Friday, August 29, 2014

Believer by Jeannette Pontician

Julie has no patience for religion, but she agrees to take her cancer-riddled mother to a faith healer; by Jeannette Pontician.

Margie is a Believer, so it didn't surprise Julie when her mother said, "The Lord will take care of things, Julie. I believe in Him." Her eyes never wavered as she patted Julie's hand. Julie nodded and forced a smile, dark hair hanging like drapes along her olive face. She kept her eyes fixed on the road ahead, gripping the steering wheel.

"God has a plan, Julie. I know it. My church group is praying hard," Margie said before opening the car door. Julie paused for a moment to wipe her eyes before following her mother into the building.

The elevator ride up to the oncology floor was silent. Julie stood there, holding tight to her coffee, watching her mother rub her fingers over the cross that dangled from around her neck. The doctor's office was on the top floor. The waiting room was full of soft chairs and blue painted walls. Margie walked in, waving to the nurses behind the reception desk.

"Dr. Isen will be with you in a moment, Margie. Have a seat."

"This office reminds me of what it must be like in heaven," Margie whispered to Julie as she sat down.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Years After by Pathos

Pathos' character is visited by a child he used to bully in this creepy tale.

"Who are you?"

"You don't remember me?"

"You turned out the lights, how can I remember someone I can't see?"

"I wonder if you ever saw me."

"Who the hell are you?"

I remember feeling frustrated. This strange, dark voice taunting me with riddles of the past. The sun had been washed away by the storm. I could hear the patter of rain on pavement all around me, and I could feel the raindrops heavy upon me. They were different, room temperature, salty. A wail of despair like a clap of thunder startled me from above. And I could then hear it: the weeping. I could hear so many soft voices from the heavens: sobbing, sniffling, crying. This rain: it was made of tears. A monsoon of shame and sorrow beating down upon me, threatening to flood the world like in the times of Noah.

I tried to swim through the nebulous darkness which swirled relentlessly around me. Without light I was without hope. I could be doomed to wander aimlessly through this cruel abyss until I finally drowned in the tears of the forsaken.

"Are you controlling this?" I asked the voice.

"Could one pair of eyes shed so many tears?"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Burning Bush by O. D. Hegre

A businessman who uses God to justify his ruthless capitalism buys a plot of land featuring a religious relic; by O. D. Hegre.

Millard sipped his drink and looked over at the flowering shrub. He had purchased the Scottsdale estate some six months ago. They had residences all over the world, but his dying wife wished to spend her final days back home in Arizona. She had fallen in love with the property - especially the landscaping.

The estate lay nestled in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, not far from the Mayo Clinic where she could embark on a new experimental treatment for her condition. But his attorneys had advised him that the asking price topped the range of comps. The seller had priced the estate with regard to the extensive landscaping and in particular, the rare bramble bush which now held Millard's full attention.

During the negotiations, the seller's agent, a young woman in her mid twenties, had explained to Millard that the owner - a Madame Romani - frequently traveled to the Middle East. "Twenty years ago she had obtained a cutting from what the Monks of St. Catherine's Monastery claimed to be the original bramble and planted it here, in her back garden," the agent said.

"The original bramble?" Millard asked.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Swan River Daisy by Tom Sheehan

Chester McNaughton Connaughton buys a new parcel of land and finds himself in trouble with the local Saxonish authorities when a large paddle steamer appear in the middle of his field; by Tom Sheehan.

Chester McNaughton Connaughton, aptly named for both sides of the family, landowner in the new world, squeezer of pennies and nickels and the very corpulence of coin, embarrassed at times by his own good fortune where his roots had once been controlled and ordained by potatoes and turnips or the lack thereof, gazed over his latest acquisition of a two-acre parcel abutting his prime abode and wondered how he could best utilize it. Mere coinage, he had early assessed, would apply the jimmy bar under Carlton Smithers and separate him from the land in their town of Saxon. Carlton was old, alone, susceptible. It would be a piece of cake. It was, subsequently and as he had forecast, a swift steal, and papers and proper process moved the property under the shield of his name.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All Mixed Up by Elizabeth Archer

When Adrianna has an accident with a hair straightener in her bathtub, she gets a chance to reflect on her relationship with good-for-nothing Charlie; by Elizabeth Archer.

When Adrianna electrocuted herself straightening her hair in the bathtub, a Death Ghoul came to drag her to Hell much faster than she expected. One minute she was screaming in the tub of suds, wondering if those warnings about electricity and water were true after all. The next minute a black blob was slipping under the door, forming itself into a menacing shape. Glowing red eyes peered out of the mist.

Yep. It was a Death Ghoul alright. She'd seen one on TV. But didn't they just drag evil characters off to hell?

She shouldn't be damned. Charlie was the one cheating with that skank Kayla. It was his fault she needed to soak in calming lavender oil. Then her hair started frizzing. If Charlie came around begging her to forgive him, she'd wanted to look her best.

At least now she wouldn't have to unfriend him on Facebook. She had unfriended life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Do You Have Any Instincts? by Kacy Cunningham

Kacy Cunningham's oblique vignette about a struggling relationship.

We sat across from each other, a gesture that took effort - you slid the chair away from my side, straddled the thing, its wooden back creaking. You searched everyone's face but mine.

"Coffee's good," I said. Your leg was tapping under the table, your eyes still moving. "Is it too hot?" I asked.

"It's fine," you said, looking at your cup suddenly. "It's good."

It was a drafty corner place made of thin sheets of wood. Your father lived just three blocks uphill.

When we first met, we spent hours in cafés. I was only sixteen and the bartenders always knew. We ordered hot teas, black coffee, espressos, muffins, and warmed scones. Anyway, I liked those café days.

Why am I telling this to you, you who was there too? Why not to someone new, someone who wasn't there? It's a good question. The way I figure it, you must've forgotten. I mean, you must have. Even me. I started forgetting too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Own Executioner by Michael Saad

Jebediah-Todd Fallard attends an ordinary Sunday church sermon, and unexpectedly comes face-to-face with a horrific moment from his past; by Michael Saad.

Church is supposed to be a place to infuse one's life with spirituality, a place to reconnect with God, the teachings of Christ, and the larger Christian community where "good things take place." It wasn't supposed to be the place where you suffered a blindside ambush, an encounter so horrifying that the insides of your stomach melted as though you had just swallowed a bottle of drain cleaner. Yet that is what JT felt, watching the guest speaker for today's sermon standing at the podium, speaking on the topic of cleaning up one's life, and welcoming Jesus Christ into his world.

Oh my God, what the hell? JT thought, squirming in his seat. He had no idea this man was going to be here today. JT had come to church thinking it would be another routine Sunday sermon, hearing Pastor Terry talk about fellowship, sin, looking to the Bible for answers. Instead, the Pastor spoke for only two minutes, then introduced the guest speaker. JT hadn't thought much of the introduction - he had never heard the special guest's name before, but his interest spiked upon hearing that the man had been involved in an urban gang, and served time in jail. It only took looking up into those dark, beady eyes, then a mere five seconds of hearing the man's voice, and JT found himself face-to-face with the Devil - the man who had tormented his dreams, and lured him into the darkest of his fantasies - for the past twenty-five years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Experiment Requires by Anne Goodwin

A lecturer introduces a group of teenage schoolchildren to the study of psychology be re-enacting an infamous 1970s social experiment; by Anne Goodwin.

TEACHER: Okay, let's see how many of those word pairs you've remembered. I'm going to read out the first word of each pair followed by four alternatives. Your task is to tell me which of these four words was originally paired with the first. You got that?

LEARNER: Yes.

TEACHER: Let's get going then. Green - grass, shoe, box, hat. Answer, please.

LEARNER: Box.

TEACHER: Correct. Next one: Fish - hand, pie, walk, slow. Answer, please.



Stella shepherds her troupe into the classroom and closes the door. She struts to the front and pretends to check the papers on her clipboard while she watches how the sixth formers select their seats. As expected, they mostly congregate towards the back of the room. Only two of the group, a slouching red-haired boy with a complexion more acne than skin and a poised young woman with ironed-straight hair and perfect makeup, brave the front row. Stella marvels at the varying manifestations of late adolescence: he with all the social graces of a thirteen-year-old, while she could quite easily pass for twenty-five. She sighs as the boy struggles to manoeuvre the clip-on desk into place. The more he tries the more complicated he seems to find it. It reminds her of a scene from one of those excruciating Laurel and Hardy films that her grandmother used to find so amusing.

"For God's sake can somebody help him before he wrecks the furniture," she says.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Landlords by Brooke Fieldhouse

Brian, working class and proud of it, uses his unusually large inheritance to become the dominant landlord of Florence Square - but making a quick buck is never straightforward; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

'Florence Square Brothel Exposed'

Brian plunges the diesel pump into his Range Rover, and stares with uncomprehending horror at the hand-written newspaper billboard headline.

'Oh Lord!' He must get to the toilet without delay - it's the shock. He asks the garage attendant and sits, relieving himself in the grubby, ultra-violet lit chamber, his sobbing gently rebounding off the laminate clad partitions. He is ruined.

Still sitting on the toilet, he telephones Malkie - it's Sharon who answers.

'Are you alright Bri? You haven't been arrested have you?' she asks cheerfully. 'You sound as if you're in a police cell.' Neither she nor Malkie know anything about any brothel.

'The meeting's in twenty minutes,' she adds, 'we'll be there don't worry.'

How the hell had it all come to this?

Friday, August 8, 2014

How Stupid by Oscar Davis

Oscar Davis recalls three of the formative events of his life - stupidity or self-discovery?

CHILDHOOD - ALL ABOARD!

Okay, this is iffy territory. We're expected to do some stupid things as children, to serve as valuable life lessons. It's when we continue to do the same stupid things over and over that our judgment is called into question.

Back in the early 1960s, my family and I lived in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama. My father was a workaholic and traveled constantly, so my poor mother was charged with doing practically everything: she fed us, cleaned us, chauffeured us, entertained us, and disciplined us. The discipline was very important to her, since she somehow equated well-disciplined children with safe children, a notion drilled into her by her mother, Grandmother Muddy, who was without a doubt the Queen of the Worriers. If she didn't have something legitimate to worry about, she invented things. She was the kind of person who dove under her bed whenever she heard a clap of thunder. Tornado season was especially trying. What a lovely example to set for her two daughters, and four grandchildren, who visited her often. We soaked up Muddy's fears and anxieties like sponges, wringing them out onto every facet of our lives, ensuring regular therapy sessions for years. I am not bitter. I am not bitter.

I was ten years old, the oldest of four children, and mom relied on me to be her unofficial, assistant disciplinarian, and I did keep my brother and two sisters in line by bribing them with sweets and telling them ghost stories at bedtime, which they adored. If the infractions were too grave, mom made sure our overworked, humorless father was notified of the bad behavior. His predictable response was to halfheartedly whack my siblings on the rump a couple of times with his belt. While a paltry punishment, it was enough to scare them into impeccable behavior, for a few days anyway.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Letter from an Unhappy Customer by Jennifer Mitchell

Sweets that give you superpowers are wonderful fun, until one goes wrong... by Jennifer Mitchell.

To Tracy Wills, CEO of Wills Supplements:

I have been a loyal customer of your company for the past several years. I have bought and used many of your products. The invisibility cola, the super strength juice, and the telekinesis bars are my favourites. Over the years, I have recommended your products to many of my friends and family, but I am afraid that I can no longer do this as evidently your quality control is lacking.

Last week, I packed a Flight Chew in my son's lunch, like I did most days. He always loved to spend the lunch hour flying around the schoolyard, and dive-bombing the teachers and other students, sending them running for cover. Boys will be boys! I never packed more than one for him, so that the effects would wear off before the lunch hour was over.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Justice Deferred by Nomi Liron

An embittered wide does her best to put on a good show for her husband's election campaign, but she's near the end of her tether; by Nomi Liron.

Marianne leaned over the bathroom sink and peered in the mirror. Her hand gingerly touched the wrinkles which had accumulated over the years. She shook her head. How stupid! Somehow she had thought it wouldn't happen to her. But here she was, dowdy, wrinkled, and with crooked teeth. No, crooked wasn't the best description. It was more like canine. The first two on both sides were pointed instead of round and looked weirdly like a dog's teeth. She could have done something about her teeth but she had always been petrified of dentists.

"You've got to get some implants," Peter said appearing at the door way. "I can't have people seeing you like that. Better yet, have all your teeth pulled and get dentures. For now, don't open your mouth when you smile. These people in my campaign kick-off are big donors. Appearance is half the game."

Marianne nodded.

"You're drab," Peter continued. "By fifty-eight years old, you should have figured out how to make yourself look like a woman. I'll call Evelyn and see if she can find the time to do your make up."

Peter looked at his watch. "We have a half an hour before the campaign gala begins." He left dialing his cell phone.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Love Marriage by Rudy Ravindra

A misguided boy thinks he can hide his madness and abuse behind the social necessities of India's cultural traditions in Rudy Ravindra's graphic tale.

In the beginning Seshadri followed Vanita discreetly, and never spoke to her. After a few weeks he began to send her love letters in flowery language, describing Vanita's beauty, her gracious gait, her smoldering eyes, her long lustrous hair, her delicate nose, her luscious lips and such. Vanita shared those letters with her friends and they all had a good laugh.

Subsequently, one of the letters began, "This is written in my blood, to show you I'm ready to shed my blood to declare my undying love..."

Vijaya screamed. "He used his blood, his blood..."

Kamala, another girl in the group, snatched it from her. "Nonsense, this could be chicken blood, you can get plenty of it at the halal shop by the river." She looked at Vanita. "What do you think?"

Vanita said. "I don't know... I wish this fellow would stop bothering me."

Kamala said. "I'll get this letter analyzed, my brother's in the police department."



When it was ascertained that the letter was indeed written with human blood, it was no longer a laughing matter. Only a demented fool declared his love in such a coarse and hideous manner. Only a fool cut himself with a sharp knife, dipped the nib of his fountain pen into the fresh red blood and wrote such a hopelessly horrid love letter. Vanita's friends felt that if this dim-witted fellow thought he could win over the most beautiful girl in the entire town with such a melodramatic gesture, he was utterly mistaken.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Sunny Day in Wylie Gardens by Andre-Naquian Wheeler

A trailer park teen with an alcoholic father looks for redemption, with God or with Wylie Gardens; by Andre-Naquian Wheeler.

Allen Skipwith stomped on optimism-white daisies as he forced his way through the vast burdensome field behind his house. Allen thought he must look crazy viciously scratching his legs and jumping over certain spots, as the tall grass always made his ankles itch and the field was a treasured enclave for snakes. He had begged his father every day to mow the field. Allen would sit at the counter eating his after-school meal of Lucky Charms. He would ask, "Are you ever gonna cut that goddamn field?" His Dad would respond, just sauntering in from his shift at Wal-Mart and placing his typical six pack in the fridge, "I'll get to it." But his father never did get to it. But all of that did not matter now as it was the last time he would have to walk through the field.

"Fucking bastard," Allen said to himself as he reached in his pocket and pulled out a cigarette carton, there were only three fat white rolls left. He reached the end of the field and stood on the side of the country highway, cars whooshing by him at sixty miles per hour, and he thought about how perfect it would be if he were to get hit right then and there. He thought about how the funeral pamphlet would read "Gone 2 Soon" and his father would cry and everyone would rub his father's back telling him not be sad, that Allen was in a better place now. When really his father would only be upset over the opportunity he missed that one afternoon he yelled at the life insurance salesman that he had to be at work in two hours and to never knock again unless he wanted his teeth knocked down his throat. Allen's father was never pleasant when he first woke up or when he got off of work, which put Allen in an uncomfortable position as those were the only times that Allen ever saw his father.

So Allen stood by the country road, sometimes taking two or three steps towards the crackled painted line on the gravel. He liked feeling as if his stomach was being vacuumed.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Concert by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Mr Badenhorst must arrange a multi-cultural concert in this, another delightful instalment in Beryl Ensor-Smith's Prentburg series of stories driven by gossip and misunderstandings.

It was unfortunate that Nella Kritzinger was alone in the municipal offices when the call from the local counsellor for the area came through. It was also unfortunate that the counsellor, Brenda Dixon, inspired if not fear, then something very close to it in the breast of Nella and many others. An austere woman who did not hide her contempt for incompetence, Brenda Dixon's looks belied her severity. She was very attractive, which made her attitude even more disconcerting.

Nella started to shake at the first sound of her voice, and matters were not helped when Mrs Dixon chose to speak English although she was fluent in Afrikaans. Mrs Dixon's accent was the cut-glass kind and her vocabulary contained words unknown to Nella, who managed to stutter that both Jan Badenhorst, Administrative Manager, and Kobie le Grange, clerk, were away from the premises and only she, the telephonist, was available.

"Mr Badenhorst's meeting with the squatters over some problem and Kobie - that is Miss Le Grange - has the flu."

"Indeed? Then I shall have to rely on you to give Mr Badenhorst a message. A most important message."