Friday, January 31, 2014

An Audience with Osama by Tony Macnabb

A Muslim lecturer known as a champion of interfaith dialogue is called in by the secret services to help extract information from the perpetrator of a failed terrorist attack in London; by Tony Macnabb (first published in The Barcelona Review).

The traffic was starting to build up. The driver fished a magnetic dome light from under the seat, attached it to the roof and blipped a siren.

"We've a bit of a way to go," the driver said, a stocky man wearing a waxed jacket on this warm June day. "Would you like a paper?"

Dr. Rashid accepted a copy of the Daily Express. The story he had seen on the late night BBC bulletin was all over the front page. TERROR IN THEATRELAND, the headline blared in 60 point type, over a grainy shot of a trade van rammed through the doors of the Queens Theatre, where the Prime Minister and his young family had been attending a performance of Oklahoma. The PM's protection officers had arrested the driver at the scene. Apart from the fact that the driver was an Asian male, there were no further details, nor was it confirmed that the Ford Transit had been carrying an explosive device.

Dr. Rashid stared down at the image. The security forces had their man. He was undoubtedly known to them, and right now was being thoroughly questioned. It was just possible he had already been flown out of the country - but in that case why had Dr. Rashid's presence been requested?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The White Room by Anastasiya Olkanetska​ya

A work-weary detective wakes up in a surreal kind of prison, haunted by the memories of the murder scenes he has been investigating; by Anastasiya Olkanetska​ya.

The alley smelled of rot, the ground covered in yellowish pus that dripped from a nearby trash bin; my slick black shoes were covered in a film from pacing in it. I put my back against a crumbling brick wall and lit a cigarette, willing the solitary door across from me to open. It was old, like everything here, peeling and graffiti-covered to the point that it was almost unrecognizable. A single light bulb hung, illuminating the yellow knob. It was shiny, as if recently replaced. That didn't surprise me. Even a shithole like this pub was privy to getting broken into in the bad part of town; or maybe the door had been kicked down in an attempt to get out quick. The Safe House was an idiotic name for the place considering you'd be more likely to get shot inside than out. The smoke swirled toward the many stars above. I stood in the shadows, the red glow from the tip of my cigarette bright in the darkness. I checked my watch; it was 9:07pm.

He was late. The wind had picked up, bringing with it dark clouds to hide the starry sky, the air smelled of rain. I pulled my coat closed and inhaled the smoke a little deeper, letting it claw at my lungs. I checked my watch again; 9:10pm. It wasn't like me to be impatient but this couldn't wait any longer. I dropped the cigarette, letting it extinguish with a hiss as it hit the slimy ground. I stared at the door; the light that hung over it had begun to swing and flicker. It did nothing to illuminate the surrounding darkness, as if the light was confined to the area around the door and the dark around it was too thick to permeate. I pushed off the wall and started to pace again, squishing my way back and forth through the grime. I heard a thump. I spun around and listened to the clicking of locks moving down the door. The knob had turned before the light bulb swung and went out, leaving me in complete darkness. The door opened slightly, letting a sliver of light and loud music into the stillness of the alley. My hand moved automatically to my holster, hovering above the handle of my pistol. A silhouette of a man stood in the frame as the door swung open.

That was the last thing I remember.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Paul and Alice and Eva by Benjamin Finateri

Benjamin Finateri's devilishly caddish character Paul lands a date with a beautiful woman... and her daughter - but he is about to get something seriously unexpected.

I didn't wait until the divorce was final before I started dating again. After the ungrateful bitch Hannah caught me, and everything fell apart with Stephanie because she was so weak she let guilt (over learning she'd cheated with a married man) ruin her, I decided to do what was best for my needs and get right back on the horse.

The ideal way to put the whole sordid mess behind me was to have a little fun. I'd date, but I wasn't looking for a new mate, or any kind of serious relationship. I wanted three things: sex, sex, and more sex. Sure, I could've taken the low road and gone to hookers. I wouldn't have had to worry about judgment, or emotional misunderstandings, but paying for it always seemed like a last resort for desperate losers. I wasn't desperate, or a loser, just horny, and anyway, I wanted women to sleep with me out of desire, not because the price was right. Living in San Francisco would also be to my advantage. With the majority of single men being gay, I'd have a surplus of women to choose from, and I was certain I wouldn't have trouble finding plenty with the same goal as me. I mean, we all need to kick back every now and again and have a good time, am I right?

I took the route that had been successful for me in the past: clubs, bars, the gym, bookstores, and museums. I quickly learned, however, in the dozen years I'd been married, the dating world, like everything else, had moved online.

I'll admit, initially, the Internet dating scene felt a little overwhelming, but I had two choices: accept the twenty-first century or give up, so I held my breath and dove right in. And let me tell you, at the risk of sounding like an old man shouting at you to get off my lawn, young people today don't know how easy they have it. If meeting women had been this simple in my twenties, I don't think I ever would've gotten married. OK, yeah, so people lie online. If you're clever and pay attention, you learn the code. 5'8" is 5'4", athletic is a euphemism for fat, thirty means thirty-something, photos are unreliable. I could go on, but you know what I'm talking about, and listen, I can put up with some half-truths and even outright lies in exchange for the sheer volume of choices.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Crème Brûlée by O D Hegre

O D Hegre's character visits his uncle Bob, whose Alzheimer's has been cured by a revolutionary new neurotechnology, and bumps into a dangerous woman he once arrested.

You've seen 'um. Those faces you just know you'll never forget - especially on women. Yeah, especially on a woman sporting those beautiful blue eyes like Grace Kelly or Cameron Diaz with that aquiline nose. I think that's what they call it - long and slender and hooked at the end like some Maria Theresa or somebody. Yeah that was a face I would never forget; I don't care how old she got.

Of course, I'm no Helen of Troy myself. Old Blue-Eyes would probably remember me as well... the cop with a face that could sink a thousand ships.

I was on the L.A. police force for thirty-five years. Grew up in New Jersey, near Montclair - yeah, that's right, The Sopranos. But when I was ten my Dad died and my mother had no choice; she took me and my brother and moved out to California to live with her sister's family. Dad thought life insurance was for patsies. He was like me - big and strong... figured he'd live forever. I ain't stupid like that. I was a cop for Christ's sake. I worked the beat for years in Compton and Skid Row till I made detective. Even then, every day could be your last. No. My boys weren't going to grow up like I did.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Octopus's Garden by Kristina R Mosley

Floodwaters approach Annalee's house, but an even bigger threat is about to reveal itself in Kristina R Mosley's creepy short.

Annalee looked out her kitchen window to the rain that had fallen steadily for the last three days. Authorities had already evacuated homes on the banks of the Gray River, and she hoped the downpour would stop before the encroaching floodwaters threatened her home. The water already reached the line of trees thirty feet behind her house. Even though the building was on a hill, she wasn't in the clear.
 
She paced in front of her kitchen sink, her light brown ponytail swaying back and forth. Her waterproof jacket swished when she moved, and her rain boots squeaked as she stomped. She glanced at the duffel bag on the couch, easily accessible should she have to evacuate quickly.

Her stomach growled, and she looked at the clock on the stove. It was 1:15 and her friend Keith was running late. He had offered to take her to lunch, but since she didn't want to leave her house unattended, he said he would come by with something. That had been an hour earlier.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Biter Bit by Harry Downey

Small-time actor and impressionist Charlie recruits a motley cast of characters to help his friend Freddie out of a tight corner, including a disabled knife thrower and a scar-faced animal lover, in Harry Downey's thoroughly British story of intrigue and deception.

I.

As Charlie was just about to offer up his customary incantation about 'the first of the evening,' Freddie came up to him and offered to buy him a pint. Freddie was known as a man with 'short arms and deep pockets' - so Charlie realised something unusual was in the offing.

Freddie was a whippet of a man compared to Charlie's massive six feet three with matching bulk, so his whispered, 'I'd like a word on the Q.T. Charlie,' wasn't easy to hear even in a half-empty bar. Charlie would have preferred to remain where he was, but seeing the pleading look that Freddie gave him he pointed to an empty table and they went across and sat down. Even though there was no risk of being overheard he still looked around carefully before speaking to match Freddie's obvious concern.

'What's the matter, Freddie? You look like a man with problems. Tell your Uncle Charlie all about it.'

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Ballad of Don by Ross Burton

Don rebels against his claustrophobic existence in Ross Burton's high-tech world of the future.

1

Don woke early, as usual, when the soft chimes sounded and a gentle breeze stirred the room. He stretched, got up from the sleeping shelf, which soundlessly slid into the wall. Over to the corner shower closet for depilation and cleaning, then back to the fresh set of clothes which had arrived at the delivery port. The small table produced his usual breakfast, which he ate while the wall vid gave him that morning's news headlines in cartoon form. After precisely fifteen minutes the table tipped away from him; he grabbed his cup as the plates disappeared into the waste slot, and the panel to his right glowed. His chair swivelled smoothly towards it and the keyboard emerged underneath the screen.

Good morning Don. Today's workload is displayed. Urgent tasks are: comms from Finance and Procurement, comm from Din Budro, comm from the Tahiti office. Which would you like to take first?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Last War by Phil Temples

Taggot Goldfarb regrets his decision to enlist in the US Army, until he discovers he has an unusual supernatural power; by Phil Temples.

"What's wrong, Faggot Goldfuck! Do you want your mommy? PICK UP THAT RIFLE AND STAND AT ATTENTION, GODAMMIT!"

The private suppressed a sudden urge to cry. He bent down to pick up his weapon as ordered by his drill sergeant, John Crumpit (rhymes with "trumpet", godammit!). Crumpit had knocked it out of Taggot (rhymes with "faggot") Goldfarb's hands only seconds ago to demonstrate the dire consequences of an improper grip on a soldier's most important asset.

"YOUR WEAPON IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE, INCLUDING YOUR DICK!" bellowed the sergeant to the assembled platoon.

Crumpit demonstrated his limitless cruelty by placing a foot squarely on Taggot's rifle and giving Taggot a heavy push backwards, knocking Taggot on his ass. Crumpit smiled an evil smile then he glared at the others as if to say, "I dare you to even think about laughing!"

But then - an amazing thing happened. It was so amazing, in fact, that it defied the laws of nature. Crumpit was looking right at it and still he couldn't believe what he saw. The other men in the platoon, who only seconds ago were on the verge of snickering, were also dumbfounded. For better or worse, Taggot figured that his days in the military would never be the same. In fact, the entire military establishment would never be the same. All that had been was inextricably changed in that one fateful moment as Taggot Golbfarb lay on the ground thinking.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Henry Grows Up by Harry Laufman

Struggling actor Henry witnesses a murder while working as a cashier in a New York gas station; by Harry Laufman.

I clock in as night cashier at the BP station on 10th. The six to one am shift three nights a week is central to my life support system. It's 10:00 pm and I'm alone. Dude walks in, looks around, walks straight up to me and opens his jacket. There's a pistol of some kind stuck in his belt.

I raise my hands above my head.

"Don't do that!" He sounds like a school teacher. "Everyone will think it's a robbery. For Christ's sake, they can see us through the windows." His head gestures toward the gas pumps, one hand rests on the pistol butt.

My hands drop like rocks. "Sure, you bet. Anything you want." That's the training I got from the manager on how to handle robbers. I've worked hard on that line, agreeing but not vulnerable.

"Now," he says, "look at me, laugh, and clap your hands like something's really funny. Now, point at me and say real loud 'Gotcha, Jimmy.'"

I do what he says. Acting, something I know. He laughs hard doing a slow motion punch toward my jaw with his left hand.

"Gimme a Chick-O-Stick," he glances at the display rack. I hand one over.

"Good, very good. And now we talk."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Party of Animals by Thomas Healy

An animal control officer goes to pay his respects to a judge killed in a hit-and-run, and discovers his former employer had a secret; by Thomas Healy.

Schumer left the Greek restaurant alone, his wife having left an hour earlier to visit her sister in the hospital. Slowly he made his way to the crosswalk in the middle of the block, whistling some Gershwin tune whose name he could not remember. Overhead, a passenger plane appeared from behind a cloud, heading east. Faintly he smiled, knowing he would be aboard such a plane in another week, also heading east. He had barely entered the crosswalk when a midnight blue SUV suddenly came roaring down the street, its tires splashing through the rain puddles, and before he could step back the vehicle slammed into his chest.

The doorman at the restaurant, not budging from his post beside the door, watched the SUV disappear around the corner.



With one hand on the steering wheel of the rickety patrol wagon, Nicolas Renner, an animal control officer, drove slowly along the shaded street, searching for the stray pitbull he was dispatched to pick up this afternoon. Already today, he had brought in a mangy border collie, retrieved a Persian cat from an elderly woman's roof, and cited two owners for failing to have leashes on their dogs. Things had been pretty routine so he kind of looked forward to this call; dealing with pitbulls was always an exciting challenge. Five times he had been bitten by such dogs, once so severely he nearly lost a thumb.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Creak in the Floorboards by Jon Beight

Jon Beight serves up a slice of creepiness, dictated by a childhood monster.

Hello Princess.

I suppose I should introduce myself, but that may not be necessary. After all, you know who I am. You've known me a long time. You created me. That is, I was always there, but it was that wonderful imagination of yours that allowed me to become whatever you conjured up in the dark. But I'm not here in that capacity. I'm here for another reason. Allow me to refresh your memory.

Before we first met, your life was picture perfect. Remember how you loved your bedroom? How you arranged your dolls on your bed and dresser? They were your smiling, bright-eyed audience while you danced ballet. Remember your paint-by-numbers horse with his head poking out of the barn? Remember how you marveled at how strong he looked? Do you remember the small display case with the miniature glass animals and how magical they looked when your nightlight would strike them just so?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ben by Samantha Cranston

Ben is caught by his wife in the act of perusing a swingers' website; by Samantha Cranston.

Ben

Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. How could I have been so stupid? When she is stuck into the gardening, she is usually gone for hours. At worst I should have heard her coming in. I was on my computer, indulging in my new hobby. Swingtime; it's the web site where married men and women can arrange a little fun on the side. Alec at work told me about it. He had met up with some really hot wives, looking for an abandoned afternoon of sex and debauchery. Cecelia by Simon and Garfunkel is the theme tune of the site.

I was just finalising arrangements with a particularly lovely young housewife when I became aware of Jen's presence behind me. I always have an innocent site I can switch to, just in case she walks in on me viewing forbidden sites. I don't think I switched fast enough.

"Jen you startled me. Caught me looking at porn I'm afraid."

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Walk in the Woods by Arun Dawani

Browbeaten Bill dodges his oppressive mother to go on a first date with a pretty British girl - but he's hiding something; by Arun Dawani.

The work was backbreaking. Hours of hard, manual labour, digging deeper and deeper in the hot and muggy Texan summer, the shortleaf pine trees mercifully providing shade from the searing sun. Bill finished up at 5pm on the dot, spent but proud of the job he had done. He walked back to the car, changed his sweat soaked shirt for a clean one and cracked open a well earned beer which he chugged down thirstily before firing up the Dodge and setting off for Interstate 45, the highway that would take him most of the way back to his home in Houston Heights.

He had moved back in with his mother a couple of months ago after losing his job as an equipment operator, meaning labourer, for an oilfield services company. Since then he had taken work wherever he could find it, a week here, a day there, often turning up at a job site early in the morning, only to be told there was no work for him that day. He would traipse home, defeated, and wait for his mother to come home from work and berate him for his worthlessness. She had been mean before Bill's father had left her, but afterwards she became unbearable.