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.

Friday, June 2, 2017

April Fool by Mary Steer

Melissa's lunch is interrupted by a stranger who claims to know every detail of her life; by Mary Steer.

April showers bring May flowers, April showers bring May flowers, thought Melissa as she bent her head into the rain and strode up the street towards her favourite café. But May is a long way off and meanwhile we have these frickin' showers to put up with. A penetrating cold went along with the driving rain, and both seemed to suit Melissa's mood today. It had been a month to the day since she'd finally given Wendell the push, but just because she'd broken up with him didn't mean she couldn't mind about it. He'd moved on but that was only because he had someone else in place, ready to go.

Melissa ducked into the café, feeling as gloomy as the lowering storm clouds outside. She ordered the tuna melt this time, and a chocolate milk. She set off with her food towards her usual table but before she could get to it, a tall man in a dark brown overcoat hurried over and set his tray down, almost underneath hers. Irritated, she turned away, scanning the room for another spot.

"I'm sorry," said the man in the overcoat, and then added, "Do join me, won't you, Melissa?"

Monday, May 29, 2017

Lost Pages by Maryetta Ackenbom

In the Deep South of 1950s America, when anti-miscegenation laws were still firmly enforced, plantation owner Eleanor considers herself liberal - but learns that prejudice is more than just skin deep; by Marietta Ackenbom.

Eleanor sighed and reached into the dusty box again. Pulling out another handful of papers, she sorted through them quickly. Nothing - only old bills, receipts, a few newspaper clippings. All went into the trash.

She looked into the box. Oh, what was this, a book? No - a journal. Now this might be interesting. She flipped through a few pages and recognized her mother's elegant handwriting. No. I'll read it later - Mother's life can't have been too mysterious.

She pushed her hair back from her forehead with her dusty hands, coughed, and slowly got up from the floor.

Why do I have to do this? Isn't there anyone else?

No, there was no one. Only Roy, the aging family butler would have helped, but Eleanor needed to go through her mother's things by herself.

She headed down the hall toward the kitchen, her legs unsteady from the cramped position on the floor. She needed coffee.

"Coffee, Ellie?" Roy always knew.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Billy Luck by DC Diamondopolous

An ex-carny travels to visit his old friend who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and recalls the time they spent together on the midway; by DC Diamondopolous.

Billy Luck's bones rearranged themselves on the bus headed out of Gibsonton for the Tampa train station. He looked out the window, away from his trailer, all rusted, awnin torn, bricks holdin down tarp over a portion of the roof, lookin like other junkyard leftovers from his carnival days.

The bus passed an old train car that jailed tigers, vines growin through it, a giant planter. Gibsonton was a has-been like him, still some carnies left but most dead, or dyin, or just plain up and left, like his good friend Daisy, the most beautiful woman his eyes ever seen, a midget, but perfect, no matter.

Now Billy's friends all had bodies from the shoulders up: Judge Judy, and that good-lookin gal on The People's Court. He always took to smart, in-your-face broads - don't take no shit type - like Daisy, who called, askin him to come see her in Miami, cause she was dyin.

What a foul mouthed little mother she been, tough, had to be, no taller than three feet, perfect proportion, and a great pick-pocket, long as people was sittin down. She been with the Gerlin since nineteen fifty, five years after Billy started workin the carnival, a legend, Daisy was.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Amelia in Waiting by Leila Allison

Sixteen year old Amy reflects bitterly on the passing of her childhood in Leila Allison's thoughtful flash.

Amy imagines the sky as a swirl of cremated bones. Somewhere in the ashes, the cataract sun hovers low in the west. Harsh and ugly, nothing goes well with the sky and the blind sun other than the desire to stop looking at them.

Amy stands very close to the living room window; a cometary shape of condensation forms on the glass below her nose. In her mind, Amy is certain that only the double paned window lies between her lungs and the poisons of an alien atmosphere.

The cul-de-sac that has always been Amy's home lies beneath the depthless sky like a beloved pet lying dead in the street. All around the remnants of happier times rot softly like the crabapples that not even the crows will eat: Cheerful summer barbecue grills are tucked under blue tarps held in place by cinder blocks; formerly lush and profuse gardens have become fallow mudholes, and what has gone unraked of the fiercely luminescent October leaves lies bunched like milk-sodden cornflakes in the gutters and storm drains.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook by Mitchell Toews

When Canadian Micah James and his wife visit London, an error with their luggage sparks a comic misadventure; by Mitchell Toews.

Micah James was shorter than average and had an interesting kind of face. His eyes were recessed and penetrating and his complexion had the weathered texture and ruddy colour of a mountain climber or a big game hunter. He was neither. Micah James was a quiet, middle-aged family man - an engineer working for the City of Halifax on Canada's east coast.

The Jameses were leaving together soon on a long-awaited trip to London, England. Micah's wife, Marion, had planned the trip from the packing process through tipping and all conceivable forms of disaster contingency.

"I got this," she would say to him - busy at the kitchen table with her lap top - as he walked by on his way to the fridge.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Initiative by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the sleepy South African town of Prentburg, Christina du Plessis misinterprets an overheard conversation and spurs the church sisters into a misguided mission; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

The main topic of conversation of the church sisters during preparation for harvest festival was the newly elected American President, Donald Trump. There was lively argument about some of his actions, some being for and some against. In fact, things became quite heated on the subject of his efforts to curb immigration, especially his travel ban on those from countries he considered a threat to America.

"You can't brand everyone a terrorist," Rina van Wyk declared forcefully. "Many people from the countries he's outlawed already have visas to visit members of their families living in America. To prevent them coming just isn't right! It's a good thing that judge stepped in and put a stop to it."

"In your opinion," Christina du Plessis retorted loftily. "Anyway, he's not giving in and I think he's quite right to ban possible dissidents. Who knows what could be spirited into the country in one of those burkas worn by women from those parts. All you can see are their eyes, and they hold a lot of secrets!"

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Man Who Lived Michael Shammas

A Roman slave fleeing persecution after falling in love with a priestess decides to return and face the people; by Michael Shammas.

"I was dead before I died," says The Man Who Died. "But now I am risen. Now I see."

The thought calms him. He stops rowing, sighs, reclines, looks up at tonight's glistening spectrum. Even so bright, the laboring stars cannot defeat a moonless night. So aside the fugitive's boat there is the sea and there is a darkness, a deep darkness, a still darkness, a blackness rendering him completely at nature's thoughtless mercy, and yet the notion does not frighten him, for yesterday against the blood-stained cross he was at the whim of a more dangerous force - Man.

During his first encounter with the priestess when he moved as she moved and breathed as she breathed he realized that he is nature, not above it, not below it; that this is a most beautiful thing, this which the priestess shared; that the essence behind this thing moves life.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Stool by Jane Swan

Upon retirement, a loyal butler is insulted by being accused of thievery; by Jane Swan.

William Shakespeare Pavrati placed a grey wooden stool on the verandah of his modest cottage and sat down. The sun was just going off the porch though it was still hot. He closed his eyes and listened to the cries of the market traders a street over. An occasional bicycle came past loaded with bright cloth or buckets, baskets of fruit or cages of small animals destined for someone's plate.

William sighed. His thoughts crossed the city to the leafy outskirts. Would that lazy garden boy have brought up the vegetables to the Big House or would Cook be chivvying him up as usual? Had the new butler prepared Lady Marigold's G & T just the way she liked it? Perhaps the laundry delivery had been delayed and...

He stopped, opened his eyes and looked across to the mauve hills shimmering in the heat. That life, the life he'd had for sixty years, man and boy, was as far away from him now as those foothills. And he was tired.

William looked down at his bare feet. Bare feet in the middle of the day! It still surprised him. He wiggled his toes. The hairs on them were grey too. Where had the years gone? These feet had carried him faithfully across the city to The House every dawn and back again, often well after dark. Now they had their ease, so why should they be so restless?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Sheriff Quade Goes to Hell by Dave Henson

Drunkard Sheriff Quade is on a path of self destruction, and unfortunately there's some collateral damage; by Dave Henson.

It's dead dark when a noise wakes up Sheriff Josh Quade. He quietly slides the Colt out of his holster and fires twice in the dark. There's a gasp, a thud, and a groan. The sheriff reaches for the lamp on the table beside his bed and jambs his hand into the bars of the cell. "Shit," he says, realizing he fell asleep in the jail and isn't in his room above the feed store.

He sits up and a mostly empty whiskey bottle slides off of his lap to the floor. He takes a wooden match from his vest pocket, flares it with his thumbnail, and walks unsteadily toward the sound of moaning. Just as he feared, his deputy, Harp, is on the floor, a puddle of blood spreading around him.

"You shot me, Sheriff," Harp sputters. "Why'd you... shoot me? Why?"

"Sorry, Harp. I thought you was somebody in my room. Somebody after me."

"Your room? I was just... coming back in... from taking a piss... Your room?" Harp says, gulping for air.

"Ouch, damn it," Sheriff Quade lets go of the match, which falls onto Harp. He slaps out the flame, causing the deputy to groan loudly.

"Get Doc," Harp says with a rattling breath, then goes quiet.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ghosts in her Head by Maryangel Mendoza Chapman

Maryangel Mendoza Chapman's characters are chased by dark dreams.

There are ghosts in my head. There are ghosts in my head.

I wake up and cannot see. My eyes have been ripped out! No, wait... I can feel them; it is just too dark to see anything.

A piercing siren vibrates inside my head, bouncing around and causing my thoughts to scramble. I can't think with this noise. Woooop-woooop-woooop. The sound is mechanical and sinister in its regularity. I stumble out of the bed and scream. The floor is not there. It's a mossy bog and I slip through the top until I'm thigh-high in cold, slimy bog water. I can feel the moist green growth even though I see nothing. I pull myself to the edge and feel the cold pane glass that must be my window. I have to escape.

Once I am outside it is no longer blindingly dark. Fog covers the landscape casting cars and houses into shadows. Fog so thick anyone could be hiding in it, ready to pounce. The siren abruptly stops and is instantly replaced by the hiss of flames licking dry timber. I spin around wildly in circles. Once, twice, three spins. Nothing is on fire but the sound follows me every way I turn.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Degenerates by Tim Grutzmacher

Two hopeless regulars at Lefty's bar undertake a drinking contest with unusually high stakes; by Tim Grutzmacher.

Shot number 8

Darlene inhaled her shot. She absorbed it. To her it was as essential as oxygen. I started to feel as though I had been duped, that she had this whole scheme cooked up before she sidled up next to me. I've thought that others think of me as an easy mark, a real rube. I like to think that my gullibility isn't entirely a product of stupidity, but my belief that people aren't really as awful as they are. The ounce of Jim Beam slid down her throat without her face betraying even the slightest look of pain. To her it was sustenance, she thrived on anything toxic. I felt a green wave of nausea rising up in me and I hung my head and let out a sigh that seeped out as a sickly groan.

I was at Lefty's, as most of my stories these days start, looking out the window, willing the sun to go down so as to soften the ramshackle establishment. The barroom was small, a house of its size you would call cozy, but I can confidently say nobody has ever affixed that description to Lefty's. Around the L-shaped bar were about ten stools in varying degrees of disrepair held tight to the ever sticky floor like vinyl stalagmites. A well worn pool table was relegated, like a disobedient child, to a dimly lit corner. Billy was behind the bar, dumping buckets of ice into the bin, seemingly disappointed that the menial task didn't kill as much time as he'd hoped. He and I rarely discussed anything other than baseball, and with the home team twenty games out of first in late August we found ourselves without anything to talk about.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mister Polio by Raymond Holmes

Raymond Holmes recounts his experience as a child during the 1950s polio scare in America.

That hot, humid Saturday evening in July, 1951 was the scariest time of my young life - one I would never forget.

The air was like a blanket that covered your body as soon as you stepped outside. The slightest exertion drew perspiration through your skin immediately.

As a respite from the oppressive heat, Mother took me to an air conditioned neighbourhood movie theatre. The cool interior of the building was a blessed relief after enduring several days of that summer heat wave.

We saw "The Bride of Frankenstein." It was a terrifying movie for a seven year-old child to experience. Henry Frankenstein, creator of the monster, was delirious with excitement screaming, "It's Alive! It's Alive!" as he revelled in successfully animating the ugly living thing he had cobbled together with body parts purloined from cadavers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Our Song'll Go On by Scott Bassis

Nineteen year old art student Kristin struggles with the scars of having been sexually abused as a child, and expresses her anger with a painting she fears is too bold for her professors; by Scott Bassis.

"Just the lyrics keep changin.'

We'll dance on too,

Duel with nimble moves,

Engage and defend, but no one'll win."

Feeling a tap on her shoulder, Kristin jumps. She pulls out her earbuds.

"Who are you listening to?" Professor O'Neil smiles the same fake smile she has when she ruthlessly tears down her students' work. Kristin was spared today. During class, Professor O'Neil was speechless each time she passed Kristin's piece.

"Lori Drake," Kristin mumbles.

"Never heard of her. Why don't you ever connect your music to the speaker? You always seem so into it after class ends."

Kristin shrugs. If she were to play Lori Drake for everyone, she wouldn't be able to enjoy it. She would only be thinking how no one else understands what Lori is really saying. "Our Song'll Go On," for example, might sound to some ears like a torch song of lost love. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It's about Lori's struggle with the ongoing effects of childhood sexual abuse.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Down East Homecoming by Michael Beneszewski

Cassie takes her recovering alcoholic husband to the back-country island of her childhood, where he seems thoroughly out of place; by Michael Beneszewski.

I pull the Subaru into the dirt parking lot alongside Doris' Luncheonette and stare at the yellowing white siding of the two-story building for a few minutes. I turn anxiously to Will, and see the fresh scar from his last blackout spread across his face.

"This is steak and potatoes territory. No scenes over not seeing tofu hotdogs on the menu, okay?" I ask. He doesn't answer me and I repeat, "Okay?"

"Fine," he finally mumbles.

"Think about first impressions, alright?"

"Fine," he says again. We get out of the car and Will follows me up the steps.

I open the door, wave Will through, and step in. Twenty or so people spear their eyes at us, curious.

"Anywhere, hon," Arlene the waitress, a distant cousin, says passing us without stopping. As she walks by, I smell the chemical of her hairspray, fryer grease embedded in clothing, and the tangy pungency of cheap perfume. I am home, I think to myself.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Every Cloud by Ceinwen Haydon

Upon the death of her father, Becky McCauley turns to her abusive ex for support; by Ceinwen Haydon.

1.

Becky McCauley leant on the banister at the foot of the stairs, frozen. She knew she had to go up, wake her mother and tell her, but she wanted to run out into the night and never return. They'd said that if he survived for two weeks after the amputation then his chances would be good. He nearly got there, it would have been two weeks tomorrow. There was so much she'd wanted to ask him and now she'd missed her chance. Her bladder was full and painful after too much wine so she made her way to the toilet. As she sat there she vividly remembered random scenes from her life. She'd adored Dad even when he was wrong and he often was. Her mother was a different story.

Becky stood up and washed her hands; she wondered how it was that she could run a primary school that OFSTED rated as excellent and yet she experienced nervous anxiety every time she saw her elderly mum. Of course, it was natural tonight and anyone would have balked at what she had to do. But that didn't explain the other times. She wished Dan was with her tonight, if not him anyone, someone to diffuse the intensity of what was to come. She checked the time, it was two thirty, half an hour had already ticked by. She returned to the living room, poured herself a large gin, downed it and mounted the staircase. She knocked at her mother's door but there was no response. Light snores came from within the bedroom where the old woman slept a Zopiclone induced sleep. Becky opened the door and winced at the stuffy, fetid air. She walked slowly across the shag pile beige carpet and reached out to shake her mother. Becky forced herself to be gentle but withdrew her hand as soon as her mother stirred.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Love Floats by Don Herald

Nathan and Tilley's blossoming relationship is reaching a tipping point, but it's not just Tilley's psycho cat that threatens to come between them; by Don Herald.

NATHAN

The cat woke me up.

How can that be? I don't even own a cat. I always thought a dog would make a better pet; maybe a ferret. One or the other. A ferret wouldn't require that much care. It would fit my lifestyle better. Yes, a ferret would definitely be better than a dog. Way better. At least for me.

I lie still. Eyes deliberately scrunched shut.

Street sounds. Cars. Rock music from a distant radio. Rises, falls, fades. A deep motor growl. Diesel engine. Probably a city bus. Bird chirps. Robins. They're flocking back to favourite trees. Making muddy nests of dried-out grass blades in protected places. Fighting the doves for prime real estate. Nature never changes. Urgent voices. School kids - teenagers judging by the swearing and loud tones - actually talking to each other. Not texting. Amazing in this day and age.

Breath sounds. Light, wispy, slight fluttering at the end. Steady, rhythmic. Soothing. Is it me or someone else? No, it's someone else. But I don't live with anyone. No room-mates. No ferret. At least not yet.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Comet with a Nasty Tail by Tom Sheehan

Professor Clifton Agnuus brings a prop to impress his new students for the first lecture of term; by Tom Sheehan.

The morning, at the outset, had no promise of being ecstatic, though Professor Clifton Agnuus put the rock into his briefcase. Every time out it was about eight pounds of drama for him, at least at the start of every term, and here he was off on a new year. A storyteller he should have been, he argued, a spinner of yarns, the kind of a writer that Professor Albie Short, over in A&S, his one good buddy, drooled over, and had been doing for almost forty years. Albie was apt to open a conversation by saying something like, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge." There was a time Albie would likely answer a telephone call the same way, or with Bartlesby the Scrivener's opening remark, "I AM a rather elderly man," but all that had sloughed off when he was burned by some wise-ass responses. For reasons best known by them, he and Albie liked each other. If anything, Agnuus might say Albie was the other side of the coin.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Come Rain or Come Shine by M M Lewis

M M Lewis's comic steampunk story about a post-Apocalyptic postman with a precious cargo.

The end of the world had worked out rather well for Paddy Fenton. He smiled and took a shot of whisky as the bright red hot air balloon with the yellow 'Royal Mail' insignia rippled in the breeze. Far below, the remaining buildings looked like post-tantrum toys, scattered and overturned. The Noah floods had changed everything, most of it for the worst, but Paddy's job had vastly improved since hot air balloon had become the only way to deliver the post.

The Royal Mail's post-Flood motto was "Come rain or come shine we'll get it there... eventually." He refilled his shot glass. As much as he enjoyed whisky he missed tea. The great tea shortage was one of the worst things about the new normal. Paddy remembered meeting James Finchley, one of Royal Mail's most feared customers, all moustache, bluster and tweed. He had passed over the small cardboard box and told Paddy: "This parcel is valuable and very urgent." It was always 'very urgent', never just urgent.

"Sir, we work hard to provide an adequate service in these difficult times. Your delivery is reasonably safe with us," Paddy said.