Sunday, March 30, 2014

Requiem for an Unborn Child by Fred Skolnik

Fred Skolnik's moving stream of consciousness about a father's longing for his aborted child.

After the abortion Claire had been depressed for a few weeks and it was clear that she blamed Justin for it, though neither of them had been ready for another child, and in any case the marriage had been on the rocks for a while. Claire told Justin very bitterly that she would have had the child if things had been different between them and that stung him though he really thought they would be better off with just the two they had, two boys aged four and six, wondering at the same time if the child might not have been a girl, which would have pleased him, so he began to think it was and came to regret having lost her.

She would have been two now, he would think, or six, or ten, and he could imagine her in the room with them, playing perhaps with the boys and saying adorable things as children often did, a child with a full head of curly hair and quite self-possessed. He could feel her absence when the four of them were together, he and Claire and the two boys, and could sense the point at which she would have entered the conversation, and could see her whole life unfolding, all the things she might have become and what she would have given them, and it was hard for him to accept the fact that she was not there when she might have been.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rainy Kulman by O. D. Hegre

A guilt-ridden detective interviews an obsessive compulsive man who saved someone's life after a traffic accident; by O. D. Hegre.

"I shouldn't have been driving." Walter Henderson's voice was about as stable as the coffee cup he held in his hand. With effort he negotiated another sip. "No, no," swallowing hard, "...no, I shouldn't have been driving." Clasping the shaking Styrofoam vessel with his other hand, Henderson almost managed to get it safely back onto the desktop. "Sorry."

Detective Jim Parker waved off the apology. He just sat patiently - note pad in his lap. The bespectacled fifty-three-year-old male sitting across from him had saved some poor vic's life. So why was the guy in such turmoil, Parker wondered?

"The therapy," Henderson dragged his fingers across his forehead, up into his thinning hair, "I've been doing it for... well," unsteady hands again reached out, "maybe a month or so. But for sure, I should not have been driving." The coffee cup quivered once more at the man's lips.

The detective leaned forward. "Just take it easy, Walter. Try to relax and tell me exactly what happened." With a tissue, Parker sopped up the spill, then sat back - pencil in hand. Most of the guys used their laptop. He was old school - liked the feel of number-two soft lead on a thick pad of paper.

Walter fidgeted in his chair.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Mistake by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When Christina du Plessis finds a gun after witnessing a bungled burglary, and starts taking shooting lessons, things quickly begin to spiral out of control in the sleepy dorp of Prentburg; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When Christina and Hans du Plessis returned from visiting Hans's brother-and-sister-in-law in Johannesburg, Christina was a nervous wreck. On the night preceding their return, she told the Church Sisters at tea after the Sunday service, she had woken in the small hours gasping for air. She still suffered the occasional hot flush and had slipped through the dark house onto the veranda to cool off without even stopping to don a dressing gown. While standing there, flapping her floor-length white nighty and gulping in draughts of fresh air, a commotion had broken out in the house next door. An attempted burglary had been foiled when the family Doberman, a wily creature, had crept up on the miscreants from behind and they had escaped by the skin of their teeth by leaping across the garden wall. Christina had seen them... and they had seen her!

"I got such a fright, I screeched like a banshee," she told her spell-bound audience, "and after staring at me in horror, they high-tailed it out of there so fast that they were long gone by the time help arrived."

Mrs Merton was later to say spitefully that the two balaclava-wearing men would likely be traumatised for the rest of their lives, living with the spectre of Christina, already overweight, made bigger by her billowing nighty, her grey plaits hanging down her front nearly to her waist.

"She must have seemed like a crazed Rhine Maiden, especially when she opened her mouth and gave vent to a blood-curdling scream."

"If she made half as much as noise as she does when she hits those high opera notes," Marion Klopper agreed, "she must have scared the wits out of them!"

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Smoldering in Reeve by Kyle Policht

A veteran cop on the verge of retirement and his rookie partner stop a speeding pickup in the middle of the desert; by Kyle Policht.

It's a routine day out on the road. There weren't too many law breakers, so it was slow moving. My partner and I sit out in the middle of nowhere Reeve, Texas; a nearly barren strip of desert, no signs of civilization for miles. The only thing keeping us company are the vultures nipping at some carcass, and a barely working radio stuck on the classics. I turn it off after hearing "Free Bird" one too many times. At least the air-conditioner works.

My partner, John, is fighting the boredom by playing around with the shotgun, sticking it out the window, aiming it at the vultures, imitating gunfire, imagining black feathers exploding off the birds. John's new; fresh faced right out of the academy, joining the Reeve's County Sherriff's Office soon after.

"Could you knock it off and shut the window? It has to be a hundred degrees outside." I tell the youngster. He sighs, bringing it back, and placing the shotgun back in the holder, shutting the window.

"Sorry Sir," John says to me, looking back out at the feasting vultures.

I'm just an old veteran myself. Been on the force for some 25 years, but age is finally catching up to me, as well as girth. Some years back I took a bullet to the shoulder. It aches every now and then, but nothing too bad. I bring up my hand and rub it slightly. I'm retiring soon, so this is my last penance - training this young upstart. I just got to teach John to make the decisions that won't end up getting him, or anyone else, killed.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Congo Kid Comes Home (or The Sailor Goes Horseback) by Tom Sheehan

Black navy man Raven Narbaught crosses the continent  to reunite with his family in post civil war America; by Tom Sheehan.

Raven Narbaught received the letter at Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard when his ship landed on the 8th day of December in 1879. He'd been a sailor attached to or on the USS Alliance, a screw gunboat, since it was launched four years earlier at Norfolk Navy Yard, and had not heard a word for close to two years from his parents or any of his siblings. Never desperate because there was no communication for so long, he was nevertheless overjoyed at seeing his parents' names and address on the envelope handed to him by a Navy clerk. He knew it was a special day, the sea calm as ever in the seclusion of the harbor, a slight wind cutting into the background of the city slowly climbing upward, sailors from half a dozen ships at least had touched home or somewhere nearer home in every situation, he believed. They were a jaunty lot and he had enjoyed much of his time on ship, but was looking for a change, he thought as he opened the envelope.

The note inside said, "Dear Raven, Butta-Ken, Jan-Red and Desmont, We have moved from New York to Arizona Territory, at a small settlement called Bettaville and send this letter to the last known of all your addresses. Three youngest have moved with us and the rest of you have made your ways elsewhere in the land. Find each other if you can, and then us. We wait to hear word from all of you, that black is ever beautiful, that home is a good memory, that each of you is well, and that you all promise to come see us in our new home. We are now living a ranch life and connect with cattle and the need for good grass. Deep love from Momma and Poppa En. Summer 1879, newly arrived here."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salt Farming by Tim Macy

The story of Myrna, who harvests her tears for an unscrupulous salt dealer in the blackest of markets; by Tim Macy.

Myrna

She staggered up the stairs to her third floor condo overlooking the dog park, the permanent chorus of Pomeranians and shiatsus silenced by the predawn hour. Her tears, a hybrid of rage and regret, had stopped pouring from her absurdly puffy eyes an hour ago. As for her thin and tangled hair, she tucked it beneath the hood of her jacket and kept her eyes on the ground for the five-mile hike through town after ditching the car. She had struggled to quiet her sobs, to appear normal. Police watched for women like her, women in shambles, alone, moving fast. They would stop her and notice her shaking hands, then her lack of mascara. Girls in Myrna's trade gave up mascara along with contact lenses and anything capable of tainting a pure harvest. They would search her purse next. Every salt farmer could be expected to have a locking clamshell case filled with small square tabs of tissue paper. The smoking gun for a salt farmer.

Once inside her condo, Myrna poured herself a glass of red wine. Alone at the kitchen table, she took the clamshell case from her purse and held the cold metal in her fingers. Unsnapping the lock, she dumped out twenty squares of tissue paper, each sealed in plastic to protect the night's harvest.

Pulling off her jacket, a wrapped present fell from the pocket. Jake must have stashed it there when she went to the bathroom at the bar. Myrna pulled the paper back to reveal a silver frame around an image of the two of them, in love. She had never faked her love for Jake. She had to love him for the harvest to be worth anything. The more she loved him, the stronger the salt.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Periwinkle, Periwinkle by Jeremy Billingsley

A nine year old girl tries to protect her little brother from their mother's hatred in Jeremy Billingsley's creepy story; first published in Fat City Review, July 2013.

Rapps Barren, Arkansas, the 1950s.

Periwinkle Roberts shut her eyes when the slap came. When she opened them she focused outside the window where a chirping blue jay perched on a limb of the maple in bloom. The sky beyond was cloudless. Outside looked warm, safe. She could hear a soft mewling, just under breath, and though the hand hadn't touched her, she felt the sting all the same.

Waiting to turn around until after the door slammed shut, the footsteps faded, Periwinkle turned and faced her younger brother. A red welt already began to rise on his left cheek. His eyes welled with tears, but rather than allowing those tears to fall, he puffed his cheeks out and pouted his lips. She crawled off her bed and slid across the mauve carpet to put her arm around him. He leaned on her shoulder. Presently she felt a teardrop splash on her shoulder.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Questionable Characters and Unprincipled People by ME McMullen

M E McMullen's hardboiled detective Harry and his partner Trina, investigating a shooting in LA, follow a lead to Mexico and find a money man who was supposed to be dead.

There was shooting at Dirty Dog Jake's in LA a while back.

Two bands robbing a third band in the parking lot. Not like any bands I ever played in, you know. When DDJ's was a bust-out joint called 'The Ballroom', shoot-outs were not unheard of, but the idea of bands robbing other bands in a place where unprincipled people were known to hang out set off alarms all over, leaving some to wonder about vaguely rumored connections to suspected plots of sabotage and other covert terrorist activities.

Various other unprincipled individuals buying short contracts on emergency forfeiture bonds were suspect as well, but shady as these birds were, they were not connected, so far as anybody could tell, to the shadowy world of Dirty Dog Jake's parking lot shoot out. But because profit at the expense of others through criminal acts, insider info, sharp practice and, if necessary, violence, are the tools of questionable characters and unprincipled people at all levels of society, along with getting others to do their dirty work when possible, I'm betting a connection will surface.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Day My TV Died by DR Fraley

DR Fraley's ode to his beloved television.

Toshi was your typical 60" Smart Flat Screen TV. He was purchased on Black Friday back in 2001 as a family Christmas gift after the previous unit blew a tube. He was mounted on the wall above the fireplace to provide viewing enjoyment for everyone in the house. Many who visited us commented on how big and beautiful he was. His sleek matte black finish with chrome accents made him a prominent attraction in our home.

In the mornings, he tended to keep to himself. It was always busy at dawn and few members of my family had time to watch his numerous channels. Sometimes, my wife would turn him on to listen for school closings or weather advisories while she got dressed, but most mornings he was left to himself. Evenings were when he shined.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The One That Got Away by Cris de Borja

Cris de Borja's noir flash about a detective hunted down by a widowed femme fatale.

Emergency lights painted her dead face in flashing white and amber. She didn't look innocent in death. She didn't look like she was sleeping. Rivulets of polluted salt water dribbled out of her hair.

Her name had been a sweetness like brown sugar syrup: Marlena Robles. I had known the flavor of it poured over my tongue. The bitter aftertaste of her was against my teeth even as I sat there watching, still dripping cold water myself beneath a disposable blanket. She had a poison under that sweetness. She had a husband, too.



I didn't like the way the case ended. The facts laid themselves out in a neat path to one conclusion that I couldn't disprove, that Leon "The Lion" Robles came to his end by suicide. My gut feeling said different. Beautiful women get away with murder all the time, and this time it was literal.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Elementary Mechanics by Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin's moving story of two immigrants in Britain haunted by their past, and their sheltered child; first published 2010 in The Yellow Room, Issue 5.

Odaye gets back from work to a house that is unusually quiet. At this hour, he'd expect to find Vashila chopping vegetables with one eye on the news on the kitchen portable. Or opening a bottle of wine and contemplating the flyer from a local takeaway. He'd expect to hear Pollyanna huffing and puffing up and down the scales on her oboe. Or on her mobile, sharing intimacies that couldn't wait until she saw her friends at the school gates the next morning. He checks the calendar for some appointment he might have forgotten - a sleepover or a parents' evening or a trip to the hairdresser - but today's entry is blank.

Loosening his tie, he trots upstairs to change. In the coffee-and-cream bedroom, he finds his wife lying on their bed, staring at the ceiling.

"I didn't think you were home." As he bends down to kiss her, she seems to flinch. "What is it? Another migraine?"

She rolls away from him onto her side, screening her face with a veil of black-brown hair.

Odaye flings his tie to the floor. "How can I help if you won't tell me what's wrong?"

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Taking the Key to Life by Nathan Witkin

In an age when machines are taking over all human functions, the Leader reflects on his last argument with his father upon leaving him in a retirement home, and he reflects on the future of humanity as a whole; by Nathan Witkin.

“You might as well kill me now! That’s what you’re doing!” the old man’s rage cracked with his voice; however, his underlying grief was sharper, and he clutched it like a weapon.

The halls of the best retirement home money could buy rang empty, and the echoes of his father’s last tantrum reverberated louder and with greater malice than usual in the mind of the Leader as he sat across from the Proxy for the machines. While the machines were inevitably going to take over, they were attempting to grab this power with a handshake rather than a strike.

The bright-eyed little boy spoke reassuringly, “The technology has been ubiquitous for decades, annual deaths have numbered in the millions over this period, and these numbers are increasing despite progressively sophisticated safety precautions from our automation.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Phantom Hitchhiker by David W Landrum

Musician Sossity Chandler has another encounter with the supernatural in David W Landrum's latest tale.

Rough gig, Sossity Chandler thought as she drove back to the motel. The crowd had been rude, drunk, and she had not been able to win them over. She performed song after song to scant applause, heckling, and, sometimes, boos and catcalls. When she thought things could not get worse, a group of bikers came in. They requested songs like "Born To Be Wild" and "Voodoo Chile," but when Sossity did them on an plugged-in acoustic guitar, minus the velocity of a big amp, they laughed at her.

When she took a break the bartender said she had free unlimited drinks as a perk for performing. She downed two double whiskeys. As she sat alone, she heard an old song she knew from a 45 her Dad owned. It was "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" by Dickey Lee. The bartender came over to take Sossity's glass.

"Boy that's an oldie," Sossity commented. "My Dad has a copy of it. I haven't heard that song for years."

The bartender smiled. "It's on the system because we have one here."

"One what?"

"A phantom hitchhiker." She smiled and rolled her eyes. "At least that's what some people say. Bernie put it on the loop we play because of that. People like it."