Monday, February 18, 2019

Crow Barn by DC Diamondopolous

Calypso and Phoebe follow a dream-vision through a post-apocalyptic wasteland to try and find their sister Alawisha; by DC Diamondopolous.

The rope pulled at Calypso's waist. She staggered then stumbled as she clawed her way up the hill with Phoebe tied below. They had been searching for Alawisha, their younger sister, since her disappearance the day before. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue were ignored as panic pushed them to the edge of collapse. When sleep grabbed her, Calypso dreamt of Crow Barn.

Sweat burned her eyes. She carried a knife swathed in rags and kept it tucked into her belt. A cloth bag was strapped across her shoulder. Her feet wrapped in bark and tied with hemp made the ascent slippery. She plodded on looking at burnt hills and toppled chimneystacks, tombstone markers for homes, homes her grandmother had told her once nestled in green hills covered with orange poppies and goldenrod. Calypso had been enchanted by tales of California's central coast. Once there were streams of fresh water, an ocean to swim and surf in, vineyards, cows that grazed along miles of farmlands and Monterey Pines silhouetted against a blue horizon. There had been a highway that connected villages with towns and towns with cities.

It was dangerous to let her thoughts drift when they were being hunted. Since Alawisha disappeared, Calypso leashed herself to Phoebe.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Once a Dreamer by Terry D. Williams

A weary newspaper reporter meets an old flame who claims to have a story for him; by Terry D. Williams.

On Monday evening, June thirtieth, there was an accident on I-95 and I arrived a few minutes late for my first reporting assignment at Warren Town Hall in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I parked my Subaru alongside a new 2003 Range Rover and toe-walked (due to having one leg shorter than the other) toward an empty chair in the front of the meeting room. A handful of well-tanned and perfume-scented townspeople pattered at their seats. At the head table roosted the town clerk, Deputy Mayor DeVito, and several councillors. Behind the mayor's nameplate sat an empty chair.

As if he had waited for me to arrive, the deputy mayor said, "The meeting of the Town Council of Warren is called to order," as I settled into a seat in the front row. Compared with the outcries about drug addiction and crime that took place in towns adjacent to Bridgeport and Hartford, I expected to hear citizens of Warren discuss dreary things such as the fire department's pasta dinner or the concessions for the fall Farmers' Market. And it pretty much went that way. That is, until an attractive woman, wearing a silk blouse and plum skirt stood at the lectern and addressed the council.

I recognized Becky Schneider. Her slender body suggested she'd taken good care of herself since we were together, some thirty years earlier. A surge of nerves coursed through me. Not only had I never stopped loving her but seeing her triggered soul-shredding regret about the shameful path my life had taken since she broke up with me.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Consider Me Dead by Clive Aaron Gill

An art lecturer at the University of California shelters a homeless man in the hope of reigniting his own artistic flair; by Clive Aaron Gill.

Andrew Miller drove to 16th Street in downtown San Diego on a Monday afternoon to buy paint and paper supplies. He parked and walked toward his favorite art store, his back stooped, his head of untidy hair like a shrub. He crinkled his nose as he smelled the garbage and exhaust fumes.

Winos clung to the shadows, and arrogant young men sat in large cars, seemingly prepared to deal drugs.

Andrew's eyes traveled to a man wearing dirty jeans and a torn denim shirt who appeared to be in his early forties. The man stood on the sidewalk in front of watercolor paintings and charcoal drawings propped against a low wall. One drawing showed a woman with sunken cheeks.

"Good God," Andrew mumbled, looking at the picture of the woman.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Orville's Crop by O. D. Hegre

O. D. Hegre channels Stephen King in this creepy tale of Professor Orville Berkinbeck's experiments to make a stronger kind of corn. Dedicated by the author to the memory of Lee.

"Can the human race survive every seemingly good idea man has ever had?"
- Madame Romani




DECEPTION

"Enjoy the weekend, Professor." Ben Jackson closed the door of the incubator and engaged the time lock. "Going out to the farm, I bet."

Dr. Orville Berkinbeck looked up from his desk and nodded. "You get going now too, Benjamin. I'll close down everything before I leave."

The Professor watched the grad student gather his gear and exit the laboratory.

Berkinbeck not only had the hobby farm - and the barn - but he also had a M.A. in Agricultural Science from Cal State, and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Harvard. He and his lovely wife, May, lived in Ames but spent most weekends in Millsberg, out on their four hundred acres of rich fertile soil.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Rain Falls Like Rain by Richard Risemberg

Richard Risemberg's reflective vignette about a lonely but content old man.

The rain was steady now. There had been an hour of fury around four in the morning, a downpour and a few grunts of thunder, and it had awakened the old man. The gentle rain that followed had lulled him back to sleep. He had always loved the sound of rain in the downspouts, loved it since childhood. Two and a half hours later he awoke again, went to the bathroom, dressed, and made a pot of tea. Now he was sitting in the unheated front room, cozy in a sweater, cuddling the cup of tea to his chest, and watching the rain. It fell steadily onto the asphalt street in front of his apartment, made little vanishing circles in the puddles. A few drops clung to the glass of the lattice window. One of his neighbors, a younger woman whose name he didn't know, walked by under a red umbrella. She wore a puffy down parka and black tights. Her face was serene, neutral as she walked past his window. The odor of the tea rose to his face, warming him. The rain fell steadily. He was close enough to the glass that he could see the world inverted in the clinging raindrops, looking brighter than the real world.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Interrogation Consistency by Lori Lipsky

Kara escapes heartbreak by travelling to Nepal; by Lori Lipsky.

When friends and family asked why she would quit her job in the States to move across the world where she didn't know a soul, she told everyone it was for the adventure. In part, she spoke truth. Kara did love adventure, but the real reason she quit her job - a successful position for a growing computer software company - was to flee the pain of a broken relationship. Her boyfriend of three years ended things between them, and she'd been devastated.

Kara couldn't face the questions of well-meaning friends and acquaintances. How could she grieve the loss of the man she loved when someone mentioned his name to her every day? She gave notice at the job she loved and travelled alone from her home in the Midwest to the Asian country of Nepal.

After landing at the airport in Kathmandu, Kara rode in a tiny cab to her designated training location. Because of her height she found it necessary to hunch over in the back seat the entire ride. She held her hands over her head to shield it, hoping to avoid a concussion as she and the driver travelled the bumpy roads. As she crouched in the rear of the tiny cab, she recalled a conversation with her mother only three weeks before.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Wreck by Subodhana Wijeyeratne

In this heady sci-fi, something extremely strange has happened to the inhabitants of Hozido, and Subodhana Wijeyeratne's character must visit planet Wreck to find out what.

The settlement of Hozido is six kilometres inside the Wreck. They trade ingots of Wreckmetal and cryptic old tech and sometimes, if they have a good year, the dried meat of their cross-eyed airlock goats. It is a thriving and noisy place and so when all goes silent the scavengers nearby notice. When they break through the airlock and into Hozido, twelve days after they last heard from it, this is what they find.

Empty corridors and clacking air conditioners and vending machines that stutter to neon life when someone approaches. No sign of violence. The scavengers - impoverished drifters all - are armed and tense. They keep going until they've combed every inch of the place and mulled things over and finally concluded, with much head-scratching and whispering of prayers, that everyone in the settlement has just disappeared.

Most of them leave at this point, scampering back through the lattice shadows, flinching at every drone that comes gormlessly out of doorways like a puppy, lights winking and eager to help. But about twenty of them linger, and eventually they get to talking about ransacking the place. In the freezer at the back are great haunches of meat suspended from hooks, rose-fleshed and crimson and perfect for the eating.

Friday, January 25, 2019

An Outdoor Dog By R.W. Dufresne

Near the end of World War II, R. W. Dufresne's character wants a dog of his own, but will his overbearing father let him?

Butch was a comical little puppy with short brown hair, a long tail that rolled up over his back like a big question mark, or maybe a hook to hang him in the barn with. He had a white patch over one eye and the tip of his tail was white, too, like he'd dipped it in a can of paint. The eye under the patch was blue, but the other eye was brown. His head was round, but flat in front like his father's, with pointy ears that stuck straight up, like his mother's.

It was 1944 and my father told me, "There's a war on." I wasn't sure what that meant, but I'd seen the posters at the post office: "We Can Do It," and "Loose Lips Sink Ships," and "Buy Bonds." Sometimes we'd sit around the radio and listen to President Roosevelt. He talked funny and I didn't understand everything he was saying, but I liked the sound of his voice. I remember we hated the Japs.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Bureau of Transparency by Leland Neville

Leland Neville's character gets a visit from a dystopian government agency.

There was a faint knock on the front door. My hands shook in anticipation. "Go away. I'm not interested in what you're selling."

Three sharp bangs rattled the windows. "It's only a starting pistol," he said. "You need to install a video doorbell."

"Get off my property," I said.

"I'm from the Bureau of Transparency. I'm not going anywhere."

I am often overwhelmed by the arrogance that has spread like the plague throughout this land.

"You are required by federal law to let me in."

"Do you have a search warrant?" I said.

"I don't need one. The Bureau of Transparency is a quasi-government agency. We're exempt from the restraints of the Constitution." He was indignant.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Twenty-Seven Club by Kevin McGeary

A musician looks back upon his arrogant younger self, busking and working illegally in Shenzhen and contemplating how to emulate his heroes; by Kevin McGeary.

They say there are two types of lyricist, those who write while overlooking a phosphorescent ocean, and those who write while staring at a blank wall. I always saw myself as one of the former, but that night, as I crouched over the windowsill scribbling in the notepad where I wrote all of my completed lyrics, the neon Shenzhen skyline refused to shine behind the evening shower. I still remember what I wrote:

I have never lived in prose and am no good at writing it, but I hope this provides consolation.

No matter how hopeless our lives are, there is always one door we can pass through unimpeded. This is the door I have chosen.

Do not think I have left this world in anger or bitterness. I leave behind only love and music that will live forever on the worldwide web.

I placed my notebook on the pine desk, next to a black marker I had borrowed from work.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Wingwork by Chris Panatier

An ageing fairy struggles to do her rounds; by Chris Panatier.

Carol was getting old. Real old. And her bones weren't feeling all the travel anymore. Flying first-class was okay, she guessed, if you'd never experienced the thrill and freedom of the open air as she had for so many decades - was it decades already? Airline seats cramped her fragile wings no matter the cabin.

Oh, how she wished she could hide them away. Her wings, the tools of her trade, had once been a source of pride, lustrous as pearls and whip flexible. Now they crinkled against her back, shrunken and desiccated. The older she got, the harder it was to find anything that might give them the jolt they needed to kick into gear. She'd chugged coffee, triple espressos, Kool-Aid, soft drinks, and even guzzled honey straight from the bear's head, but all failed to rejuvenate them.

Thankfully, her fellow passengers were mercifully aloof, never visibly acknowledging the obvious. Being a fairy that could no longer fly was humiliating enough. And if Jack hadn't racked up so many frequent flyer miles before his heart got him, she'd be out of the job for sure.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Common Courtesy by Steve Gergley

Wilson Clarke believes in common courtesy and respect for his fellow citizens, and he goes to great lengths to get it; by Steve Gergley.

Wilson Clark's shift had ended over an hour ago, but by 9:15 he was still stuck at the store doing cycle counts. He kneeled on the cold tile by the bargain laptops and counted the boxes stored in locked cubbies under the display shelf. The air was stale and dusty down here and a needling itch danced in his nose each time he took a breath, but the sales floor was quiet so he was able to move fast.

Soon Wilson came to the last section of his count and started walking to the video game aisles to finish up. For years this area had been his favorite part of the store. Before becoming department manager, he had often spent his lunch breaks down here, browsing the new titles with a sweating bottle of Yoo-hoo and a half-chomped Milky Way in hand; but after nine years of serving the angry customers of this store, all the thrill of conflict had been squeezed from his brain like soapy water from a sponge. These days, just the thought of playing a video game made his mouth go dry with anxiety. Now he spent his free time listening to film soundtracks and reading his old history textbooks from college.

Just before starting his count, Wilson saw a middle-aged woman tottering toward him with an iPhone case clutched in her hand. She wore a sour expression and her mouth was pinched and tight and deep vertical wrinkles fanned out across her upper lip like tire-ruts in soft dirt. Wilson swiveled his head left and right and looked around for Missy and Amanda, but they were not behind their registers or facing their aisles or anywhere else in sight, so he circled behind the service counter and pushed aside the "Next Register Please" sign and waved the woman in.

Monday, January 7, 2019

My Darling Pills by Mike Todd

Mike Todd's character is captivated by the ugliest girl in his school.

The first time I met Pills she spat in my face. It was the first day of second grade and she had just given me what she considered to be an appropriate answer to an inappropriate question.

Quite innocently, I had asked this new kid, "Why do you stink so bad, boy?" She made it clear that she didn't appreciate my reference to her odor. It wasn't until I was older that I understood she was even more insulted by my failure to recognize she was a lady.

As I stood on the playground, startled, with her spit running down my cheek, the only thing I could think to do was apologize. Then she was startled. Pills knew how to respond to insults, but apologies seemed to perplex her. She simply punched me in the chest and ran into the school building without saying a word.

I still carry a picture of Pills Carkix in my wallet. I never knew why she had such an unusual name. Her parents were obnoxious, illiterate and unshaven, so I assumed they were just plain weird, too.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Haunted Telescope by Dave Henson

Harold is getting jealous of his wife's success at work, and begins to suspect her of something sinister; by Dave Henson.

"Harold, could you put away the dishes, please."

Harold turns toward his wife. "Denise, you might be a division manager at work now, but that doesn't make you my boss at home."

"Sweetie, I didn't mean - Oh, never mind. I'll do it myself. It's just I've got an important presentation tomorrow, and I want to practice it."

Harold walks part-way out of the kitchen then stops and turns toward his wife. He wants to say something about her getting ahead by being a kiss-up at work, but smothers the urge and goes upstairs.



Harold comes in from the patio and goes into the kitchen. "That's the perfect place for it. There's a nice clear view of the sky."

"How'd you happen to get a used telescope?" Denise says.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Genie by William Quincy Belle

Kelly moves into a new apartment and finds a magic lamp left behind by the previous owner; by William Quincy Belle.

Kelly stood at the entrance and surveyed his new apartment. What a find. Heck, what a steal. This was the perfect location in a great neighborhood, and he couldn't ask for more. On top of it, the moving company did a great job of getting everything across town at the last minute and arranging the major pieces of furniture. All he had to do was to deal with the smaller things and his personal stuff. Could life get any better than this?

He walked into the kitchenette and opened several cupboards. It would take some thought to figure out how to arrange his dishes, utensils and cooking items. He peeked inside a side cupboard extending to the floor, the perfect spot for brooms and such. He frowned. There on the floor toward the back was an old cardboard box. The previous owner must have missed it.