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.