Friday, December 13, 2019

The Haunting of Piedras Blancas by DC Diamondopolous

Lovesick ghost Astrid wanders the California coast, longing and fearing to leave the Earth forever; by DC Diamondopolous.

There is no end to my love for Jemjasee. I pace the ragged cliffs, searching the sea for her ship. My longing will not cease until I am entwined in her marble wash of lavender and green arms.

It's dawn. The sunlight's red varnish stretches across the Santa Lucia Mountains. The mist from the sea floats through the Monterey Cypress. Backlit in pink stands the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

The waves caress my vestige feet. The foam licks my revenant face. The damp never seeps into my gossamer bones. My long silk robe opens, my breasts exposed to the witless wind. It hisses, jeers, but I am invincible, adrift in my chariot of grief.

The gulls perch in conference on the white rock. Beyond is the blue empty sky, the vast sea without sails, no horizon. Blue. Come, Jemjasee. Am I to roam this rugged coastline for eternity, this journey without distance? I feel doomed, my struggle invisible. You must come, Jemjasee. Save me from my weariness.

I skim the jagged bluff. The elephant seals raise their massive heads when they see me then fall back to sleep.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Pardon My Persian by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

A young American writer feels oppressed by his father's pride in their shared Persian roots; by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri.

Your father has dragged you to another Persian party, even though you know almost nothing of his culture, a culture he has attempted to impose upon you, deeming you too American because you like movies, don't adhere to his chauvinistic notions of gender roles. Because you lead a social life that is anathema to his own vision of things. At this stage, you're young, in your early twenties, and don't yet have the balls to draw lines in the sand.

The facts: You are American, by birth, by sensibility. English is your natural idiom, the language in which you create and curse out people you despise. The language in which you argue with your father, the mustache man. You're in your early twenties, and have lived in this city, attended party after party for years. Your father calls you Persian, slipping that fact surreptitiously into any conversation.

Women and men with grotesque smiles kiss and hug you, streaming in slowly, half an hour late, the pace picking up. Salaam, salaam, they proclaim. Peace. Peace. Your father shoves you into their line of fire, space invaded by labyrinths of arms. They grow in number, expanding, like a bad Sci-Fi Channel movie. Persiannado. They wear fakeness like a veil. You cannot pronounce their names. They offer a few words in English, retreat into their social orders, into the Persian language, a language replete with fake sweetness. A spoonful of too much sugar and bullshit.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Family Property by R. C. Capasso

An Ohio hermit plucks up the courage to meet her solitary neighbour, and finds out the dark reason for her solitude; by R. C. Capasso.

When I first moved to Westline Road, I didn't intend to meet neighbors. I wanted to be alone. But when I saw her and realized she was a woman or a girl, alone like me, I thought maybe we should at least be on speaking terms. Woman to woman. In case something happened. But I didn't expect or intend for anything to happen.

I saw my neighbor first from a distance. The way she dressed, that baggy coat hanging to her knees, shapeless pants, thick boots, and a tight knit cap, she could have been a short man. And I would have guessed old. She moved so sleepily, not like someone young. But with all that yard work every day it couldn't be a terribly old person, I thought. And although she was small, she couldn't be a child. The authorities would never let a child live that alone.

I tried not to think about my neighbor. I was there for solitude, after everything else that had happened. Yet my eyes kept turning toward the other yard.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Watchers from Above by James Rumpel

Chaos ensues when a moon-sized spacecraft starts orbiting Earth, even though it seems to be doing nothing but watching; by James Rumpel.

The attendance at the Saint Benedict's High School class of 2004 twenty-year reunion was minimal. The lack of alumni attending the get-together was perfectly justified seeing that the world was about to end. While most reunions featured conversations about stuffy teachers or outlandish pranks, the conversations at this one dealt with the large alien craft that had been orbiting the Earth for the last six days.

"The vessel is large enough that it has affected the tides," said Captain David Wolfe. He was seated at a table with another St. Ben's graduate, Deb Barton.

"I believe it. The thing is the size of a small moon," added Deb. "The scariest part is that it's just sitting there. It's been nearly a week and it's done nothing. At least the rioting and looting have slowed down. Things are returning to normal, at least as normal as they can be with a giant space ship looking down from above."

Friday, November 29, 2019

Hustle by Brian Moore

An up-and-coming writer happens upon her best selling idol in a restroom; by Brian Moore.

Kate's badge is lavender. Lavender means she is a conference presenter. The status of presenter comes with special privileges.

For instance. Presenters have access to the President's Lounge: plush, burgundy furniture, exquisite reprints of Degas and Monet arranged dramatically on all the walls, and a buffet of foreign cheeses and cream-filled pastries. Presenters also receive five complimentary tickets to the wine bar, six dollars a glass for attendees, and Katrina intends to redeem every single ticket before she leaves tonight. Best of all, access to any seminar, workshop or speech is free. The only exception is the evening gala with Eilleen Gatrick.

Katrina substitutes brie and eclairs for her Tupperwared breakfast of yogurt, a bruised banana and two Oreos pilfered from her son's lunchbox. She sinks into one of the comfy red chairs and flips through the conference program, balancing a glass of white in her left hand. She stops at Gatrick's page.

Monday, November 25, 2019

All Fish are the Same by Peter Ninnes

Two Australian anglers win a fishing trip to New Zealand, but it's not the kind of fishing they're used to; by Peter Ninnes.

"You little beauty!" Leo's hairy arm waved his phone in my face as I opened the front door, rubbing my eyes. "I tried to call before I came, but you didn't answer."

"What day is it?" I asked, tightening my Batman dressing gown against the fresh breeze slipping through the door.

"Saturday, mate. Check out this message!"

I pushed his phone further away, so I could focus on the text.

My eyes refused to obey. "What's it say?"

"It's about the Christmas raffle!"

Leo and I were both members of the local deep-sea fishing club. We fished together every Sunday. We'd each bought a book of ten tickets in the club Christmas raffle every year since 1998, without a shred of luck. It was enough to make me doubt the existence of the white-bearded man in the red suit.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Shiny Side by M. C. Tuggle

Trucker Travis enlists a friend's help to carry a particularly unusual load; by M. C. Tuggle.

"All right, Wanda June, brace yourself."

I gave Travis a look, and he gave me a grin right back. He slid the hatch, turned the handle, and pulled the creaky metal door open.

"Damn." I scratched my chin and just stared.

The setting Texas sun reached deep into the trailer of Travis' articulated truck, illuminating strange, otherworldly stuff you'd expect to see in an Indiana Jones movie. Among dozens of odd-sized wooden crates stood golden columns topped by silver crescents, altars of blue stone with metal inlays, and big-mouthed brass urns.

"Whatcha think, Wanda?"

"What is this?"

"The owner says it's for his temple."

"Temple?"

"That's what he said. Name's Vakil. Calls himself a magus."

"What's that?"

"I didn't wanna ask. You shoulda seen him. Skinny, bug-eyed, all dressed up in black."

Monday, November 18, 2019

On the Edge by Clifford Hui

Clifford Hui tells a story about the importance of friends and family in hard times, featuring avian biologist Raul Vega.

Raul Vega pulled their hotel room door closed. He and Josh Leitner turned to walk toward their rental car when Josh said, "Isn't that our phone?" They paused and listened.

"Nah," Raul said. "It's the room next door."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I'm sure."

They walked to their car, drove to Saldanha Bay, and crossed the causeway to Marcus Island, home to a colony of Jackass penguins. With the braying of the penguins in the background, they parked their car and walked toward their workspace in the low tin-roof building. Their waffle-soled boots crunched on the rocky pathway. Josh was taller, with sandy hair curling over his ears and down his neck while Raul's wiry form was topped with fine dark hair in waves so tight it appeared almost kinky and cut so short it almost looked painted on.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Nor Gloom of Night Tom Sheehan

Blind, one-legged veteran Jack Carrick relies on audiobooks, and the man who delivers them, to keep him company; by Tom Sheehan.

Upstairs in the front bedroom, blind amid the toss of linens he had known intimately for seven long years, in touch with passing traffic and summer conversations when the windows were open, Jack Carrick lay in the middle of sound, in the middle of darkness. His left leg, set upon by diabetes and the surgeon, was elsewhere; his right hand was stained by nicotine, the index finger and close companion yellowed as shoe leather, and those fingernails bore fragments of that same deep stain. Gray, thin hair, most of it about his ears, drooped like fallen stalk, except for one thatch above his forehead as if an odd bird, at length, would roost there. The stubble of his beard sprouted as off-white as an old field of corn waiting the last reaper. Once, Jack Carrick's eyes were as blue as eggs dipped at Easter. Once, they were deadly remarkable over the sights of a Springfield Ought-Three.

Darkness, most of us know, normally has its antecedents... the last of sunlight long over the horizon cutting the world in half, and the day, like a lamp being switched off or a fire snuffed to gray smoke and ashen smell, time eventually giving itself up to a new caretaker. Blindness, though, as with bed-ridden Jack Carrick, is prefaced at times not out of color, or the memory of it, but erupts ringing out of a collection of sounds.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Infinity, in Four Acts by James Rumpel

James Rumpel gets meta.

Smith

In Captain Smith's version of reality, he was eternally seated at the wheel of an assault vehicle. Today was no different. Glancing over his shoulder he spied Private Kohler waited patiently in the back of the vehicle. To Smith's relief, the reckless young soldier had nestled into the safety harness. Kohler's survival of the imminent collision was of primary importance to the plan. As the captain waited for the enemy to emerge over the nearby knoll, he once again checked the surroundings.

The assault vehicle was snuggled between a large speckled boulder and an enormous concrete wall. None of the soldiers stationed on this planet knew the origin of the ominous structure. Smith did not know if the barrier had been constructed to keep something in or something out. What he did know was that it was too tall to scale. As far as its length, Smith could not even begin to estimate. Troops had investigated to the east and west and no one had ever found the beginning or end of the expansive structure. As far as Smith could tell, it went on forever. Mystery aside, their assignment was to protect this structure and he was not going to fail on that mission. Smith was, by design, the ultimate soldier.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Arms and Legs by O. D. Hegre

One heart, two patients - can there be justice when politics gets in the way of medical ethics? By O. D. Hegre.

The conscious mind provides excuses for our misdeeds, allowing us to suppress the guilt with rationalizations. But one cannot escape the unconscious where all is laid bare. And while society may not punish you, and God may not exist, be assured - in your dreams you will find the punishment you deserve.

Madame Romani



Friday
3:45 pm
Chapel at the Underwood Heart and Vascular Institute.
Richmond, Virginia


Raymond Kirkland, MD stood outside the door of the Chapel. He'd lost a patient overnight, and that was always a sobering event for any physician. But this death was jarring and totally unnecessary by Kirkland's assessment. The donor heart that should have been sustaining the life of his young patient - that, by all ethical standards and clinical criteria, was hers - now beat in the chest of another, a new patient of the Cardiologist, recovering four floors above in the ICU.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Boys by Gary Ives

Two smart, caring kids with very different backgrounds become such firm friends that surely nothing could keep them apart; by Gary Ives.

Noah entered the art room having to pee really bad. Before taking his seat he asked Miss Wilson for permission to go to the bathroom. "You've had plenty of time to take care of that between classes, so please just sit down." He had tried to go after Geography but Mr. Rolf, the janitor, was mopping the boys' bathroom. Thursday was art class day for the seventh graders during the last period. Miss Wilson told each table to create a "Florida, The Sunshine State" poster. These would be displayed at the assembly on Friday. He shared his table with Fredrico, a Mexican boy he barely knew. They were cleaning up before the bell when Noah lost it. Though he tried to stop, a little pee came out and then a lot. The khaki school uniform pants were soon darkened, and a small puddle lay at the foot of the stool.

"What's the matter," Fredrico asked.

"I had an accident; I peed myself. Everyone is gonna laugh at me. Look there's pee on the floor."

"Jus' stay there, don' say nothing." Fredrico took a roll of paper towels from the cleanup shelf and sopped up the pee. "Don' feel bad, such things happen. No?"

Friday, November 1, 2019

Dark Vader Isn't Real by James Rogers

Andrew is the only one left to care for his mischievous vanishing son; by James Rogers.

"Dark Vader isn't real," Colin told his father as they stepped into the elevator.

"That's right," Andrew replied, raising his eyebrows to the woman in scrubs who was already aboard. She smiled.

"What's this guy about?" Colin asked, throwing his tiny little five-year-old thumb at the woman.

"Colin, have manners," Andrew said. "I'm sorry, he hasn't quite figured out 'he' and 'she' yet."

"Oh that's ok. He's so cute." Colin turned to face her. "Oh dear, he has a little bruise." She frowned at the purple-yellow smudge on the boy's cheek, just below his right eye.

"Yeah it's... You know the way these things happen," Andrew said.

"And his spaceship isn't real. And his light saver isn't real."

"That's right, Colin. You've said that several times today."

"My friend thinks he's real. She thinks he's out in space but he's not. Dark Vader is fiction."

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Stroke of Blood by Mark O'Connor

Faithful Muslim wife Amal discovers a talent for painting, but is it enough to escape her grim existence? By Mark O'Connor.

Blood. I knew the perfect combination of colours to paint realistic blood. It was a strange thought to have but, like most thoughts, it arose without invitation. Vermillion, an obvious base, but it is the spicule of ultramarine blue and the dab of burnt umber that holds the key. Zinc white could be handy. Arterial blood is brighter you see. Thoughts can go too far sometimes, but it pleased me that I knew these things. I was improving. Ismael agreed. I was happy, thrilled, for the first time in my life and one day I would paint a masterpiece, sign it, and it would hang in a great Mathaf or a Grand Mosque. People who didn't know me would look at it and discuss me, Amal Haddad, the great painter. I am not a proud person, and I know it is wrong to think like this, but I am becoming good, the best in my class. Ismael has not told me this directly, not yet, but I feel he sensed it. I imagine Ismael, working on his canvas, between classes. It is an image that keeps coming to me. Uninvited. I can't resist it. I think these days in colours, in brush strokes, in subtleties of shading and tone. I calculate proportion and form of the objects around me, their pastel hues and chalky outlines. It calms me. My husband, Feras, I think is happier, although no children have come. I tell him to be patient, I have seen them, and Allah will bring me the clay and colours to shape them. Under my abaya, the purple blotches fade unseen. I can paint blood. Real blood. Uninvited.



Judging by the excessive sway of her hips, and the casualness of her amble, Souad had noticed one of the male students, Khalid, setting up an easel near mine.

'You know you have paint over the hem of your abaya, Souad?'

'Of course, Amal.' She picked up a brush from my easel and scooping up a blob of vermilion red from the palette, flicked it at me, 'And now so do you.'

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Divine Spark by A. Elizabeth Herting

Gentle giant Zain P Alexander lives for the past in his quiet little antique store, until the past begins to haunt him; by A Elizabeth Herting.

It was the eyes that clinched it. He was totally in love.

Perfectly rounded lids with just a slight flare at the corners, a thick layer of wispy dark lashes on both top and bottom decorating them in a most alluring fashion. Each lash was charmingly turned up at the edges in an effect that Millennials and Instagram stars only achieved with falsies and copious amounts of caked-on mascara. Zain couldn't say that her eyes were exactly symmetrical. The right one drooped ever so slightly below the left, giving her a bemused expression. Captivating, but certainly not beautiful in any modern sense of the word. In a selfie-obsessed culture, she'd be mocked for her shortcomings, but Zain knew better. He, of all people, understood there was a divine spark in imperfection. He'd been living it his entire life.

Of course, that singular imperfection might have been the angle of the shot or a careless turn of the head. There were no "do-overs" back in the day, it was all serious faces and drawn out poses. What one couldn't escape was the deep, all-encompassing color of her eyes. Even captured in soft sepia tones, Zain could see they were of the purest, richest brown, with a generous touch of amber around the edges. Liquid gold.

Intelligent. Playful. Wise. Loving. Sad.

That last thought broke him from his reverie as the store bell chimed. Zain jumped up in alarm, grabbing the feather duster in an attempt to appear busy.