Monday, September 23, 2019

Abraxas by Joseph Cusumano

In the run-up to World War II, Vatican priest Primo Ferrara is assigned to conduct exorcisms at the local mental asylum - but what price is he willing to pay to succeed? By Joseph Cusumano.

September 1939

Ten years as a Jesuit priest, the last seven assigned to the Vatican library, Primo Ferrara spent his days cataloging new acquisitions and making sure that all of the library's holdings were accounted for and intact. Of secondary importance in Primo's mind was his responsibility to verify the credentials of scholars requesting access to the library's massive archives. The oldest holdings dated back to the eighth century, and some of the more recent ones included a request from King Henry VIII for a marriage annulment, a transcript of Galileo's trial for heresy, and a letter from Michelangelo regarding overdue payment for his work in the Sistine Chapel. Somewhat of an introvert, Primo found himself better suited to library work than fulfilling the obligations of a parish priest as he had done for the first three years following his ordination.

Although immersed in one of the largest repositories of ancient works and records, Primo avidly kept up with current events, especially the confrontation between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini. New rumors about the Pontiff's ongoing power struggle with Il Duce circulated every week within the Vatican hierarchy, but Primo was not one for rumors. Instead, he relied mainly on articles in L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, although he occasionally ventured out to read Il Popolo d'Italia which was published by the Italian Fascist Party. Primo had no trouble finding the "fascist rag," as he called it, at a newsstand near his favorite trattoria on the Via Veneto, but he always discarded the paper well before returning to the Vatican.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Notebook By Randy Attwood

When Jeremy Broad's friend Don Bowerman kills himself, he travels to Don's old house looking for a notebook that might hold the secret to his friend's demise, in this very twisty tale by Randy Attwood.


(Jeremy)

I had two phone calls from Don before he killed himself. Each call should have tipped me off. Maybe not the first one, but certainly the second. I couldn't have gone to him anyway; he lived in another state far away. Still, I could have done something, called somebody. I wonder if Don knew at the time of the first call - the first contact I had had with him in three years - that he was going to commit suicide. When do suicides know for sure: just before they pull the trigger?

He had called that first time to say hello, but instead of wanting to hear an update on my life, he had launched into a rambling account of his own. Then he told me:

"You know, the other day I suddenly remembered I left a notebook in the attic of that house where I had my college apartment."

"What's in it?" I had asked him. The mention of his college apartment had brought back memories of heaps of books, his cluttered desk, stacks of papers. A mess, but ordered, it seemed, to make an impression of disorderliness.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Bunker by Harrison Abbott

Harrison Abbott's musically gifted character plots a long-festering revenge against a playground bully.

People talk about bad parenting, rough upbringings and ego when they try to explain sadism. They say it proves maturity to recognise somebody else's perspective. Then you'll learn to forgive the person. If they do something mean to you, just forgive them, because it's not about you, it's about them. But I already understood this notion as a boy. And it didn't work.

A pigeon. I felt a thud on my backpack, turned and looked. This blue-grey lump of mashed feathers, lying on the grass. I looked up, and he was there. Calum Lowe. An enormous grin on his face, mirrored on the faces of his friends, who were my regular tormentors. Calum was always the worst of them. I stood by the dead bird, and they walked past me guffawing. When I got back to the playground at the end of lunch break, the news had already surfed around the children. How Calum had thrown a dead bird at me.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Fiji by Ateret Haselkorn

A new mother visits a friend for lunch and recalls her struggle to get out of the house with baby Henry; by Ateret Haselkorn.

Theodora needed an emergency Cesarean section, Belen followed her birth plan but tore, and Justine did it all at home in front of her entire family.

These are the things I've learned about the women in my new mothers' group, before I know where they're from or how long they've lived in the neighborhood. Our standards, the metrics against which we peg ourselves and our babies, are presented within moments of meeting. I know that some moms slept for two hours at a time for four months but a few got five within two. I know "Jackson was born at seven fourteen" doesn't represent a time but a weight in pounds and ounces, and that "did you save it" intrinsically suggests the placenta. What else could it be?

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Case of the Broken Bow by Paul Miles

During the Great Purge in Stalinist Russia, two senior party members attend the scene of a murder, and the author invites you to work out whom they will arrest; by Paul Miles.

Doctor Artymov, logician and advisor to Comrade Stalin, was watering his garden one spring afternoon in 1936 when his friend Police Commissioner Bunin stuck his head over the fence.

"Artymov, I am on my way to a murder in the Sokiol District."

Doctor Artymov, for whom crime was always a matter of interest, immediately gathered his hat and walked with Commissioner Bunin to the latter's car.

When they arrived at the scene of the crime, a two bedroom apartment on the twelfth floor of one of the district's newest worker housing units, Sergeant Korshev - that burly veteran of Pulkovo - was already there. The Sergeant had secured the murder room and gathered the attendants in the side kitchen.

The Commissioner nodded towards the room with the body.

"Let's take a look here first."

Then to the Sergeant: "Let no one leave."

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Birthday Bash by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the quiet South African town of Prentburg, the local church has new models for its nativity scene, and teenagers Adele and Adam are hosting a party; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Dominee Seibrand was surprised at his congregation's conflicting reactions to the gift of two display mannequins from Koos Venter's shop window, to replace the parental figures in the nativity scene that had been trotted out each December for more than fifty years and was showing its age. The church sisters, in particular, were of differing opinions.

"It's only because he's bought new modern models in the hopes of attracting more business that he's foisted these ridiculous things on us," Marion Klopper said scathingly after the next Sisters of the Church meeting.

"Perhaps so," Helga Swanepoel replied, "but these are life-size with movable joints. We'd be able to arrange the arms of the female to hold a large doll in her arms, adjusting the head of Joseph so that he is looking fondly down at the new born babe. Dressed properly they would be very effective."

Monday, September 2, 2019

Cameron and Lucia by Clive Aaron Gill

Clive Aaron Gill tells a story of lust, betrayal, and long-borne grudges.

"I... I'm pregnant," Lucia said to Cameron at the San Diego Magnet High School.

"No way."

She moaned, her face turning a deep red. "Yes, way." She removed the black windbreaker she had outgrown two years earlier at fifteen. "I missed two months. Got morning sickness. I took a home pregnancy test. Must have happened that time you forgot..."

He inhaled a short breath through his teeth.

"We need to talk," she said. "I have fifteen minutes before I start work at the library."

Lucia Martinez, who lived with her mother, studied performing arts and had received a scholarship for her living expenses in the spring of 1984. When she was one-year-old, her father had been killed by gang members.

When Cameron Williams first asked Lucia to go to the movies with him, she had refused. Undaunted, he continued to visit her in the library. A few weeks later, he won her over.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Telling the Truth by Harrison Kim

Nine-year-old Eric is confused by faith and lies; by Harrison Kim.

"How was Sunday School?" asked Eric's mother, as her son bicycled up to the front steps.

"It was good." Nine year old Eric turned and began pedalling towards the back door. His mother stopped him.

"What did you learn?"

Eric looked at the side of the house. "We learned about Jesus, and the disciples, and things like that. Stories and stuff."

"Did you have to remember any verses?"

"A couple I guess." Eric shrugged.

His mother sighed. "Do you believe in the Bible?"

"I guess so." Eric thought a moment. "That must have been a very big boat the animals went on after the flood."

Monday, August 26, 2019

Unseen by Tim Frank

Banker Mathew Brook witnesses a crime in the office across the street, but is all as it seems? By Tim Frank.

On the forty-first floor of the high rise building in the Lehman Brothers offices, Mathew Brook's concentration was diverted from the accounts page on his Apple Mac computer to a stream of light cutting through the myriad of buildings outside and finally resting on the tower block opposite. The flare of sunshine brought to Mathew's attention the strangest thing. He saw a man in the bankers' building, some two hundred yards across, on the same level as Mathew, struggling by the window as two men grappled with him, threw a bag over his head and dragged him out of sight. Mathew leapt to his feet and pressed his face against his office window to see more clearly, but the light had changed and the building opposite was suddenly cast in darkness.

Mathew rushed to his secretary, Nia, who was seated outside his office, and found her staring blankly into space, fiddling with a stress toy.

'Nia,' said Mathew breathlessly, 'I saw something, a kidnapping maybe, or I don't know what. Can you find out if anyone on this side of the building has seen anything while I call the police.'

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Monolith by James Rumpel

An extraterrestrial monolith appears in a forgotten corner of rural Wisconsin, and a citizen must be chosen to carry out its message; by James Rumpel.

There are many forsaken highways in rural Wisconsin. Briar Creek Road was as lonely as any of them. When the highway department built the interstate in the 1950s, they decided to forgo an exit to Briar Creek Road. Instead, they simply closed the road on both sides of the freeway. From the north or south, the final half mile of Briar Creek Road was an abandoned stretch of blacktop, serving no purpose other than occasionally collecting jettisoned beer cans and McDonald's wrappers. Days could pass without a sole traveler making their way to the abrupt dead end. The only person who regularly visited this unused stretch of road was John Warren. Big John, as his friends called him, was the snow plow driver for the town of Baldinville. In all honesty, he wouldn't bother to plow that waste of a road if his superior didn't insist that every inch of highway be plowed any time there was a measurable snowfall.

On this morning, John made a shocking discovery on the north side of Briar Creek Road. A barbed wire fence marked the end of the unimportant town road. The expanse between the dead end and the freeway was occupied by a copse of large evergreen trees. The sixty-year-old pines stood straight and tall, like soldiers preventing the little road from even dreaming of someday being aligned with the interstate. It was near the run-down fence that Big John spied something very strange. There stood an enormous black cube.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Neighbor by Jason Kreth

John is more frightened by his sister-in-law than the inter-dimensional being that lives next door; by Jason Kreth.

"John, you have to go talk to him," Angela said from across our faux-wood kitchen table. She had started in on me as soon as I woke up and stumbled my way down to the kitchen. I looked like death, but that wasn't going to deter her.

I was wearing an old bathrobe from college that had more holes than actual fabric and my hair was a disheveled and thinning salt-and-pepper catastrophe that matched the two-days-worth of stubble on my face. To top it off, my skin was a pale, sickly shade of green that Crayola would have named "plague victim." I looked like a walking hang-over and I thought, once again, that I needed to cut back on my drinking.

I caught vague bits of her complaints as I made my way through the kitchen. I tried my best to ignore her. It wasn't that I didn't care about my wife, but there was a drumming in my head that had me convinced that a woodpecker had taken up residence inside my skull. I knew that as soon as I started paying attention, there would be no escape and I needed at least a few minutes to try to counteract the alcohol-induced ruination of my body.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Beyond Repair by Nancy Beach

Nancy Beach's character loses her temper at her husband and stalks out of the house in a whirl of anger and guilt.

Allie's breath caught in her throat as she stumbled down the stairs. Her husband stood frozen, slashed by her weapon of choice - her words. She hadn't meant for it to happen, again. But when words volleyed back and forth, the volcano erupted without warning. She'd looked like a two-year-old, her voice squealing and her arms flailing like the geese in the back yard.

She shuffled through the pile of papers on the washing machine, receipts and junk mail flying to the floor until she found the keys. She didn't pause when the door slammed behind her. She threw the car into reverse and roared away. It felt good, the cool wind rushing in the windows as she sped down I-71. As the miles sped past, her temper raged. How could he, after all these years, still push her buttons? He was wrong. He was an idiot. He could go crawl in a hole and never come out for all she cared. Past Medina. Past Lodi. She didn't recognize the landscape any longer. She zoomed around a truck and pressed her foot to the pedal again. Stupid, slow drivers. Faster. Freedom. Maybe she'd never stop. Except she'd need gas sooner or later. Gas. She'd forgotten her wallet. Oh well, at least she could pay for gas with Apple Pay on her phone.

As the miles passed, her anger at Rodney turned to disappointment towards herself. She shouldn't have lost her temper. Again. If she could have stayed calm, they could have resolved the dumb disagreement. Granted, his mom was out of line, for sure. And he was defending her. Again. But she could have handled the whole thing better. When would she learn? If only she could put a muzzle on her mouth when she started seeing red. No matter how hard she tried, she always seemed to end up back in the same mess, her temper flaring without warning. It wasn't as often as before. But still.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Vet Cemetery by R.R. Trevino

...In which a teenager steals from the dead. By R.R. Trevino.

My life ceased being my own on Veterans Day, 2013. It started with my mother rousing me at the crack of dawn and dragging me from my bed to the car so that we could stick to our annual commitment of visiting Rick, her dead brother, who was buried at the local veterans cemetery. The fact that I had never met Uncle Rick, due to him bleeding out in a Vietnamese jungle decades before I even was born, wasn't justification enough for her to exclude me from the tradition.

The gates to the cemetery didn't open until 7am, but there we were, waiting diligently near the front of a long line of cars. "Almost time," my mom said, "so go on and start getting up." I sat up in my seat and looked out on the rolling hills of granite headstones, spaced at perfect intervals. I turned my attention to the passengers in the other cars, all somberly waiting to pay their respects.

"Still don't get why we have to wake up so early," I said. "It's not like there's going to be a line at his grave."

She turned to me and glared. "Please, please, don't be asshole you right now," she said. "Not today."

Friday, August 9, 2019

Put Your Money on Ted by J. D. Hager

Ted is starting a new job as a school bus driver - but does he know what he's getting himself in for? By J. D. Hager

McFarlan described the district's situation as desperate more than once. He used the word emergency. He said drastic times called for drastic measures, and mentioned something about circumventing the background check if needed. He spoke of a loophole that offered an emergency permit if working part time and taking classes on the weekend. McFarlan wanted Ted to start the next morning, if Ted thought he could handle it. For thirteen thirty-seven an hour, Ted thought he could handle just about anything. McFarlan then flogged Ted with the glory of the manual.

"Study it. Memorize it. Keep it with you at all times in case you forget what you've memorized. If you encounter any problems while driving your route, just refer to the manual." McFarlan gripped a rolled up copy of the manual between short sweaty fingers, waving it around as if swiping at mosquitoes. "You're inexperienced, but I like your enthusiasm. Reminds me of myself at your age. But I'll be honest with you, Todd."

"Ted," Ted corrected.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Vmbra Wormwood by Leila Allison

Since her mother died, in place of the sun, Claire has only seen the suppurating star Wormwood; by Leila Allison.

And the name of the star is called Wormwood...
- Revelation 8:11

Pus star Wormwood glowers ceaselessly in the cigarette sky. Although it is only midday, Wormwood pulls long shadows from the sour crabapple trees, whose fruit not even the crows will eat. Embittered little trees, Scotch broom, feral blackberries and scrub grass are all that grow in the brief ridges and ravines and knolls that serve as the community "backyard" throughout the valley. During wildfire season the broom pods burst and the smoky wind disperses their dusty spore. During wildfire season it's easy to believe in hell.

At sixteen, Claire has spent her entire life at one of the sturdy white farmhouses so dominant in the valley. Unless you count the people who grow weed under artificial Wormwoods in their attics and basements, there isn't a single farmer in the valley, yet everybody lives in a farmhouse nonetheless. Local farming began its long dwindle into obsolescence when the interstate arrived in the 1960s; money could be made easier elsewhere then brought home. Times change.