Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Leonard Bessom and the Pet Parade

Two schoolchildren want to join their friends at the local pet parade, but how to get hold of a pet? By Clifford Hui.

A lifetime ago Leonard Bessom and I were in the fifth grade. Back then school days usually started with pushing our bikes into the racks, pulling our lunch bags from our bike baskets, and heading to our classroom.

One particular day we met Sally Davis going to class and we all walked together. Sally turned toward Len and me, her blond finger curls bobbing, and asked, "Are you guys going to be in the pet parade?"

"Pet parade? What pet parade?" Len asked, brushing his tousled red hair away from his eyes.

"It's the weekend after next. There are prizes and a big party in the park at the end. There'll be cake and a clown, too. Everyone's bringing their pets. I'm taking my cat Snowball."

"I don't have a pet," Len said.

"I don't, either," I said.

"Well, maybe you should get one."

At lunch we were eating with Chuckie Seagars. His kinky blond hair was cut short on the sides and long on the top so his narrow face looked real long. Chuckie looked in his lunch bag then looked up and declared, "Mom forgot my Fritos." He looked at Len and me. "Wanna share some of your Fritos? I'll trade you some animal cookies."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Sun and Last Summer by R E Derouin

An old man laments the possibility of having to leave his beloved mountain retreat as his health declines; by R E Derouin.

With work-wrinkled hands the old man opened the envelope for the fifth time. He shuffled across the living room of the ancient farmhouse to catch the late afternoon sunlight that bathed the room through the large front window. He didn't expect the contents of the letter to change from the last reading, but somehow it seemed something this important should be read, and re-read and read again until it was almost committed to memory.

"Dear Dad," it started, and he could picture his son George sitting in his spacious California home trying to find the best words to say this difficult thing. He skipped the first two paragraphs, the kids' flu, the new car and all, and turned the page to the real reason the letter was written.

"I talked to Dr. Cramer today, long distance, and he brought me up to date on the problems you've been having; yes, even your chest pains. Dad, why didn't you tell us? The doctor agrees with what Sis and Joe and I have been saying for years. You shouldn't be up there alone at your age, especially now that winter is almost here. Ever since Mom died we've wanted you to come out but you wouldn't budge, but now that the doctor has made it official, we won't take no for an answer.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Fancy Hat by Irena Pasvinter

In 1950s Soviet Russia, Vera wonders if her hero-worship of Joseph Stalin might be misplaced; by Irena Pasvinter.

On the night of March 6th, 1953, Vera did not sleep.

Paralyzed, she sat near the radio, listening to the gloomy music, waiting for official announcements. Every hour the same medical bulletin on Comrade Stalin's condition emerged from the black speaker. A grave voice reported ominous details: serious collapse, cardiovascular disturbances, pulse, temperature, blood pressure. For Vera it was not just frightful medical jargon - a physician herself, she could see through the medical reports, even though she did not dare to admit it: Comrade Stalin was going to die.

It came at four in the morning, the final announcement. When Vera heard "with profound sorrow," she knew it was the end. Fatal phrases flew from the radio in a somber terrifying stream: "died after a grave illness. The heart of Lenin's comrade-in-arms and the inspired continuer of Lenin's cause, the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet people, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, has stopped beating."

Vera wept, hugging her daughter Emma, who too spent this dreadful night glued to the radio. Vera's husband Stepan groaned in his bed and turned on the other side.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Woodland Creatures, Come and Play by Elizabeth Barron

A lonely college student lives with two very eccentric roommates and a secret collection of talking animals; by Elizabeth Barron.

I still don't know how they got into my room. No one ever believed me, but it's true. I never even left the window open.

My roommate, the blonde one with the pigtails and squeaky voice, made it very clear that she had poor circulation in her feet, so under no circumstances were the windows to be left opened. My other roommate - redhead, samurai sword - must have opened one after Pigtails and I went to bed. When I woke up that morning, my room was empty. I swear it. Everything was normal for a minute or so.

"I just can't stand having any windows open," said Pigtails.

Her fluffy pink slippers burned holes in the floor as she paced around our common room, while Samurai sat cross-legged on the floor, sharpening her knives and arranging them in a neat oval around her. "And I can't have the doors making noise when you close them, I can't have music playing, and I can't have anyone touching my things at all. If you both would just listen to me and do what I say -"

Samurai held a jagged-edge Bowie knife up to the morning light.

"Just a little sharper," she grinned.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lola and the Magnolia by Stevie Hall

Tony drives his boyfriend to a mystery location in America's heartland in Stevie Hall's touching piece.

"Can you please turn the radio down?" Jared tried to ask over the blaring music.

"Did you say something?" Tony asked as his hand turned the volume knob.

"I'd just like to have a conversation with my boyfriend for once, Tony. Is that okay?"

"Oh, of course, babe. What did you want to talk about?"

"Well, and I know this is crazy to ask, but, for instance, where the hell are we going?"

"I told you before we left that it's a surprise. I promise you'll be so happy once we get there."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Thumbing to Morristown by Tom Ray

An old man's fishing is interrupted by a young itinerant, but is he being too trusting when he offers to help? By Tom Ray.

Wayne sat in the folding metal chair on the riverbank, holding the fishing rod and staring at the line. The sun was high in the sky and he checked his watch. He didn't want to open a beer before noon.

He heard someone coming up behind him, and stayed quiet, not letting on that he knew anybody was there. It was Sunday morning, and not a lot of people would be out at this county park. If somebody wanted to rob him he wouldn't have any help. That was OK, because he had a baseball bat and a brick next to his chair.

A young male voice, speaking low, said, "Are you awake, dude?"

"Come on around here so I can see you. Don't be sneakin' up on me like that." He sounded harsh and loud on purpose, to intimidate the stranger.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Wall by William Quincy Belle

Kevin finds a space-time anomaly in his apartment hallway; by William Quincy Belle.

Kevin looked at himself in the mirror and gave a last adjustment to his tie then stepped out of his bedroom. "Holy crap." He stood stock-still, his mouth agape. There, in the middle of the hallway, an arm stuck out of the wall. He shook his head and stared.

He took a few steps. A human arm was coming out of the wall. The hand clenched and the fingers relaxed. He moved closer. The entire arm from the shoulder was jutting out of the drywall. There was no hole, no damage, nothing to indicate the arm had forcibly poked through the wall. It appeared as if it was part of the wall itself. The two were seamlessly joined.

The arm moved. It bent at the elbow and the hand touched the wall in several places. It slid over the surface, stopped, and the fingers and thumb rubbed together. The arm repeated this action and swept out from the wall. With extended fingers, the hand reached into empty air. The arm relaxed, and the hand hung down.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

An Uneasy Symbiosis by Ceinwen Haydon

Clara is left alone for the first time in decades when her husband is hospitalised by a stroke, and she sees their relationship in a new light; by Ceinwen Haydon.

The bus swept down the hill and took the bend at speed before it pulled into the centre of the old pit village and grumbled to a halt at its terminus. Clara stood up slowly, her swollen knees stiff after the journey home from the hospital. She dragged the battered holdall from under her seat. It was stuffed with dirty linen; underwear and nightwear soiled since her last visit. The zip strained, fit to burst. The driver watched as she heaved herself and her bag down onto the wet pavement greasy with rotting leaves.

'You alright, missus? You look a bit peaky, if you don't mind me saying.'

'And you're too nosey for your own good, young man,' she said.

A bubble of spittle spun from her lips and landed on the phone screen of a texting teenager who stood in the bus shelter. The lad hopped back, then fished out a grimy hanky from his pocket and wiped the viscous blob away. He didn't so much as glance at Clara but continued with his message, his fingers absorbed in their tango taps on the tiny qwerty keyboard.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Selkies by David W Landrum

David W Landrum tells a tale of Hollywood actresses, mythical Irish sea creatures and vast sunken treasures on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Right at the beginning of the tourist season, we got blasted. Wind swept water over campgrounds, collapsed docks at marinas, flooded boat launches, littered streets with broken trees branches, and shut down power. Everyone scrambled to fix things. In a resort town you need tourists. They're your lifeblood in the summer and everyone depends on them. They come to our town to boat, hike, water-ski, enjoy the beaches, see the sights, and shop. They bring money in. Our economy depends on them, and when the weather comes to interfere with the influx of tourists you're in trouble. I had known in advance that the storm would hit.

I had just finished fixing the dock at our family's business, a bed and breakfast which also takes people on tours of the small islands out in the bay that gave our town its name, when a very lovely girl I didn't know walked down the beach and stopped to watch me work.

She had to be a tourist. In a town as small as Island Bay, everyone knows everyone, and I had not seen this girl before. Tall with long hair and a pretty body, she wore a white smock and blue shorts. She was barefoot. I smiled at her.

"Hello," she said. She glanced at the sky and then over at my boat, moored at the dock, and added, "You'd better pull your boat up on shore."

"How's that?"

"Storm coming," she said.

The sky looked clear. "I don't see any storm clouds."

"It's coming. It will be a bad one."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Right Outside the Window by R.M. Warren

Michael is convinced that the old oak tree outside his bedroom window is evil; by R.M. Warren.

The first snowstorm came early that year, suddenly and without warning. Just a few hours earlier, Michael and his older sister Emily had been playing in the high leaf pile their father had raked in the front yard. Now, as dusk settled over the valley, the siblings looked down from Michael's bedroom window as the white blanket of fresh snow covered the ground.

"Do you think school will be cancelled on Monday?" Michael asked, hopefully.

His sister shrugged. Ever since turning eleven, Emily had done a lot of shrugging and Michael was still trying to decipher the meaning behind this ambiguous new gesture.

"But it might be, right?" Michael asked again, this time more desperately.

Emily shrugged again. "Depends on whether or not they get the plows out early enough. I don't hear any yet."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lone Star, Lost Star by Lou Antonelli

Lou Antonelli's character tells of the day Texas disappeared, and what happened after.

I was standing almost smack dab in the middle of State Line Avenue, looking across the street at the Baptist bookstore - where I had parked - with a six pack of Coors in my hand, when Texas disappeared.

I am quite familiar with what happened, yes.

If I hadn't had to wait for a car to pass, I would have already been on the Texas side of the street when it happened. I hold the record for the person who was closest to Texas who didn't disappear with it.

I was so shocked I almost fell into the abyss, but the enormous thunderclap that accompanied its disappearance as the vacuum collapsed knocked me backwards flat on my ass. I clutched the ground face down as the wind rushed in to fill the empty space. The beer went flying and one can rolled towards the car that had just passed me.

The driver came to a tire-squealing stop. The car was buffeted as the wind rushed past into the space where Texas had been. I lay as flat as I could and clutched the asphalt.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Transformations by Eleanor Adams

Eleanor Adams's character tells of the bitter power of her friend Carmen who dabbles with the black arts.

When I was growing up, Carmen would babysit me and bring me treats. She's still there for me but now when she's around, Mom pulls me close and holds her Bible like a shield. Carmen laughs or mutters, but after she passes, Mom whispers, "I don't believe what they say, but just in case, be nice to her. Always."

Most find it easy to be nice to Carmen, who's always smiling even when angry. Children love her because she's their second mom, giving them homemade cookies while asking about their families. Adults find her to be a talky friend who after prying a painful secret out of them, leans in and says in flowery Spanish or halting English, "Come see me. I fix. Bring eggs, OK? I need."

A few months ago nosy neighbors would visit the ones Carmen had spent time talking to and tell them what she was. The ones who got scared ran if Carmen tried to talk to them while the other ones stonily watched her if she came to them. Most people were in between, too afraid to believe and too desperate not to. After time and fear went away they would be the ones who would go see Carmen, bringing eggs, butter or whatever she needed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Sicilian by Aidan Furey

Phil, Tom and Simon play chess together on the anniversary of the death of Phil's wife in Aidan Furey's Northern Irish tale.

We were at Phil's house, high above Belfast on Black Mountain. Up there it was quiet, calm and when I gazed down on the scattered city lights that blinked and pulsed with life, it was as if I was looking into the past.

We had needed something to keep us together after we'd grown tired of the bar-life. At first we tried poker but it wasn't really a game for three people and the interest in it had quickly waned. We began to play chess. In the beginning the game was almost an afterthought but it quickly became competitive. Within a few months we had each purchased a Teach Yourself Chess book and it wasn't long before we were buying The Times for its daily chess puzzle.

'I should have brought my clock,' said Tom, tapping his fingers rhythmically against the table.

Phil moved his thumb and finger across the head of his knight, stroking it fondly. Finally, he placed it down on the board and smiled.

'That's what we were waiting for?' asked Tom, looking towards me with an animated look of despair. He moved a piece in reply, barely stopping to analyse the board.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ballygilmore by R E Derouin

R E Derouin's character, freshly single, travel's to Ireland and finds herself at the crossroads of a fairytale.

"There's no reason for optimism." That's what Donald told me when I asked him where our relationship was headed. His rejoinder won him a gold star for honesty, and me an empty apartment. Thus ended seventeen months of sharing my bed and meager budget with a wannabe actor. I wasn't fishing for a ring on my finger; I was just sick of a rocking horse race to nowhere. Oh well, I wouldn't miss wiping off my pee-sprinkled toilet seat.

To flee the sympathy of my friends, I blew a windfall tax refund on an off-season promotional week to the home country of Aero Lingus. I deserved a what-the-hell week with New York on the other side of the Atlantic.

"Why Ireland?" my BFF Ellen asked. "It sounds boring."

I shrugged away the question with a maybe. Blame my grandmother. She'd spun tales of Emerald Isle in my growing-up years, as we shared a rainy day tea, snuggled in her massive easy chair. Her legends and stories bred a curiosity about the soil of my family roots. Telling red hair was good for free green beer every March, and those locks identified me a product of this land of goblins and spirits.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Family Weekend by Bruce Costello

Owen and Noelene, browbeaten by their spouses, struggle to find solace during a family holiday; by Bruce Costello.

A white moon hovered over the Cleverly family's holiday cottage, casting dark shadows that moved with trees in the breeze.

From the lawn, where she'd gone to escape the heat and noise indoors, Noelene saw her sister, Sandra, still in her bikini, laying supper on the table. Noelene's husband, Stanley, was talking to their elderly mother, a tall, thin woman named Martha.

Seen through the slightly yellowed lace curtains, Stanley looked much older than his sixty-eight years. He was a podgy man with hunched shoulders, a bald head and gray sideburns that fell untidily over his ears.

It was peaceful in the garden. A sombre morepork owl hooted for a mate from the faraway beach pines, and Noelene felt like crying.

Somebody left the cottage and stood on the porch steps, peering out anxiously, naked from the waist up. It was Owen, Sandra's husband.