrible misunderstanding changed the course of their lives.

I expected my grandfather's house to be empty a week after his funeral, but I spotted a figure sitting on the top porch step, and as I eased my car closer, a spasm seized my gut.

Twenty years, and my cousin still looked the same. Long brown hair that refused to hold a curl, hazel eyes set deep in her pale face. Three years my junior, she'd be thirty-five now. Despite the morning chill, she wore a tank top and denim shorts. Her feet were bare.

I swallowed hard. My unfamiliar vehicle drew her attention, and I was tempted to hunker down and keep driving. The back of my neck prickled with heat.

"No," I muttered. "You won't run me off this time."

I parked the car on the street and cut the engine. For a long moment, I didn't move, just watched her through the window. The sound of rushing water penetrated the silence. A bold creek traversed the property behind Granddad's house, and I wondered how high the water had risen after last night's heavy rain.

As I got out of the car, Alma didn't wave or move to rise. I scratched the stubble on my jaw, wishing I'd shaved that morning, and then berated myself for wanting to appear more presentable.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Resurrection Hardware by Deb Smith

At her sister's funeral, Marion Ward reflects on their suffocatingly conservative family and prepares to deliver her sister's controversial last wishes; by Deb Smith.

After a few short readings and one soloist of average height, Reverend Summers introduced the next item on the funeral program. It was called "The Healing Miracles". The lights dimmed in the small chapel and we saw what appeared to be the opening credits for a movie. There was a wide shot of what I took to be something generically Holy Land-ish, a rocky desert scene with a village of sun bleached houses. Then the camera cut to a small group wearing hooded robes and sandals walking slowly through the village gate. The camera zoomed in to reveal the familiar blue-eyed bearded Jesus of my childhood. He was followed by several, I'm guessing twelve, apostolic looking men and one woman. The woman was tall with rich auburn hair. That woman was my sister, Vic.

Almost in unison the assembled guests sat up rail straight and held their breath. There was some low muttering from somewhere behind me, however Jesus was not deterred by our surprise and proceeded to cure the blind and the lame with my sister at his elbow. The whispers became almost audible and there was a cloud of humid tension in the room. As the film concluded, I snuck a peek at the faces to my left and right. Midwesterners can be hard to read when it comes to these things, but I could see a mixture of grief, agitation and disapproval.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Ladder of Success by William Ogden Haynes

Larry Leonard takes a break from University to visit Colorado, but his summer doesn't go as planned; by William Ogden Haynes.

It was the year that Larry Leonard was taking a break from Northern Michigan University for the summer semester. He had no classes to take for that term and he looked forward to seeing his parent's new home in Colorado. Larry Leonard's father was a Major recently stationed at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy. Colorado, Larry imagined, was a lot like California. They sold 3.2% beer to eighteen year olds, the women looked like tanned surfer girls, the weather was sunny and everyone was cool and laid back. It was a far cry from the cold weather in the upper peninsula of Michigan where the girls were mostly pale-skinned Scandinavian types with Canadian accents. Larry would look out across Lake Superior and listen on the car radio as the Beach Boys sang, I wish they all could be California girls. But absent spending the summer in Malibu, Colorado would be the next best thing. When the boys in the dorm found he was taking a road trip out west, they lined up to give Larry twenty dollars each for a case of Coors beer which was not then sold in Michigan. Somehow Coors had increased value just because it was unobtainable in Northern Michigan and Larry took only enough orders to fill his trunk on the return trip. In the fall, Larry's popularity would soar among those who received a case of that Rocky Mountain spring water.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Binary Code by Jim Bartlett

When Seymour Dunston rescues his old-school adding machine, the network conspires to reward him; by Jim Bartlett.

"Are you still using that confounded adding machine?"

Seymour Dunston glances up from his work coming nose to nose with his manager, Morris Fretterhorn, a younger fresh-face racing up the fast track of the executive ranks of Myes, Zerr, and Lee, a highly respected and long standing accounting firm in San Francisco. As he studies that angry look, his vision fills - just for just the briefest of moments - with the scene from the old Warner Brother cartoons where Daffy Duck or Elmer Fudd become so infuriated that their face turns beet-red, steam jetting from their ears to the sound of a train whistle. And his mouth flirts with a smile.

"Have there been complaints about my calculations? Audits on my returns?" His retort only seems to work the young man into more of a frenzy.

"Mr. Dunston, you don't seem to fathom what it is we're after here." He points an accusing finger. "You see... it's not the accuracy or the quality that I question." Fretterhorn puts his hands on his hips and begins an agitated pace along the side of his desk. The room takes on a deadly quiet, all eyes intent on the skinny manager.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reaching for the Sky by Mitchell Waldman

A guilt-ridden mother must face telling her paralysed son that his only brother is dead, but first she wants the truth about his past; by Mitchell Waldman.

She didn't know what to think anymore. The question went beyond whether her son had meant to rob the man, whether he had been harassing the man on the subway, whether he had just been going along with his friends, or whether he deserved what he had gotten. How many times had she shaped and reshaped these questions in her head over these last twelve years, to no avail? No, it went to the larger question of whether there was a God, for how could He, if He existed, let her and her son suffer like this, for so long, no matter what he'd done? Or was this the living hell she'd heard some speak of?

It had happened three days before Christmas. Oh, they were going to have a good Christmas that year, Betty and her sons, Bradley and Noah. No matter that Sam had up and left for good six months before. Who needed him, anyway, with all his talk about all the money he was going to make. She didn't want any money the way he meant to make it. She wanted a clean life, no drugs in her boys' lives, a straight life. And that's what they'd had. She'd gotten herself a job at the grocery down the street. Bradley had gotten a job at a shoe store, part time, after school, and even Noah, only fourteen, had helped out delivering Sunday papers with old white-haired Mr. Sanderson down the road.

Bradley had wanted to be a baseball player, a musician, a scientist, he'd wanted so many pie-in-the sky dreams.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gluttonie by Tyler Tristao

Tyler Tristao's bizarre and gross story of a carer who feels guilty for enabling the extreme obesity of a 1000lb man.

I'm seeing the most atrocious and sickening event of my entire life. I feel the weight of dread in my gut, physically ill. How could this have happened?

"One thousand and two pounds," the doctor announced in a deadpan voice. "I'm concerned about massive generalized edema in Mr. Hale," I heard him say from some place far away. "Other than that, the vitals have remained consistent. As per my instructions, I'll omit my professional advice. Will there be anything else?"

I couldn't in my wildest imagination think of anything else the doctor could do for my ward and I. The little tight frown on the old man's face appeared in lieu of a formal goodbye. I'm over here trying not to vomit.

"Did you call Conquistadors?" The one-thousand-and-two-pound-man asked me after the doctor quietly left. We are in a large room, which is dwarfed by the profound form of Philip Hale. Around us the space is mostly cluttered with unused medical equipment and a seventy-two inch flat screen television in front of the place where this obese man lives his entire life. Beneath his oozing form is a specialized couch. "I gave you the order already. They should be here any minute. And get me some sodas when you go back into the kitchen."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Programmable Love by Bremer Acosta

Bremer Acosta's story about Gillen, a neuro-bot suffering an existential crisis, and her human boyfriend Jon, who must confront the prejudices of his friends.

Part 1

Gillen gazed into the plasma-mirrors coiled inside her dome apartment. They bent all the contours of her body, mirroring her flesh in crosshatchings of light. She stood in front of the mirror, naked, pale and veined in her legs and arms, with gears turning under her skin like cockroaches crawling under a rug.

Her mind lingered into a weird daydream as she stared. Is this neuro-bot really supposed to be her, this creature, this thing, compiled of the ghosts of human data, the replicas of their past? She felt alien in the bathroom, wishing for something she couldn't quite put into words.

Gillen didn't feel the same way the humans told her she should feel, as a duplicate of their humanity, as an afterthought of their existence. She felt real when she saw the gleam around her purple irises, the faint hairs on her legs, the pockmarks lining her back, the bumps crowning her nipples. And her stomach looked molded out of clay, capable of being shaven down to its abdominals or expanded out into a simulated pregnancy. All of this, everything she was made of, she thought she knew already, without speaking, with only one glance.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Women Are So Much More Interesting To Men (Than Men Are To Women) by Charlotte Hayden

Charlotte Hayden's stream of consciousness about being a woman and wanting - or perhaps wanting to be - a man.

When my Modernism and Modernity lecturer first stroked my leg I thought, I'll go with it. When my best friend Eloise told me he did the same with her I thought, are you kidding me? I had predicted a lengthy, passionate affair with a 40 year old married professor and instead, after he'd finished with Eloise, he left the university and moved to France. I heard his wife ran off with another woman. Good, I thought. Generally I try not to be bitter. But sometimes it's hard not to indulge myself in some healthy Schadenfreude. Only this morning I couldn't help but take de-light in discovering that a girl I went to school with was left at the altar and the man in question has run off with more than a handful of her money. I remember (at the tender age of 15) when this same girl told me (among other things) that I can't look good in a bikini because my boobs are so small. Now that I am older and less afraid I may well find this girl's ex fiancé and ask him politely to play with my nipples and have sex with me on the beach.

Sometimes when my period is due or when I'm watching a comedy gala and struggle to find any women or when I have a smear test and the nurse tells me that I remind her of a 'little doll' while I lie there with my legs spread in front of her face, I think about what it would be like to be a man.