Monday, March 25, 2019

The Stars That Were Her Eyes by Dave Henson

Dave Henson tells the story of a loving couple, each with very unusual psychological conditions.

The landscape painting is square. The lamp shade is a cylinder. The clock is round. The nurse brings in a rectangle with my wife's supper. Dorothy says she isn't Hungary. They can drip away her pain, but not her fear, and there's nothing I can do about it.



My wife and I met more than 30 years ago. My Geometry Syndrome tended to flare with my emotions, and Dorothy - so pretty and smart - made me more than a little nervous on our first date. As she put on her coat, I looked around her entry, saw a carpet runner and said I'd made reservations at Long Rectangle's Fish House. When she gave me a look, I realized my mistake and told her I meant Landon's Fish House. Dorothy only smiled. Quiet girl. I felt stupid and, when I grinned back, her face blurred, and I saw her head as an oval. I knew I had to get control of myself, or the evening was going to be a disaster.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Nests of Birds of Paradise by Bailey Bridgewater

Lynn works for an answering service and starts getting regular calls from a vulnerable psychiatric patient, in Bailey Bridgewater's moving story.

"Watkins and Kinny Psychological Services. How can I help you?"

There was flat silence on the other end before a wavering man's voice cut it. "Is this the answering service?"

"Yes it is." The handbook clearly stated that we should never tell people we were a call center representative unless they asked directly - then we couldn't lie.

"Thank you for telling the truth." Another silence.

"Can I help you with something?"

A muffled thumping like he was playing with the receiver of an old wall-mounted telephone. I pictured this person wrapping the curly cord around his fingers as he hesitated.

"I don't know. Maybe. No. I don't... There's another girl that used to talk to me sometimes. Her name was Sharon. Does she still work there?"

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Widow's Club by John Conaway

A mischievous group of ageing widows hire a male stripper for entertainment, but they don't get what they expect; by John Conaway.

Fran gets the chocolate chip cookies started while they wait for the naked house cleaning guy to arrive. She'd found out about the service through one of her friends and talked the girls into giving it a shot. The cost, based on the number of attendees, is $350.00. The woman who answered the phone tells Fran that the house cleaning will take about half an hour and that their cleaning guy's name is Steve.

The girls get together about once a week. They talk. Sometimes they watch movies. They smoke pot, get the munchies, and bake cookies. Lately they've been watching porno on Fran's laptop, something new to all of them except Fran. They always express amazement at the endurance of the actors - if that's what you call them.

They call it the Widow's Club although they're not all, strictly speaking, widows. Sandy was a widow but remarried. Fran's husband, from whom she's presently separated, was on the plane that crashed into the Hudson so she was almost a widow. She's always telling people, "If it wasn't for that fucking Sully Sullenberger I'd be lounging on the deck of my Palm Beach condo right now." They assume she's joking. Joan's ex died after they were divorced. Only Deidre and Deb are actual widows.

The girls agree to divide the fee evenly, $70 each. "What about a tip?" Joan asks.

Friday, March 15, 2019

When Coal Was King by Gareth Clarke

Gareth Clarke's character tells of his childhood in a not-quite-traditional Welsh mining town.

I was born in the mining village of Cwmstgwynfryn. My dad lives there still, and in the same house too - in his nineties now, and still cooking for himself. I make the journey back three or four times a year, or whenever I can. One of the few original terraces left (they've pulled most of them down and built a rash of one and two bed bungalows) though you'd hardly recognise it for the smoke-grimed terrace it was when we lived there in the late Fifties and through the Sixties. Now it's all bright colours, open-plan living, teak veneer and Audis parked outside.

The pit's long gone, of course, with little sign of it now but the concrete cap over the pit shaft. The slag heap's all grassed over, and there are woods on its slopes, mixed pine and deciduous. Different as you could possibly imagine from when I lived there with my mam and dad. The kiddies from the local school are taken for walks along the nature trails through the woods where we used to scrabble for fragments of coal for the fire.

I was an only child, unusual for those times. Now, whether that's because after having me my mother turned against all that sort of thing in an outpouring of Presbyterian virtue - striding along to the chapel as she would, massive legs placed firmly apart in her Sunday best breeches and donkey jacket, breathing in the spirit of the Lord along with the smoke-laden air - or whether she'd imposed a strict no-go policy on my father for reasons of her own, and which he would have had no choice but to respect, I don't know. Doesn't bear thinking about, to be honest. Still, there it is - at the end of the day I remained an only child.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Electricity by David Rogers

A man whose life is plagued by visions is confronted by one realer and yet more fantastic than he could have imagined; by David Rogers.

The whole sky flashed, a searing electric blaze, fading to the blue-brown of the horizon. Lightning here did funny things to a man's vision. The clouds were patchy, silver gray, like the plains of an airless moon.

Masters checked the zippers on his wetsuit, snugged the goggles down over his eyes, and waded into the surf. The water was cold. He'd have to make the repair fast and get out.

This was his first real job since the last episode. He'd been turned down by half a dozen companies before he decided in desperation to change his name and doctor his resume. Not that he felt bad about the deception. At least, not most of the time. After all, didn't people usually do the opposite of what he did - claim skills and experience they didn't have, in order to get jobs they were not qualified for? But he'd been told he was overqualified enough times to know it was code for "untrustworthy." So he did what he had to, in order to survive. It was evolution at work. Natural selection. Not that it had been easy, even so. The first three employers he applied to checked his references and invited him to go away, without bothering to be polite. Not that he blamed them. That was how things worked.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Best Revenge by Patrick Ritter

Mike fears his mother has been conned and wants revenge, but is it too late? By Patrick Ritter.

It came back right after dessert.

"Happy birthday, Mom," Mike said, unwrapping a small birthday cake. "I couldn't fit eighty candles on it, but I know you don't like too much fuss."

"It's perfect," she replied. "What a nice surprise, Michael. And I have a surprise for you too."

"Oh yeah," he said, cutting each of them a piece of cake. "What's that?"

"I know you've wanted me to sell the farm property in Merced and move into that senior home. Well, I'm finally going to do it."

"That's great Mom, you really deserve it. The money from the sale will make your life so much more comfortable. When are you going to list it?"

"Oh, I already have someone who's going to buy it," she said chomping into the cake.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Soldiers' Children by Harrison Abbott

Harrison Abbott tells the chilling tale of a wartime raid.

The villagers had been receiving panicky messages from relatives and friends throughout the night. The invading soldiers were heading north, and the village was directly in their path: they needed to escape before the soldiers reached them. There was no resistance to the invasion anymore; the capital in the south had fallen, and the soldiers were flooding across the nation. Doing what, the villagers couldn't know. In the northern mountains, few people even understood why the invasion was happening.

Only one man made it out of the village before the platoon arrived. The rest of the families were thrusting survival goods into their cars, when the platoon's jeeps appeared on the long road from the hills, just as daylight had emerged. The jeeps did not snarl or send black fumes against the snowfields. They only petered down to the village at a calm pace. Ten vehicles, clad in military gear. And all the villagers could do was stand and watch and imagine what was going to happen.

When the jeeps arrived, the soldiers alighted with controlled expressions. The morning temperature now seemed warm, the snow light, the flakes dallying about their uniforms. Slowly they approached the locals, who were terrified of their machine guns, but even more by their serenity. All the soldiers did was ask that every adult villager gather in the main street, so they could be spoken to.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Follow That Car by James Paul Close

James Paul Close foresees a fundamental problem with self-driving taxis.

I could hardly say, "Follow that car," so what else was I going to do?

I simply said "Amsterdam Avenue," because I knew it was the same direction the car in front was heading. It was late, I had just left the nightclub, and I was feeling quite tipsy. Needless to say, things didn't go to plan. The autotaxi replied with its off-the-peg voicefile, sounding all cheap and synthetic. "Amsterdam Avenue is only zero point two miles away from your current location. Travelling short distances will incur the minimum fee of twenty dollars. Do you wish to proceed?"

"Yes, dammit, go!" I barked.

I had to catch that car in front. It was getting away, the rear lights of the silver Mercedes blurring into the rain-soaked night. It was a classic model - manually driven - and I could just about make out all five silhouettes; especially his large frame filling the driver's seat. That was definitely them.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Prayer for a Punch Line by Michael Guillebeau

A priest hears a confession that creates a difficult moral quandary which makes him question his own career choices; by Michael Guillebeau.

"Forgive me, Father Carson. I've killed a girl."

I started to laugh through the confessional partition. Freddie liked to joke, or at least try. But even a priest who liked jokes in the pulpit couldn't allow jokes in the confessional - and there were enough people who thought I didn't take my calling seriously enough as it was.

"Freddie - my son - this is not a place for jokes. Begin by saying something like, 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.'"

Freddie was crying softly. It was the first time I had heard a man crying in confession. Of course, it was only my second year hearing confessions.

"My son," I said. "We both know you're sometimes confused. Perhaps you're mistaken."

"The news man says she's dead. They haven't found her body, but they said she's pressured dead."

"Presumed dead. OK. Perhaps we do need to talk about this."

Friday, February 22, 2019

Books to Read, Stories to Write by Mark Joseph Kevlock

Mark Joseph Kevlock's character wants more time in the day, so he duplicates himself, with unintended consequences.

It was a pretty simple decision. There just wasn't enough of me to go around. So I had to make a duplicate. After all, I couldn't afford to fall behind in my schedule. There were books to read, stories to write.

Allyce wasn't as thrilled as I'd hoped she would be with my decision.

"I don't need another you," she said. "He'll just get in the way. I don't know why you think you need another you."

"Remember how we talked about if the days were twelve hours longer, how much more I'd get done?" I said. "Well, I can't figure out how to do that, so this is the next best thing."

We were out by the wishing tree, Allyce and I. Someone had cut off all of its branches. But it could still be used as a transmitter to the stars.

"I'm wishing that I'll wake up beside myself," I said.

"I guess that's better than beside someone else," Allyce murmured.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Crow Barn by DC Diamondopolous

Calypso and Phoebe follow a dream-vision through a post-apocalyptic wasteland to try and find their sister Alawisha; by DC Diamondopolous.

The rope pulled at Calypso's waist. She staggered then stumbled as she clawed her way up the hill with Phoebe tied below. They had been searching for Alawisha, their younger sister, since her disappearance the day before. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue were ignored as panic pushed them to the edge of collapse. When sleep grabbed her, Calypso dreamt of Crow Barn.

Sweat burned her eyes. She carried a knife swathed in rags and kept it tucked into her belt. A cloth bag was strapped across her shoulder. Her feet wrapped in bark and tied with hemp made the ascent slippery. She plodded on looking at burnt hills and toppled chimneystacks, tombstone markers for homes, homes her grandmother had told her once nestled in green hills covered with orange poppies and goldenrod. Calypso had been enchanted by tales of California's central coast. Once there were streams of fresh water, an ocean to swim and surf in, vineyards, cows that grazed along miles of farmlands and Monterey Pines silhouetted against a blue horizon. There had been a highway that connected villages with towns and towns with cities.

It was dangerous to let her thoughts drift when they were being hunted. Since Alawisha disappeared, Calypso leashed herself to Phoebe.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Once a Dreamer by Terry D. Williams

A weary newspaper reporter meets an old flame who claims to have a story for him; by Terry D. Williams.

On Monday evening, June thirtieth, there was an accident on I-95 and I arrived a few minutes late for my first reporting assignment at Warren Town Hall in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I parked my Subaru alongside a new 2003 Range Rover and toe-walked (due to having one leg shorter than the other) toward an empty chair in the front of the meeting room. A handful of well-tanned and perfume-scented townspeople pattered at their seats. At the head table roosted the town clerk, Deputy Mayor DeVito, and several councillors. Behind the mayor's nameplate sat an empty chair.

As if he had waited for me to arrive, the deputy mayor said, "The meeting of the Town Council of Warren is called to order," as I settled into a seat in the front row. Compared with the outcries about drug addiction and crime that took place in towns adjacent to Bridgeport and Hartford, I expected to hear citizens of Warren discuss dreary things such as the fire department's pasta dinner or the concessions for the fall Farmers' Market. And it pretty much went that way. That is, until an attractive woman, wearing a silk blouse and plum skirt stood at the lectern and addressed the council.

I recognized Becky Schneider. Her slender body suggested she'd taken good care of herself since we were together, some thirty years earlier. A surge of nerves coursed through me. Not only had I never stopped loving her but seeing her triggered soul-shredding regret about the shameful path my life had taken since she broke up with me.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Consider Me Dead by Clive Aaron Gill

An art lecturer at the University of California shelters a homeless man in the hope of reigniting his own artistic flair; by Clive Aaron Gill.

Andrew Miller drove to 16th Street in downtown San Diego on a Monday afternoon to buy paint and paper supplies. He parked and walked toward his favorite art store, his back stooped, his head of untidy hair like a shrub. He crinkled his nose as he smelled the garbage and exhaust fumes.

Winos clung to the shadows, and arrogant young men sat in large cars, seemingly prepared to deal drugs.

Andrew's eyes traveled to a man wearing dirty jeans and a torn denim shirt who appeared to be in his early forties. The man stood on the sidewalk in front of watercolor paintings and charcoal drawings propped against a low wall. One drawing showed a woman with sunken cheeks.

"Good God," Andrew mumbled, looking at the picture of the woman.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Orville's Crop by O. D. Hegre

O. D. Hegre channels Stephen King in this creepy tale of Professor Orville Berkinbeck's experiments to make a stronger kind of corn. Dedicated by the author to the memory of Lee.

"Can the human race survive every seemingly good idea man has ever had?"
- Madame Romani




DECEPTION

"Enjoy the weekend, Professor." Ben Jackson closed the door of the incubator and engaged the time lock. "Going out to the farm, I bet."

Dr. Orville Berkinbeck looked up from his desk and nodded. "You get going now too, Benjamin. I'll close down everything before I leave."

The Professor watched the grad student gather his gear and exit the laboratory.

Berkinbeck not only had the hobby farm - and the barn - but he also had a M.A. in Agricultural Science from Cal State, and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Harvard. He and his lovely wife, May, lived in Ames but spent most weekends in Millsberg, out on their four hundred acres of rich fertile soil.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Rain Falls Like Rain by Richard Risemberg

Richard Risemberg's reflective vignette about a lonely but content old man.

The rain was steady now. There had been an hour of fury around four in the morning, a downpour and a few grunts of thunder, and it had awakened the old man. The gentle rain that followed had lulled him back to sleep. He had always loved the sound of rain in the downspouts, loved it since childhood. Two and a half hours later he awoke again, went to the bathroom, dressed, and made a pot of tea. Now he was sitting in the unheated front room, cozy in a sweater, cuddling the cup of tea to his chest, and watching the rain. It fell steadily onto the asphalt street in front of his apartment, made little vanishing circles in the puddles. A few drops clung to the glass of the lattice window. One of his neighbors, a younger woman whose name he didn't know, walked by under a red umbrella. She wore a puffy down parka and black tights. Her face was serene, neutral as she walked past his window. The odor of the tea rose to his face, warming him. The rain fell steadily. He was close enough to the glass that he could see the world inverted in the clinging raindrops, looking brighter than the real world.