Sunday, February 28, 2016

Too Much Asia to Erase by Tom Sheehan

Businessman Floyd Spahn brings homeless man Chris Banntry a sandwich and meets with a mixed reception; by Tom Sheehan.

Sleep in any odd alley came piecemeal to Chris Banntry (and never luck, he would add, if anything else.) He called it bonesleep or curbsleep, or a number of other things, just as long as minutes of it were sometimes accompanied by a kind darkness. He liked the minutes where his bones could soften for the merest of moments and his mind go blank and his stomach cease its horrible arguments, and the insects, the ants and other crawling enemies, might take a night off from arduous labors. The darkness, inevitably, could bring enemies of all sorts with it, or the strangest of friends.

That darkness now began its slow descent above him, coming down in the night of the alley. It came down in pieces like a filtered fog, a shapeless bank of blackness here, a neon fragment there, riding softly over the rich odors of garbage and dampness and illicit moisture making the alley an outhouse of smells. It was a place where gentle reveries and dreams and memories had trouble finding a way home. The dull thought came that all about him was just a piece of Asia away from Asia.

Friday, February 26, 2016

So You No Sabi Play Football by Deniyi L'Ébène

A tax officer moves from Lagos to Abuja and gets a frosty reception from his new director; by Deniyi L'Ébène.

"Oya leave our oga's office this minute! You think say him be your mate? He's telling you what's obtainable and you're telling useless stories. Get out of here!" I watched him rant unbelievably at me.

It was the first time he raised his voice at me. It was my second time at the Abuja Tax Office and my first time there alone. Mr Ibrahim, the director of the collection office, had pretty much seemed like a nice man a day before when my colleague introduced me to him and his colleagues. So I was dazed with his latest reaction and could only give fast awkward nods forcing myself to say "It's okay" as I excused him. My heart beat very fast and my hands shook vigorously as I walked out into the waiting room.

A week ago I was the field officer at the Lagos Tax Office. I was very popular with the tax officers regardless of their rank. For some reasons that I cannot clearly explain, they seemed to like me a lot. Truthfully, I'm a very cheerful person and would generously lavish my smiles on them anytime of the day. I didn't think it would be different in Abuja since my charming smiles seemed to have always worked. They worked the first day. This got me more confused as I tried to understand the reason for the sudden outburst from the officer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Flycatcher's Toss by Nathan Driscoll

Former partners Paul and Cathleen meet by a frozen pond in northwest Montana for a tragic annual ritual; by Nathan Driscoll.

The footsteps in the shallow white powder were disappearing in front of Cathleen, as the new flurry of snow gained steam at a rate of five inches hourly. More snow blew off the trees to inhibit her view, and the freshly set sun was done offering assistance. She huffed and puffed through the dim forest, squinting for a better look ahead. Paul was gone.

"Wait Paul!" She secured her thick blue beanie over the blonde bun underneath. "It's hard to see out here, you know!"

"C'mon Cathleen!" Paul's deep voice roared back through the maze of trees. "Don't tell me you've forgotten where it is!"

"Of course I haven't," she said to herself. "Asshole." Her strides grew increasingly labored as the snow deepened, and the running shoes around her feet had decided to join the fun and rub in a blister on each ankle. She once knew better than to trust such wretched excuses for footwear, but too many years in Yuma, Arizona could make a woman forget what winters in northwest Montana did to unprotected limbs. She rubbed her bare hands together in an attempt to keep them functional.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Steak to Toast by Frank Beyer

Mariano accepts an assignment with his friend Jorge in the underbelly of Buenos Aires, on the promise of steak for dinner; by Frank Beyer.

Mariano walked along the avenue avoiding dawdling pedestrians. Now and then he glanced up at theatre show billboards featuring silicon breasts covered in glitter bursting out of the 2D format. Rubbish shows, he couldn't imagine who went. Getting grumpy now, low blood sugar, it was time to give into hunger. He entered a pizzeria... and his heart sunk, both empanadas and wine had gone up in price. Thinking it for the best, he ordered one empanada instead of his normal two. He wolfed it down and then stood at the counter trying to drink his wine slowly. Half a glass through he felt a tap on shoulder, turning around he was confronted by a discount deal grin on a middle-aged face. It was Jorge, a guy who'd been staying at the hostel Mariano worked at forever. Nobody really knew this guy's story. Claimed he came from up Santa Fe way and was in Buenos Aires to make a folk-rock record. Sometimes he did belt out a few Dylan inspired numbers between smoking cigarettes on the hostel balcony. He should have been a big man but was short, rotund and balding. With a strong jawline he may once have been handsome, he had a Brando Last Tango in Paris look to him. When people pointed this out he became pleased and stumbled through some of Brando's famous lines. Always wearing a white shirt, black slacks and red socks as if he'd just come back from the office, the general consensus was he hadn't worked in years.

How's it going Mariano? Glad you're trying this place out, a classic round here!

Jorge! What are you up to? Mariano replied, his smile genuine.

Jorge glanced around then locked eyes with Mariano, Listen, you busy? Want to make two hundred pesos?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tonight I Think of You, Frankie Greene by Alan John Gerstle

A jobbing actor recalls shooting a scene for an indie film, waiting for a friend to show up for his cameo; by Alan John Gerstle.

Today I was walking along West 53rd Street, on the block where the Museum of Modern Art is located, preoccupied with something I don't recall. I was on my way to an audition, for what I don't remember, except that it was for a courtroom drama, an episode for a TV series. It was the hottest day of the year thus far, a day in late June, a Friday, and it was humid. I am prone to daydream on warm, muggy days in Manhattan. Maybe because I wish I were someplace else.

Out of nowhere, a couple - they must have been no more than three feet from me - caught my attention. The girl said something, but since they had startled me, I only made out her last few words.

"You were great. We saw it two weeks ago." She was short, thin, and blonde. Her wedding band glistened in the sunlight.

"Really great," her husband added.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Here in the Asylum by Cameron Vanderwerf

Cameron Vanderwerf's flash about an old asylum with a total population of just two.

We only had one patient left in the asylum, so there was only need for one orderly. I was that orderly, and Matheson was that patient. With all the other staff laid off, I was free to choose Matheson's recovery regimen myself, and I could even set my own hours. Each day I fed him, let him spend time on the grounds or in the recreation area, organized his entertainment, performed his therapy (I wasn't licensed, but there were no more staff therapists), and gave him his medication (no doctors or nurses left either). I also took time to make repairs around the building and the grounds, but there was only so much I could do. The place was falling apart. Luckily, it only needed to hold two people.

My favorite part of the building was the tower, so I kept Matheson in the top room. That way, we both got some exercise on the stairs and got to enjoy the view from up there. You could see the courtyard, the perimeter walls, and the rolling green hills beyond. You also got quite a nice view of the sunset. Sometimes we watched the sunset together from there, me sipping hot tea and him strapped to his bed. I kept him restrained whenever I didn't feel like holding the stun gun.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Real Oil by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's story about three wealthy car dealers and their wives on a caravan holiday.

I stretch out my legs, let them float on the frothing surface and stare at my toes. I count them, one to ten. Then backwards: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Six, plus five on the other foot, equals eleven. I laugh. My little toes curve over the toes beside them. They desperately need painting. I should write an article for a women's magazine. 'Toes, a major female problem zone.'

I am trying to distract myself from the real female problem zone: men.

I move a little to the side and catch a hot jet of water that pulsates against my back.

Yesterday we returned from our cut-short summer holiday. Even a car dealer's twelve metre caravan doesn't have a spa bath.

I close my eyes.



During the barbecue on the first night, a storm broke. Torrential rain and hail started to pelt down so we made a mad dash for the nearest awning, which happened to be ours. The men had grabbed the chilly bins and left everything else, which they thought was a huge joke, so we all settled into our comfy caravan and carried on drinking. I didn't feel like more than the one wine I'd already had, so I took a bottle of chilled tomato juice out of the fridge, offering it to the other women first. They shook their heads, giggling and holding up bottles of champagne rescued in the downpour.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Courtship Contemplation Reaches Floral Conclusion by Mary Steer

Mary Steer tells a short and cute story without repeating a single word.

In just over two hundred original words, can it come out - one's passion for another? Making each one rare, yet appropriate - without repetition?

Perhaps.

Desiring uniqueness requires an attempt. Here goes:

Those eyes, that smile, hair like a wild river foaming through rainstorms, skin smooth and soft as creamy pale paper awaiting inspiration. Straight, tall, unnervingly direct gaze, clothing pure elegant funkiness.

Would merely "Hello!" do? Likely more is needed, some witticism, protestation, enticement, something... brilliant?

What might work?

Simply three little mots?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Gore Hole by Jordan Anderson

Sam is haunted by memories of a creepy house, the death of his dog, and his betrayal of a friend in Jordan Anderson's slow burning horror chiller.

Sam Benton stared down at his feet as he walked. The cold autumn chill swirled invisible around him, biting at his nostrils and earlobes. The track that surrounded the soccer field of the elementary school was made of small bits of red gravel and it crunched under his shoes with each step he took. Every half minute or so, he had to wipe the condensation from the thick glasses he wore, his own hot breath and the warm body-heat emitting from the neck of his puffy jacket causing the lenses to fog as he walked. He didn't mind, though. Seeing the ground pass under him behind the small misty windows made him think of Silent Hill and he loved that video game. The cold and the fog were his favorite things about fall.

The second of the end-of-day bells was just finishing its call and students were fleeing the school property in all directions. Their distant shouts and laughter heralded their dispersion.

The track curved north to continue its loop around the soccer field, but Sam did not follow the curve. He broke off from it and moved up the small grassy incline toward the school's chain link property fence and the exit to 131st street. The condensation in the grass soaked the bottoms of his pant legs and he could feel his socks getting wet through his shoes.

Someone called his name from behind.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Upland Hall by Margaret Karmazin

A society widow becomes a private detective and takes on a locked room murder mystery; by Margaret Karmazin.

Back in the day, I longed to become a policewoman, but girls from my social class did not do such things. Instead, it was off to Bryn Mawr for a degree in psychology and then straight down the aisle with Winfield Caldwell III and on to raising a family. But throughout the diapers, scout troops and racket of teenage-hood, I devoured a zillion who-done-its and in my secret mind, I was always a detective.

When poor Win died in a freak accident while riding his bicycle to a nearby park, he left me alone in our ridiculously oversized home outside of Philadelphia. The kids, only one left in college and the rest out in the world, did not approve when I sold the house, held a grand auction, and moved into a condo in central Bucks County. After I established myself in the area, joining a few clubs to meet people, I dared let it be known that I was "sort of" a private detective.

"Mummy has gone off her rocker," William, my oldest, told my daughter Shelby, while (all this came to my ear eventually) my younger son Christopher defended me. "She has suffered the loss of her husband, you idiots," I'm told he retorted. "Give her a break. She needs distractions while she gets her shit together."

He had always been my champion and while I would never admit this out loud, I love him the most.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mr. Williams' School Bus by Nancy Lane

When bus driver Wally Williams is accused of inappropriate behaviour with the schoolchildren, dozens of parents travel to attend the hearing; by Nancy Lane.

I was the first of the teachers to take a seat in the front row of folding chairs below the stage. Mrs. Goode, the school district superintendent, sat onstage with Mr. Pittman, the school principal. Other teachers joined me as Mrs. Goode called the hearing to order.

"Mr. Pittman asked me to convene this hearing because he received a letter of complaint from the mother of one of our Deerwood Park Elementary school students," Mrs. Goode began. "The letter indicates inappropriate behavior by our school bus driver, Walter Williams."

Mrs. Goode turned to me. "Mrs. Rose, I see only teachers and one parent present. Are other parents coming?"

On Friday she had asked me to notify parents of the Tuesday night hearing in the school auditorium and told me potentially criminal activities involving Walter Williams had been reported.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Chase by Matthew Hoch

Matthew Hoch's character witnesses an altercation, and - having let himself down by being timid in the past - this time he is determined to be act boldly.

It was two weeks and counting since I let Molly walk away without uttering so much as a sound, and I hoped the simple comfort of a chicken sandwich would ease my mind. Nothing else seemed to. I thought about her green eyes smiling at me as I did my grocery shopping. I saw her delicately brushing her dirty-blonde hair over her right shoulder as I moved one stack of paper from the left side of my desk to the right at my thankless title insurance agency. And I still thought about her as I sat chewing my chicken sandwich in the patio area of a Chick-Fil-A.

My mind couldn't get out of my friend John's kitchen where Molly and I had found ourselves alone during one of his monthly dinner parties. She looked at me and smiled. She stood waiting in anticipation. I could tell she was waiting for me to act, to jump out of my skin and take a chance. She had thrown at me all the subtle and not-so-subtle flirty cues a person could to let one know she was interested, and now it was my move. I swayed nervously. I looked at her, my heart beating out of control. And I said nothing. The words that died in my mouth remained trapped in my head.

After thirty-four years, I started to get nervous this was becoming cyclical.