Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Black Eye by Sahar Sabati

Sahar Sabati recounts a surprisingly intimate moment for a peripatetic journalist in a café.

My job often takes me on the road, more often than not. In the days when I am travelling, my laptop is my lifeline, the one constant in my life. I can often be seen at local wireless cafés, typing away, working on a project while chatting with friends. Being online, having these conversations, brings a certain sense of normality and constancy to my life. Every day for two hours, I log on – the same people are there, and we talk, as if we were in the same room, as if I am at home and they are a couple of blocks away and we could go for coffee at that instant if we wanted to. I could even attend meetings through instant messaging systems, and lead a somewhat grounded life. Internet had brought this into the otherwise unpredictable life that I lead, and for that I will always be grateful.

My present trip was definitely one of my least memorable ones – I had gotten an assignment that had sent me to the middle of nowhere, where the weather was terrible and the night life lacking. To make matters worse, I had a bad case of insomnia. After trying vainly to sleep the first two nights, I gave in and went to yet another café. Better to be tired but satisfied after a good night's worth of work than tired and frustrated from tossing and turning. And, hopefully, the working would tire me enough to get a couple of hours of sound sleep.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Endoganes by Jack Lawrence

Jack Lawrence's fanciful offering to the canon of Greek mythology

In classical Greece, in the city of Thebes, there was once a vast heap of ancient rubble dreaded and untouched by all. Long before, it had been the home of a man called Endoganes. Spiky, broom thin, and bitter as salt-marsh, he forgot and forgave nothing, his house filled with clutched grudges and spiteful murmurs.

Endoganes had a daughter called Kore who secretly loved Elpidos, the youngest son of a man called Xenios. Many years before, both families had quarrelled and bad blood remained. The cause of the argument was lost to memory, having begun when Thebes was young, little more than shacks and fire pits. Unresolved down the years, the disagreement had turned septic and become a feud, with men on both sides fighting and dying, all guilty of wickedness and lies as they tried to get their way.

When Endoganes discovered Kore's secret she begged him to relent, to listen, to consider all Elpidos's good qualities, but he refused. Xenios, a kind man who had long thought the feud should end, went to Endoganes and offered the hand of friendship. But Endoganes refused.

"You will not marry him!" he told Kore night after night as he recited the terrible deeds of Elpidos's forebears, his voice low and cold, impregnable with hate. "I will never consent to it. I cannot consent. Can you not understand, child? The wrongs they have done us are wounds never to heal."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Missing Pieces by Mitchell Waldman

A low-life petty crook wakes up on the morning after a botched hold-up to find his left hand missing; by Mitchell Waldman

It was on an otherwise ordinary morning in July that Tom Morton woke up to find his left hand missing. No, not really missing. He could still pinch it and feel it, but it was invisible, had disappeared from sight.

This is how it happened. He opened his eyes, yawned, and reached to scratch an itch on his cheek with his left hand - he was left-handed - only to realize a moment after the scratch that he was scratching with an absent appendage. He shook like a blender set on pulverize, until he closed his eyes and said out loud, like some kind of mantra: "This is only a dream, this is only a dream, this is only a dream." Then he counted to ten and opened his eyes. The hand was still missing. He screamed out loud, lifting the arm which now seemed to end at the wrist. The funny thing about it, though, was that his hand was, somehow, still there. He could feel it. He just couldn't see it. Maybe, he thought, maybe there was a rational explanation for this. Maybe his eyesight had gone wacky. Or his brain. Or, or... he didn't know what. He hadn't had too much to drink the night before, after the job. It couldn't be that. He'd been bleary-eyed for sure last night, but it had never overlapped into morning, at least not to the extent of losing sight of a whole appendage.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On the Face of It by Allen Kopp

Blanche Mims, a woman with an extremely unusual disability, is visited by a midget in Allen Kopp's comic short.

In the morning when Blanche Mims stepped outside to sweep away the autumn leaves that had gathered around her front door, there was a very small man dressed in black formal attire, a midget, standing in the yard looking at her. She stopped sweeping, adjusted her glasses, and snorted through her nose.

"Looking for somebody?" she asked.

"I've found her," he said.

So, he was one of those! He had heard about her in town and wanted to see for himself. She went back inside as fast as she could, slamming the door. She peeked out at him as he got back into a long gray car and drove away. Oh, but he had an evil grin!

She was not like other women, so she had good reason for caution. She had what was, by any measure, a monstrous deformity: her face was not in front of her head but on top. Her nose was exactly at the top of her head, her mouth tucked in underneath her nose. Since her eyes were always pointed skyward, she had to wear a special kind of glasses made with tilted mirrors so she could walk upright and see in front of her. On the sides of her head, all the way around (covering her ears), was thick hair, the color and texture of a lion's mane. For several years she had been a headliner in a traveling freak show and was, for a time, billed as The Lion Woman. (To her credit, she was, except for the misplacement of her face, exactly the same as anybody else.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Façade by George Sparling

An alcoholic wannabe intellectual looks back on an odd drug-fuelled encounter in a New York dive bar, by George Sparling.

She wrapped my Eisenhower jacket around my shoulders. She pulled it out of the closet. It seemed as if it had died there. She must've felt uneasy seeing a shivering bum passed out on the stoop of her building. She invited me to spend the night, get cleaned up, shave and have a meal. Then adios, so I thought.

The clock said midnight. I sat on a chair in a spare bedroom, she sitting on a rocker, her face pale under bright lights from a floor lamp. I saw darkness out a window, then my reflection foregrounding a face I couldn't recognize. She'd always had that big-sister way about her, comfortable with a strange man, sitting with her bathrobe slightly open. I scarfed down two ham and cheese sandwiches, a can of peaches, and a friendly bottle of Rheingold.

A man called out, "Come to bed, Dana," but she ignored him. She told me he wanted to become a U.S. citizen: that was the $5,000 arrangement. This was a dream job for Dana, a grad from a progressive, Midwestern college, wisdom and idealism trumping pragmatism. She had no job skills. Neither had I, another graduate from a Midwestern college.

Dana worked in the medium-sized Manhattan bookstore. She told me to delouse in the bathtub with a bottle of Mr. Clean, making me sparkle. The next day I walked into the store with her, talked nice with the personnel manager, and became a book clerk. My only aspiration until then had been writing novels, kind of difficult without a steady income and a place to live.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Man Who Owned a Corvette by Sigfredo Iñigo

A government office is impressed by a flashy VIP offering diplomatic assistance in Sigfredo Iñigo's story.

Something about the man exuded street smarts. Red F. Rosiano (not his real name), Ph. D, was about five feet ten inches tall and in his late forties. He looked well-fed and groomed in a short-sleeved barong, the kind worn by security aides to VIPs. There was nothing in his aura that suggested the multi-millionaire he claimed to be.

Well, he didn't exactly tell me he was rich: Juliet, my stenographer, told me that. She came to my office in the city hall that morning burbling about this guy who had six sports cars. She and the rest of the staff had been talking to him for an hour.

"Imagine," she said, "he drives a Corvette, which he claims to be way cooler than a Mercedes."

That got me. Any young man in a Third World country would drool over a Corvette, and I instantly wanted to interview the guy who had everything.

A few weeks earlier, he had convinced the City Council that he could arrange sisterhood ties between our city and other cities abroad through a foundation that he headed. I then understood why Juliet, whose biggest dream was to land a job in the US, was so effusive: "He says city officials could travel on official business to the sister cities - with the staff." After some debate, the honorable members of the council passed the resolution the man with the doctorate in philosophy lobbied for. Also, some fifty thousand pesos was set aside to cover initial expenditures for the program. Now he had come to claim his check.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Punk'd by Jacqueline Doyle

Les Farnsworth needs to record a public statement about a serious issue of human rights, but he can't keep a straight face; by Jacqueline Doyle.

"You've got to say something about it. You're running on a human rights platform." Les's campaign manager handed him the statement and beckoned over the makeup girl and cameraman.

"Not going to happen, Roland. I mean, how are we going to word this?" Les shook his head. "Listen, they're in Russia. It's a girl band. I think it'll blow over and we can ignore it."

"They're demonstrating in London, Paris, and New York. Les. In DC, for Christ's sake. McCartney, Madonna, Sting, they're all making statements."

"Political groups?"

"Political groups too. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the European Union. Even the State Department."

"So how did they word it?"

Roland pulled a newspaper clipping out of his file folder and read out loud: "The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences handed down by a Moscow court in the case against the members of the band Pussy Riot and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia. We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld."

"Pussy Riot? They said that?"

"Yeah, they said that."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Five Fatal Diseases by Allen Kopp

Three spirited old ladies visit a friend who has passed on in this light-hearted vignette by Allen Kopp.

Mrs. Pesco and Mrs. Vandenberg arrived together and waited outside until Mrs. Tashman arrived. When they saw Mrs. Tashman's white Cadillac pull onto the parking lot, Mrs. Pesco ground her cigarette underneath the heel of her shoe while Mrs. Vandenberg took off her gloves with a huff of impatience and put them in her purse.

"She's always late," Mrs. Vandenberg said. "She'll be late for her own funeral."

"Yoo-hoo!" Mrs. Tashman called cheerily to them as she got out of her car. "I thought you would have gone in without me."

"We said we'd wait," Mrs. Vandenberg said grimly.

"Don't you have a clock at your house?" Mrs. Pesco asked.

"Don't ask!" Mrs. Tashman said as she came toward them, wobbling on her high heels. "I had to wait for the plumber to arrive to let him in and just as I was leaving I got a telephone call."

"You need to tell everybody to go to hell when you know you have people waiting for you," Mrs. Pesco said.

"I know you would tell them to go to hell, dear," Mrs. Tashman said, "but I don't treat people that way."

"Well, we're here now so let's get this over with," Mrs. Vandenberg said.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Samuel and the Body by Chris Ashby

Samuel tries to overcome depression and loneliness by buying a sex doll in Chris Ashby's dark satire.

It was a dark moment in Samuel's year when he decided to buy the doll. All thoughts had directed him toward suicide, so this resolution was intended to stem the flow of these thoughts. That he was only window shopping on their website he was convinced of, until the moment he clicked "order" and switched off the computer to prevent a cancellation. It sunk in; he had purchased a plastic doll to have sex with. It would arrive within seven days. Immediately he worried about the form it would take when packaged - surely a life-size, seventy pound lump of silicone in the shape of a human would be difficult to disguise. Would the guy delivering it be an employee of the doll company, or some innocent postman with a wife and kids who'd think of Samuel as a sick pervert? Would he have to greet this postman at the door? He'd have to open the door, for sure, to let the life-size, seventy pound lump into his apartment. What if he couldn't do that; what if he backed out at the last minute? Would the postman just leave the carcass on his doorstep for the neighbours to look upon? Could he conceivably deny knowledge of its existence or purpose, or what it was doing on his doorstep? Seven days.

And yet the overwhelming desire for physical intimacy with an attractive woman, indeed, the thought of this intimacy in simulated form, steeled his resolution. The doll cost four thousand pounds and was the subject of glowing reviews across the Internet; apparently, it felt like an attractive woman and, for those unacquainted with the blissful experience in reality, was indistinguishable. Samuel felt a stirring in his nether regions at the thought of entering the doll and persuading himself of its reality. When he'd set eyes upon a catalogue photograph it had taken him three glances to realise that he was looking at a synthetic human rather than the genuine article; but after a while the plastic became more and more visible, even obtrusive. But, how was he to presume that real women did not feel like plastic? Or even that plastic wasn't superior in feel or potential for pleasure?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making Headway by Lucy Tutt

Sally from the Projects Office is rather nervous about a presentation she was supposed to have started delivering two minute ago, in this comedy by Lucy Tutt.

It wasn't that I had planned it this way; just that it happened so quickly that I hardly had time to plan at all. The stationery cupboard is a lot smaller and darker than I had realised and five minutes has felt more like thirty. I've changed my position three times already and my legs are seizing up. But that isn't the main problem.

It's 11.32 a.m. Two minutes ago, I was supposed to have arrived in room B11, on the first floor, opposite the cafeteria. In that room, over twenty-five people are waiting for me. No doubt they'll still be finishing off their slightly over-brewed tea which would have been Linda's offering via the three-year-old urn. The coffee wouldn't be much better either since we were banned from buying the branded granules so Anna in Project Support reluctantly places a monthly order for a supply of the most bitter-tasting instant coffee that a limited office budget can buy.

So what am I doing hiding in a stationery cupboard at work?

Margaret in Learning and Development is mainly to blame. I'd bumped into her last month when I was feeling like I was bottom of the pile; as if my position in the company was the last text box on the organisational chart. I desperately wanted to squeeze my way to some sort of recognition. I was vulnerable and taken in by her stupid encouraging words. "Sally, why don't you offer to deliver the stakeholder involvement presentation next month?" she said. "Brilliant!" was my reply. What was I thinking? Now look at me, as soon as I made some headway in getting that recognition I believed I craved, I was sliding my way back down to the bottom of the hierarchical PowerPoint chart and into a very well-stocked stationery cupboard - hoping this whole sorry presentation affair would go away.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Old Man and the Dead Thing By Natalie Thake

George finds the corpse of an unidentifiable animal in his parsnip patch, in Natalie Thake's light-hearted horror.

George Fletcher leaned against his rickety shed and surveyed his crop of parsnips in fury. Though his eyesight was clouded by cataracts, he'd instantaneously recognised that a disturbance had taken place.

"Bloody kids," he muttered, his breath condensing in the cold spring air. Since the wind played havoc with the attempts of his brittle fingers to roll cigarettes out in the open, he'd constructed a half a dozen of them prior to leaving the house. Now he retrieved one from his tobacco tin and lit it with his old Zippo.

Seething at the perceived scene of devastation at the centre of this miniscule scrap of land, he thought to himself, maybe it was that git in the next patch? He'd seen the way this recent patron of the allotments had been eyeing his prize parsnips. George would not have put it past the novice to jealously trample through them in an act of vandalism.

Drawing on the tight, filterless cigarette - his tenth that day, though it was early - he looked around for signs of tracks that might give him some clue as to which direction the trespasser had retreated. It had been raining a great deal these past few weeks, and so it would have been impossible not to have left some indentation in the soft earth. George reckoned he'd be able to distinguish between the lengthy Wellington prints of his neighbour and the small, overly embellished soles of the ludicrously expensive trainers bestowed on ruffians by their indulgent parents. As he circled his designated patch, however, George saw no sign that an invading presence had passed through. The disturbance seemed to be in the centre of the parsnip bed, and so he stepped gingerly through the uninjured stalks to ascertain how much of his haul was beyond saving. Joyce, his wife of sixty years, was an excellent cook, and he didn't want to miss out on too many portions of her delectable honey-glazed parsnips if it could possibly be helped.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Lantern Guard by Jeff Pfaller

After thirty years of peaceful rule, King Imes disarms his Lantern Guard, leaving Arbalest with an uncertain future; by Jeff Pfaller.

The sword glowed, too late for Arbalest to snatch it back from the fire. The blade he'd sweat and bled and lived with, as much a part of his arm as flesh and bone.

Twenty-two years with this blade, and it hadn't failed him once.

And now all he could do was watch it burn.

Seven score of his weapon's brethren throbbed in the flames, burnishing the faces of seven score warriors in copper. Training dictated they show no emotion. Training compelled them to await the next order from King Imes, standing atop a pedestal. When they erect this King's statue, it will stand just so. A perfect copy of this moment.

The only armed men remaining in the square were the king's personal honor guard. The army's rank and file, mailed shoulders scraping as they shifted on their feet, had formed up without their weapons. They had filed in after King Imes ordered every member of his elite Lantern Guard lay down their weapons for inspection.

At the time, it didn't feel wrong to obey. A Lantern's sole purpose was to serve his King.

Even if that meant laying down his life.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Business of Consequence by Ben Woestenburg

Ben Woestenburg's touching story about the rise and fall of two criminals in 1920s New York will transport you to the golden age of gangsterism.

A servant's too often a negligent elf;
If it's business of consequence, do it yourself!

Revd. R.H. Barham 1788-1845

NEW YORK

1910

"Yer not gonna welch out on us, are ya?" I said, trying my best to intimidate the geezer. I didn't feel very threatening, even though I'm a big fella; but I could see that the geezer looking up at me wasn't scared like the others we shook down earlier.

It made me want to hit him again.

So I did.

"Jee-sus Christ, Mel, how many times I gotta tell you? Are you simple, or what?" Jimmy yelled, throwing a rolled up wad of paper at me.

He was sitting on one of the restaurant's tables, swinging his leg back and forth like as if he was one of those clocks you see on a piano - back-and-forth, back-and-forth - like maybe keeping time with some tune in his head only he could hear.

"If I tol' you once, I tol' you a hundred times, it's not welch - it's welsh. You got it? Welsh? 'Yer not gonna welsh out on us, are ya?' Like that. It's American. You're saying it like the way they say it in Canada," he added, and I wondered how he knew what they said in Canada. He's never been out of New York, let alone the Points.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Antigone by David W Landrum

A goddess rises against the Terran Alliance, and Captain Lorac is called in to defend the planet of Antigone; by David W Landrum

We heard the commotion - shouting and, I thought, singing. Though it did not sound threatening, we took up positions with weapons at ready. A group of figures emerged from the massive trees on the ridge above us.

We held our blasters at ready but lowered them a little when a figure came into focus. A woman dressed in an ancient tunic, her head encircled with a garland of leaves, came walking - or, more accurately skipping - down the side of the wooded hill. Shora, our commander, rose in astonishment. The woman twirled and danced. After a moment, she collapsed. We broke ranks and rushed over to her. Shora felt for a pulse, put her cheek against the girl's nose, and looked up at me. "Name of the Prophet," she said, "she's stopped breathing."

We tried to resuscitate her, thought for a moment she was gone, but she revived. Wexford, the ranking NCO in our squad, called for medical support. We carried her back toward the vehicles. Casey Evard, one of the medics in our unit, rushed over and checked her pulse.

"Not good," she said. The girl stiffened. Spittle ran from the corner of her mouth.

"Looks like she's inhaled sarin or VX," I commented.

"I thought that too," Casey said. She got out an injector, pulled the girl's tunic down at the shoulder and gave her a shot of atropine.

"She's a Mervogian," Shora said when Casey pulled her tunic down and Shora saw the young woman's breast had an aureole but no nipple. "Talk to her, Lorac. See if you can get her to respond."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

101 Reasons by Jerry W Crews

An embittered wife calls her mother for consolation after discovering that her husband has been unfaithful in this comedy by Jerry W. Crews

Brushing a strand of gray hair from her forehead the elderly woman picked up the ringing phone. Her daughter was on the other end sobbing uncontrollably. She was not surprised.

This was the call she had been dreading, but knew it was bound to come ever since her daughter had decided to marry Chet. From the first time she had met him she knew he was no good. He had shifty eyes and a sneaky smile. She had done her best to warn her daughter without coming across as the meddling in-law. But alas, her advice was ignored and now he had broken her heart and probably ended their marriage.

"Mamma!" wailed her daughter as soon as the phone was answered. "He's an animal!"

"What has he done this time?"

"You'll never believe it," continued her distraught daughter. "He's had an affair."

"I believe it."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Cleaning Woman Cometh by Burt Baum

Burt Baum's browbeaten character suspects the cleaning woman is not doing her job properly, but his wife Josephine likes things just the way they are

Just as she has on every Tuesday for the past seven years, my wife, Josephine, delivers the edict. "You'd better clean up your mess - Esmeralda is coming tomorrow." Esmeralda is our goddess of cleanliness and as two of her many supplicants it behooves us, or so Josephine keeps telling me, to make sure that our shrine is suitable for her visitation.

"I just don't get it," I say. "Why do we have to clean up for the cleaning woman? Isn't that what we're paying her for?"

"No, you don't get it no matter how many times I tell you," Josephine says to me in the same tone she uses on her third grade students. "If you straighten up your papers and things, it makes it easier for Esmeralda to do the serious cleaning. Do you want her to spend all her time going through your stuff? And God forbid if she throws anything out. Remember how you went nuclear when she tossed that Sports Illustrated with all those naked women?"

"It wasn't Sports Illustrated. It was Fortune and it had an important article about one of our stocks," I say, but I know she doesn't believe me.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What the Sea Brings by Michael C Keith

Developmentally challenged 16-year-old Caitlin is fascinated by a dead soldier that washes up on the shore near her home; by Michael C Keith

It is in fantasy that the real live.
- Anonymous

Merchant ships transporting cargo and personnel across the Atlantic to U.S. allies during World War Two were all too often torpedoed off the East Coast. This was the fate of the Chatham carrying ensign Wayne Harley. His body washed ashore in a remote rocky cove on the northern Maine coast. There it remained unseen for days until sixteen-year old Caitlin Bosworth found it.

It was the happiest day of her life.

Caitlin had suffered from oxygen deprivation during birth and consequently had the mental acumen of someone half her age. She had a sweet temperament and derived great pleasure playing along the shoreline that her house faced. Her parents adored their only child and did everything to make her life cheerful and as intellectually stimulating as possible. It was their greatest hope that Caitlin would one day reach a level of proficiency that would allow her to live independent of their constant oversight.

However, Caitlin's doctor was not optimistic about her chances of living on her own. He had told the Bosworths that their daughter's mind would likely remain at the level of a ten-year old through her adulthood. In other words, they would have to care for her the balance of their lives or institutionalize her, which was something they would never consider. The joy they got from her existence more than balanced the burden involved in raising a developmentally challenged daughter. She was the delight of their lives and the prospect of having a child who would remain a child forever was far from unpleasant.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Silver Palms by K J Medico

Sci-fi and fantasy artist Nancy Yang is distracted by a mysteriously recurring jogger outside her window, by K J Medico

Nancy Yang loved science fiction and fantasy. Some believed she loved them a little too much, and Nancy agreed to some extent, but not enough to change her ways. She was positively enthralled with all things supernatural and she was fine admitting it. In fact, certain aspects of her life depended on her obsession - her successful internet business being the main aspect. Nancy's passion fueled her creativity, and her creativity filled her bank account. This life was all she had ever wanted - the ability to make a living with her art - and no amount of heckling from self-righteous senior citizens could ever derail her. Besides, at 55, Nancy believed she was approaching old age herself. She was a successful, talented and totally independent adult. As far as she was concerned, no one had the right to call her immature.

Nancy Yang had loved science fiction and fantasy for as long as she could remember, but in her childhood, getting a fix was not easy. Until age 15, she had lived in Korea where Marvel comics and Western movies were hard to come by. However, the few things she had managed to obtain, she cherished, and by age ten, Nancy began duplicating the images she so admired. Over her early teen years, she created hundreds and hundreds of drawings that rivaled the originals, and by the time she had gained enough recognition to move to America, her art began selling for thousands. Now, forty years later, Nancy spent all her time producing invaluable art for sci-fi and fantasy fans. And best of all, her only boss and her only employee were the same person: Nancy Yang.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Skew Lines by Nancy McGuire

Nancy McGuire's quick story centres around an unusual communication problem

"Phhhht," said Jimmy as he pushed his toy truck across the kitchen floor. "Phhhht," he repeated, little drops of saliva spraying his face. He grinned and said, "Phhhht" again, this time giving it a distinctive flatulent inflection.

Mom sighed and brushed a strand of hair away from her forehead. "Oh, Jimmy. I'm so tired of hearing that sound. Can't your truck make some other noise?" she pleaded, as she arranged lunch meat and cheese slices on a serving platter. Jimmy and his little red truck had been inseparable ever since his father had given it to him for his 25th birthday. It took so little to make Jimmy happy, but every year it got a little harder to take care of this six-foot-four-inch, 200-pound child whose mind would never grow up.

"Phhhht," answered something that definitely was not Jimmy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Actuators by OD Hegre

A council of angels debate over who is best placed to help Trevor make a tricky decision, by O D Hegre

What to do... what to do?

Trevor continued pacing but something deep inside spoke to him: the time had come to make up his mind. A comfy looking chair, with an ottoman, sat empty by the showroom windows. He'd go over there, sit down, put his feet up, relax and come to a decision.



"All right. All right." The Colonel raised his hands above his head. "Come along now folks, let's bring this gathering to order."

Soft murmurings from the crowd accompanied the gentle fluttering of wings.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please. This session is going on line in about five minutes. Let us get ourselves organized." The Colonel took his seat.

"Hua-in-da-hella put you in charge?"

A couple of folks were tugging at the coat sleeves of the little old man, standing in the middle of the crowd.

"For Pete's sake, Mr. Johansen." Colonel Charles Latham rose from his chair. "Try to remember where you are." Latham pointed a finger out at the shrunken figure. "Arnie, we all know you and Olga, there," Latham's finger moved to the woman sitting next to the old man, "are his paternal grandparents."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Priorité à Droite by Robert Sinclair

Hapless Englishman Eric tries to get to Toulouse on his trusty 50cc moped; by Robert Sinclair

Eric picked himself up and dusted himself down.

He took a tentative step forward, half expecting to find that he had broken something, or at least cracked a rib, but much to his relief he seemed to be in one piece. His moped was lying a few feet away, just in front of a large poplar tree, but apart from the handlebar that had twisted round with the impact of the fall, it seemed to be undamaged, which was just as well because Toulouse was still a long way away. The baguette that had been strapped to his handlebar wasn't in such good shape though, after being whacked by the lorry. Next time, Eric thought to himself, he had better put his red socks over the ends so that other road users would see him coming. He also decided to put a sign on the back of his anorak saying 'Wide Load,' in French of course. He couldn't do it just then, because his trusty phrasebook was buried deep inside his rucksack, but he made a mental note to do it when he stopped for the night, wherever that might be. He brushed the remaining bits of grass off his clothes and picked up his moped, wondering if it was really necessary to straighten the handlebar. Eventually he decided that it was, as although he didn't particularly like the sight of French traffic coming towards him, it was probably a good deal safer than permanently looking at the fields and woods he was passing. He didn't have any tools with him, as he hadn't expected to need them, but he remembered what he used to do when he had a similar problem with his old bike, when he was in the Boy Scouts, so he put the front wheel between his legs, gripped it with his knees and yanked on the handlebar as hard as he could.

Eric picked himself up and dusted himself down.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

When the Hurly Burly's Done by B J Jones

English graduate Lawrence Trent delivers a speech, but just can't get an unusual word out of his head; by B J Jones

In Speech Communication, Dr. Tyler taught us that if you are not nervous when you get up to speak, then something is wrong. I was standing in front of a clear, acrylic lectern looking at an auditorium of academics and I was not nervous. Something was wrong.

I knew I was not nervous because I had not had diarrhea. Whenever I had to speak in front of people, I first located the bathroom in the building, closed and locked the door of the stall, set my books and notes down in front of my feet then - unzip, sit, and shit.

Only seven seconds had passed while I was standing in front of the clear, acrylic lectern. During public speaking, seven seconds is more like seven minutes. The audience was wondering if I was nervous or using a dramatic pause to get their attention.

I cleared my throat which told the audience I was nervous, even though I really was not. I felt so confident that I could pick up my stack of notes and throw them behind my shoulder in a shower of academic recklessness.

This would get their attention, but then where would I go from there? I was tied to my notes like a chain smoker to a lighter. Professor Tyler taught us that the first sentence is the most important. You have to say something that is going to catch their attention. If you lose your audience in your first sentence then you will be spending the next thirty minutes talking to yourself.

"I do not have diarrhea," I said into the microphone. This caught their attention. It also caught my attention. The audience laughed and turned to each other wondering if this was intentional. Was this some clever rhetorical device of getting an audience's attention? Surely this had nothing to do with John Milton?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Diva by Judith Field

Jean's mother Dorothy is banned from the Over Sixties' Institute for inappropriate singing; by Judith Field

'Mum, you've been barred from the Over Sixties' Institute. Again.'

Jean slapped the letter down on the kitchen table. The Institute was the one thing that got her mother out of the house. She felt like a cell door was clanging shut behind her.

Dorothy put on her reading glasses.

'Give it here,' she said, through a mouthful of toast, 'Hurry up - I haven't got all day.'

She picked up the letter. '"Your mother's inappropriate behaviour... other members to consider... good name of the Institute." Mean-spirited lot! Won't give you a piece of their soul. Good riddance.'

She pulled a notebook, a pen wedged between its pages, from under her cup. Tea slopped onto the table. She scribbled won't give you a piece of their soul.

'I'll use that for my homework for the poetry class at the Institute.' She smiled and nodded. 'It'll knock their socks off, miles better than the load of doggerel they churn out. Call themselves writers! Some of them can't even read.'

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Poisoned Dancer by Alex Artukovich

A locked room mystery solved by the best detective in Los Angeles - or rather, his mother; by Alex Artukovich

I'm thirty-two and already one of the top homicide detectives in Los Angeles County. Colleagues often ask the secret to my rapid success. I tell them the same thing every time; my mother helps me whenever I get stumped.

They all laugh and assume I'm being funny. But it's the absolute truth. My mother has assisted me in a number of cases throughout my career. Any time I get stuck and can't make heads or tails of a case, I'll call her. She always comes through.

Her powers of reasoning and deduction are unparalleled. If she wanted to she could have become one of the best detectives in the country. But she never wanted a career in criminal justice. The long hours and tedious procedures were too unappealing to her. Helping me solve cases, or in many instances solving the cases entirely on her own, is merely a hobby, something to keep her busy at the start of her twilight years.

I receive all the credit, a point I'm not especially proud of, while she does much of the detecting. She doesn't care. She does it for the mental challenge, not the notoriety. And if the notoriety gets passed on to her son, advancing his career, she feels that's all the better. I don't like it, but that's how we've got things worked out. If I have to swallow my pride, then so be it, as long as crimes are being solved.

It will all come out eventually. People will discover that I'm a fraud and my mother is the true talent. That's why I'm writing these journals. When the truth finally does surface I want to be ready with an undistorted depiction of all our most interesting cases.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Paradise Called Hell by R K Solomon

R K Solomon's character finds himself kidnapped by aliens, so he decides to try and make the most of it

A week ago, the sight of two seven foot tall fish faced creatures, with black globular eyes, would have sent him into a state of catatonic terror. Much had changed since then. While he leaned back, feet in stirrups, a phosphorescent green light illuminated his chest. He smiled. This was the most enjoyable extraterrestrial physical exam he'd ever had; well the only one for that matter. Strange symbols appeared over the projection of his guts, probably a diagnostic conclusion. Four times a week at the gym, he knew they'd find nothing wrong.

Scared - at first, who wouldn't be? However, by now he'd concluded the aliens were much more considerate than most humans he knew. As they analyzed his anatomy, they kept their opinions to a low soothing whisper, unlike his ex-wife who refused to communicate in anything less than a yell. Although, to be fair, they had been married at least two weeks before she set the volume to high.

The journey from normal to this point had been a quick blur, like when you watch a TV commercial and only remember the jingle. That first evening started similar to most; late night punishment detail at work, the commute home in his German engineered car, two scotch on the rocks, pizza delivery, another scotch, late night news, and if lucky - sleep.

All it took was a one year dry spell for them to forget the millions in contracts he'd brought them. Ingrates. As if the recession was his fault. The sound of a bell shook him out of his self-pitying stupor. With a groan, he pushed his sunken body out of the plush leather chair, paid the pizza delivery boy, and searched for a place to set down the still warm cardboard box.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bruised by Chiaka Obasi

Nine-year-old Nkem is subject to relentless violence and abuse from his family who are convinced he is possessed by evil spirits

The morning my uncle's daughter did not wake up from her bed was the day I lost two of my teeth. It was also the day my left eye lost its strength. Now it cannot clearly see any object and it always itches if the object has bright colours. My uncle's wife, Aunty Jessie, punched the eye and at once my other eye saw sparkling stars moving around my head. I felt water dripping from the punched eye down my cheek, though I had not cried. Perhaps I would have lost my life if Uncle's neighbours and a stranger had not taken me away. I was certain Uncle's neighbours only came to my rescue because they did not want Uncle to be called a murderer. And they would not want to be called accomplices. At that time I was grateful to the stranger for saving my life. But I would later learn what he did when I was a baby. I disliked him then, and wished he had allowed them to harm me. I know that if he and Uncle's neighbours had not taken me away, perhaps Prophet Okoro would have done horrible things to me. But I still disliked him when I learnt what he did. Prophet Okoro was the man Uncle and Aunty Jessie usually invited to pray for me. They said his prayers would make me become a normal child. They said I was different from the other children. Many neighbours agreed with Uncle and Aunty Jessie.

But my class teacher, Miss Odiale, whom we called 'Miss' had a different opinion.

"Why don't you be positive?" she told Aunty Jessie. "Wait and see, that boy is a child of promise. He will put smiles on your face and your husband's."

Aunty Jessie clicked her tongue and opened her eyes wide.

Just wait and see, her eyes seemed to mimic Miss' words.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

House of Plenti by Michael Pearson

Michael Pearson's character, a young boy, suffers blow after blow in this heart rending and tense tragedy

Circuit Court House, Upper Marlboro, MD.

My small ten year old frame sat in what seemed to me to be the biggest leather chair ever made. It was dark green, and had two large arm rests that I had to reach up to place my hands on. The room was small, and cold from the air conditioning. A large wooden desk stood before me. It was important looking, with several documents covering it. I noticed the rectangular desk calendar. It was still on May 1983, a month behind. There was a nameplate on the front edge that had small cattle horns protruding from both sides. It read 'Honorable JT Smith.' Framed paintings of cowboys in western settings were proudly displayed over top of the dark brown imitation wood paneling. I sat, staring straight ahead at the silver audio recording machine resting on one of the shelves in the bookcase mounted to the back wall. The kind with two large reels of tape, where one rotated slightly faster than the other and pulled the tape through. One reel was spinning, and the last part of the tape was hanging off just enough to make a clicking noise on each rotation. I found it mesmerizing.

My mother sat in the chair next to me. Her face was thinner, and had lost some of its color. A side effect of the treatment she was receiving. I was told it would make her feel better. She was quiet, focusing her attention on the room. I looked at her, and she glanced down at me. Sensing the nervous concern in my face, she gave me a small but reassuring smile. She then quickly turned and re-focused her attention on the room. I sensed her preoccupation. Her attempt to comfort me did little to quell the anxiety raging within me. My stomach felt like a swirling vortex of uncertainty and fear.

Standing beside my mother was her new husband, Richard Plenti. He leaned his large six foot two, two hundred forty pound frame against the side wall in the judge's office. Plenti had jet black hair and a large square jaw. His green eyes could pierce right through you, a tactic he would use often. Clean shaven, and dressed in a pair of inexpensive slacks with a button down shirt that did not fit properly, he covered up his usual rough nature. An iron worker by trade, he made a living from applying heat and force to bend things against their will. He stood there with an aloof expression on his face. Glancing at his watch, then up at the ceiling, he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gawain and the White Rose by T.C. Stevenson

Knight Gawain travels to the Green Citadel to face punishment, but is distracted by a preternatural white rose, in T.C. Stevenson's fantasy dedicated to Holly Massard

Gawain surveyed his surroundings from the peak of the path. Below him, a vale of multi-colored oak trees sprang to vibrant life in the glow of a pink and orange sunset. Amidst the forest, cutting between the mountains, ran a narrow white river. From his elevated perspective, the knight saw no sign of the Green Citadel that he sought in the lands beyond. He drew in a deep breath through his nostrils, savoring the musty crispness of fall, and exhaled in frustration.

"We still have some distance ahead of us yet, Agape," Gawain sighed and patted the head of his gray colt with a heavy chainmail-laden hand. Gawain's steed and traveling companion did not heed his master's banter. The animal's wide eyes were focused with intelligent fascination upon the steep cliff of earth and rock that loomed over their narrow mountain path.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Last Ship From Earth by Spencer Connor

In 2084, in a lonely outpost of humanity on Mars, a fledgling revolutionary group foments rumours of a terrible conspiracy among the colony's leaders; by Spencer Connor

Chapter One

Burgeoning life busied itself amid starships and within three vast city-domes on the red planet's surface. All ships were uniform in size, expressly constructed to dock with the station before departing downward. But this day, two of their number launched out into the ever-black, away from station and planet both. The silent dance of deep-space maintenance drones loading into their respective holds had seemed to take forever. Over a decade into commonplace, these mundane acts were always an awed spectacle to a child's newfound awareness.

"Ooooh, what's going on?"

William Hughes, venerable and well-dressed, chuckled while holding his toddler granddaughter up to peer out of a starboard-facing viewport. He glanced at his watch: 03:06. The spaceport itself was nearly deserted at this hour. "See those ships there?" he leaned closer, playfully conspicuous. "They're on a special mission to keep us all safe."

The pink-clad child sighed gleefully, blonde curls bobbing. "Really? Oh that's wonderful, Grandy!"

Smiling in spite of what he knew, he pinched her cheek. "Yes Delilah. It is wonderful."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Cold that Night Brings by Phil Richardson

Something terrible lurks in the basement of Richard and Joyce's new home, in Phil Richardson's horror

Richard was exhausted; he thought that moving day was never going to end. He was over sixty now and proud of his strength but the boxes were heavy and there were quite a few of them. Joyce said they would save money by hiring a truck and doing the work themselves. Their new house, actually quite an old house, had a staircase that had to be thirty feet high, and lugging boxes and bedding up there was a real chore.

The previous owners, the Brownards, seemed to be in a hurry to leave and had not haggled very much about the price Richard had offered. The Brownards were slightly odd, and they had told Richard if he bought the house, he had to follow one important rule.

"I don't mean to scare you," Mr. Brownard said, "But there are things that happen in this house that most people wouldn't understand. I would stay away from the basement if I were you - except for one thing; you've got to keep a bulb lit over that hole in the floor where the furnace used to be. I told my wife it was to keep the rats away, but there's worse things than rats that you need to keep away."

He wouldn't give Richard any further explanation. "Just don't let the bulb burn out."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cornucopia by Carl Poffley

A corporate executive fails to grasp the revolutionary potential of his invention in Carl Poffley's comic sci-fi

"What's up?" Brian asked, not looking up from his book. He could tell something was wrong by the way Stuart burst through the front door, grumbling frustratedly. Stuart said nothing, instead slumping down into his chair and resting his head in his hands.

Brian gingerly closed the book. "I know you're going to tell me eventually whether I want to hear it or not, so let's just get it out of the way now, yeah?"

Stuart stood up, paced around the room a few times to clear his head and took a deep breath. "Frustrating day at work," he said simply.

"How so?"

"You know those replicators the company cooked up?"

"Those things you've been banging on about endlessly for the last month and have been featured in every scientific publication known to man? I may have heard about them..."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Money for New Rope by Michael McCarthy

A writer's boundaries begin to break down as he is haunted by the killer he is writing about, by Michael McCarthy

Part 2 (Click here for part 1)

The man who is going to kill me is looking at me from my screen saver.

I turned on my computer and there he was.

If there was somewhere to run to, where he would never find me, I'd be there.

But there isn't.

What he does, killing people, he does for his own fulfillment.

It really is that simple.

I know him. I know what makes him tick.

Killing.

There is no trigger.

He just does what he does.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Growing Tomatoes by Arthur Davis

While his wife is away, Luther Canton - soldier, barber, loving husband, tomato fanatic - is impressed by a schoolboy genius, but they must both open their minds and hearts before they can become friends; by Arthur Davis

Luther Canton buttoned his shirt and gazed out of his window onto the broad rutted black seam of 125th Street that cut across Harlem. Luther had lived most of his spry seventy-eight years in this one building, in this one rambling apartment where his mother had given birth to him just as she had his two sisters on the same Tennessee hard oak bedframe.

He served as an infantryman in the Second World War, and would have eagerly railed against the Communist threat in Korea in 1950 if it weren't for the wound he sustained in his right leg defending the besieged French town of Bastogne in the Ardennes five years earlier. He received a Purple Heart for his bravery in that singularly infamous World War II battle which marked the last major conflict of the war. The citation hung over his bed along with his high school diploma and certificate of confirmation. He saluted the trio every night before going to bed and in the morning, before brushing his teeth for a full three minutes long before it was heralded as the magic amount of time in order to assure adequate dental hygiene.

"Look at those pearly whites," he would say, staring into the mirror after his morning ablutions, a word his mother had used unsparingly to refer to any good habit. He went into the kitchen and prepared himself breakfast as he had done for these last two weeks since Clara flew down to visit her sister in Florida. She would have set out his first meal of the day in grand fashion, complete with napkin, placemat and, when she could, some handpicked flowers from the small plot of land behind their four-story walk-up.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Place of Endurance by Noeleen Kavanagh

A girl travels from her farming homestead to chase her dream of becoming a Guild Runner in Noeleen Kavanagh's captivating fantasy.

I had never been inside a Guildhouse before. The chamber I stood in was small with the symbols of the Guild of Runners carved on the far wall, a pair of sandals and a message tube.

I examined the carvings, the sandals with their closed leather toes and strings to bind them. When I examined the tube closely I could just make out the rune at the top. I knew that one, faoi, meaning enclosed, contained, secret.

I heard a sound behind me and spun around to face the man standing there.

"Candidate Ean? I am Guildmaster Tapaidh. Follow me."

He had the cropped hair of all the members of the Guild of Runners and a lean, weathered face. But he wasn't very tall, which was a relief to me. Even though I was gone fifteen years old, I was short for my age and feared it would count against me.

I followed him along the corridor until we stepped through a doorway and into a blaze of light. It dazzled me for a moment until my eyes adjusted and I could see that we were in a tiny garden, ringed around by the Guildhouse with the noon day sun above my head. It was a plain, sparse place of raked pebbles and large stones with a blue periwinkle in a grey granite tub.

A woman stepped into the garden.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Journey to the Serpiente Sea by Hollis Whitlock

Dwarf Minero finds a giant ruby, but is worried that the elves will tax him dry as he heads to his favourite fishing spot; by Hollis Whitlock.

Minero was mining for gems on the edge of the cliff of Mount Piedra, which overlooked Lake Labina. He put his pickaxe down and wiped the sweat from his forehead. On his hip hung a pouch of precious gems. Minero removed the large ruby from the shards of glistening stones, and examined it under the light of his kerosene lamp.

The ruby was the size of a crabapple and fit for a king. Minero wanted to see the stone sparkle in the sunlight. He walked through the narrow passage, which was four feet high, to the entrance of the cave. Warmth and sunlight eased his aching back. A fire burned in ashes of the Randor tree. Minero sat on a round stump and held the stone to the sun. Red light sparkled like the flames of a roaring fire.

Then crumpling leaves, grinding gravel and sloshing water pierced his ears. Minero put the ruby in his pouch and clutched his dagger. His hands shook as he looked for an intruder. Nobody was in sight, but creeping footsteps were evoked in his imagination and illusions of ogres haunted his thoughts. He exhaled for he knew that it was a traveler passing through on the road below.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Some Mighty Fine Wine by Phil Temples

Tom's friend Jerry is not in a talkative mood in Phil Temples' joke story.

"Yo! Jerry! It's Tom!"

I shouted at Jeremiah through the door I had just unlocked. I placed the key back under the small planter on the porch.

Stepping into the vestibule I spied one of the many great wines Jeremiah kept in a small rack near the entrance to the kitchen. After studying a couple of candidates, I selected a 1940 Madeira Sercial. From bartendering, I knew that it sold for around $200 a bottle. It wasn't the most extravagant member of Jeremiah's collection. But it wasn't too shabby, either.

I spied Jeremiah in the living room.

"Hey, man. Howzit goin'?" I asked as I entered.

Jeremiah let out a long, low groan - a typical Jeremiah response.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Right of Wrong by Jerry W Crews

A series of astonishing revelations rock a lowly farmboy's world, in Jerry W Crew's darkly comic moral tale of family politics, which culminates in the courtroom.

When I was young we were poor but proud. At times we were too proud. Pride led my Pa and Ma to resist taking what was rightly theirs. They felt some sense of moral obligation to let bygones be bygones. I did not understand what motivated them to be so lackadaisical and was determined to right the wrongs against my family and to collect the just dues owed us. At the time I did not fully understand it, but I let pride dictate my actions. As it turned out, I should have left good enough alone.

My family worked and lived on a farm owned by Joshua Hawks. It was the only life I knew as my grandfather had moved there to work for Joshua's father. Grandpa and Grandma had worked there all their lives and raised a family. When they died it was passed on to their only son, my father. Pa fell in love with a young lady from a nearby town and so he and Ma made a home on Joshua's farm.

We were provided a small house at no cost and my Pa was paid a meager wage for working the corn fields. My Ma kept up our little house while looking after me and my younger sister. Three times a week she would make her way to Joshua's mansion and help in the kitchen to earn a little more money for our family. In the wintertime when there were no crops in the field my Pa would do errands around the farm to earn enough to get by.

Times were hard for us. Pa and Ma barely made enough to get by and there was no hope of ever improving our lives. We were considered poor white trash and the Hawks family, though never treating us harsh, was never beyond reminding us of our standing in the community. More than once I had seen Joshua and his rich buddies snicker at my Pa as we passed his home on the way to the corn fields. My Pa never said a word but I noticed and silently cursed the ground Joshua stood on. If it had opened up and swallowed him whole I would have danced and sang all the way home.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mind Machine by Ziyad Hayatli

Ziyad Hayatli's character takes a metaphorical journey through his own mind

We are fascinated by the heavens, and by all that surrounds us. Yet there are things within us that are far more mysterious than the farthest reaches of space, or the darkest depths of the ocean. I do not talk about what lies in our physical bodies, no, but our minds. You see, the workings of the human mind fascinate me greatly.

For instance, what goes through the mind of a man as he slits another's throat; as his blade draws his kin's blood? What goes through the mind of a man who enslaves another, tortures them and takes away their livelihoods? Do the screams of the suffering affect him at all?

I apologize for such a morbid introduction, but I am passionate about my work, and passion brings... vividness. But enough with the formalities, for I have a tale to tell.

Our greatest understanding of the world comes from experience; what we feel, see, smell, taste and hear. By working relentlessly through days and nights, summers and winters, I have allowed myself to combine the faculties of our senses with our very experience of the mind. It is a machine that will allow me to experience my mind, as a person walking through a plane of existence; I have built the Mind Machine.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Champion Reckoning by Bruce Harris

A handsome teenage swimming champion with an unpleasantly arrogant attitude learns his lesson, by Bruce Harris


As a teen swimming champion, very conscious of his sporting prowess and sensational appearance in an unsubtle little costume, I probably arrived at my obnoxiousness apex in the autumn following my seventeenth birthday. Following a recent swimming gala, the local reporter had referred to me in print as having 'film star looks and a Greek God's body'; at my school, girls had started asking me for autographs and one or two other things we won't go into, and various photos of me training or competing were apparently on some girls' bedroom walls. Middle-aged ladies at the sports centre pool seemed keen to engage me in lengthy and largely pointless conversations, their eyes straying hither and thither, as did one or two gentlemen in the male changing room after swimming. I regarded them all as sadly but understandably stricken, and more to be pitied than censured. I'd been swimming since babyhood, and both of my parents had cupboards full of trophies, so the success wasn't entirely unpredictable, but by then it had undoubtedly gone to my head a little.

One afternoon in late September, Dad drove me about a hundred miles to take part in an evening competition at a big new leisure centre. I wanted to get there early, which was mostly about nerves and conscientiousness; there were one or two questions of technique which I needed to work on if I was, as expected, to romp away with the championship title and make myself the top boy in the whole area, guaranteeing a national trial. I also needed to be in the water, to get the feel of the new pool. Dad dropped me off and said he'd be back for the competition proper; he always had been ace about fetching and carrying me around.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Free Pass With Elvis by Mark Rigney

Jane and Tom only have eyes for each other, and maybe one or two other people, in Mark Rigney's short comedy

Four months into their marriage, Jane announced to Tom that if Elvis Presley were ever to show up at their door, he, Tom, was to leave. Moreover, he would not merely leave, but he would vanish gracefully and with astonishing speed in order to give Jane and Elvis twelve hours of uninterrupted privacy. Afterward, no questions would be asked. "If Elvis knocks," said Jane, "I get a free pass."

Since Jane made this stark, unequivocal announcement in 1990, a good thirteen years after the King had officially left the building, Tom merely chuckled and said, "Sure, hon. Twelve hours. Free pass. Go to town." He even enjoyed giving permission; it made him feel kingly himself, broadly magnanimous. I am a good man, he thought, willing to go to ridiculous lengths to please my wife.

Three years later, Jane raised Gregory Peck to Elvis' exalted position. "I like men with strong voices," she explained. "But not to worry. Just twelve hours. Free pass. Then it's back to just us. Forever and forever, in sickness and in health."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Traitor by Chiaka Obasi

A young Nigerian schoolboy wonders what has become of his Papa - and something sinister is afoot in Chiaka Obasi's criminal tale

Mama behaves strangely these days and expects me to accept that everything is alright in our house. How could I be my usual self when Papa has been away for too long? Today is the fourth day since he left for Enyimba City. He had said he was coming back the day he left. Every day, when I ask Mama, she tells me he will come back the following day. I miss Papa so much. Mama shows me her teeth, but I have long known she is not smiling. It is obvious she is not happy. At times, she pats my head playfully. But there is something awkward about the patting. I feel her hand shaking. It appears she is compelling herself to touch me. She no longer sits at the dining table to eat with me. The last time we ate together was the day after Papa travelled. It was during that lunch at the dining table that Mama's cell phone vibrated and beeped. It must have been Papa that called; I saw Mama's face brighten as she picked the phone and said, "Hello, D."

D is what she calls Papa. But that was the only thing she said, with the phone held to her ear. She did not laugh as she always does whenever Papa calls. She did not call me and ask me to speak to Papa as she always does whenever Papa calls. Her eyes widened, reminding me of Aunty Kenna's the day we saw a long black snake coiled up beside the porch. Mama raised her hand and covered her mouth, as if to stifle a scream. Then she ran to her bedroom and locked herself in. I heard her say, "D! D! Are you okay?"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Horse by Nicholas Murray

A mysterious group of cloaked figures retrieve a dead horse for an ominous ritual in Nicholas Murray's piece of purple prose

They dredged the lake slowly and methodically. Apparently the horse had drowned there two weeks ago. It was important that the horse died naturally. It took five heaving and grunting men to drag the bloated, ugly corpse up through the mud and onto the grey embankment. One of the many hooded figures standing in the darkness leaned into my ear and croaked, "It's swollen because it's been down there so long." His sour breath wrapped around my face like the lake's own slimy fist. For a long while, each second itching like radio static, everyone stared at it, not moving. Shadowed faces watching for some sign, expectant of a reason to validate the arduous journey here. Waiting like standing stones, guarding their decaying prize.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Unfinished Husband by Adrian Kalil

A family man feels there is something missing from his life, and he finds it is not what he expected, by Adrian Kalil

"I'm not really sure I understand what it is you need," said Kate.

Larry looked out over the vast blue ocean that lay before him and smiled. "A new car," he said quietly.

He squinted to see beyond the spread of brown beach that lay between him and the water. The sun glared; its heat was relentless and oppressive. Larry was tired and longed for the respite of some shade and a large, cold beer. He coveted gulping it indiscreetly and enjoying a satisfying belch, but he'd given up drinking a few months back and, deferring to the moment, thought better of it. Moreover he had, of all things, begun jogging again, though usually quite slow, along the familiar beach where its firm sand met the water. Alone like this, his uninhibited mind would travel through foreign and forbidden ground.

Kate had said nothing about these ascetic changes but Larry knew it pleased her, if only in passing. For her husband to surrender something gave the woman a strange aura of stifling superiority that dispelled all remaining myth, all hope, that he was any longer the head of their household.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Unheard Melody by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

A disillusioned writer learns a sad story about defeated ambition, by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

The hot tea sucked me back into reality, my mind rudely awakened from frequent naps. It had recently succumbed to the habit of chasing thoughts unrelated to the topic at hand. My mind returned: "The Waste Land". I was sitting at a large wooden desk, examining the assignments of my students, but my mind was wandering elsewhere.

"Sir, your class-time has started."

A voice brought me back.

All I wanted to do was to run... far away! I wished I could write another "The Waste Land".

I had lost my enthusiasm for teaching years ago. I was merely going through the motions. I had long given up love for Chaucer or Shakespeare or Hemingway and Faulkner. My students had become nameless faces in the classroom and faceless names during grading time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Vampire & the Dentist by Jerry W. Crews

Count Omar Oloff has sampled the blood of too many people with sugary diets, and ends up with a toothache; by Jerry Crews

My name is Omar Oloff. That is Count Oloff. I am a vampire. One of the undead who lives off the vibrant blood of living humans. I have been one for about three days. You're probably thinking the Prince of Darkness should be centuries old, but everyone has to start somewhere.

My venture into eternal darkness started with a leisurely stroll in Central Park one moonless evening. I had gone there to take in the outdoors and let my mind concentrate on some financial matters that were weighing heavy. When it was time to take my leave from the park and return to my apartment, I was viciously attacked by a vampire bat. Passersby insisted it was a large rat, but I knew, deep inside me, it wasn't. Some offered to take me to the hospital, but it was too late. What had been done was done.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Untitled 1 by Esther Mukabi

Esther Mukabi's stream of consciousness from an author with writer's block

She twisted the handle, her heart pumping, the beat throbbing in her head. As she      delete

She reached out her hand to touch the door, a knot of fear      delete

She reached for the handle, then thought sod it and went back to bed. Let him take the bloody telly.

Writer's block. My bank manager will be tossing in his bed tonight.

Confidentially Computer dear, I don't think that's unusual.

Coffee.

Cigarette.

A proper job. That's what I need. Salary. Pension scheme. Annual leave. A boss. Let's have a look at the paper. Where is the paper?

Oh.

I'm going to throttle that bloody cat. Where's the mop?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Useless by Uche Umezurike

Caje, incapacitated after a road accident, weighs up the pros and cons of working for a senior politician, by Uche Umezurike

He looked disturbed as he lay on the bed watching his family. His wife was reading Psalms, while his two children were flipping through Ebony. His boss had still not visited him, but had sent him a card and some beverages. Every other person Caje worked with had called on him. Even the spiteful secretary to his boss who felt he was more of a rival than a colleague had also visited him.

You think he would be missing you?

Caje couldn't find any reason why his boss had not yet shown up.

"Mum, Ike is teasing me," his daughter, Winnie, said.

"You started it," his son, Ike, said.

"Shush," his wife, Adaobi, said. She squeezed her husband's hand.

Caje wanted to smile at her, but an insect crawled on his face. He shook it off with a finger, and raised his head at the sound of footsteps.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vietnam Notes by Robert Flynn

A dramatic account of Robert Flynn's harrowing experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War

This story took place in Vietnam, but it's about any violent conflict. And it's not about me, it's about the very real nightmares we can find ourselves living if we don't reason things out for ourselves, and continue to let movies, television, and the violent fantasies of others do our thinking for us.

For the year I was there, my job mostly consisted of driving a truck and slinging sandbags. No close friends died and I never killed anyone. There is still a feeling of guilt for not having suffered "enough" even though what I experienced puts me through almost overwhelming grief sometimes for the people involved in what I saw. It's senseless, but it's almost as if by having more pain I could somehow lessen the pain of others carrying horrors that would make my memories seem like welcome relief to them. There were some who went through much more, and some who went through much less, but in the end what matters is that we try to learn from all our experiences and then use them to benefit ourselves and others.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Waiting On You by Jerry W. Crews

Jordan Collins undertakes a romantic vigil in the local mall, by Jerry W. Crews

Jordan Collins hated shopping. He especially despised the malls with all the shops and the people milling around. Since his wife of twenty-two years had passed away he had avoided them like the plague. When she was alive he rather enjoyed taking her to the stores. She delighted in spending hours at the mall. He was happy to patiently mull the time away as she browsed through a rack of clothes to find the one blouse she would take home. Now, without her, it was different. When he needed something, he would rush into the nearest shop, purchase the item, and then hastily take his leave.

Life had been lonely for the past eighteen months. His son and daughter lived in other states and had families of their own. They had tried to get him to sell his house and move in with one of them, but Jordan knew it would put an unnecessary strain on their relationships. Besides, a man in his forties had plenty of life left in him. There was no need to abandon the home and life he was accustomed to. In fact, the familiar surroundings had actually helped in healing the bitterness and feelings of loss over the death of his beloved wife.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wasted by Jo Morgan

Detective Inspector Bextor investigates the death of a young woman, and he can't help thinking about his wife; by Jo Morgan


Detective Inspector Bextor took one last look around the scene. He was tired and he wanted to make sure he had not missed anything.

Her lean, tanned body was naked and flawless, apart from bright red bruises on her elbows and thighs. Her legs and arms were splayed and her once pretty face was bloated as she stared at the ceiling. The soles of her feet were dirty and cracked and this made him think of his wife, Suzy, who had pretty feet; soft and pink, toenails always painted pink or red.

The death had taken place in the bathroom of the luxurious hotel suite where US actor Ben DeSilva was staying. DeSilva was apparently not involved in the death but this didn't stop the paparazzi from buzzing around outside.

'We've found her purse, boss,' said DC Smith; a whippet of a woman who was doing well considering this was only her second week on the job.

'What we got?'