Monday, January 20, 2020

A Bath by James Mulhern

James Mulhern's 16-year-old character visits his grandmother and discovers truths about his family and himself.

"We won't stay long," my mother said. We were driving on the Jamaicaway, a curvy four-lane parkway in Boston. The pond was on our left. I knew she was nervous. She hated visiting my grandmother. Said it was so depressing. She couldn't stand to see her the way she was now.

"Do people swim in that water?"

"They used to. Until the seventies. A mother and daughter drowned. After that, swimming was forbidden."

When she spoke, the bruises on her face seemed to grow.

"What are you looking at?" She touched the side of her forehead and cheek. The blue and red had transformed into shades of orange and yellow. The colors reminded me of the trees along the water.

"Does it hurt?"

"Not any longer." She reached out and patted my head. "Don't worry, Billy. Your mother's a survivor." She braked at the crosswalk to let a man and woman pass. She sighed.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Tongue by Ronald Schulte

A homeless bum starts talking in tongues, and soon finds out he's not the only one; by Ronald Schulte.

"Pardon me, ma'am... could you spare some change?"

The woman's reaction is classic. She almost trips over her own kid in her rush to get away from me. I grin as she fumbles with her keys at the top of the stairway. Finally they make it through the door. My smile fades, and I sigh.

Alone again.

What do they hear when I speak? I have no way of knowing for sure. My best guess is that they hear what I hear on those rare occasions when someone responds to me: nonsensical incomprehensible gibberish. Mostly I get funny looks when I speak. Some people, like the lady I just met, react with palpable fear. One dude even screamed at me, although I'm not entirely sure he wouldn't have screamed at me even if he'd properly heard the pleasantries I'd offered.

I don't know. Maybe this isolation is for the best.

"Mister?"

Monday, January 13, 2020

Camouflage by Ron Hartley

Soldier Ray has some terrible luck on his flight home after fighting in Afghanistan; by Ron Hartley.

His deployment was over, his biological arms and legs still attached and obedient to his brain. For twelve months he'd been alternatively homesick, sex deprived and haunted by a perverse desire to get hit just so he could get it over with. The odorous warrior dudes in his platoon were unhygienic refuse heaps of their former selves, but so juiced by steroids and firepower he couldn't help but think of them as superheroes of sorts, so he hung in there with them day after god awful day.

Helicopters would come sometime in the next hundred hours to fly the platoon out to the Bagram Air Base in Parvan Province, the first leg of their long journey home. Ray had permission to detach sooner and take the rest of his accumulated leave before hooking back up in the US. Cell phones weren't allowed in the field so photos would have to wait until they were together once more for separation processing. By then the faces in such photos wouldn't be so unhinged anymore. They'd be the born-again faces of reasonably happy beings, or if not happy then reasonably alive.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Little Light by Jessica McGlyn

Maddie starts volunteering for a Christian aid organisation working with disadvantaged inner-city kids, but hers is a much older religion; by Jessica McGlyn.

It didn't have to end like this. I should have seen it coming. After all, I'd been a young girl once too.

There goes little Bernaya writhing on the linoleum floor, her arms and legs a mass of oozing boils. There go the children of Little Lights, mocking and pointing at her. There go my fellow tutors, staring like fools, waiting on the Lord to intervene, I guess. There goes Ms LeMara, rushing in to help her.

But I know it's useless, there's nothing to be done. And all over that stupid kid, Tyrone.



Three months earlier, as I was telling my neighbor Jan about my plans, I could not have predicted Bernaya's tragedy.

"You're volunteering inside Potomac Gardens? PG? The public housing with all those drive-by shootings?" she asks.

"Jeez, it's not that bad," I say. "PG's just a few blocks from here. We should do more to help our neighbors."

Monday, January 6, 2020

To Build a Fire 2030 by James Rumpel

Todd is so reliant on technology that he's stuck when his self-driving car crashes in the woods; by James Rumpel.

Night had fallen, ill-lit and frigid, when the autonomous 2029 Ford Helmsman sped past an insignificant sign on a forsaken service road of Wenatchee National Forest. The electric car's barely audible whir suddenly ceased. All lighting on its exterior and in its interior dimmed, then extinguished. Propelled by momentum, the car continued to coast toward a hairpin bend in the gravel roadway. No longer operated by its state-of-the-art self-navigation system, the car jolted slightly as it parted ways with the road and joined the trees and undergrowth in the forest. The vehicle rolled down the steep embankment.

Todd jerked into semi-alertness when the car left the road. Aided only by the dim castings of a full moon woven amongst tree branches, he recognized the skeleton of a fallen ponderosa pine rapidly approaching the vehicle. Still slightly groggy from an unscheduled two-hour nap, Todd's survival instincts took control. Covering his face with his arms, he twisted to the left, ducking below the car's high-tech, though completely inert, dashboard.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Whose Lucky Night? by Renata Kell

Vince is about to pull off a heist that's been planned for months, but he's distracted by a captivating barmaid.

Something feels different tonight. Tonight is our lucky night. We are prepared to cash in on this casino in a big way. Yet I can't shake the feeling that something is off. Nothing looks different. The machines are flashing bright neon invitations to the dwindling bingo crowd. June and Charlie feed the hungry slot monster the remainder of their social security check. I wonder if they realize I have been watching them for more than six months. The girls in the deli are as fun to watch tonight as all the other nights. You would never know they are working. They are joking and laughing with each other and the customers that wander up to order midnight snack food. I can't help but laugh out loud as they start high-fiving and hip-bumping after a small burst of business.

"Vince," Joe says, his eyebrows narrowed in my direction.

"What? We're supposed to act like any other night, right?" I say.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Toilet Paper is Expensive by Frank Beyer

Frank Beyer gives us a glimpse into the harsh life of seasonal labourers in southeastern Australia.

How's it going? I asked a guy sitting outside a tent reading Harry Potter. Do you know where to get work round here?

Yea, cotton chipping is the go, I work with Clive - he's got a full gang at the moment, but Bert is always looking for people. You should be able to sign up at the campground reception.

Cheers mate, I'll do that!

I went straight over to the reception signed up. I told Ross about it and he resentfully came out of his tent and went over to sign too. I had teamed up with my mate Ross in Sydney, he'd been doing some bar work there, but found nothing steady. Now we were in the middle of NSW, a one hill town, where Ross reckoned it'd be easy to find work. A pretty enough place, from the top of that one hill you could see orchards and vineyards stretching towards the horizon. Ross left looking for work to me, he stuck to reading in his tent, no Harry Potter though, more likely Che Guevara.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Stolen Heart by J.V. Mulcahy

A beleaguered soldier tells of his escape from captivity and prejudice; by J.V. Mulcahy. Also subsequently published in Altered Reality.

I was having a heated argument with my sister Araminta when Arys hailed us.

"Am I interrupting?" he asked, his mild question contrasting with our argument. We sat at a table near the outer wall of the tavern's terrace, surrounded by tables of officers and men.

Araminta shot him a bright smile. Her complexion, like mine, was the rich color of cinnamon, which set off the flash of her eyes in the sunlight. "Just Jorg here, making a fool of himself." She waved our friend to the empty chair opposite her. "He thinks I'm too frail to fight for my own freedom."

Araminta and I were sharing Morgasian ale, while traffic moved past on the crowded main boulevard of Jehan's Lair. In each direction, on both sides, there were tables and carts, with red, and green, and yellow awnings. Flint-eyed merchants, eager farmers and cheating traders sold and bought glassware, weapons, cloth, corn, oats, sacrificial animals, leather; most items that could be found in any small city, which Jehan's Lair closely resembled.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Annie Apple by Raima Larter

Molly moves in to a rickety old house in North Dakota, and finds a ghost trying on her clothes in the basement; by Raima Larter.

Molly first saw the ghost in the cellar, behind a shelf filled with dusty canning jars. The ghost was - or had been - a young woman. She had long glossy hair and a sprinkle of freckles over her transparent nose, and was floating in front of an old mirror. Molly could see the cellar wall through the ghost’s transparent arms, which were the only part of her body not covered by Molly’s dress, the scoop-necked gold satin.

Why was the ghost wearing Molly’s dress? And where was her camera when she needed it? The ghost grabbed hold of the skirt and turned this way, then that, in front of the dusty mirror. When she twirled, the dress billowed out like a bell.

The ghost’s reflection was visible in the mirror, which seemed surprising. Did ghosts even have mirror reflections? The ghost twirled again and, this time, caught sight of Molly. She dropped her hold on the dress and, just like that, was gone. The gown hung empty in the air for a few seconds, then slinked to the floor, pooling into a puddle of satin.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Flames of Freedom by Iftekhar Sayeed

A lyrical and transgressive story of political intrigue, love and rage, set in Bangladesh and Burma; by Iftekhar Sayeed.

PART I

CHAPTER 1
AT MONGLA

I shall always feel affection and respect for the man who wanted to destroy western civilisation. I remember clearly how we met - that was an adventure in itself. We met through Faria, and I met her at Hotel Poshur at Mongla.

I was having a melancholy meal by myself in the octagonal Royal Bengal Restaurant; melancholy because I'd just failed to get campaign money for the General's election: he'd been powerless too long, deposed several years ago by donors and students. It was a sultry evening, and the air-conditioners hummed.

When she entered, the room seemed to become warmer and more humid. She was a tall, brown-complexioned girl in a black, flowered saree. She strode, her high heels striking the floor, to a table close to mine.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Norah's Gift by James Wright

Norah is a deeply unhappy child, and her secret superpower may only make it worse; by James Wright.

"Why are you looking at the rest of the class like that, Norah? Like you mean them harm. A scowl really doesn't sit well on your pretty face." Miss Froome gave Norah and the rest of the class her best toothpaste ad smile.

"Because I want to leap into their brains," Norah replied coolly. "And make their bodies do terrible, horrific things." She followed it with her own practiced smile. Norah and Miss Froome could have passed for mother and daughter. Norah hated that.

The class murmured with uneasy laughter.

If only they knew, thought Norah, with a fizz of sadistic delight. Lucky for them, she wasn't wasting her time on a bunch of sappy fifth graders anymore. Lucinda Froome, however, with her perfect blonde hair, her perfect southern manners, and oh-so-perfect, rich boyfriend, Eddie Beaumont. Now that was a project which showed ambition.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Haunting of Piedras Blancas by DC Diamondopolous

Lovesick ghost Astrid wanders the California coast, longing and fearing to leave the Earth forever; by DC Diamondopolous.

There is no end to my love for Jemjasee. I pace the ragged cliffs, searching the sea for her ship. My longing will not cease until I am entwined in her marble wash of lavender and green arms.

It's dawn. The sunlight's red varnish stretches across the Santa Lucia Mountains. The mist from the sea floats through the Monterey Cypress. Backlit in pink stands the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

The waves caress my vestige feet. The foam licks my revenant face. The damp never seeps into my gossamer bones. My long silk robe opens, my breasts exposed to the witless wind. It hisses, jeers, but I am invincible, adrift in my chariot of grief.

The gulls perch in conference on the white rock. Beyond is the blue empty sky, the vast sea without sails, no horizon. Blue. Come, Jemjasee. Am I to roam this rugged coastline for eternity, this journey without distance? I feel doomed, my struggle invisible. You must come, Jemjasee. Save me from my weariness.

I skim the jagged bluff. The elephant seals raise their massive heads when they see me then fall back to sleep.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Pardon My Persian by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

A young American writer feels oppressed by his father's pride in their shared Persian roots; by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri.

Your father has dragged you to another Persian party, even though you know almost nothing of his culture, a culture he has attempted to impose upon you, deeming you too American because you like movies, don't adhere to his chauvinistic notions of gender roles. Because you lead a social life that is anathema to his own vision of things. At this stage, you're young, in your early twenties, and don't yet have the balls to draw lines in the sand.

The facts: You are American, by birth, by sensibility. English is your natural idiom, the language in which you create and curse out people you despise. The language in which you argue with your father, the mustache man. You're in your early twenties, and have lived in this city, attended party after party for years. Your father calls you Persian, slipping that fact surreptitiously into any conversation.

Women and men with grotesque smiles kiss and hug you, streaming in slowly, half an hour late, the pace picking up. Salaam, salaam, they proclaim. Peace. Peace. Your father shoves you into their line of fire, space invaded by labyrinths of arms. They grow in number, expanding, like a bad Sci-Fi Channel movie. Persiannado. They wear fakeness like a veil. You cannot pronounce their names. They offer a few words in English, retreat into their social orders, into the Persian language, a language replete with fake sweetness. A spoonful of too much sugar and bullshit.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Family Property by R. C. Capasso

An Ohio hermit plucks up the courage to meet her solitary neighbour, and finds out the dark reason for her solitude; by R. C. Capasso.

When I first moved to Westline Road, I didn't intend to meet neighbors. I wanted to be alone. But when I saw her and realized she was a woman or a girl, alone like me, I thought maybe we should at least be on speaking terms. Woman to woman. In case something happened. But I didn't expect or intend for anything to happen.

I saw my neighbor first from a distance. The way she dressed, that baggy coat hanging to her knees, shapeless pants, thick boots, and a tight knit cap, she could have been a short man. And I would have guessed old. She moved so sleepily, not like someone young. But with all that yard work every day it couldn't be a terribly old person, I thought. And although she was small, she couldn't be a child. The authorities would never let a child live that alone.

I tried not to think about my neighbor. I was there for solitude, after everything else that had happened. Yet my eyes kept turning toward the other yard.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Watchers from Above by James Rumpel

Chaos ensues when a moon-sized spacecraft starts orbiting Earth, even though it seems to be doing nothing but watching; by James Rumpel.

The attendance at the Saint Benedict's High School class of 2004 twenty-year reunion was minimal. The lack of alumni attending the get-together was perfectly justified seeing that the world was about to end. While most reunions featured conversations about stuffy teachers or outlandish pranks, the conversations at this one dealt with the large alien craft that had been orbiting the Earth for the last six days.

"The vessel is large enough that it has affected the tides," said Captain David Wolfe. He was seated at a table with another St. Ben's graduate, Deb Barton.

"I believe it. The thing is the size of a small moon," added Deb. "The scariest part is that it's just sitting there. It's been nearly a week and it's done nothing. At least the rioting and looting have slowed down. Things are returning to normal, at least as normal as they can be with a giant space ship looking down from above."