Friday, November 24, 2017

Therapy by Abraham Myers

A disabled misfit must go to a psychiatrist to be "re-evaluated" for his social security benefits; by Abraham Myers.

I would have never gone to see the psychiatrist if I hadn't needed the money. I was twenty-five, had OCD, and no way to work or take care of myself. I lived in a dirtbag apartment in Troy Michigan, and never left, even for food - just ordered out, mostly Chinese. I was getting seven hundred bucks a month from the government and barely got by on it. Then they sent me this letter saying I needed to be "re-evaluated." So, I called the number, and the woman gave me an appointment with this Dr. Phillips and I had two weeks to sit around and worry about it.

When I arrived, there was a waiting room, with double glass doors leading into a foyer that I suspected led to his office. There were only two cars in the little parking lot, so I guessed he must be in there with someone. Impressionist paintings covered the walls of the waiting room: Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, typical "calming" artwork. It wasn't working. I paced around, stopping a few times to look closely at the brushstrokes on each painting.

Hearing the office door open, I heard a voice ask: "Who are you?"

Monday, November 20, 2017

Raw Concrete by Brooke Fieldhouse

A student writing a thesis on the World War II Atlantic Wall imagines an old Nazi bunker as a predatory animal and does not relish entering the belly of the beast; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

What a brute! Crouching in front of me like a scabrous creature. Tail and legs submerged, head pointing straight at me, and ready to strike. Its mouth hangs open, its teeth an inverted ziggurat of corroded steel which plummet into its concrete entrails.

Built by Hitler. Not personally of course. Built to defend Europe against Allied liberation, and built to last, which is why it's not going to move, and why I unwisely convinced myself that it could do me no harm.

My first mistake was to walk here. I left Roland's ancient Morris minor standing outside the Youth Hostel. Roland is almost certainly still in bed. I could hear him vomiting during the night - that and the falling rain. We did overdo the wine, but he said he's been feeling odd for a couple of days now.



First stop had been the charcuterie; 'big bloody steaks,' that's what Roland wanted. Then it had to be leeks, celery; endives, chou de Bruxelles, le fenouil - oh and broad beans in their pods. 'Let's take up lots of space!' shouted Roland as he waved his arms about.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Moth Therapy by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's flash about the son of a World War II fighter pilot struggling to find himself after his mother's death.

I was a mess after my mother died. For months, I sat about lost and bewildered, or wandered around the house, not knowing where to put myself. At night, I hardly slept, but I'd drop off during the day and have vivid dreams that went on for ages, which my elderly doctor said were more like hallucinations.

"Just enjoy them," he said, his jowls alert like those of a bulldog that's spotted a dropped meat pie. "The mind has its own logic."

I started going for long drives, always meaning to find a nice place with a motel and stay for a night or two, but as soon as I got anywhere, I'd want to go somewhere else, or just drive back home.

One day, travelling towards Queensville, I stopped in the middle of the Erehwemos Plateau at Akanaw Airfield, busting to find a toilet. Afterwards, I strolled among camera-wielding tourists queueing for scenic flights or daring aeronautics. A revolving propeller up a pole drew my attention to a sign: "Biplane adventures, only $255 for 20 minutes of open cockpit vintage flight."

Why not? I stepped into the office, talked to a bright-eyed girl with wavy blond hair, handed over money and signed some forms.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Deal of the Day by Sarah Dwyer

Must-Have Mary's job as a presenter on the shopping channel is as much about keeping lonely people company as it is about selling, but some of her fans take it too far; by Sarah Dwyer.

Here he comes again, Camp David, loitering in the studio wings before his grand evening entrance. What a drama! What a hoot! And how the ladies love him! David Price, fifty something shopping telly presenter, one-time children's TV 'character', but that was oh, over thirty years ago. To long ago for me to remember him, that's for sure. He's shopping telly to the core now. Cut him in half and you'd see 'Deal of the Day' imprinted in his marrow. There he is, rubbing his hands, smacking his lips, patting his side to make sure the mic pack is discretely fastened where it should be, brushing specks of imaginary dust from his beige jacket sleeves, eyes darting to locate the cameras.

Yes, David has an extra camera, while the rest of us make do with one and only. I sit here, 'Must-Have' Mary, looking straight at you, cheerful, one-of-the-girls, sharp make-up, polished nails, all set for another ladies' night in around the box. But David's the grand finale, late-evening company for all those lonely souls who have no one better to commune with on a Saturday night than a camped-up limp-wristed host behind a square screen. Push the buttons and turn him up. David's the man. He comes on like he's Larry Grayson reincarnated, all ready to play the Generation Game. Well! And his second camera, that's the deposit for all his subtle-as-shit innuendo.

Here's his dirty little story from last night:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bullfight by Jonah Kruvant

Jonah Kruvant's character, a blue-eyed blonde-haired Texan child, struggles to be accepted into small town Colombian life.

Lajambra is one of a series of villages that dots the landscape of the Jalapa Valley of Colombia. The rolling hills of the Jalapa Valley are different shades of color, from mango orange to salamander green. In the rainy season, they become a limitless mist, and during the dry months, the heat is so oppressive that the señoras of the village never leave their houses without umbrellas to shield the tops of their heads from the rays of the sun, which shoot out of the sky like daggers. Small houses, square and built of wood, with roofs clustered with satellite dishes, and walls painted pink and peach, sit at the base of the mountains that separate the village from the volcanoes beyond. Lajambra has no bank or post office. The villagers need to go to the city, eighty kilometers north, if they want to cash a check or mail a postcard. The only way into the city is by bus, which storms through the village at six in the morning and two in the afternoon daily, but since the simple villagers have more medicinal herbs than coins in their pockets, they rarely leave Lajambra.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Math Instructor by SF Wright

A math instructor tentatively considers acting on his feelings of attraction to a student; by SF Wright.

Although Robert was an adjunct English professor, he also taught a course called GED Math. The mathematics wasn't difficult - arithmetic, geometry, basic algebra - and the class was always small; it wasn't uncommon for it to be cancelled because of low enrolment.

GED Math wasn't just taken by people wanting to pass the General Educational Development Test. Students also enrolled for supplemental help on the GRE math section, extra practice for college placements, and general educational self-improvement. One semester Robert had an older man take the class to "have something constructive to do."

The student Robert remembered most vividly from this class took the course for help with the GREs; Robert remembered her so clearly because he fell in love with her.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Getting Ahead by David Henson

Shirley wants John to kick a bad habit, but his boss has other ideas, in David Henson's sci-fi flash.

I don't feel a thing after two... or four. No new ideas. Still got the shakes. Just as I'm shoving a handful into my mouth, Shirley walks into the bathroom.

"John, what are you doing? I thought you were trying to get off of it?"

"Can't," I say, shivering. "Besides, this global product launch Tweed gave me is so complicated I couldn't do it without 'Q." My hands trembling, I gulp a glass of water to wash down the pills.

"Tweed's a freak. I don't know how you can even stand the sight of him." Shirley looks at my eyes. "My God, how many have you had?" She takes my face in her hands. "Honey, I kicked it. You can, too. I'll get you through it." She dabs my forehead with a damp washcloth. I flash back to the long days and nights when it seemed like I was holding an ice pack to her one moment and a heat pad the next. When she would recite long differential equations in her sleep... then wake up screaming because she could no longer solve them.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Three Heads of Irving Jefferson by Martin Kingfisher

When a farmer loses his head fleeing from a hog, he is forced to consider some changes to his lifestyle; by Martin Kingfisher, beautifully illustrated by Max Ink with colour by Flor de Canela.

Head 1

At dusk on the last day of October, 1823, the farmer Irving Jefferson walked through his pumpkin patch, rolling a pumpkin along the ground with his foot. Irv hadn't always been a pumpkin-roller. He'd once stood tall like his customer, the innkeeper F.J. Cooper, who walked next to Irv carrying a 30-pound pumpkin in his arms. Irv's plow had hit a lot of rocks over the years, and he'd got so his back twinged whenever he stooped to pick a pumpkin, or stood to carry it above his waist.

A boar grunted a warning as the men passed Irv's apple orchard. The boar stalked the men along the orchard's edge, dipping in and out of the shadows as if he knew Irv's old eyes couldn't follow him through the dark.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Quilt by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the sleepy South African town of Prentburg, the church sisters make a quilt to raffle off for the benefit of the squatters neighbouring the dorp, but the project does not go as planned; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

"Well," sighed Marion Klopper, placing squares of white linen in the centre of the long table in the church hall, "here we go again! Our annual effort to make winters more comfortable for the squatters in the informal settlement."

"And with the same humbling result," her co-helper, Rina van Wyk muttered as she sorted embroidery threads and packets of needles into neat piles in front of chairs around the table. "All this unnecessary fiddling about," motioning with one hand, "because of one person's jealousy. It was so much easier when we could all do our own thing, but no, we must now mete out supplies so that no-one has anything better to work with than the next, and all for nothing. As always, Miems Gouws's square will outshine all the others."

"Do you know what annoys me most? That Christina has imposed this on us and will find some excuse to opt out of producing a square herself, as usual."

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Statue, a Bridge and a Dream by Rick Brooks

Cal is so consumed by guilt after his brother's suicide, he considers desperate measures; by Rick Brooks.

BEFORE

The gaunt little man stumbled down the short hallway between his living room and bedroom, stopping once to lean against a wall and down the last bit of whiskey from the brown bottle he carried. Holding it up to his eyes, dark and bagged, he focused long enough to see the bottle was empty.

“Well, that’s it, I guess.”

He lurched the rest of the way to his bedroom and let himself fall onto the tattered mattress, the only piece of furniture in the room besides a beat-up storage box in the corner. And there, in his nicely-maintained suburban home, with its manicured lawn and welcome mat on the stoop, he reached for the pistol next to him, held it up to his left eye and pulled the trigger.

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Start Up by Fred McGavran

Fred McGavran's character and his grimy friend start a new small-time criminal enterprise with unexpected results.

You don't see crime scene tape around a garden very often, but it can happen with a start up. On garbage nights we'd drive through Shawnee Village, the city's wealthiest suburb, looking for the things rich people throw out: armchairs, refrigerators, mattresses, plastic pools for the kids, all the stuff they buy because they can and dump when they run out of space. Many nights it seemed half the city's scavengers had the same idea, but you don't want my buddy Bill Bob pulling up beside you and sticking his face in your window. He hasn't brushed his teeth since last time he got out of the VA hospital, and he can lift a driver out of his seat with one hand. Besides, he carries a .38 police special under the dash in case somebody tries to give him trouble.

Having a monopoly on a recycling route may not sound like much of a business plan to you, but we made enough to keep us in beer for the week. It was also the source of our greatest inspiration. Some of these mansions have gardens in their front yards with tall standing shrubs and flowers growing right up to the street. One night I spotted a stand of marijuana amongst the prairie grass. I got out of the truck and harvested it, and we had enough to keep us happy for two weeks. We had a good laugh thinking how pissed off somebody was going to be that we got to it first.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tibetan Fling By Roger Meachem

Roger Meachem's characterful story about a Tibetan linguist reuniting with his old Nottinghamshire school friend.

It's not often you see a young Asian man in full Scottish Highland dress wandering around an ancient Nottinghamshire graveyard, peering at tombstones.

This particular graveyard did attract tombstone tourists - graveyard gawpers - from time to time; the church and some of the surviving gravestones dated back to the twelfth century. Robin Hood might have sharpened an arrowhead on one or two, and a civil war battle fought nearby probably contributed a few more.

I'd been at the church to photograph a local wedding, and expected that would be the highlight of my day. There was no need to hurry back to the mall where my studio occupied a lonely corner, and so I sat in the shade of a yew tree watching the visitor. He moved from one headstone to another, his kilt swinging lightly. I couldn't tell what plaid he was wearing but it wasn't just the kilt, he also wore the sporran, tartan socks, black brogues and - despite the heat - a tweed jacket. He paused a couple of times, once to brush with his fingers at a headstone, presumably clearing away moss, and once to hold up his phone and take a picture. As he came closer, I decided he might be Tibetan, not any Tibetan, but one I had known.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Beyond the City Limits by Clayton Stoneking

in Clayton Stoneking's post-apocalyptic tale, a young man in a simple farming community is curious about the forbidding secrets of the nearby city.

I trudge down the long row of dirt mounds; they're piled neatly to protect the delicate roots below. The light of the early morning sun cascades across the three large crop fields that surround the Community House. I love walking the grounds in the morning, especially this close to the harvest. I walk to the edge of the farm's land and look out into the thin line of trees that provides our perimeter. Through the thin, white, brittle trunks of the trees, I can see the bright lights of the city beyond. I look back, only briefly, toward the farm, before stepping onto the roots of the dying trees. I start to take another step when two small voices call out from behind me.

"Brother Kiran," the small voices squeak, "where are you going?"

I turn to see the two small redheaded boys who came to the farm only a few months ago. They're overalls are dirty, most likely from playing in the mud. One of them is missing a shoe and the other has left one side of his overalls unbuttoned, revealing the pale skin of his chest.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Home by Josephine Bruni

On the day of the EU referendum an Italian barista in the vibrant Camden Lock area of London muses on his status as an outsider; by Josephine Bruni.

The coffee shop was very trendy. It looked like a warehouse with rough wooden planks as seats and tables, cardboard boxes filling the shelves that ran around the walls, big, professional coffee machines worth hundreds of pounds shining amongst stylish coffee cups and colourful mocha. It was said that it made the best coffee in North London and Marco was one of those who made it happen. It was a repetitive chore. Grind the beans, twist the percolator, press the hot water button, steam the milk, clean the steamer. Marco produced one drink after the other, immersed in Anya's musky perfume that blended perfectly with the bitter aroma of Arabic coffee. She had the beauty of youth, soft features and wide lips. Hot, not so hot, small, less water. More milk thank you, no foam, more foam. Sometimes in the queue a friendly face said 'buongiorno' and chatted a little. Marco acknowledged their kindness with an extra hole in their loyalty card. Not everyone was for Brexit, he told Anya.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Cock-a-Roach by A.T. Sayre

In small town New England Frank has an unlikely encounter with a Hollywood celebrity; by A.T. Sayre.

I was sittin' in a Denny's solo seat at the front room coffee bar when Frank came in. Frank's this small kid, a little chubby, all scruffy hair and wrinkled clothes. He always had on this dirty old army jacket he'd probably found at goodwill. He had huge bags under his eyes, from no sleep or too much booze, or some combo of that nature. If he wasn't so chubby and didn't have that crazy underbite he'd have that grunge thing down perfect. Not that he was tryin' to, necessarily. I'm sure he'd look fucked up even if it wasn't the thing to do.

Frank spotted me right off. He nodded a little and made a beeline for the seat at the coffee bar right next to me. I was just reading some book or other at the time, something for class I think. I was tired of it anyway, so I wasn't bothered seeing him.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dante's Barn by Kelly Griffiths

Kelly Griffiths's thoughtful flash story about Jude, whose life has a flat tyre.

Without warning the steering wheel sprang to life and jack-hammered in Jude's hands. The vibrations rocked all the way up his arms and clattered his teeth like plates. Jude knew what had happened. But did it have to happen in the snow? And not just any snow. School would likely be closed tomorrow. Jude pulled off and killed the engine.

The memory lanced him.

"You what? Bought a - you bought this piece of crap? You know what Ford stands for, don't you? F-O-R-D. Fix or repair daily. And what th'hell you need a truck for?" His father slammed his hand down on the tailgate. "You haulin' somethin, pretty boy? I know what you plannin' to do. Only one reason pretty boys need a truck bed. You just keep yer di -"

"Pop!" Jude got in his face, nose to nose and noted with a measure of satisfaction his father broke the stare first.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Summer's End by John W. Dennehy

Sean has grown up by the lake, but his summer companion Alfonzo is from a rather more menacing background; by John W. Dennehy.

Sean played down by the lake until he heard a car pull into the driveway. Running up the hill between their cottage and the neighbor's multi-level home, his heart beat expectantly. Summertime had ramped up, and the community buzzed with activity. Boats cut across the water and docks were crowded with swimmers. During the dead of winter, he often ventured on the frozen lake alone, isolated, but in the summer, he usually found a companion.

He glanced at the neighbor's driveway. A shiny '74 Cadillac was parked on the asphalt. The big engine grumbled from the heat, having raced north from Boston. He sprinted up the stairs to the parking area. Two more Cadillacs whipped down the driveway, then a green car rolled into his parking area.

Large men got out of the cars, securing the area before Alfonzo's dad alighted from a sedan. Back for another season, they'd rented the neighbor's place again. Sean would have a friend for a few months. They were different from other families on the lake; guys that worked for Alfonzo's father stayed at the house the entire vacation.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Dog Breeder by Frank Beyer

Frank Beyer's character finds that his father's obsession with breeding show dogs has gone too far, and he must take drastic action.

The ambulance arrived five minutes after I made the emergency call. The paramedics put a brace on Dad's neck. They got him on a stretcher, out the gate and into the back of the ambulance. Dad's eyes were open, but he didn't say anything. He was getting too old for this kind of carry on. Or maybe he was too young? He was years off being frail. One of his dogs had knocked him over and he'd bumped his head on the concrete path in the garden. The paramedic who rode with us in the back, a well-built Samoan guy, told us that he had a naughty dog too. Dad managed a smile. I couldn't, I felt bloody sick that one of Dad's dogs had caused trouble again.

As a precaution Dad was kept in overnight. I went back to the hospital straight after work the next day. A doctor wanted to see me. He was tall and broad-shouldered, the kind you expect to be supremely confident. A man of thirty with two kids, still managing to fit in club rugby on Saturdays. But this guy was tentative, embarrassed even. He spoke so quietly I didn't catch all of what he said: The blow to your father's head caused a minor concussion... few things were amiss... sweating profusely and pacing the ward last night... kept complaining that the sheets were giving him a skin rash there was no visible sign of... not symptoms of concussion. And then he said this: Did you know your father had a problem with amphetamines? Bloody hell no. I thought dexies were for dickheads down at the pub not somebody like Dad. The doctor outlined the steps for me to help the Old Man through. I had to get in touch with his GP as soon as possible, fill out such and such... I didn't really listen, dreading the forms and appointments.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Case of Stagger-Lee by David W Landrum

David W Landrum transports Sherlock Holmes to the swinging scene of 1960s London in a case narrated by his new assistant, Dr. Ophelia Turnberg.

Sherlock Holmes Case #1, 1966

Narrated by his assistant, Dr. Ophelia Turnberg

You heard the music everywhere you went back in those days. Almost everyone under the age of twenty-five carried those small, portable transistor radios, so you heard the music in parks and out on the street. Restaurants and stores played it. As I sat down to keep my dinner date with Holmes, I heard a song I had heard a lot lately - one of the "top 40 hits" as they were called - playing over speakers in the restaurant.

There've been so many girls I have known

I've made so many cry and still I wonder why

It was "Heart of Stone" by the Rolling Stones. While I wondered if I was becoming a fan of popular music, Holmes walked into the restaurant. Before he sat down in the booth he looked at me and said what I knew he would say.

"You too, Dr. Turnberg?"

I had worn a minidress that morning - white with black stripes. I shifted nervously in my seat.

Monday, September 18, 2017

In Father's Eyes by John Mullen

John Mullen's Irish tale steeped in poetry, religion, and the guilt of a son's betrayal.

They needed an extra bearer on each side of Father's coffin to hoist him onto his funereal bier, later to ease him into his Irish soil. The morning sparkled with a gusty wind that sent dry air in great circles, rousing and mingling the smells of laden sheep with the lush grasses blanketing the hillsides. Mum and I stood in front, our backs to the others sitting in rented plastic chairs. Her arm pulled mine tightly against her; I in navy suit with white shirt and gray tie, she in the long-sleeved black dress that had adorned her on occasions of death as far back as I had memory.

I leaned to whisper, "Why did the monk Seamus do the church service? Why not Father Keely?"

She said, "Mary Healy told me he went down to the Garda. They arrested him."

I said, "Arrested?"

Mother whispered, "No one knows why."

But I knew all too well.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Uncle Harry by Michael Stewart

When Michael travels to visit family, Uncle Harry picks him up from the airport and takes him on a wild trip down memory lane; by Michael Stewart.

My uncle Harry was bigger than life. I expected him to roll up in a Lamborghini this time or a chauffeured stretch limo or even a fire truck with sirens blaring. It wouldn't have been out of character for him. But as it was, this foggy evening, he drove a classic '73 Corvette with a paint job that changed colors like a chameleon under the florescent lights. He beeped his horn twice and swung in front of me, popping the trunk.

"Hey, Michael," he said, rising out of the driver's door, thick black hair blowing in the wind as he rushed around the car. Overcoat flapping.

Cars drove by and others pulled alongside to pick up passengers. People bustled by pulling baggage behind and porters helped them. A plane flew overhead and the tumult was lost in the roar.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Journey Begun In Lovers Meeting By JC Freeman

JC Freeman tells a gentle ghost story set in the ancient New Town Cemetery outside Charleston, South Carolina.

Sunrise comes late to New Town Cemetery. The graveyard is seated in the west face of Torqwamni Hill, and no matter the season the quick fall of the slope and a thick line of adolescent Douglas firs at hillcrest combine to delay the cemetery dawn by a hundred yards or so. New Town's a pretty place; the winding paths are lined with fragrant, non-fruiting cherries and delicate Japanese maples; on clear days the Olympic Mountains fill the western horizon with their beautiful yet icy indifference, and there're an abundance of old fashioned, winter-weary tombstones just begging to be charcoal-etched by artists and the sentimental at heart. A handmade wood sign attached to the main gate informs would-be visitors that the cemetery is open from dawn to dusk. It's been observed by the wise that dusk almost always finds its way to New Town just before the start of Happy Hour at the nearby White Pig Tavern.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Pretty People by Dakota James

When Dakota James's character loses weight he becomes so attractive he's invited to join the secret cabal of pretty people.

The following story is an excerpt from Dr. Robicheaux's CABRET AWARD WINNING book, The Pretty People: Psychoses Behind the Masks and Mascara. The interviewee in this excerpt asked to remain anonymous; with the exceptions of certain names, nothing from this interview has been edited, removed, or added for publication.



It always confused me to see attractive people do bad things. They could've gone through life with such relative ease, I thought. But that wasn't true, exactly; pretty people have their own set of issues. For example, one day, thinking it over, I realized I didn't know a single sane attractive person. They'd all lost their fucking minds.

No one likes to think of themselves as ugly. I'm no different. But I was a bigger boy than most and then a bigger man than some, so I wasn't exactly sexy. Not by traditional standards.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Song of Black Bear Mountain by Sharon Frame Gay

Bitsy, a traditional healer in the remote mountains of Kentucky, feels threatened when a new, educated doctor arrives; by Sharon Frame Gay.

Bitsy sat on the porch, smoking a pipe after a long afternoon traveling the hills. The sun had melted behind a Loblolly pine, the sweet after-smoke of day stirring up gnats in the woods. Before long, fireflies attended the dance, lighting up in a fever, seeking mates in the coming darkness. Down below near the shed, the horse and mule snorted, tuckered out and set in for the night with a coffee can full of molasses bran, and a whisky barrel of spring water.

For most of her life, Bitsy was the closest thing to a doctor on Black Bear Mountain. She learned her craft from the old ones, how to use herbs for teas and poultices that ease the breathing of a small child, or calm the heart of an ancient woman. She learned how to apply honey to scrapes and burns, the natural antibiotic soothing and sucking all the bad out of the cut. And Bitsy knew when to say goodbye to a soul, watching it drift out of the body like mist over the valley, until the eyes looked skyward and met tomorrow. She helped bury many a person here in the hills, digging into the Kentucky clay with a shovel alongside the family, a ritual, the blade cutting into the dirt with a sorry thump, and the rhythm of the bereaved swinging the shovels in cadence as it rang through the trees.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Front Centre Stage by Don Herald

Out of the blue, Don Herald's character decides to turn his hand to acting. How hard can it be?

My wife peered over the rim of her morning coffee. "But you've never acted before. Ever."

"How hard can it really be?" I replied. "I'm going to audition this coming Sunday for a part in that upcoming community theatre production. I think it's called 'Crystal Palace' or whatever."

She set down her mug, smiled a bit like the Mona Lisa and went out to the kitchen to feed the dog.

We never talked about it again.

On Sunday afternoon, I turned up at the audition with other aspiring actors - two teens and thirteen adults of all ages. There was an anticipatory buzz of energy flitting unseen about the room.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lilacs in the Lily Field by Dylan Martin

The Garden only grants three shots at true love, and Jason is striking out; by Dylan Martin.

"You're not the one," she says with a sigh as the man walks into the small café, a café which has neither servers nor coffee.

Taking the only other seat available at the only table in the place, the man looks at the brazen, brown haired woman in confusion. "How's that?"

"You're not the one," she repeats. "I'm sorry."

"What do you mean, I'm not the one?" His eyes begin to squint as small black strains of hair fold over his forehead.

"Don't make this more awkward than it already is."

The man begins to ripen with rage as his cheeks turn into cherry red apples. "Is this a joke? You're fucking with me now, right?"

The woman rubs her fingers against her temple and raises her eyebrows. She feels like a small part of herself is about to dig through her forehead and fly free. "No. I'm not joking. Please, can we just go to reception and see if we can get a refund?"

Friday, August 25, 2017

Beach Party by Andrew Miller

Sixteen-year-old Megan lets her hair down at a beach party and chats with best friend Kimberly about their future; by Andrew Miller.

Megan Conyers was surprised when Kimberly called and asked about the beach party on Saturday night. Kimberly never went to parties, hardly ever went to dances, mostly hung out with a small group that took Advanced Placement biology and history. Her parents weren't party types either; they taught at a private school in the next county, went to plays and concerts, volunteered at the shelter downtown. Not only did Kimberly want to go the party, but offered to drive. That suited Megan. This meant she wouldn't have to go alone, since she had just broken up with Benjamin Carter. Or, even worse, be asked by one of the Tyler twins, who kept showing up at the Tastee Cone, flirting with her and begging for free stuff.

Megan checked the clock on the wall above the ice cream machines. Almost ten o'clock. Kimberly would arrive in a few minutes. Penelope, who managed the Tastee Cone, never worked past closing.

"Whatdaya say, call it a night?" said Penelope, slamming the serving window with a bang, motioning Megan to shut the other one.

"Let's do it," said Megan.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wallflower Solution by Paul Beckman

Mirsky takes his wife's advice for getting on at cocktail parties a little too literally; by Paul Beckman.

My wife said, "If you're going to just stand in a corner alone with a drink in your hand all night and not speak to anyone there's no sense in our going to this party. You can only spend so much time looking at their photos and paintings and poring over their book cases like you're a CIA agent. You've got to talk to people because they know you're avoiding them and they think you're rude and you think you're better than everyone else."

"You know that's not how I think," I told Elaine. "I'm no good at small talk and somehow when I get in these situations I feel inferior and awkward. I do talk to people when they come over and say hello."

"Well, that's the point. You need to make the effort. Last time we went to the Kleins' you studied their books and then read for most of the night. That was rude, and if you keep being rude and stand-offish we're not going to get invited to any more parties and then what will we do?"

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Calling by William Quincy Belle

Louise gets called up to make her contribution to global sustainability in William Quincy Belle's sci-fi short.

Thursday, June 15. Time: 1625

Louise reread the message. She glanced away, then read it again for the third time. There it was in black and white. No more conjectures. No more wild guesses. Nothing remained to be discussed. One didn't have to speculate about the future, as the future was here. Time to stop dreaming and start doing.

She looked at the time. It was nine twenty-two in the morning. She had seven hours and three minutes. What could anybody do with three minutes? she thought. Let's round it off to seven hours and figure out how to cram everything necessary into such a short time.

Then again, was it a short time or was it the right time, just what anybody needed to tidy up before checking out?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mother Beyond the Border by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

At the India-Pakistan border a natural disaster decimates the enemy, and during the ceasefire that follows Major Jaswant lectures his men on humanity; by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan.

At the top of Siachin glacier, sitting outside of their igloos, Indian army officers and soldiers measured the depths of their patriotism with sacks of frozen enemy corpses. The sun didn't foster life there, gasoline did. They lived in a world where the only recourse was vengeance, fueled by an insatiable lust for blood.

Major Jaswant despised these games and had his sights set on retirement. He had dozens of subordinates, but he preferred the company of Lieutenant Sharma and Lieutenant Arun. They made him feel young.

From their position atop the glacier, Jaswant and his two comrades watched a contingent of Pakistani soldiers. The sun brightened the ice and the Indian soldiers relaxed as minutes of ceasefire stretched into hours.

The stench of death clung to the freezing winds and they reveled in it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Meaning of Life by J L Higgs

J L Higgs explores the meaning of life through the lens of birthday wishes.

Today is my birthday. Eighty-four. Usually, they greet me with, "Good morning," sounding all chipper. Today they're gushing, "Happy birthday!"

I guess I'm supposed to feel today is somehow different from yesterday, special. But after eighty-four years? This morning, my scarred Baby Ben alarm clock rang at its normal time. The bare concrete walls of my room were still the same somber gray color painted throughout this building. My silver comb, hairbrush and hand mirror were still lying on the white lace doily atop the four drawer Formica dresser that holds every stitch of clothing I own. And that squeaky metal frame chair that faces my bed was vacant as it always is.

I once owned 867 pairs of shoes. I'd buy four or five pairs when stores held big discounts or sales. Even had multiple pairs in the same style, just different colors. Nothing compares to the feel of feet sliding smoothly into new shoes. Shoes always made me happy.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Choosing to Stand Still by Justine Manzano

The platonic status of Katie's relationship with her roommate Matty is challenged when one of his exes draws attention to a secret in plain sight; by Justine Manzano.

"Kathryn? Kathryn Norris? Is that you?" Bethany squealed and, in lieu of putting my hands over my ears to block out the shrill sound of her voice, I winced and turned towards her.

"Hi Bethany." I tried for polite. I don't think it worked. After all, Bethany was the ex-girlfriend of my best friend, Matty Alonzo.

Every morning, I went to the 24-hour bodega on the corner from the apartment I shared with Matty, and every day I ordered a bagel and cream cheese, a roll with butter, and two piping hot coffees, light and sweet. And somehow, every morning until now, I had happily managed to avoid her.

"How are you? What have you been up to?" Her questions ended high, in a squawk.

I smiled, brittle and forced. "Well, you know. Still auditioning. Still hosting open mic night at the club."

"College?" It was a shame she seemed comfortable with that as a full sentence.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Tina and Time by JD Hyde

A force of nature befriends a talkative child and learns something of humanity in JD Hyde's comic sci-fi.

Tick

The little girl with black hair looked at the man in a perfectly pressed grey three-piece suit. His hair blew when there was no wind. He was standing in the park, so she cheerfully said, "Hi, I'm Tina Gutierrez Rodriguez Olmedo Bairan Castillo Flores. You can call me Tina. I have a dog; You have been standing there for a long time. Why are you standing in the park? Do your legs hurt from standing for so long? I have a ball will you play with me? Why do you wear a tie? My mommy said that only bankers wear ties. Are you a banker? I'm five years old. How old are you? What's your name?"

While young Tina waited for an answer to her questions, she stopped to breathe. The man in the three-piece suit eloquently said, "I am Time. And I have always been here. I am everywhere."

Tina blinked several times then started talking again, "Hi, Mr. Time. I'm Tina Flores, and I'm five. Would you play ball with me?"

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Magic Carpet by Brooke Fieldhouse

Mohammed buys a rug from IKEA and discovers it has a very unusual property; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

'STOCKHOLM', that's what the on-line catalogue said.

There's a whole family; a lamp, a table, a sofa, a mirror - nothing to do with the city, it's just a name. Mine is Mohammed - Mo I prefer - and I work in The City. I'm a global accounts manager, I'm twenty-five, shockingly well paid but don't have much spare time. I don't have a girlfriend either.

IKEA was made for people like me. I click, and it don't matter whether its aktad, antilop, backaryd, beboelig, fanigt, fillsta, stig, or sprutt it's here in two shakes of a monkey's tail, or two shakes of an apa's tail I guess I should say. Stockholm by the way is a rug; 2.4 metres by 1.7.

The day Stockholm arrived I was crazy busy juggling the Asshole Airlines account with Parmesan Homes, and it was past midnight when I shimmied out of the lift of my apartment block on Upper Thames Street. I could see that the courier had left a parcel outside my door - 1.7 metres long - same height as me, a smidge taller if you allow for the chunky visqueen in which it was wrapped. I dragged it in, dropped it onto the laminate, and glanced at the label before heading for a bit of the old aqua treatment. Hand Woven in India it said.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Psychedelic Basement by Mark Tulin

Mitchell skips school to visit his friend's blacklist hippie den; by Mark Tulin.

Shawn and I were walking to school Friday morning. Shawn was wearing bell bottoms with moccasins and a loose fitting white button-down collar shirt. I wore dark Levi jeans with chukka boots and a tan v-neck sweater over a white undershirt.

"Dude," Shawn said, "do you want to cut school?" He always referred to me as dude. "Why don't you come over my house and we can chill?" he said.

He didn't have to coax me very much

"I fixed up my basement, dude. I want you to tell me what you think."

"Groovy," I replied, not worrying about whether my mother would find out. My father always said, "What they don't know, won't hurt them." I gave my mother no indication that I smoked pot or took off from school on occasion. It was our last year of high school and we felt entitled to skip a day or two.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lost Property by Sharif Gemie

Steph's habit of losing things forces some introspection; by Sharif Gemie.

'Please remember to take all personal belongings with you,' said the voice over the loud-speaker as the train reached the station.

Steph stood up, adjusted her jacket, picked up her handbag, and walked off the train, leaving her overnight bag on the luggage rack above her seat.

Outside the station, she thought about catching a bus, but decided that she'd been sitting down for too long, and so she walked home. Steph enjoyed the walk, feeling curiously light. She arrived home at three. It would be at least a couple of hours before Tom came back. What could she do? She made a cup of tea, and she remembered an interesting article in the paper that she'd half-read while waiting for the train. Now, where had she left the paper? It was in the outside pocket of overnight bag. And where was her overnight bag? Oh. It hit her.

'I've done it again.'

Her first thought was how awkward it would be telling Tom that she'd lost something else. What would he say?

Friday, July 21, 2017

As the Wind Blows by Charlotte Silveston

Charlotte Silveston's character is hounded by bullies that make themselves out to be the victims.

Yes, I know - it's very easy to blame someone else. But in this case, it really wasn't my fault, OK? Let's get that straight from the off. If it weren't for that sociopath El Gordo, I wouldn't be locked in this tiny basement room.

From the first day of secondary school, he was out to get me, El Gordo. Not his real name of course but it might as well have been. Even Mrs Purcell called him that, as though she was the mother of some miniature mobster. Which, in a way, I suppose she was. El Gordo was a name that just fitted him - unlike his school shirt (ha!), which always popped open to reveal his flabby gut. But he was never ashamed, not El Gordo. Suppose if he had been, he would have been the victim of bullies. As things stood, that spot was reserved for me.

At first it was a dig in the ribs here, a missing packed lunch there. But then his older brothers got involved: an unholy trinity, if you will. Oddly, the eldest brother was the smallest. He could have been straight out of Lilliput - the runt of the litter, so to speak. The middle one was bookish; 'gifted', some teachers called him. Personally, I thought the word 'boffin' was more appropriate, but of course nobody ever asked my opinion.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Feud by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Beryl Ensor-Smith takes us back to South African backwater Prentburg for another comic story of gossip and misunderstanding, this time with a cute little kitten.

"A storm in a tea-cup," Christina du Plessis said loftily, on first hearing about the upset between Helga Swanepoel and Suzie Lamprecht.

"I've always maintained that pets cause nothing but trouble, and that spoilt pig-of-a-dog of Helga's is the worst of the lot!"

Rather harsh words to say of Helga's beloved poodle, Bianca, but one with which many of the church sisters agreed. While many rather liked poodles, Bianca did the breed no favours. She, unlike most of her clan, was a dog of little brain and nervous disposition and had made the mistake, when unexpectedly encountering Suzie's newly-adopted kitten, of reacting in fright by pouncing on the much smaller animal and sinking her teeth into it.

Neither the cat nor Suzie took kindly to the attack. The ferocity with which Suzie defended her pet surprised the entire sisterhood when Helga regaled them with an indignant description of what had transpired.

"She swore at Bianca using an expression that would have shocked Dominee Seibrandt to the core and aimed a vicious kick at her! If it had connected, it would have sent Bianca flying. I couldn't believe my eyes, and when I objected, she swore at me!"

Friday, July 14, 2017

Iron Horse by Philip Barbara

An old man signals train drivers his horse racing picks as they pass his local tavern, and befriends a boy in need of a father figure; by Philip Barbara.

Louie DaRosa stood beside the railroad tracks near the crossing gates that had just descended, halting car traffic on Main Street. A freight train rumbled toward him. When the locomotive was close enough to see the engineer's face in the cab window, DaRosa raised his right arm above his head, showed three fingers, then lowered his arm and swiftly raised it again to show five fingers. He added his left index finger to make six before finally holding his right arm out parallel to the ground.

This sequence of signals took only seconds. He stepped back and the engineer gave two short blasts of the horn in reply. Satisfied, DaRosa turned away from the track and found Nicky sitting on his bicycle, one leg planted on the ground for balance, watching in bewilderment.

"Jersey Meadows Racetrack, fifth race, sixth horse, to place," DaRosa said by way of explanation. His voice always sounded as if it were filtered through waterlogged gravel. "That was Frank Barry up in the cab. He's a friend."

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Island by Martyn Clayton

After a family tragedy, Murray brings his daughter Isla to visit his childhood home, a bleak and windswept rock lost in the harsh Atlantic; by Martyn Clayton.

"Was granddad sad to leave?" Isla asks as the boat pulls away from the harbour out into the blue ocean. It's a precious sunny May day. A large herring gull, feathers pristine white, fixes the departing craft with a prehistoric eye.

"I don't think so. I think he knew he was the last of the line. He got the better deal I think. His father though, your great grandfather - now that's another story."

"What about my great grandmother? You never mention her."

"I don't know too much about her. I know she only had a smattering of English. Hardly left the house when they got her to the mainland. Terrified I think. Completely lost. Most of the older ones were. It was cruel to uproot them like they did but there was probably no choice. You couldn't leave a handful of ageing folk with no one to help feed them and keep them okay."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Donation Box by Ayesha Marfani

A poor and roughly educated child longs to make a contribution to the school donation box; by Ayesha Marfani.

They set the beautiful donation box at the entrance of the school. I loved the beauty of the box. The purple ribbons over it were cool. I saw students and parents putting in money. Every time someone neared it to put anything in its mouth; shaped as purple smiling lips, I felt happy and sad at the same time - happy because I loved the thought of money reaching the victims and sad because I couldn't contribute anything.

I didn't have a single penny to put in the donation box. I am poor penniless. The reason I am in school is my brilliant mind and the benevolence of one man who saw me selling the balloons. He asked me if I want to study and I said yes. I never disappointed the man. I excelled, and so he maintained his scholarship.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Home by Jonathan Yom-Tov

Mike's retirement home is going out of business unless he can find a drastic solution; by Jonathan Yom-Tov.

"You're dead, or you will be in a year tops." Sam looked up from his papers. "Actually, that's an unfortunate choice of words, especially given the circumstances. Sorry," he laughed weakly. "I meant the home will go bankrupt."

"That's terrible," Mike said. He ran his hand through his thinning hair. "I can't let that happen, I'll be out of a job. Isn't there anything you can do?"

"Me? It's not up to me. Your business model is the problem. It made sense years ago, but now, with life expectancy going through the roof, you're losing money on almost every customer."

"I don't understand. If they're living longer we should be making more money, not less. This doesn't make any sense."

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Surprising Cure by Cynthia Haggard

In 19th century Bristol, hard working solicitor Edward longs to see his wife after she has spent three years on a medical retreat in Edinburgh - but what else has she been up to? By Cynthia Haggard.

Bristol, England
September 1889

I had been forbidden from knowing my wife for three long years. The doctor had been most emphatic on that point. Of course I objected, and in the strongest possible terms. But Miss Jex-Blake fixed her small brown eyes on mine, telling me that my wife had a terrible disease, that those charming little warts I used to call my 'love buttons' that my Miriam had in her most intimate place were the signs of cancer. I shivered inwardly. How could something so lovely be so poisonous? And if she had it, did I? Miss Jex-Blake continued that it was my fault my wife had such a condition, and that she was going to operate. I fled, hurrying through the streets so fast I almost knocked someone down. Three doctors pronounced me healthy.

But Miriam's condition persisted. When I pressed her, she reluctantly complained of burning sensations down there. Every summer she visited Edinburgh to "take the air," as we told all of our acquaintances. No-one knew what was wrong with her except myself, my consulting physician, Miriam, and her lady doctor. Unless, of course, Miriam chose to confide in Helena Born, her bosom friend. But surely, even she wouldn't do such a thing.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Playing in the Dirt by Z S Diamanti

A life helping with his father's work has left Z S Diamanti's character with an unusual outlook.

You must have spent a lot of time in the sun that your hair would copper so. When I was young, my Papa would bring friends home almost every day. Some were fat, some were skinny. Some were men and some were women. My favorites were the boys and girls about the same age as me. It didn’t matter who Papa brought home, I always loved meeting new friends. But none of them had such lovely auburn hair.

Papa worked hard all the time, but he always took time to teach me things that growing men need to know. You see, I didn’t get to leave the house and go to school like most. The doctor told Papa that I had to stay home, but I’m as smart as anyone because he taught me how to read and write. He taught me how to brush teeth, comb hair, shave beards, and look presentable. I used to think that Papa was a stern old man. He’d get so mad when I made mistakes. But our friends never said anything mean about him. He always treated them with respect and helped them look their best. I loved the way he treated our friends and I wanted to be just like him.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Two Seats by Harry Downey

Mr Jenkins, while visiting his son in Derbyshire, makes a friend at the local pub who tells him a story about two of the regulars; by Harry Downey.

The man walked through the door of The Red Lion and hesitated. Faced with a choice of two doors, after a moment's consideration he went through the one to his right, which had Snug in ornate gilt letters on its glazed upper section. At the bar he ordered a half pint of local bitter, sipped it approvingly, and turned round to face the room. As his eyes wandered around his face changed from uncertainty to growing contentment.

In the corner to his left next to a stone fireplace, which had an unlit log fire, there was a large, cushioned wooden chair with arms. Oak and clearly old it looked inviting. The man went across to the chair and sat down.

'You can't sit there. Sorry. It's spoken for. That's Old Seth's seat.'

The stranger looked up. He had thought he was alone in the room. It was early in the evening, and a Tuesday anyway, normally a quiet time for a pub, but he could see now that there was someone else after all.

The second man spoke again from his bench seat in a corner. 'He'll be in later. He's usually pretty punctual.'

Monday, June 19, 2017

Therapy by Lorin Cary

Lorin Cary's flash fiction about the power of suggestion.

Bob smiled as he entered the theatre. He'd get popcorn, a good seat and enjoy the show. No, the concession line was too long. He didn't want to risk a front row sore neck.

Pleased at his timing, he headed for his perfect seat, about dead center, half way back, an empty row with no one in front of it.

A woman slid into the aisle and sat down on his left. "You look tired," she said.

"Me?" Bob said. She was attractive, petite, had large brown eyes and looked... intelligent. Was she interested in him?

Then a man took the seat to his right, leaned over and touched Bob's arm. "Don't mean to intrude, but you look bushed. It might be the weather," he said. "When it's cloudy like this I feel drained. Damndest thing."

Friday, June 16, 2017

Head Above Water by Kait Gilleran

Kait Gilleran's flash fiction about a cubicle worker who feels guilty for shirking work.

Tap, tap, tap. Sometimes at work I just lightly click at my keyboard, so it sounds like I'm doing something.

The real trick is trying to look busy when someone is passing by. Half of my coworkers must know by now that I'm generally browsing forums or researching my latest ailment, but I try my best to keep an important-looking document on the backburner, to click through when I hear carpet-deadened footsteps pass.

Jocelyn, neighbor to my cubby, passes me at the most inopportune moments, like when I get a pop-up with a half-naked woman. She's always working, you can tell because there's no rhythm to her typing at all, not even a hint that she's tapping out the rhythms to whatever top 40 hit is running through her head. Sometimes I think she's trying to catch me in the act, maybe she thinks she can knock out the dividing wall and make herself a nice double-cube - plenty of room for a few ferns. Who knows.

Monday, June 12, 2017

2084 by Bruce Costello

Marilyn, Graham and their son Tom live in the New Zealand of the future: safe, friendly, and deeply oppressive; by Bruce Costello.

"Tom fell over at school running in the playground with other boys!" shrieked Marilyn, when Graham arrived home from work.

The tearful principal who'd rung Marilyn to report the incident had apologised profusely, saying it was an eleven millimetre scratch on the knee, 'Not serious, but shouldn't have happened, and the teacher on playground duty was docked a week's pay.'

"He's just a boy," Graham said to his wife, shaking his head.

"Tom's seven years old and a Vigilantes platoon leader and he ought to be setting an example, not playing dangerous children's games that should be illegal! It's high time you lot at the Ministerium passed a law against them!"

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rattled by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon's character goes for a break in the country to recover from her husband's mental collapse, but the strain has affected her more deeply than she realises.

1.

It started as a peaceful break at Holly Cottage. I'm always a bit rattled when I stay in a new place for the first time. But Dev and I often return to the same self-catering cottages after I've cleared the vibes and I feel ok there. Friends probably think we're stick-in-the mud types with little imagination but they kind of miss the point. Whenever I go to a brand-new place the first couple of nights are an ordeal. I rarely sleep well and I'm constantly alert for anything that unsettles me.

Anyway, back to Holly Cottage. It's in a small hamlet in the Yorkshire Dales with many good walks straight out of the back door, no need to drive all the time. I'd been here three times before with Dev and we'd loved it. Our last visit was two years ago, only a couple of months before he got his diagnosis. Around that time, I'd thought that he wasn't himself but I hadn't seen it coming, not at all.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Jolene and the Forest Bewitched by Steven Albert

Steven Albert's metaphorical fantasy flash fiction about a girl lost in a forest.

Jolene was a little girl who lived with her family in a little house in a small village. She was a happy little girl and she loved to sing and play in the fields and forests near her home. She would sing to the birds and talk to the butterflies...

Her mother would say to her "Be careful, as you run and play, for the witched wood is nearby." For everybody knew that those who got lost in the witched wood never returned. Jolene was always careful, but she never saw anything that looked at all like a bewitched forest.

Then one day, as she played in the forest, Jolene tripped and fell over a branch hidden along the ground. She rolled and tumbled and twisted and turned. When she opened her eyes again she didn't know where she was. This didn't look at all like the forest she was playing in. it was dark and cold. The trees were black with no leaves on their branches and she could not see the sky. "This must be the witched wood," she thought with a fright. The air was still and she could hear no sounds, and see no birds or butterflies. "What will I do? How will I find my way out?" and she cried, for she knew that those who are lost in the witched wood never find their way out.