Monday, April 16, 2018

Arise and Go Now by James Mulhern

Aiden plots with his grandfather's ghost to free his mother from the mental asylum; by James Mulhern.

I arrived at Rita's house about noon. Her blue eyes widened when she opened the door. She patted the sides of her red hair and smoothed her pleated cotton nightdress, a pattern of honey-bees. She was always donning unusual clothing or changing the color of her hair, which was ash blond a month ago.

"Aiden, I'm a mess. I fell asleep on the couch. Come in." She held a book entitled Audrey Rose.

She saw me looking at the cover. A girl in a red dress stood in front of a grave. The ground was on fire.

"Junk. I hope you're reading better things in school... What grade are you in this year? Old people lose track of time. The years merge together and sometimes they seem to disappear." She laughed.

"Ninth."

"Before I know it, you'll be in college." She rubbed my head. "Let's sit in the backyard. It's such a lovely day."

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Irony by Bruce Costello

An author is confused about where he is as his memory degrades; by Bruce Costello.

My chin rests on my shirt and I stare down at the writing pad on the meal tray, trying to fathom this strange feeling I keep getting, like I've dug a deep pit for myself, and when I try to climb out, I fall further in.

I have times of lucidity when I can still write, but my memory is failing, my ideas are all over the place. Often I write what I don't mean, or by the time I get to the end of a paragraph, I've forgotten the beginning. Sometimes I can't recall common words. And I waste time trying to get grammar right, though no editor will ever see this, or would be able to decipher it, if he did. At High School, my English teacher said my handwriting was like the meanderings of a drunken spider.

Sometimes I meander down to the end of the corridor and then find myself at the traffic lights in my pyjamas and the police bring me back here. They tell me this is where I live now. If you think that's weird, how do you think I feel? But at least I can still write when the drugs click in for an hour or two, and I'm writing my memoirs.

Monday, April 9, 2018

As Luck Would Have It by David Henson

Matthew's gambling problem has gotten out of hand, but today is his lucky day; by David Henson.

I was on fire. Blackjack one hand. Doubled-down and won. Split and won both. Held eighteen, hit a three. Stood with seventeen, and everybody else went bust. Three more blackjacks. My streak of smiles had started when a little guy with a red beard and green shirt walked up and stood beside me. Since he'd been watching I couldn't lose.

"Hey, don't go," I said when he started to leave.

"Me?" He acted surprised I'd noticed him. "Sorry, son, I hear the pub a-calling me."

"Stay. We can have a drink here. You're my lucky charm."

"Sorry." He cupped his hand to his ear. "Still a-calling."

Friday, April 6, 2018

Only Burglars by Jessamy Dalton

Old Tom tells a story of his days as a gentleman burglar, until he and his crew picked on the wrong house; by Jessamy Dalton.

Every spring, Dustin's mother would get upset all over again about Old Tom Critchley's place down the street.

"It's a disgrace," she would say. "A junk heap. An eyesore."

"He's just an old fellow who's fallen on hard times," Dustin's father would say in a placatory way.

Dustin and his friend Matt kind of liked Old Tom's place, with its overgrown yards and collection of old cars on blocks. There was a '57 Thunderbird Old Tom let them play on whenever they wanted to. They'd get in and pretend they were in Grand Theft Auto.

"The boys shouldn't hang around him," Dustin's mother would say. "He's a poor role model."

"He's just an old fellow," Dustin's father would repeat. "He needs the company."

"He needs help," Dustin's mother would reply, but whenever she made carrot cake, she sent Dustin over with a slice.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Genealogy by Niles Reddick

As Niles Reddick's character investigates his past, the anecdotes of his ancestors make him increasingly paranoid about his family's future.

The most difficult project I have ever undertaken in my life is attempting to discover my roots. I began my project in my college years, and like most people fantasize, I had hoped for some connection to royalty in Scotland, England, Ireland or Wales, but I would have settled for a link to a knight or warrior, even if they weren't the kindest of people. I began the research by asking older relatives and had the notion I would research my dad's line and my mom's line, which would be several lines, actually, since each line doubled with each generation. I met with my maternal grandmother who told me of her parents, farmers, and their parents, farmers, and I was already bored. I asked what they did for excitement, and she told me that the only time life got exciting was when her grandfather came home drunk. (They could hear him coming down the dirt path in the buggy, screaming and shouting.) She said all the grandchildren would take off to the woods and hide until they got a signal from the house that he had passed out. She said he'd point a shotgun at my great grandmother (her mother) and make her play the piano for hours while he slurred songs that in his inebriated mind somehow made sense until he finally slipped into a mumbling mode and then dropped unconscious to the floor. My great grandmother would keep playing for a while until she was sure he was asleep, and then one of her fifteen siblings would call the younger ones back to the house. My grandmother told me how her grandfather would shoot up the house and furniture when he was drunk, but would then go to town and buy all new furniture the next day out of guilt. She told me how he would jump in the well to try and kill himself and they would pull him out. I wondered why they just didn't let him drown. She told me how he got into an argument with his nephew when they were both drunk, and they shot each other, which is how he finally died. What amazed me most, however, was when she said, "He was a good man."

Friday, March 30, 2018

With Boots On by Bruce Costello

In Bruce Costello's Western flash, grief-stricken Dwight is having a quiet night in his horse-drawn cab.

Twilight. Snowflakes swirl around the street lamps. Dwight sits hunched on the driver's seat of his hansom cab. He's covered in snow and motionless, like a limestone gargoyle. His old nag, too, is unmoving, her head down, and ears held back, as if lost in peevish thought. Dwight and the mare have not budged for over an hour. They left the yard before sunset and still not a single fare.

The street is silent, apart from the judge's gas buggy that goes belching by. No drunken cowboys gallop past saloons and dance halls, high in their saddles, shooting and hollering.

Gunfire has not been heard in De Soto City for many years. The McCleary gang is just a memory, apart from Ma McCleary, who Dwight often visits with flowers in the lunatic asylum where she lives.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Abduction by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Christina du Plessis is spooked by an abduction in the nearby South African town of Waterfontein, and gets a little jumpy on her next trip to the mall; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Hans du Plessis had hardly arrived home after a frustrating morning spent in Waterfontein where he had gone to pay a parking fine when he was pounced upon by Christina, his wife. Taking one look at her agitated face, he knew she was on the brink of an hysterical outburst which would make heavy demands on him. Calling upon every ounce of patience he possessed, he asked calmly:

"What's upset you, my girl?"

"Hans, criminals are now targeting towns in farming areas like ours! A horrible incident in Waterfontein was broadcast on the local news station." Christina was in such a state she was hyperventilating. "In the parking area at the main shopping mall, when a woman opened her boot to offload her shopping, she was grabbed from behind and hurled into it. She was found traumatised some miles along the N1 to Johannesburg, dumped on the verge minus her handbag, the devil driving off in her new top-of-the-range Mercedes! Oh, Hans, I go to that mall. Is this how I will meet my end?" she wailed.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Case of the James Bond Killer by David W Landrum

When Sherlock accepts a case in which a killer is re-enacting scenes from James Bond, his American assistant Dr Ophelia Turnberg proves indispensable.

Sherlock Holmes Case #2, 1966

Narrated by his assistant, Dr. Ophelia Turnberg

The scene in Goldfinger where they show the woman who has been murdered by being painted gold shocked me. The camera focused on her suddenly. A scary blare of discordant brass music played. It made me jump. Piers, who was sitting next to me in the theater that night, smiled, and took my hand.

It was a little creepy, then, when Holmes called me in to examine the body of a girl who had been killed - really killed, not theatrically killed - in this very manner. Of course, she did not die by being painted gold. I told him as much.

"You can't suffocate from your skin being painted over," I said. "Your skin absorbs only small amounts of oxygen. If you can breathe through your mouth or nose, you won't suffocate." I looked at toxicology report. "It says here she was poisoned. Cyanide. Whoever did this poisoned her and then painted her."

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Moment of Truth by Bonnie Veaner

Bonnie Veaner's character decides never to lie to her children, but it proves harder than anticipated.

Lying Low

I was waiting in the checkout line at Target in front of a screaming toddler whose exasperated mother was pushing him in his stroller. I glanced back to see what all the fuss was about, when the mother, clearly at her wit's end, knelt down and locked eyes with her son. "See that lady?" She pointed up at me. "She's going to spank you if you don't stop crying."

Taken aback, I looked directly at the little boy. "No, I'm not," I said. "She's lying." Might as well get used to it kid, I thought. Adults are all the same; every damned one of them lies.

The mother bristled at my response to her child - clearly, I was no ally. She stood up and rummaged around in her purse until she found an old, half-eaten lollipop. She sucked off the dirt and popped the candy in her son's mouth. He grabbed the lollipop stick and stopped crying; he won the battle. An experienced manipulator, he had played his mother with the precision of a military general. This kid was the Sun Tzu of toddlers.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Remission by Charlie Fish

Archer Lemont is about to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, but the journey will be longer than he anticipated.

On an overcast afternoon in late July, hundreds of us stood shoulder to shoulder in the big plaza outside Middlesex Vocational College, waiting for our futures to be decided. The air was thick with humidity and tension, all eyes facing Speaker's Plinth.

"Brown, Camelia: Lunar 4 Geomechanics."

Dean Porter stood atop the plinth wearing a ceremonial gown and a stern expression that made it look like he was delivering a eulogy. As each name and job was read out, there was a ripple somewhere in the crowd. Mostly back-patting and congratulations; sometimes commiserations.

"Dyer, Felix: Lunar 1 Planning."

I stood with Fred, Don and the Olivers (there were two of them), the guys I'd grown closest to while we'd been studying there. We were all hoping to get placed together, on the same mine at least, but it wasn't going to happen. Lunar Corps and the other mining agencies placed grads like us according to academic performance only. No mere social considerations held water.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Outside In by Clifford Hui

When conservationists Matthew and Richard head to the Aussie outback to catch crocs, they take a young aspiring photojournalist with them; by Clifford Hui.

Irritation filled Matthew's voice as he looked at Roger. "We're catching crocodiles. We can't be baby-sitting any tourists."

"I'm with you on that, but Steve's starting a photo journalism career, and Todd thought our project would make a good subject for him. I said I'd talk it over with you."

"Shit. That's even worse. We all need to focus on our project. Having someone there with his own agenda will be nothing but trouble."

"That's what I think. However, Steve is Todd's son, and we have one more project permit that needs Todd's signature."

"Shit. I didn't know Todd was such an asshole."

Friday, March 9, 2018

Last Chance by Edward Lee

Vernon leaves prison after twelve long years and wonders if he really has a choice about his future; by Edward Lee.

They tried to goad him by spitting on him, talking about his mom, his wife, his daughter. They were trying to get him to fight, lose control, so his incarceration would be extended another ninety days for disorderly conduct in a government owned building. When the guards finally came to escort him out of the prison cell block and down the hallway, all he could do was laugh at his former cellmates. And that set their voices and curses at a pandemonium.

Walking past the security checkpoints, Vernon was taken to the prison outtake area; he was given his things sealed in plastic wrap. Inside the wrap were his clothes, his keys, and fifty two dollars, still there in a money clip in his back pocket. He went inside a room, changed his prison clothes for civilian, and he came out of the room a free man.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Corn Crib by Sharon Frame Gay

Fourteen-year-old Izzy Cuthbert recounts the ransacking of her Nebraskan farm by a group of Sioux; by Sharon Frame Gay.

Journal of Elizabeth Cuthbert

The day the Sioux attacked our farm, I was in the hog pen with my mother, tossing scraps to the pigs from last night's supper. Mama grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the small corn crib in the corner of the pen. She shoved me in, covered my body with cobs.

"Indians are coming. Don't you move even one bit, Izzy. Lie still and don't come out, no matter what you hear until me or Papa call your name."

Before I could blink, she closed the door and ran off, skirt rustling against her legs like the corn husks in the field behind us. Through a small crack in the slats, I saw her boots heading for the barn.

She shouted for my father and older brother. "Jake! Isaac!"

Our horses bolted in the corral, kicking up dust and galloping round and round, whinnying at the Indian ponies as they thundered towards the farm.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Dark Side of Light by Tony Billinghurst

A stolen notebook tells a chilling 200-year old tale of a woman whose husband makes a terrible error of judgment; by Tony Billinghurst.

I was sitting at my desk when he came into the room without knocking; he was still wearing gloves.

"How'd it go?" I asked.

"Sweet. You were right, the alarms were easy to fix - some house. You should see it, antiques all over the place, real class stuff."

"You sure none of you were seen?"

"No, it was nice clean job."

"Good haul?"

"Yea - we got loads. Here, I got a pressy for you, found it in a bedroom." He took a small notebook from his pocket and handed it to me. "You like history, thought you'd be interested."

I took the book.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Do Not Pass Go by Charlie Fish

Eddie visits his girlfriend's parents to ask them a big question, and gets a surprising response.

The doorbell chimed and my heart fluttered. I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Perhaps they had all gone out for a walk, and they wouldn't answer. It wasn't too late to turn back.

The door opened. Alice's father stood there - untidy hair, asymmetric glasses, stubble, badly fitting clothes - everything about him was chaotic, animated. He broke into a broad smile.

"Eddie! How lovely to see you!"

"Hello Mister Stride."

"What brings you out here to the boonies? Life treating you well? How's Alice?"

I didn't know which question to answer first. He stared at me expectantly, sizing me up. Moving, always moving, as if his clothes itched. A flush of warmth crawled down my spine.

"Sorry! Come in, come in, of course. Don't call me Mister Stride, that's what my research students call me."

"Thank you... Tom." Even with his encouragement, saying his name felt presumptuous. Which I suppose said more about me than him.