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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Flames Over Anacostia Flats by Lee Conrad

Lee Conrad's dramatisation of the shameful Bonus Army conflict of 1932.

Patrick O'Brien stepped out of the slapped together shack on the Anacostia Flats. The July morning was already hot and steamy. The Flats, situated between Washington DC and the Anacostia River, muddy even in dry times, added to his misery. His denims and cotton shirt, loose on his wiry body, were soiled and sweat seeped through. He looked around the encampment as the 10,000 strong remnants of the Bonus Army in their makeshift city called Camp Marks roused from an uneasy slumber.

O'Brien, like the rest, was a veteran of the Great War. They came to Washington DC a month ago from all over the country to pressure Congress to give them the veteran bonus that was due to them. It was two years into the depression and people were desperate. They were out of work, out of their homes and out of hope, except for the promise of the bonus. The bonus though wasn't payable until 1945, and now in 1932, many felt they would be dead from hunger if they waited much longer. They wanted the money now and the Bonus Army and its leaders came here to make sure they got it.

"Hey Patrick, want some corn mush? It ain't much but it is tasty. Might cheer you up some."

The voice was his friend Sean Ryan. They served and fought together with the 1st infantry in France and survived. Many of their comrades didn't.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Pit of Depression By Sandor Kovacs

A washed up addict starts seeing shapeshifting demons wandering the street in Sandor Kovacs' creepy tale.

Pit lay awake when the first rays of the sun shone through the window. The first things he focused on after he finally sat up were two lines of cocaine on the coffee table. Then, he saw the photo of Rita. The picture had been taken in a beautiful park. Rita had been laughing, staring at the sky, arms spread wide, ready to cuddle the world. Cheese, wine and afternoon snacks had been placed on the picnic rug next to her. Our first picnic together, Pit remembered. He turned the frame away, rolled a note and snorted up the coke, shivering from the bitterness. The memory fled.

He stood up, kicking an empty vodka bottle, and shuffled through the narrow path between dirty clothes and rotten food, leading to the bathroom. The studio flat smelled like a public toilet that hadn't been cleaned for a month.

'Monday,' he said and urinated without a good aim. This made him laugh. Not caring about wiping his body fluid off the tiles, he walked back and dropped himself on the bed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Watch What Happens by Lou Antonelli

Struggling writer Dan Fortenberry takes an old TV to a pawn shop and gets a better deal than he could ever have hoped for; by Lou Antonelli.

I remember looking down to see spots of my sweat hitting the top of the television and throwing little puffs of dust in the air. The man across the counter said, "Sorry, we don't take televisions that are over ten years old."

I exhaled and then coughed weakly. "Heck, I was hoping I wouldn't have to lug this thing back," I said.

Suddenly we both heard a little ringing sound, like a small silver bell, from the far end of the counter where an old man stood. He wore an old-fashioned vest and had a haystack of silver-gray hair over a jowly face.

The pawn store employee took a step back from the counter, obviously startled at the sound. I looked at him, and then at the man down the counter, who had pulled out a brass pocket watch and was staring at its face intently.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lick by Harrison Abbott

After an altercation with a young boy, carpenter Davey's fragile self-control starts to deteriorate; by Harrison Abbott.

Davey had punched that lad hard. Was the first time he'd ever hit somebody. It was in an alleyway in the suburbs, and nobody else had seen it. The lad had kicked a football and it hit Davey's window! And it had been deliberate - so Davey ran outside his house, chased the boy and hit him in amply in the cheekbone. Davey had experienced a superb reinforcement of rage. The punch wasn't like punches in films; there was no paaak sound, and the target didn't fall over. Davey tugged the boy's hair, then released him and went back inside his house as the boy departed. As a man in his 40s, it was an incident of revelation. But Davey didn't expect the messages to start appearing after that.

It first happened hours later after the assault, that Friday afternoon. Davey's veins were still whirling with adrenaline when he spotted something unusual in his front garden. He walked outside and found a broad piece of paper, folded in two, with a brick holding it down. When he unfolded the paper, it had the word 'LICK' written across it. Looked like a child had scrawled the letters with a red crayon. He put it in the bin.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Chance, Kings, and Desperate Men by Bob Carlton

A group of characterful schoolboys hatch a plot to spy on the girls' locker room in Bob Carlton's flamboyant comedy.

"Forgetaboutit!"

Pale-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Vinnie Crupolla had, by an impossible series of genetic transformations, metamorphoses, and mutations, inherited all of his physical traits from the purely Scandinavian, maternal side of the family, without any paternal Mediterranean swarthiness whatsoever. However, by way of an absurd Lamarckian atavism, he possessed the gestural and speech patterns from past generations of Crupollas who had lived in the metropolitan areas of the northeastern United States. It was as if Jay North had been raised in the house of Tony Soprano. This was quite unlike his best friend, Jose O'Houlihan, or as he was known to most of his associates, the Freckled (sometimes "Speckled") Mexican.

"FUHGEDDABOUDIT!" exclaimed Vinnie as the boys stood at the urinals in one of the hallway restrooms of Oliver Wendell Hardy Middle School. Vinnie, or course, meant nothing specific by this; it was more an instinctive linguistic eruption than actual conversation.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Home Front by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello tells the nostalgic story of Patty's homecoming to rural New Zealand after World War II.

The bus was rickety and should have died long ago. It spluttered to a halt outside a country store and a young woman wearing a floral dress struggled down the steps with a large leather case. She put it down and looked around.

Everything was how she remembered it. The store still had rotten timber and sunken piles, giving it a drunken lean, and the dirty cream paint on the courthouse was marked with ginger stripes from the overflow of a rusty roof. A traction engine stood outside the blacksmith's store, billowing smoke and steam.

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. A smile lit up her face, as broad as the wide-brimmed bonnet shading her freckled complexion from the New Zealand sun.

A corpulent man wearing a dog collar was sitting on a seat in front of the hotel. He stood up, gazed at the young woman, nodded, then turned to stare after the bus, as it rumbled off in a cloud of dust.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Carmen by Daniela Chamorro

Daniela Chamorro's beautiful and uplifting elegy to a ballerina's performance of Carmen.

0:00
Her bun was too tight. Her leotard was too tight. Her tights were too tight. The black lace over her clavicle was itchy, but she already had her hands at her sides, positioned for the start of the piece. She was facing the back of the stage, a plain black curtain. From behind her came the sound of papers shuffling on the judges' table and whispering among the crowd. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of her own slow breaths instead. In, out, in, out. Two minutes ago, she'd been terrified that her arms would be shaking onstage. Now, she could only hope they'd unfreeze before -

0:02
The violins blasted the opening strands of Carmen's Habanera through the speakers, and her arms twisted up towards the ceiling of their own accord. Her body was on autopilot, the music triggering her responses. But it wasn't robotic - her wrists twisted her hands gracefully and assuredly up to reach for the bright stage lights.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bread Crumbs by N. T. Franklin

A dominant Honduran drug cartel is betrayed by a man with nothing to lose; by N. T. Franklin.

A shadow moved across the curtain. Robert Gonzalez was in big trouble and didn't care. He was a dead man, well a dying man anyway. The slam of the door told him the shadow was a motel patron walking by his window.

The motel was one that took cash and didn't ask questions. After two days, the buzzing of the ancient neon sign became white noise; after two days, the Cachiros Cartel had still not found him. The worst of the worst of the Honduran drug cartels were using every available resource to find Robert Gonzalez, accountant extraordinaire. Their accountant, their thief.

Robert's thoughts drifted back to his youth. Poor kid Robert and rich kid Alan Silver were inseparable growing up. Robert and Alan did everything together, including going to college. They took a spring break trip to Mexico to Alan's parent's condo. It was on this trip Robert fell in love. Mercedes Rivera was a dark-eyed native beauty working at the resort. Alan flirted with her and even talked her into having drinks with him, but Robert was smitten. He could not persuade her to return with him. From a tiny Guatemalan village in the San Marcos District bordering Mexico, she made it clear she would not leave her country to be with him. Robert would never replace her as the one love of his life. Alan and Robert drifted apart after the spring break trip.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Creature at Rathscar Cemetery by Eliah Medina

Alyx must face terrible dangers to get medicine for her dying father in Eliah Medina's frightening fantasy tale.

Small and countless sparkles of light covered the black sky. The thick and silent forest adorned in snow towered over her. The small bundle of medicine was a comforting weight on Alyx's chest. White vapor flowed endlessly from her mouth as she ran. A sparkling ruby pendant around her neck shined white light. She effortlessly maneuvered over logs, ditches and thick roots never faltering.

A small cabin with yellow light escaping from the windows appeared. The smoke was still flowing out of the chimney.

"Not too late," she muttered to herself.

The girl gave a tight squeeze around the red gem and the light dulled then faded. Bursting into the cabin, she ignored the comforting fireplace, tossed her cloak on a nearby chair, and flew into the bedroom. A frail, sickly man lay on his bed next to his wife, Alison. She looked exhausted. Alyx handed her mother the herbs and asked.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Bank Account by Matthew Harrison

Matthew Harrison channels Kafka in this story about an ageing father determined to open a bank account.

It was at supper that Arthur dropped his bombshell. He wanted an investment account.

His son Chris who had come over for the evening was appalled. "Dad, you've already got a current account! God knows, getting that was hard enough..." He rolled his eyes at the memory.

Arthur's wife Mabel knew from bitter experience that once her husband had set his heart on something, that was it. "I support you, dear," she said quietly, patting his arm. And to Chris: "It's all right." But inwardly she quailed.

"No, it's not all right!" Chris shouted at her. He rounded on his father. "Don't you realise what it means? What you'll have to go through? What she will have to go through?" He indicated his mother. "Christ, even I'll have to..." He sank back as the ramifications came home.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Daisy-Chain by Oliver Barton

What caused Doreen, once a cheery young girl, to become a grumpy old woman, and can she be happy again? asks Oliver Barton.

The kids said she was a witch, so curmudgeonly was she. Her thin lips, pursed like a circumflex, snapped out criticism and disapproval. If the sun shone, we'd pay for it later. Supermarket food was tasteless, the independents too expensive. The local park was all dog poo. The council was incompetent. There were no proper winters any more. Other people were completely self-obsessed. Children were rude. Goods were shoddy.

It was not always so. Aged ten, Doreen was a flaxen-haired bouncy bundle of joy, who would skip rather than walk, and thought snails were little people with caravans. She would sit in the meadow, humming tunes quietly, and make daisy-chains in the long sun-sweet afternoons.

One day, leaning against the foot of an ancient oak, she thought she heard a cry from the ground beside her. 'Help!' it seemed to say. 'Help!' All she could see was a small hole at the base of the tree, perhaps made by a mouse or a shrew.

She put her head down close, and said, 'Hallo! Who's there?'

Monday, February 20, 2017

Love and Robots by Bill Hackenberger

Ronald feels resentful when Jeana, perfume expert at her local mall, wins a general purpose domestic robot; by Bill Hackenberger.

Petey, the robotic parrot, swaggered toward me, smudging my pencil sketch as his peg leg tap-tapped across my drawing board.

"Avast, Ronald, ya swab," he said. "You'll be needin' some maple syrup to sweeten that up."

"Dammit, Petey!" I said. "You're messing up my storyboard."

"Awwk," he screeched, as I brushed him aside. "Over easy there, matey," he said and flapped away onto the coffee table.

You could say Petey was my robo-pet. I found him behind the mall in a dumpster. Now normally I wouldn't be walking back there since its not the best neighborhood, but I'd just dropped lunch off for my fiancé during her shift at the Budget Barn. Strictly speaking, Jeana wasn't my fiancé since I hadn't proposed yet, but I was waiting for the moment when she might say yes. I was on my way back to catch the autobus when I heard a muffled voice coming from behind the building.

"Ahoy, me hearties. Come on in for the food, but stay for the fun."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Broken Bone by Martin Crabtree

A doctor travels from the seedy frontier town of Sawnick to a puritanical outpost to help deliver a baby, but danger and surprises are in store; by Martin Crabtree.

Sawnick, Colorado Territory, mid-April, 1872

"By donkey, Sawnick to Greeley Colony's a full day's ride," Mrs. Trudy Tremolo told her lodger. Dr. Zachary Ritenour stood in front of his rooming house with his short, ample landlady. They were inspecting her two donkeys tied to the hitching post in the street that ran along Sawnick's main, only, dusty road.

"Mrs. Tremolo," said Dr. Ritenour, "they need me urgently in the Greeley Colony. I'm a stranger in this part of the world, and it is not at all like Boston. Riding the train here is one thing, and riding horses, but I don't know where to begin with these odd looking animals, much less how to get there."

"It's an easy ride, Doc. Just sit, the donkey knows the way. Greeley Colony's yonder that way," she said, pointing toward the rising sun. "Keep the mountains behind you and you'll be goin' in the right direction. Comin' back, of course, do it 'tother ways around. And don't worry none about Alma, that donkey can find her way home in fire or flood, even I reckon a passel of snakes.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Dress by Monica Kagan

In Cape Town, South Africa, Sylvana visits a second hand shop that was once her mother's favourite, and must face up to her grief.

"How lovely to see you Sylvana. It has been so long."

Tatiana was perched behind the ancient cash register in the second hand shop "Marvellous Memories" in vibrant Long Street, Cape Town, stroking her black Labrador.

"I've been meaning to pop in but..."

Sylvana spotted the shimmering vintage blue dress. She pressed it against her cheek enjoying the soft, smooth sensation of the fabric against her skin.

"Ah yes Chanel, your mother's -"

"Favourite... I'd love to buy it."

Tatiana read the tag, attached to the dress.

"Unfortunately it is spoken for. A customer has reserved it."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Masquerade by Thomas Elson

Rachel tries desperately not to let her difficult husband subsume her personality; by Thomas Elson.

"It's not for you. It's for the party you don't want to go to. And I don't want to see as much as a single fingerprint on it when I get back," Rachel patted Merle's left shoulder and cast her eyes to the right, her lower lip slanted down as if undecided.

Merle Rector, his shadowed face cast in an abiding scowl, sat behind his chipped, beige metal desk in his home office. The entire house was redolent of fried foods and warm pastries his wife, Rachel Benson, had prepared.

Rachel walked past the mirror in the hallway. Her barber-cut straight hair emphasized broad shoulders, thick legs, thicker ankles, and a waistline that concealed any trace of femininity. She stopped, looked at herself, adjusted her newly sewn blouse, checked the decorative cuff on her pressed jeans, and left for work through the back door. She had a history lecture to deliver in an hour and a student to advise before then.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Writer and the Editor by Landis Wade

Landis Wade gives us an amusing insight into the editorial process.

First Chapter

Writer: Rain hit Shelia's windshield like pellets from a scattergun as the sun broke through the clouds.

Editor: Don't start a story with the weather. And don't use so much description that it detracts from the pace of the story.

Writer: __ ___ Shelia's windshield __ ___ ___ _ _____ __ ___ ___ broke ___ ___ ___.

Fifth Chapter

Writer: Momma said Shelia's baby was as cute as a button.

Editor: Don't use clichés. You need to make it real.

Writer: Momma said Shelia's baby was as cute as a real button.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Unconditional Love by Sharon L. Bachman

When Gerald knocks himself cold in a drunken stupor, his deluded wife is left in charge of the dysfunctional household; by Sharon L. Bachman.

I'm proud to say I've always been a good mother, and the proof of it started the night my husband came home late, slipped in a pee puddle in the bathroom and conked his head on the toilet seat. I let him nap right there on the linoleum while I sopped up his blood and stitched the cut with a needle and thread from my sewing kit. After all, like my mom used to say, you should let sleeping dogs lie. You should also let awake dogs lie, cheat and steal, she'd say, especially if they're bigger than you. She was full of cute little sayings like that, right up until she fell down that elevator shaft.

Gerald was still asleep the next morning when everybody had to do their business, so my eldest four helped me shove him sideways so we could get to the toilet. Since I'd spoiled Gerald with all my good cooking over the years, we had to put some muscle into this, but those kids are champs! Not a one of them complained. That's what good parenting does for you. I counted that chore as their physical education credit for the day.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Father Dingle, Some Mice and the Portal to Hell by Julie Carpenter

Strange goings-on in Father Dingle's church herald an existential threat beyond his ken; by Julie Carpenter.

Maybe it had started with the mice, he thought. Maybe the exodus of mice had been the first sign that there was something amiss in the church basement. The choir room had been plagued by mice for as long as Father Dingle had been there. Alan, the choir director, had been on about adequate storage for the music since he'd been there. Just last Christmas, Alan had gone on the warpath after finding a mouse nest made with scraps of the Hallelujah Chorus, a situation he found neither economically nor spiritually tolerable. But in the early autumn, just a few months ago, the church mice had begun moving out of the basement in droves. Father Dingle had arrived at church one morning to find several families of mice scurrying up the basement stairs and down the hall towards the front doors. More mice appeared each morning, waiting at the doors to dash out as soon as they were opened.

One morning he'd found a mouse quivering on the window sill in his office. It was so paralyzed with fear that he'd been forced to ease it out the window and into the scraggly rosebush outside his office with the end of a pencil. He could not bring himself to otherwise dispose of the poor shivering animal.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Penelope by TS Hidalgo

Three weeks before her wedding, a riding accident threatens to cast Penelope's virtue into question; by TS Hidalgo.

I had a riding accident at my college's polo club, three weeks before the date originally set for my wedding. A minor matter apparently and not at all uncomfortable or painful but a major setback for my impending nuptials even so: I tore my hymen.

I called my mother a bit nervously. I had to tell her the details of my mishap while I led Wood to the stables. I tried again when I walked out of the dressing rooms. She didn't answer the second time either so I left a message. I decided not to call Jordi - my finance, flamenco dancer, first generation American on tour on the East Coast, and before that in Seattle, Omaha, Nebraska, and Redwood City, California with his latest show. I went back to my apartment, a loft actually, right on Berkeley campus. I read for a while and then I started knitting bootees for a niece of mine to calm myself down a little.

I was getting ready to go buy wool at a mall when my cellphone rang. It was my mother. I explained everything and we agreed to look for a good surgeon and not tell my boyfriend a thing. He called me that very same night. He apologized for delaying his return: he would come on Saturday. Extension of his tour on the East Coast, three extra shows in New York.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Preacher and His Wife by Mitchell Toews

In Hartplatz, rural Canada, a neighbourhood scandal brews when young Sarah reports that her grandmother's engagement ring has gone missing; by Mitchell Toews.

On Barkman Avenue, right behind where the dance hall had been and where the bakery was now, stood a one and a half story stucco house. It was a small place. The rear entrance was at the top of a short porch made of whitewashed, rough-sawn two by four lumber. From the porch, one could - in comfort - hang or retrieve laundry from a complicated clothesline pulley system that extended out from the wall. It was not the usual style of clothesline, but one made with a series of bespoke wooden reels that wound the cable through a cluster of sheaves of varying diameters.

Painted to resemble metal, the sheaves consisted of two pieces of router-edged plywood; conjoined like back-to-back pie plates. The luminescent paint used gave the profusion of pulleys the look of a metallic garden of sunflowers. When the woman who lived there managed her wash, she could be seen pushing or pulling wet sheets and many large bakers' aprons with apparent ease. The wash line was a frequent recipient of heavy loads and the complicated design was for more than just appearances - it offered a clever mechanical advantage.

Friday, January 20, 2017

From Schmear To Eternity by Jim Norman

A Jewish deli owner in 1920s Brooklyn sticks his nose into mob business; by Jim Norman.

"We ready for the breakfast crowd?" Max Kalb asked his employee and fellow counterman Abe Siegel. It was the same question Max, owner of G & G Delicatessen, asked Abe Siegel every morning at 6:45am.

Abe checked the big clock in a wire cage high on the wall. "We will be in fifteen minutes." The two close friends shared the same accent, a mix of Yiddish and Brooklyn, and lived in the same neighborhood, the same way as their parents and grandparents had in a village in Eastern Europe.

Max smiled. Spring made 1925 Brooklyn a much nicer place than winter. Gone was the brutal cold and piles of snow that, thanks to contributions by horses pulling wagons, garbage cans and the exhaust and dripped oil from cars and trucks, hadn't stayed white. It wasn't warm yet, but temperatures had risen. Whatever the season, G & G smelled like a kosher delicatessen, the air filled with the aroma of pastrami, corned beef and pickles.

"I heard a racket from the kitchen," Abe said. "Mrs. G is working."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Voyage of the Tropical Queen by Anne Da Vigo

Dennis is forced out of retirement to fix the radar on his ex brother-in-law's dilapidated ferry in Hawaii, and he fears the vessel will not survive its next trip; by Anne Da Vigo.

Dennis climbed into the passenger seat of the '49 pickup. The upholstery was torn, and a metal spring scratched his leg. "Nice wheels," he said.

Adrian, his former brother-in-law, was driving. "Nice - and cheap." He veered away from the curb at Honolulu International, cutting off the inter-terminal bus.

Dennis rubbed away a spot of blood from the seat. "So, how's it going?"

"Two more weeks, and we're out to sea." The pickup's gears grated.

He drove west, past Pearl Harbor. The ocean looked almost black. Dennis rolled down the window and let the breeze tickle his bald head. He recalled having sex for the first time on a similar pickup's bench seat.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Up a Creek by Clifford Hui

Joanna must face up to a childhood phobia to start her career as a herpetologist; by Clifford Hui.

"Those eggs are from a red-legged frog, all right. And it's a good-sized mass, too. Earl was completely right yesterday." Gil, leaning on the wall across from Rob's open office door, balanced his coffee cup in one hand and folded his arms over the middle-aged paunch that pushed out against his red plaid flannel shirt. "We haven't surveyed Desdichado Creek yet. When do you think we should go?" He stroked his handlebar mustache, grey like his hair.

Rob pushed back from his desk, stood up, and moved to his office doorway, almost filling it. He dangled his wire-rimmed reading glasses from one hand as he rubbed his short salt-and-pepper beard with the other. He answered in his soft west-Texas drawl, "Well, the sooner the better. It's going to take several efforts to be sure we got a good count on that creek, and we want to be done before they migrate outta there for the winter. We can do our first effort tonight if y'all are clear with Mary to go."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Leap of Faith by Frances Howard-Snyder

Martha and Derek, worn out by their two young children, host a party for a salesman who boasts a miracle opportunity.

"Sounds too good to be true," Martha said, with a small laugh, hoping not to antagonize her husband. "This fellow has a product that will give us a clean house, more free time, wealth - all for a meager one hundred dollars?"

"Bold, huh?" Derek beamed. "You'll be impressed. Trust me. Wait 'til you see the video testimonials."

Martha must have still looked skeptical, because he came closer and kissed her neck. "The house looks great." He put his big hands on her waist. "Like before we had kids."

She pushed him away. "Not in front of the guests, Derek." But she was pleased with the attention and pleased that he'd noticed her work. It had taken hours, scraping ketchup and egg off the hardwood floor, filling plastic trays with Lego pieces, and Windexing smudgy hand and lip-prints off the French windows. The glass was almost invisible now, showing off the dark cedar forest beneath a sky like sequined velvet.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ashley's Annulment by R. Christophe Ryber

Ashley distances herself from her Catholic mother's failed marriage by becoming a Wiccan, but things may be destined to come full circle; by R Christophe Ryber.

Ashley's feet plowed through the fallen leaves as her brown eyes scanned the dark patches between the trees for another glimpse of the wolf. The silver light from the crescent moon was barely enough for her to dodge the branches that reached out to slap her in the face as she plunged down the mountainside.

Ashley splashed into a stream and slowed, but not before her flip flops found the slick stones at the bottom. Her feet flew out from under her, and she landed hard on her broad bottom. The cold water seeped into her black ritual robe and left goosebumps on the plump, pasty flesh underneath. By the time she had gotten to her feet and slogged out of the freezing water, her blue lips were quivering. She swore at the ripped out flip flop dangling from her bruised foot.

Ashley frowned at her blurry toes. She swatted her face and the top of her head, then dropped down on all fours and felt around in the fallen leaves for her glasses. No luck. She eyed the frigid stream and took a deep breath through chattering teeth before wading back in, the arms of her robe wet up to her elbows as her rapidly numbing fingers dug around the slime covered stones. Nothing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Dolly Elite by Kara Bright Kilgore

Kara Bright Kilgore gives us a glimpse into the life of a well-to-do teenager for whom appearances are paramount.

We knew. My friends and I, we always knew about her. Each of us, at some time or another, had said something about her. We giggled, but secretly those words came up in our minds again; maybe at a different playtime, maybe right before sleep, and we each wondered in our own way: "Could that really be true about her?" Then we promptly forgot, thought about brushing her hair the next morning, and fell asleep as any child. Barbie. She wasn't a doll; she was my friend, and so I, along with a handful of my other playgroup friends, decided to keep her secrets. That's just what girlfriends did for each other. The night before the dinner party I dressed Barb in her pink nightie and left her on the chaise longue to sleep under the watchful prisms of a crystal chandelier.