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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Across the Oar by Greg Szulgit

A pilgrim stops to hear a warrior's troubling confession in Greg Szulgit's masterful short fantasy.

I had planted the oar at the crossroads...
...And they were all I loved.
- John Ciardi, Ulysses

The pilgrim was aware of the man who had been following him for some time. He did not, however, feel endangered or concerned, as it was common for people to stalk him in a way, gathering their courage to approach him for confession. Often, the idea of a telling had not been planned on the teller's part; the need welling up in them only after a confessor crossed their path unexpectedly. If a friend asked what was bothering them of late, why they drank more heavily, or hit their children, or handled their affairs with impatience, they might reply honestly, albeit naively, that there was nothing wrong. The sight of a pilgrim's oar blade bobbing along above the heads of a crowd could, however, cause a man to look into himself and, like Aldam and his wives in the Orchard, feel a sudden shame at his nakedness. And so it was on this day, when the hard-browed man had been on his way to collect his order of nails from the blacksmith, that he found himself drawn to the bearded pilgrim in the red robes who chanced to be passing through his town.

"Pilgrim, will you know me?"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tiny Beatles in My Head by Gary Ives

When a traumatised WWII soldier returns home to find his wife dead and his daughter taken away, he seeks solace in solitude; by Gary Ives.

Andrew Shellcross came back from the war a broken man. Three years of starvation and brutality as a prisoner of war, working in Japanese coal mines, had squeezed and reduced him to little more than a pitiful six stone entity that thought of little other than food and sleep. Returning to Moss Castle Village he was met not by his wife, but by the vicar who informed him of the sad news that his wife Angel had died one month earlier from burns suffered in the bombing of Coventry. Their baby daughter Claire was in the care of her Aunt Bess in Sheffield.

That was long ago and then Andrew wanted only solitude. He took the job as ferryman on the ferry servicing Little Saint Neots Isle twice daily and the lighthouse on Moss Castle Shoal once weekly. Keeping to himself, speaking to others only minimally, he preferred the margins and shadows of Moss Castle Shoal's light house. Villagers regarded Andrew as an odd duck, but knowing his misfortunes, empathized. When old Mister Quarrels, the light house keeper, died, Andrew applied for the job and subsequently, in 1947, moved there, achieving his lasting desire for solitude. Only then did his psyche begin to repair as he found satisfaction in the perfection of the lighthouse - such a simple, strong, and reliable structure. Occupying his time maintaining the lighthouse, tending his garden and fishing, he found the quietude soothing. The crackle of the wireless's weather reports and mariners' bulletins, the clanging of the buoys, or the sound of the fog horn seemed as natural to him as the squawking seagulls and terns. Twice a month he boarded his old ferry to make a supply run to the village and have a pint or two at the pub with the vicar.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Friend in Need by Ceinwen Haydon

Zoe, suffering from an absent and sometimes abusive husband, find an unusual confidante; by Ceinwen Haydon.

Zoe picked up the crisp packet, 'Walkers - Cheese and Onion', wedged between the cushions on her settee. She burst into tears. They'd shared the last packet in the cupboard two days ago, the day before he left. Yesterday he had told her he was going home. Now he was a thousand miles away, back in Poland. Waldek was gone for good.

During the last two months she had dared to think the unthinkable: maybe just maybe she was still a desirable woman, a capable woman, a person with a future that was in her own hands.

Their first meeting had been like a take from a corny sit com; the Polish plumber and the bored housewife. How she hated that word 'housewife'. Her husband, Bill, worked away on the rigs, and this shackled her to the house. Their youngest had only just started school, and with no-one to share the parenting she had to be ready and available 24/7. Working outside the home was out of the question for now. At least that was Bill's view, and he made sure that she understood this.

Bill confused Zoe, and her feelings towards him were complicated. One night last year, when he was on shore, he had asked her if she was happy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mailbox by Scott Archer Jones

A jealous ex starts stealing the mail of his former girlfriend, and then his neighbours' too; by Scott Archer Jones.

At six a.m. he strode back and forth in the road. Across the ditch and the big front yard, he could see the lights in the kitchen. He sidled over to the next window. The candle burned on the dining room table. That's when he knew. She always lit the candle when sentiment swept over her, a sentiment that led to the giving of herself. Led to surrendering herself to a man. Once to him.

He slunk closer - he couldn't see her face. He was sure it was her.

Skulking there in her road, in disguise, must have been a plan, but he didn't know who had made it. What was he doing there? He wore the new coat and also a hat he hadn't worn for years. The muffler circled his throat dull and black, anyone's scarf. Even the breath, someone's breath, swirled out gray and ghostly, exiting the scene up into the dark, wreathing him in a disguise. He should walk down to the end of the road and back; he should maintain the disguise with lying steps. Just a guy out for a walk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

White Army Stand by Michael Saad

Matias participates in a cutting-edge experimental therapy to try and help quell a world-ravaging pandemic; by Michael Saad, illustrations by Adam White.

Emergency Medical Quarantine Facility, American Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Top Secret Location, February, 20th, 2048

There was no worse feeling in the world than being trapped in a cold, plastic bubble waiting for a doctor to inject you with poison.

"You know it's helping you, Matias," the hologram of his mother reminded him from the other side of the transparent wall that separated them. "It's medicine."

Yeah, medicine with loopy drugs and robots in it. He thought. All of which wreak havoc on my body.

"I know," Matias answered, rubbing his hand over his bare head, a nervous reaction he developed during this past month of hell stuck in this isolation chamber in the middle of God-knows-where.

More like this past year of hell, when this pandemic first started, he corrected himself.

"You understand why you're doing this, right son?" His mother looked at him with her usual pained, fearful eyes.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Elvis Has Left the Building by Katherine Sanger

Angelika, medical examiner at a morgue, can talk to the dead; thankfully they don't usually hang around for long - until she meets Elvis; by Katherine Sanger.

Angelika was not pleased to discover Elvis was haunting her. Especially once he made it clear he wasn't the real Elvis but a redneck hick whose mother had been in love with the legend and changed her last name when she'd discovered she was pregnant with some anonymous man's child.

Elvis filled her in on all of his birth and childhood as she'd conducted the autopsy. The autopsy was a wasted effort - he wasn't drunk or on drugs. Her knowledge came straight from the source, but she had to follow procedure anyway. Everyone already thought she was weird for wanting to be a forensic pathologist. She wasn't all cute and petite, so her job choice wasn't ironic. She wasn't all goth, so it wasn't appropriate. She was average and boring and everyone expected her to get married to an insurance salesman. But the fact that the dead could talk to her kept her from following an average path.

Ghosts seemed to realize who could and couldn't see them. All her life, ghosts had popped up and spoken to her. They could have existed for minutes, hours, days, years. Even centuries in that one case. Ghosts would appear, make their pronouncements, and vanish. It had been hard on her when she was younger and didn't know what was going on. Her parents thought she had a lot of imaginary friends. They took her to child psychologists who assured them that she would outgrow it. She learned to hide it out of fear; it was something that made her different. She knew no one would believe her. But the regularity with which the ghosts appeared and talked to her made it so that by the time she'd gone off to college, she was good at waving her hand, acknowledging the ghost and making it look as if she was brushing away a fly at the same time. Awkward at frat parties, but fine for the average ghost sighting.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Burying the Shit by Dusty Cooper

Dusty Cooper's character has such an all-consuming vendetta against his newest little neighbour that it threatens to alienate him from his friends.

The stars were flecked around a full white moon. The bright orb hung dead center in the sky, casting its lunar beams over the neighborhood. Just beyond the creeping reach of my headlights the asphalt glowed with the ethereal blue light. I had just rounded the corner onto my street when his silhouette appeared framed by the shining blacktop. I don't know how he had crawled out of his parent's bed and made it out of the house without them noticing, but I knew it had to be providence. After closing my eyes and pinching my inner thigh, he was still there.

He was only five years old, but for four years he had been a nuisance in my life. More than a nuisance, he was a constant attack on my wellbeing. He arrived like a plague, a flea carrying the Black Death. Out of everyone he had singled me out for his invidious acts. My friends, including my wife, believed our feud was a figment of my imagination. They didn't see him for what he was, a beast that deserved nothing more than to crawl on all fours.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Bind of Benjamin White by Steve Lucas

Steve Lucas tells the story of a hopeless drunk who longs for a better life, but must first face his demons.

I was a teenager when it happened. The horse was tightly bound to the tree with barbed wire. Its hooves stamped at the dusty ground, alive, wide-eyed and violent with madness; its blubbery nostrils foamed and snorted bloody bubbles that spluttered like red froth from hell. The noise of that horse's plight against the barbs was unbearable. My mother arrived with wire-cutters and began to snip the beast free while I just stood there. It was the sound, rather than the sight of the horse, that powered my horror.

Now, as I watched the razorblade hover above my forearm I felt like I was being hunted. I was prey to some enormous snake. I sensed its forked tongue flicking, tasting my sweat in the air. The serpent would feed on my fear and press its scales against my skin. In a flash those squamous coils would tighten. I'd be the rabbit caught by the looping python as the bones began to snap.

'You haven't got the guts,' my mum said to my dad, '...the guts to leave me or marry me.' My dad said nothing. Then my mum saw me watching through the banisters. I must have been about five years old. 'Don't you grow up like him,' she said, pointing at my silent father. 'Have some backbone. Have courage.'

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle by Phil Temples

Phil Temples' whacky short about an extraterrestrial cowboy and his lusty Earthling hostess.

We're comfortably nuzzled in front of the fireplace in the great room, under a colorful blanket. It's a cold Montana evening, and the aroma of the wood fire permeates the house. A piece of the wood suddenly sizzles and crackles, sending its sparks skyward up the mantle of the fireplace. I pull him closer to me, and smile warmly at him. He enjoys it, I think. Since it's impossible to pronounce his real name, I simply call him 'Adam.' He seems like an Adam to me.

Adam and his kind arrived earlier in the spring. No one is sure where they are from, or how far they've traveled. We don't even know why they chose to visit us. Already I've peppered Adam with many of those same questions. He just smiles at me sweetly, and politely changes the subject.

"How long will you be staying?"

"I am not certain," he replies. "But it is very kind of you to accommodate me."

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dog Day by Jeff Weddle

Martin wakes up on a stiflingly hot day feeling so depressed he can't bring himself to pick up his children - and something has to give; by Jeff Weddle.

The telephone rang for the sixth time that hot morning and it was still more than an hour before noon. Martin rolled onto his stomach and put the pillow over his head but it was no use, he could still hear the rings. He lay in bed counting: seven, eight, nine, ten. The telephone rang a dozen times before Jenny hung up. Had to be Jenny. No one else would be calling.

Martin knew Jenny was calling to find out where he was. Today was Saturday and he was supposed to have picked up the kids at nine sharp. Jenny was calling to find out why he wasn't there. Martin didn't pick up the phone because he didn't know how to answer the question.

He had awakened at six, the clock radio blasting Steppenwolf on the oldies station. Magic Carpet Ride. He shut off the radio and lay still. It was so hot. He sprawled on his damp sheets for an hour, staring at the ceiling. It was early and he knew he still had time to get up and shower and dress and pick up the kids. No problem. Then he laid there another hour, staring at the wall. And then another. At ten till nine he looked at the clock and he knew for certain he wasn't going to make it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Depletion Depression by Luke Schamer

In a time when Earth's surface has become too hot to be habitable, a lowly underground construction worker misses his family and dreams of seeing the sun; by Luke Schamer.

Felix was awoken by simulated sunrays beaming through his artificial skylight. His implantation device, inserted into his neck at birth, recognized activity and began the live stream through his cornea.

He grasped for a pillow, covering his face. The continuous flow of visuals and coinciding audio left him paralyzed:

Good waking, chosen America! It is day 223 of year 2051. Earth's surface temperature remains at a high of 170 degrees. The ultraviolet radiation index remains at a 15 out of 15. Today's ozone depletion rate is eighty-nine percent, a one percent increase from day 217. Expect minor delays on the high-speed rails, as construction for our new underground transportation system continues. And remember: if you're not living underground, well, you're not living! Now, a quick message from our sponsors.

Felix rubbed his palms over his eyelids, the morning bulletin piercing his vision and hearing.

Drone-acquired images of earth's surface were projected into Felix's implantation device. A desolate wasteland, a far cry from the surface he once knew.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Someone Else's Field by Billie Pritchett

Two cops talk about their lives while staking out a storage facility that may or may not be the site of a colossal drug deal; by Billie Pritchett.

The old detective Scarsdale had been waiting in the car for a very long time. When Rossi came out, the detective was eyeing the brown-brick facade of the apartment building. Scarsdale looked surprised when Rossi's knuckles tapped against the driver's side window. He looked up with a start. Rossi stood there smiling. Scarsdale rolled down the window and Rossi extended a hand.

"I'm Rossi," he said.

"Peter Scarsdale," Scarsdale said. "How did you know it was me?"

"Please," Rossi said. "1996 green Ford Taurus. I knew you must be on a cop's salary."

"Well, are you going to stand out there all night or get in?"

Friday, March 27, 2015

Café Los Cuiles by Tony Press

Tony Press's short flash about a Mexican café.

Her dimples arrived almost before the little girl herself and when she came in through the front door, the beads clicking to announce her arrival, her smile and eyes lit up the dark café.

Open the curtains, we called, Luis and Ita and Lety and I, from our usual corner, and it was done. The new waiter, whose name we did not yet know, did the deed, and we thanked him as he passed us on his way back to the kitchen.

This Oaxacan morning, the day after Christmas, was growing sunny, and the rays painted thin lines on the walls. I thought of walking up the steps to Cerro Fortin and the viewpoint near the Benito Juarez statue. I hadn't been there in months and it would be a good day to go.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Exchange Student by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste's comic short about a young man who asks an extraterrestrial exchange student on a date.

She had big, beautiful eyes: two blue and one green. At first, the grotesque features perturbed me. But after half a semester across the lecture hall from her, I found myself staring at human girls and thinking their faces looked incomplete. Once I fell for three eyes, going back to two would be downgrading.

The blue eye on the left was my favorite. It moved independently from the other pair as though it alone was in the throes of concocting a devious plot. Sometimes, right in the middle of Calculus II, as I imagined what grand collusion that eye could be contemplating, I'd glance up from my digital notebook and it would be looking straight at me. As soon as I returned the gaze, that furtive blue imp would join its brethren and pretend to watch the instructor lumber across the front of the classroom. But I knew better. She was interested in me. Or at least her left eye was.

"Are you serious about going out with that exchange student?" My roommate sat in a puddle of filth that consisted mostly of used food containers and soiled laundry.

"Of course I'm serious." I couldn't believe she'd said yes, especially after I sputtered out the first date proposition in a series of 'ums' and 'wells'.

My roommate smirked. "In that case, I've got the perfect thing for you to wear tonight."