Monday, March 30, 2020

How Tall the Ladder, How Far the Moon by Dave Henson

Dave Henson's lighthearted tale of a man obsessed with measuring.

According to my mother, I quit squalling soon as the doctor recorded my birth weight and length. Mom always has been prone to exaggeration... prone to a lot of things. But it's certain I had a fascination with measuring. OK, I'll admit it: I teetered over the boundary into compulsion at a young age.

One of my first memories is from 20 or so years ago. I determined Miss Gilbert's desk was 22 first-grade hands wide and 11 deep. Billy Johnson's blue eye was less than a hand from his brown one.

My itch to measure intensified the older I got till - shortly after my tenth birthday, when I threatened to run away from home because I didn't get another ruler for my collection - my parents took me to a child psychologist.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Steffiology by Harrison Kim

Steffie is a newly qualified counsellor with a dubiously intense approach to the client-therapist relationship; by Harrison Kim.

Lived experience is the best teacher, and I have been a student for too long. I studied my way to becoming a brand new counsellor through Phoenix University online. I wanted to connect with people through the exploration of mutual traumas. Client relationships start with role plays. The client plays his or her part, I play mine. We begin with formalities, end with catharsis.

My first counselling client, Chris Auger, was in a car accident last night. Apparently he drove his vehicle straight into the Yao Ham restaurant. I knew he had a thing for the waitress, but he seemed too much of a wimp to do something like that. At least it was 4am and no one but Chris was hurt. I will visit him in the hospital, despite and maybe because of all the personal things he said about me.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Crosscut by David B. Barnes

A youth offender in North Carolina decides to deal drugs, but needs to find someone he can trust; by David B. Barnes.

Looking west, Crosscut saw the mountains were just gaining the sunlight that had been warming the ridge to the east of Crosscut's cabin. Standing on the front porch and looking back to the south he examined the gravel road as it descended to the edge of Sylva and the by-pass around it. It was a terrific view. One Crosscut had been enjoying each morning, with a hot cup of fresh coffee in his hand, since early September when he had first moved into the cabin. In Crosscut's business it paid big to have forewarning of approaching police cars or cars belonging to people he didn't really want coming to his home.

Crosscut was a drug dealer.

His real name was Sylvester N. Mull, Junior, a twenty one year old who looked every bit of sixteen until you looked closely at his eyes and saw that though his mouth smiled his eyes never cooperated. His long dark brown hair did nothing to make his age more apparent. Crosscut wasn't just a drug dealer, he was a smart, cagey dealer.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Barbarian Reed by David W. Landrum

A lonely flautist is cast back in time as a test of his strength and compassion; by David W. Landrum.

The night Carson went back in time, he had pretty much given up on Ling. She did not seem interested in dating him and the one night they went out had been - well, not exactly a disaster, but discouraging as only a date gone wrong can be. He sat next to her when the symphony performed, saw her at rehearsals, and encountered her at social events connected with the symphony. Like most musicians, he and Ling supplemented their incomes by giving lessons; both taught flute at a local music store, often in rooms right next to each other. Still, she made it clear, non-verbally, that she had no interest in a relationship.

It chagrined him. He had other women with whom he regularly went places. He wanted to be married and was "looking" (as some people termed it). He knew Ling dated. Once or twice he had seen her in public places with men she obviously did have an interest in. He was not among them.

One weekend she invited the winds section of the symphony to a party at her house. His attempts to talk with her largely fell flat, except the time he saw her standing beside a bright brass statue of a woman, dressed in traditional Asian garments, standing on the back of a dragon. The sculpture caught his sense of beauty. She noticed his attention to it.

"That is Kwan Yuan, the Chinese Goddess of a compassion."

Monday, March 16, 2020

Number Seventeen by William Falo

William Falo's character is appalled by the treatment of racing dogs in Alaska.

Ten dogs pulled the sled toward me and the checkpoint as the musher urged them to go faster. Usually, they were slowing down. A checkpoint was a chance for the dogs to rest, but he kept urging them to go faster despite me waving at him from the side of the trail.

"On by," he called out.

I stopped waving when I saw the lead dog starting to pull the sled toward me.

"Whoa." The musher yanked the sled back toward the center of the trail, but the lead dog's legs gave out and it slid sideways causing the ones behind to trip over it. The sled spun sideways and headed straight toward me. I froze unsure of which way to go. How do you stop an oncoming dog sled? The answer was that you don't even try. In a feeble attempt, I put my hands up. The mass of dogs and sled took out my knees and I became part of the sliding wreck.

By the time we stopped, there was a pile of dogs in the snow with me on top of the sled. The dogs slowly got up except for the lead dog. It whimpered and stayed down on the snow.

"Damn you." The musher pointed at me. Steam came out of his nostrils like a bull ready to charge.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Death in Bloom Kelcey Davis

Life has been created on Mars to terraform it before the Earth becomes uninhabitable; by Kelcey Davis.

It was hours before his alarm would go off. Henry pulled off the sheets and sunk into his house shoes, careful not to disturb Carol. He accepted that sleep had escaped him, and extra time to pack would not be wasted. In the cabinet above the dishwasher he found a packet of noodles and tossed them into the microwave, waiting to open the door until just before the timer. They would not bother to pack the food.

They had not intended to abandon this place when they moved in, now almost a decade ago. Henry couldn't believe he had managed so long. Now, the neighborhood was a ghost town. The suburbs of Los Angeles suffered a quick and steady decline in population, and today the homes on Huston Street contained only a few reluctant owners. Five years ago had marked the beginning of a migration Northward and Eastward. At least, for those neighbors who could afford to move.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Tree Planter by Spencer Sekulin

Kusuma is alone in a nightmarish world in which she is hunted by fleshers, until she meets a world-wise companion; by Spencer Sekulin.

Kusuma cowered in the ruins as the fleshers ghosted past.

Their footsteps were silent, as if even the ground was recoiling in fear. Guns and masks and jagged blades gleamed in the veiled sunset, as did lambent, feral eyes. Kusuma held her breath and tried not to make a sound as they stalked by, but her heart was beating so hard she could hear it.

They would eat her if they found her.

Fleshers were demons disguised in people's skin. Real people weren't evil. Kusuma had known no one but her parents, and they were as kind and gentle as flowers - at least, she thought flowers were like that. She'd never seen one before. The world was all dust and grey, nothing like the stories she'd been told - stories of lush meadows with dew-jeweled flowers. Kusuma focused on those stories now, in hopes of keeping her heart from racing faster. It felt as if it was about to jump out of her mouth and pulsate on the ground.

Friday, March 6, 2020

I Felt the Earth Move by Gary Ives

Gary Ives' character persuades her grandmother to tell her surprising life story.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 would take the lives of over 2000 sailors, soldiers and civilians but would also alter the paths of nations and the lives millions, some for the better, some for the worse. Who could have predicted that attack was actually the beginning of drastic changes that would bring the end of old imperial Japan, and that after much suffering democracy and prosperity would quickly emerge, or that the United States would ascend from the war the undeniable leader of the free world, and that former enemies would become allies and important trading partners who would come to admire each other's cultures. The surprise attack that no one suspected, not even the military, caught everyone off balance. If you ask any old timer where he or she was, or what they were doing when they learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, they'll all remember clearly their circumstance at the time of the news. So the December that I turned seventeen I asked my granny Ginger if she could remember the moments when she first learned of the attack that brought America into the war. It came as no surprise to see her head tilt back and release a sigh with the hint of a smile. Oh yes, honey, I remember it well. Sure, I do.

So Granny, tell me.

Some other day, perhaps.

No, now please. Next week I'll be off to the university and will have no grand raconteur to satisfy me. I'm a big girl now. It's not just Pearl Harbor, either. Please, Gram, I want to know all about you. I've been asking your history for years and you've been putting me off. C'mon Gram, I've shared some pretty hot stuff with you. Suppose you were to croak on me while I'm away at the university. I need your story, Gram. You know mom doesn't give a shit; it's me who'll carry on. I'm the only one because I'm the only one left who cares and who truly loves you.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Swimming and Stealing by Edward Black

A scuba-diving scavenger finds a supernatural treasure; by Edward Black.

Human waste burst into a cloud of brown filth from the through-hole in the sailboat above her and began to slowly dissolve in the water. Ana's scuba gear covered her entire body, protecting her from the foul sewage, but that did not make it any less disgusting to have been blasted with human excrement. It was illegal to discharge your holding tank within three miles from the coast, but that did not dissuade the lazier folk from dumping it into the marina waters anyway.

Treasure hunting is much less disgusting in movies, Ana mused as she forcefully kicked her feet to propel herself away from the miasma. She returned her gaze to the seabed, resuming her search for any valuables accidentally dropped overboard.

She'd enjoyed a blessing of luck that morning, discovering a woman's wedding ring tucked into the sand below a full-keeled sailboat in urgent need of new bottom paint. The diamond tucked into the prongs was hefty; she knew she'd be able to pawn a good price for it. But the sun hadn't even crested the sky and there might still be other people's possessions to be salvaged from the water, so she had pocketed her treasure and resumed her hunting. Perhaps, if she were doubly lucky, she might find another wedding ring.

Friday, February 28, 2020

A Fine Piece of Silver by Kyle Brandon Lee

An arrogant and amoral hunter seeks a mythical lion that is not really a lion; by Kyle Brandon Lee.

"Many legends contain at least a single nugget of truth and in most legends, that nugget is dung."
Resian Proverb

Poking the dead beast elicited no response.

"No matter how many times you do that, it will not change," Arkus Roselek stated as he watched his younger partner continue to prod the deceased animal. Arkus removed a silver flask from his coat and unscrewed the cap to take a healthy drink. Still, Drobir used the blunt end of his spear to futile ends. "Are you expecting it to explode?"

"I've heard stories that some animals will play dead," Drobir answered.

"Yes, you heard them all from me. And I have no doubt it is dead. Otherwise, it would disembowel you in annoyance."

Arkus stood, replacing the flask in his coat and removed a small horn. Uncapping its large end, he blew into the smaller, blasting a bellowing sound through the forest.

"I hate that ugly noise," Drobir complained.

"But you shall never hear such a noise through the western islands." Arkus bragged. "No one but I have slain the Kreglian bull of Fal'shen."

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.