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.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Dead Drift by James Hacker

Dave and Steve head into the remote river canyon to go fly fishing, but there's more than just fish in the river; by James Hacker.

Dave woke once, early, hangover pounding in his ears and the taste of cheap beer still on his tongue, to the soft sound of rain on the roof. He rolled back to sleep, a slight smile playing across his half-drunk face. If the weather held, a morning rain would keep the river canyon cooler and keep the air damp through to the evening. When he woke again, hours later, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and a dry wind blew down out of the north. He smiled again, knowing a big spinner fall was coming. Spinner falls meant dry fly fishing, meant trophy fish, meant magic sessions where big fish rose to every cast. He hoped it was tonight.

Dave finally rose around noon. Steve was already up and cooking breakfast. Once they were both fed and coffeed up, hangovers still sitting with awful weight behind their eyes, they loaded themselves and their gear into Steve's truck and headed into town.

They made straight for the local fly shop. High end gear was artfully arranged in the windows, $500 waders next to $2,000 fly rods set between high-def shots of anglers at work and trophy fish in nets. Inside, a handful of tourists ogled the equipment while one of the local guides tried to sell them on the benefits of the most expensive pair of boots in the store. Dave and Steve slid through the sales meeting to the back, where Ted, the wrinkled and wizened proprietor, sat next to the rows of flies and lures for sale.

Monday, October 15, 2018

In the Shadow of the Hive By Kevin Edwin Stadt

In a future where everyone is telepathically linked, a homeless man and his dog struggle to survive outside the Hive; by Kevin Edwin Stadt.

The obese, sweating manager at the grocery store in whatever stupid little town it was didn't say that Billy's disease made him unemployable. He didn't tell Billy that the Ryker's Syndrome created acute discomfort for everyone in the building. Not a word about the mismatched shoes, worn khakis, grungy shirt or desperate eyes. The manager didn't say anything at all. When Billy asked about a job, the man just shook his head quickly and disappeared through a thick metal door into the back.

Billy had to traverse the meat section, produce and baked goods to reach the exit, through a gauntlet of silent employees and shoppers all stopped frozen in their tracks, staring at him in otherworldly silence.

Outside, Oliver danced when Billy came out the front door, straining against the cord tying his collar to a tree. Billy picked up the tiny brown puppy and the dog licked his face. "Let's get the hell out of here, huh Olly?"

As he trudged westward, Billy's mood got a little bump and the tension in his shoulders slackened when he came upon a sprawling, gorgeous public park.

He could use a bit of refuge. He'd slept badly under a bridge the night before, the October nights having recently turned cold, his stomach three days empty, trucks thundering past just feet above him, coyotes howling in the blackness.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Backlash by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In a previous Prentburg misadventure, Christina du Plessis mistakenly kidnapped geriatric mischief-maker Malan Bester - now he sees his opportunity to get revenge; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When the oldest resident of Prentburg, Ma Bets, met her maker at the age of one-hundred-and-six, most of the dorp's residents wished to attend her funeral. Even some who had never clapped eyes on her, like Malan Bester.

"He shouldn't be allowed to go," Sister Marchant protested to the matron of the old age home, "he has no right to!"

"We can hardly prevent him from doing so," Matron pointed out, "especially as half of the squatters in the informal settlement will be there. They asked Reverend Motsepe to go, being full of admiration for someone reaching such a ripe old age, and the family has said they're welcome."

"Their motives are admirable," Sister Marchant argued, "while Malan's are highly suspect!"

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Rude Awakening by Jim Bartlett

Major Henning and his spaceship crew have been woken from cryogenic sleep and find the ship may not be working well enough to get them home; by Jim Bartlett.

Henning reaches for his cup, only to pull back at the last moment, remembering it was just as empty as the last time he grabbed for it.

Get it together, Major.

He takes in a deep breath and lets his gaze wander down to the chronometer. At first, none of it makes sense, a little too much fog in his brain for the numbers to work.

Okay, 32 hours. He's been up 32 hours. Cut yourself some slack.

Shifting his focus back to the thick swath of asteroids that stretches across the frontal screen, he places his palm on the roller, and once again begins to wrestle with the retro control. It only takes a few moments for his frustrations to get the best of him, and he flings his arms upward, nearly striking the overhead panel. No matter how hard or which way he spins the damn thing, the ship seems to be drawn in their direction.

He leans back, taking in a deep, long breath. Relax. Relax.

Relax...

Friday, October 5, 2018

That Second Death by Daniel L. Link

When Nellie's twin sister disappears, she suspects murder, but how far will she go for the truth? By Daniel L. Link.

THE END

I couldn't see the dawn as day broke over my final resting place. I heard birds, though, as they rose from their nests and went about their daily scavenging. The finches and jays were the loudest. I knew they were getting close to the hole in which I lay.

Every time I moved, the burlap tarp over me rubbed at my nose, creating a nagging itch I couldn't scratch. That was worse than the handcuffs, worse than having my arms pinned behind my back. That rough fabric scraping across my skin was a constant reminder of what was to come.

It was getting warm when the workers arrived. Sunlight peeked through tiny holes in the tarp, thousands of golden pinpricks in my otherwise black grave. The beep-beep of a truck's backup alarm rang out, feet from where I lay, silencing the birds' cries and signaling that the end was near.

The night had been cold, but the heat of the morning had me sweating. That sweat all froze to my body when I heard the truck.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Frances by Pam Munter

Frances Marion, screenwriting powerhouse of Hollywood's golden age, longs for intimacy with her self-destructive superstar friend Mary Pickford; by Pam Munter.

The irony didn't escape Frances that though she was the premier screenwriter of her time she couldn't find the right words to describe how she felt about Mary. Or why.

It didn't seem like that many years ago. World War I was raging but Hollywood was thriving, existing in a cocoon. Frances had come to the editing room at Biograph and found Mary alone. She was startled when Mary turned around, her petite frame dominated by her big blue eyes and long, curly blonde hair. "I know we're going to be best friends," Mary had said within minutes of their meeting. "I don't have many friends," she had confided. "No time."

Frances knew it had to be more than that. Mary was an international icon, untouchable, unreachable some would say. And the most powerful woman in the industry. That was more likely the issue. "I would like to be your friend," Frances echoed, carefully. She felt an unfamiliar jolt come and go from within, like a blast of hot air. It wasn't at all unpleasant but surprised her with its intensity.



Now, some 15 years later, Frances looked forward to seeing Mary again, even though she was unsure what she would find in that house tonight. She remembered a time when there was no ambivalence or anxiety about her dinners there. They were fun, lively events full of lawn games, alcohol and opium. She was amused that Hollywood's highest paid stars would find it hilarious to shoot home movies of each other, each trying to outdo the other with outrageousness. It was about making each other laugh and it wasn't hard to do. Someone would always be thrown into the huge pool in their evening clothes or go down the slide backwards.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cold as ICE by Lee Conrad

Divorcee detective Derek Steele navigates dystopian near-future USA, trying to solve the mystery of the missing immigrants without upsetting Immigration and Customs Enforcement; by Lee Conrad.

The late morning heat and humidity was already oppressive. It was early May but the climate in the Northeast was so screwed up it felt like July in the old days. I hated this weather. I kept telling myself that as a private investigator I could set up shop anywhere. A cooler climate would be nice. But that was another day. Had to meet my client.

I drove down Floral Ave past trees butchered by the electric company in order to free the wires of damage by tangled limbs. They didn't even look like trees anymore, more like skeletons sliced through the ribs. I dodged deep potholes as I headed to Danny's Diner. Since the economy collapsed road paving had been slipping. Christ, weren't we supposed to have hover cars by now? After all, it was 2022.

I texted the client to say that I'd arrived, he texted back that he was in the last booth on the left.

Danny's wasn't crowded. It was 2pm, the lunch crowd had already left. Luckily the soup specials kept the business going.

I nodded to the cook. "Hey Jaymo, how's things?"

Monday, September 24, 2018

Wild Child by Eamonn Murphy

When she suffers from heart failure at 56, Jessica is forced to rethink her life and her relationship with her parents; by Eamonn Murphy.

Jessica could scarcely believe her ears when the consultant told her.

"Heart failure!" she said. "I'm only fifty-six. I'm too young for heart failure!"

She was in a single room at the new Super Hospital. It was a nice room with an en-suite bathroom that had a mirror, in which she still looked slim and attractive. Her dark, curly hair needed washing and her thin, elfin face looked a little more drawn than usual but the reflection was still a Jessica she recognized. The room had a large window that looked out over the central concourse of the hospital with its various entrances to outpatient departments and shops and cafes. The bed was a hospital bed and the leads that ran from the patches on her chest went to a monitor over the bed that showed her pulse and blood pressure. Other than that it might have been a decent room in a three-star hotel, the kind her smug, suburban parents stayed in when they went to Torquay every year. The food was good. Her treatment had been wonderful. Jessica had no complaints at all except about the diagnosis.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"My Love, Ana" -Tommy by Jhon Sánchez

Tommy and Ana fall deeply in love with each other's internal organs in Jhon Sánchez's quirky vision of the future.

For Melissa Ortiz, Ninotska Love and Yani Perez, three ladies who can easily steal your heart.

My wife divorced me because doctors removed my tonsils. She said that I wouldn't be the same. "A different being," was the precise wording she used. I was appalled. My mind flooded with images of the first time I saw her.

Initially, I hadn't been particularly drawn to her insides, her heart, her guts. I had asked the matchmaker for someone different, unique, like Grandma was for Grandpa. Their pictures together, their love notes and photographs, were like an oasis of warmth and care scattered throughout the apartment that they left for me.

Of course, I marked on my application all of the regular boxes of women I didn't want at all. No people with kidney stones, no people with risk of coronary disease, no HIV/AIDS, no risk of cancer, just the regular stuff that everybody asked for. I wanted someone who would die of old age with me like Grandma and Grandpa - sixty years of marriage - but also someone unique, who kept me mesmerized all the time.

Monday, September 17, 2018

SHORT by Doug Hawley

Doug Hawley returns with a not-very-PC screwball comedy in which Duke Hanley is fed up of being discriminated against for being short.

Duke and Gary, actuaries for a large Portland insurance company, were having lunch together. As usual they were complaining about their treatment as short guys. Duke started off with, "You know, we're usually ignored, and stats prove we get paid less and don't get the promotions we deserve. Studies which have been corrected to take account of all other variables show that."

"I know that, Duke. We've been whining about that for years. At least you've got a great wife. I have a hard time getting a date, much less laid or married. How did you attract a great gal like Sally?"

"You aren't the first or the tenth to ask me that. Sally has a strange history which made her avoid tall or even average guys. Everybody else in her family is over 6 feet tall, even the women, and she is only 5'3". I think that her 6'3" father wondered if he was really her father and always called her runt. Then there was the time at the circus where the so-called tallest man in the world had a heart attack and almost fell on her. In high school, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to give a talk on education. Sally was to present him to the student body, but he suffered from food poisoning and vomited on her. After that, she would only date short guys like me."

Friday, September 14, 2018

Delivery by Stephan Malone

When Stephan Malone's character orders a pizza, the self-driving delivery car gives him a lot more than he wanted.

The whooshing din of distant latter-evening traffic hushed through my partially opened patio slider door. My phone vibrated harshly against the coffee table stone, breaking the ambient calm. "Your pizza has arrived Jayden," the phone announced, casting a cold, bluish-white light against my living room ceiling. For a moment I mindlessly stared at the faint luminous glow above me.

"Be right out," I said.

The phone acknowledged my response with a short blip. "Delivery vehicle notified." I rolled off my couch and shuffled toward the front door. Not a single light illuminated my house's interior save for two small under-the-microwave pilot lamps, for it was in the darkness that I took in a strange yet fortifying comfort during these newly borne days. After my four year relationship with Aeliana reached its inevitable conclusion several weeks ago, my spirit lingered in an unfamiliar, heady space located somewhere between the celebratory freedom invoked from a fresh start and the palpable melancholy that emerged from recalling familiar comforts, now lost to memory alone. I imagined that I would find my way just as everyone does when such things happen.

But for now, I have to eat.

I walked outside, elaborately donned in sock-feet and pajama bottoms, the empirical attire of suburban bachelors everywhere. After all, would anybody care what I'm wearing? The automated car certainly wouldn't. I rounded the delivery car's front bumper, lights on, idling in absolute silence. It looked to be one of those old Chevy Volts from the middle twenty-tens, blacked out and de-badged, retrofitted with a high capacity battery and re-purposed for driver-less metro deliveries.


Monday, September 10, 2018

What Tomorrow Brings by Charles Tabb

Jenny waits for her boyfriend at her favourite restaurant, and she does not expect what tomorrow will bring; by Charles Tabb.

Jenny Fremont sat alone at the small table in Mama Guali's, her favorite restaurant. She and Bob had discovered the small Italian diner one night when a sudden rain storm had forced them to find refuge. Now here she sat once again, waiting for Bob.

While she waited she thought of how she had fallen in love with the simple ambiance of Mama Guali's the moment they had dashed in from the cloudburst. Tables with just enough space between them to prevent crowding while promoting coziness dotted the dining area like small islands. Each was draped with red and white tablecloths in a cliché checkerboard pattern, while wooden chairs gathered around the tables, keeping them company until someone sat down to join the party. Colorful, net-wrapped globes of glass on each table held a lit candle and squatted beside a drinking glass offering stale bread sticks. Aromas of tomato, basil, oregano, and garlic melted from the kitchen into the dining area, making mouths water. Yes, simply being here made her smile.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Soulmates by Roger Ley

Martin, who never quite fitted into the gender binary, finally finds a woman who understands him; by Roger Ley.

Martin had never been comfortable in his masculinity. As a child he hadn't enjoyed rough and tumble, camping, climbing trees, making campfires. His mother described him as 'gentle,' his father rustled his newspaper and tried to ignore him. The other boys derided him and occasionally beat him up. He was an easy target, being of medium height and light build. As he grew into his teens, he suffered the taunts of the football oafs, the noisy muscle heads. He found it easier to spend most of his time alone in his bedroom. Thank God for the internet. He was still interested in girls but for different reasons. It was their makeup, their hairstyles, their nail polish, their clothes, their perfumes, it was all so self-indulgent, so narcissistic. It fascinated him.

Things were easier at university. Staff and fellow students were more polite. Everybody tried hard to be PC, more tolerant of sexual preferences.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Metaphysics 101 by Mark Joseph Kevlock

Dottie falls in love with a man more concerned with philosophy than reality; by Mark Joseph Kevlock.

"I wish you'd stop asking questions that take up the whole class," Dottie said.

She and Humbert were walking together.

"I know. But I can't help it. This is stuff I just need to understand."

Dottie thought about taking his hand. But that could lead to a lot of things.

"I'll try not to do it today," Humbert promised.

Moments later, Professor Carlsbad called on him in class. "Yes, Humbert?"

"What is the true first step, then, to begin us all upon this worldwide shift in consciousness?"

Dottie sighed and sat back in her seat.

Professor Carlsbad took his usual grip upon the edges of the lectern. That meant he was in it for the long haul.