Monday, October 19, 2020

Lost Dancer by Heather Robinson

Orthopedist Dr. Rosenberg enjoys a case of mistaken identity; by Heather Robinson.

She looked different from my other patients. My typical customer is 70 to 80 years old, suffering from joints riddled with arthritis, walking hesitantly, and in pain. But she almost flitted about the exam room, gracefully turning, hands extended elegantly. A kind of Holly Golightly meets Misty Copeland. As I stared, half-amused, she apologized for her movements, said she was nervous. She told me she was a dancer and was hoping to join Twyla Tharp's troupe. Her words came out in a lilting poetic rush, but despite prompting, she still had not explained why she was here. Finally, I asked her to sit down and told her she had nothing to be nervous about. Again, I pressed her on her symptoms - knee pain? Hip? Elbow? Now it was her turn to look confused. She blushed and told me that she had trouble reaching climax and had been advised that I was the best doctor for such things.

I must admit I was dumbfounded. The first thing which occurred to me was that Barry, my evil practical jokester friend, was involved. But this was well above his skill level. If I had been dating someone at the time, I might have thought it was a set-up, but I was celibate then. For a moment, I also thought perhaps I had misheard her, and that it could be potentially embarrassing to try to verify her statement. Then slowly, I remembered.

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Pennant of Initiation by Tom Sheehan

A high school American football team dare each other to hang a girl's panties on the Saugus Centre statue by midnight, and young Johnny Templer knows his naivety will get the better of him; by Tom Sheehan. 

Young Johnny Templer, in the summer of his sixteenth year, at the beach on a Saturday afternoon with his crowd, was at a crossroads in his life. Already he had experienced three erections on the crowded beach, any and all girls driving him into the mindless frenzy. He could have buried himself in the sand, or gone into the cool ocean water and stayed there until midnight.

The girl in the two-piece purple swimsuit was particularly dangerous, and daring, the way she absolutely was posing for him with her back against the beach wall, posing for him alone out of all the guys around. Almost snapping it at him, he could hear his brother saying, him three years in the Navy and knowing practically everything there was to know about girls. He was sure of it. Three erections told him so.

Now game time was at hand and pal and teammate Spit Kelly had their attention. Spit had a way about him you noticed sooner than later. "So, we go off to practice on Monday. We dead sure have to cap off a great summer, 'cause if we don't, we're going to forget it in a hurry." Spit looked at the dozen of them, most of them entering their senior year, Johnny Templer and Greg Wozny and Joey Turner being the only juniors-to-be in the group, babies, just out of their sophomore years, sopping behind the ears. Virgin territory, though not so readily admissible.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Sea Of Blurred Light by Basil Rosa

Kent Paxton and his drinking buddies speculate on how their buddy Danny Rice ended up dead, in Basil Rosa's hardboiled noir. 

The shamrocks on each corner of my cocktail napkin have changed into leprechauns and jigged away. New customers have barkeep Newton Smalls jumping. Most of 'em are travelers with small Gladstone bags who sit on the stool along the far wall in the darkness under a dart board nobody ever uses. I fix my numbed senses on the sot Dooley Mullhaven whistling as he explains to pal Elton Dimmer his technique for grooming his mustache. Dooley Mullhaven refers to the mustache as his pussy pleaser and this gets a guffaw from a beefy working stiff seated elbows-up over a mug of draft to Mullhaven's right. I don't know this working stiff and don't care to. I'm kinda in a compromised position since I'm sandwiched between the working stiff and Elton Dimmer. We're what you could call Dooley Mullhaven's peanut gallery.

That ain't a good thing these days on account of Dooley's been laid off, but the man is heroically, tragically upbeat. He holds to a romantic, and what I interpret as a soon to be obsolete, form of charm. He's kinda like the boxer, Jim Braddock, with dreams to play football for the Fighting Irish that never really materialized. Another thing is that Dooley will shovel Shinola with his face before accepting a dole from Uncle Sam. The man's got moxie. He knows how to listen and make a person feel welcomed. As a clown, he'd be as appealing as Emmet Kelly. Maybe the best word is compassionate. Exudes a sense of caring for others. In my book, gotta like that about any man.

Tired of talking about his mustache, Dooley turns to me from his end position at the small bar and asks if I know why this city we live in sinks three inches a year.

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Final Summer by Tom Sheehan

Owen Blood dreams of being a baseball superstar, but his career does not play out as expected; by Tom Sheehan. 

Part One


The batter swung like a great north woodsman, and the ball and bat melded in one sound. As of one mind, the audience rose up and released a roar of tunneling wind, a loud, uproarious, expectant howl, a universal cry late-inning born, a cry of hope that pushed the ball outward toward the solitary left fielder, immersed half in shadow, half in sunlight.

Behind first base, in the first row of the box seats, Catherine MacGawran watched the ball streak toward her handsome Owen Blood, her graceful and errorless Irish god, her late-inning ball hawk, her great glove man getting his first play in the Major Leagues; up from the minors and the bases full. What small wings stirred in her then, we all have felt; suspense flighty as a bubble, the pride that is an agreeable mate to love, a chilled and momentary flash of doubt. Of course, he was her glove man, best of all, the swift leaper, ball hawk unparalleled, line drive snarer who could chase down the deer of Octobers, who would soon wait for her at the altar. Dependable. So patient. Owen Blood.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Serendipity by Marie Anderson

Jill braces herself to tell her boyfriend about her disabled mother; by Marie Anderson.

On Valentine's Day, over pasta and wine in Jill's kitchen, Felix proposed.

Jill wanted to say yes. Felix had it all. Looks, charm, a well-paying job at YouTube. It was serendipity that had brought them together one year ago. A snowstorm had delayed their flight. He'd sat on a stool next to her in a crowded airport bar. Without that storm, they never would have met. He was flying first class. She was coach, all she could afford on her teacher's salary.

She loved Felix. But she had a secret she'd have to reveal, a secret that, when revealed in the past, had killed every romantic relationship she'd ever had.

She poured them each another glass of wine. His face was flushed. His hands shook as he lifted his glass, then set it down without drinking.

"It's okay, Jill. Just say what you need to say. I thought you loved me, but if you can't say yes, I guess we both know your answer."

Friday, October 2, 2020

A Journey on the Spectrum by A. L. F. Fagan

Ian is on a long space journey, seeking habitable planets, with only an AI computer for company; by A. L. F. Fagan.

I have been traveling through space for almost five months, with at least three more months to go before I reach Planet XA34. The name of my ship is the Spectrum.

After waking up at the usual time, I hear Maya's voice coming through the speakers: "Ian, you have mail from Josh."

I look over at the computer screen, see a flashing blue light and reply, "Thanks."

Every time I hear Maya's voice, I have to remind myself that she is just a computer. The designers outdid themselves with her. All the previous artificial intelligences that I've encountered before had an annoying unnatural quality, but not her. Maya's voice is soothing. Over time, she adapts to me as well. She has become a friend on this long trip.

I open the message from Josh. He is one of my main contacts back on Earth. There is nothing special in the mail. He acknowledges receiving the data that I sent him and includes instructions for the next batch that I will transmit. There is also the latest world news. After checking to see that the DC United won, I save it on the hard drive to read later.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Don Juan and the Runaway Knight by Phyllis Houseman

Linda, feeling abandoned by her husband and children, flees for a holiday in Ecuador, where she has an unexpected encounter; by Phyllis Houseman.

Well, Linda, you've gone four thousand miles south, and sixteen years into the past - pretty good for a novice fugitive.


The tall, slender woman smiled at the wry thought as she stepped off the plane's ramp onto tropically hot concrete. Breathing deeply in the thin air, Linda instantly identified pine, a mix of exotic flowers, and dust. Even if she had been blindfolded, her nose would have told her she had landed in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, the symbol of her carefree youth.

As she looked toward the city, Linda felt a stab of dismay. Quito had changed. There were high-rise buildings everywhere, almost obliterating the umber-tiled roofs and white-capped volcanoes she had captured on slides so long ago.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Died Rich by Mitchell Toews

In Mennonite Manitoba, hard-up teenager Diedrich Deutsch is getting bullied at school, and tries his hand at basketball; by Mitchell Toews.

Part 1 - The New Shoes


"I am a true sea-dog with balls the size of cantaloupes!" Diedrich shouted, slashing at a snowy tree branch with a cutlass made from a broken broom handle.

"Diedrich! Diedrich Deutsch!" Doctor Rempel shouted from an open window. His breath turned to frozen vapour as soon as the words left the warm sedan. "Do you want a ride to school?"

Diedrich dropped his weapon but not his swagger. He walked towards the waiting car that sat idling on the rutted ice of the street. A plume rose from the tailpipe, fouling the blue of the Manitoba sky, and when the engine backfired a perfect white smoke ring shot out, twirling with delight.

"Hurry up, swashbuckler!" Doctor Rempel said with a friendly smile. He hawked and spat, then tossed out a cigar remnant and rolled up the window with a pumping arm.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Overnight by Wilson Koewing

Wilson Koewing's story of a doomed American couple touring Europe.

Two weeks into a six-week jaunt around Europe, I grew concerned about my relationship with Rae when we spent a weekend in Tuscany and didn't have sex.

I wrecked the rented moped with her on the back. That could have been part of it. The idyllic setting convinced me I could operate machinery I'd never operated. To my credit, I got us to the ninth-generation family vineyard, with only a slight topple, where we learned the finer points of tasting wine.

I almost returned us unscathed, but after stopping at a petrol station outside the walled city of San Gimignano, I tried to enter a steady stream of traffic, over-throttled and drove straight across the street into the stone wall. Three old Italian men sitting in foldout chairs watched with expressions unchanging.

The moped was mangled. Rae's feet were cut up. I was ego-bruised and embarrassed.

"You really are stupid, aren't you?" Rae said.

Friday, September 18, 2020

A Pound of Flesh by William Quincy Belle

Chuck Bianchi wakes up missing a finger, with no memory of how it happened; by William Quincy Belle.

Chuck blinked and stared at the ceiling. He turned his head to one side and looked at the dresser across the room. That was his dresser. This was his bedroom. How did he get here? He remembered dinner, cleaning up the dishes, and watching TV. Then nothing.

The digital display of the clock on the side table showed 7:28am. Twelve hours had passed. Had he blacked out? There had been no alcohol, so he couldn't have gotten drunk and passed out. Had he suffered some health event like a stroke? What the hell had happened?

The clock-radio sounded. Chuck slapped the top of the device, and quiet returned. He lay there, arm outstretched, feeling dazed. Something didn't seem right.

He rubbed his forehead, squinting as he concentrated. Try as he might, nothing came to mind. He turned his hand back and forth and examined it. He shifted position. The left leg moved, and the right leg moved. His body seemed to be functioning okay.

He raised his left hand and stared at it, puzzled. It was wrapped in white gauze, and it felt odd. There didn't seem to be a normal level of sensation. Instead, there was numbness. Was this because of the bandage?

He tried to wiggle his fingers. That seemed to be okay, just impeded by the gauze. What had happened? Had he been in an accident? But he'd been at home. Hadn't he?

Chuck rolled to his left side and propped himself up on his elbow. He looked around the bedroom. Everything looked normal, nothing out of place. If there was an explanation, it wasn't obvious.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Who To Call In Case Of Emergency by Marina Rubin

Tulip's mundane work environment is brightened by her adventurous, bubbly and promiscuous co-worker; by Marina Rubin.

You can learn a lot about other people's lives when you ask for their emergency contact number. A daunting task Tulip undertook with a mix of idealistic dedication and administrative weariness, when one of her colleagues, a senior underwriter, Didi Estefanos, fainted at work. Everyone ran around the office, scrambling to find a number for her next of kin as she lay on the floor unconscious, her feet in thick brown stockings protruding from the partition of her cubicle. As the crowd swayed above her, spewing water on her face and wailing Didi, Didi, someone found her profile on Facebook, tracked down her son and sent him an SOS message. By the time two masculine paramedics rolled in and strapped Didi onto a stretcher, someone was already on the phone with her frantic son, Nicholas, instructing him to meet his mother at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"Would you look at that man?" Senna, the new girl from marketing, whispered into Tulip's ear, smiling at a tall paramedic with a sleeve tattoo. "It's true what they say - New York has the best looking men!" Senna had recently relocated from Florida so most of her sentences began with "It's true what they say" and were awe-inspired declarations about her new city.

Tulip had seen the tall paramedic before. Twice. Once, when the Operations Manager collapsed with a stroke and, of course, the staff struggled to find his emergency contact number since the one on file in HR was from twenty years ago - his father who had long been gone; and the second time, when one of the salespeople had a seizure while closing a deal on the phone.

"What kind of business is this?" the paramedic sneered, shoving consent papers into his EMS bag. "Everybody gets rolled out on a stretcher! What do you people do here?"

Friday, September 11, 2020

In the Land of the Rain Gnomes by Harrison Kim

A retired social worker takes his lady friend for an adventure in a creepy ghost town accessible only by boat; by Harrison Kim. 

Decaying isn't that bad. It's a unification with your beginnings, a melding into the earth, a relaxing absorption where you do nothing but rot. The ego humbles itself before this ultimate dissolution, this disintegration of body and mind, this unthreading and wasting towards lightness.

I live in the ghost town of Nitnat Falls. I pace its abandoned, crumbling streets under drizzling skies, bed down on tree boughs at night, cool and damp in my lean-to under huge cedars. I've cut myself off completely from my old life. This wasn't quite what I had planned for my retirement, but it's stress-free. I've never felt such calm, such a letting go. I trace the lichen patterns growing from my navel, and wet my face in the mist.

Two months before I arrived in Nitnat Falls I'd retired from thirty years as a social worker at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital. I was ready for a lift from the bondage of routine, a permanent vacation from listening to people's delusions, being exposed to their madness day after day. I looked towards a life of travel and good times with my new friend Amanda, a thin, elegant lady semi-retired from the real estate business. This first trip of our relationship involved taking a boat up the remote west coast. The cargo boat stopped at fishing camps and Indian villages to deliver mail and supplies. Its halfway destination was Nitnat Falls, an abandoned pulp mill town located under towering mountains, with only a score of diehard inhabitants left living in a few moldy, crumbling buildings set against a view of dark clouds. I wanted to re-experience my adventurous youth, explore remote places. I'd always been fascinated by local history, and the story of Nitnat Falls intrigued me, how it began as a planned village built for the mill workers, laid down eighty years ago in one huge period of construction. The industry thrived until the company went bankrupt in the Seventies. More rain fell here than any other place in North America, no way in but by boat. The ruins of a hotel and indoor swimming pool molded away. Residential streets slowly lost their neat rows of houses to storms, floods, and decay.



As our boat pulled into Nitnat Falls, Amanda and I viewed the pulp plant's abandoned, skeletal hulk, its mossy, collapsed roof and smashed in windows open against the drizzling sky. The vessel anchored to deliver mail and other supplies for the diehard twenty-five inhabitants, and to give adventurous tourists a chance to walk the town while the ship's workers took their lunch break.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Elevated by Bruce Costello

A retired doctor confesses a long-held guilty secret to an old vicar; by Bruce Costello.

"It started as a joke," I say, feeling my heart rate quicken. "Just can't stop wondering how it ended, though I'll never know now, after thirty years."

The woman nods, one eyebrow raised. She doesn't look like a vicar except for the clerical collar. Probably near retirement age herself, but healthy-looking, blond, and clear-eyed.

"Maybe it's something important you need to work through?"

"My life's like a jigsaw I can't finish. There's a bit missing in the middle and nothing makes sense without it." I lean back and fold my arms. "I saw your sign, Spiritual Guidance and Counselling. I was hoping you'd give me some answers."

"You've known yourself all your life, but I've only just met you." She leans forward, hands outstretched, palms upwards. "The answer is in you, not in me." She settles back, hands in her lap. "Talking often helps."

The room is sparsely furnished. Our two chairs, close together, facing each other. And a desk with an incense holder from which blue smoke curls, filling the room with fragrance.

I take a deep breath. "I was a doctor for twenty-five years, recently retired."

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Canister By James Rumpel

Desperate scientists risk the Earth to send a message of warning back through time; by James Rumpel.

2063:
The canister sat in the middle of the elaborate mechanism. Its metallic surface sparkled as it reflected the device's myriad of lights which constantly flickered on and off. Two individuals, each dressed in a lab coat, stood silently staring at a control panel.

Eventually, one of the men broke the silence. "You are sure there is no one else out there?"

"I am," replied his cohort. "Since the last round of mega-storms, every known base and individual contact has been silent. It has been two weeks. If there was anyone out there, they would have answered our transmissions."

"Are we absolutely certain we want to do this?" asked the first. "Creating a wormhole on the planet's surface will destroy it. It will rip the Earth to pieces."

"The Earth is already dead. If there's any chance of us getting a warning back far enough to stop this, we have to take it."

Monday, August 31, 2020

Evidence by James Mulhern

Molly learns some questionable morality from her scheming grandmother; by James Mulhern.

Nonna slipped; her wig flew into a mound of snow. "My back!"

"Help!" I yelled.

A crowd surrounded us.

"Someone, call an ambulance," Nonna screamed. "Don't no one touch me." Her coat and pants were torn.

The bank manager said, "Let me assist you."

Nonna said, "Keep away! Your maintenance person must be a bombast. He should be fired for leaving that ice." She moaned, mascara a dirty mess on her wet cheeks.

"I've got your wig," a hunched-back elderly woman said. "Do you want me to put it back on?"

"Are you crazy? What's a wig gonna do for me? What I need is an ambulance."