Monday, October 21, 2019

To and Fro By James Rumpel

James Rumpel's character tries to live his best life while jumping involuntarily backwards and forwards through time.

The heart rate monitor droned on. The rhythmic beeping created an odd combination of annoyance and comfort. It may have been irritating and monotonous but constant noise reassured me that I was still alive. Every inch of my body was in pain. It took all of my internal strength to find the will to turn my head a tiny amount and gaze on the group of people standing by the door of my hospital room. There I saw another of the infinite supply of nameless doctors conferring with Susan, my son, John, and one one of my grandchildren. I was not certain of the grandchild's name, not because my mind was addled or my thoughts negatively affected by the pain, but because of the great number of grandchildren I had during my lives. It was difficult to keep track of all the different names my children had selected for their offspring during the different iterations of my existence.

Susan, lovely Susan, was clearly being given the obvious bad news. Her face, still attractive even as she approached the age of seventy, expressed her sadness. I wished I could tell her that there was still hope. I could still be granted a reprieve and we could be young and together again. I could not relay that information to her, however. My body would not let me speak. The cancer was that close to victory. Even if I could have told her, she would not have believed me. My story was too incredible.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Offspring by Tim Frank

In a neighbourhood so neglected that trash has piled up to the top-floor windows, Allison is sent out by her parents to scavenge for food; by Tim Frank.

Allison felt eyes on her, peering through her window as she was jotting down the finishing touches to the latest secret language she'd invented. She turned and looked over her shoulder. Outside were mounds of rubbish that had built up from years of strikes due to a breakdown in the running of the local district. As she looked at the rubbish pressing against her window, she thought she saw a face. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a pair of eyeballs seemingly made of shards of glass, and behind the broken fragments were irises like two bloodied pools of egg yolk. Beneath was a jaw made of chicken bones and wire mesh, drool dripping from its lips made from thick veins. Then the face disappeared into the black sea of junk.

Allison's parents knocked on her open door and she raced over to them and ensconced them in a desperate hug.

'What's wrong darling?' said her mum.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Elegy for Kurt by Eliza Mimski

Rebecca Jean is grief-stricken by the death of her hero Kurt Cobain; by Eliza Mimski.

He stuck the gun inside of his mouth. A single blast with a shotgun, the MTV news reporter said.

"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club," Cobain's mother was quoted as saying. The Morrison/Joplin/Hendrix club.

Man, that was cold, Lah thought to herself. Really hardcore. His mother must be some kind of a trip. Lah could relate, as her mother was a trip too. If Lah were to kill herself, her mother would say something choice like that, something of that order. Something stupid that totally lacked soul.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Door by Tara Wine-Queen

A rehabilitated  drug addict undertakes a spiritual quest to heal her terminally ill daughter; by Tara Wine-Queen.

It would be different this time. She would get the man in the boat to open his hands so she could read the words burned into them before they reached the waterfall, before she woke up.

She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep in the cramped hospital bed, willed herself to the wild and verdant landscape of the dream she had been chasing all summer. She knew where it would begin: deep within the forest, the sounds and smells of the earth and its creatures filling her senses, the air so heavy and wet it was almost intoxicating in its oppression. Sometimes it varied in small ways, a different grove of trees or an unexpected companion. But always she would hike through the forest, following the footpath of former fellow seekers, and make her way to the boat where the man would be waiting, and always they would go together down the river.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Mosaic By Steve Haywood

Derek's granddaughter is digging for shards of pottery in the garden while he reflects on his life and career in Steve Haywood's sweetly sentimental story.

It was a hot day for April. Derek peeled off first his jacket and then his sweater as he toiled in the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun. The spade dug deep, sliding through the soft clay soil like a knife through butter. He lifted a wedge of soil out of the ground and upturned it next to the newly made hole. The soil was dark, almost black, except for a small creamy white shard sticking up like a crescent moon shining against a midnight sky.

"Grandpa, we found another one!" He smiled at Amelia as she dived in to retrieve the newly found treasure, curly golden locks bouncing off her slim shoulders.

"So we did! Does it have any patterns on it?"

Amelia wiped the mud off on her sleeve before shaking her head sadly. "Just another plain one."

"Never mind, there'll be plenty more where that came from. Help me plant the potatoes and then we can do some more digging."

Friday, October 4, 2019

Her Sister's Keeper By Wes Blalock

When a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome goes missing in 3000 square miles of national forest, Rangers Birdie McLaren and Katie Reynolds pull out all the stops to find her; by Wes Blalock.

11:33 AM

Ranger Birdie McLaren heard voices rise up from the Jacobson Campgrounds six miles from where she stood on the McClure Trail. The trail ran the edge of a hillside, a grassy slope to her left and the sequoias and madrones in the treeline to her right. The campers called out "Dor-o-thy," in a sing-songy plea for a response from a lost child. Birdie sighed, concern turning her lips into a small frown as she thought just how lost a child could get in 3000 square miles of national park. Scared, alone, and wondering when her parents were going to come to her rescue; the Sierra Nevada mountains unforgiving of age or innocence.

Oh, Dorothy, she thought, where are you?

The radio on her hip blared for all units to listen to an emergency broadcast. Turning up the volume, Birdie heard that Dorothy, a fourteen-year-old with Down Syndrome, wearing a Girl Scout uniform and a polka dot backpack, was last seen at the Jacobson Campground around ten in the morning. Birdie notified the dispatcher that she was nearby and another ranger, Aiden Walsh, asked her to meet him at the Brooks Fire Road. Birdie quickened her pace down the trail; few things were as sad as a fruitless search for a child. Except for a successful search that ended too late. Minutes meant everything.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Blue Lady Jenean McBrearty

In the chaos of World War II, Gabby and Francois are each trying to hold on to the person they love; by Jenean McBrearty.

We were on our way to see Agnes' new baby. I said, "Let's walk down the alley, Ciebel," but he said no. He wanted to walk by the water and see the sailing ship that had tied up at the pier. "Okay, I'll meet you at Agnes'."

He gently grabbed my wrist. "No, Gabby. Come with me. You want to see a baby; I want to see a Blue Lady. If you want me to see a baby with you, why would I not want you to see a tall ship with me? Babies are born here every day, but the ship may never come again."

I did want him to see the baby. I wanted him to think how wonderful it would be for us to marry and have one of our own. Did he want me to see the ship because he wanted me to think of us sailing around the world? To see Athens, perhaps? Or Alexandria? "We'll walk the alley there and by the pier on the way home. How's that?"

Friday, September 27, 2019

Kansas City Ganges by Henri Colt

Henri Colt's character has run an outdoor gear shop in Boulder Colorado for a year, when his benefactor dies in a climbing accident.

Loren died last week. He was hiking to the summit of Pyramid Peak, a fourteen-thousand-foot climb in the Elk Mountains about 12 miles west of Aspen, Colorado. According to friends, a rock gave way under his feet, and he plummeted down a vertical slope into an inaccessible gully. When I heard the news, I closed the shop and contacted my colleagues at Search and Rescue. A helicopter had spotted his mangled body at the bottom of a cliff, but there was nothing they could do to save him. I loaded my gear and left Boulder immediately.

It's been a year to the day since Loren invited me to dinner in Kansas City. Remembering the evening better than a sports commentator remembers the blow-by-blow of a heavyweight prizefight, I ran our conversation through my head as I drove past fields carpeted with wildflowers on my way to Pitkin County.

He'd taken a phone call from his doctor.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Abraxas by Joseph Cusumano

In the run-up to World War II, Vatican priest Primo Ferrara is assigned to conduct exorcisms at the local mental asylum - but what price is he willing to pay to succeed? By Joseph Cusumano.

September 1939

Ten years as a Jesuit priest, the last seven assigned to the Vatican library, Primo Ferrara spent his days cataloging new acquisitions and making sure that all of the library's holdings were accounted for and intact. Of secondary importance in Primo's mind was his responsibility to verify the credentials of scholars requesting access to the library's massive archives. The oldest holdings dated back to the eighth century, and some of the more recent ones included a request from King Henry VIII for a marriage annulment, a transcript of Galileo's trial for heresy, and a letter from Michelangelo regarding overdue payment for his work in the Sistine Chapel. Somewhat of an introvert, Primo found himself better suited to library work than fulfilling the obligations of a parish priest as he had done for the first three years following his ordination.

Although immersed in one of the largest repositories of ancient works and records, Primo avidly kept up with current events, especially the confrontation between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini. New rumors about the Pontiff's ongoing power struggle with Il Duce circulated every week within the Vatican hierarchy, but Primo was not one for rumors. Instead, he relied mainly on articles in L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, although he occasionally ventured out to read Il Popolo d'Italia which was published by the Italian Fascist Party. Primo had no trouble finding the "fascist rag," as he called it, at a newsstand near his favorite trattoria on the Via Veneto, but he always discarded the paper well before returning to the Vatican.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Notebook By Randy Attwood

When Jeremy Broad's friend Don Bowerman kills himself, he travels to Don's old house looking for a notebook that might hold the secret to his friend's demise, in this very twisty tale by Randy Attwood.


(Jeremy)

I had two phone calls from Don before he killed himself. Each call should have tipped me off. Maybe not the first one, but certainly the second. I couldn't have gone to him anyway; he lived in another state far away. Still, I could have done something, called somebody. I wonder if Don knew at the time of the first call - the first contact I had had with him in three years - that he was going to commit suicide. When do suicides know for sure: just before they pull the trigger?

He had called that first time to say hello, but instead of wanting to hear an update on my life, he had launched into a rambling account of his own. Then he told me:

"You know, the other day I suddenly remembered I left a notebook in the attic of that house where I had my college apartment."

"What's in it?" I had asked him. The mention of his college apartment had brought back memories of heaps of books, his cluttered desk, stacks of papers. A mess, but ordered, it seemed, to make an impression of disorderliness.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Bunker by Harrison Abbott

Harrison Abbott's musically gifted character plots a long-festering revenge against a playground bully.

People talk about bad parenting, rough upbringings and ego when they try to explain sadism. They say it proves maturity to recognise somebody else's perspective. Then you'll learn to forgive the person. If they do something mean to you, just forgive them, because it's not about you, it's about them. But I already understood this notion as a boy. And it didn't work.

A pigeon. I felt a thud on my backpack, turned and looked. This blue-grey lump of mashed feathers, lying on the grass. I looked up, and he was there. Calum Lowe. An enormous grin on his face, mirrored on the faces of his friends, who were my regular tormentors. Calum was always the worst of them. I stood by the dead bird, and they walked past me guffawing. When I got back to the playground at the end of lunch break, the news had already surfed around the children. How Calum had thrown a dead bird at me.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Fiji by Ateret Haselkorn

A new mother visits a friend for lunch and recalls her struggle to get out of the house with baby Henry; by Ateret Haselkorn.

Theodora needed an emergency Cesarean section, Belen followed her birth plan but tore, and Justine did it all at home in front of her entire family.

These are the things I've learned about the women in my new mothers' group, before I know where they're from or how long they've lived in the neighborhood. Our standards, the metrics against which we peg ourselves and our babies, are presented within moments of meeting. I know that some moms slept for two hours at a time for four months but a few got five within two. I know "Jackson was born at seven fourteen" doesn't represent a time but a weight in pounds and ounces, and that "did you save it" intrinsically suggests the placenta. What else could it be?

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Case of the Broken Bow by Paul Miles

During the Great Purge in Stalinist Russia, two senior party members attend the scene of a murder, and the author invites you to work out whom they will arrest; by Paul Miles.

Doctor Artymov, logician and advisor to Comrade Stalin, was watering his garden one spring afternoon in 1936 when his friend Police Commissioner Bunin stuck his head over the fence.

"Artymov, I am on my way to a murder in the Sokiol District."

Doctor Artymov, for whom crime was always a matter of interest, immediately gathered his hat and walked with Commissioner Bunin to the latter's car.

When they arrived at the scene of the crime, a two bedroom apartment on the twelfth floor of one of the district's newest worker housing units, Sergeant Korshev - that burly veteran of Pulkovo - was already there. The Sergeant had secured the murder room and gathered the attendants in the side kitchen.

The Commissioner nodded towards the room with the body.

"Let's take a look here first."

Then to the Sergeant: "Let no one leave."

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Birthday Bash by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the quiet South African town of Prentburg, the local church has new models for its nativity scene, and teenagers Adele and Adam are hosting a party; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Dominee Seibrand was surprised at his congregation's conflicting reactions to the gift of two display mannequins from Koos Venter's shop window, to replace the parental figures in the nativity scene that had been trotted out each December for more than fifty years and was showing its age. The church sisters, in particular, were of differing opinions.

"It's only because he's bought new modern models in the hopes of attracting more business that he's foisted these ridiculous things on us," Marion Klopper said scathingly after the next Sisters of the Church meeting.

"Perhaps so," Helga Swanepoel replied, "but these are life-size with movable joints. We'd be able to arrange the arms of the female to hold a large doll in her arms, adjusting the head of Joseph so that he is looking fondly down at the new born babe. Dressed properly they would be very effective."

Monday, September 2, 2019

Cameron and Lucia by Clive Aaron Gill

Clive Aaron Gill tells a story of lust, betrayal, and long-borne grudges.

"I... I'm pregnant," Lucia said to Cameron at the San Diego Magnet High School.

"No way."

She moaned, her face turning a deep red. "Yes, way." She removed the black windbreaker she had outgrown two years earlier at fifteen. "I missed two months. Got morning sickness. I took a home pregnancy test. Must have happened that time you forgot..."

He inhaled a short breath through his teeth.

"We need to talk," she said. "I have fifteen minutes before I start work at the library."

Lucia Martinez, who lived with her mother, studied performing arts and had received a scholarship for her living expenses in the spring of 1984. When she was one-year-old, her father had been killed by gang members.

When Cameron Williams first asked Lucia to go to the movies with him, she had refused. Undaunted, he continued to visit her in the library. A few weeks later, he won her over.