Monday, August 13, 2018

Judgments by Gary Beck

Two corrupt cops interrogate an old man in the wild desert of the Great Divide Basin, about the legends of a local troublemaker; by Gary Beck.

The minute they walked into the store I knew they were cops, but not locals. Some kind of state boys come up from Cheyenne by the look of them. I started for the bathroom to avoid them, but the meaner looking one, in a blue suit that looked like he found it in a thrift shop, called me.

"Just a minute, sir. We'd like to talk to you."

I turned to my assistant, Bobby Runs-with-Elks.

"Why don't you help these gentlemen, Bobby."

"We need to speak to you, sir," the oilier looking man said, taking off his sunglasses, revealing black eyes as soulless as lumps of coal.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Divine Guidance by Gary Ives

When Mexican teenager Tomás is struck blind, he must find a new way to help support his family; by Gary Ives.

My blindness came rapidly. Our house, like all the houses in our village, lays under a high conical roof of reed thatch and tessellated palm fronds. Tree rats nest between the thatch and the palm. Other than occasional nighttime squeals the rats are not a bother. The year I turned fifteen, a strange kind of insect moved into the thatch. Tiny black specks fell from these little bugs in the night. Only later did we learn that the little black specks from these thatch bugs could cause blindness should they fall into the eyes.

Each spring my family travelled north in big stake trucks with several other families to work the fields of the gringos, picking lettuce in Arizona, then to California for tomatoes, moving north to the peach, apricot, and prune orchards. Since I can remember, with my family I had worked these fields and orchards, proud to contribute to my family's security. Sometimes families continued further north to harvest apples in September and October, returning late in the year to our little village tired but rich. I loved those summers working in the north. Sure, the work was very hard, but evenings and Sundays in our encampments were so enjoyable. The children played games while the adults smoked and told stories. Too there was gringo television in some of the camps. By the time I was twelve years old I could speak English which I had learned largely from the gringo television and road signs. I am very strong, and my father was proud of my work. Somedays I earned more than three, even four days' wages for a man in Mexico. This all for my family. Our jefe was Don Francisco. It was in his trucks we traveled, and it was he who negotiated the contracts with the gringo rancheros. Don Francisco, a very large jolly man, was much respected for his fairness. Other jefes cheated their workers. When my father reported to him that I had suffered this blindness Don Francisco said I would not be permitted to accompany the rest of my family. My father argued that even though blind I could pick tomatoes by feel and use of a tether. But Don Francisco was firm in his denial. My father told me to trust in God and stay strong. "You will be in our prayers every day, my son. You must realize that even though this blindness has come, God will show you a way if you trust in Him."

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Killer by Ronald Schulte

Ethan's career is paralysed because of his fear of public speaking, until he finds an app that claims to change your personality; by Ronald Schulte.

My mind was completely blank.

I glanced around the conference room, frantically trying to remember the words I had prepared. The silence stretched into awkwardness. I was acutely aware of the changing facial expressions of my audience. Many looked away as I struggled. Some nodded encouragingly, trying to will me back on course.

Finally, the hiring manager tried to jump to my rescue.

"Ethan? Why don't tell everyone a little about yourself?"

It took me a second to focus on the manager, whose name I couldn't even remember. My mind was a black sludge. This whole thing was a mistake; I didn't belong here.

"I'm sorry," was all I managed to croak out.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Turtle Bay by Henry Hitz

When his marriage fails, a man returns to his parents' house and retreats into his shell - literally. This story by Henry Hitz first appeared in Magnolia Review.

The collapse of your second marriage has left you feeling numb, wandering around in a fog, unable to think, or feel, or do much of anything. You left her, so you don't really have a place to stay. You impose upon your friend Matt for a while, but it's clear you are in the way of his complicated marriage. You decide to leave the Bay Area and head back east.

You collect some supplies and hole up inside your Toyota camper, hauling your camper shell on your back, complete with bed, refrigerator, stove, stereo, library. You wear nothing but turtleneck sweaters even though it's summer, you drive, slowly - very slowly, out of California, across the country, stopping only every other day or so when the white line begins to blur, camping by the side of the road, all the way to Pike Lake, your ancestral home in exurban Wisconsin.

You allow yourself two months to recuperate before you will have to return to your job as a writer for an environmental magazine. After a brief tour of the place to find your old haunts: the boathouse, your shack of a hideout, your dank mad-scientist laboratory in the basement, you hibernate in your old room, your childhood room, with walls and ceiling of manly knotty pine.

Monday, July 30, 2018

All I Love Dies Alone by Leila Allison

After a young priest pulls Sara back from the brink of suicide, she dredges through memories of her tough childhood searching for absolution; by Leila Allison.

Squirrel Pen Diary: First Entry

Last Wednesday morning I entered Our Lady Star of the Sea church during mid-week mass. While two dozen or so senior citizens went through the ancient, dusty rites (monotonously administered by an equally ancient and dusty priest), I rose unseen and snuck upstairs to a small balcony that communicates with the church's attic. I climbed atop the guano-splattered stone rail that hugs the balcony, balanced myself on one foot and held the other out as though I intended to take a seventy-foot step onto the marble walkway below. After I had done all that, there wasn't much else to do except wait for someone to notice me.

"Probably not," the young priest said when I asked him "Will God catch me?" The young priest had been in the rectory across the street. He was the first person to see me on the rail, and he ran upstairs so we could "talk things over." If the old priest had somehow managed to huff his way upstairs without suffering a heart attack, and recited the tiresome company policy against suicide, there's no doubt I would have taken that last big step - if only on general principle. But proof that there still was at least one honest human being left in the world gave me enough pause as to allow the young priest to snatch me off my perch.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Glorious Affair by David Henson

A series of technical failures on a spaceship loaded with tourists forces Captain Neenah to make a difficult decision; by David Henson.

Captain Neenah peered out the portal of his conference room as what looked like a debris cloud, illuminated by the light of Arcturus, streamed away from the ship. A streak of orange caused him to catch his breath, but he quickly gathered himself.

"Computer, update log," he said, looking around the dead quiet conference room. "After a series of unavoidable events, we have experienced a horrible accident..."



The cruise was fully booked with 202 passengers. As he always did, Captain Neenah stood at the main gangway nearest the bridge, smiling and welcoming the tourists aboard the Glorious Deep. "Enjoy your voyage, folks," he said to a man and woman with a small boy and girl in tow. The four were dressed alike in bright yellow flight suits, a throwback to the 22nd Century. "Over the next month, you'll see wonders you couldn't imagine."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Simulation by Roger Ley

A retired doctor indulges his new hobby by going on an alarmingly realistic flight simulator; by Roger Ley.

Retirement hung heavily on Martin Riley. He’d had his time as an important government scientist, with meetings to attend, reports to write and a team of scientists to oversee. Now it was all over, and he had little to fill his time. His wife Estella had her bridge games, tennis, coffee mornings and the grandchildren. Riley was thrown onto his own resources and found that he didn’t have many ideas once he’d redecorated their retirement bungalow and dug a fishpond.

‘It doesn’t matter what you used to do, it’s what you do now, Martin. Retirement’s a great leveller,’ said Estella, when he came in sweating from mowing the lawn and sat drinking tea in the kitchen.

‘You can’t just sit there looking hangdog. Decide what you want to do and then get on with it.’ So, no sympathy there.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Meeting By Rachel Doherty

A talented salesman wants his buddies to succeed, but at what cost? By Rachel Doherty.

"I wanted you to be the first to know," Jason confided in me. When he called me over, I had prepared myself for the inevitable long-winded build up that Jason was so prone to when divulging some juicy bit of office gossip. However, upon seeing his sober expression, I realized that this was no office romance he was reporting on. "Mack has been fired and it is now up to you and me to keep his whole sales team from the same fate," he whispered, glancing back at the door to be sure no one could hear. Jason was jumping to conclusions, as usual.

"You're crazy... he's on vacation you jackass," I laughed.

"That's what I thought," Jason hissed, "but I overheard his assistant on the phone. She was in tears telling her boyfriend whole story of how it happened." "What the hell could he have been fired for?" I wondered. "He's the only one who even cared about giving this company results."

Jason countered, "Well, he did give them good results. Too good to be true. He's been fudging the numbers for months." I knew my sales had been pretty dismal for some time but never worried about it since Mack assured us the team as a whole was doing great. I figured it was safe to ride the others' coattails. Over the next few hours, as I perused Mack's papers, I realized everyone's sales had tanked recently. We were all just coasting on Mack's lies.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Getting Better by Clifford Hui

Primatologist Daniel Wright is shocked by his old friend Gordon's xenophobic confession, but determines to help him; by Clifford Hui.

"Because I don't want my daughter to marry anyone who's Japanese, that's why." Gordon Johnson looked up at the island one kilometer away, then bent down and pulled the starter rope of the outboard motor.

Daniel, still holding the bow line looped over a dock cleat, stared at Gordon. Where did this come from? he thought. "What? You're joking, right?" Without waiting for a response he continued, "This... this revelation just blows me away. You're such a good scientist because you're so unbiased. What's going on with this?" He stepped into the boat.

"Actually, it's been lurking in the background. And with marriage in the picture my feelings got really intense. It surprised even me." After the motor sputtered to life, Gordon let it idle for a moment before adjusting the choke. Daniel freed the bow line from the cleat and Gordon pointed the boat toward the thirty-eight acres of Cayo Santiago. Off to their left an osprey searched for breakfast. The tropical air, soft as a caress, slipped over Gordon's face as the boat slid across the glassy surface. The mumble of the motor and the muffled slapping of the water against the boat provided a gentle sound track to their morning.

"For the record, I don't dislike Wayne because he's Japanese. I actually like Wayne."

Daniel nodded, then said, "I sense a 'However' coming on."

"However, marriage is different."

Friday, July 13, 2018

Dancing for Buddha by Bethany Jackson

Ballet dancer Faith endures the crushes and disappointments of adolescence as she grasps for her true self; by Bethany Jackson.

Before Val came, Faith was certain of one thing concerning her time at the dance studio: Where you sat determined your social status.

She'd stepped through the front door for her first day of ballet at age eleven, starting behind in skill from the other girls, who'd been dancing since they could walk. Faith knew that choosing to sit near the back corner booths, where her peers gossiped and flailed about, would garner unwanted side-eyes and giggles into palms. They would sense she didn't belong immediately. On the other hand, the booths closest to the entrance contained haggard mothers with sensible haircuts wrangling three-year-olds into tights. Not ideal either.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Pyromaniacs Guide to the Homes of Suffolk Writers by Roger Ley

A failed Suffolk writer plots revenge against his more successful contemporaries in Roger Ley's black comedy.

The one hundred and thirty-eighth rejection of Riley's zombie novel was the straw that broke the camel's back. Other writers offering far inferior work could get published, why couldn't he?

Those bastards, those smug, self-satisfied bastards. They'd taken their books to the fabled 'Palace of Publishing,' snared an agent, captured themselves a publisher, got an advance and stepped into the express elevator to literary success. They thought they were so clever, with their story editors to smarten up their plots and copy editors to smarten up their punctuation. And here he was, still grubbing around outside, hawking his first three chapters to literary agents, who brushed him aside or condescended to take his lovingly prepared proposal and dump it in the waste bin as they entered their offices. It would probably end up shredded, pulped, and used to make the paper for the books of the authors he hated so much.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Woilin Player's Confession by Greg Szulgit

A Pilgrim wanders through a rustic land and shelters with a local outcast in Greg Szulgit's characterful fantasy.

Pilgrim had spent the previous three nights sleeping outdoors in the chill autumn air, since the people thereabouts seemed unfamiliar with, or suspicious of, his robes and his role. And so, when a young girl skipped up alongside him at sunset and said that he was invited to spend the evening at her family's house, he smiled broadly and bowed his head low to her; lower than was fitting to a child who looked to be no older than seven or eight.

She led him along the main road in the direction from which he had come, turning down a footpath after several hundred yards to arrive at a small cottage nestled among a stand of spruce pines.

"My mother is making squirrel and potato keffles," the child said as she approached the porch. "We saw you go by and thought that you might like to join us for dinner. Mati said that you could probably use some meat on your bones."

Monday, July 2, 2018

Crossing Over by Brooke Fieldhouse

A childless couple travel to Geneva and visit an old widower friend, who lets them in on a spooky local mystery; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

I always suspected that I would lose him.



'Any drinks?' The words are in harmony with the smile, orchestrated with sparkling eyes, and in perfect pitch with the livery of Swissair. The stewardess's lips look engagingly red, and for the first time I feel envy, of her and of all her kind.

'G and T for me!'

Simon's voice has never sounded so loud. Heads in front swivel to investigate. '...Aren't you having one Shivvy love?' He spits the first syllable of the verb, like a child in a fit of petulance.

'I'm not thirsty.'

'What's thirst got to do with it?'

He's right, what has thirst got to do with it?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Stones from the Sky by Steve Gergley

Ally and Molly are "beefwatching" in a Thunderbird convertible when the sky starts raining extraterrestrial stones; by Steve Gergley.

It was the day before my high school graduation when the nuggets started raining down from the sky. It was a nice day. Not too hot or gross. Sunny. Clear blue sky, a few wispy strings of clouds like ripped cotton balls hovering somewhere really high above our heads. Me and Molly were cruising around in her mom's Thunderbird convertible, enjoying the nice day, the heat, the sun, the freedom. That tingling giddy feeling of being surrounded by infinity on every side, whether it was the curves and twists of the never-ending road, or the inexhaustible reservoir of time we had at our disposal to live our lives exactly the way we wanted. And all that time and space was exciting, totally, but it was kind of scary too. At least for me. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life after graduation. But I tried not to think about that too much because on this day, we were doing one of my favorite things in the world. We were beefwatching.

Beefwatching is kind of like birdwatching only way more fun. Because instead of staring up at the sky like a dummy and straining your neck to stare at birds for some reason, a beefwatcher cruises around in a comfy car and looks for hot guys. And just like with birdwatching, there are all different species of beef to be spotted. You've got your Sweat-Glazed Runner clomping along the side of the road, you've got your Tanned Groundskeeper grunting in the dirt, and, if you're real lucky, you might even spot a flock of Bored Jocks playing shirts versus skins football on a front lawn.

Monday, June 25, 2018

On Mental Health by Robert Levin

Marcus, living in the shadow of guilt and self-loathing, sees a series of unconventional psychotherapists; by Robert Levin.

If I ever see a shrink again it'll have to be under a court order.

No, this has nothing to do with what happened with Frieda. Not, of course, that what happened with her wasn't at the time disappointing. Fiftyish, on the boards of major psychiatric associations and married to a man who was also a prominent doctor, Frieda had been working with me for three years on my guilt and shame problem. Although I wasn't making much progress in that area - I remained as afflicted by self-deprecation and most of the maladjustments that attached to it as ever - I had, with her assistance, finally stopped trying to go down on myself. And for helping to rid me of this hazardous compulsion - it had already resulted in a couple of blown-out discs in my lower back and several hospitalizations - I'd come to have a large admiration for her skills, large enough to send a live-in girlfriend to her for counseling.

While I was partial to poor hygiene and self-destructiveness in a woman, I did have my limits. This girlfriend's habit of picking her nose and then eating it, for example, had long caused my proudest erections to scramble into my bladder somewhere. What's more, the drug overdoses had evolved into too regular a thing. Routinely called at work by neighbors who'd discovered her face down on the apartment house stairs, and rushing home to flashing lights and frenzied paramedics cutting through clusters of onlookers with a gurney, was increasingly vexing.