Friday, February 28, 2014

You're Mine by Michael McCarthy

A man is captivated by a mysterious woman in Michael McCarthy's sexy, creepy story.

I felt like a gumshoe in a film noir, stalking the rain-slick streets of the capital.

I'd been stood up yet again and rather than return to face the four walls of my pokey flat and my own company, I elected to tramp the streets. But the streets were also empty.

It was long after midnight.

I passed an apartment house. All the lights on the side facing me were out.

All except one, near the top.

A face, backlit by a flickering candle, seemed to be scanning the streets, perhaps anxiously looking for a loved one.

As the sky cracked open, spewing out another deluge, the face in the window turned and I could feel her staring at me.

Into me.

It was a woman. No question. Something about the angle of the face and the fact that she was conducting this apparently forlorn vigil.

In hindsight I should have seen that as a warning. Or a blessing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mixology by Michael C Keith

Sheila tries to drown his sorrows, but barman Scotty is concerned for her welfare in Michael C Keith's quick story.

There is something that excites compassion.
- Sydney Smith

Sheila strutted into Mac's gin mill, her musty fox stole hanging from her shoulder.

"Hey, Sheila, where you been? Haven't seen you in a few," said Scotty, the barkeep.

"Oh, you know, here and there. A girl's got to stay busy."

"Doin' what, hon?" asked Scotty, with a knowing wink.

"Never you mind. It's not that interesting after you've done it a while."

Scotty placed Sheila's regular before her, and she emptied the glass of her favorite 100 proof Scotch in one swift gulp.

"Well, you sure ain't lost your taste for it. You can hammer 'em back. I'll give you that."

"You've never seen anyone like ol' Sheila, eh? So hit me again, Scotty. Had a hard night."

"You keep this up and you're gonna have a harder day."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

California Fable by Jeff Burt

Jeff Burt's eccentric character Stephen Pocket dates a shopkeeper because he is fascinated by her parrot - but he and the parrot bring out the worst in each other.

Stephen Pocket curled his fingers within the doorbell of the jewelry store attempting to silence the brassy ring. It was ten o’clock, already humid and irritatingly hot. He had an apple vodka and conversation hangover. His Panama suit was creased as if he’d slept in it. He removed his straw hat and ruffled the black hair beginning to sprout white shoots near the temples and a spume near the crown. With his index fingers he smoothed his mustache, and then adjusted his sunglasses.

A self-labeled pretty boy, Stephen loved his image. He recognized that if he had travelled with the wealthy he would have been absorbed in the eccentric circles and never stood out. So he had associated himself with sailors, short haul truck drivers, musicians, and a host of mediocre artisans to get the attention he desired. With meticulous care he chose his wardrobe to be a display of ostentatiousness that no person in his circle of acquaintances could match. His colors were pastels and subtle, his shirts European, his shoes Yugoslavian. He drove a Jaguar convertible, black, the product and profit of a brief marriage to a woman who had won a personal injury suit worth half a million dollars.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bastard's Rite by Angel Luis Colón

Angel Luis Colón's glimpse into a seedy underground boxing rite.

"Where'd you say this kid was from?" Schultz folded his arms behind him and watched the young man from behind the one-way mirror.

Abernathy shuffled through papers at his desk, "Let's see; Ricky Malito, from Parsippany. Lives with his mother and grandmother. Only seventeen, never finished school." He lifted a cigarette to his lips with a trembling, spotted hand.

"Everything else checked out?" Schultz eyed the kid. They were about the same height. He was lean, but not lanky - one of those bodies that hid surprising strength. Schultz noted that Ricky wore all black to the occasion - smart move, it wouldn't stain as bad.

Abernathy read through the file. "Yeah, he's legit. Got a few priors, nothing too crazy."

Schultz nodded. "Good."

"Anything else?" Abernathy lit another cigarette with the dying stub of the prior.

Schultz watched the kid in silence.

"Mr. Schultz?"

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

To Set Dragons Free by Katherine J Parker

Emile is torn between his desire to fit in with the townsfolk and his love for the dreams of an old hermit who insists that dragons exist; by Katherine J Parker.

Once, a long time ago, there were tales of the great beasts that protected the world from evil and corruption across the world. Great mages, and their young acolytes, immortalized these stories in great tomes, passing them down from generation to generation. Their dedication and faith made the dragons strong, and extended their lives for centuries, but all things must end. Times began to change, and fewer believed in magic and the beasts that protected them from its darker side.

Forsaken, the dragons went into hiding. The greed and lust and hunger they protected the world from grew untamed, tainting the mortal souls they had protected. Many hundreds of years passed, and as hope faded from the hearts of mankind, the dragons and their mages, too, faded from existence. Even the great tomes were lost.



Emile pressed his back against a gnarled tree, his eyes closed as he breathed in the forest around him. His lungs filled with the smell of the fresh greenery that grew at his feet, his dark hair was ruffled by the soft breeze that danced between the trees. This is one of the few sacred places left, he reminded himself, his fingers running over the smooth bark of a root that arched beside him. There's no taint, or darkness here. Even the water runs cool and fresh.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Straight On Till Morning by David W Landrum

Musician Chancey searches for his lover, and finds himself trapped in a sexually liberated parallel world populated with slave-owning fighters and Gaelic poets; by David W Landrum.

Chauncey drummed his fingers on the wooden arm of the chair. He had a gig that night and, more importantly, a dinner date with Sossity Chandler. He had opened for her a couple of times during her last tour of England. Sossity's tech crew recorded it and put it on her website. Sales of Chauncey's music skyrocketed as a result of exposure to her fan base. After that, she had him open for her anytime she sang in Ireland or the UK.

A few weeks back, he had seen her on a talk show. The host had just interviewed the author of a book on ghosts and paranormal activity, and when Sossity came on she asked if she believed in the paranormal.

"I most certainly do," she said. The host took the conversation elsewhere, but Chauncey felt his body tingle as if Anisa's hand had touched him. Talking to her to by phone one day, he asked, "Sossity, when you were on the TV a few months back you said you believed in the supernatural and the paranormal. Do you really?"

A pause came and then she said, "Yes, I do. Why do you ask?"

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Secret by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When Helga Swanepoel's poodle gets scratched at Sarie Blignault's house, the Church Sisters realise that Sarie is hiding something, in the latest instalment of Beryl Ensor-Smith's charming series of comic misunderstandings in small-town South Africa.

It was Helga Swanepoel who discovered that Sarie Blignault was hiding something from the other Church Sisters. She had called round at Sarie's to drop off the minutes of the previous AGM, to be read before the next meeting, and had taken her poodle Bianca with her. Sarie lived in a house on a large plot adjacent old man Davenport's smallholding and backing onto the banks of the vlei... an ideal place for an overweight dog to run around. Bianca had been reluctantly coaxed away from the house, but had soon come yelping into the sitting room, a long scratch along the side of her body that had stained her pale fur red.

Helga had naturally been very upset and after the two women had comforted the dog and ascertained that the scratch was superficial, needing only to be cleaned, she set about discovering who or what had done this hurt to her beloved pet. Sarie professed complete ignorance, but would not meet Helga's eye.

"Perhaps Bianca got through the fence at the back of the yard and went into the squatter camp along the banks of the vlei? Perhaps one of the hens there, or even a goat, attacked her?"

"I suppose it could have been caused by the horn of a goat," Helga said dubiously.

"Yes, yes," Sarie agreed too eagerly, "that's what it must have been."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Carolyn's Quest by Lucy Thomas

Carolyn finds her aunt's village sinister, and it seems that she is not welcome, but she must complete her quest; by Lucy Thomas.

The village had changed since Carolyn had last been there. Although the fallen leaves from the towering oak and maple trees which lined the paths still covered the ground, they seemed darker than they had done when she was a child. She remembered back then, the branches on the trees seemed to reach out to her, as if to offer her comfort and safety whilst she walked home in the early evening, but now it felt as though they had forgotten those days gone by. As she walked further through the paths that led to the house, a sense of fear washed over her. The air became cooler and the wind began to whistle hauntingly through the trees causing the leaves to rise from the ground and spin in a frenzy of whirlwinds. As she reached the old oast house, she stood awkwardly by the iron gates which guarded its perimeter. The leaves now settled stiffly around her feet as if the wind had depleted them of all energy. She had come a long way, but finally, Carolyn had reached her destination. But she still had a long way to go.

Just then, the door of the oast house was flung open. Carolyn managed to leap behind the well next to the gate making a small shuffling noise which she could only hope would go unnoticed. Her heart began to beat up to her throat, so she placed her forefinger in the nape of her neck and pressed gently to ease the thumping. Carolyn noticed the edge of her long burgundy-coloured skirt displayed itself slightly from behind the well and, hearing footsteps getting closer towards her, she prayed that the skirt could pass as a leaf fallen on the ground. After just moments, the footsteps stopped, and as she peered slowly out from behind the well, Carolyn could see that the door was now closed and their appeared to be no-one around. Gently, she straightened herself to standing, but within a moment, her blood turned cold. She could feel behind her the presence of a figure standing close-by. She was frozen to the spot.

'You bring shame on this village,' spoke a deep, hoarse voice. 'You will leave immediately.'

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Boxer's Lament by Ben Woestenburg

Sarah tells the story of growing up in Maine with her ageing uncle, formerly one of the world's greatest boxers; by Ben Woestenburg.

You won't find Vermont Falls on a map anywhere, not unless you go back thirty or forty years, and then you'd have to be looking for it in the first place. Vermont Falls was a dirt poor, Black community, two miles from the Maine coast and sitting on a hill overlooking the winding Naragaugus River. It isn't there anymore, and hasn't been for a long time; it died when they shut down the Cannery.

A small fishing village made up of ramshackle shanties that looked like they were carved into a malignant hillside, the single street looped around itself like a wet rope twisted over on its side. The shacks were small, two or three rooms with dirt floors, although some had scrap pieces of wood laid down and looking like giant jigsaw puzzles inside. The windows were blackened within by smoke drifting up through worn out chimney pipes, and the glass sparkled like mirrors on the outside. Most of the windows were splintered, and the cracks looked like spiders' webs when the sun crested the hills and broke through the trees. The shacks were painted with multiple colors that made you think maybe they ran out of paint and used whatever was available, and from a distance, the place looked like an old patch-worn quilt someone left out in the rain.

In Vermont Falls, there was always a sense of foreboding and desperation that clung to us like a heavy cloak. The town had long been home to forgotten exiles and former heroes - people like Uncle Sam and my Daddy - men who lived in the shadows of previous generations and fished the open seas. Fishing was like sharecropping the sea, they said, and then they asked themselves what difference it made, as long as it was theirs to crop. It was subsistence living at best.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What Don Did Before Class on Friday by Maui Holcomb

Stoner buddies Don and Pete get involved in their dealer's plan to do over the local friendly doctor; by Maui Holcomb.

It was ten on Friday morning, the sun threw diverging stripes through the blinds onto a silent video dancing on the flat-screen, and Don Curtis had class in an hour. He slumped on the couch, tossing his phone between his hands, and watched Pete examine his reflection in the toaster. A big guy, Pete smoothed his orange goatee and tucked his ponytail through the back of his cap. Sucked in his gut, dropped it, and opened the fridge. Don smirked, patting his own flat belly. His phone vibrated.

Incoming message from Sara Costello, the screen read. He opened it and was greeted with:

FUCK U!!!

Still getting three exclamation points, he noted.

Pete emerged from behind the fridge door with a soda. "Last night you said you'd do it."

Don shrugged and turned to the TV. He'd have to get a move on soon, with two classes wrapped around lunch and his final ever bio lab after that.

As Pete shifted onto the living room shag, Don returned to his phone.

CAN'T WE TLK ABOUT THIS? he typed.

Pete flapped his arms from side to side. "Come on, man, it's all set up. All we do is go from HERE over to THERE," he said. "You can wait in the car if you want, but we gotta be there in twenty."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Burning Desires by Michael C Keith

Michael C Keith's teenage character battles against his growing urge to watch buildings burn.

At once the wild alarum clashed from all his reeling spires,
And broader still became the blaze, and louder still the din.
- Lord Macaulay

First there's a gentle plume of smoke and then a quiet flicker of light. If all goes right, in a matter of seconds there are flames running across the floor and spilling out of the window. Magic, it's so magic, thought Brennan, trembling with delight. He watched at a safe distance as the house he had ignited was consumed by fire. It was the fourth time he had torched a structure, and each one had been totally destroyed.

The conflagration and subsequent attempt by firefighters to douse the blaze was both exhilarating and satisfying to Brennan. It was a sensation unlike any other he'd experienced in his fourteen years of life. He wasn't sure why, but he always felt a tremendous sense of release when the objects he targeted were devoured and reduced to rubble. And his impulse to set fires was assuaged for a span of time. But he noticed that the peaceful interludes were diminishing and his need to set another fire was reasserting itself more rapidly.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Storyteller by Daniel Thompson

Daniel Thompson's touching vignette about an ageing neighbour lost in his memories.

We lean against the kitchen countertop, our heads floating in the window above the sink. An unruly row of blooming forsythias divides the backyards. On the other side of the forsythias is Frank Stratton's property and hanging on his clothesline are three pairs of white underwear. Except they're not entirely white anymore. They're soiled a number of times over.

"Are you going to go over there?" Molly asks me. She's worried. Her eyes are long and purple.

"What am I going to do, Molly? Walk over there and ask him why he's hanging dirty underwear on the clothes line?"  

"He needs help, Jack."

"You think I don't know that? I know he needs help."

The first story Frank told us was around eight years ago. He was in his late sixties then. He had bushy white eyebrows that rose with his voice and these big, dramatic hands that would circle around and slice the air for punctuation.