Friday, November 16, 2018

Keeping Company by Rudy Eiland

Rudy Eiland tells the story of three lonely characters: Ainsley and Amica, who rely on each other for company, and Amica's slow-witted brother Felix, who relies on his own inner world.

The conversation had been hesitant and labored at first. It took the quiet passing of several houses before Felix started speaking more easily, talking now to Ainsley and not simply to himself. Each domestic facade peered coldly down on them both, Ainsley felt. He asked Felix a few questions until he hit upon something Felix was interested in, the fence in the backyard, and then the man talked more easily. As usual, Felix had kept to himself at first, even with his brother-in-law, until the other had waded a little ways into his world.

Despite the prediction of snow in a few hours, they had set off at a steady gait through the badly lit streets and the sidewalks covered with yellowed grass. It was only October, but something in the air foretold Christmas, a distant elation hanging there, the happiness of someone somewhere. Someone else's happiness. It was a long walk to his mother's, and so far Felix had remained sufficiently well behaved. The drizzle of sleet that came up every now and then was like somebody waking from a doze and drifting back off.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Gunslinger by DL Shirey

DL Shirey's character wakes up in a storeroom, confused and almost certainly in some kind of trouble.

I flinch awake. My shoulder blade sears, the afterburn from a dream. Everything but the pain evaporates, leaving half-remembered threads: a horse thief, face pressed in dirt, a boot on the back of his neck. My neck. Arm wrenched up an instant before feeling the red heat of metal; a branding iron hissing skin.

The dream is displaced by another unreality: I don't know where I am. There's a trail of ants on a bedside table converging on an ashtray and a half-sucked peppermint. Alongside it an empty Jäger bottle, a lighter and pack of smokes. The first inhale tells me this isn't my brand. When I kick away the ratty blanket and curl my legs off the bed, the floor comes too quickly. The mattress and box spring have no frame beneath them. Between knees I see my nakedness, cement floor and a spent condom.

I stretch and my shoulder blazes again. In reflex I grab the spot and pain compounds when I touch the braille of welts. The jolt clears fog from my eyes but where I am has no associated recall: cardboard boxes stacked five-feet high, makeshift privacy for the bed. No windows, a double row of fluorescent lights hangs from the ceiling, half on. A sick bleach of color coats the flickering walls of a storeroom. It looks like my mouth tastes.

Friday, November 9, 2018

On the Water's Edge by Kat Devitt

Frederick spends his life running, callous to who leaves behind, until he finds himself confronted by a divine mystery in Kat Devitt's mythic tale.

Frederick Wilde started running the moment his feet sprouted from his mother's womb. He kicked and flailed coming from her watery depths, because he already knew he had a father to escape. An angel engraved it onto his soul before sending him into her belly, because three days after his birth, his mother would die.

Never mind he was made from the same flesh as his mother. Never mind his father's blood ran through his veins. Frederick gave her difficulty coming into this world, ripping her open. When she heaved her final breath, he had become a murderer to his father; a crying infant, swaddled in snowy white blankets.

But he'd done his mother a kindness by helping her bleed out.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Brawl at Mac and Stan's by Howard Vogl

Howard Vogl's character reflects on his childhood in 1950s Buffalo, hanging out with his dad in Mac and Stan's Bar.

I decided to stop in Buffalo on the way home from a business trip. It's hard to explain the attraction of the old city to someone who wasn't born there, but for me it's real. The house on the street where I used to live was still there, although now it's only a cheap rental. On the corner was an empty lot where Mac and Stan's Bar used to be. That was the real reason I stopped.

Mac and Stan's was a typical corner bar from the Fifties. Neon signs hung in smoke stained windows leading to a long straight bar and the backroom. The mirror behind the bar doubled the number of whiskey bottles on the ledges in front, and tacked to the wall was a display of Blind Robin smoked herring that I never saw anyone eat.

Mac and Stan's was my dad's hangout. An easy one at that, since it was only three doors down from our house. Dad would spend a few hours there on a Saturday afternoon and on most Saturdays he'd drag me along. He'd have a few short beers with a shot of Corby's, and I'd have a root beer or two while playing around with the pinball machine in back. During the week, when Dad was working, the bar still figured into my life. After running around the block a few times, I could stop in for a glass of water. Pretty good for a five year old.

Friday, November 2, 2018

When We Go by Damien Krsteski

Serco and his girlfriend Dora plan to emigrate, but Serco feels a duty to stay for the sake of his mother and brother; by Damien Krsteski.

When I go, I want to go like a rocket.

Leaving the world at breakneck speed, upright, arms like fins, legs trailing a column of smoke; and the dusk sky, a postcard ripped in two by my passing.

And then, no explosion. But a winking out as space swallows me whole and the earliest star outshines me.

And then -

Wind blowing the smoke away; people scattering, going home to cry at photos that end up packed away into shoe boxes, shoved under beds to gather dust. People moving on.

People forgetting.



5.

"Pepperoni?" she asked Serco, holding up the box.

"Grab two."

Dora rummaged through the refrigerator. "There's just the one." Shrugging, "They got broccoli."

"Broccoli's fine."

She dumped the pizzas into the cart, and Serco steered it sluggishly toward the register, the cart's wheels squealing on the supermarket's freshly-mopped tiles. Closing time.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Last Interview by Virginia Revel

Tom is perhaps too keen to get the job in his latest interview; by Virginia Revel.

Tom arrived on the spot too early, so to kill time he circled the block, checking out the terrain near the business where he hoped to be working by the end of the day. His first lap brought him back too soon, so he made the round again, trotting this time because he felt so good. Energy surged through him, and a soaring self-belief. The hard times were over. He was sure of it.

When at last he was admitted to the office he walked straight up to the interviewer, grabbed his hand, and looked deep into his eyes. Invited to sit down, he said, "Well, I won't if you don't mind. I like to keep going. I'm ready to give every minute and every step and every thought to the company. I can tell you how to increase sales volume, how to streamline operations, how to make you number one in the city, or - hey, why not? - number one in the state! Number one west of the Mississippi!"

The interviewer gave him a thin smile and said, "About the blanks in your resumé -"

Friday, October 26, 2018

That Sort by Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy tells the story of self-possessed Chloe Bennett who has returned to her home town in the Cotswolds to see her dying father.

"I found this on top of the chest of drawers, Mrs Bennett." The stout little woman held out four twenty-pound notes. "Your father is always leaving piles of cash everywhere, though I keep telling him it's not safe. I'm glad you're home now to take care of him."

Chloe Bennett nodded and took the proffered money, wondering how much there had been originally. Her father-in-law told had her about that sort, the servant class who usually stole about ten percent of anything, or as much as they thought they could get away with. He was 'old money' and had childhood memories of those bygone days.

Of course, Mrs Jones wasn't a servant. They had gone the way of the dodo. She was a self-employed carer who had been looking after Chloe's father for the past few years, loosely supervised by Aunt Matilda, his younger sister.

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?"