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.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Creature at Rathscar Cemetery by Eliah Medina

Alyx must face terrible dangers to get medicine for her dying father in Eliah Medina's frightening fantasy tale.

Small and countless sparkles of light covered the black sky. The thick and silent forest adorned in snow towered over her. The small bundle of medicine was a comforting weight on Alyx's chest. White vapor flowed endlessly from her mouth as she ran. A sparkling ruby pendant around her neck shined white light. She effortlessly maneuvered over logs, ditches and thick roots never faltering.

A small cabin with yellow light escaping from the windows appeared. The smoke was still flowing out of the chimney.

"Not too late," she muttered to herself.

The girl gave a tight squeeze around the red gem and the light dulled then faded. Bursting into the cabin, she ignored the comforting fireplace, tossed her cloak on a nearby chair, and flew into the bedroom. A frail, sickly man lay on his bed next to his wife, Alison. She looked exhausted. Alyx handed her mother the herbs and asked.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Bank Account by Matthew Harrison

Matthew Harrison channels Kafka in this story about an ageing father determined to open a bank account.

It was at supper that Arthur dropped his bombshell. He wanted an investment account.

His son Chris who had come over for the evening was appalled. "Dad, you've already got a current account! God knows, getting that was hard enough..." He rolled his eyes at the memory.

Arthur's wife Mabel knew from bitter experience that once her husband had set his heart on something, that was it. "I support you, dear," she said quietly, patting his arm. And to Chris: "It's all right." But inwardly she quailed.

"No, it's not all right!" Chris shouted at her. He rounded on his father. "Don't you realise what it means? What you'll have to go through? What she will have to go through?" He indicated his mother. "Christ, even I'll have to..." He sank back as the ramifications came home.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Daisy-Chain by Oliver Barton

What caused Doreen, once a cheery young girl, to become a grumpy old woman, and can she be happy again? asks Oliver Barton.

The kids said she was a witch, so curmudgeonly was she. Her thin lips, pursed like a circumflex, snapped out criticism and disapproval. If the sun shone, we'd pay for it later. Supermarket food was tasteless, the independents too expensive. The local park was all dog poo. The council was incompetent. There were no proper winters any more. Other people were completely self-obsessed. Children were rude. Goods were shoddy.

It was not always so. Aged ten, Doreen was a flaxen-haired bouncy bundle of joy, who would skip rather than walk, and thought snails were little people with caravans. She would sit in the meadow, humming tunes quietly, and make daisy-chains in the long sun-sweet afternoons.

One day, leaning against the foot of an ancient oak, she thought she heard a cry from the ground beside her. 'Help!' it seemed to say. 'Help!' All she could see was a small hole at the base of the tree, perhaps made by a mouse or a shrew.

She put her head down close, and said, 'Hallo! Who's there?'

Monday, February 20, 2017

Love and Robots by Bill Hackenberger

Ronald feels resentful when Jeana, perfume expert at her local mall, wins a general purpose domestic robot; by Bill Hackenberger.

Petey, the robotic parrot, swaggered toward me, smudging my pencil sketch as his peg leg tap-tapped across my drawing board.

"Avast, Ronald, ya swab," he said. "You'll be needin' some maple syrup to sweeten that up."

"Dammit, Petey!" I said. "You're messing up my storyboard."

"Awwk," he screeched, as I brushed him aside. "Over easy there, matey," he said and flapped away onto the coffee table.

You could say Petey was my robo-pet. I found him behind the mall in a dumpster. Now normally I wouldn't be walking back there since its not the best neighborhood, but I'd just dropped lunch off for my fiancé during her shift at the Budget Barn. Strictly speaking, Jeana wasn't my fiancé since I hadn't proposed yet, but I was waiting for the moment when she might say yes. I was on my way back to catch the autobus when I heard a muffled voice coming from behind the building.

"Ahoy, me hearties. Come on in for the food, but stay for the fun."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Broken Bone by Martin Crabtree

A doctor travels from the seedy frontier town of Sawnick to a puritanical outpost to help deliver a baby, but danger and surprises are in store; by Martin Crabtree.

Sawnick, Colorado Territory, mid-April, 1872

"By donkey, Sawnick to Greeley Colony's a full day's ride," Mrs. Trudy Tremolo told her lodger. Dr. Zachary Ritenour stood in front of his rooming house with his short, ample landlady. They were inspecting her two donkeys tied to the hitching post in the street that ran along Sawnick's main, only, dusty road.

"Mrs. Tremolo," said Dr. Ritenour, "they need me urgently in the Greeley Colony. I'm a stranger in this part of the world, and it is not at all like Boston. Riding the train here is one thing, and riding horses, but I don't know where to begin with these odd looking animals, much less how to get there."

"It's an easy ride, Doc. Just sit, the donkey knows the way. Greeley Colony's yonder that way," she said, pointing toward the rising sun. "Keep the mountains behind you and you'll be goin' in the right direction. Comin' back, of course, do it 'tother ways around. And don't worry none about Alma, that donkey can find her way home in fire or flood, even I reckon a passel of snakes.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Dress by Monica Kagan

In Cape Town, South Africa, Sylvana visits a second hand shop that was once her mother's favourite, and must face up to her grief.

"How lovely to see you Sylvana. It has been so long."

Tatiana was perched behind the ancient cash register in the second hand shop "Marvellous Memories" in vibrant Long Street, Cape Town, stroking her black Labrador.

"I've been meaning to pop in but..."

Sylvana spotted the shimmering vintage blue dress. She pressed it against her cheek enjoying the soft, smooth sensation of the fabric against her skin.

"Ah yes Chanel, your mother's -"

"Favourite... I'd love to buy it."

Tatiana read the tag, attached to the dress.

"Unfortunately it is spoken for. A customer has reserved it."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Masquerade by Thomas Elson

Rachel tries desperately not to let her difficult husband subsume her personality; by Thomas Elson.

"It's not for you. It's for the party you don't want to go to. And I don't want to see as much as a single fingerprint on it when I get back," Rachel patted Merle's left shoulder and cast her eyes to the right, her lower lip slanted down as if undecided.

Merle Rector, his shadowed face cast in an abiding scowl, sat behind his chipped, beige metal desk in his home office. The entire house was redolent of fried foods and warm pastries his wife, Rachel Benson, had prepared.

Rachel walked past the mirror in the hallway. Her barber-cut straight hair emphasized broad shoulders, thick legs, thicker ankles, and a waistline that concealed any trace of femininity. She stopped, looked at herself, adjusted her newly sewn blouse, checked the decorative cuff on her pressed jeans, and left for work through the back door. She had a history lecture to deliver in an hour and a student to advise before then.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Writer and the Editor by Landis Wade

Landis Wade gives us an amusing insight into the editorial process.

First Chapter

Writer: Rain hit Shelia's windshield like pellets from a scattergun as the sun broke through the clouds.

Editor: Don't start a story with the weather. And don't use so much description that it detracts from the pace of the story.

Writer: __ ___ Shelia's windshield __ ___ ___ _ _____ __ ___ ___ broke ___ ___ ___.

Fifth Chapter

Writer: Momma said Shelia's baby was as cute as a button.

Editor: Don't use clichés. You need to make it real.

Writer: Momma said Shelia's baby was as cute as a real button.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Unconditional Love by Sharon L. Bachman

When Gerald knocks himself cold in a drunken stupor, his deluded wife is left in charge of the dysfunctional household; by Sharon L. Bachman.

I'm proud to say I've always been a good mother, and the proof of it started the night my husband came home late, slipped in a pee puddle in the bathroom and conked his head on the toilet seat. I let him nap right there on the linoleum while I sopped up his blood and stitched the cut with a needle and thread from my sewing kit. After all, like my mom used to say, you should let sleeping dogs lie. You should also let awake dogs lie, cheat and steal, she'd say, especially if they're bigger than you. She was full of cute little sayings like that, right up until she fell down that elevator shaft.

Gerald was still asleep the next morning when everybody had to do their business, so my eldest four helped me shove him sideways so we could get to the toilet. Since I'd spoiled Gerald with all my good cooking over the years, we had to put some muscle into this, but those kids are champs! Not a one of them complained. That's what good parenting does for you. I counted that chore as their physical education credit for the day.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Father Dingle, Some Mice and the Portal to Hell by Julie Carpenter

Strange goings-on in Father Dingle's church herald an existential threat beyond his ken; by Julie Carpenter.

Maybe it had started with the mice, he thought. Maybe the exodus of mice had been the first sign that there was something amiss in the church basement. The choir room had been plagued by mice for as long as Father Dingle had been there. Alan, the choir director, had been on about adequate storage for the music since he'd been there. Just last Christmas, Alan had gone on the warpath after finding a mouse nest made with scraps of the Hallelujah Chorus, a situation he found neither economically nor spiritually tolerable. But in the early autumn, just a few months ago, the church mice had begun moving out of the basement in droves. Father Dingle had arrived at church one morning to find several families of mice scurrying up the basement stairs and down the hall towards the front doors. More mice appeared each morning, waiting at the doors to dash out as soon as they were opened.

One morning he'd found a mouse quivering on the window sill in his office. It was so paralyzed with fear that he'd been forced to ease it out the window and into the scraggly rosebush outside his office with the end of a pencil. He could not bring himself to otherwise dispose of the poor shivering animal.