Friday, February 26, 2021

Shirley Johnson's Tasker Rebellion by Dave Henson

Shirley Johnson is having an identity crisis - is she human, or is she Tasker? By Dave Henson.

"Your psychosis, Mrs. Johnson, is becoming more common. Well, less rare shall we say, with the growing presence of the Taskers."

"That's a relief... I guess." Shirley glances at her right index finger. "Do others also have hallucinations?"

"In extreme cases like yours... But we've had success with techniques I'll show you. For now, remember: The next time you start thinking you're not human, do the breathing and relaxation exercises we went over this session. Also, you mentioned you're an opera fan?"

Shirley Johnson checks her watch and twiddles her wedding ring.

"Mrs. Johnson?"

Monday, February 22, 2021

Silas Tully, Mechanized by Tom Sheehan

Retired cop Silas Tully investigates how his friend's car could have been stolen and yet not stolen; by Tom Sheehan.

Silas Tully, enjoying early sun and early coffee, heading into another quiet and lonely day, dropped his newspaper and picked up the phone on the first ring. Old pal Jud Haley said, "Si, something screwy down here at Butch and Tony's. I think my car's been stolen but nobody wants to believe me. Damn it all, Si, the car they're about to fix is not my car."

That seemed cut and dry to Si; nobody knows a car better than the guy who parks his butt in the driver's seat every day. As a result, Si Tully changed his mind on the day's prospects. It was only one car, but it was a friend's car and on other friends' property. Favors were a part of his due and he'd never put off an old pal. If Phyllis was still here, eggs and bacon riding on the air, coffee gaining more ground, he would have heard her remarking from the kitchen, "One more freebie for the books, Mr. Tully. Will they ever let you go or will they never let you go? That's what you get for being good at the job." A long time at the job, he thought, a long time retired now, but with some minor recalls as a favor to the chief. Si Tully acknowledged at that moment that he was a damn good detective with a flair for detail and people.

The two A-1 mechanics and the "sensitive and articulate" Lincoln owner, or pseudo owner or owner of a pseudo Lincoln, shortly thereafter were gathered outside the Salem Street Garage and recapping the car delivery for him, as it was lowered from a towing truck.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Keepy Uppy by Roger Haydon

Roger Haydon tells the story of a thirteen-year-old lad from the estates with one eye on his football and the other on his future.

I've been good. I've not touched my PlayStation since I got home from school. I said hello to Mum, she's just home from her morning shift and drinking a mug of tea in the front room with her feet up. I've come up to my room, stuck some music on my Sony headset nice and loud and I've sort of done my homework. Well, to be honest, I've started it and I'll finish it later but, hopefully, Mum won't know the difference. She thinks I can get to sixth form and university if I get the grades. Me? I'm not so sure, what would someone like me study? Mum thinks I'd be good at history 'cos I she thinks I'm, like, intelligent and I like all those really old stories and Miss Wilson is a brilliant teacher. Jen also thinks I can do something but she's just my big sister, what does she know? But, university? Nah. And there's no jobs, everybody says so, so why bother? Except, I've got an idea about what I can do.

So, what I'm really doing is waiting for my best mates to call like we agreed at school earlier so we can go and kick a ball around. But they're late, they're always late, pisses me off, I'm never late for things except, okay, sometimes my homework. I sneak down to the kitchen and grab a Coke from out the fridge, and nick a Twix and a bag of crisps from the cupboard. Mum with her radar ears and x-ray vision knows what I'm doing, like, every time. She charges into the kitchen, mug of tea in her hand.

'Danny, you'll spoil your tea, you're a bad lad.'

Monday, February 15, 2021

Lake Thompson in December by Alejandro Escude

In a world where avuncular government advice is issued constantly by ubiquitous neon tickers, Bernie Navarone has had enough; by Alejandro Escude.

Bernie Navarone woke up to the neon ticker that ran along the moulding of his apartment reminding him to brush his teeth before heading off to work. It was a luminous bar, much like those one sees in stock exchanges, that ran all night. Sometimes, it kept him awake. Every apartment had one. They were installed in all households. Its sole purpose was to dole out advice and direction.

Bernie brushed his teeth as he was told. His cellphone rang.

"Hi honey," said Bernie's mother. "Don't forget to let things go at work today. I'm worried about how you take it all so personally."

"I know Mother," said Bernie, wiping his mouth with the small towel, instead of the large one. The ticker had posted that piece of advice before, and he remembered to switch the towels he used.

"I'll do better," said Bernie. "Are you going to beach with Dad after all?"

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Singing of the Black Flowers by Alex De-Gruchy

Wayward addict Louise Randall makes her final confession in Alex De-Gruchy's Lovecraftian horror.

My name is Louise Randall, I'm twenty-six years old, for all I know I'm the last human being on Earth, and I'm looking out over a dead world from the roof of a multi-storey car park in Cardiff.

I haven't had anything to eat or drink in days but hey, I found a pencil and some paper, so why not spend what time I have left writing something that no one is ever going to read? A waster until the end. No one who knew me would be surprised by that.

When the sky changed from blue to a strange shade of purple it was oddly beautiful despite what it meant. But the churning, sickly-yellow clouds soon rolled in, the seas turned thick and grey, the land became alien and corrupt, and all living things on Earth lost their minds and died. The gods had come and were making themselves at home, and that meant the end of mankind and this reality as we knew it. Even the air has changed - it's been getting harder and harder to breathe.

About a week, that's all it took. If my sense of time is right. It's hard to tell when there are no more days and nights, just a constant, hazy, purple-tinted gloom. I don't know where the sun and moon have gone.

But it's almost over now. I haven't seen another person - not a living one, anyway - in days. And the corpses don't stick around long, the black flowers take them.

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Muse by Adam Kluger / sketches by Dreck

Artist-hustler Dreck is profoundly inspired by an eccentric Polynesian woman called Cricket, but can they open each other's hearts? By Adam Kluger / sketches by Dreck.

It's weird. The business of meeting a muse.

The artist known as Dreck didn't expect much when he started an online correspondence with a mystery woman named Cricket who posted no photographs online. It was intriguing to carry on "swiper dialogue" without having the foggiest idea of what another person looks like. They chatted online for a couple of weeks until they decided to meet for coffee outside the Cooper Hewitt.

She didn't look like what he expected.

Her face was unusual. Different. Primal. Her body was athletic except for an adorable pot belly.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Margaret’s Birthday Present by Roger Haydon

Retired bus driver Henry tries to lead as normal a life as he can during the coronavirus pandemic; by Roger Haydon.

Henry's last trip to the surgery was two months ago to get the results of his tests. Danny offered to take time off work to go with him.

'Nah, you're alright son. I'll go on my own, it's fine, I can cope whatever the doc says and I need to ask her something a bit private.'

'What's that?'

'About taking a holiday. But never you mind, don't tell your Mam. You okay?'

'I'm doing good Dad.'


'No worries.'


'What about you though Dad?'

'Not to worry.'

The doctor always smiles, puts him at ease. He likes that she is good at making things clear. 'You'll need to be a bit careful.' she said.

'I'm always careful, I'm a careful man.'

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Cursed Treasure of Mount Perilion by James Rumpel

The diminutive inhabitants of planet Bordeion try to exact revenge by using an Earthman's greed against him; by James Rumpel.

In an undersized servant quarters, attached to a newly constructed mansion, two diminutive beings spoke to each other in hushed whispers. The muted nature of their conversation was, in all likelihood, unnecessary since the person whose ears they wished to avoid would not have understood their native tongue.

"It seems like a very complicated plan," said Banto, the taller of the two Bordians. He stood a towering, for his race, 4 feet in height.

"It is the only option for revenge that we have," answered his comrade, Doroc. "The Leadership has decreed that we take no aggressive actions towards any off-worlders. They believe our planet will benefit from dealings with these beings from space and should not risk undermining future relationships. But, by my plan, the off-worlder will be inflicting his punishment on himself. We will have nothing to do with it."

Friday, January 29, 2021

Pride and Joy by Julian Grant

In a world overrun by vampires, Joshua's father teaches him he must be merciless to survive; by Julian Grant.

The first bolt smashed through the door, pinning the night beast to the wood. It screamed feral fury as Joshua reloaded the crossbow with shaking hands. He ratcheted the bolt into position, hands trembling still as he took aim at the screaming monster.

"Slowly, son... take your time. It's not going anywhere," cautioned Jacob.

Together they stood vigil in the hallway of the broke-back house staring down at the impaled bloodsucker. Joshua gulped, his eyes wet, never leaving the creature as he tried to level his weapon.

Jacob guided his arm on target.

"Do they even feel pain, Father?"

Jacob shrugged and spat, sour spittle hitting the floor beneath the creature's foot.

"I sure hope so, son. I want them to feel every one. Okay, let it fly."

Monday, January 25, 2021

Pity Those Who Don't Feel Anything at All by James Rumpel

Tim has a job interview, and his roommate Jerry encourages him to drink emotion-enhancers to help prepare himself; by James Rumpel.

Tim heard the uncontrollable giggling coming from the kitchen of the small apartment he shared with his lifelong friend, Jerry. Dressed in his best polo shirt and his only pair of dress pants, Tim emerged from his bedroom to find his roommate doubled over in laughter.

"You sure are in a good mood," said Tim.

"You bet I am, Timbo," replied Jerry between guffaws. "I just drank an extra-large bottle of HAPPINESS. I was a little down about breaking up with Theresa but I feel great now, Timitytimitytimtim."

"Apparently." Tim opened the fridge, looking for something for breakfast. As usual, there was no food. All he found inside was a half-empty bottle of ketchup, an empty pizza box, and a couple of six-packs of emotion-inducing beverages. Tim reached for the one labeled ENERGY but decided against it. He had a job interview today and did not want to be too jumpy.

"So, Timoramma," said Jerry, "are you nervous about your interview?"

Friday, January 22, 2021

Field of Gold by Sheila Sharpe

A forty-year-old widow seeks to get a potentially valuable old painting restored, but is more interested in the conservator's process than the outcome, and all is not as it seems; by Sheila Sharpe.

The first occupant I saw in Julia's conservation studio was a nine-foot-tall Madonna. She was a fright - her face flaking, her oversized halo full of cracks, her dull white gown ripped and stained. Cardboard covered the bottom half of the painting. What was behind it? I curbed my impulse to look. Being nosey was expected of those in my trade, but not of a client coming for an ordinary painting consultation. Flutters in my stomach, a crick in my neck, there would be nothing ordinary about this meeting for me.

Wearing a high-necked white blouse, her hair in a bun, Julia conveyed the air of a prim Victorian lady. I admired her confident posture and the way she glided in her floaty skirt as she led me into another room. Marching behind her, I felt like a graceless foil, lean and stiff in faded jeans and old boots, the heels clacking on the hardwood floor.

As I unwrapped my painting, my dead husband's voice came to life in my mind - Sondra, listen to me for once. Don't go down this slippery slope, it's too damn risky.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Parkie, Tanker, Tiger of Tobruk by Tom Sheehan

World War II veteran Frank Parkinson tells a story he's never before dared tell; by Tom Sheehan.

Hardly with a hop, skip and jump did Frank Parkinson come home from Tobruk, Egypt, North Africa, madness, and World War II in general. A lot of pit stops were made along the way where delicate-handed surgeons and associates did their very best to get him back into working order. From practically every vantage point thereafter we never saw, facially or bodily, any scar, bunching of flesh or major or minor skin disturbance. There was no permanent redness, no welts as part of his features, no thin and faintly visible testaments to a doctor's faulty hand or to the enemy's angry fragmentation. It was if he were the ultimate and perfect patient, the great recovery, the risen Lazarus.

But he was different, it was easy to see, by a long shot.

Parkie. Tanker. Tiger of Tobruk.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Empathy by Christopher K. Miller

Emile, a teenage gun obsessive with Asperger's, connects with two suffering strangers at the Cordova Arms-Fair in Memphis, Tennessee; by Christopher K. Miller.

They met not at one of Memphis's over two-thousand Christian places of worship but at the Cordova Arms-Fair out on Trinity Creek Cove, a few blocks west of the old Walmart supercenter. Sally, who'd driven up from Germantown, was there to return a silencer she'd bought for her T4 Nighthawk. Not defective or anything. Made the 9mm semi-auto's ordinarily sharp report sound to her ears almost exactly like someone coughing spitballs through a fat plastic straw. But it also made poor little Chompy, her Doberman Shepherd cross, yelp and whine, and sometimes even squirt a little, with each wet splut. The sales associate, after explaining the only way Arms-Fair could offer rock-bottom prices on top-of-the-line ordnance was through a strict no-returns policy, admitted someone should've told her that that particular suppressor worked by venting gasses through a kind of ultra-high-frequency whistle. Suggested she try lightening her load, maybe go with the 105-grain Federal Guard Dog round. Safer for shooting home intruders, too. Designed not to punch through walls and such. Even offered to waive commission on a box. But Sally, having already spent over four grand on the premium handgun with optional aluminum frame and padded green carrying case, believed fervently that the store ought to, in her case, make an exception to its strict no-returns policy. Even went so far as to kneel down right there below the week's featured firearm, dubbed Second Amendment, a net-ready, laser-scoped, flash & muzzle-suppressed, self-propelled, .125 cal Barrett/Audi Model 6X6 military-grade sniper rifle with a programmable AI, four integrated 2420p x 1260p 120 fps webcams, a centimeter-level precision Trimble GNSS, and, best of all, remote aim & fire capability. "The drone you own," pitched the display's flawless female voice, engineered to project the same confidence and barely suppressed joy as (but come across a hint less authoritarian than) Walmart's "Please proceed to checkout..." lady. Overhead on an airscreen, a 20-point buck nibbled low-hanging acorns in the double crosshairs of a scope whose rangefinder's readout showed 2760' 7.5" through a 2.25 mph east-southeasterly cross-breeze, along with some barometric data. "Hunt anything anywhere from the comfort and safety of your home," prompted the display as Sally closed her eyes, folded her hands, bowed her head and asked Jesus to forgive this salesman his intransigence, show him the error of his ways, and let her at least exchange, if not return, the Osprey.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Influential Amnesia of Mr. Billows by Matthew Shovlin

Phil suggests an unusual tactic for assessing whether Guy will make a good first impression on his date, and soon regrets it; by Matthew Shovlin.

In a two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment with no windows.

Guy emerged from his bedroom after an hour of preparation and asked, "How do I look?"

Phil gave him a quick once-over, said, "Good," and returned his attention to the television.

"No, man, for real though. How do I look?"

"What do you mean? You're in a white T and jeans."

"I know what I'm wearing, ass hat. I guess more what I'm asking is like is this a good choice?"

"I dunno, dude."

"Come on, don't be weird about it."

"I'm not pulling one of those quintessential '90s acts of sexual insecurity, Guy. I just have no way of knowing what this girl is gonna be into or not into, outfit-wise. Or anything-wise, for that matter."

Friday, January 8, 2021

A Commitment to Running by Laramie Wyatt Sanchez Graber

Johnathan is committed to running from his painful memories; by Laramie Wyatt Sanchez Graber.

People always say, "You can't keep running forever. Eventually your problems will catch up to you." Or at least that's what they say when they find it hard to look at me, when they sigh, when they shake their heads. But that's only because they've never committed.

When running is your way of life, the world is no longer static, trapping. It all becomes a blur, trees outside a speeding car window (like the pine trees in the Appalachians when Cynthia and I would go driving in the winter, windows unrolled, to feel the frigid blast, to celebrate that our bodies were warm and vibrant). And all the pine trees look the same, it's impossible to distinguish between them, so you stop trying. Then, you live only in the moment and you're free (there are no ends).

"Sir, uh sir, it's closing time."