Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Gore Hole by Jordan Anderson

Sam is haunted by memories of a creepy house, the death of his dog, and his betrayal of a friend in Jordan Anderson's slow burning horror chiller.

Sam Benton stared down at his feet as he walked. The cold autumn chill swirled invisible around him, biting at his nostrils and earlobes. The track that surrounded the soccer field of the elementary school was made of small bits of red gravel and it crunched under his shoes with each step he took. Every half minute or so, he had to wipe the condensation from the thick glasses he wore, his own hot breath and the warm body-heat emitting from the neck of his puffy jacket causing the lenses to fog as he walked. He didn't mind, though. Seeing the ground pass under him behind the small misty windows made him think of Silent Hill and he loved that video game. The cold and the fog were his favorite things about fall.

The second of the end-of-day bells was just finishing its call and students were fleeing the school property in all directions. Their distant shouts and laughter heralded their dispersion.

The track curved north to continue its loop around the soccer field, but Sam did not follow the curve. He broke off from it and moved up the small grassy incline toward the school's chain link property fence and the exit to 131st street. The condensation in the grass soaked the bottoms of his pant legs and he could feel his socks getting wet through his shoes.

Someone called his name from behind.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Upland Hall by Margaret Karmazin

A society widow becomes a private detective and takes on a locked room murder mystery; by Margaret Karmazin.

Back in the day, I longed to become a policewoman, but girls from my social class did not do such things. Instead, it was off to Bryn Mawr for a degree in psychology and then straight down the aisle with Winfield Caldwell III and on to raising a family. But throughout the diapers, scout troops and racket of teenage-hood, I devoured a zillion who-done-its and in my secret mind, I was always a detective.

When poor Win died in a freak accident while riding his bicycle to a nearby park, he left me alone in our ridiculously oversized home outside of Philadelphia. The kids, only one left in college and the rest out in the world, did not approve when I sold the house, held a grand auction, and moved into a condo in central Bucks County. After I established myself in the area, joining a few clubs to meet people, I dared let it be known that I was "sort of" a private detective.

"Mummy has gone off her rocker," William, my oldest, told my daughter Shelby, while (all this came to my ear eventually) my younger son Christopher defended me. "She has suffered the loss of her husband, you idiots," I'm told he retorted. "Give her a break. She needs distractions while she gets her shit together."

He had always been my champion and while I would never admit this out loud, I love him the most.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mr. Williams' School Bus by Nancy Lane

When bus driver Wally Williams is accused of inappropriate behaviour with the schoolchildren, dozens of parents travel to attend the hearing; by Nancy Lane.

I was the first of the teachers to take a seat in the front row of folding chairs below the stage. Mrs. Goode, the school district superintendent, sat onstage with Mr. Pittman, the school principal. Other teachers joined me as Mrs. Goode called the hearing to order.

"Mr. Pittman asked me to convene this hearing because he received a letter of complaint from the mother of one of our Deerwood Park Elementary school students," Mrs. Goode began. "The letter indicates inappropriate behavior by our school bus driver, Walter Williams."

Mrs. Goode turned to me. "Mrs. Rose, I see only teachers and one parent present. Are other parents coming?"

On Friday she had asked me to notify parents of the Tuesday night hearing in the school auditorium and told me potentially criminal activities involving Walter Williams had been reported.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Chase by Matthew Hoch

Matthew Hoch's character witnesses an altercation, and - having let himself down by being timid in the past - this time he is determined to be act boldly.

It was two weeks and counting since I let Molly walk away without uttering so much as a sound, and I hoped the simple comfort of a chicken sandwich would ease my mind. Nothing else seemed to. I thought about her green eyes smiling at me as I did my grocery shopping. I saw her delicately brushing her dirty-blonde hair over her right shoulder as I moved one stack of paper from the left side of my desk to the right at my thankless title insurance agency. And I still thought about her as I sat chewing my chicken sandwich in the patio area of a Chick-Fil-A.

My mind couldn't get out of my friend John's kitchen where Molly and I had found ourselves alone during one of his monthly dinner parties. She looked at me and smiled. She stood waiting in anticipation. I could tell she was waiting for me to act, to jump out of my skin and take a chance. She had thrown at me all the subtle and not-so-subtle flirty cues a person could to let one know she was interested, and now it was my move. I swayed nervously. I looked at her, my heart beating out of control. And I said nothing. The words that died in my mouth remained trapped in my head.

After thirty-four years, I started to get nervous this was becoming cyclical.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Leaves of Grass: An Apothecary by DC Diamondopolous

Assembly member Brenda Bustamante tells a story about what you have to hide, right or wrong, to be a successful politician; by DC Diamondopolous.

Assembly woman Brenda Bustamante stepped from the taxi onto Market Street in the Castro District. The rainbow flag rippled and waved like a proud declaration atop a pole above the gay metropolis. San Francisco was a long way from Brenda's hometown of Bakersfield, and the Castro further still, when it came to politics and lifestyles.

The cool spring breeze lifted the lapels of her blazer and swept her auburn hair off her face. She gazed across the street to her destination, a place she didn't want even the cab driver to know.

That night, at her best friend's son's graduation party, she ate from the wrong - or in her case, the right - batch of brownies and wrapped several in a napkin for later; she drove home, staggered into bed and for the first time in years fell into a fathomless sleep for almost eight hours. Best of all, she woke up without a hangover, unlike the pills her doctor had prescribed. With her intense workload and ambitions for higher office, sleep was crucial. After talking with Tony, she decided that edible marijuana was the answer, and with a medical license, it was legal. She drove all the way from Bakersfield to the central coast to get her permit. If her constituents back home knew, even the more liberal ones, they might vote her out of office.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Bit Rough At the Edges by Tom Sheehan

Tom Sheehan's hopeful story of Sarah Beaufort, who doesn't know whether to resent or admire her world-worn mother and absent father.

Sarah Beaufort was a city girl. She knew the tremors of gutter trash, the promise of dust and debris rising in the slightest wind, what was surely heading down the road to her... and the whole lot coming for her single-parent mother, Abbie. And Abbie, bereft at times, with two and three jobs always beckoning, Sundays no longer a day of rest in an odd work week, fought the harsh conditions, knowing some people lose it all under such pressures.

Not to be outdone in hard lots for Sarah, there was also her father. He was a strange one in himself, religiously writing every three months a letter to her from a distance, with an aside to her kid sister, about how much he loved them, adored them really. Each letter always came with an alarming sideline generally saying, "Mom and I could never make it even in a rocket ship out of space, never mind in a cluttered apartment. She was never really a good housekeeper, you must have known, but don't tell her I said so. It would only infuriate her... ask me, I have seen it times untold." Sarah often wondered how he could say Mom and slap Abbie in the face again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Ball of Chalk By Steve Lucas

Steve Lucas's character, a screenwriter with daddy issues, is about to discover that he has a terrible taste in friends.

Definition:

1) Cockney rhyming slang: "Gone for a ball of chalk" means gone for a walk.

2) Military slang: "All went for a ball of chalk" means a situation deteriorated beyond repair, about as much use as a ball of chalk.



'Mercenaries!' I shouted. The people around me turned their heads and frowned. 'Cannon fodder!' The soldiers continued their march.

'What are you doing?' Jimmy nudged me and smirked.

'Murderers!' I yelled. A passing soldier reached his right arm across the barrier and tried to grab me. Jimmy pulled me backwards and we bumped into a fat lady who dropped her shopping bags.

'Come on then,' I said. The soldier beckoned me closer. I noticed that he only had one arm. Jimmy grabbed me by the collar and yanked me away.

'Some pacifist you are,' Jimmy laughed. 'That guy's a soldier, he'll have you.'

'Rubbish,' I said. 'He's only got one arm.'

'I think that's all he'll need to knock you out.'

'Bollocks.'

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Malachy Mission by Karl MacDermott

Malachy Mulroney, a man with questionable hygiene habits, has a unique strategy for holding on to his girlfriend; by Karl MacDermott.

Every time I met Malachy Mulrooney he had a cold. On the street always sneezing. Endless coughing and spluttering while waiting for the elevator. In a coffee shop I sometimes saw him use empty sugar sachets to clean his nose because he'd run out of tissue. On the disgusting human behaviour Richter scale - that's a seven. I was tired of all this, I mean we worked in the same building, shared the same canteen, stood (and exhaled) over the same food. So one afternoon I bumped into him in the john. He was coming out of a cubicle blowing his nose. I said Malachy, you've got a constant cold, what's wrong with you? He sighed wearily.

Love.

He started washing his hands. Didn't use the dispenser. Ignored the hand-dryer.

Friday, January 22, 2016

You Never Know What You'll Find in a Hotel Room by Benjamin Klein

A cleaner finds a dying man in a hotel room and tries to do the right thing; by Benjamin Klein.

She yanks back the shower curtain and sees a man, naked, laying motionless in a pool of deep red. She drops the anti-bacterial spray and stumbles back against the sink, knocking a vase of roses and a tiny fragrance bottle to the floor with a crash. She screams.

The man opens his eyes and stares.

Running out of the bathroom and into the hallway, she braces herself on her cleaning cart. Her impact spills some Comet disinfectant on the hotel carpet, most likely staining it forever.

"Jasmine!" she says.

Four doors down on her left, another woman with a cleaning cart and bed sheets in her arms jumps.

"Naomi, be quiet, the other guests," Jasmine says in her loudest whisper.

"A man's dying in room 319, go get help!" Naomi says.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Heartland by Jonathan Wooddin

An old Arkansas man gets a visit from his wayward grandson, and recounts his troubled story; by Jonathan Wooddin.

Wake up a-rockin' in the easy chair to find the shadows casting large, stretching from the porch across the yard. Pick up a smoke, flick a match, and settle down to the death of another day. Sheriff should've been calling this morning (wonder what's keeping him?), with questions about Zeb. But the kid's long gone; he knows the deal. Guess he figured out to how to run a while back.

Take a pull, smoke, relax, and think about what there is to say. At the end of the yard, the river's glinting molten bronze. It's a breathless late autumn afternoon, and there's a chill in the air as the sun dies away. Ain't no sounds to my old ears save the creaking of the chair as it shifts underneath me, although should I wear my hearing aids, reckon I'd catch the final jousting calls of the birds as they heading to roost.

I think on the ebb and flow of life, how things here change so slow it's almost impossible to notice. It's like when the seasons tail off and slide into one another, imperceptible and fluid.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

War Baby by Sinead McCabe

Sinead McCabe's creepy story about a woman driven to madness during the London Blitz will get under your skin, and then you'll want to read it again.

It was twilight when the siren began to wail, and the little street was bathed in lurid tones from the smoky sunset, as though already aflame. Mrs Emilia Blythe sat shuddering upon the ottoman, staring into the mirror at the shape of her own skull, unable to move; unable even to cry out. Five minutes before, upon the blue candlewick spread of the empty double bed behind her, she had seen the apparition of a child; a little baby no more than two years old. Wearing nothing but a ragged smock, with hair so tangled over its hollow eyes that they could barely be glimpsed, it reached out a tiny starfish hand to her, and wailed. Then, even while her upraised hair-brushing hand had frozen in the air and her heart had begun to beat hard and wild, that wail had deepened and become inhuman, blaring through the street and the neighbourhood and the whole great battered city. Had become, in fact, the air raid siren itself, and she blinked and somehow she was on the floor and the child had disappeared.

Emilia sat on the bed, clutching the photograph of her husband in uniform. The telegram announcing that he was missing in action had arrived the day before she was bombed out of Cripplegate, almost two months before. She put the photograph to her forehead with hot and shaking hands, trying to absorb strength from it, companionship, sanity - if Fred was here, there'd be no hauntings; this wouldn't be happening again!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Company by Philip DiGiacomo

Richard, a blind old homosexual living in Manhattan, fears for his future, but his exuberant friend London is there to reassure him; by Philip DiGiacomo.

I was alone, or so I thought. I pulled my apartment door shut and hung my folding cane on the hook next to the unused light switch. Did I hear breathing? There was another pair of lungs working close by, I was sure of it. I held my own breath and stood still, letting my ears and nose detect any changes in my apartment. Being blind makes me vulnerable, to say the least.

The light, measured breathing seemed to come from across the living room, carried on the faintest of breezes. Had I left the window open this morning? I know I had opened it to fill the bird feeder, but I was sure I closed it. I lived on the tenth floor. What could have entered from outside and now waited across the room watching me? Was the handyman here fixing something? I called out.

"Phil, is that you?"

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Myra Bocca by James Mulhern

Gabe and Molly, new to Wilton Manors in Florida, meet the characterful  proprietor of a New Age book store; by James Mulhern.

Just before the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, where Espresso Boys was located, Gabe and I passed a New Age bookstore called Sacred Ashes. We paused and looked in the window at a display of crystals and gemstones, silver and pewter jewelry, chalices, glass skulls, and crystal balls.

"Let's go in. Maybe they'll have some books on grieving," Gabe said. My aunt had just passed away. A male couple holding hands smiled at us as they passed. The warm breeze of the Florida evening felt good.

"I'm not grieving. I didn't like her much," I said quietly.

"Yes you are." He took my hand and pushed open the door. Enya was playing softly and there was an overpowering smell of sage. A woman wearing a bright pink muumuu embroidered with a design of blue, white, and orange tulips that rose from the hem like a garden, waved to us from the register at the back of the store. "Come in. Come in. It's so good to get a little business."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Getting Fired by Frank Beyer

Ed is sent by his boss to represent the company at a cutthroat presentation competition; by Frank Beyer.

Alert! The boss on the phone. Her friendly tone put me on guard: Hi Ed, glad to catch you... congratulations are in order, you'll be representing the branch this year, I reckon you're in with a fair shot at it...

Well an honour, but like all things a double-edged teapot.

It's being going good with yourself lately - outperforming people with a lot more experience. Keep it up.

This wasn't completely unexpected, I'd won some good contracts in a year since starting at the company. God, he looks like he could do with a good wash, I'd heard my boss say about me when I was first put on her team, but my results had gone some way to changing that first impression.

My tactics were simple: I set myself to send twenty marketing emails a day and make five phone calls. That wasn't many, but consistency was the key. Some of the other cubicled rabbits were always on the phone - obviously to the wrong bloody people. Not that I didn't know what that was like: after most of my calls ended I screamed silently at the unjustness of the universe.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Michael Rourke, the Ladies' Man by Nancy Lane

Nancy Lane tells the life story of a hard working Irish immigrant in America at the turn of the last century.

New York City, 1897

Michael dropped his duffel bag to the dusty floor. "No, no, you scrawny kid, you're not bunking in this room. Adult men, Americans, stay in this room. You belong in the basement with the Italian boys," Mrs. Arnold snarled. "They all look alike. But you'll stand out with them blue eyes. You best be stronger than you look so you can do the work I tell you. You can't live here free. You'll pay me with work and sweat 'til you have coin in your pocket from the bakery. Miller's gonna work you harder than me. You best be happy now 'cause you won't be too happy next week."

Michael Rourke was small but smart, having earned a university degree in accounting in Dublin at age seventeen. Post-Potato Famine Ireland was still in deep economic depression. Michael's father wanted his only son to find the prosperity and happiness found by others who had emigrated.