Friday, February 23, 2018

The Visit by Jim Bartlett

When Jacob visits his dying father he wonders whether it is better to let sleeping dogs lie; by Jim Bartlett.

Jacob slows as he rounds the corner, the double doors ahead tucked in a shadow of ashen gray, almost as if the damp fog clouding the sun outside has slipped unnoticed into the hospital. He shivers, shaking the color from his face, then stops and turns to Mark.

Mark smiles and points at the entrance. "We've come this far. Just a little more. You can do it."

With a nod, Jacob leans to take another step, but his leg remains frozen in place. "I dunno. Why am I even here? I haven't seen the man in like twenty years."

"It's the right thing. You said so yourself. Stay on the high road, Jacob. Otherwise buying that, ugh, flannel shirt and those Levis will be a total waste." He cocks his head. "You sure you don't want me to come along?"

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Sisters of the Dust by Simon McHardy

In Simon McHardy's fantasy, Anwen is a reluctant volunteer for a bizarre ancient ritual.

The priest was getting very excited now, droplets of spittle trembled from the corners of his mouth, his tongue darted out between pauses to dab at the drool which only had the effect of relocating it onto his chin where it hung like spindly jungle vines before dripping onto the pulpit. 'The Empire was dying, the cities had sunk into cesspits of corruption and moral decay, at night blood thirsty phantoms preyed on the weak and poor,' the priest shrieked, the high tones reverberating through the hall. Anwen winced at the sound and slumped further into the pew as if she could escape it, the hard, wooden back grated uncomfortably against her spine. On and on the priest droned, erupting spasmodically into spittle-filled tirades. How much more of her day was this old fool going to take up, she wondered? Outside, the sun was shining, the park would be shaking off the last of the morning dew, insects were humming and the smell of spring lay thick and heady in the air like the vapours of a strong wine.

'But not all the gods had forsaken the people,' the priest continued, his voice now more restrained, the previous outbursts seemingly having upset even his own ears.

'A young priest, Diecot Black, prayed daily kneeling on the stone floor of his cell. His fervent mutterings beseeched the gods to deliver the Empire from evil. One of the gods took pity on this young man and as the sun sought its rest one evening the priest's devotions were interrupted by a voice whispering within the stone walls of his cell. "Do you want to save your people?"

Friday, February 16, 2018

Terminator, Too by Stacey E. Bryan

Stacey E. Bryan parodies The Terminator in this tale, featuring a rakish Kyle Reese, a low-rent Sarah Connor, and - yes - Arnold Schwarzenegger.

SANTA MONICA, THE RECENT PAST, 2:45 A.M.

Lightning brighter than all of Los Angeles rent the dark night sky with a powerful sizzle and crackle. The mysterious birth of the full-grown man conducted itself secretly in the deserted Santa Monica parking lot. The man stepped down from a hole in the sky, fully formed and butt naked, as the snapping electrical currents gradually ceased.

Crickets filled the sudden silence with their song. The naked ex-action hero/ex-governor stood, aberrantly bulging muscles slick with sweat. He gazed around himself, taking in familiar landmarks while his genitals contracted softly in the cool beach air.

A group of 20-30 somethings turned the corner just then, a tumble of loud laughter, obviously drunk on brewed beer. When they spotted the naked, sweating man standing on the sidewalk, they stopped in their tracks and choked their laughter silent.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Back to the World by Lee Conrad

Back home, a Vietnam vet tries to make his way in the world, but with no job and no money he must resort to desperate measures; by Lee Conrad.

Joey looked out the window of his small apartment and watched the snow fall. He knew he had to find another job fast or he would be out on the street. The jobs were never high class and his last one on a loading dock was a bust. He went into the cramped bathroom, ran his fingers through his long hair and stared at the face looking back at him from the mirror. He had changed, they all said. Well who the hell wouldn't? Joey grabbed his army fatigue jacket and headed out the door.

He walked to Murphy's Tavern down sidewalks covered with snow up to his ankles. Joey had been back from Vietnam for over a year but it seemed like an eternity when jobs kept disappearing. A cold winter in upstate New York didn't improve his mood either.

Joey opened the door to the bar and a blast of hot air, stale beer and cigarette smoke hit him full on. No matter, one got used to that as the night wore on.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dear Mom by Paul Beckman

Paul Beckman's epistolary story about a son's deteriorating relationship with his mother.

Dear Mom... You were sure right about the foliage. The New Haven Green is ablaze with multi-colored trees and the constant changing hues made me want to draw or paint them so I bought a small colored pencil kit and have included a couple of sketches. Hope they're not too abstract for your liking. I'm also taking photos of the trees and have purposely blurred them so shapes don't interfere with the colors. It's starting to get chilly here now so I'm glad you had me pack those sweaters. I remember that this is the best weather in the Bay Area. I guess autumn (you always call it fall) is the best season on both coasts. Too bad I won't be seeing you for Thanksgiving, I was looking forward to it; but if you say you're physically and mentally exhausted and need the rest who am I to argue? Love Daniel.

Monday, February 5, 2018

My Father's Son by Don Herald

When his mother dies, Jarrod is determined to find out more about his absent father; by Don Herald.

I might as well start at the end.



I check my watch. Twenty after nine. It's not too late.

I grab my cell off the counter and open the address book. I scroll down, find who I'm looking for and press 'call'.

I wait.

I'm hardly breathing. My chest feels as if a steel strap is being slowly tightened around it.

An automated voice asks me to leave a message. I'm surprised because I expected a live person to answer.

"Hey, it's me."

Not the most original way to start but at least I've made the call.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Asking For It by Paul Michael Dubal

A rape victim channels her anger towards the judge who let her assailant go free; by Paul Michael Dubal.

He said I was asking for it. In the way I dressed. Too provocative, Judge Parker said as he stared down from his perch like some old schoolmaster giving his pupil a condescending and unwanted lecture.

As if I was the one on trial here. It was my fault that I got raped.

I was too promiscuous, he cried, an old bible bashing preacher casting fire and brimstone on his sinful flock.

Ye shall face the wrath of God - and he is a vengeful God!

Men are prone to temptation. They are weak and can't always help themselves. What do you expect if you dress in short skirts and high heels? You are offering it to them. You can't blame them if they if they misread the signals.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Unintended Consequences of Driverless Cars by Charlie Fish

The aforementioned consequences include London burning, Amazon making fridges, and the main character's wife having an affair. Best read out loud in a Cockney accent.

I reckon me wife's having an affair.

Sharon and I got together back when I was boning up to be a London cabbie. I was always hunched over a map, or going out for runs on the bike, or sitting there reciting every shopfront from Marylebone to the Old Kent Road. If it weren't for her I'd have forgotten to eat. How she had the patience to stick with me I'll never know.

But I passed the Knowledge in the end, and bought meself a beautiful black TX4. Filled with pride, I was, to be me own boss, to be driving such an iconic symbol of London. We used to call ourselves Cromwell's Army, a nod to 400 years of shared history.

I paid off the cab in three years. After that Sharon and I would take a month off every year and take the kids to Benidorm. That was the life. Sure, I occasionally took a fare that didn't make it onto me tax return, but I was fundamentally an honest cabbie. Not like those bloody Ubers.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Philip's Beaches by Bruce Harris

A British diplomat drops everything to rescue his reporter brother from a war zone, and reflects on their relationship; by Bruce Harris.

The door to the pilots' cabin is slightly ajar, to enable immediate communication if it becomes necessary, and I am only a few yards behind them, so any crisis arising can be dealt with. At last, that sense of events hurtling rapidly out of my control has subsided a little. I have even occasionally managed something like dozing in the last twenty minutes, a rest for my aching body and mind.

The big air ambulance has one patient centrally placed and medical equipment, including monitors, on both sides. Incongruous as an armed ambulance may be, we are still in dangerous country and we do have a few sophisticated armaments, including machine guns and even a few small missiles, the airborne equivalent of mortars. My sister in law Ellen, along with Olawale and Kebe, a doctor and nurse respectively, are in the centre with me; at the back, in front of a complex dashboard, a thin young guy called Peter Gibson is keeping a careful eye on what's happening on the ground and in a twenty mile radius around us. Though he looks only recently emerged from adolescence, Peter has already demonstrated his considerable tracking and hacking abilities and he has had a lot to do with our success so far. Olawale and Kebe are Nigerian, as are the pilot and co-pilot; Olawale is once again checking his patient to ensure he is moving as little as possible, even though the best of pilots cannot avoid causing some movement.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Symphony by Chloe Nakano

Jocelyn faces up to her grief at the loss of her husband; by Chloe Nakano.

Time heals all wounds.

Over the past month, Jocelyn's family and friends had offered her so many different variations of the popular phrase, that she now found herself hating it. 'Does it?' she wanted to yell at the next unlucky person who dared say it. 'Because it sure as hell don't feel like it.'

Even now, something simple like the doorbell ringing made her feel like she was suffocating beneath memories of her late husband, Charles. He was a cellist at a lounge downtown. After work he'd come home, hands full with his cello and papers or sound equipment, unable to open the door; he'd ring the doorbell to get her to open it for him. She'd sometimes get annoyed because it would interrupt her writing.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Farewell to Bikes by Frank Beyer

A delivery of Paxter electric carts changes up the bicycle-riding routine of a group of New Zealand posties, and they wonder what else the future holds; by Frank Beyer.

1

The exercise on the bike was something to appreciate. Twenty-odd hours of fat-burning a week - hard to replace. My direct manager was measured and fair, not a bully like at my old branch. She was going to go on maternity leave soon though, and so this purple patch wouldn't last. Things are always changing as people love to say, one has to stay flexible... 'Within five years it'd be drones delivering Chinese Rolexes to agoraphobes, everyone on a universal income, slurping low fat milkshakes... In the meantime the current technological issue was a sorting machine in Auckland that refused to count mail. We had fun messing with each other while counting thousands of letters.

32, 33, 34, 35...

Hey listen to this... 35, 36, 34, 35, 32, 96, 96.

You bastard... I've lost my place!

Monday, January 15, 2018

I Didn’t by Mary Kaye Valdez

Mary Kaye Valdez's flash about a schoolboy's regret.

When you’re sitting next to your Emilio Mercado for the first time on Monday morning, make sure you pay attention to him. I didn’t. I was too upset about separating from my friends to care about him. The last thing I wanted was to sit next to someone I didn’t know, but you shouldn’t ignore your Emilio Mercado. Don’t only think about yourself, and start a proper conversation with him.

“Mr. Santos really separated everyone,” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“My friends are all the way on the other side of the room.”

“Oh.”

“I think it’s the same for everyone. Everyone is yelling across the room just to talk to their friends now. I hate this.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Heist by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Small-town South African couple Bennie and Elaine get a taste of the big city high life in Waterfontein; by Beryl Ensor Smith.

When Bennie and Elaine Ferreira returned from their six-week cruise, there was much talk among the villagers, most of it less than kind.

"They're very full of themselves," Marion Klopper said indignantly, "not at all interested in what's been going on here, just go on endlessly about all the exciting things they've experienced since they left."

"That's probably because nothing much happens here," Rina van Wyk sighed, "and from what Elaine's told us about their cruise, it sounds heavenly."

"If you ask me," Christina du Plessis sniffed, "she was hoping to meet up with that singer from a cruise ship that she once had an affair with."

"That was just gossip," Helga Swanepoel reproved. "There wasn't a grain of truth in that rumour. Elaine and Bennie are devoted to one another."

"Perhaps," Christina replied sulkily, "but you can't deny that since they've been back they are more interested in the friends they met on the ship than in us!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Getaway by Bill Vernon

An Ohio couple travel to a country retreat, but Marcie does not feel at ease - and for good reason. By Bill Vernon.

Frank said, "Marcie, let's take a little hike and look the place over," and I let him lead me through the large parking lot onto a trail that began just beyond the cars. It went a hundred yards, then started up a mountain and narrowed so much I had to walk behind him.

Climbing, we made three U-turns, and I already felt as if we were deep inside a mysterious forest. Skinny, whitish trees shrouded us with tons of little spade-shaped leaves.

"Can't see much," I said, looking downhill. The lodge and its lake, in which we'd watched a moose feeding, like a big horse with oddly humped shoulders, lay hidden behind foliage.

I was breathing hard, but stretching the muscles felt good after driving here from Missoula.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Case Study of Post-Necrosis Development in the Domesticated Feline by Daniel Olivieri

Young Tara loves her smart cat Socks so much not even death can come between them; by Daniel Olivieri.

Professor Socks was a cat of few words. No words, actually. In addition to being mute, he was also illiterate. Illiteracy is rampant in the cat community. Despite this, Tara had decided that Professor Socks was one of the foremost intellectuals of his generation. Occasionally, she would treat her parents to a lecture on Professor Socks' achievements. They were numerous. He was tenured, to start with. Tara's parents shared a wry smirk when they heard that. Both of them were professors. Neither had tenure. Professor Socks, Tara would continue, had a litany of publications. He even had a teaching position at Tufts, Tara would add. Once, Tara's father asked, "What field does Professor Socks work in?" This question threw Tara. She was pretty sure that farmers worked in fields, not professors. She responded, "You know... all of them. Left field, infield, cornfields, wheatfields."

"Your father means," Tara's mom jumped in, "what does Professor Socks study?"

"Oh," Tara said. "Biology, mostly. He specializes in viruses."