Monday, December 10, 2018

El Paso by Sharon Frame Gay

A waitress in a dive bar outside Las Vegas wonders what became of her dreams; by Sharon Frame Gay.

Phoebe stood at the edge of the highway, looking left, then right. It was just past dawn. Nothing up yet but a pack of coyotes, trotting loose limbed on the other side of a barbed wire fence, nose to ground on a hunt. One glanced at Phoebe, turned away and followed the others along a dusty ravine.

A few strips of paper captured in the fence fluttered in the breeze. Phoebe sighed and straightened the backpack on her shoulders, turning west towards El Paso. In the distance, an eighteen wheeler rumbled over the ridge, heading east. She thought of crossing the road, sticking out her thumb. Instead, she walked on as the truck passed, cyclones of dust in its wake. Broken glass and slivers of tumbleweed peppered the bottom of her shoes, crunching under each step.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Classic Axe Murder by Ian Rubin

Buddy uses Lyft for the first time and gets the ride of his life; by Ian Rubin.

"Thanks for the ride!" Buddy said, "I'm glad to be off the highway, finally." He threw his backpack onto the back seat, then closed the door.

"Not... a... problem..." Phineas replied. He cracked his knuckles, popping one at a time.

"Um... Okay, that was weird."

Phineas put the pick-up truck into gear and took off down the road. The truck's air was thick, and it smelled of old leather and cigarettes. The setting sun glared into the truck, making its driver and passenger glow orange.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Betrayal by Beryl Ensor-Smith

The rumour mill fires up in the sleepy South African town of Prentburg when a stranger with a secret arrives on the scene; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

The Sisters of the Church, both older and newer members, were all interested in knowing the reason why Diwald Oosthuizen, their new organist/church factotum had left Johannesburg to come to Prentburg.

"There must be something unusual as it doesn't make sense that a young man in his early twenties would choose to leave a city with lots of interests to come to a sleepy country dorp," Darleen Jansen declared.

"Not that sleepy," Marion Klopper objected. "There's lots going on here!"

"You could have fooled me," Pat Duvenhage retorted. "The only reason I'm here is because my husband's a farmer. Give me the bright lights any day, I'm a city girl through and through and living here's been a tough transition, that I can tell you."

Friday, November 30, 2018

One Time in Brooklyn by James Kowalczyk

James Kowalczyk tells a short tale of three junkies in an apartment room in Brooklyn.

Susie Spotless, the old hag from 5B, used to throw buckets of water on the sidewalk in front of the apartment building twice a day, 365 days a year. Hence the name.

"Why don't you watch where you're going!" she'd yell at anyone who happen to get splashed as they passed by. There was no stopping Susie.

As far as anyone in the neighborhood remembered, she'd always lived alone. Her fibrous outgrowth hair was perennially in rollers and she wore the same stained house dress with frayed slippers that showed her crusty overlapping toes. She was never seen outside except for when she did the water. It was rumored she ate cat food that she'd bought at the 24 hour bodega across the street in the wee hours of the morning.

Susie Spotless ultimately brought down the Blue Room.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Two Hearts by Robert Boucheron

John and Rebecca are teenagers in love, but it it too soon to make a lifelong commitment? By Robert Boucheron.

John Shakewell was a slender young man of seventeen with flat brown hair and a will of iron. As a boy, he once built a treehouse using a carpenter's level, a plumb line, and pulleys to raise the scrap wood. The completed structure had a shingle roof, a carpet remnant on the plywood floor, a window you could open, and a door you could lock. The tree fell in a storm, and the treehouse was long gone, but he still had the key to the door on his keyring.

Rebecca Flibbert was the same age as John. She too had brown hair without a hint of wave. She wore it long, with bangs. Good manners masked a quiet determination. To do what?

John and Becky looked enough alike to be mistaken for brother and sister. They both sang in the Hapsburg High School chorus. They performed a duet in the Fall Follies, a Broadway show tune they memorized and rehearsed with Ms. Metzger on piano. The music teacher drilled them in simple dance moves. Becky performed with energy and style, but John was stiff.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The "D" Word by Jennifer Otte

Ayla and John watch their parents argue through soundproof glass doors; by Jennifer Otte.

Ayla paced the length of the bed closest to the door. Her tiny fingers pulled at a strand of hair that had come loose from her pony tail. She came to an abrupt stop and turned toward the other bed where her brother was stretched out. "Do you think it's the 'D' word?" Ayla asked.

John sat up and turned his attention from his sister to the patio outside of the hotel room. Their parents were sitting across from each other at a small table covered by an umbrella. He shook his head before addressing his sister. "And just what would you know about that?" John asked.

Ayla quickly moved to the bed her brother was on and flopped down beside him. Her attention drifted to her parents but quickly returned to John. "I know a lot. Cindy's parents got one and it's made everything worse for Cindy. She barely sees her father, and her mother spends all her time going out on dates so she never has time for Cindy anymore," Ayla said.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Beauty of Horses by Rick Joy

The horses outside Zack's home start to behave oddly, as if coordinated by a sinister intelligence; by Rick Joy.

Just hours before Zack's mind was stolen, horses standing on the nearby ridge were backlit by the setting sun, surrounding each with a warm, slightly fuzzy glow. Zack paused from his daily walk with Roxie, his chocolate lab, to soak up the vision.

The leaves on the trees were astounding, with sun-bright yellows giving way to heart-warming oranges and lush, dark reds, all contrasted with a polka dot spray of still-green leaves. And the fall smells, crisp and earthy, made the walk that much better. It was Friday, the work week done, temperature cool but not cold. This was a good walk.

Zack and Roxie lived alone now that Sheila was gone, so Zack tried to take Roxie out every day after he got home. Partly from a sense of guilt for leaving her home and partly because the walks were calming after a stressful workday. For a while after Sheila left, Roxie wouldn't even greet Zack when he came home. She would just lounge on Zack's bed waiting to hear food being poured into her bowl. Zack assumed that Roxie blamed him for Sheila's absence. He still didn't completely admit what happened between them, although it was obvious. Long hours and then coming home with a headful of work left little time or energy for their relationship. Sheila wanted and deserved more.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Keeping Company by Rudy Eiland

Rudy Eiland tells the story of three lonely characters: Ainsley and Amica, who rely on each other for company, and Amica's slow-witted brother Felix, who relies on his own inner world.

The conversation had been hesitant and labored at first. It took the quiet passing of several houses before Felix started speaking more easily, talking now to Ainsley and not simply to himself. Each domestic facade peered coldly down on them both, Ainsley felt. He asked Felix a few questions until he hit upon something Felix was interested in, the fence in the backyard, and then the man talked more easily. As usual, Felix had kept to himself at first, even with his brother-in-law, until the other had waded a little ways into his world.

Despite the prediction of snow in a few hours, they had set off at a steady gait through the badly lit streets and the sidewalks covered with yellowed grass. It was only October, but something in the air foretold Christmas, a distant elation hanging there, the happiness of someone somewhere. Someone else's happiness. It was a long walk to his mother's, and so far Felix had remained sufficiently well behaved. The drizzle of sleet that came up every now and then was like somebody waking from a doze and drifting back off.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Gunslinger by DL Shirey

DL Shirey's character wakes up in a storeroom, confused and almost certainly in some kind of trouble.

I flinch awake. My shoulder blade sears, the afterburn from a dream. Everything but the pain evaporates, leaving half-remembered threads: a horse thief, face pressed in dirt, a boot on the back of his neck. My neck. Arm wrenched up an instant before feeling the red heat of metal; a branding iron hissing skin.

The dream is displaced by another unreality: I don't know where I am. There's a trail of ants on a bedside table converging on an ashtray and a half-sucked peppermint. Alongside it an empty Jäger bottle, a lighter and pack of smokes. The first inhale tells me this isn't my brand. When I kick away the ratty blanket and curl my legs off the bed, the floor comes too quickly. The mattress and box spring have no frame beneath them. Between knees I see my nakedness, cement floor and a spent condom.

I stretch and my shoulder blazes again. In reflex I grab the spot and pain compounds when I touch the braille of welts. The jolt clears fog from my eyes but where I am has no associated recall: cardboard boxes stacked five-feet high, makeshift privacy for the bed. No windows, a double row of fluorescent lights hangs from the ceiling, half on. A sick bleach of color coats the flickering walls of a storeroom. It looks like my mouth tastes.

Friday, November 9, 2018

On the Water's Edge by Kat Devitt

Frederick spends his life running, callous to who leaves behind, until he finds himself confronted by a divine mystery in Kat Devitt's mythic tale.

Frederick Wilde started running the moment his feet sprouted from his mother's womb. He kicked and flailed coming from her watery depths, because he already knew he had a father to escape. An angel engraved it onto his soul before sending him into her belly, because three days after his birth, his mother would die.

Never mind he was made from the same flesh as his mother. Never mind his father's blood ran through his veins. Frederick gave her difficulty coming into this world, ripping her open. When she heaved her final breath, he had become a murderer to his father; a crying infant, swaddled in snowy white blankets.

But he'd done his mother a kindness by helping her bleed out.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Brawl at Mac and Stan's by Howard Vogl

Howard Vogl's character reflects on his childhood in 1950s Buffalo, hanging out with his dad in Mac and Stan's Bar.

I decided to stop in Buffalo on the way home from a business trip. It's hard to explain the attraction of the old city to someone who wasn't born there, but for me it's real. The house on the street where I used to live was still there, although now it's only a cheap rental. On the corner was an empty lot where Mac and Stan's Bar used to be. That was the real reason I stopped.

Mac and Stan's was a typical corner bar from the Fifties. Neon signs hung in smoke stained windows leading to a long straight bar and the backroom. The mirror behind the bar doubled the number of whiskey bottles on the ledges in front, and tacked to the wall was a display of Blind Robin smoked herring that I never saw anyone eat.

Mac and Stan's was my dad's hangout. An easy one at that, since it was only three doors down from our house. Dad would spend a few hours there on a Saturday afternoon and on most Saturdays he'd drag me along. He'd have a few short beers with a shot of Corby's, and I'd have a root beer or two while playing around with the pinball machine in back. During the week, when Dad was working, the bar still figured into my life. After running around the block a few times, I could stop in for a glass of water. Pretty good for a five year old.

Friday, November 2, 2018

When We Go by Damien Krsteski

Serco and his girlfriend Dora plan to emigrate, but Serco feels a duty to stay for the sake of his mother and brother; by Damien Krsteski.

When I go, I want to go like a rocket.

Leaving the world at breakneck speed, upright, arms like fins, legs trailing a column of smoke; and the dusk sky, a postcard ripped in two by my passing.

And then, no explosion. But a winking out as space swallows me whole and the earliest star outshines me.

And then -

Wind blowing the smoke away; people scattering, going home to cry at photos that end up packed away into shoe boxes, shoved under beds to gather dust. People moving on.

People forgetting.



5.

"Pepperoni?" she asked Serco, holding up the box.

"Grab two."

Dora rummaged through the refrigerator. "There's just the one." Shrugging, "They got broccoli."

"Broccoli's fine."

She dumped the pizzas into the cart, and Serco steered it sluggishly toward the register, the cart's wheels squealing on the supermarket's freshly-mopped tiles. Closing time.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Last Interview by Virginia Revel

Tom is perhaps too keen to get the job in his latest interview; by Virginia Revel.

Tom arrived on the spot too early, so to kill time he circled the block, checking out the terrain near the business where he hoped to be working by the end of the day. His first lap brought him back too soon, so he made the round again, trotting this time because he felt so good. Energy surged through him, and a soaring self-belief. The hard times were over. He was sure of it.

When at last he was admitted to the office he walked straight up to the interviewer, grabbed his hand, and looked deep into his eyes. Invited to sit down, he said, "Well, I won't if you don't mind. I like to keep going. I'm ready to give every minute and every step and every thought to the company. I can tell you how to increase sales volume, how to streamline operations, how to make you number one in the city, or - hey, why not? - number one in the state! Number one west of the Mississippi!"

The interviewer gave him a thin smile and said, "About the blanks in your resumé -"

Friday, October 26, 2018

That Sort by Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy tells the story of self-possessed Chloe Bennett who has returned to her home town in the Cotswolds to see her dying father.

"I found this on top of the chest of drawers, Mrs Bennett." The stout little woman held out four twenty-pound notes. "Your father is always leaving piles of cash everywhere, though I keep telling him it's not safe. I'm glad you're home now to take care of him."

Chloe Bennett nodded and took the proffered money, wondering how much there had been originally. Her father-in-law told had her about that sort, the servant class who usually stole about ten percent of anything, or as much as they thought they could get away with. He was 'old money' and had childhood memories of those bygone days.

Of course, Mrs Jones wasn't a servant. They had gone the way of the dodo. She was a self-employed carer who had been looking after Chloe's father for the past few years, loosely supervised by Aunt Matilda, his younger sister.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Bottom of the Sky by Mitchell Toews

In 1950s Acapulco, a fateful accident alters the course of three fishermen's lives in Mitchell Toews' graceful epic.

Part 1 - The Mismaloya

Acapulco, 1955

Jose had worked on the Mismaloya from the age of 14. He served her first as a cabin boy, then as a mate and now as the boat's captain.

She was a beamy 38-foot rig propelled by twin-screws. Her Chevrolet engine was manufactured in Detroit in 1929, the year he was born. Crowned with a small flying bridge, she was the kind of vessel used to troll for sailfish on this coast, in these years.

Jose's cousin, Avelino, owned the boat. He had salvaged her, abandoned, from the rocks near Puerto Vallarta, and named her after the village where he and Jose were born. Together, the cousins had reconditioned the Mismaloya for fishing.

Today, like most days when a charter was booked, Jose arrived at the Acapulco harbour early, scattering disinterested gulls in the predawn as he hurried along the wooden dock. He hopped over the transom and secured the craft, preparing for a day on the water. Jose worked quickly, each step precise and efficient. He checked the batteries for the tightness of their leaden connectors and looked for any tell-tale corrosion. Lightly, he tapped on the face of the fuel gauge and ensured it was resting just past the Full marker. Next, a fast peek into the bilge, running the pump for a few seconds to clean out any seepage taken on overnight. He worked through his entire twenty-minute checklist whistling quietly, his face calm, eyes clear. Almost done with his chores, Jose stole a glance at the sun. It would rise soon behind the city, flamingo pinks and rich magentas flowering above the silhouette of the squarish buildings.