Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bookworms by W Jay Fuller

Smiir and Stanton, a warrior and a ranger with a penchant for books, find themselves being followed by an unusually eloquent bird creature; by W Jay Fuller.

"You do know someone is following us," Smiir said.

"Of course," I growled. "I am a ranger, you might recall."

We continued walking along the wide path through the thickening forest. Or rather, I walked, and the enchanter glided, his robe never dragging nor rising, but forming a kind of seal with the ground. "It's a harpy," I continued, finally. "Probably from that village we stopped at last night. Caught sight of him about two hours ago. I think he's trying to get up the courage to approach us."

"Not to attack us, I hope. He's not that large a bird. Would hardly make a good lunch between us," the enchanter observed. "And he isn't a harpy, Stanton, he is a Karura. Very different, although they may share a common ancestor."

"Whatever." I waved off his attempt at educating me. "Unless he wants to club us with a book, he's not equipped for it. I didn't see any weapons."

"A weapon of mass instruction," said Smiir. "It would certainly do some damage to you."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Schrödinger’s Baby by Charlie Fish

A new dad's worst nightmare comes true when he pops out to buy some milk.

There she slept, a puckered little bundle of DNA fighting to organise. She looked and smelled like a lump of dough. Her breathing rattled less than it had when she was born; I could hardly tell she was alive apart from that relentless ticking.

There was an electronic pad tucked beneath her baby mattress that sensed her breathing, translating each inhalation and exhalation into a metronomic tick. The ticks were supposed to be reassuring, but to me they sounded like a countdown.

Everything about the last year had been a countdown. Waiting to conceive, watching the bump grow, buying everything we thought we needed. At each stage I was convinced that the hidden timer would reach zero, and Elaine would get bored of our workaday lives, escape back to the wealth she'd been accustomed to. Even after the birth, the countdown seemed to continue. I stared at the baby, waiting to feel something. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Cattle Call by Carol Nissenson

Allison, wannabe Broadway star, shows up to yet another chorus call, hoping to finally make her dream come true; by Carol Nissenson.
Godspell 2 seeks female performers between the ages of 20 and 50, all types. Must be able to sing and dance. Belt voices only.
11 am Tuesday, January 16th Schubert Theatre
Allison finished her Lean Cuisine macaroni and cheese as she watched the roaches travel north and south on the two lane highway that started somewhere behind the stove. Thirty is definitely between twenty and fifty, she could belt, and do something resembling dancing. If she didn't fit into 'all types,' who would?

Last cattle call she got shut out because she didn't sign up early enough. That couldn't happen again. Since Matt left her for the gorgeous, Amazonian, redheaded, Devora Prince (aka Debbie Pickles), she'd been stuck paying $2200 a month rent, when she could barely afford $1100. A Broadway Chorus contract paid $1500. Anything with the word 'Godspell' in it would run at least six years. Her only dilemma would be choosing whether to stay with the show, or accept a role in Godspell 3 Revenge of the Samaritans. No more standing in Foodtown passing out samples of kielbasa for $10 an hour.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Closet by William Quincy Belle

Jack falls through a hole in his closet into a mysterious and dangerous world; by William Quincy Belle.

Jack blinked. He was lying on his back, looking straight up. His brain was addled and his body felt jarred. He moved his right arm a bit. He held up his left hand and looked at it. Then he flexed his legs. His body seemed to be functioning. He turned his head to the right then the left. There didn't seem to be any pain.

He looked up again, and things slowly started to fall into place. Jack had been checking for messages on his cellphone when he had opened the closet door to get dressed for work. He had set the phone down, taken a step, and then pitched forward. He had fallen for a split second, hitting several things that snapped, and ended up on his back, cushioned by something soft and a bit prickly.

Jack sat up slowly and looked around as he tried to grasp what he was looking at. He seemed to be in some sort of fluorescent woodland. All around were bizarre trees with twisted trunks, covered in bright red leaves. An expanse of yellow grass was spotted with rectangular blue bushes. Jack realized his fall had been broken by one of them. He carefully placed the palm of his hand on the bush beneath him. It felt like a sponge.

Jack furrowed his brow as he turned to look around a little more. He raised his gaze. The sky, or whatever was above him, was an odd shade of green. But, almost directly over him, a coloured spot hung in midair. Jack stared at the spot for several seconds, trying to see through it, until he understood that it was the inside of his closet. His eyes widened.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Pink Lady by Sara Jacobelli

Young Kelly becomes captain of her father's fishing boat when it is hijacked in Sara Jacobelli's flash.

Her father stepped onto the boat, just as she had seen him do hundreds of times before. This time was different - a man had a gun stuck into her father's ribs. Kelly didn't know the man. He was about the same age as her father, forty, forty two. He was dark and lean, rough looking. Her dad ordered her to untie the boat and launch it and she did, moving woodenly, uncertainly. She felt the electricity in the air that signaled a far off storm.

As Kelly piloted the Pink Lady out to sea, the strange man searched her dad's coat pockets, tossing his knife and cell phone into the water. He tied her father's wrists and ankles with rope, shoved him onto the bench. The man picked up the knife Kelly used for gutting salmon and tossed that into the water. Stupid, thought Kelly. A knife can save your life on a boat.

"Put your life jacket on, honey," her dad said. It seemed funny, almost, him telling her what to do as if this was a normal day. "Good job steering the Lady," he added. She sensed his pride in her skills. She used to be terrified of driving the boat, scared she would hit something. Now she felt a sense of ease at the ship's wheel, a sense of power. The kids at school might make fun of her, but she knew deep down inside they were jealous, too. Jealous that she learned how to handle a boat when she was six years old.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Down and Out in Paris by Arun Dawani

Arun Dawani's character Vallerie anticipates a romantic weekend in Paris, but finds Luke distracted.

"I'm really glad you could make this weekend," I tell Luke.

"I am too," he says, squeezing my hand. It's been three weeks since I last saw him and I don't want it to be another three weeks before I see him again. He's forty-nine but looks much younger. He may not be the most handsome man I've ever seen but even his 'imperfections', a fading hairline and burgeoning midriff, are endearing. I love his ash coloured hair, always tousled like a naughty child, the gentle lines on his forehead, which I like to think come from frowning too much, his almost bashful smile and the way he looks when we're driving at night, shadows sliding over his kind face.

I'm excited about seeing Paris for the first time but that's not the reason I'm so happy. I stare out of the train window and try to imagine how I would feel if I suddenly found myself alone on the Eurostar. A pang of loneliness hits me and I turn towards him and put my hand on his arm, which is sturdy and reassuring, to make sure he's really there. It's the beginning of a weekend which I have looked forward to so much and I picture a sand timer which has just been turned over, the top of the hourglass completely full. I wish it could stay that way.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Scapegoat By Christine Bagley

An author interview the spirit of Bridget Bishop, the first woman hanged for witchcraft in 17th Century Salem Massachusetts; by Christine Bagley.

"Thou know not all of what thou write," said a strange voice.

It took me several seconds to awaken from the haze of a deep sleep. The room was cold and smelled of burnt wood, as if a window was open and a fire had just gone out. I sat up in bed and, peering across the room, saw the shadow of a woman sitting in a chair. A slow, eerie tingling started in the middle of my back, spread across my shoulders, ran down my arms and through my fingers.

"Who are you?" I whispered.

She sighed impatiently and said, "I am the one in thy book and I cannot stay but a few hours."

I groped in the dark for the lamp switch. Squinting from its glare, my eyes traveled up and down her body taking in every detail as if I myself had dressed her and was checking for mistakes. Her hair was wild, thick and black like a forest with a face. She was wearing a red bodice laced up with red, green, and yellow strings, and a white puffy blouse showing deep cleavage.

Her head tilted to one side and her chin was up as if challenging me to believe her.

"Dost thou know me now?"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saving Carla by J. H. Otterstrom

Understudy Stephanie looks out for diva Carla while the University campus seems to be conspiring to harm her; by J. H. Otterstrom.

"You have to help me with the lines."

The girl looked up from the book she was reading. "Huh?"

Carla looked down at her from beside the bench. "You're the understudy, right?"

The girl looked around and Carla felt her anger rise another notch.

"God, don't be so pathetic! No wonder you didn't get the part. Can you even speak?"

"Um... Yes."

"Then answer me, are you my understudy?"

"Yes, I'm Stephanie Collins," she flashed a smile that made Carla want to puke.

"I'll be sure to remember it," she replied, the name already thrown out of her mind.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Working Vacation by William Quincy Belle

Dentist Burt meets Penny, another first-timer in space, on the way to Mars. But what is she doing on board? By William Quincy Belle.

Burt tried to roll out of bed but couldn't. Damn, he had forgotten the straps. He fell back and relaxed a moment, looking up at the bottom of the top bunk. Had he slept through the turnaround? He wasn't sure, but he had followed procedures by strapping himself in so he wouldn't drift out of bed. Who wanted to wake up on the floor?

He pulled loose the buckle of the strap on his chest, and then undid the one just below his knees. Half rising, he swung his legs over the side and sat there, slightly hunched over so he wouldn't bang his head on the top bunk. He glanced over at the monitor and saw the timer was counting down from fifteen. Nope, he hadn't missed the turnaround. Time enough to do his toilet before the gravity was cut. He had to get hopping.

Burt stood and took two steps to the door to the toilet stall. He pressed his thumb to a small panel to open the door, then turned around and sat down. Did anybody pee standing up anymore? With vacuum toilets and sometimes less than 1 g, it seemed to make better sense to sit and avoid causing a mess. At least for the moment, while there still was gravity, Burt didn't have to use the relief tube. The timer showed twelve minutes. He stood, and the toilet automatically flushed. After a moment, the door slid shut.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Gift by Jeff Weddle

Jim’s father has an unusual - and unwelcome - birthday present for him; by Jeff Weddle.

On the way to town, Doug opened the pint of Maker's and took a hit, then passed it to Jim.

"Go on, boy. You're old enough."

Jim held the bottle like it was a dead rat.

"No Daddy, I -"

"Son, just try a little sip. Come on. We're celebrating."

Jim took a good hit and did his best not to let his father see him gag.

"Now, that's more like it. If you think that's good, wait till we get to Lula's."

The two-lane blacktop was almost deserted as Doug's late model Ford pickup cut through the night. It was a twenty minute drive into Pikeville and Jim silently counted headlights. From home to town he counted a dozen pairs. Lula's place was on 4th Street, right across from Gordy's Tavern, and Doug drove straight there and swung in fast onto the paved lot.

"Okay, son. Happy birthday."

"Thanks, Daddy. But I -"

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Advert by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Gideon Visser advertises for a wife in another of Beryl Ensor-Smith's scintillating tales of gossip and misunderstanding in the sleepy South African dorp of Prentburg.

It was Suzie Lamprecht who discovered that Gideon Visser was advertising for a wife. Since his father had become an invalid, she had been helping out where she could. The old man was difficult, very bigoted, and would allow only Gideon to see to his needs which put a lot of pressure on Gideon, as it meant he had to leave his hardware business to come home every few hours to attend to his father's personal requirements.

Suzie would pop in when she had the time, to check that the char was doing her chores and not making long-distance phone calls to who-knew-where. (Gideon's phone account had soared since his father became bed-ridden.) If the truth be told, she also had a bit of a crush on Gideon, who was a good-looking and amiable soul, so it came as a cruel blow to discover that he had turned to the internet to seek a wife.

"I was helping out, as usual," she told the Sisters of the Church after their AGM when such important matters as fund-raising, charitable work and social functions were discussed. "Gideon went to answer a knock at the door and I just happened to be standing near the computer where he'd been working." In fact, Suzie had been distracting Gideon with her mindless chatter, but he had been too polite to put a stop to the flow. The moment he left the room, she pounced on the computer and read the advert he was composing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Oliver's by Parnell Stultz

Oliver Wren's dream of running his own restaurant is soured by his scheming ex-wife - and events escalate when he meets ambitious and devious chef Carl; by Parnell Stultz.

On the day the President of the United States met an untimely end, Oliver Wren woke with the kind of food-hangover only a chef could manage. He shifted under his thin blanket, aware that each little movement exacerbated the delicate balance keeping his gorge from rising beyond the point of no return. A stale, almost charred smell lingered in the still air around his bed; it was more than he could stomach.

As he stumbled to the bathroom, Oliver kept one hand over his mouth, and the other cupped delicately beneath his chin. The bathroom floor imparted a cold absence of sympathy as he knelt before the commode, expelling the remnants of a surprise birthday dinner the night before in which his partner and relatively new head-chef, Carl, had been in charge of both the menu and the cocktails.

The charred smell renewed its assault on his senses as he stepped from the bathroom. He'd showered quickly, wanting only to get the day started so it could be over as soon as possible. Steam billowed above his head, its reassuring, soapy aroma clashing instantly with what Oliver now recognized as evidence of his ground floor neighbor's affection for deep-fried cuisine, and her inability to tell the difference between well done and prematurely fossilized. He slipped into fraying khaki slacks and a clean white t-shirt, reflecting that his neighbor, Mrs. Able, would probably think nothing of deep-frying cereal before adding milk.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jessica's Navel by Anne Goodwin

Jessica Ridley is determined to appear fashionable to her schoolmates whatever her mother says; by Anne Goodwin.

"You're not going on the geography trip dressed like that!"

Jessica glances down at her flamingo-pink cropped T-shirt and black flared hipsters. The gap between the end of her T-shirt and the top of her trousers exposes a narrow band of pale skin, like a belt with her belly button where the buckle would be. "Why shouldn't I?"

"You know quite well," Ruth snaps. "It's a totally unsuitable get-up for Cranwell Craggs."

"I don't see why," says Jessica. "It's what everyone else will be wearing."

At the kitchen table, Dominic, still in his pyjamas, turns up the volume on his iPod and shovels another spoonful of muesli into his mouth.

Ruth bends down to put her coffee cup into the dishwasher. "Maybe everyone else isn't lucky enough to have proper walking clothes."

Jessica goes to the fridge, pours herself another glass of orange juice. Pours herself a bit more time. "But Mum, honestly, it's a school trip, not a weekend hike."

She looks towards her brother for support, but he is assiduously reading the cereal packet, as if revising for his SATs.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ethel's Exit by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's character goes paddling in the lagoon, remembering times past.

The days were long past when Ethel could perch on one leg and lift up the other to put on or take off a shoe. She found a log, sat, removed her shoes, then stood and tucked her frock into her bloomers.

The creek formed a lagoon that fed into the sea. Families from the camping ground played in the sand, paddled canoes, swam and splashed each other. Dogs chased sticks and boys skipped stones.

Ethel tied the laces together and slung the shoes over her shoulder. The sand on her bare feet felt yummy. She stepped into the lagoon and splashed along close to the edge, steadying herself with her walking stick, as she was overweight and the muddy bottom was slimy and slippery.

She could feel people looking and children pointing but she didn't care.

"Squelchy," she said aloud, "A lovely word. Squel-chy. Such a long time since..."

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Secret Weapon by Ziyad Hayatli

A soldier finds himself imprisoned in an abandoned hospital being questioned about a battle he does not remember; by Ziyad Hayatli.

"What's your name?"

"John Dawes, Private in His Imperial Majesty's army."

"And what do you last remember before the incident at Allesfield?"

That question again.

"I don't remember any particular incident."

A look of concern crossed the Interrogator's face, as it always did.

"Then what do you remember?"

"One minute I was boarding the train that carried us to the battle of Allesfield. The next minute I was lying down in that damned city, and your men came to get me. I must have lost consciousness."

The Interrogator wore a pristine green uniform. A sabre and flintlock pistol hung at his side, his helmet always off when indoors. Chiseled cheekbones, strong set jaw, clean shaven, short greying hair. He was a far cry from the soldiers like me, who were nothing but a disheveled mess. From what I remember in training, we only looked remotely as presentable as he once a day, and that was in the morning for inspection. He got up without a word and marched out in long, purposeful strides. His polished, black boots hit the floor with strength.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Single Red Rose by Harry Downey

Expats in a Chinese restaurant in La Corumba, Spain hear a yarn fom antique dealer Gordon about his con-man friend; by Harry Downey.

It rained heavily the night we met Gordon. We were at the Beijing when it began and rather than get soaked going back to our apartment, we decided to linger over an extra drink until it stopped.

This chap was at the next table and he seemed to be putting off leaving just as we were. We didn't know him, but his efforts at trying to talk Sinshie into giving him her telephone number earlier had made quite an entertaining little side-show that kept the customers in earshot amused.

Sinshie is a charming girl, tall for a Chinese, well liked by all, and part of the pleasure of eating in her restaurant is the welcome she gives everyone - a smile from ear to ear and kisses on both cheeks. She giggles a lot, probably to cover the embarrassment she feels at the language limitation. If you bump into her anywhere down in La Corumba, in the bank or market for instance, or on the street, anywhere in the town, you get the same greeting.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

1901 by Fred Skolnik

Newlywed Dorothea feels foreboding about the future in Fred Skolnik's charming turn-of-the-century American romance.

"Progress," Dorothea thought when Rupert brought the newspaper to their bed. He was wearing his striped pajamas but still looked like a Greek god. Dorothea was naked under the sheet. She loved the brazen sensuality of it. The room was warm. It was a lovely August day. "Progress," she thought again as they looked at the headlines. She was not yet used to the new century. She was barely used to Rupert. "Close your eyes. I'm getting out of bed," she said.

"Must I? I want to look."

"Then I'll close mine."

"Oh, silly Dorothea."

She walked quickly across the room and gathered up her clothes and then went across the hall to wash. The big house was empty. Everyone had gone to Buffalo straight from Saratoga to see the Exposition and hear the President speak. "How will you manage?" her mother had said, insisting that half the servants stay behind. "No, we want to be alone," Dorothea had said, and felt now that it was the most liberating and wicked thing she had ever done, other than lying naked with her husband in their bed.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christopher Lee's Eyes by Michael C Keith

Darrell is frightened after his dad lets him watch a scary film in Michael C Keith's short.

'Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil.
- Shakespeare

Sandra Cotton was abruptly awakened by the shrieks of her eight-year-old son. She leapt from bed and ran to his room where she found him sitting up and trembling.

"What's the matter, honey?" she asked, wrapping her arms around him. "My God, you're so hot... sweaty. Let me get a towel to dry you off."

"Don't leave, Mommy!" squealed Darrell.

"Why are you so scared, sweetheart."

"I'm afraid of..."

"Of what, Darrell?"

"The man with the red eyes."

"Red eyes?"

"In the movie Daddy took me to."

"Huh? What did he take you to see?"

"A man bit girls, and they screamed."

"Oh no, he took you to that movie. He shouldn't have."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cheesehead by Kristen McHenry

Vladimir, prodigal cheese maker, goes to great lengths to impress the girl of his dreams, but arch rival Garrett Deever is determined to undermine him; by Kristen McHenry.

Go ahead, judge me. Just remember that at some point in your tidy life of dry-cleaned suits and pristine credit, you too, will know desperation. I was like you once - a cocky son of bitch, a hotshot, an up-and-comer, sure I was going to get everything I wanted. That was before Garrett, before Misty, and before Fabiano's grand re-opening in Mac's Famous Food Mart. Before I ended up in this hellhole, where the "cheese" consists of oily slabs of dye-injected milk fat. It's such an insult to humanity I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, Garrett Deever, who I blame for everything.

It started with money problems. The artisan cheese business was slow. There's only so much you can produce when you're working on a five-by-two counter in an apartment kitchenette. And ever since the DIY crowd got wind that cheese-making would boost their hipster cred, they all started getting in on it and flooding the market. They got a lock on the local farmers' market, which wouldn't let me hock my wares. That crap about having an unlicensed kitchen was just a bullshit excuse. They're threatened by a real man who knows his art and can execute a Gruyère that makes the ladies scream. I know for a fact that those bearded pansies never made cheese in their lives. They pick it up from Running River Farms in their Suburus and tell the chicks they spent years cultivating the Asiago.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Leonard Bessom Hunts for a Present by Clifford Hui

Schoolboy Leonard Bessom dreams up unlikely money-making schemes so he can afford a present for his mother's birthday; by Clifford Hui.

My pal Leonard Bessom and I pushed our bikes into the bike rack. As we gathered our books from our bike baskets, Len said he was worried about what to get his mother for her birthday that was coming up soon.

"Why don't you make her a nice card?" I suggested.

"No. Not another card. I'm too old to make her cards anymore. I want to buy her somethin'."

"You got money?"

His face twisted into a dissatisfied frown. "No. I have to get some."

"How're you gonna do that?"

"I dunno, but I'll think of somethin'."

Sally Davis had just parked her bike in the rack near us, and we all started walking to our classroom together. Len turned to her and asked, "Sally, do you have any ducks?"

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Butchers by Nazib Wadood

Harezuddin must make sacrifices to marry his beautiful daughter Nosimon off to a wealthy landowner, and fulfil the obligations of his status, during the struggle for the independence of Bangladesh; by Nazib Wadood.

The soft golden afternoon rays of the autumn sun reflected over her fresh whitish cheeks. She looked so shining, nice and charming! As if a hur had descended from Heaven to the worldly compound. How could have such a beautiful girl taken birth in a poor family of such a marginal farmer like Harezuddin, thought Akber Mollah, the chief of the village. The bridegroom, a black, stout, healthy young chap of about twenty years, kept his shameless unblinking looks upon her, being unmindful even of the presence of so many people including the elders sitting around him.

Nobody could dislike the girl; it was certain, Mollah thought. And if the question of family was raised, undoubtedly it would be, then one should know the name and fame of the Gharamis had not been a matter of very distant past. Concern of the present was that the Gharamis had fallen on evil days. Harezuddin's father, Shafiuddin Gharami, had developed a deadly disease and sold almost all his farmlands, mango gardens and ponds to get money for his treatment. After his death, he had left only one and a half acres of farmland for his son; and Harezuddin took lease of another one acre of land as a sharecropper. He had a pair of bullocks and a plough for cultivation of his own lands; and used to plough other's lands too, to earn extra money. Thus, Harezuddin Gharami was hardly managing his family.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The U-Haul Shuffle by Jesse Kirkpatrick

Three young men muse about being trapped in the rat race while looking for somewhere to live; by Jesse Kirkpatrick.

It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.
- George Carlin

I.

Steve's car was busted, so I drove. We got there first and parked in front. Eric drove past us, trying to find parking further down the street.

To their credit, it looked like the pictures. A blue and white split-level sitting on a hill, the driveway snaking down to meet the road.

"Not bad," I said.

Steve nodded.

Eric was shaking his head before he came in earshot.

"Thumbs down before any of us step inside... that's a record," muttered Steve.

"Absolutely not," said Eric as he closed the distance to us.

"Why?" I asked.

"It's too far."

"What? It's right near the highway..."

"Which would be fine if there was never any traffic or construction ever. Come on, I'm at the edge of a lame commute as it is."

He had a point, but I didn't want to waste the trip.

"Can we at least check it out?" asked Steve. "I can't do anything tomorrow until nine, so that leaves Wednesday at the earliest."

Eric shrugged.

"Sure. If my rent is four hundred dollars a month or it has a hot tub, I'll consider it."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Progeny by Iulian Ionescu

A sick mother and her disabled son run out of government support credit and are forced to resort to desperate measures to stay alive in Iulian Ionescu's dystopian story.

Agent Spencer pushed his ID card into the red slot below the check-in window. The screen flickered and the words 'Bureau of Human Affairs' morphed into a woman's head.

"Sale?" the virtual blond girl asked.

The agent winked. "Yep."

"About time, it's almost the end of the year. Specs?"

"Off the charts. I don't think I've ever seen one like this."

"Excellent performance, Agent Spencer," the blond girl said, "I congratulate you for this undeniable success. The commission will be recorded after the completion of the evaluation."

The Agent threw her a soft salute and a sly smile. "Thank you, ma'am, for your equally undeniable warm appreciation. Here is your delivery."

Two men in white overalls entered the corridor, pushing a bed floating about two feet above the floor. They stopped in front of the screen and one of them scanned a tablet through a light reader. The virtual girl nodded. "Thank you, all done."

"I will see you boys next year," Agent Spencer said, spun on one foot and disappeared behind the doors.

"Go ahead," the blond girl said, "the classroom is in session. Operating room twenty three, your entry token will pop out in just a second."

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Curse by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When Suzie believes she has been cursed, the church sisters try to unlock the mystery before she is driven to despair; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When her detested cousin Bertha landed on her doorstep and announced she would be staying for two weeks, Suzie Lamprecht thought life could get no worse. Little did she know it was but the start of her problems. The Sisters of the Church got pretty tired of her whinging whenever they met in the course of the next few days. At first her complaints were of a general nature.

"Bertha's so lazy. Doesn't lift a finger to help in any way."

Later Suzie's grievances became more specific and tinged with resentment.

"I'd forgotten how sly she is. Do you know what she's done now? She swapped my bottle of Dune perfume with a fake!"

"How could she manage that?" Helga Swanepoel raised her eyes from sorting through the donations received for the white elephant stall of the coming church fete. "It sounds impossible, never mind unlikely."

"It's very possible and I can tell you exactly how she managed it. Last year she manipulated herself onto a cruise up the west coast with some friends, and when they stopped at Dakar, she bought boxes of French perfume from a vendor in the dockyards at what she thought were bargain prices. They were in proper packaging right down to the cellophane wrapping and it was only once she opened the bottles that she found they were all fake. I know because she phoned me to whine about it. The only time Bertha ever bothers to phone me is to complain about something!"

"Well, you're fast joining her in that little habit," Mrs Merton said bluntly. "All you ever do these days is moan."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Man with Inner Movies by Tom Sheehan

Jake, an ageing detective, takes on a murder case involving his old Little League second baseman; by Tom Sheehan.

Long-time widower Jake Adamo, cop for thirty-seven years, his last ten years as a detective, Little League coach for more than thirty of those years, mere months from an early retirement, believing his body had finally let him down, screwed his mind down to the smallest detail of what appeared to be his final case on the job. This was one of his kids now in trouble, one of the elite kids from when they had made a run at a national championship back in the good old days, his second baseman Bobo Carnes. Bobo was a tough kid who'd stop a grounder with his mouth if he had to, a brilliant student, a smart businessman now while still so young. And in the far reach of town, a man, a near recluse, dead, garroted with a strange weapon, one Jake had never seen before. With Bobo in the mix.

Jake, it was well known in local police circles, could go over his cases the way he replayed old games, a whole game at a time, each pitch, each hit or play by one of his fielders, standout or routine, or an enemy strikeout, the ball coming back to the pitcher, the new look at the new parameters. Once in a while he could hear the bell that Bobo's mother rang at every game, like a charm at work, out of the mysterious southwest. He had brought that capacity of memory and imagination fully functional into police work. "They are," he once told a friend, "my inner movies." With astounding clarity he could run movies of cases nine or ten years in the past. He was a cop's museum.

He reran the Bobo film time and again long into the night as he sat on his porch on the side of a hill, sights and sounds coming to him as if by magic from a few words, sometimes fewer words than he wanted. Bobo was still brown-eyed but bright, an outlandishly handsome smile, complexion out of the southwest for sure, tanned, darker than friends and teammates, somewhat contagious in his outlook. Like the flow of a game should have been or could have been, Jake was able to fill in holes the way they ought to be from those few words. He could measure against perfection, a thesis on life, a thesis on people.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wal-Lotto by Gary Ives

Gary Ives' chillingly feasible glimpse into the power of conscience-free corporate greed.

I'm not a gambler but my girlfriend Irene is. What's in it for me? Well, win or lose, a trip to the casino always heats up that lovely little love box of hers. Like I said, I'm not a gambler, so generally I sit at the bar with a Kino card or drift in and out of the nickel slots; I'm 100% small time, but Irene is all about the craps tables and her favorite, blackjack. At the casino there's a little bar called "Nickels" that's just off the row of blackjack tables where I can watch Irene. And watching her play is where I got the idea, the idea that has made me The Man.

A lot of chumps sitting at a blackjack table actually tip the dealer. Win a hand and they'll pass a chip to the dealer. Never mind their losses. I don't get it. It's like paying someone to rob you. "Hey thanks for screwing me, here's five bucks." But it's done hundreds of times an evening in all the big casinos. Do they think that the dealer is actually going to make sure that face cards and aces will tumble their way? And if they believed that then, reason would have it that the decks were stacked so the dealer could control who wins all the time. Then again, reason isn't in it, not at any card table in a casino. But there you have it; I reckon that not five minutes ever pass without some dealer holding up high his "gift chip" for the pit boss to pass. And isn't it natural to assume the pit boss gets a nice cut of this largess? Irene, to her credit, never tips.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Splintered on Principle by Okwuje Israel Chukwuemeka

Navy boy Johnson's relationship with the sexy Clara is threatened when he naively says something that goes against her principles; by Okwuje Israel Chukwuemeka.

Serenading Clara with elaborate superlatives, Johnson would imagine her smiling in her room, in one of the dorms at FGGC Sagamu. He too would smile, while on the phone at midnight, when calls were free till four. He'd smile, so broadly that the Oscar Three boys would wonder what was going on with him, mock him and eavesdrop on his conversations with Clara, preparing fodder for taunts, especially when he said something they feel is out of line.

Today Johnson called Clara at eleven fifty-five, five minutes before the time of the free midnight calls. Five minutes was too long to wait. Never mind that it would cost him about a hundred bucks. He needed to speak with Clara, to hear her velvety voice, or so he had earlier said to Jibola.

The phone rang for some time before Clara picked up. Then a plume-soft "Hello" followed. He said nothing immediately after. He stayed silent for some time, as if taking time to digest what he'd heard. Then Clara said "Hello!" in a less sweet tone, with sharpness, and then, "Who's this?"

"It's me," he said.

"Was wondering if you'd transformed into mute mode or something," she said.

He chuckled. "It was your voice. You don't realise how breath-taking it is, do you? I was breathless, literally."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Backing Out by Cara Long

Tommy helps Jessup fix his pickup truck while waiting for Leanne to come home; by Cara Long.

Jessup has his head and hands shoved under the hood of his pickup truck when I pull up into the driveway.

"When are you gonna let that old beater die?" I call out to him as I cross the lawn to go into the house.

"Never," he responds triumphantly, waving a wrench above his head.

I pull open the screen door and call out for my girlfriend.

"She's not here," says Missy, Leanne's kid sister. "She said to tell you to wait." Missy doesn't take her eyes away from the TV when she says this.

"Where'd she go?" I ask.

Missy shrugs. "With Christine somewhere."

I take a seat in the recliner. Missy is sprawled out on the couch, watching something that I can't really follow. There's a bunch of kids standing around, singing.

Jessup comes in the living room, wiping his hands on a rag.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Magic Mirror by Ray J Robbio

A museum curator's assistant finds an artefact with mysterious powers; by Ray J Robbio.

When someone loses a limb, the brain continues to send forth instructions to the now missing part of the body. That's kind of what I am going through right now. I am telling my legs to move, and nothing is happening. I'm telling my arms and fingers the same, with the same results. It's a weird feeling really. I'm not sure how long this will last, but some say it can go on for years. Oh, God, I hope not.

Let me back up and explain what's happening.

I was hired two months ago as an assistant curator for the Chicago Museum of Natural History. It was a huge step in my career and goal to become a full-fledged archeologist. Dr. Duval was the current curator and, well, let's just say he was eccentric. He was a short, stout man with thinning hair. I think he thought his comb over would fool people, but it was obvious what was happening on his increasingly balding head. He took his job seriously. I would say too seriously. His days would be spent researching various artefacts. Their origins and their authenticity were all put under his scrutiny until he was satisfied that the objects he was receiving were the real deal. That's where I came in. A large part of my job was receiving the weekly shipment of assorted pieces, cataloguing them, and placing them either in storage or out for display. It was amazing to see the list of objects that came in every week. One week it would include a pallet of rocks from the Pilbara region of Australia. All needed to be identified, catalogued, and stored for possible future displays. The next week would be clay pots and utensils from Machu Picchu in Peru. Needless to say I learned a lot in the few months I was there.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lilah by Robert Lowell Russell

The clan elders send Jonathon on an unwelcome quest in Robert Lowell Russell's fantasy story.

The three elders stood at Jonathon's door - there are always three. The youngest was as old as his father, the eldest bent and frail, the woman somewhere between.

"No," said Jonathon. "I can't do this."

The eldest held out the knife, and Jonathon's hands shook as he took the ancient blade. Behind him, his wife's face was ash. His son clung to her, pressed against the swell of her belly.

"Please," Jonathon said to the elders. "You can't ask me to do this. You can't."

But they could.



They trained at the base of the mountain and each day Jonathon said, "You've made a mistake."

"All those chosen say this," said the youngest. "We've watched you. There's no mistake."

"I can't do this. I don't know how."

"You'll learn," said the woman.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Final Flight on the Never Never by George Sandison

An earthman stuck on a godforsaken colony planet explains how he got there in George Sandison's sci-fi story.

You wanna give that back now? I said you could have some, not suck on it like your mother's teat. You got aspirations of being a drunk then you're a damned fool and I'm not paying. This damned fool runs his own -

Goddamnit.

How 'bout I tell you a story? You wanna hear about my last flight on a spaceship? Yeah, I've been on loads of them, I wasn't born here like you. I arrived with Dora you know - crazy, beautiful, ultra- fashionable Dora, the Dora - eight months ago. Or was it ten? How long is a month here again? You don't believe me? We swooped in on the Never Never straight out of Eden, rich, beautiful and prepared to rule. You know how that feels, don't you.

I found them soon after landing. Or they found me. Or we found each other. I was still adjusting back then, sleeping through two days at a time then up for three. Colonial time, man. You know here I'm already 128 years old? I should be dead or something. That's what my soul says, anyways.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Catchcry by Charmaine T Davis

The family welcome Aunt Peewee's return, but something's wrong in Charmaine T Davis's creepy flash.

Aunt Peewee showed up at our annual Family Day picnic bearing her version of grasshopper pie. Mama was the first to see her and her smile could have broken a stone wall. Mama rushed to her, not sure whether to take the pie or give her a hug. In the end, Mama hugged Aunt Peewee and I got handed the ugly pie. The pie was dirt-brown, sprinkled with chopped pecans that looked a whole lot like oven burnt grasshoppers. I took the pie to the dessert table and hid it behind the more appetizing ones like yellow cakes with chocolate icing, cheesecake and sugar cookies.

By this time, Mama's other siblings, their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and other tagalongs caught sight of Aunt Peewee too.

"Aunt Peewee!" The cries erupted like champagne corks popping at a wedding. "Aunt Peewee!"

Like a Godzilla tsunami, the whole family washed over her with tears, hugs and kisses. I wiped away a tear that had slid down my cheek, touched by the joyful welcome my aunt received. Before she had arrived, it was like we were all missing something or sighing over some hurt we couldn't name.

Friday, October 18, 2013

George and Pat For Ever by Anne Goodwin

Pat finds herself lying on a beach, wondering how she got there; by Anne Goodwin.

A strange light appeared over the White Cliffs of Dover. Pat screamed. Or, at least, she thought she did. Her mouth was as taut as an archer's bowstring and a shrill note vibrated through her throat to her head, but she heard no sound. Not even the squawking of the seagulls over the cliffs.

"Shh, it's okay," she told herself. Shh, it's okay: the long-ago voice of her mother when summoned to banish a childhood nightmare. Was she awake now, or still dreaming?

She couldn't move - or didn't want to - but sensed a softness below her, her body held, almost floating, like she imagined a waterbed would feel. Silently, Pat laughed. George would be none too pleased. He had always insisted on a firm mattress. He said it was better for his back.

What else? Cold, but a friendly cold that might wrap itself around her like a duvet of fresh snow, pure as a line of just-washed sheets on a sparkling winter's day. And grit - not much, yet enough to notice - scratching the corners of her eyes. "That's why I can't hear anything," she reasoned. "It's the sand clogging up my ears."

And, finally, the luminosity: all-pervading white flooding the frame of her vision, bleaching the grass, the cliffs, the sky. White drawing her towards it like the hose of a turbocharged vacuum cleaner.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Scuggins Girl by Max Detrano

Nine-year-old Kirby Nichols takes on a bike ramp against his father's better judgment in Max Detrano's flash fiction piece.

We live in the suburbs, at the end of a cul-de-sac. My nine-year-old boy, Kirby Nichols, followed Daley Scuggins' girl, Nikki, out into the meadow. One of those kids stepped on a yellow jacket's nest. I think it was Nikki 'cause Kirby, trailing behind her, got all the bites.

My wife, Margie, wrapped his arm in a towel full of ice, put frozen peas on his right eye; all the while Nikki, in shorts and a skimpy shirt, skipped around the island in the middle of our kitchen. After a while, Nikki tired of this drama and ran out our back door.

Once Nikki was gone, Kirby said he was fine and insisted on going back outside. Margie wanted him to take the pack of ice, but Kirby would have no part of it. The screen door slammed behind him.

The two kids got on their bicycles and rode in figure eights inside that cul-de-sac. Daley Scuggins, Nikki's Dad, dragged a piece of plywood and two cinderblocks out of his garage to set up a ramp.

Scuggins yelled at Nikki to "put the pedal to the metal." Nikki began riding wide laps, faster and faster, around that plywood.

I was hoping Nikki's mother would come out and put a stop to this, but she did not appear.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Choose Joy by Sarah Osman

Sarah Osman's boisterously blasphemous story of pothead Jacob, who hates his life playing Jesus at Jesus Land.

I play Jesus at Jesus Land. It's a shitty job because I'm atheist and I only do it because the Jewish guy from Brooklyn got the Mickey Mouse role at Disneyland. I have no college education, no formal training as an actor and my employability is probably around that of an illegal alien's. I have to pay for my crappy apartment that smells like tacos, the payments on my crappy car and for copious amounts of pot so that I can at least feel something (hurray for California and their lax medical marijuana laws. We have more marijuana dispensaries than McDonalds.) And so, as you can imagine, I have lost all faith in humanity. (Okay, maybe not all faith... but definitely the faith I had to live out the American dream.)

I tell my friend Phillip this during our measly half-hour lunch in the break room. The break room is as bleak as the cell of a criminally insane convict. To make it worse, our boss has taped up passages from the Bible - like John 3:16 - to inspire us. Behind the cracked torn pages from the word of God lies dull white walls with cracks in the middle of them. You know how Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth? Yeah. This is the most depressing.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Kids Don’t Get Choices by Devon Tavern

Eleven-year-old Eliza finds out a surprising secret about her past... and her future, in Devon Tavern's delightful vignette.

Eliza sat quietly on the bench of the picnic table in front of her favorite ice cream store. She fought hard not to cry. There had been too much crying over the last few days. The store being out of strawberry ice cream was no good reason for an 11-year-old girl to cry.

Other kids played around her, jumping and squealing at the prospect of a treat. But Eliza just couldn't find it in herself to be happy. She felt out of place here in her black dress and shiny black shoes.

She brightened up a little as she saw her Uncle Gavin walking towards her with two bowls.

"Here, honey." He placed a dish of ice cream in front of her.

"What is it?" she asked as she probed the ice cream with the plastic spoon. It had an odd salmon color and strange consistency.

"Try it," Uncle Gavin said as he dived into his giant banana split.

Slowly, she spooned out a small portion of the strange mix and hesitantly put it in her mouth. To her surprise, it tasted like strawberry. "I thought they were out."

"They were but they had vanilla ice cream, strawberry sauce and tools for mixing things." He smiled at her. "I'm a problem solver."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mr Stinkysocks by Arthur Davis

Mr Stinkysocks visits his two nieces at an idyllic campground and finds a deeper connection to the landscape, and the children, than he expected; by Arthur Davis.

Strange how easily you can forget who you are and where you came from. Even stranger, how assuredly you can be overtaken by the deception of who you might be and a life you thought might have belonged to another. Of course, realizations like this don't occur too often and certainly, at some point in your past you were neither Socrates, Caesar, Gandhi, or Salk, but were crawling out of the ooze of the earth with little more than your primitive reflexes. And, as it appeared to me, a truth beyond question, as you are now doubting the saneness of the author or forthrightness of this story, you will learn of my one defining experience that told me my delusion was grounded in fact rather than fantasy.

It might have been easier to reach this conclusion if I were alone. There would have been a purity of focus, nothing to distract myself from the task at hand. Though it's now clear that I was better served through the reflection of someone I loved.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Threshing-Floor by Isaac Attah Ogezi

Isaac Attah Ogezi tells the story of religious neophyte Brother Otokpa's unconventional courting and its awful consequences.

Sister Agbenu couldn't bring herself to believe the fact that the relationship between her and Brother Otokpa was over on the very day she was going to accept his marriage proposal. Somehow she blamed the Wily One, the accuser of the brethren, for making her respond so thoughtlessly to Otokpa's request that before she gave him an answer to his proposal, he needed to tell her about his past. A past in which Sister Naomi featured prominently. In a fit of anger, after she had listened to what he had to say, she responded sharply that an answer could not be given because in this case, it was taking her unusually long to hear from the Holy Spirit since there were other men who had also proposed marriage to her besides him. The 'other men', who was actually just one other man, was no other person than Brother Amaechi, the youth pastor of their church, whose overtures she had lately rebuffed. In as much as she now blamed her indiscretion, she still felt that Otokpa couldn't be completely exonerated from the part he played in stoking the fire of her anger in the first place. Why should he bring up Sister Naomi at this stage of their relationship? Why resurrect an issue that was long dead and forgotten? Didn't the Scriptures admonish believers to always forget their past, for 'behold I will do a new thing, can you not see it?'

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hunters of the Tribe by Petr Janecka

Lubos and Vladan are hunters in a post-apocalyptic landscape that may not be as extensive as it seems; by Petr Janecka.

The tribe had two hunters. One fat and one strong. Despite expectations, the former was better, his ways mysterious to the clan but always reliable. Bringing home beef and chicken as well as bread and pastry, he never failed to deliver. A trait that confounded Vladan, the latter of the two. Unlike his successful colleague, he couldn't stumble upon a single trace of wildlife.

In a parched wasteland dotted with toxic lakes and craters of bombardment hinting at warfare long since forgotten, procuring food bordered with impossibility. Yet somehow, overweight hunter Lubos managed to do so.

"You're a hero." The tribe revered Lubos when he victoriously walked into the encampment, carrying spoils of his endeavour in scavenged plastic bags.

Children cavorted before proceeding to eat with fervour what their mothers gave them. Adults gulped their repasts voraciously, feasting by a bonfire and then dancing in a ritual to appease the gods.

As for Vladan, he sat at the edge of the camp, shunned and mocked, forced to consume sour roots he could scavenge. An incompetent lout deserving nothing but laughter and scorn.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I Heard a Voice by Paul H Yarbrough

Atop a skyscraper, a banker and a CEO congratulate themselves on their contribution to the march of progress embodied in the city laid out below, when a stranger joins them and offers a different perspective; by Paul H Yarbrough.

They were standing at the ledge. Their view mirrored a panorama of buildings and smokestacks. Great edifices, heaving asymmetrically, skewed with monster cylinders venting plumes of expended energy. The farms, the land, scarcely discernible, were hiding from the crowding machines in ambient spaces where life of life and lives of lives grappled and struggled for survival. The agrarians had lost the battle, and the machines, as if with endeavor, had attempted to reconstruct victories into paradigms from the grist of Ayn Rand or Thomas Hobbes , the dizygotic twins, at once dichotomous and unitary.

"Where else other than from the top of a skyscraper can we see the power of the Maker, the Creator of all things dynamic and powerful?" The Banker cusp his hand at his forehead and turned his head in a slow arc, as to inspect the power of capital and treasures of earth.

"Nowhere but here; we stand at the zenith," the CEO of the hedge fund, United Capital World-Wide, her eyes hidden behind the lens of her mirrored-black glasses, stood posed, an erection of pride. "This portrait is a snapshot, a revelation that god is in all of us."

"But this is only an imprint. When all of this before us is finalized, we will truly bring the god in each of us into one god. The combined unit gods will bring all of this to everyone." The Banker had his own pride. "Don't forget, the capital purchased the labor."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Wish Box by Ray J Robbio

Dr. Phillip Kent visits a young woman in a mental institution to try and understand more about her fantastical story of an evil wish box; by Ray J Robbio.

Some people have the ability to pinpoint, without hesitation, the moment their life took a turn for the worse. Piper remembers that day, that moment, with incredible detail although it was many years ago. In fact, if there were any visitors for her to talk to, she would recount everything that happened to her. Even the nurse that brought her meals would sometimes get sucked in to listening to Piper's story, for a brief moment anyway.

But this day was different from the others. Someone had, incredibly, come to see her. And, to Piper's surprise, wanted to hear her story! The nurse led the man down the long hallway past the solid white walls and locked doors.

"Now Mr. Kent," the nurse said while they walked, "remember, I am only a hallway away. Miss Johansson is deeply disturbed, as you well know, and I don't need her getting agitated. The last time that happened, it sent one of my nurses to the infirmary with a broken wrist."

"I understand," said Phillip.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Favor by Michael C Keith

Tough guy Palm Gordon returns to his old haunt to call in a big favor from an indebted friend; by Michael C Keith.

The delight that consumes the desire.
The desire that outruns the delight.
- Algernon Swinburne

Palm Gordon stepped out of his vintage Studebaker Golden Hawk. He adjusted his tie and shook out the wrinkles in his gabardine suit jacket. When the traffic cleared, he walked with intent to the other side of the street toward Mora's Café. He caught his image in the glass door as he pushed it open and it pleased him.

Inside the small eatery sat a handful of people sipping coffee and eating eggs.

"Hey, Palmy, where you been? Ain't seen you in a coon's age. You dodging the bail bondsmen?" inquired Sammy Flynn, his thick fist wrapped around a white cup.

"You get uglier every time I see you, Sammy. That on purpose? How you doing?" replied Palm, taking a stool at the counter next to his friend.

"I been better and I been worse."

"You look on the worse end this time."

"Getting over the flu. Had me on my back for a week. Crapped and barfed off ten pounds."

"Hell of a diet."

"You ought to try it, Palmy. You could use a fin off your gut and a saw buck off your ass."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Scandal by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Beryl Ensor-Smith returns with another wonderful story of Prentburg life as Frikkie van Wyk's wife leaves him and the dorp gossip distorts the scandal into something else entirely.

Frikkie van Wyk was drinking a beer in front of the television set when his wife Rina dropped her bombshell. He had been vaguely aware that she had come into the room, but his eyes had been fixed on the rugby match and it wasn't until she spoke and he registered what she said, that he actually looked at her.

"Frikkie, I'm leaving you," she had said quietly. It had taken a moment to sink in. She then had his full attention. Rina was dressed in a dusty pink suit with a navy blue scarf and navy blue high-heeled shoes. She looked smart and distant and a cold shiver travelled the length of Frikkie's spine.

"What?" he croaked.

"You heard. My bags are packed and waiting in the hall. I've arranged for a taxi to take me to the station so you won't be put out in any way." She motioned with a contemptuous nod to the TV. "You can get back to your game now."

Instead, Frikkie lumbered to his feet. "Rina, what's going on?"

"I've told you. I'm leaving you."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sister Act by Michael McCarthy

An ageing vet becomes dangerously obsessed with a lonely woman whose bay window he can see into from his hostel across the road; by Michael McCarthy.

Pat lay in the dark, on his couch watching the television, but not really taking it in. His attention was focused on the house directly opposite. It had been that way since he'd moved here. Sometimes he lay reading but he'd stop after every paragraph to check across the road. Occasionally he'd take a swig from a bottle of whisky before returning it to its temporary hiding place, beneath a cushion, under his buttocks.

Nothing was safe around here.

Over the road, Carmel was kneeling on her expensive looking, classically designed looking white leather armchair by the bay window, head phones on, eyes closed and conducting a, to the outside world, silent symphony, her long elegant fingers tracing arcane, delicate movements in the air. A bottle of mineral water and a crystal glass on a small foot stool beside her.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Quarry II by Pam Van Dyk

Pam Van Dyk's nostalgic tale of two friends enjoying each other's company before they move on to a new phase in their lives.

I had a dream last night that my teeth fell out. I am in front of my Creative Writing II class reading a critical essay I have written about T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". I feel something hard and loose in my mouth. I watch as first one tooth and then another travels toward the linoleum. I read somewhere that people who dream their teeth are falling out are afraid that their youth is slipping away from them.

Me and Billy Ray are skipping school today. Billy Ray has been my best friend since elementary school. He's been my best friend since we learned that country kids and town kids don't mix. City kids hang in crowds. That's what makes us different. Country kids don't travel in packs. It might be because we remind each other of how poor or different we are, but it's probably because our houses don't have recreation rooms where we can lay around on the floor and listen to Led Zeppelin albums.

In another time and place, Billy Ray might be one of those guys who plays piano in a smoky jazz lounge. He might call himself Bill or William. But here, in this little town, he is just Billy Ray. He wears his dead grandaddy's old suits and shirts. If that's not bad enough it's made worse by the fact that he's only as tall as me (5 feet 6 inches) and weighs about 125 pounds soaking wet. Judging by the clothes, his grandaddy must have been six feet tall and a good 200 pounds. Billy Ray looks like a kid dressed up for Halloween every day of the year. I keep telling him that he should try to be less obvious. He keeps telling me that my hair is never going to look like Cissy Spacek's hair in Coal Miner's Daughter.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tug Life by Jeff Alphin

In Jeff Alphin's delightful comedy, a Fells Point Maryland tug worker with a fondness for practical jokes finds a kindred spirit with whom to conspire.

Rusty couldn't get off the Harriet Moran fast enough. Two weeks of knuckle busting and fried bologna had him hopping the bulwarks and bouncing off the tire fenders onto the gull-shit-splattered docks of Canton like a state fair rubber frog.

What he called his Papillon moment. For although he would inevitably return to this 92-foot 3005-horsepower Devil's Island, for the next 14 days he was a free man. Just enough time to blow through his tug money and report back to the boat in paper pants. 

Rusty hoisted his duffel and started walking down Clinton Street, lengthening his stride with every step, no longer one of five turtles sharing the same floating shell. He tried not to grin too broadly at the hangdog faces of the replacement crew shuffling aboard for the next run.

Tug life.

Sleeping on a closet shelf, showering in a box, shitting down a pipe. Tater tots by the bag. Towboat coffee. The 24-hour rumble of diesel until you can't remember what quiet is. Chip and paint. Splice and coil. Disassemble. Reassemble.

Six hours on that seemed like 10, six hours off that felt like one. The kind of sleep deprivation they serve at Guantanamo. The flashlight in your face announcing your watch just as the dream mermaids begin to surface.

Hit the pillow. Hit the deck. Back. Jack. Do it again.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mall Santa by James Croal Jackson

Beware James Croal Jackson's extremely creepy mall Santa.

All the bright, hanging lights above me make me shiver, especially around this time of year. The holiday season. Everyone and her mother comes to the mall. Often to see me. Right?

Swarms of people buzz by my little station beside the small train ride. I'm on my red chair, with a red suit and a red hat on. My fake white beard looks so out of place. They know I'm not Santa. Don't they? There isn't a line now. Maybe parents don't talk about Santa like they used to. Maybe it's because I'm not fat, and not yet in my fifties, so they don't trust me. Maybe I don't have that twinkle in the eye they're looking for.

A mother and her black-haired boy, about six-ish, come to my station. He's a little gremlin: ears falling out of his curly brown hair and a smile that twists around his nose. His mother waves her hand at me. Not a hello, but a "get over there, you brat" sort of gesture.

"Ho, ho, ho," I joylessly recite.

The kid plops on my leg, smelling of old sweat.

"Tell Santa what you want for Christmas," I say.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Less Than a Pair of Shoes by Kelly Haas Shackelford

An eccentric old lady returns to the site of her granddaughter's suicide; by Kelly Haas Shackelford.

My gnarled fingers gripped the steering wheel of my departed husband's battered Ford truck. Its shocks offered little buffer to the neglected potholes on that God-forsaken Georgia back road. Shooting pain jolted down to the very marrow of my old bones, but it was not as excruciating as my broken heart. Every night for the last year, I had made the journey to the washed-out Etowah bridge. Praying, I would peer over its crumbling side and wonder where that cruel river had squirreled away my twenty-five-year-old granddaughter's body.

Nearing my destination, a faded "Danger Bridge Out" sign mocked me. Shaking my fist at the damned sign, I swore to fight on and have the access to the road closed off. Three suicides in three years and yet the county commissioners saw no practical need in spending the money to block the road.

Sighing, I pressed the brake, stopping a few feet short of the edge of the washed out section of the bridge. Some days, I wondered what would happen if my brakes failed and I just kept rolling. Would that be a bad thing?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Twenty by Ray J Robbio

Ray J Robbio's character Nick recalls a frighteningly intense dream at his local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

I could feel my knees shaking as he called on me to speak. I had attended these meetings for some time now, but had only been a passive observer and never contributed. My mouth felt like it had cotton balls in it, and I took a gulp of my bottled water before standing. I could feel the eyes of the room fall upon me as I made my way up to the podium. I felt dizzy and nauseous, like I was drunk. I would give anything for a hit of cocaine right now.

"Hi," I said loudly, much too loudly, I might add, "My name is Nick, and I'm an alcoholic."

Everyone responded with the customary "Hi Nick" and then fell silent.

"Um, it's been six hours since my last drink." I thought a moment for something else to say. I could feel sweat beading up on my forehead as the few seconds I paused seemed like minutes.

"Nick," the moderator chimed in, "Why don't you tell us your experience with not drinking the last six hours."

I thought for a moment, trying to think of something interesting to say. Then I thought back to the night before.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Amethyst Cloud by Jacqui Pack

A woman suffering from amnesia tries to remember details about her very devoted husband, but finds herself emotionally disconnected; by Jacqui Pack.

I think Reece must care for me very much because he comes every day, and every third day he brings me flowers. I know a lot about flowers, apparently. Often I see the bouquet through the room's glass viewing panel before I see him. He carries it high, in front of his face, as he comes along the corridor, as if he were using it as cover; a distraction to allow him near enough to ambush me. I wonder if he thinks that by surprising me he'll accomplish something. That the sudden shock of seeing him will be the jolt I need.

He's very patient, but I can see how hard it is for him. Last week I heard him, just outside my room, talking to one of the doctors about my scans. He was asking if they'd found anything which would tell them when my amnesia might pass.

When he came in he looked really agitated. Normally he comes straight over but this time he handed the flowers to one of the nurses then stared out of the window as if he didn't know what to say to me. As if we were strangers. Then he said, "Don't you remember me at all?" but he still didn't look at me.