Sunday, October 30, 2016

Heavy Artillery By Mitchell Toews

Mitchell Toews tells the story of young Matty and his characterful neighbour encountering a travelling salesman in the sleepy Manitoba town of Hartplatz.

When I was a young boy, growing up in Hartplatz, Manitoba, it was a tiny place. The population was less than five thousand - more like three if you muzzled the eager beavers over at the Chamber of Commerce. And although the little town lacked in size, it knew back then just who it was and what it wasn't.

The town was a dot on the immense map of Canada; a mere speck on the globe that sat on Miss Kornelsen's desk in the imposing wooden school house on Reimer Avenue. So many people were of similar (Mennonite) lineage and had the same names, first and last, that nicknames were almost obligatory. Corny (Cornelius, a popular name) Friesen became Flash Friesen (he owned a camera). Another Corny Friesen was High-Pockets (he was tall). Yet another Cornelius Friesen was Pastor Friesen, and so on.

Not only were many of us named the same/similarly, but it was said of us that we all thought the same. In truth, we did not, of course. There were as many opinions as there were grains of sand or stars in the sky. In fact, many practical-minded people stocked up on them. They had one opinion - on the same subject - for each situation. One for Flash Friesen (so argumentative; mercurial!); one for that show-off High-Pockets; and yet another subdued, measured and deep-voiced for Pastor Friesen. And then one more secret one, whispered in quiet conspiracy, staring up at the ceiling late at night, the hushed words mixing with the sound of crickets through the open bedroom window.

And the little town slept.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Relativity by Peter Dabbene

Steven and Heather wake up to find that their airing cupboard is regularly reviving dead ancestors, in Peter Dabbene's masterful comedy with heart.

Steven Loghlin was groggy, blinking away the sun's blinding morning rays, and feeling every day of his thirty-three years as he descended the main stairs of the townhouse. Shielding his eyes as he passed the large center staircase window, he let his hand slide along the metal railing, a necessary concession to his early morning fugue. He clutched the railing tighter upon noticing that at the bottom of the stairs stood his long-dead grandfather, seeming very much alive.

Steven didn't believe in ghosts. Thus, it was safe to say that his grandfather - clad in bathrobe and slippers and holding wide the morning Courier-Times - was the last person he might have expected to greet him. And yet, there was Grandpa Benny, looking as curmudgeonly as Steven remembered him.

"What is this, a joke?" Grandpa Benny demanded, crunching the broadsheet into one hand and wagging it as if Steven were responsible for its production.

"Grandpa?"

"Grandpa? Who the hell are you calling 'Grandpa'? And what's with the date on this newspaper? November 12, 2015? Where's today's paper? And where the hell am I?"

"Grandpa, it's me, Steven - I mean... Stevie. And that is today's paper." Steven grabbed one end of the crumpled mass of newsprint, freeing it slowly and deliberately from the old man's grip, like a police negotiator extracting a gun from a jittery third-strike offender. Up close the old man seemed tangible enough, but Grandpa Benny had died almost thirty years ago. Faced with such an irreconcilable contradiction, Steven did what he did in most confusing situations - he called for his wife.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Open House by Brooke Fieldhouse

After Fractal hosts an Open House in his stylish London squat, he finds himself unable to shake off an unwanted visitor; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

'...Last year one of the guests rifled through my wife's drawers would you believe?' announces Fractal to the group awaiting a tour of his minimalist apartment.

'Oooooh... hope she wasn't wearing them at the time!'

Fractal's eyebrows arch, his head swivels toward the voice. He doesn't like the sound of that... Not at all.

Visitors are gathering at the white entrance door, feet tapping the white floor... Eyes roving the white shininess of walls, white ceiling, white furniture, everything is white.

Bald heads gleam as sunlight streams through the window; stubble beards look suitably pointillist. Clothing is black, and there's an air of dedication.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shooting Star by K. M. Fields

K. M. Fields tells the touching story of a young girl whose mother is killed by a shooting star.

When I was fifteen, my mama was killed by a shooting star.

When Mama was fifteen, she found out she was carrying me, so she and Daddy got married. They were young and in love, Mama always said. Because Mama was young when I was born people sometimes thought we were sisters instead of mother and daughter.

Growing up I liked a lot of the same things Mama did. I don't know if I liked those things because Mama liked them, or she liked them because of me. We liked watching the same cartoons on Saturday morning as we ate cereal sitting on the living room floor. We liked the same TV shows later on too. We both liked chili dogs with beans and mustard but no onions. We liked wearing big hats with bright ribbons and driving with the car top down. We liked listening to the minor league Redwings on the radio, and buttered popcorn at the Saturday matinee where we sat in the back row so nobody could kick our seats. We liked reading stories about the old West and ranchers and mail order brides and doing crossroad puzzles and dipping chocolate bars in the peanut butter jar.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Retirement Plans by Mary J. Breen

Peggy travels to visit her estranged sister and finds her to be friendlier than she remembered - but is something else at play? By Mary J. Breen.

Peggy dropped the bills and fliers on the table, and took a table knife to slit open a small, creamy envelope. A piece of thick paper unfolded itself. "Look at this, Keith. A real letter. Who the hell writes letters anymore?"

Keith sighed and looked up from his bowl of no-name, no-sugar, no-fat cereal.

She turned it over. "Well, well. It's from Ty. What kind of stupid name is that anyway?"

Keith shrugged. "I think it's Tyrone. He's English."

"I know that, but... Lord. Cora and her men. So, listen. I'll read it to you."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mixed Doubles by Michael McCarthy

When a passenger plane disappears over the ocean, Susan is captivated by a man hopelessly waiting in the airport for his wife to return from the flight - but Susan's partner thinks she is being foolish; by Mike McCarthy.

'It's amazing how your life can change or end just like that. Pure luck.' Susan waited, knowing the response, if any, would not be immediately forthcoming. 'Ian, do you realise how lucky we are?'

'Umm.'

'I'm talking about that plane that disappeared over the ocean.'

She looked at him, his eyes riveted to the screen of his tablet as he played yet another round of his favourite game, something to do with kidnapping and escape. That set the scene for the journey home from work. In fact it didn't so much set the scene as continued it. But she tried.

'You know, Ian. There must be people at the airport, waiting hopelessly in vain for their loved ones. Maybe we could just help. Offer a shoulder.'

'Umm.'

'Ian!' She jabbed him in the ribs.

'Ouch! That hurt. Can't you see I'm busy?'

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Chained! by Matthew Harrison

Matthew Harrison imagines a dystopian future in which conjugal rights are strictly enforced.

Steve hadn't read the small print of his marriage contract, and with the honeymoon over, the breaches began mounting up.

From his cubicle in the Finance department of Proscribed PLC, he glanced up at passing female colleagues, even talked to one of them, and he more-than-glanced when passing the cubicle of Tina the certified office hottie. At lunch in the canteen, his seat in the raised area afforded a view of the cleavage of female colleagues sitting below.

As if this wasn't enough, Steve browsed some debatable websites, and on the way home passed a poster of a scantily-clad starlet. The sensors recorded all of this, relayed it to the blockchain where it was compared with the prescribed parameters, and presto! he was notified that he had gone over his contractual limit.

Friday, October 14, 2016

New Atlantis in the Pacific Ring of Fire by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's bleak vision of the aftermath of an Apocalyptic earthquake in Dunedin, New Zealand.

When the 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Dunedin, New Zealand’s southernmost city, in October 2021, Clive Pengelly was asleep with his wife Julia in their hillside home, high above the central business area and the lower suburbs.

There was a noise like a crashing aircraft and the house bucked and reared, tossing both against the bedroom wall, before hurling them to the floor.

Julia ran screaming from the room. Clive felt about in vain for the emergency torch from the bedside cabinet, and then groped his way along the hall towards the front door, where he could hear Julia. Something collapsed in front of him with a roar of bricks and mortar. The air was like breathing in a vile kind of icing sugar and he coughed and wheezed until he started dry retching.

Retreating with his hand over nose and mouth, he stumbled through the kitchen towards the back door, but the floor was awash with a slippery mess and he fell, banging his head. Dazed, he realised he was lying in the chicken soup that Julia had made the night before and left on the bench to cool.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Fourteen Fourteen Curse by William Quincy Belle

Donald starts experiencing time jumps in his apartment in William Quincy Belle's creepy story.

Donald tucked the blue recycling bin under one arm and stepped into the hall. He pulled the door closed and walked down the corridor.

"Hey, Donald." The man came toward him, looked at the blue bin and held up his own. "Saturday's chores. Let's all be good to the environment."

"I try to do my part, Mr. Buntrock." Donald nodded and smiled as he passed. In the utility room, he emptied his bin into a chute in the wall. He listened to the various items clatter as they fell fourteen stories to the basement.

Back in his apartment, he went into the living room and saw the stack of newspapers from the previous week. "Oh, shoot." He got out the blue bin and filled it then walked around looking for other things. He took an almost empty bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator and smelled it. After pouring out the contents, he put it in the bin and headed back to the utility room.

"Hey, Donald." Mr. Buntrock walked toward him and held up his bin. "Saturday's chores. Let's all be good to the environment."

"Yes." Donald half-smiled, took a few steps and stopped. He stared after Buntrock then shook his head and continued with his errand.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Mia Maybelle's Troubled Relationship With a Puppy of Pure Evil by Dakota James

Lonely young woman Mia gets the world's cutest puppy, only to find that everyone seems to care more for the dog than for her; by Dakota James.

"A puppy, it seems, has no desire that does not directly come from the instinct to get attention, as much attention as possible; as a result, a puppy can have no true relationship with, much less empathy for, its owner. Thus it would seem that while Dog may be Man's best friend, Puppy may be its worst enemy - no matter how cute the little shit is."

- Lost Excerpt from the Dialogues of Plato



One's early twenties can be a lonely and troubled time. It certainly was for Mia Maybelle. She had no friends, for one. She did have furniture, and she spent a lot of time on that furniture. And she clipped her toenails a lot.

Mia Maybelle, twenty-something-years-old, relatively financially successful, sufficiently well-humored, an avid runner, a reader of six or seven books a year, was desperate for companionship. So she decided to just do it. She could afford it, right? And she had enough money, didn't she? She had more than enough time, gosh darn it.

Mia got a puppy. She named it Samwell.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Another by Daniel Freeman

A writer-poet is confused when he finds books reserved in his name at his local small-town library, in Daniel Freeman's existential mystery thriller.

The wheels of my life began to come off one beautiful summer day when I drove into town to collect a couple books from the library. I had ordered a book on mazes and another about African masks, but when I walked to the reserve shelves, I found four books containing white slips of paper bearing my last name and first initial.

I pulled out the books to see their titles, and while the one on mazes and the other on masks were there, so were two I didn't order: Randomness Disproven: A Dialectic and The Art of Subterfuge. You may be thinking there really is nothing so unusual about this - after all, surely other people use the library who may share your last name and first initial. I grant you, while this may be likely for the J. Smiths, R. Johnsons and A. Robinsons of America, it doesn't hold in my situation. My name is Zachariah Sugkuria, so you could imagine seeing "Z Sugkuria" at any library would be unusual, let alone written on paper sticking out of books right next to mine in a small branch in the remote town of Guerneville, population 4,534. Aside from my mother, father and sister, all of whom lived back east, to my knowledge there were no other people with the last name Sugkuria in the U.S., let alone in the world. Our original family name - Sogkoria - had been exceedingly rare in Greece before it was mistakenly changed when my grandfather had come to America, and with that alteration, we ostensibly became the only people on the planet with that surname.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Last Train Out of Hell by Julie Carpenter

Julie Carpenter's comedic description of her stay in Hell, in which she must care for a demon cat, work a Sisyphean job, and eat clammy fries.

The train station was on the very outskirts of Hell. There was only one train coming in, Old Number 13, always coming in, never leaving. It was pulled by an ancient steam engine, and it was no match for most of the Hellscape, so it heaved and dragged itself to the outer edges of Hell and belched out its payload of souls onto the dilapidated platform. The train tracks ran into Hell Station through two steep, red, rocky banks, bubbling with blood red lava that seemed to come from nowhere and go nowhere, upon which small swarms of crimson demons clambered and scurried, switching their forked tails and brandishing pitchforks. They spat out small clouds of green poison, though it was mostly for show. It was their razor sharp teeth that kept the hillsides littered with bones. Their job was to keep the tracks clear to make sure the train could bring its payload of souls in from the Upper World and to make sure that no soul ever escaped back through the banks and tunnels that led back. None ever did.

The train station was located in Metaphorical Hell, Expected Hell, the one marketed in the Upper World. True Hell, the Indescribable Hell, was further in and deeper down. True Hell is hard to describe because, in the end, there's not much to it.

If you looked at all of Hell from the top, the very center was a sink hole, a huge black cavity with diameter enough for millions and millions of souls to fling themselves from the edges at once. Eventually, so we were told, the huge hole became smaller and smaller like a funnel. It was supposed that if you could make it to the very, very bottom you would find... nothing. Perhaps become nothing.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Portrait of the Invincible Overlord as a Young Man by William Squirrell

William Squirrell's visceral fantasy flash about a man born and bred on violence.

The screaming of the peasants was a lullaby from long ago. Aethelwulf could hear Mummy singing her tra-la-las: up and down their voices went, up and down, up and down. The shafts of cold light pierced the dust, and the smoke and the fog were sunbeams through the nursery shutters. The grime and the sweat and the blood tasted of oats and milk and honey. He was happy, happy at his work, happy to feel the heft of his sword at the beginning of its arc, happy to feel its weightless zenith, happy at the jarring shudder of contact. They weren't much of a challenge, these tithe rebels with crooked spears and dull axes, no challenge at all, but better than nothing, better than playing cards in some dreary barracks, better than drunken arguments at the Spitted Pig, better than putting the city militia through their paces again and again and again in the cat-piss stink of the drill yard at the north gate.