Friday, May 25, 2018

Turing Test by Roger Ley

Widower Mr Riley dislikes his former wife's parrot, who might be smarter than he thinks; by Roger Ley.

Mr Riley liked to start his day in the library. It was a short walk from his house, and conveniently situated at the top of the main street in the Suffolk market town that he and his wife had retired to. When they'd first arrived, he'd joined the local writing group which met at the library and he'd spent many happy, creative hours in its welcoming embrace. He told his wife that it was as much group therapy as creative writing, but sadly it was all gone now. People had moved away, lost interest, died, he was the only one left of the old crowd. He and the chief librarian Mrs Peterson, who was nearing retirement. Mrs Peterson had a soft spot for Mr Riley, she had known his wife Estella before she died and liked to exchange a few words with the widower, not every day, but most days. He was a fixture, in his corner, reading the newspaper.

Mr Riley finished reading the paper and rummaged around, preparing to leave. He checked that he hadn't left anything - gloves, hat, scarf, phone - then walked across the street to the "Hideout Café" for his morning coffee. It was a little life but a life all the same.

He arrived home at about noon, unlocked the door and stepped into the hall.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Hit and Run by Paul Michael Dubal

A renowned lawyer specialising in wrongful death must face up to his own past transgression; by Paul Michael Dubal.

Over twenty-eight torturous years had passed, but for Rick Sanders the memory of that terrible rainy night was as vivid as if it were yesterday. Time seemed to have frozen, so that there was only that terrible moment in the past and the melancholy reality of the present. Everything in between was just detail. Yet in the past quarter-century he had built an extraordinary career as a litigator, savagely shredding companies and individuals in the civil courts.

The irony was that his specialty was wrongful death. Cases where manufacturing companies had caused death through a failure of their systems, resulting in ugly industrial accidents. Some of them were like scenes from gory horror movies, including chemical burns, being caught in machinery or crushed by a forklift truck. He had savaged the culprits as much as the company's work environment had savaged the injured plaintiff.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Slapstick Blues by DC Diamondopolous

In the golden age of Hollywood, with all its tarnish, a bookish black man in Louisiana sees his missing sister on the silver screen; by DC Diamondopolous.

Booker La Croix liked nothing better than to put on his best hat, hitch a ride from Huddle Creek up to Baton Rouge, and spend his day off in a dark theatre watching the moving pictures. He paid his seven cents for the ticket, went around the side entrance, and climbed the steps to the balcony. The matinee featured his favorite, Buster Keaton, in The Balloonatic and Our Hospitality, and there would be short movies in-between. It'd be a whole afternoon of laughter, except when he looked over, wishing his sister to be sitting there next to him. With Lila Mae gone, his closest friends were books and the flickers.

His brother Jeremiah thought him crazy to spend his day off watching white folks. The youngest of five boys, Booker was always picked on. His brothers nicknamed him Booker for preferring to read over playing ball and sneaking shots of moonshine. They teased him for working in the parish library and laughed at him when he tried to slick back his hair with brilliantine like Rudolph Valentino, but nothing straightened his thick coiled hair.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Sick and the Damned by Jennifer Benningfield

Upon hearing his mother is ill, Kyle reluctantly goes to visit his painfully staid parents; by Jennifer Benningfield.

Kyle's father had not asked, but direct entreaty was never the man's style.

Over the shoulders went the fleece coat. Into the air went the veiny hand. The woman behind the desk, copper-haired and honey-lipped, returned the gesture, envy evident in the set of her face.

"Still looks nice out," she noted.

"Not for much longer, though."

"Big plans for the weekend?"

"I'm going to see my parents. My mother isn't feeling well, apparently. The other day she told my father that another day in bed and he'd need to call an ambulance."

"Oh no."

Kyle sniffed. "My mother tends to exaggerate."

Friday, May 11, 2018

Drive by Ateret Haselkorn

Ateret Haselkorn's character makes a life for herself driving for a ride sharing service, but is haunted by her past.

I remember the first natural lie I ever told. Not your standard, "I didn't steal the cookies from the jar" fib, but the kind that emerges on its own to serve a purpose for however long you need, like a disposable life raft made from your own breath. I can even recall the way the lie felt as it rose to the back of my throat, before I knew what I would say, before I let the words form on my tongue and then catapult through the air. The best I can describe it is as a feeling of organic creation. I had the same sensation in the moments before my daughter was born, of a force, a likelihood, an about to. Then her head came out, and then she was there. It happened from inside of me as it should, as was intended, and all I had to do at that point was allow it to take place.

A natural lie isn't exactly like the creation of birth but tinier, like resting back on your heels and looking at the sky in surprise, as if it didn't exist at all until you glanced up and made it form. When I told my lie, I wasn't more than sixteen and at the bar of a local restaurant thanks to a fake ID and a drunk bartender. I thought I'd pick up a freebie, like a drink or a burger, because that's what my friend Vanka was training me to do, at least whenever she gave me her attention. She was a senior and said she hadn't paid for a thing since junior high when her breasts grew in. I was sitting at the bar and watching her "role model the behavior," as was often described in Living Skills or detention. I guess her trick was her smile and maybe the way she looked twenty-two or three. She laughed loudly and often and, well, her bosoms were pushed up like they were going to reach her chin one inch at a time on a slow conquest. Since Vanka said I didn't have those curves to "work with," we did what we could and used a five-finger discount at WalMart on a small push-up bra and the padding of a much larger one that Vanka called, "The Rusky." The padding went into my underwear, slid right over my derriere, turning me not into an hourglass exactly but maybe a minute glass.

Monday, May 7, 2018

City Lights by Mitchell Toews

Erich is invited by his boss to a cocktail party, and fears he's being made a fool; by Mitchell Toews.

Working out of Winnipeg, I was an aufsteiger - an up and coming employee for a big U.S. company. I reported to a woman named Teresa Jarvis and the proof for my conceit came when she brought me to the Canadian headquarters in Toronto for a special training course.

"Back in a week." I kissed my wife goodbye at the airport. Seven months pregnant and she still turns heads, I thought, appropriating her good looks for my own vanity.

I was a valuable corporate resource, in my mind, anyway. A greater certainty was Teresa, who was without debate a rising leader in the company. She had been summoned several times to San Francisco and New York City to meet with the CEO and it was widely believed that she would soon become the Western Canadian Director.

"I don't control that," she'd say. Always deflecting, but like a veteran goalie, directing her rebounds strategically into the rounded corners.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Marie by James McEwan

A Scottish veteran returns to Italy to face his past, and maybe find his old sweetheart; by James McEwan.

Carl Mackenzie caught a glimpse of her. His heartbeat raced, he stumbled and sat down on the edge of a pushcart. Was it Marie? He drank some water and took a few deep breaths. He stood up to look around in the fish market, searching for her among the crowd, but the woman had moved on. He wet his handkerchief with water from his bottle and wiped his brow and neck to cool himself. The heat of the Mediterranean climate made him feel lightheaded, and his shallow breathing sucked at the warm air. He wanted to speak to her, but what he would say after all these years? He wandered on, gazing about at the bustling groups, and he took frequent sips of water that seemed to leak through his skin and out under his armpits. He could be wrong about the woman, after all it was only a fleeting glance of her head and shoulders.

The ripe smell of fish lingered around him, impregnating his shirt and hair. Sellers screamed their prices for tuna and, once sold, the buyers dragged boxes away scraping them over the wet concrete towards waiting vans. In front of him labourers grunted as they hauled a fish carcass along the aisle, they shouted obscenities and he jumped out of their way before being pushed.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Kumari by Bailey Bridgewater

Adesha's family take her to Kathmandu to see if she will be selected as the divine vessel, in Bailey Bridgewater's fascinating insight into a lesser known Nepalese ritual.

The mother appraised the girl carefully, turning her around and around, wiping her skirt with her hands, pressing her black hair into place, pulling back her gums to examine her teeth. She looked at the girl's feet skeptically.

"No. We will wear the other shoes."

"But they pinch my toes when I walk."

"But if they make your feet look small enough, perhaps you'll never need to walk again," she chirped enthusiastically, drifting into the other room to fetch the shoes.

The girl turned to her father. "Why do my feet have to look small?" He laid a calloused silversmith's hand gently on her head.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Underneath The Rose Irene Allison

Irene Allison's character takes her grandmother to hospital after another stroke.

It's now three feet farther to hell for persons who'd jump off the Warren Avenue Bridge. The City of Bremerton has recently installed an eighteen-inch extension to the span's rail. In my opinion, the city has wasted its money. The Warren goes up to a fatal height almost immediately, and at its middle it stands better than ten stories above the churning and hungry Port Washington Narrows. Only Serious Persons go over the Warren; less than serious persons, those who need just a little attention to feel better inside, never go to the Warren to perform on the off-chance that they might fall off. No, I don't see a foot-and-a-half - in both directions - getting in the way of a well prepared and dedicated serious person.

Such thoughts ran through my mind as I drove Gram to yet another doctor's appointment. At the age of twenty, I'm getting awfully familiar with doctors' clinics and the technologies designed to prevent, for as long as possible, what I had once heard described as an "end of life event." Nobody speaks frankly about anything at doctors' clinics after the insurance is settled. In a decrepit and mournful sort of way, visiting any of Gram's phalanx of medicos was like going to Neverland; but instead of recapturing the spirit of youth, we find Tinkerbell in bifocals and Peter Pan attached to a colostomy bag.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dino Doubter by Hassan Riaz

After trying to prove dinosaurs never existed, a CalTech professor ends up spending time behind bars; by Hassan Riaz.

Ernesto was an analytical man, a man who'd built his developing career on protein structures, a man who believed in proof, a man who'd spent enough time around science to know genuine versus hoax, and as such, he was a man who for several months now no longer believed in dinosaurs. For forty-six years, he'd been a wrong man, content to never question the validity of paleontological claims that winged beasts with fanged teeth, lizard skin, and bird bones once ruled the world. But he wasn't fooled anymore.

Illumination came at a price, though, because he was also a man in a holding cell. He sat with his hands cuffed behind him in a tiny room in Central Station on a hard metal bench behind a locked metal door. He stared out the window at the adjoining room at the backs of detectives fiddling with computers. He knew they were typing about him, his break-in and attempted burglary. His glasses slipped down his nose as he shifted on the bench, and he had to lean back and jiggle them back into position. He'd never been to a police station before. In fact, he'd never been to this part of the city, the part of downtown Los Angeles east of the freeway and restaurants. He decided that he would have to find a place in the area upon his release to lead a seminar to educate the masses about the dinohoax. T. rex, brontosaurus, and velociraptor made for good toys, but no man or woman should believe in Santa Claus forever.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hitman's Wife by JD Langert

A hitman is given a job at an inconvenient time in JD Langert's funny flash.

"Tansy, tell me why there is a body in my trunk when I'm supposed to be picking my wife up for a picnic?"

Basil stared at the tied-up body in the back of his black 1972 Imperial LeBaron. The man, protests muffled through the duct-tape over his mouth, stared back with teary, pleading eyes.

Basil slammed the trunk closed.

Tansy, an overweight man in a tailored black suit, chuckled at the younger man's distress. "Sorry, son, but you know there's no real time off in our line of work. Boss wants this trash pushing up daisies tonight."

Basil groaned. "And what am I supposed to tell my wife? I've already canceled three dates this month!"

Monday, April 16, 2018

Arise and Go Now by James Mulhern

Aiden plots with his grandfather's ghost to free his mother from the mental asylum; by James Mulhern.

I arrived at Rita's house about noon. Her blue eyes widened when she opened the door. She patted the sides of her red hair and smoothed her pleated cotton nightdress, a pattern of honey-bees. She was always donning unusual clothing or changing the color of her hair, which was ash blond a month ago.

"Aiden, I'm a mess. I fell asleep on the couch. Come in." She held a book entitled Audrey Rose.

She saw me looking at the cover. A girl in a red dress stood in front of a grave. The ground was on fire.

"Junk. I hope you're reading better things in school... What grade are you in this year? Old people lose track of time. The years merge together and sometimes they seem to disappear." She laughed.

"Ninth."

"Before I know it, you'll be in college." She rubbed my head. "Let's sit in the backyard. It's such a lovely day."

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Irony by Bruce Costello

An author is confused about where he is as his memory degrades; by Bruce Costello.

My chin rests on my shirt and I stare down at the writing pad on the meal tray, trying to fathom this strange feeling I keep getting, like I've dug a deep pit for myself, and when I try to climb out, I fall further in.

I have times of lucidity when I can still write, but my memory is failing, my ideas are all over the place. Often I write what I don't mean, or by the time I get to the end of a paragraph, I've forgotten the beginning. Sometimes I can't recall common words. And I waste time trying to get grammar right, though no editor will ever see this, or would be able to decipher it, if he did. At High School, my English teacher said my handwriting was like the meanderings of a drunken spider.

Sometimes I meander down to the end of the corridor and then find myself at the traffic lights in my pyjamas and the police bring me back here. They tell me this is where I live now. If you think that's weird, how do you think I feel? But at least I can still write when the drugs click in for an hour or two, and I'm writing my memoirs.

Monday, April 9, 2018

As Luck Would Have It by David Henson

Matthew's gambling problem has gotten out of hand, but today is his lucky day; by David Henson.

I was on fire. Blackjack one hand. Doubled-down and won. Split and won both. Held eighteen, hit a three. Stood with seventeen, and everybody else went bust. Three more blackjacks. My streak of smiles had started when a little guy with a red beard and green shirt walked up and stood beside me. Since he'd been watching I couldn't lose.

"Hey, don't go," I said when he started to leave.

"Me?" He acted surprised I'd noticed him. "Sorry, son, I hear the pub a-calling me."

"Stay. We can have a drink here. You're my lucky charm."

"Sorry." He cupped his hand to his ear. "Still a-calling."

Friday, April 6, 2018

Only Burglars by Jessamy Dalton

Old Tom tells a story of his days as a gentleman burglar, until he and his crew picked on the wrong house; by Jessamy Dalton.

Every spring, Dustin's mother would get upset all over again about Old Tom Critchley's place down the street.

"It's a disgrace," she would say. "A junk heap. An eyesore."

"He's just an old fellow who's fallen on hard times," Dustin's father would say in a placatory way.

Dustin and his friend Matt kind of liked Old Tom's place, with its overgrown yards and collection of old cars on blocks. There was a '57 Thunderbird Old Tom let them play on whenever they wanted to. They'd get in and pretend they were in Grand Theft Auto.

"The boys shouldn't hang around him," Dustin's mother would say. "He's a poor role model."

"He's just an old fellow," Dustin's father would repeat. "He needs the company."

"He needs help," Dustin's mother would reply, but whenever she made carrot cake, she sent Dustin over with a slice.