Monday, July 22, 2019

The North Window by Judson Blake

Sheila Tamm lives in the kind of small American town where nothing ever happens, until a dead body is found with its hands missing; by Judson Blake.

"There's a man in that house," said the child. His face dipped as he spoke. His voice was mewling. Sheila Tamm stepped back to look around the fir trees. It was a house she knew well. She turned back to the child.

"That's not so odd," she said and then wondered if she might be wrong. It was the house of Coleen, who had a dog Sheila sometimes cared for. An aging solitary, Coleen had never married.

The child squinted under the blinding angle of the sun. So softly she could barely hear, he hummed a song as if he knew she was thinking of something else. Then he stopped without any reason.

"There's a man in that house."

Friday, July 19, 2019

Jory's Grove by David W. Landrum

A powerful witch is called upon to help protect a group of young girls who are dabbling with forces they do not understand; by David W. Landrum.

As a strega, Alessia knew that there were still places in the world where the natural and the supernatural intersected. There were portals or, as she had once read in Neil Gaiman's novel, Neverwhere, places that had a lot of time, where all the time did not get used up, and so one encountered "bubbles" of it here and there. If you entered such a site you would end up in the period and era the bubble contained. Such places had always existed. And they did not just contain time.

The problem began when a group of young women in her community began going to one such place and engaging in what they thought was occult practice. A mother of one of the girls came to Alessia and told her what was going on.

"My daughter, Angela, and her friends are going out to Jory's Grove," the mother told her.

"Why are they going there?

"Oh, you know: they got into the occult - wicca and all that. They're into casting spells - the whole shebang. It's a phase and a fad, but that place... well, I've heard it's really haunted. And I don't like them going there at night."

"What do you want me to do?"

Monday, July 15, 2019

Louie the Hatchet by Mark Tulin

When his father befriends a hitman, Mark's character feels the consequences; by Mark Tulin.

My father did not discriminate when it came to choosing his friends. So, it wasn't a big surprise that he befriended a notorious hitman. This particular hitman didn't wear a shiny suit, have gold chains around his neck, or wear a pair of sharp alligator shoes, but he did have a scary scar on his hand and an aura that made my teeth chatter.

I remember staring at this hulking man like an infamous celebrity, looking at his big, stubby fingers that could probably tell of a thousand deaths and the keloid scar on his right hand the shape of a lightning bolt. Those bear-like claws of his were capable of things that my naive mind could never imagine. He had the power to destroy life without the least bit of hesitation.

It was interesting to see how relaxed my father was with such a hardened criminal, almost as if he were a respectable member of society.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Of Forests and Fathers by Christopher Johnson

Herbie, a kid from Ohio, tells about the innocent wonders of his first camping trip; by Christopher Johnson.

"Will there be bears and wolves?" I asked.

Dad looked at me and narrowed his eyes the way he did when he was irritated with me. "What do you think, Herbie?"

"I... I don't know. When I watch Davy Crockett on TV, there's all kinds of wolves and bears."

"Oh, for God's sake, Herbie, that was one hundred and fifty years ago! And that's TV. And that was in Tennessee. We're in Ohio, and it's today, not one hundred and fifty years ago."

We were driving to pick up Steve Sable and his father and start our journey together on a camping trip, which I was worried about because I'd never ever been on a camping trip in the forest before. We turned into the Sables' driveway, and Dad honked the horn. "Get in back, Herbie, so Mr. Sable can ride in front and we can listen to the Indians."

Monday, July 8, 2019

St. Isabelle's Downfall By Tiffany Renee Harmon

At St. Isabelle's Home for the Mentally Disturbed it's not clear whether the sole patient needs the staff, or the other way around; by Tiffany Renee Harmon.

Each day at St. Isabelle's Home for the Mentally Disturbed was the same as the last. The residents would wake up, cope with being abnormal, and then go to bed. Meals and medication were promptly served at 8am, 12:30pm, and 7:00pm. Bedtime was 10:00pm. There were no exceptions.

St. Isabelle's stood on a sprawling green manor, surrounded by trees as lifeless as the hopeless patients who entered. The trees created a canopy that shrouded St. Isabelle's in a constant, ominous shadow. A small pond, no longer home to any fish ever since a patient had taken an interest in them and they had all disappeared, was nestled in the back yard, behind the looming old Victorian building. Ivy ran along the exterior wooden paneling in upward spirals.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Wall by Dan Rice

In a totalitarian future America, a 16-year-old girl's life is about to change forever; by Dan Rice.

The minute hand of the analog clock edges with agonizing slowness toward 3:45pm, release time. I hate the way the hands move around the clock-face as if stating: this boring class is almost over, but not quite. I prefer digital clocks, just like everyone else with a half functioning brain and a heart made out of anything other than stone. Mr. Brown, our genius teacher, decided in all his wisdom that to pass his class, all of us spoiled brats need to be able to read an analog clock. Stupid? Yes, but that's Mr. Brown, and he lectures, drones is more accurate, on the most fascinating topic imaginable: Founding Utopia, The Fall of the Two-Party System and The Rise of the American Prosperity Party. Fun? Not so much. Required for graduation? You bet.

"Miss Harris," Mr. Brown's voice rings in my ears. "Staring at the clock won't make time pass any faster. Now, answer the question."

My peers' twittering laughter echoes through the classroom. I blush. I'm in trouble. It's just like Mr. Brown to ask me a question while I'm not paying attention. I meet his gaze. His piercing blue eyes stare out at me from under a heavy brow. He looks dapper in his starched white shirt and neat blue and red tie with the conspicuous exception of an oil stain on the shirt's left breast.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Pacific by Ky Hensley

On an excursion to Costa Rica, Ky Hensley's character visits the ocean for the first time.

Pacific waves are powerful.

I can tell from a considerable distance, as the whitecaps crash on the bright reflective sand and roll up the long stretch of beach. The cars and trucks seem to ripple in the heat of the day. We aren't even there yet, still shielding the sun from our eyes as we attempt to cross the road. Quite frequently, cars honk at the slow-moving trucks, all while seemingly oblivious to the beach stretched out before them like a framed landscape piece. I see a car slowing, and begin to dart across.

Damien's grip tightens around my hand as he pulls me back. "Hold up, Maggie." The car I was watching vrooms past as if frustrated by my indecision. "You trying to get us hit? It'd be a shame to lose my girl like that." Damien laughs at what he thinks is incredible wit. He barely looks both ways before making the decision to drag me into traffic himself.

If that's what it takes.

My lips stay sealed. The beach. I am here for the beach.

Friday, June 28, 2019

To the Pain of Death by James Rumpel

An interplanetary comedian is selected by computer to fight a battle of great political import despite having the physical prowess of a banapple; by James Rumpel.

Shiver Trueorbit thought things were going well. This was the first time he had ever performed in an Abeberian club. An ever-growing layer of indigo haze floated near the ceiling, like rising dew on a spring morning. The lounge owner had told him that Abeberians expressed their laughter in two ways. The first was an ear-piercing squeal. The second was by releasing a dark blue gas. Shiver figured that either the audience was finding his routine to be humorous or the buffet was serving Borilian cabbage.

"And what's the idea with anti-gravity boots, if you're just floating around, you don't need boots. You know what I mean." Shiver paused to let the screeches reach a crescendo before continuing. In addition to entertaining the occupants of the half-filled lounge with his wit and repertoire, Shiver was also wowing them with juggling. He had discovered early in his performance that the Abeberians were amazed by juggling, which probably had something to do with that race having gnarled claws instead of hands. Always the showman, Shiver performed most of his act while simultaneously keeping three shot glasses in the air.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Mrs Neb by Ceinwen Haydon

A solitary woman is annoyed by her neighbour's prying and tries to avoid her - until one day their paths are forced to cross; by Ceinwen Haydon.

Work's ok, but coming home is better. Well, it is unless she's standing by her gate. I have to pass her house and she's unavoidable. I call her Mrs Neb, not out loud, of course. Every feature of her face is etched into my mind: her pinched plum mouth that bleeds lipstick beyond its outline, her wrinkled nose with blackheads and wide nostrils that emphasise her scowl, her jaundiced dandelion-clock hair and her beige pancake slap that chokes every rut on her jowls and chin. She's disapproval incarnate.

I loathe her relentless scrutiny. I'm sure she lives to see folk get their come-uppance, some sort of avenging angel. When she speaks to me, which she always does if she catches my eye, she pretends to be all nicey, nicey. The fact that I see through her ruses is lost on her. She minces along in her fluffy mules, proud as a queen. Although lately, I have to say, she's let herself go. Last time I stood close enough to tell, she was a bit whiffy if I'm honest, and her clothes were un-ironed and food-stained. That would never have happened a couple of years back. She was born in the village and has always claimed special status following the arrival of all us incomers. But the truth is, I recognise her for her real self. She's a witch.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Bubble by Craig McEwan

Craig McEwan's character has trouble navigating the social mediascape - which opinions are the right ones?

The economy is going down the plughole again: because of Brexit this time. Everyone on my timeline voted Bremain. Who didn't? We think there should be a second referendum: surely we'd get the right result this time. Our poor economy. First the bankers and now this. We hate bankers. I spotted that rat-faced cashier from Barclays the other day in TK Maxx. If looks were daggers, she'd be a pincushion. Yotam Ottolenghi posted a new recipe for soy grilled quail eggs with sesame salt today. We love Yotam Ottolenghi.

I was signing a petition to save our libraries - we love libraries - when what popped up but a friend request from Emma Braine! My family did everything with the Braines when me and Emma were kids. Her dad, Brian, was a great block-faced man who worked for Plastimo, and the only man I ever heard interrupt one of Dad's stories and get away with it. Brian Braine. He sounds like a cartoon character, and he was, in a way. Larger than life. Emma and I were inseparable until Plastimo offered Brian a big raise and a relocation to Surrey, and that was the last I saw of her.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Debauched by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

The 1905 Russian revolution has turned St Petersburg society on its head, and the aristocratic Misha Sergeyevich fears his sister is seeking solace in an unsavoury place; by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri.

My eldest sister, Tatiana Sergeyevna, was disrobed and bathing Rasputin when I returned home one evening, in 1908. She ran her slender fingers over his hirsute back, bare and dirty. This all was transpiring in my own marble bathroom with its porcelain tub, of all spaces. The tub which Papa had imported from London in the good days, the days before things came apart. I'd gone in to take a long bath after an evening dining with friends. This had been a nice release from the tensions, from our disintegrating home, our family slowly breaking apart in light of Papa's recent gambling debts and his own liaisons in Monte Carlo while abroad with the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, our tsar's uncle. I was twenty-two and the youngest in our family, my sister twenty-eight.

Rasputin held a bottle of Madeira, which he waved like a weapon, while my sister kept washing his back, whistling something from "The Nutcracker." This all struck me as I entered the room, as if this were the most intense moment of a dream. The moment where I'd wake up and everything would be all right. But it was happening here. My sister was completely disrobed, so was Rasputin, and their bodies seemed to defile this vast and wonderful room. I shook my head once and again, as if that would restore things to their natural modes of being. I thought of just leaving, walking out the door, out into the night, but some force pulled me back.

"Have a drink, Misha," he said, laughing, waving the bottle. I could smell the alcohol on his breath, thick and overwhelming. "Live a little."

"What are you doing, Tanya?" I said, using the nickname I'd used for my sister. She smiled.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Woman on the Bus by Karen Toralba

An American tourist in Penang is baffled when her child receives a mysterious injury; by Karen Toralba.

Penang, Malaysia

"The doctor at the hospital said I should report this," she showed the stoic officer at the counter her young daughter's infliction - a mark similar to an elongated X that seemed to be transforming from a red scratch to an almost rotting appearance. The woman continued. "He said to show you this. I'm sorry, but I'm on vacation, and we leave in two days, so I'd like to handle this quickly, if that's possible." She produced an envelope with a message on the front which sent the officer quickly scurrying away through closed doors, who then reappeared with a slender, aging man. The police chief ushered her personally into his office and shut the door.

"I don't understand what's going on," she said as she seated herself with her child. "The doctor said it was an unusual scratch but sent me here. I'm not sure why." The woman, American, sat stiffly in a crisp white sleeveless shirt which tucked neatly into light jean shorts that stood guard over her knee caps. Her dirty blond hair, usually more styled when not on vacation, was twisted messily and clipped to the back of her head.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Twelve Steps From a Breakdown By Cathy Beaudoin

A high-flying executive pretends to be an alcoholic so she can attend AA meetings in the hope of salving her soul; by Cathy Beaudoin.

Standing at the top of the basement stairwell, nerves made me shaky and ready to vomit. Afraid the typical Manhattan brownstone was a private residence, I peered through the gritty, ankle-high window. There were a dozen rows of plastic folding chairs and a table with a coffee pot on top of it. About ten feet away, at the curb separating the street from the sidewalk, a couple of scruffy bearded guys stood smoking. I glanced at them and when we made eye contact I wanted to turn and run home, to bolt my apartment door, grab a glass from the kitchen cabinet, and squeeze it until it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.

“You okay?” one of them probed.

“There a meeting here tonight?” I asked.

“Yeah, you’re in the right place honey.”

I bristled at the word honey. I wasn’t his honey. I wasn’t anyone’s honey.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Tram by Cameron Dusting

A Czech woman recalls her childhood and the events that shaped who she is; by Cameron Dusting.

When I was nine years old, my family lived in a leafy district of Prague; my brother and sister and I went to school nearby. Our mother would chat with the other parents by the school's metal fence while she waited for our classes to finish. After that, we'd walk home with her. It was a fifteen-minute walk under the leaves. Sometimes our friends and their parents would walk with us too. We'd pass the graffiti-covered buildings and the red-and-white railing, talking about what we'd learned at school that day.

On the walk home, my sister Krist├Żna, who was a year older than me, always complained about the wind getting in her hair. "So, tie it up," our mother would say. Krista's hair was honey-coloured; mine was much darker. We both had long hair. Yet the wind never bothered me. I loved feeling the breeze through my hair. It felt similar to my mother's fingers running over my scalp. On one such occasion, I spoke up. "I don't mind the wind in my hair," I said. And my mother laughed, and replied, "Of course you don't, Anna."

Monday, June 3, 2019

March on the Deniers! by Simon Di Nucci

Simon Di Nucci gives us a glimpse into a post-Apocalyptic Australia that has descended into tribal savagery.

The trees are bare, killed by the salt I guess, but there are fresh weeds underneath them and the goats eat happily. I herd them through our sector, slowly in the early heat, and we are out of the dead wood in an hour. Then we walk round to the seaward side of our territory. The storm surge brought piles of fresh seaweed up the slope, before the sea retreated out of sight again. Long may it stay there.

A work party are repairing the damage to our seawall, piling the rubble back up to the proper height. The foreman tips his straw hat to me and I nod back. Manners are important in the Tribe. We look at the half-naked labourers, building our new fleet of fishing canoes, sweating to get the job done before it gets too hot. I stop to admire some of the women, their brown skin smooth over strong muscles. Some stand up and smile at me: word has got out. The foreman and I look at the wall and exchange glances: will it ever be high enough? He grimaces. I nod again and leave.