Monday, May 25, 2020

The Spiral Tunnel by Harrison Kim

A five year old boy dreams of leaving his body and faces up to his mortality; by Harrison Kim.

When I was five years old I lived at Genoa Bay Farm. Its fields spread down to a cedar bordered cove way out beyond Tzouhalem Mountain on Vancouver Island. My mom and dad worked the farm for owner Tommy Lines. I was the only kid there. I slept in my bed with a stuffed bear. I held him tight and carried him everywhere during the day. I could count on Bear. The world seemed so big around me, but he remained small.

One afternoon, I threw Bear over the wood fence separating the farm driveway from a drainage ditch. He lay on the grass on the other side. I reached under and retrieved him. "Sorry," I said. "I didn't mean it." Then I threw him over the fence again.

He went further this time. I crawled under the railing and searched around. It took me longer to find him. "I'm sorry," I said again, when I discovered him, lying upside down in some thistles.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Larry's Terrible Day By James Rumpel

James Rumpel tells of a near future in which a malfunctioning phone is more than just an inconvenience.

Larry Boland glanced at his phone. He had his first phone implanted into his arm was when he was fourteen, a little later than most of his peers. Now, three upgrades and nine years later, his wrist was home to the most advanced communication device bit-coins could buy.

Unfortunately, even with all that technology, he could not make the line to the med-distribution kiosk move any faster. His phone told him that it was 7:41. If he didn't get to the front of the line and get his daily dosage of medications soon, he was in grave danger of missing his train.

For a moment, Larry considered leaving the line and going directly to the boarding area but he knew that was not an option. He needed treatments to deal with his attention deficit disorder, his dry mouth, his occasional bouts of gas, and the subtle throbbing he sometimes felt at his temples. He couldn't imagine trying to survive a day having to deal with all of those maladies.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Library in White Cedar by Edward Ahern

John Willman attends the death of a library, and stands to inherit its books; by Edward Ahern.

The two-day drive from Connecticut to White Cedar, Michigan was endless neon chain links - the same motels, gas stations, and restaurants sprouting up about every ten miles along the interstate.

I was on my way to assist at the funeral of the library in White Cedar. My great, great grandfather, Thomas Willman, had provided the money to build the library and on his death had bequeathed his books to it. He'd specified that if the town closed the library the books should be returned to his heirs. I was the only surviving descendent the town had found, and I'd rented a large SUV in case the books were worth claiming.

Cathy Bender, the town librarian, had been the one to call. Her voice had that slight midwestern nasality that some easterners find annoying but I had always liked.

"Mr. Willman, praise the Lord I was able to find you. We need to talk about the Willman books in our library."

Friday, May 15, 2020

The White Cadillac by Robert Funderburk

In god-fearing Louisiana, on the west bank of the Mississippi, fourteen-year-old Chris faces a tragedy and finds a true friend; by Robert Funderburk.

I grew up in Algiers, on the 'Point,' and when I played on the grassy slopes of the levee as a child, I would look across a half mile of rolling muddy water to the twin spires of the oldest cathedral in the country. To the left was the six-storied bulk of the Jackson Brewing Company, makers of Jax Beer. Both buildings were purposed as escape routes from the drudgery of the world. They were separated by: Jackson Square, with its piked iron fence and artists and entertainers and tourists; the horse-drawn carriages that clattered along St. Peter Street; and the bright endless span of eternity.

My first memories were of the smell of sweat and grease and Dixie beer, and my dad's calloused hands, as he held me in the garden behind our house. By the time I was five or six, my mother would send me around the corner to CJ's bar to get my dad's daily beer. It was never kept in the house, and I never saw him have more than one.

The three of us would sit on the brick patio with palm fronds rattling against the stone wall in the breeze off the gulf. The smell of jasmine and gardenia and my mother's roses would move in slow waves on the textured air of evening.

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Book to Live By by M.E. Proctor

In a dystopian future, Jake goes scavenging for food and finds a greater treasure.

Jake walked by the memorial at the foot of the wall every day. He remembered it when it was fresh, when the wreaths were bright and the toys didn't look like escapees from the landfill. It appeared in the early days of the Big Hope surge, when the first babies were taken to the orbiter. The orbiter was a bright beacon of optimism. People looked up as it sailed by shining like a shooting star. The news bulletins claimed the orbiter was the future and everybody believed it. Soon, the stories went, the shuttles would come down and take everybody up there where life would be so much better. It was the Big Hope, all right.

From the start, Jake believed it was the Big Bullshit Illusion. The orbiter was too small. Oh, it was a sizable ball of light, and maybe it could hold all the people in town, but it certainly couldn't hold all the people from all the towns everywhere. Even with the wars overseas, the sicknesses brought by the bad air and the foul water, and the crazy weather upheavals, it was still a lot of people. And questionable people too. Jake doubted anybody would want to zap up Rudy Two Fists or Glenda the Mouth, or even Seb, his best friend, who was sweet-natured and could tell jokes that would rip you in two, but was zonked out of his head three quarters of the time. Jake doubted anybody would want a street kid like him on the blasted orbiter. Granted, he could read and write, and make sums well enough to avoid being taken by hustlers, but how could that be sufficient to punch his ticket? Unless hustlers made it to the orbiter too. That would be funny. Maybe the orbiter was just like this crap town. Maybe they had their Rudy who beat up those who stood in his way and even those who didn't, and a Glenda who could do things with her tongue you wouldn't believe.

Friday, May 8, 2020

First Urges: A Homo Monstrum Chronicle by Kevin Stadt

Alex lands a date, just in time for the plant-based Apocalypse; by Kevin Stadt.

Alex had no way of knowing that the seeds of a new world had already sprouted, could not have imagined how man would mutate before the close of day. He sat in the back corner of a Northern Prairie Community College classroom, watching a fat black and yellow bumblebee hover over the spring peonies outside the window. The flowers led him to think of her, and he shifted his gaze to where she sat several rows over. Covered in freckles, eyes almost as dark as the black hair she always seemed to hide behind, wearing a blue sundress, heavy black boots, and a full sleeve of tattoos down her left arm, she typed on a laptop as the teacher lectured.

The debate in his skull drowned out the class discussion of Cormac McCarthy. She's WAY too hot for you, dude. You look like Ed Sheeran with a gut. But, while she exerted a gravity on him that made paying attention in The 20th Century American Novel impossible, none of the other guys even appeared to notice her. Maybe she just presses my particular buttons?

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sturgis Spins a Good One Kathryn B. Lord

Everett and Perle stop for a beer with clammer Sturgis, and hear a tall tale about their friend Mervyn; by Kathryn B. Lord.

Most weekdays around four, if the weather was decent, Everett and Perle pulled their trucks into Sturgis's driveway. Though the air was a bit nippy for early fall, the men, swaddled in worn flannel and greasy insulated vests, took positions around Sturgis's pickup bed. They leaned in on the sides, arms crossed over the top edge. Except for the truck's wheels, they could have been around the bar in a tavern.

"Crissakes, Sturgis, get to the point. The wife's making meat loaf. I got to get home for dinner." Everett lobbed his empty beer can into the truck bed. "What the hell happened to Mervyn?"

"Steady now, Everett," said Perle. "He'll get to it, he always does."

"Thank you, Perle." Sturgis made a slight bow. Wouldn't hurt Everett's waistline to be a bit late. "Much obliged."

"Take your time, Sturge," Perle said. "No other place I got to be. Wouldn't want to ruin a good yarn."

Friday, May 1, 2020

Tony Ambrosio's Unsuccessful Life of Crime Is Finally Looking Up by Michael Drezin

It takes a lot to teach hapless petty thief Tony Ambrosio a lesson; by Michael Drezin.

Anthony Ambrosio, Tony to his friends, is not an honest man. No need to be. No one who ever made it big, made it big being honest.

Honest or not, indications are Anthony Ambrosio will never make it big in crime because he doesn't have what it takes. He pulls mostly minor scams like selling weed that isn't weed, or bootlegged CDs where the cover doesn't match what's inside. And he gets caught like flu in winter. Tony's always getting caught.

He does his time without complaint, 'cause that's the way real men do time. And then he starts the cycle all over again. No thought about what went wrong, or how to do it better. He does the same thing, in the same way, every time.

He can't see that a life of crime is not for him because Anthony Ambrosio, Tony to his friends, is not an honest man. Not even with himself.

And so when he told himself he had enough money for a fine meal at the Actor's Crib (insiders call it the Crib), a five star restaurant in the heart of NYC's theater district, it turned out he did. It's just that it wasn't on him.

Upon the direction of management Alberto, the waiter, called the police. When they arrived Tony was arrested and until he was able to see a judge, he spent an afternoon, evening and the next morning in jail.

Monday, April 27, 2020

How To Be A Good Episcopalian by Yash Seyedbagheri

Yash Seyedbagheri's character considers joining the Episcopalian Church as a way to deal with the trauma of an absent mother.

Join the Episcopal church one winter day after run-ins with fundamentalists on campus. This is a particularly difficult day for you, sitting through creative writing classes (you are a graduate student), contributing nothing of value in comments or in stories, lost in a creative malaise. You are that guy who babbles incessantly, but whose words simply do not add up to anything of value. They hold a certain emptiness.

It is just before Christmas, when smiling Santas and families together put you in a bad mood. On top of this all, you have to deal with being branded a sinner by angry bearded fundamentalists who look like a combo of Hemingway and child predators.

"You're going to burn," they shout, waving their hands into the charcoal-colored skies, as though they've snorted too much cocaine. Their eyes are wide and crazed.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Peppermint Candy by James Mulhern

A teacher has to deal with a difficult student vomiting in his class; by James Mulhern.

Helen threw the candy wrapper into the trash barrel, then walked to her desk as I read a line from Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum: "For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I lay had been literally swarming with rats."

She vomited. The other students screamed epithets, laughed, or moved their desks away as chunks of school lunch spewed from Helen's mouth.

"You fucking loser," Gabe said. He used the textbook cover to wipe bits of nacho off his shirt.

"Quiet down," I shouted to the class. I grabbed some napkins from my desk and asked Sandy, who sat by the door, to get the school nurse.

I gave Helen the napkins. She wiped her face and said she was sorry.

"No need to apologize. Sit down and rest your head on the desk."

She leaned onto crossed arms.

"Go to the bathroom and wash yourself up," I told Gabe.

He flung the vomit-smeared textbook onto the floor.

"Gross!" Damien, a long-legged track star with frizzy hair, said.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Come In Number Seven by Madeline McEwen

A California State Trooper pulls over a characterful British woman for speeding; by Madeline McEwen.

When she'd rolled down the window, I caught a sniff of hot leather upholstery, the unmistakable smell of a virgin vehicle fresh off the lot.

"License and registration please, Ma'am," I asked. From her paperwork, I guessed she was a Brit with that name - Hermione Trees. She'd pulled off the freeway, turned on the interior light and the flashers. A good sign. She'd remained in the driver's seat of the Mercedes convertible.

Her hands - I'd have preferred them on the steering wheel - clutched a jeweled purse large enough to conceal a gun. I thought of the rosary on my dashboard - a keepsake from my ex-wife, my sixth, a superstitious type. Only five weeks until my retirement after twenty-seven years as a State Trooper. I hoped my luck would last.

"I'm frightfully sorry, Officer," Hermione said in a crisp British accent. "I do apologize for speeding."

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Red Envelope by Susan Taylor

Unemployed demon Asta Roth starts looking for a new job in Hell; by Susan Taylor.

Job Description:

A long term, team player needed for challenging, permanent work in a highly chaotic environment. All candidates must possess excellent communication skills and work variable hours, which may include days, nights, and weekends. Must be dependable and have a deep-seated dislike for humans. No compassion will be tolerated.

Level Two Positions:
  • Train Derailments (Killing a minimum of fifty humans while maintaining a 2:1 injury to death ratio).
  • Airplane Crashes (No survivors).
  • Apocalypse (Any type).
  • Brown Outs (Must cover at least five hundred square miles).
Level Three Positions:
  • Power Outages (At least one city block).
  • Sewage Backups.
  • Creating new dance crazes like The Cotton-Eyed Joe and The Triangle.
  • Creating and maintaining television shows such as Manimal and The Wiggles (or any other show that will turn humans into sedentary, unthinking creatures).
  • Creating movies such as Tommy Wiseau's The Room, or remakes such as The Amityville Horror, The Fog, and Ghostbusters.
Possibility for Advancement: Virtually none.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Oh ANA by James Rumpel

Move over Siri, James Rumpel tells of a future when home assistants know what's best for you.

It was a glorious autumn afternoon. Michael Walker contemplated taking a short walk before heading to his apartment. It had been another uneventful day at work. It seemed that all Michael did at work was make short ineffective phone calls. The role of a salesperson had changed dramatically in the last couple of years. In the past, Michael could use his personality and talents to try and convince prospective customers to purchase whatever product the company was pushing. Now the person on the other side of the line was able to decide whether or not to buy almost instantly.

Michael opted against a hike to the nearby city park and began trudging his way across the parking lot toward his home when he noticed the neighbor boy, Charlie, playing nearby. Michael smirked as he watched the plump twelve-year-old attempt to kick a football. The young man nearly missed the ball entirely; it glanced off the side of his foot. After an incredibly short flight, the ball bounced a couple of times and then rolled to a stop at Michael's feet.

"Little help, please," shouted Charlie.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Preserve by Ben O'Hara

Ben O'Hara's character tells a forgetful old lady a sweet story about Jack and Jennifer.

Although they were the same age, the man had to help the woman along, gently guiding her across the lawn to the bench. The hydrangeas behind it were in full bloom, nodding agreeably in the breeze.

"Who are you, again?" said the woman. Her tone wasn't abrupt, but there was a brusqueness to it. The man looked at her, contemplating how her white hair appeared as soft as dandelion seeds and how it seemed that the wind threatened to blow it away too.

"I'm a friend."

"Oh," she said, but she seemed satisfied. They sat down together, and she ran her hands down her long skirt though there were no creases to smooth away. The man's weather-beaten face broke into an expression that seemed suspended between joy and sadness.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Kobe Bryant and the Freedom Swimmer by Kevin McGeary

Basketball player Kobe Bryant is visiting Dongmen, China, and Hongbo stakes the custody of his child on meeting him; by Kevin McGeary.

Since dawn, Hongbo has been loitering outside the gate of his son's apartment complex. With graying bristles and hair tied back into a ponytail, he is in a state of dapperness that only an encounter with his thoroughbred ex-wife can inspire.

Holding their son's hand, his ex-wife tilts her white parasol toward Hongbo, adding plausibility to the pretense that they have not noticed him before they reach her new fiancé's silver Audi. Its lights beep to life and, opening the rear door, Yang Yi guides their son into the back seat. The blue cast on the boy's arm looks too big for his pre-teen frame.

The parked car is almost within reaching distance through the cast-iron rails and Hongbo stands with fists resting on hips. Yang Yi places the pink box containing a birthday cake onto their son's lap: "Fei doesn't want to be near you," she tells Hongbo.

"I know."