Sunday, April 20, 2014

Comet by Katherine J Parker

Katherine J Parker's flash about the life of a classic Mercury Comet.

2003

Jason's eyes lit up as his fingers danced over the cool hardness of the steering wheel. There was no new car smell, no retailer's agreement on the window. This darling hadn't been on a car lot in something close to 35 years. It was a classic. It had age and personality on its side.



1966

Leroy's Cheshire cat grin drew a smile from his father as he handed a crisp white envelope to the salesman.

"She's a cherry," the slick-haired, blue suited gentleman assured the kid behind the wheel. "Treat her right and in a few years you'll be able to sell her for good money."

Leroy hardly waited for his to close the door before he put the muscular beauty into drive. Sure, he'd sell it someday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Heartwarming Story of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Benjamin Drevlow

A sheep breeder takes umbrage when the Bayfield County Fair's judge makes insinuations against the virility of his impressive specimen of a ram, in Benjamin Drevlow's hilarious tale.

We should've known that his dignity would've been hurt. Arnold was a proud old ram and he'd served us well. Bred us more lambs than we ever thought possible. Good ol' Arnie, though, just wasn't grand champion stock. At least that's what the judge at the fair said. Wasn't Arnold's fault. He just didn't have enough under the hood to compete with Raspatnik's Scottish-bred Hampshires. But I tell you what, Arnold Schwarzenegger, boy, camshaft or not, he was the most fertile damn ram we ever mated with our ewes. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he'd just about inseminate anything he could mount, and I'll tell that to the Honorable Judge Sorenson's chicken-fried face myself. Only I don't have to, because I got the fruits of Arnold's labor to prove it.

Arnold was only a yearling ram lamb back in eighty-seven, but even then, boy, what a physical specimen! Had him a stance like a nose tackle. At least that's what everybody who saw him said. Not only that, but there was his neck like an oak tree. And those hindquarters seemed big as the duelies on a John Deere 7300 series. These shoulders, too. Big and boxy like the front end of a riding lawnmower. And tall. Almost four-foot-six when he'd stand on all-fours and rise up with that big black muzzle of his to dig through your coat pockets for oats. Old Arnold could be quite persuasive with that muzzle of his.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No Curfew by Matthew Wilding

Delmon Rose, returned to his hometown for Thanksgiving, drinks in Murray's Bar and reflects on the girl he left behind; by Matthew Wilding.

Murray's Tavern was quite a ride every third or fourth Friday in November. The day after Thanksgiving, from time immemorial, all the town's recently minted adults descended upon their native land and, loaded up on Turkey and football, made one last stop at the saloon their grandfathers built and fathers ignored them for - making it their own for the night.

The townspeople, to their credit, accommodated their young. Men went home to their wives while their sons, and even their daughters (that's what college does to them), took over their stools and tables: Grandstanding about their careers, academic accomplishments, and other successes, real or imaginary. It was high energy and usually included a lot of laughs, a bit of crying, a fistfight or two, and a dozen or so broken glasses.

What most frustrated Ox Bowman, the bartender and roughneck sage of Appleton, was that they always broke martini and wine glasses. Pint glasses were easy to replace. His friends Sam, Bud, or Miller delivered them almost weekly for free. Promotional swag. But the fancy stuff cost him money. And the college daughters and even some of the converted big city sons opted for the fancy stuff.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Midnight Appointment by Charles Howard Wise

Charles Howard Wise's sad and beautiful paean to music, nature and loss.

John put down his pen, straightened his desk and slid on his wool jacket. He used to wear it when he went hunting with his father, but that was long ago. He hadn't hunted in nearly thirty years, but the jacket still fit even if it did smell of mothballs. Once he stepped out onto the patio, John pulled up a chair and lit a Pall Mall. The smoke curling off into the moonlight reminded him of his father.

His dad had been a paratrooper in Europe. He had dropped into the night sky over Normandy early on D-Day. John's prize possession was the Colt .45 his dad had carried through Europe. John's dad never talked a lot about the war; at least about the fighting, but he would have times when he was very quiet for days at a time. It was as if he was living in another place and would drop in randomly to visit with his family. He had seen more during the war than any nineteen-year-old kid should ever see. He was especially affected by the condition of the inmates of the concentration camp his battalion liberated. His last years were spent fighting lung cancer and emphysema. John remembered his emaciated features, his sunken eyes, his grey pallor. He looked as if he had been carried out of a concentration camp. He did not die peacefully.

John sat listening to the November breeze rustling the dried oak leaves where they'd blown against the foundation. Oak leaves curl up when they dry, maple leaves stay flat. That's why the oak leaves make such good mulch: the airspaces act as insulation against the cold. Good for the roses. Maggie, his wife of twenty-two years, had died nearly a year ago. She had died suddenly. The doctor said it was her heart. Maybe, but not the way the doctor thought, not plaque and atherosclerosis.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Rat Catcher By Max Detrano

Rudy Schmidt's devotion to his cat may end up threatening more than just his relationship with his girlfriend Mary Jo; by Max Detrano.

Rudy Schmidt slept on a mattress with no box spring just eighteen inches off the floor. A squeak close to his head woke him. He opened one eye and saw his cat, Der Schlaffer, sitting beside the bed. The muffled squeak of a rat came from the cat's mouth. A long black tail swished back and forth beneath its chin.

Rudy knew the drill. He sat up in bed and reached for the heavy metal flashlight he kept on a fruit crate next to the alarm clock. He held the flashlight like a club in front of Der Schlaffer, and waited.

Der Schlaffer stood on all fours and dropped the rat. The rat, slimy with cat spittle, froze. Der Schlaffer corralled it between her paws. The rat's eyes bulged. It ground its little rat's teeth. Then the rodent ran in a circle inside Der Schlaffer's paws. Finding no route of escape, it sprinted toward the giant with the flashlight.

Rudy brought the heavy club down on the rat's head, crushing its skull. The creature twitched and died.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Heroin Girl by Josette Torres

Josette Torres' character hears a spontaneous confession from a woman who has fallen on hard times, which leaves a lasting impression.

You're nearly at the Damen El stop by the time you notice Flash Taco, a Mexican restaurant, right across the street from the Double Door. In your post-bar daze you completely missed it. The shady characters lurking nearby unsettle you and you decide to pass on dinner until you get back to the hotel. You swipe through the turnstiles and head upstairs.

A few people mill around on the other side of the platform waiting for the outbound Blue Line train. Several feet away from you, a girl in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap reads a book. Huge black headphones cover her ears. You sit a respectful distance away from her and watch traffic passing below, the spring breeze tossing papers around in the street.

You've been away from Chicago for months, and now you're here one last time before you head off to teach at a school on the West Coast. You discovered the Red House Painters were touring from an Internet message board posting a few weeks before and booked the entire trip online, never speaking to a single person as you bought a show ticket, made Amtrak reservations, found a cheap rate at a nice hotel. You even bought the CTA fare card online. You haven't talked to anyone other than to say "Thank you" or "Can I get a Pabst Blue Ribbon?" or "I'd like a number six, supersized" or any number of meaningless phrases since you boarded the train to Chicago in the morning. You're not a small talk kind of person when you're traveling.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Frozen Packages by Pathos

Chris and Ronnie, burger flippers in a Chuck L's drive-through, find something disturbing in the walk-in cooler; by Pathos.

Looking back, it's shocking to think that for over a year I had been working in such close proximity to the packages. At times only feet away. But in the routine of my mundane occupation, I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was standing in the very shadow of something so horrifying.

I looked out the drive-through window at the sheet of rain that smacked against the concrete of the parking lot, creating a continuous growl as the downpour splashed off the surface of the earth. I adjusted the microphone on my headset. It was fortunate that few people ventured out of the comfort of their homes on such a night. The overcast skies shielded the stars and moon from penetrating the gloom, the sparkling sheen of the rain catching the reflection of any far off light the only thing truly visible. And when anyone was so bold as to order at the outside menu of Chuck L's Roast Beef, I was the guy who would have to stick my head out that window to handle their money and give them their order. On every occasion, rain and wind would infiltrate the building and wreak havoc on my neat little stacks of paper cups and plastic lids, and leave me soaking wet in the process.

"Hey Chris," Ronnie, the night manager called my name, "you wanna help me get the rest of the freezer ready for freight?"

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mahadsanid by Jon Moray

Carl Racine, a farm boy in the big city for a conference, tries to find out the meaning of a mysterious word used by the homeless people he passes on the streets.

"First time in a big city?" asked the bellman at the four-star hotel in the heart of the business district to the new guest as he stepped out of the taxicab.

"Yes sir, how did you know?"

"The eyes, I can always tell by the wide eyes," he answered, as he grabbed the wrangler's duffle bag and held the glass door open.

"Been a farm boy my whole life, this surely feels like another world to me. Is it always this loud?"

"You'll get used to it. Check-in is to the right."

"Thanks." The guest, Carl Racine, reached for his leather wallet from his denim jeans back pocket and leafed through the slots to give the help three dollars.

The burly bellman accepted the bills with a tip of his uniform hat. "Oh, just a little piece of advice, beware of the meek, they can be quite bothersome."

"I noticed an awful lot of the less fortunate on the ride over from the airport. It's a shame," Carl commented with a genuine sincerity.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why Can't They Leave Things Alone? by Harry Downey

A habitual shoplifter's luck runs out in this humorous short by Harry Downey.

Would you buy a used car from a flashy, smooth-talking salesman called Ambrose? I wouldn't. But my wife fell for his patter and now she's my ex and living with him in Basingstoke. And good riddance too. So Charlie Medwin, that's me, on my own for a few weeks now, had a few adjustments to make in the way things went. By now I've pretty well sorted out my new routine. Take shopping for instance. Vera used to do what she called her 'big shop' down at Tesco's on Friday evenings. Not me. Now there's a lot less needed, and anyway, I've got my own way of doing things. She paid at the checkout for everything she took from the store. I don't. I pay for what's in the trolley and everything else is a nice little earner for me.

Chissingford where I live is big enough to have the lot - Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco's, Asda, a Co-op of course, even a Waitrose - the one they call 'the toff's supermarket'. No continental stores yet, but it's only time, isn't it? So I've got a bit of a choice when I shop. Of course, I don't look for 2 for 1 offers and that sort of thing. No way. I just look where it's the easiest to steal from. The supermarkets are getting better on their security these days - in fact, there's one of the big boys I don't go near anymore - that is unless I'm being an honest member of Joe Public at the time and queuing up at the check-out like the ordinary punters. Which one? No way, José. That's for you to find out. After all, it's taken me a long time to get all this know-how and I don't give info like that away for free. Now if you offered to pay me for what I know, well, that's another matter.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Requiem for an Unborn Child by Fred Skolnik

Fred Skolnik's moving stream of consciousness about a father's longing for his aborted child.

After the abortion Claire had been depressed for a few weeks and it was clear that she blamed Justin for it, though neither of them had been ready for another child, and in any case the marriage had been on the rocks for a while. Claire told Justin very bitterly that she would have had the child if things had been different between them and that stung him though he really thought they would be better off with just the two they had, two boys aged four and six, wondering at the same time if the child might not have been a girl, which would have pleased him, so he began to think it was and came to regret having lost her.

She would have been two now, he would think, or six, or ten, and he could imagine her in the room with them, playing perhaps with the boys and saying adorable things as children often did, a child with a full head of curly hair and quite self-possessed. He could feel her absence when the four of them were together, he and Claire and the two boys, and could sense the point at which she would have entered the conversation, and could see her whole life unfolding, all the things she might have become and what she would have given them, and it was hard for him to accept the fact that she was not there when she might have been.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rainy Kulman by O. D. Hegre

A guilt-ridden detective interviews an obsessive compulsive man who saved someone's life after a traffic accident; by O. D. Hegre.

"I shouldn't have been driving." Walter Henderson's voice was about as stable as the coffee cup he held in his hand. With effort he negotiated another sip. "No, no," swallowing hard, "...no, I shouldn't have been driving." Clasping the shaking Styrofoam vessel with his other hand, Henderson almost managed to get it safely back onto the desktop. "Sorry."

Detective Jim Parker waved off the apology. He just sat patiently - note pad in his lap. The bespectacled fifty-three-year-old male sitting across from him had saved some poor vic's life. So why was the guy in such turmoil, Parker wondered?

"The therapy," Henderson dragged his fingers across his forehead, up into his thinning hair, "I've been doing it for... well," unsteady hands again reached out, "maybe a month or so. But for sure, I should not have been driving." The coffee cup quivered once more at the man's lips.

The detective leaned forward. "Just take it easy, Walter. Try to relax and tell me exactly what happened." With a tissue, Parker sopped up the spill, then sat back - pencil in hand. Most of the guys used their laptop. He was old school - liked the feel of number-two soft lead on a thick pad of paper.

Walter fidgeted in his chair.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Mistake by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When Christina du Plessis finds a gun after witnessing a bungled burglary, and starts taking shooting lessons, things quickly begin to spiral out of control in the sleepy dorp of Prentburg; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When Christina and Hans du Plessis returned from visiting Hans's brother-and-sister-in-law in Johannesburg, Christina was a nervous wreck. On the night preceding their return, she told the Church Sisters at tea after the Sunday service, she had woken in the small hours gasping for air. She still suffered the occasional hot flush and had slipped through the dark house onto the veranda to cool off without even stopping to don a dressing gown. While standing there, flapping her floor-length white nighty and gulping in draughts of fresh air, a commotion had broken out in the house next door. An attempted burglary had been foiled when the family Doberman, a wily creature, had crept up on the miscreants from behind and they had escaped by the skin of their teeth by leaping across the garden wall. Christina had seen them... and they had seen her!

"I got such a fright, I screeched like a banshee," she told her spell-bound audience, "and after staring at me in horror, they high-tailed it out of there so fast that they were long gone by the time help arrived."

Mrs Merton was later to say spitefully that the two balaclava-wearing men would likely be traumatised for the rest of their lives, living with the spectre of Christina, already overweight, made bigger by her billowing nighty, her grey plaits hanging down her front nearly to her waist.

"She must have seemed like a crazed Rhine Maiden, especially when she opened her mouth and gave vent to a blood-curdling scream."

"If she made half as much as noise as she does when she hits those high opera notes," Marion Klopper agreed, "she must have scared the wits out of them!"

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Smoldering in Reeve by Kyle Policht

A veteran cop on the verge of retirement and his rookie partner stop a speeding pickup in the middle of the desert; by Kyle Policht.

It's a routine day out on the road. There weren't too many law breakers, so it was slow moving. My partner and I sit out in the middle of nowhere Reeve, Texas; a nearly barren strip of desert, no signs of civilization for miles. The only thing keeping us company are the vultures nipping at some carcass, and a barely working radio stuck on the classics. I turn it off after hearing "Free Bird" one too many times. At least the air-conditioner works.

My partner, John, is fighting the boredom by playing around with the shotgun, sticking it out the window, aiming it at the vultures, imitating gunfire, imagining black feathers exploding off the birds. John's new; fresh faced right out of the academy, joining the Reeve's County Sherriff's Office soon after.

"Could you knock it off and shut the window? It has to be a hundred degrees outside." I tell the youngster. He sighs, bringing it back, and placing the shotgun back in the holder, shutting the window.

"Sorry Sir," John says to me, looking back out at the feasting vultures.

I'm just an old veteran myself. Been on the force for some 25 years, but age is finally catching up to me, as well as girth. Some years back I took a bullet to the shoulder. It aches every now and then, but nothing too bad. I bring up my hand and rub it slightly. I'm retiring soon, so this is my last penance - training this young upstart. I just got to teach John to make the decisions that won't end up getting him, or anyone else, killed.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Congo Kid Comes Home (or The Sailor Goes Horseback) by Tom Sheehan

Black navy man Raven Narbaught crosses the continent  to reunite with his family in post civil war America; by Tom Sheehan.

Raven Narbaught received the letter at Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard when his ship landed on the 8th day of December in 1879. He'd been a sailor attached to or on the USS Alliance, a screw gunboat, since it was launched four years earlier at Norfolk Navy Yard, and had not heard a word for close to two years from his parents or any of his siblings. Never desperate because there was no communication for so long, he was nevertheless overjoyed at seeing his parents' names and address on the envelope handed to him by a Navy clerk. He knew it was a special day, the sea calm as ever in the seclusion of the harbor, a slight wind cutting into the background of the city slowly climbing upward, sailors from half a dozen ships at least had touched home or somewhere nearer home in every situation, he believed. They were a jaunty lot and he had enjoyed much of his time on ship, but was looking for a change, he thought as he opened the envelope.

The note inside said, "Dear Raven, Butta-Ken, Jan-Red and Desmont, We have moved from New York to Arizona Territory, at a small settlement called Bettaville and send this letter to the last known of all your addresses. Three youngest have moved with us and the rest of you have made your ways elsewhere in the land. Find each other if you can, and then us. We wait to hear word from all of you, that black is ever beautiful, that home is a good memory, that each of you is well, and that you all promise to come see us in our new home. We are now living a ranch life and connect with cattle and the need for good grass. Deep love from Momma and Poppa En. Summer 1879, newly arrived here."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salt Farming by Tim Macy

The story of Myrna, who harvests her tears for an unscrupulous salt dealer in the blackest of markets; by Tim Macy.

Myrna

She staggered up the stairs to her third floor condo overlooking the dog park, the permanent chorus of Pomeranians and shiatsus silenced by the predawn hour. Her tears, a hybrid of rage and regret, had stopped pouring from her absurdly puffy eyes an hour ago. As for her thin and tangled hair, she tucked it beneath the hood of her jacket and kept her eyes on the ground for the five-mile hike through town after ditching the car. She had struggled to quiet her sobs, to appear normal. Police watched for women like her, women in shambles, alone, moving fast. They would stop her and notice her shaking hands, then her lack of mascara. Girls in Myrna's trade gave up mascara along with contact lenses and anything capable of tainting a pure harvest. They would search her purse next. Every salt farmer could be expected to have a locking clamshell case filled with small square tabs of tissue paper. The smoking gun for a salt farmer.

Once inside her condo, Myrna poured herself a glass of red wine. Alone at the kitchen table, she took the clamshell case from her purse and held the cold metal in her fingers. Unsnapping the lock, she dumped out twenty squares of tissue paper, each sealed in plastic to protect the night's harvest.

Pulling off her jacket, a wrapped present fell from the pocket. Jake must have stashed it there when she went to the bathroom at the bar. Myrna pulled the paper back to reveal a silver frame around an image of the two of them, in love. She had never faked her love for Jake. She had to love him for the harvest to be worth anything. The more she loved him, the stronger the salt.