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."