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.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Penelope by TS Hidalgo

Three weeks before her wedding, a riding accident threatens to cast Penelope's virtue into question; by TS Hidalgo.

I had a riding accident at my college's polo club, three weeks before the date originally set for my wedding. A minor matter apparently and not at all uncomfortable or painful but a major setback for my impending nuptials even so: I tore my hymen.

I called my mother a bit nervously. I had to tell her the details of my mishap while I led Wood to the stables. I tried again when I walked out of the dressing rooms. She didn't answer the second time either so I left a message. I decided not to call Jordi - my finance, flamenco dancer, first generation American on tour on the East Coast, and before that in Seattle, Omaha, Nebraska, and Redwood City, California with his latest show. I went back to my apartment, a loft actually, right on Berkeley campus. I read for a while and then I started knitting bootees for a niece of mine to calm myself down a little.

I was getting ready to go buy wool at a mall when my cellphone rang. It was my mother. I explained everything and we agreed to look for a good surgeon and not tell my boyfriend a thing. He called me that very same night. He apologized for delaying his return: he would come on Saturday. Extension of his tour on the East Coast, three extra shows in New York.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Preacher and His Wife by Mitchell Toews

In Hartplatz, rural Canada, a neighbourhood scandal brews when young Sarah reports that her grandmother's engagement ring has gone missing; by Mitchell Toews.

On Barkman Avenue, right behind where the dance hall had been and where the bakery was now, stood a one and a half story stucco house. It was a small place. The rear entrance was at the top of a short porch made of whitewashed, rough-sawn two by four lumber. From the porch, one could - in comfort - hang or retrieve laundry from a complicated clothesline pulley system that extended out from the wall. It was not the usual style of clothesline, but one made with a series of bespoke wooden reels that wound the cable through a cluster of sheaves of varying diameters.

Painted to resemble metal, the sheaves consisted of two pieces of router-edged plywood; conjoined like back-to-back pie plates. The luminescent paint used gave the profusion of pulleys the look of a metallic garden of sunflowers. When the woman who lived there managed her wash, she could be seen pushing or pulling wet sheets and many large bakers' aprons with apparent ease. The wash line was a frequent recipient of heavy loads and the complicated design was for more than just appearances - it offered a clever mechanical advantage.

Friday, January 20, 2017

From Schmear To Eternity by Jim Norman

A Jewish deli owner in 1920s Brooklyn sticks his nose into mob business; by Jim Norman.

"We ready for the breakfast crowd?" Max Kalb asked his employee and fellow counterman Abe Siegel. It was the same question Max, owner of G & G Delicatessen, asked Abe Siegel every morning at 6:45am.

Abe checked the big clock in a wire cage high on the wall. "We will be in fifteen minutes." The two close friends shared the same accent, a mix of Yiddish and Brooklyn, and lived in the same neighborhood, the same way as their parents and grandparents had in a village in Eastern Europe.

Max smiled. Spring made 1925 Brooklyn a much nicer place than winter. Gone was the brutal cold and piles of snow that, thanks to contributions by horses pulling wagons, garbage cans and the exhaust and dripped oil from cars and trucks, hadn't stayed white. It wasn't warm yet, but temperatures had risen. Whatever the season, G & G smelled like a kosher delicatessen, the air filled with the aroma of pastrami, corned beef and pickles.

"I heard a racket from the kitchen," Abe said. "Mrs. G is working."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Voyage of the Tropical Queen by Anne Da Vigo

Dennis is forced out of retirement to fix the radar on his ex brother-in-law's dilapidated ferry in Hawaii, and he fears the vessel will not survive its next trip; by Anne Da Vigo.

Dennis climbed into the passenger seat of the '49 pickup. The upholstery was torn, and a metal spring scratched his leg. "Nice wheels," he said.

Adrian, his former brother-in-law, was driving. "Nice - and cheap." He veered away from the curb at Honolulu International, cutting off the inter-terminal bus.

Dennis rubbed away a spot of blood from the seat. "So, how's it going?"

"Two more weeks, and we're out to sea." The pickup's gears grated.

He drove west, past Pearl Harbor. The ocean looked almost black. Dennis rolled down the window and let the breeze tickle his bald head. He recalled having sex for the first time on a similar pickup's bench seat.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Up a Creek by Clifford Hui

Joanna must face up to a childhood phobia to start her career as a herpetologist; by Clifford Hui.

"Those eggs are from a red-legged frog, all right. And it's a good-sized mass, too. Earl was completely right yesterday." Gil, leaning on the wall across from Rob's open office door, balanced his coffee cup in one hand and folded his arms over the middle-aged paunch that pushed out against his red plaid flannel shirt. "We haven't surveyed Desdichado Creek yet. When do you think we should go?" He stroked his handlebar mustache, grey like his hair.

Rob pushed back from his desk, stood up, and moved to his office doorway, almost filling it. He dangled his wire-rimmed reading glasses from one hand as he rubbed his short salt-and-pepper beard with the other. He answered in his soft west-Texas drawl, "Well, the sooner the better. It's going to take several efforts to be sure we got a good count on that creek, and we want to be done before they migrate outta there for the winter. We can do our first effort tonight if y'all are clear with Mary to go."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Leap of Faith by Frances Howard-Snyder

Martha and Derek, worn out by their two young children, host a party for a salesman who boasts a miracle opportunity.

"Sounds too good to be true," Martha said, with a small laugh, hoping not to antagonize her husband. "This fellow has a product that will give us a clean house, more free time, wealth - all for a meager one hundred dollars?"

"Bold, huh?" Derek beamed. "You'll be impressed. Trust me. Wait 'til you see the video testimonials."

Martha must have still looked skeptical, because he came closer and kissed her neck. "The house looks great." He put his big hands on her waist. "Like before we had kids."

She pushed him away. "Not in front of the guests, Derek." But she was pleased with the attention and pleased that he'd noticed her work. It had taken hours, scraping ketchup and egg off the hardwood floor, filling plastic trays with Lego pieces, and Windexing smudgy hand and lip-prints off the French windows. The glass was almost invisible now, showing off the dark cedar forest beneath a sky like sequined velvet.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ashley's Annulment by R. Christophe Ryber

Ashley distances herself from her Catholic mother's failed marriage by becoming a Wiccan, but things may be destined to come full circle; by R Christophe Ryber.

Ashley's feet plowed through the fallen leaves as her brown eyes scanned the dark patches between the trees for another glimpse of the wolf. The silver light from the crescent moon was barely enough for her to dodge the branches that reached out to slap her in the face as she plunged down the mountainside.

Ashley splashed into a stream and slowed, but not before her flip flops found the slick stones at the bottom. Her feet flew out from under her, and she landed hard on her broad bottom. The cold water seeped into her black ritual robe and left goosebumps on the plump, pasty flesh underneath. By the time she had gotten to her feet and slogged out of the freezing water, her blue lips were quivering. She swore at the ripped out flip flop dangling from her bruised foot.

Ashley frowned at her blurry toes. She swatted her face and the top of her head, then dropped down on all fours and felt around in the fallen leaves for her glasses. No luck. She eyed the frigid stream and took a deep breath through chattering teeth before wading back in, the arms of her robe wet up to her elbows as her rapidly numbing fingers dug around the slime covered stones. Nothing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Dolly Elite by Kara Bright Kilgore

Kara Bright Kilgore gives us a glimpse into the life of a well-to-do teenager for whom appearances are paramount.

We knew. My friends and I, we always knew about her. Each of us, at some time or another, had said something about her. We giggled, but secretly those words came up in our minds again; maybe at a different playtime, maybe right before sleep, and we each wondered in our own way: "Could that really be true about her?" Then we promptly forgot, thought about brushing her hair the next morning, and fell asleep as any child. Barbie. She wasn't a doll; she was my friend, and so I, along with a handful of my other playgroup friends, decided to keep her secrets. That's just what girlfriends did for each other. The night before the dinner party I dressed Barb in her pink nightie and left her on the chaise longue to sleep under the watchful prisms of a crystal chandelier.