Friday, May 24, 2019

The Rescues of Brittan Courvalais by Tom Sheehan

A storied old man has an unusually deep connection with his fresh born grandson, but tragedy nips at his heels; by Tom Sheehan.

It did not come with electricity or a smash of static on the air, but it was there. Brittan Courvalais, five minutes into the darkness of a new day, a streetlight's glow falling through his window like a subtle visitor, was caught on the edge of his chair. Knowledge flowed to him, information of a most sublime order, privacy, intimacy, all in one slow sweep of the air; his grandson was just now, just this minute, into this world, his only grandson. He could feel him, that child coming, making way his debut into the universe, and his name would be Shag. And for this life he and Shag would be in a mysterious and incomprehensible state of connection. This, in the streetlight's glow, in the start of a new day though dawn was not yet afoot.

People of the neighborhood shortly said that the oldest man among them, white-bearded, dark-eyed, 75-year old Brittan Courvalais, loved his only grandchild Shag in a deep and special way. They said there was a virtual connection, a most generous connection between them, more than the usual. At times they dwelled on the love ingredient, and then on the old and the young, the near gone and the coming. On days when young Shag came by, just an infant in his mother's arms, the old man's step changed, his gait changed, his shoulders stiffened, his voice went lyrical. Some heard him singing under the silver maple tree in the side yard, the tone reaching, ascendant, carrying more than day in it or cool evening or a new stab at dawn. Shag would come, put his arms out, and nestle against the old man's beard. The pair would look into each other's eyes and the world about them seemed lost, distant, at odds with the very young and the very old. Brittan's daughter Marta could only beam when the topic was broached, or say, "I don't know what it is. It mystifies me, but it's as if they share an infinite else." She'd smile broadly when she said it, shrug her shoulders, be fully happy in her puzzle.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Tech by Saket Badola

A dying mob boss receives a visit from a man with a mysterious technology capable of healing him; by Saket Badola.

It was three in the afternoon when Olan arrived at the village. He gazed out the train window. He could see that the heat was dry, the sun was bright, the people were sparse, and the sleepy village was even sleepier at this time of day. Olan brought the tech with him. He'd taken the tech around the world many times over: from large cities like London and Hong Kong, to boroughs and suburbs, to so many nameless, faceless small towns. He liked the small towns. To them he was a stranger - a foreigner with no name.

Olan exited the train. He rubbed his face, dusted his long coat, kicked his shoes against the bench to shake the dirt off, and picked up his bag.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Arcadia Swept Down by Scott Archer Jones

An ageing couple live in a decaying old house in Galveston, and it's not clear who will collapse first; by Scott Archer Jones.

Until today I took care of my younger brother Donnie. Each morning Donnie would ask, Elizabeth, what shall we do today? For sixty years I gave the same answer. Donald, we'll have breakfast, then we'll tend to the past.

Great Grandfather called the house Arcadia. Cotton shipping built it on an elegant Galveston esplanade. Flat-roofed: how I hated that roof - its amalgamation of tin and copper, solder and hot-tar patch. Leak in, cold in, bats in.

I had lived within one of the beautiful bedrooms that opened not only onto the landing that circled the stairs, but that had double doors onto a balcony that overlooked the ballroom floor. After my first fall, we moved downstairs to the Jubilee parlor, a room that flanked the front hall. Donnie and I emptied out the furniture, the books and boxes of family photos, my Barnard degree. We disassembled the breakfronts. He would tug on the area rug we placed under each piece of furniture, and I would shove. Into the ballroom depths, into narrow rows of the past. Twin beds in the Jubilee, where we could keep tabs on our infirmities, his dementia, my heart and eyesight.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Something Extra by Patrick Ritter

Patrick Ritter imagines a world in which track racers' mechanical hearts are fine-tuned like F1 vehicles, but it's a future Scott Ryan is determined to resist.

Scott Ryan rose out of a deep stretch. He glanced up at the stadium clock above the track infield. Fifteen minutes until the start of the race.

Scott felt strong and ready. He started jogging along the edge of the infield past the warm-up areas for the other runners. He moved easily, with power and lightness, lifting his knees high with each step.

From the infield, a large red and black banner caught his attention. Scott clenched his jaw as he read it - Flowmax Racing Hearts. Beneath the banner several technicians bent over a young runner sitting in a padded chair. His bright jersey showed off the large Flowmax symbol. The runner was calm, almost bored, his face flushed with confidence. Inside his chest, an artificial heart - the Flowmax T4 - whirled silently.

The hair on Scott's neck bristled. Over the public address system the first of the runners was announced and the crowd roared. Thirteen minutes to go.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Assault on Mount Carmel by Tom Sheehan

At the end of World War II, a gang of small-town crooks foment resentment when they persist with their shady weekly poker game; by Tom Sheehan.

Mount Carmel Road was a quiet dead end in the north section of town. And in the middle of the night when the war in the Far East was over and the radios blared out the news, all the lights went on in all the houses on that blind street, except where the card game was being played. Many of the neighbors were solidly indignant about that turn of events on VJ Night, two Mount Carmel boys among those who would not be coming back from the mad Pacific, which most of us had only seen in Saturday newsreels at the theater.

This house was a dark house on a dark street in my town that, with some lesions and scars, hangs on to a place in my memory and will not let go. Not ever. The family that lives there now most likely is unaware of its past. Tenants and landlords hardly leave scribed notations of a dwelling, thinking all things will ferment, dissipate, and eventually pass on. Fifty years or more of recall usually get dulled, terribly pockmarked, or fade into the twilight the way one ages, a dimming of the eyes, a bending at the knees, a slow turn at mortality. But this one rides endlessly in place, a benchmark, a mooring place. It resides as a point of time, a small moment of history colored up by characterization of one incident.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Night of the Haunted by Michael McCarthy

A hit man is haunted by the memories of two of his victims, by Michael McCarthy.

It's a balmy evening, there's a couple leaning out of a dimly lit window at the side of a house overlooking an alley. They're both naked and their heads are wreathed in smoke from their cigarettes, its effect heightened by the intermittent blinking of a faulty street light. You can't even see the moon or stars.

Let's call her Kate and him Daniel.

There's a very light drizzle shining on their skin. If you saw them, and you were that way inclined, you might find their bearing iconic like a scene from a European Art House film.

This house is empty apart from them. There was a fire in which two people died. The only two people in the house: the owner and his female friend. The house had been in the process of being converted into flats for rich singles as an additional pension for the owner.

The man is clearly older, he's tanned and balding with cropped grey hair. Kate is a dyed blonde, her hair lying loose on her shoulders. She looks about twenty years younger than Daniel, but neither of them care. Age is irrelevant to them.

Kate prefers the cool shade of her back garden, while Daniel is very well travelled. They're both smiling. There's some music playing in the background, an infectious pop song. It's not loud, it just... carries. Kate's moving her head from side to side in time, while Daniel's swinging his hand in front of him and clicking his fingers like a band leader.

They've clearly found each other. It took them long enough.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Hazard by Ronald Schulte

Billy's golfing ability mysteriously improves overnight, but at what cost? By Ronald Schulte.

At six over through twelve holes, Billy had a great round going by his standards. With a little luck he just might break eighty. However, as he watched the sun dip toward the horizon from the thirteenth tee, he wasn't sure he'd finish before dark. A damn shame that would be, walking away from a round like this. Time to stop dawdling. He grabbed his five-iron and walked up onto the tee box.

Number thirteen wasn't a tough hole. It played about one-ninety to the front edge, with a nice wide green and just one small bunker in the back right. There was a little water on the right, but it was well short of the green and not really in play. The contours felt good to Billy's eye, and his normal right-to-left draw would be perfect for feeding the ball toward the back-left pin location.

Billy teed up his ball and started his pre-shot routine. He visualized the shot he wanted to play, took a deep breath, and approached the ball. Two practice swings, as always. Another deep breath. Then the swing.

He knew right away that he'd mis-hit it. He'd made contact, just barely, but far from the center of the clubface. It was the dreaded shank, a hosel-rocket, and in Billy's case, a serious momentum killer. The ball shot out diagonally to the right, straight into the (not really in play) water hazard.

"Shit!"

Monday, April 29, 2019

Give Her Some Credit by Joe Giordano

Jennifer is glad her daughter is finally financially independent... by Joe Giordano.

"How does your daughter enjoy receiving a paycheck?" Hairdresser Emma clipped Jennifer's brunette bob.

"We like it more."

Emma's scissors snipped. "I get it. She's no longer your financial obligation."

Jennifer sighed. "Cara graduated without student debt, but it wasn't easy. The day she matriculated at the University of Texas, we cut our credit cards in two. Cash-only disciplined our spending. I can count on one hand the number of times Ted and I ate out in the last four years. Vacations? Forget about it."

Emma said, "You two lived like a cloistered religious order. We insisted our William work while in school. Bill Sr. told him, 'Nobody will roll you over in bed and stuff a hundred dollar bill inside your pyjamas pocket.'"

Friday, April 26, 2019

Closure by Proxy by Tony Billinghurst

A drifter working as a barkeep is befriended by an unusual regular; by Tony Billinghurst.

My father died shortly after I was born. Mum's latest partner was a pig; he didn't like me and I didn't like him. To make matters worse, I think Mum was afraid of him; whenever we had arguments she'd side with him. It all finally blew up on my 16th birthday with another row and I'd had enough; I told them to shove it and left. The last time I saw Mum she was standing at the gate crying. I didn't know what I wanted to do in life so I drifted from one dead end job to another, I even briefly considered joining the Navy but didn't and I did bar jobs instead.

In this pub it always happens when it rains. The bus stop outside doesn't have a shelter; those waiting put up with rain till it gets heavy then overcome their misgivings and come in and wait. Most keep their backs to the bar and face the window. The more brazen sit at the tables and don't give a damn. A few buy something small like a bag of nuts to ease their consciences.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Good With Animals by Gary Ives

Emma Goldfarb, a high-flying commercial artist, has almost given up finding a partner who matches her intellect and ambition when she meets Glenn, and discovers a new kind of peace; by Gary Ives.

Em glanced through the window over the sink to see Glenn down on one knee rubbing Tuck's huge head while talking soft and low to Nip. The oxen were still yoked. She knew he wouldn't come in to eat until they'd been unyoked and rubbed down, and he had washed up at the outside spigot. She had a thick piece of fresh salmon to poach with a little garlic and ginger. Glenn had grown fond of these two critters and she reckoned he was anticipating separation anxiety as they were due to return to the owner soon. He was funny that way with oxen and mules he trained. He'd spent three months with this pair and, as always, grown attached to the animals. Noticing him washing up, she put the salmon filets into the pan but did not light the fire. "Let's have a beer on the porch and catch the sundown before we eat,' she said.

Years earlier Emma Goldfarb had stumbled into this strangely comfortable relationship with Glenn Harka. Now they spent most nights together at her place on the lake but sometimes at the A-frame up on Henderson Peak. He came down to the city only to hit the book stores and then only rarely as he loathed the traffic, the noise, and crowds. He was that way. Twice they'd vacationed for a month, once in Oaxaca and another time on Skye. Emma Goldfarb had family money and she had grown up rich but ambitious too, enjoying a very successful career as a commercial artist. While still a young artist she had a breakthrough when her submissions to Paulson-Palmer Agency secured a fat renewable contract with a nationwide fast food giant. This was followed within a year by another contract with Tabu Perfume. She thrived and by her 30s had reached the comfortable plateau of being able to turn down job offers. She was steadfastly independent and while she had enjoyed a few relationships, none of the men measured up to her idea of love and certainly not commitment. Each relationship had ended when she asked the man to leave. Experiencing these men, a Silicon Valley tech, a realtor, and a professor, had left her with a strong dislike for pretty boys, pretense, greed, drugs, and inflated egos. So few men of her acquaintance could engage any woman as an equal much less a superior in any field of endeavor or intellect. Whoever claimed that men were the more rational gender had it wrong. By 40 she had come to the belief that needing a man was a weakness.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Ancient Science of Soul Travel by Harrison Kim

A homeless man starts a relationship with Ally, but must contend with her paranoid father; by Harrison Kim.

Out of the hammock, feet in the dirt. Wow, what a thunderstorm last night! I dreamed lightning came from the skies and cut my throat with a bang. Woke up breathing hard, I saw flashes migraine bright and constant through the plastic sheet above me. Rain pounding on that sheet. It held, as did the rope between the trees holding the plastic peaked and triangular. I cocooned and rocked below, in my custom-made hammock.

I lay and think of the woman with the strange request. Yesterday, I played my guitar down at the beach for some coins and she stood there listening. A petite older lady wearing bright red lipstick. I played Cat Stevens' song "Father and Son," and she walked to me afterwards and said she had a problem with her own father. He's living with her and he's threatening and violent. What should she do? She dropped fifteen dollars in my hat and talked and talked.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Love's Labors Lost by Bonnie Veaner

Bonnie Veaner's funny flash fiction about a childhood crush.

I was playing with other children on an over-inflated truck inner tube adorning the playground lawn of Green Meadow Nursery School.

"Okay, boys and girls," said our teacher, clapping her hands three times to get our attention. "Sit down on the inner tube with your feet in the center so you're all facing one another. Steady yourselves with your hands and bounce gently."

We positioned ourselves and began to bounce, some more enthusiastically than others.

"Goodness, Randy, not so hard," said the teacher. "We don't want anybody to fall off and get hurt."

Friday, April 12, 2019

Adrift in the Global Village by Fred Skolnik

An Algerian TV personality moves to Paris, where she lives alongside an Arab orphan, a German pimp, and an Israeli with mysterious motivations who has piqued her interest; by Fred Skolnik.

Samiyah was afraid one of the hotheads would do her in after she talked about masturbation on MBC so she didn't go back to Riyadh after they taped the show but went straight to Beirut from Amman and rented an airy apartment near the beach, but then the war came and though most of the bombing was in the south of the city she got jittery and flew to Paris. Meanwhile her Saudi husband divorced her so she couldn't go back there anyway without his consent, which was all right with her because she'd had just about enough of that godforsaken country, which was like a nightmare if you thought about it.

Samiyah liked Paris. She found a furnished one-bedroom apartment in the 19th arrondissement for 700 euro and settled in. A German pimp who brought in East European girls had the apartment above her and a little Arab boy who must have come from the projects attached himself to her from the first day, so these two became her new family. She let the boy sleep on the sofa and gave him the run of the apartment when she was out of the country. Samiyah had been born in Algeria but had made films all around the world and now she had the talk show which was being filmed in a different locality every week and transmitted by satellite from Dubai so she'd usually fly in in the morning and get the sheet with the list of topics an hour before the taping - wife beating, honor killing, masturbation, rape, or whatever else excited the minds of Arab men - and then fly out the same day.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Parma by Alan Nicholson Harold

Farmer Harold wakes up with trotters, and fears what fate has in store; by Alan Nicholson Harold.

TROTTERS! NO! No no no no no no no, aw fuck NO! No hands! Jesus Christ! What the fuck! Trotters? Tiny little trotters! Well then I'm a... oh shit that's bloody stupid! I can't be a... I'm human! Dream, obviously it's a dream, bad dream; got to be, but what if it's not? What if it's true? If that's the case what about... am I still male? Have I got... are they still there? So important. Can this be happening? No; it's, it's a dream, got to be, a bloody awful terrible realistic nightmare! It's got to be.

The two guys looked over the latest litter in the pen, 12 snuffling pink little bodies each intent on finding a teat, then perversely sliding off their prize to try and sample their sibling's teat, this causing a slowly revolving pink carousel of piglets.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Intervention by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When the old church sisters have a big argument with the newer, younger members, their husbands are forced to stage an intervention; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

"It's really most awkward," Marion Klopper complained when the group of older church sisters met for tea at the Welcome Inn. "The only time we can speak openly now that we've so many younger members is when we lot get together here or at the Astonishing Café."

"Without them, you mean," Suzie van Blerk said, adding mischievously, "so that we can moan about them."

"Well, we've got a lot to moan about," Christina du Plessis bleated. "They keep coming up with new ideas that make my life a misery. How can a woman of my age be expected to climb ladders, break her back packing and unpacking boxes and do all kinds of gymnastics to turn the crazy things they dream up into reality?"