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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Flames Over Anacostia Flats by Lee Conrad

Lee Conrad's dramatisation of the shameful Bonus Army conflict of 1932.

Patrick O'Brien stepped out of the slapped together shack on the Anacostia Flats. The July morning was already hot and steamy. The Flats, situated between Washington DC and the Anacostia River, muddy even in dry times, added to his misery. His denims and cotton shirt, loose on his wiry body, were soiled and sweat seeped through. He looked around the encampment as the 10,000 strong remnants of the Bonus Army in their makeshift city called Camp Marks roused from an uneasy slumber.

O'Brien, like the rest, was a veteran of the Great War. They came to Washington DC a month ago from all over the country to pressure Congress to give them the veteran bonus that was due to them. It was two years into the depression and people were desperate. They were out of work, out of their homes and out of hope, except for the promise of the bonus. The bonus though wasn't payable until 1945, and now in 1932, many felt they would be dead from hunger if they waited much longer. They wanted the money now and the Bonus Army and its leaders came here to make sure they got it.

"Hey Patrick, want some corn mush? It ain't much but it is tasty. Might cheer you up some."

The voice was his friend Sean Ryan. They served and fought together with the 1st infantry in France and survived. Many of their comrades didn't.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Pit of Depression By Sandor Kovacs

A washed up addict starts seeing shapeshifting demons wandering the street in Sandor Kovacs' creepy tale.

Pit lay awake when the first rays of the sun shone through the window. The first things he focused on after he finally sat up were two lines of cocaine on the coffee table. Then, he saw the photo of Rita. The picture had been taken in a beautiful park. Rita had been laughing, staring at the sky, arms spread wide, ready to cuddle the world. Cheese, wine and afternoon snacks had been placed on the picnic rug next to her. Our first picnic together, Pit remembered. He turned the frame away, rolled a note and snorted up the coke, shivering from the bitterness. The memory fled.

He stood up, kicking an empty vodka bottle, and shuffled through the narrow path between dirty clothes and rotten food, leading to the bathroom. The studio flat smelled like a public toilet that hadn't been cleaned for a month.

'Monday,' he said and urinated without a good aim. This made him laugh. Not caring about wiping his body fluid off the tiles, he walked back and dropped himself on the bed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Watch What Happens by Lou Antonelli

Struggling writer Dan Fortenberry takes an old TV to a pawn shop and gets a better deal than he could ever have hoped for; by Lou Antonelli.

I remember looking down to see spots of my sweat hitting the top of the television and throwing little puffs of dust in the air. The man across the counter said, "Sorry, we don't take televisions that are over ten years old."

I exhaled and then coughed weakly. "Heck, I was hoping I wouldn't have to lug this thing back," I said.

Suddenly we both heard a little ringing sound, like a small silver bell, from the far end of the counter where an old man stood. He wore an old-fashioned vest and had a haystack of silver-gray hair over a jowly face.

The pawn store employee took a step back from the counter, obviously startled at the sound. I looked at him, and then at the man down the counter, who had pulled out a brass pocket watch and was staring at its face intently.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lick by Harrison Abbott

After an altercation with a young boy, carpenter Davey's fragile self-control starts to deteriorate; by Harrison Abbott.

Davey had punched that lad hard. Was the first time he'd ever hit somebody. It was in an alleyway in the suburbs, and nobody else had seen it. The lad had kicked a football and it hit Davey's window! And it had been deliberate - so Davey ran outside his house, chased the boy and hit him in amply in the cheekbone. Davey had experienced a superb reinforcement of rage. The punch wasn't like punches in films; there was no paaak sound, and the target didn't fall over. Davey tugged the boy's hair, then released him and went back inside his house as the boy departed. As a man in his 40s, it was an incident of revelation. But Davey didn't expect the messages to start appearing after that.

It first happened hours later after the assault, that Friday afternoon. Davey's veins were still whirling with adrenaline when he spotted something unusual in his front garden. He walked outside and found a broad piece of paper, folded in two, with a brick holding it down. When he unfolded the paper, it had the word 'LICK' written across it. Looked like a child had scrawled the letters with a red crayon. He put it in the bin.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Chance, Kings, and Desperate Men by Bob Carlton

A group of characterful schoolboys hatch a plot to spy on the girls' locker room in Bob Carlton's flamboyant comedy.

"Forgetaboutit!"

Pale-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Vinnie Crupolla had, by an impossible series of genetic transformations, metamorphoses, and mutations, inherited all of his physical traits from the purely Scandinavian, maternal side of the family, without any paternal Mediterranean swarthiness whatsoever. However, by way of an absurd Lamarckian atavism, he possessed the gestural and speech patterns from past generations of Crupollas who had lived in the metropolitan areas of the northeastern United States. It was as if Jay North had been raised in the house of Tony Soprano. This was quite unlike his best friend, Jose O'Houlihan, or as he was known to most of his associates, the Freckled (sometimes "Speckled") Mexican.

"FUHGEDDABOUDIT!" exclaimed Vinnie as the boys stood at the urinals in one of the hallway restrooms of Oliver Wendell Hardy Middle School. Vinnie, or course, meant nothing specific by this; it was more an instinctive linguistic eruption than actual conversation.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Home Front by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello tells the nostalgic story of Patty's homecoming to rural New Zealand after World War II.

The bus was rickety and should have died long ago. It spluttered to a halt outside a country store and a young woman wearing a floral dress struggled down the steps with a large leather case. She put it down and looked around.

Everything was how she remembered it. The store still had rotten timber and sunken piles, giving it a drunken lean, and the dirty cream paint on the courthouse was marked with ginger stripes from the overflow of a rusty roof. A traction engine stood outside the blacksmith's store, billowing smoke and steam.

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. A smile lit up her face, as broad as the wide-brimmed bonnet shading her freckled complexion from the New Zealand sun.

A corpulent man wearing a dog collar was sitting on a seat in front of the hotel. He stood up, gazed at the young woman, nodded, then turned to stare after the bus, as it rumbled off in a cloud of dust.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Carmen by Daniela Chamorro

Daniela Chamorro's beautiful and uplifting elegy to a ballerina's performance of Carmen.

0:00
Her bun was too tight. Her leotard was too tight. Her tights were too tight. The black lace over her clavicle was itchy, but she already had her hands at her sides, positioned for the start of the piece. She was facing the back of the stage, a plain black curtain. From behind her came the sound of papers shuffling on the judges' table and whispering among the crowd. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of her own slow breaths instead. In, out, in, out. Two minutes ago, she'd been terrified that her arms would be shaking onstage. Now, she could only hope they'd unfreeze before -

0:02
The violins blasted the opening strands of Carmen's Habanera through the speakers, and her arms twisted up towards the ceiling of their own accord. Her body was on autopilot, the music triggering her responses. But it wasn't robotic - her wrists twisted her hands gracefully and assuredly up to reach for the bright stage lights.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bread Crumbs by N. T. Franklin

A dominant Honduran drug cartel is betrayed by a man with nothing to lose; by N. T. Franklin.

A shadow moved across the curtain. Robert Gonzalez was in big trouble and didn't care. He was a dead man, well a dying man anyway. The slam of the door told him the shadow was a motel patron walking by his window.

The motel was one that took cash and didn't ask questions. After two days, the buzzing of the ancient neon sign became white noise; after two days, the Cachiros Cartel had still not found him. The worst of the worst of the Honduran drug cartels were using every available resource to find Robert Gonzalez, accountant extraordinaire. Their accountant, their thief.

Robert's thoughts drifted back to his youth. Poor kid Robert and rich kid Alan Silver were inseparable growing up. Robert and Alan did everything together, including going to college. They took a spring break trip to Mexico to Alan's parent's condo. It was on this trip Robert fell in love. Mercedes Rivera was a dark-eyed native beauty working at the resort. Alan flirted with her and even talked her into having drinks with him, but Robert was smitten. He could not persuade her to return with him. From a tiny Guatemalan village in the San Marcos District bordering Mexico, she made it clear she would not leave her country to be with him. Robert would never replace her as the one love of his life. Alan and Robert drifted apart after the spring break trip.