Monday, January 21, 2019

The Bureau of Transparency by Leland Neville

Leland Neville's character gets a visit from a dystopian government agency.

There was a faint knock on the front door. My hands shook in anticipation. "Go away. I'm not interested in what you're selling."

Three sharp bangs rattled the windows. "It's only a starting pistol," he said. "You need to install a video doorbell."

"Get off my property," I said.

"I'm from the Bureau of Transparency. I'm not going anywhere."

I am often overwhelmed by the arrogance that has spread like the plague throughout this land.

"You are required by federal law to let me in."

"Do you have a search warrant?" I said.

"I don't need one. The Bureau of Transparency is a quasi-government agency. We're exempt from the restraints of the Constitution." He was indignant.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Twenty-Seven Club by Kevin McGeary

A musician looks back upon his arrogant younger self, busking and working illegally in Shenzhen and contemplating how to emulate his heroes; by Kevin McGeary.

They say there are two types of lyricist, those who write while overlooking a phosphorescent ocean, and those who write while staring at a blank wall. I always saw myself as one of the former, but that night, as I crouched over the windowsill scribbling in the notepad where I wrote all of my completed lyrics, the neon Shenzhen skyline refused to shine behind the evening shower. I still remember what I wrote:

I have never lived in prose and am no good at writing it, but I hope this provides consolation.

No matter how hopeless our lives are, there is always one door we can pass through unimpeded. This is the door I have chosen.

Do not think I have left this world in anger or bitterness. I leave behind only love and music that will live forever on the worldwide web.

I placed my notebook on the pine desk, next to a black marker I had borrowed from work.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Wingwork by Chris Panatier

An ageing fairy struggles to do her rounds; by Chris Panatier.

Carol was getting old. Real old. And her bones weren't feeling all the travel anymore. Flying first-class was okay, she guessed, if you'd never experienced the thrill and freedom of the open air as she had for so many decades - was it decades already? Airline seats cramped her fragile wings no matter the cabin.

Oh, how she wished she could hide them away. Her wings, the tools of her trade, had once been a source of pride, lustrous as pearls and whip flexible. Now they crinkled against her back, shrunken and desiccated. The older she got, the harder it was to find anything that might give them the jolt they needed to kick into gear. She'd chugged coffee, triple espressos, Kool-Aid, soft drinks, and even guzzled honey straight from the bear's head, but all failed to rejuvenate them.

Thankfully, her fellow passengers were mercifully aloof, never visibly acknowledging the obvious. Being a fairy that could no longer fly was humiliating enough. And if Jack hadn't racked up so many frequent flyer miles before his heart got him, she'd be out of the job for sure.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Common Courtesy by Steve Gergley

Wilson Clarke believes in common courtesy and respect for his fellow citizens, and he goes to great lengths to get it; by Steve Gergley.

Wilson Clark's shift had ended over an hour ago, but by 9:15 he was still stuck at the store doing cycle counts. He kneeled on the cold tile by the bargain laptops and counted the boxes stored in locked cubbies under the display shelf. The air was stale and dusty down here and a needling itch danced in his nose each time he took a breath, but the sales floor was quiet so he was able to move fast.

Soon Wilson came to the last section of his count and started walking to the video game aisles to finish up. For years this area had been his favorite part of the store. Before becoming department manager, he had often spent his lunch breaks down here, browsing the new titles with a sweating bottle of Yoo-hoo and a half-chomped Milky Way in hand; but after nine years of serving the angry customers of this store, all the thrill of conflict had been squeezed from his brain like soapy water from a sponge. These days, just the thought of playing a video game made his mouth go dry with anxiety. Now he spent his free time listening to film soundtracks and reading his old history textbooks from college.

Just before starting his count, Wilson saw a middle-aged woman tottering toward him with an iPhone case clutched in her hand. She wore a sour expression and her mouth was pinched and tight and deep vertical wrinkles fanned out across her upper lip like tire-ruts in soft dirt. Wilson swiveled his head left and right and looked around for Missy and Amanda, but they were not behind their registers or facing their aisles or anywhere else in sight, so he circled behind the service counter and pushed aside the "Next Register Please" sign and waved the woman in.

Monday, January 7, 2019

My Darling Pills by Mike Todd

Mike Todd's character is captivated by the ugliest girl in his school.

The first time I met Pills she spat in my face. It was the first day of second grade and she had just given me what she considered to be an appropriate answer to an inappropriate question.

Quite innocently, I had asked this new kid, "Why do you stink so bad, boy?" She made it clear that she didn't appreciate my reference to her odor. It wasn't until I was older that I understood she was even more insulted by my failure to recognize she was a lady.

As I stood on the playground, startled, with her spit running down my cheek, the only thing I could think to do was apologize. Then she was startled. Pills knew how to respond to insults, but apologies seemed to perplex her. She simply punched me in the chest and ran into the school building without saying a word.

I still carry a picture of Pills Carkix in my wallet. I never knew why she had such an unusual name. Her parents were obnoxious, illiterate and unshaven, so I assumed they were just plain weird, too.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Haunted Telescope by Dave Henson

Harold is getting jealous of his wife's success at work, and begins to suspect her of something sinister; by Dave Henson.

"Harold, could you put away the dishes, please."

Harold turns toward his wife. "Denise, you might be a division manager at work now, but that doesn't make you my boss at home."

"Sweetie, I didn't mean - Oh, never mind. I'll do it myself. It's just I've got an important presentation tomorrow, and I want to practice it."

Harold walks part-way out of the kitchen then stops and turns toward his wife. He wants to say something about her getting ahead by being a kiss-up at work, but smothers the urge and goes upstairs.



Harold comes in from the patio and goes into the kitchen. "That's the perfect place for it. There's a nice clear view of the sky."

"How'd you happen to get a used telescope?" Denise says.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Genie by William Quincy Belle

Kelly moves into a new apartment and finds a magic lamp left behind by the previous owner; by William Quincy Belle.

Kelly stood at the entrance and surveyed his new apartment. What a find. Heck, what a steal. This was the perfect location in a great neighborhood, and he couldn't ask for more. On top of it, the moving company did a great job of getting everything across town at the last minute and arranging the major pieces of furniture. All he had to do was to deal with the smaller things and his personal stuff. Could life get any better than this?

He walked into the kitchenette and opened several cupboards. It would take some thought to figure out how to arrange his dishes, utensils and cooking items. He peeked inside a side cupboard extending to the floor, the perfect spot for brooms and such. He frowned. There on the floor toward the back was an old cardboard box. The previous owner must have missed it.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Santa's Naughty List by Bill Diamond

Ronald Wynn visits Santa to ask why he's on the Naughty list; by Bill Diamond.

"Mr. Claus will see you in a minute, Mr. Wynn." Santa’s rosy-cheeked assistant smiled.

The waiting room wasn't what he expected. It was impressive, with lavish mahogany walls. There were a few restrained holiday decorations and Frosty the Snowman was playing quietly in the background. It could have been the office of any Fortune 500 company; nothing at all like the holiday picture books.

Wynn was nervous and he tried to make small talk. “This is a beautiful building. And so convenient. I thought I’d have to visit the North Pole.”

“Thank you, we really like the new place.” She beamed with pride. “We got a great price on this corporate park when we signed a long term contract during the recession. The transportation and energy costs were killing us at the North Pole. There’s only a token presence there now for photo ops and special occasions.” Motioning to the inner office, she added, “Still, the boss insisted it be in the mountains so we have snow in the winter.”

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Ghost of Christmas Future by Nelson Kingfisher

Millicent is introduced to Carl's German parents on Christmas eve, and wonders at their cultural differences; by Nelson Kingfisher. Nelson Kingfisher's work has won the Columbus Literary Award for Fiction. To find out more about the characters in this story, read The Ice Shelf and Other Stories.

"What should I call your mother?" Millicent asked.

"Ingrid should be fine." Carl kept looking out the window. The wheels clacked as the streetcar rolled past Woodland Golf Club. The snow lay smooth and white on the golf course - unlike the filthy black snow he saw piled curbside back in Cambridge.

"And your father?" Millicent asked.

"Cornelius."

"Sounds awfully formal."

"My mom calls him Corney."

"I'll call him Mr. Fischermann."

Carl turned toward Millicent on the plastic bench seat. "Herr Fischermann." He smiled as he corrected her. "Herr Doktor Fischermann."

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Street of My Childhood by Mark Tulin

Mark Tulin's sentimental vignette about revisiting his childhood street.

It was like a hurricane hit my childhood. The once immaculate neighborhood where I grew up was now dilapidated and rundown. Trash cans rolled past me and garbage swirled around this once proud neighborhood. There were broken chunks of cement in the sidewalks and torn up driveways. No little kids were riding bikes or laughing on the stoops. The front lawns grew high with weeds, abandoned cars with missing tires were hoisted up on jacks as a symbol of the city's decay.

My stoop was still there, though, as if it had survived the apocalypse. The house number hung loosely on one nail from the front bricks of the duplex where I lived, number 1023. I could see myself as a little kid waiting for Mister Softee to come around the corner with loose change in my sweaty hands. I wore cut-off jeans then with my bony knees sticking out, a white t-shirt and a pair of Converse hi-tops rounded out my wardrobe. I raced to the ice-cream truck on a hot summer day with all my friends - Donnie, Steve, and Ernie. "The last one there is a punk," Ernie yelled. I didn't care about being a punk. I just wanted to get to the Mister Softee truck before it went to the next street.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Delivered to the Grave by Michael D. Davis

Knute the pizza delivery guy needs to find out the secret behind the tragic death of a child in a small American town; by Michael D. Davis.

Chapter One
Six Years Later

Knute Knack put his foot through the floor forcing the Pontiac to make noises like a dying horse. The faster he got the pizza there the bigger the tip he got. If he got a tip at all.

It was only a town of four-thousand, a piece of lint on the map, but they kept him busy. Especially since the pizza place was one of only a few places to eat and the only one that delivered. He headed uptown, swinging his way through the streets that he'd know in the next life and the one after that.

When he came to the street he was looking for, Knute saw a black and white cruiser sleeping next to the curb. He slowed down to a crawl and kept an eye on the house numbers. When he found the one he wanted, he parked and grabbed the bag. On the way up to the sidewalk Knute glanced at the cop car, no one was in it.

Knute got to the door, rang the bell and waited like a good delivery boy. The man who answered was wearing a shirt of hair that covered all and blew slightly in the wind.

"That was fast."

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Customer is Never Right by Leila Allison

Leila Allison's character, determined that she has overcome her youthful gullibility, sets out to test her boyfriend's credulity.

A few nights ago, Jim identified the great, distant sun Naazar in the autumnal sky, and then attempted to sell me tales of its splendor and glory. This caused an old memory to trip my inner "As If" Alarm. Some claim my inner As If Alarm underscores the ever-suspicious side of my personality; all things considered, I find it a useful and necessary device.

My inner As If alarm was installed because I was one of those kids who grew up knowing something about "hill cows." To my great shame I had held on to and defended hill cows longer than I had stood up for Santa. My beloved father was responsible for this. When I was four or five (or six or seven - eight, tops), Daddy and I were on a drive in the countryside, and I saw several cows grazing on the faces of the rolling hills. Although the cows were standing sideways, thus against the grain of the slope, their big bodies appeared as though they were grazing on flat ground. Very strange. If Mom had been in the car, perhaps an embarrassing situation in the fourth grade might have been averted. (My spectacular ignorance became public when I read aloud a short essay on the topic of "My Favorite Animal.") But Mom wasn't in the car. And, eventually, Daddy and I had a conversation that went something like this:

"Daddy? How come those cows don't tip over?"

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."