Monday, February 24, 2020

The Luck of the Draw by Leona Upton Illig

Phoebe's grandfather has quit taking his prize dog Lucky to dog shows, but he has one last outing in store; by Leona Upton Illig.

"So... tell me again why your grandfather quit?"

She lifted the washcloth from her forehead and looked at him. He was settled down, deep in the faded paisley armchair, with his feet up. She could just make out his curly hair above the newspaper he held in front of his face.

It was just like Jack to change the subject. But she was in no mood to argue.

"He said that it'd become - oh, I don't know - a silly game, and that he was tired of it - tired of the pettiness and the underhanded tricks. But I think that it was Nana more than anything else. After she died, he lost interest in a lot of things. That's why Mom and Dad were so pleased when Pop Pop decided to visit Uncle in Edinburgh. They hoped it would... make him happy again, somehow."

"Huh."

Friday, February 21, 2020

Boiler Room by Gregory Patrick Travers

Stacey is bullied at school after having had an abortion - is there anyone she can trust? By Gregory Patrick Travers.

Slut. Whore. Baby killer. The horrible names they called her and their cold, piercing stares remained burned in her brain, playing over and over in her head on repeat. When she was in class, when she was at her locker, when she was in the bathroom - there was nowhere Stacey was safe.

Even the teachers at St. Mary's seem to follow her with their eyes when she was in the hallways, standing at the threshold of their classrooms with their arms crossed, looking down on her.

The librarian scanned her books a little slower than she did the rest of the students.

The lunch lady splattered her mash potatoes onto her tray with a little more apathy than she did the rest of the lunch line.

Even the creepy old janitor, who the children had given the nickname "Old Man Frankenstein", due to his limp leg that dragged behind him as he walked, seemed to stare at Stacey deeply whenever they crossed paths.

And she could read their thoughts. They were all the same. That's the girl who had an abortion.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Mummy Track by Rosemary Johnson

A young mother longs to make more of her career, but dare she ask her husband to make a sacrifice for her? By Rosemary Johnson.

Wake up, Rod. I have to talk to you, please. Now.

I know it's early, but listen to me, please. I've been meaning to say this for... you don't know how long... but, whenever I open my mouth to speak, something else happens, something more important, more urgent. Then another year passes and here I am in the same place, every autumn.

Such a little thing I'm asking for. Please don't make it into a big thing.

No, it's not what you think. I'd never do that. I love you very much and I always will, and our darlings, Gemma and Laura, but I can't carry on like this. My life is passing away.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Further Adventures of Corky the Killer by Kathleen R. Sands

A three-inch representation of the syphilis bacterium is chosen to run as the opposition party candidate for President of the USA; by Kathleen R. Sands.

Corky opened his eyes. Where was he? Everything here was fat, not flat. A bookcase hulked against a wall, a Sputnik light fixture loomed overhead, and a blue-suited hand puppet slumped on a desk. Corky blinked at the puppet's sulfur-yellow hair, which floated in the air like an abandoned cobweb. He seemed to be in Meatworld, the home of 3D humans.

Corky knew about humans. In Flatland, he'd devoted his entire career to invading their bodies. He was a spirochete, a bacterium shaped in a spiral twist, whose sole purpose was to infect humans with syphilis. He had the traits that all good spirochetes have: monomania, ruthlessness, anomie. He'd first seen daylight in the 1945 publication of a book called Corky the Killer: A Story of Syphilis by Harry A. Wilmer. Dr. Wilmer had created Corky and the rest of the spirochete army as a swarm of dark aliens who conquered humans by sneaking through the skin-border into the body, colonizing every nook and cranny, and reproducing into the billions. Dr. Wilmer's post-World War II xenophobic readers loved it.

As Corky adjusted to his new surroundings, a 3D human entered the room: a dame, one of those 1940s-looking babes with a wasp waist, big shoulders, and copper hair waving over one eye.

Monday, February 10, 2020

My Mother Sent Me a Parcel by Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin's character is sent an unexpected package by her overbearing mother.

My mother sent me a parcel. I must admit I was surprised. She'd never been one for spontaneous displays of affection, and it wasn't my birthday or Christmas. The postman must have been equally surprised to find me still in my pyjamas when he handed over the parcel at almost noon. He didn't show it though. Like window cleaners and refuse collectors, postal workers have a knack of affecting indifference to the mess glimpsed beyond our front doors.

At least my pyjamas were presentable, royal blue silk with white piping around the edges. The kind of pyjamas you might wear to park your SUV on double yellow lines while dropping off your darlings at school. If you had children, that is. Or an SUV. Or a motorised vehicle of any genre to your name. These were pyjamas worth maxing out your credit card for, nightwear to smooth your transition to sleeping alone. I like to think the postman respected that when he passed me the parcel from my mother.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Kitty Favor by Otto Burnwell

Eddie Berger suddenly gives up porn, and his colleagues want to know why; by Otto Burnwell.

For as long as Eddie Berger worked in the tool crib at Spring Ranch Manufactured Homes, he'd been the go-to guy for porno magazines and videos. He always had hard-core stuff stashed in his locker and under the workbench to pass around on breaks.

Then, out of nowhere, he cut the guys off without a word. One day he's passing it around, making jokes, and next day, nothing. Stopped bringing it in, didn't keep it in his locker anymore, even took down the pin-ups taped inside on his locker door. He didn't say why. It wasn't just about himself, either. If someone else brought stuff to pass around, Eddie waved his hand in their face, saying he didn't have time for that shit, and how he had work to do. He'd be out of the room quicker than a hot-buttered cat.

A couple of the guys joked Eddie must have got religion. Being a part-time churchgoer with his wife hadn't kept Eddie from sneaking out late at night to the one good strip club on County Line road. But he quit doing that, too.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Story of Time by Yash Seyedbagheri

Yash Seyedbagheri's character spends the first 25 years of his life confined to an old passenger train, travelling back and forth through time.

People talk about chronology. Tell me about your life from beginning to present. The truth: I spent my life travelling through time. The first twenty-five years that is. A quarter of a century, which is something incredible and sad. Mama invented a time machine out of an old passenger train. This was in the year of my birth, 1887. The device suffered significant mishaps when she took me on the maiden voyage. Mechanical parts were lost, sending us forwards and backwards, at the machine's mercy.

She tried to repair the machine, adjusting dials and levers left, right, left, right. Time spiraled around us. We moved forward and backwards, spending months, days, sometimes hours in time periods, constrained to the train. We couldn't step foot outside, for fear of being left behind in any one period, strangers invading foreign periods. This was the only childhood I knew. I was told we'd lived in a great palatial mansion, with Mansard roofs and graceful arches, that Mama was an heiress. The home held much history. But this was all irrelevant, drifting through time.

Friday, January 31, 2020

In the World of Edges by Harrison Kim

Leon is stuck in a flat and empty echo of reality, trying to remember his life before; by Harrison Kim.

Every morning, I hear my smart phone ring. I pick it up, and as usual, it's a voice calling my name three times, "Leon, Leon, Leon." It's a female voice, and at first it sounds faint, though it's been growing stronger the past two weeks. I say, "Hello, yes, this is Leon." The line goes dead. My message box is full of "Leon" sounds. The voice becomes a familiar echo.

Every morning I step down the stairs from my room to the hotel lobby. Izzy, the desk clerk, looks up, smiling. He's always tapping a silver pen on his round, copper summoning bell. It's what wakes me up. Like everyone else here, Izzy's a complete person when encountered face to face. Yet when he turns to the side, he becomes an outline, a shimmering edge. I adjust my own position to stand directly in front of him, so I can view his face without confusion.

"Have I got any mail?" I ask. He looks up with those frosted glass horn rims. I can't see his eyes.

"No, sir," he says, as usual. "Mr. Downe is waiting for you."

Monday, January 27, 2020

Testicalia by Christopher K. Miller

Christopher K. Miller's character tells a painfully funny story in which he discovers a major disadvantage of having low-hanging testicles.

On April 26, 2003, experienced hiker Aron Ralston became trapped in a narrow section of Utah's Bluejohn Canyon after dislodging an 800-pound chockstone that rolled on its pinch points and pinned his right hand and forearm to the sandstone wall. Five days later he self-amputated to survive.

Before relating the events of my own similar fateful day, I feel it behooves the narrative to lay down some setting and character background. I hope this doesn't present as excusatory or rationalizing, but rather more just explanatory, contextualizing and even enlightening of how banal conditions and trivial events can lead to, what regardless some will think amusing alongside Ralston's misadventure, a seriously life-threatening predicament. And though no major motion picture has been or is likely ever to be made of my "heroic" ordeal, there were other rewards.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Family Court by Margret A. Treiber

Margret A. Treiber shares a court transcript from 2039, in which a judge is called upon to make a landmark decision in a child custody case.

STATE OF NEW YORK: COUNTY OF ONONDAGA

FAMILY COURT





ZENO REXNORD,

Petitioner;

-vs-

JACKSON GOLD,
Respondent

                                                                                                                   : Docket No.
                                                                                                                   : X-100-88/23


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.