Friday, November 24, 2017

Therapy by Abraham Myers

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Raw Concrete by Brooke Fieldhouse

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

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

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

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



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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Moth Therapy by Bruce Costello

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Deal of the Day by Sarah Dwyer

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

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

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

Here's his dirty little story from last night:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bullfight by Jonah Kruvant

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Math Instructor by SF Wright

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Getting Ahead by David Henson

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Three Heads of Irving Jefferson by Martin Kingfisher

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

Head 1

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Quilt by Beryl Ensor-Smith

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Statue, a Bridge and a Dream by Rick Brooks

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

BEFORE

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

“Well, that’s it, I guess.”

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Start Up by Fred McGavran

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

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tibetan Fling By Roger Meachem

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Beyond the City Limits by Clayton Stoneking

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Home by Josephine Bruni

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

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Cock-a-Roach by A.T. Sayre

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

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

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