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."

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Konigsberg Affair by David W Landrum

In Nazi Germany, a US diplomat discovers a clandestine smuggling operation, and must make a difficult choice; by David W Landrum.

My secretary told me the meeting with Golper was on and that he was waiting for me at a small restaurant seven miles away. Since it was urgent, I left at once. I stuck the reports of the incident that involved him into a diplomatic case, headed to the garage, and threw the satchel into the sidecar of my BMW R75 motorcycle. I am the only US diplomat who lives in this part of the German state of Prussia. We have a Consulate in Konigsberg, but there are enough Americans in the local settlements and surrounding countryside to warrant having a representative for them so they did not have to go all the way to K-Town when they needed something or got into a scrape.

I pulled out on the road that led to the largest town in the area. To my left, the Baltic, grey and choppy, spread north toward Scandinavia and the Arctic. Gulls screeched. The road was clear that morning. I turned the throttle open and felt the cold, raw morning air buffet my face. I liked riding in weather like this. Sometimes after a long ride on a blustery day my face felt like the top layer of skin had been sandpapered off, but the pain was worth the thrill of riding fast, of wind, mist, and rain on my skin - and of nothing ahead but the air and the road.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Kind Girls by Alexander Richardson

Ethel and Elizabeth take diabolical action to avoid a visit from their abusive uncle; by Alexander Richardson. 

Elizabeth clutched the book under one arm and held the wicker basket in the other as she took the steps down two at a time. She reached the front hall, and was about to run out the door when he spoke.

"Lizzie? Just where is it you're goin' to, girl?"

She turned to her father. He wore soiled overalls, and was rubbing an oil-spotted rag between his hands.

"Up to the hills, Pa," she said. "Me and Ethel gonna have a picnic."

He nodded, moving the rag from one hand to the other. "Y'all finish cleanin' your room?"

"Yes, Pa, and I'll dust again 'fore bed."

He smiled. "Good girl, Lizzie. I want ever'thing lookin' nice for your uncle."

She felt a knot in her stomach, and swallowed. "Yes, Pa."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Lessons and Lies
 by Mitchell Waldman

In a Chicago suburb in 1975, Jewish teenager Robert Friedman tries to muster the courage to ask out his crush, Sandy Auerbach; by Mitchell Waldman.

It was the year the Nazis were threatening to march in Robert Friedman's hometown. It was another so-so year for the Cubs who hadn't won a World Series since 1908. And it was the year that Robert Friedman's interest in the Cubs was starting to be overshadowed by something else...


Robert was seventeen years old and had never been on a date. It wasn't that he wasn't interested in girls. It wasn't even that he couldn't imagine why any girl would go out with him, but instead that he didn't know if any girl on earth even knew he existed. Earth, for this purpose, being the country of the United States, State of Illinois, village of Skokie, and high school, Niles North High.

He didn't know how to act with girls, didn't know what to say to them, got flustered, sweaty palms, knocking knees, pink cheeks, just being around them. It was nuts. While other guys in the neighborhood were hanging around with all the local girls and taking them out on dates, then talking about their exploits in the park at night, smoking their cigarettes, strutting and spouting off about what base they got to with Martha Wasserman or Sharon Silverstein or Penny Moskowitz, he would sit with his hands jammed in his pockets smiling nervously at them, feigning to understand what it was all like. On the fringes of the group, while Steve Bittermyer and Ralph Goldman went on and on, showing what big men they were.

"We were at the drive-in, see," Bittermyer was saying. "You know about drive-ins, right?" The five other guys circling around them, as Bittermyer smoked his twig and bounced the basketball in the dark, broke out laughing.

"Yeah, drive-ins. Who doesn't know about drive-ins?"

Monday, August 17, 2020

A Piece of Your Mind by Ryan Collins

Ryan Collins' character tests the limits of his colleague Randy's whacky conspiracy theories.

"It tastes just like chicken, they say," Randy said as he climbed back in the truck.

"What tastes like chicken?" I asked even though I was pretty sure I didn't want to know.

"Cats." He pulled the door shut. The old delivery truck rocked and squealed.

"Who says that?"

"The fucking orientals, man. Who else?"

We just dropped off a pallet of restaurant supplies to The Golden Dragon, an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet - a damn good one - on the west side of Burton. I nodded at the hunched over old man who'd just signed for the delivery. He was still looking over the invoice. "Mr. Xiu told you that?"

Randy winced. "Naw, man. He wouldn't tell me that. I'm talking about people on the internet. I'm telling you, check out my message boards, man. You'd learn some shit." He punched in the delivery as complete in our tablet and poked his chin at Mr. Xiu. "You ever eat there?"

It'd been a long time since I'd eaten at any Chinese buffet, but as far as I could recall, I hadn't eaten any cats. "Nope."

"You'll never catch me dead in there."

"You think there was any cat meat in the pallet we just gave him?"

Friday, August 14, 2020

Astral Sex by Harrison Kim

Seventeen-year-old Matthew has an out-of-body sexual experience that gives him a new perspective; by Harrison Kim. 

It's midnight, I'm in Bonnie's apartment, I'm seventeen years old and she's a mature woman who wants astral sex, she's lying on her back in her bikini underwear. I'm on my side, my stomach, I'm flipping like a porpoise. Bonnie's going for soul travel, the ultimate high, she says. I have a hard time holding back, viewing the sheen of her legs against the moon light from the window,

"Matthew, we have to breathe in and breathe out slowly," she says. "When we hear a loud bang, that's when our souls leave our bodies, right through the middle of our foreheads."

She continues "I've made physical love with many men, but this is a spiritual calling. If I get pregnant with astral intercourse, I'll be like Mother Mary," she laughs. "We're both spiritual sex virgins, Matthew. That's a real turn-on for me."

"Pregnancy?" I pushed that out of my head. My teenage mind had room for nothing but lust.



We met as I rested by my bicycle outside Winfield Hall following my debacle premiere at the Okanagan composers' contest. I'd cycled a hundred kilometres to Kelowna, camped overnight in a baseball stadium in preparation for the event. I entered a song called "Throwback," about a small-town kid who because of his quirks and differences is doomed to work forever in a fast food restaurant.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Around Her by Bruce Costello

A Russian peasant regrets her literacy; by Bruce Costello.

Agafya hears a knocking and through drowsy eyes watches her shrivelled granny leave the table and shuffle to the door of the hut. A familiar figure stands there, silhouetted against the sunlight that floods into the gloom.

Doctor Chekhov enters, greets Granny, goes to the bench where Agafya is lying, and bends to ask how she is feeling.

"So tired. Just awful all over. Can't do anything."

"Let me take a look."

His hands, twice the size of hers, are warm and soft. He has beautiful eyes. So brown with good-natured wrinkles at the corners. And the whites of his eyes under the funny glasses are bright and clear, like the full moon on a frosty night. They say he writes stories, grows flowers and loves all animals, especially dogs. He doctors to peasants without being paid.

Friday, August 7, 2020

In the Heart of the Woods by Christopher Johnson

Ten-year-old Herbie Hereford explores the local woods with his friends, and his courage is sorely tested; by Christopher Johnson.

The woods felt vast to me, with their deep, dark, secret places. They loomed like a sorceress at the end of our block in Upton Grove in northern Ohio, lying thick and black, feeling so different from the everyday life of school and church, tempting me yet repelling me, promising adventure like none we would ever have in the strict, narrow confines of our daily existence.

There were four of us - Darlene, Roger, Tommy, me. We were suburban kids starving for adventure, thirsting to break out. We had a voracious hunger, and the woods beckoned with seductive arms open. Yet we could not have articulated this hunger, which felt like the edge of a sharp knife held against our souls. The need was inchoate. It lay at the back of our ten-year-old collective unconscious - a yearning so acute yet so unexpressed.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Forward: March by Mike Lee

Mike Lee tells the story of two American political refugees in the South American country of Antanzia, with a complicated personal history; by Mike Lee.

"How exhausting all this was. In fact, if only people knew how madly tiresome it is to be a criminal!" 

- Hermann Hesse, Klein and Wagner 

The question was resolved with an answer I steadfastly refused to accept. My hands became putty in this memory of a profoundly painful aspect of my past. That is, doing something that seemed a good idea at the time, but really never was to begin with.

This fact was laid out before me while with my old camp mate Stefan at a table at the beach in Antanzia City.

We sat under a fuchsia umbrella chatting over some business regarding his novel and likely temporary employment writing copy for a public relations firm I had an excellent connection with.