Sunday, March 31, 2013

Improper Burial at the First Iron Works of America by Tom Sheehan

When a skeleton turns up in Roland Robbins' archaeological dig, Silas Tully determines to solve a half-century old murder mystery; by Tom Sheehan.

With one glass eye, one wooden leg, and a shovel in his hands, 72-year old Napoleon deMars was an earth surgeon. But he felt cold and clammy when his long-handled shovel painstakingly pried up this buried object. White of bone came at him, right from the grave. It was a human skull, opened at a wedge in the frontal lobe, and Napoleon knew it most likely had been murder. The skull, and apparently some of its bones holding on to the last known form, lay at the end of his half day's work, a trench at the First Iron Works of America, in Saugus, a mere dozen miles from Boston's Freedom Trail. The site was being excavated for and from history. It was September of 1952. Excavation had been under way since 1948, on a small scale, but steadily. Not a single piece of diesel-driven power equipment had been allowed in there as yet. It was a pick and shovel site, a whiskbroom site, toothpick and cotton swab country.

Now it was a graveyard.

Napoleon, for all his years, for all his toted calamities, felt nauseous.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Change of Mind by Jim Bartlett

Kristen Manseebo and Craig Sheltonham wake up in each other's bodies, in Jim Bartlett's science fiction novella.


I'm sitting at a bar. Which throws me because I don't drink.

Well, maybe a beer now and again.

But not at a bar.

Yet, sitting on the counter in front of me is one of those tropical looking drinks, you know, a Mai Tai, margarita... hell, something like that.

The bartender wanders over. He's a younger guy, big handlebar mustache, burly arms, some kind of tattoo that peeks out from under his shirt sleeve. He points at my glass - I assume it's mine, but you know what "assume" means - and says something. Mick Jagger is shouting out "Brown Sugar" over the banter of the crowd behind me - and maybe I'm drunk, because my head is swimming in a deep fog - so whatever he said sounds like mush. But if I had to guess, I'm thinking he's asking if I want another.

I shake my head no. Or hope I do. "Coffee," I say.

I must be drunk. My voice is a squeak.

I reach over to push the glass toward him but my hand stops at the counter's ledge. Something is wrong here. The hand I see is slender, with long pale fingers and painted nails. Bright red with little gold sparkles.

I raise the hand closer to my face. I close it into a fist and tap on the counter. I feel it just fine. But that sure ain't my hand. Working construction left them calloused and leather tanned.

Yeah, construction. I'm pretty sure I do construction.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hansel and Gretel by Alek Javier

Alek Javier's rather odd modernisation of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, set in a World War II concentration camp.

The whistle of an approaching train emanated through the silence of the yard. As the train slowed to a halt, the cars opened. The poor souls who emerged dazed and confused from the train cars were greeted by shouts of German, rifle butts, and the sight of an old, rusty sign bearing the words: "Belzec Concentration Camp". Observing from a distance, a young, blonde woman called to one of the guards. The man snapped to attention.

"Yes Mrs. Fleischer?"

The woman pointed out two huddled children trying vainly to hide in the dark corner of one of the cattle cars.

"Bring them to me."

The guard nodded, and issued the order. A large, burly man grabbed the two children, kicking and screaming, and brought them before the woman. The woman looked at the children with curiosity. She turned to a man carrying a packet of papers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Hook and the Fleece by William Ogden Haynes

William Ogden Haynes recalls his grandfather's stories about the circus coming into town.

My grandfather used to tell me stories about the circus that came to his small town in the summer of 1885. As he told the story, he would become increasingly animated, as if he were reliving the memory. First, the men in the bill wagon mixed the paste from flour and water and used long-handled brushes to post large billboards on the sides of barns for forty miles in every direction. And on the day the show opened they held a parade, the streets lined with men, women and lots of children. They stood silent on the sidewalk until a resonant boom like thunder began to echo off the storefronts on main street.

The first to appear coming around the corner was a boy in a red and gold uniform pulling a large bass drum on wheels. A second boy was behind the drum beating it alternately with two felt-covered sticks. Just behind them was a uniformed brass band with hats, plumes

and gold braids playing Stars and Stripes Forever in time to the bass drum. Next came ten Clydesdale drawn wagons with red, white and blue painted wheel spokes, carrying lions, tigers, bears and a scantily clad woman with a sixteen foot python wrapped around her shoulders.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kuiper Court by S E Sever

Doctor Ronin finds himself on trial for being too generous with his patients, and his judge is an artificial hologram; by S E Sever.

"Welcome to the United Worlds Judicature. Kuiper Courts of Health are administered and regulated by the Solarian laws of the Ministry of Health and Longevity. Please note that all our sessions are recorded and may be accessed by the allocated attorneys in your trial."

I stared quietly at the holograph of the young woman standing in front of me. She didn't look old enough to be conducting a hearing. She was dressed more like a call centre agent than an adjudicator: a sharply ironed white shirt, and a tight grey skirt skimming her knees. Even the golden stripes on her collar failed to convey authority; they were more like stylish accessories.

I felt irritated by the Ministry adopting a youthful image in every possible department. A ministry wasn't supposed to act like an advertising agency; it was an administrative body.

As the holographic lady glowed, the room revealed itself. Its decor was certainly not suited to legal affairs. The only pieces of furniture I could see were a long metal desk like an operating table, and an uncomfortable-looking chair.

The hologram-lady spoke again, with excellent human intonation. "Please state your full name along with your title."

"Doctor," I said, and stopped. I cleared my throat and started again, trying to sound as authoritative as I could, "Doctor Torren Ronin."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Number One by Nomi Liron

Nomi Liron's self-centred character Marie visits her dying sister June in hospital.

That's just like June, Marie thought angrily as she drove to the hospital. She steals the limelight every chance she gets. It's always been that way and now that she's dying, she's doing it again.

Marie grimaced at the phone. She couldn't put off returning calls from Katrina, her sister's best friend, any longer.

"Where have you been?" Katrina blasted. "I left you at least five messages. Your sister's in critical condition."

"I'm not doing so great myself," Marie answered, flying through the intersection at fifty miles per hour. "I'm dizzy. I can't breathe and my feet are swollen. I need a specialist."

Katrina snorted. "You'll live. June might not. Get here. We may have to make some painful decisions."

"You can count on me," Marie said.

Smiling, she pulled into a shopping mall and parked in front of a drug store. She ran into the store and to the aisle with medical supplies. She returned to her car triumphantly with a blood glucose meter and a portable blood pressure kit.

By the time Marie pulled into the hospital parking lot, the hospital pastor and social worker had left urgent messages. Katrina, seeing her enter the emergency room, sobbed, "We're losing her."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nursery School Exposé by Arthur Davis

Precocious four-year-old Andrew is suspicious of his parents' motives for taking him to nursery school in Arthur Davis's amusing piece.

I'm not going to like this. I just know it. It's too early in the morning and I'm too tired and I don't like what she made me wear and I don't know where we're going and if I did, I doubt that I'd like it. I just know it.

I knew something was going on last week. That's how smart I am. I'll bet Kenny knew it too. They probably told him what they were up to. They probably told him, thinking that he would tell them what I thought about it after they told me. That's how parents think. They are always planning and plotting about different things; what you're going to do or where you're going to go and what they want you to say once you're there.

I know that's true because I hear the same kind of stuff from my friends. Ricky Roberts tells me all the time about how his parents are thinking up new ways to get him to eat vegetables. I've seen his parents. They look nice enough. But if he's telling me the truth, and I have to believe him because he once let me play with his lasso, then I feel sorry for him. He must have a very difficult time at home if his parents are really making him eat all his vegetables, especially broccoli.

I have to eat them too, but my mom doesn't make such a fuss about it and I know how to get away with not eating vegetables even when she puts them on my plate. I know tricks. You might think I don't, but I do. See, I'm nearly five and I know a lot of things.

Friday, March 15, 2013

One on One by Rob Boffard

Darius Mitchell, a teenager from Chicago's South Side, is about to have the basketball game of his life - and a President's career hangs in the balance; by Rob Boffard

Darius Mitchell was eating the last of his grilled cheese sandwich when the guard brought his visitor in. They didn't usually allow food in the juvie's visiting room, but Darius had been a model inmate. He got his sandwich.

The guard left, closing the door softly behind him. Darius swallowed the last bite, and grinned. "We bein' recorded?" he asked, as his guest sat down. The man shrugged off his coat; it was autumn, and the room was cold. Bright white light angled in from the windows set high in the wall.

"Nope. They're playing this one by the book," the man said. "This is a private meeting. I believe they think I'm going to try to squeeze you for a confession."

"Must mean they getting' worried, then."

"Probably. They're fast-tracking the hearing, and I think you're likely to get a sympathetic jury. Besides, you're a minor. I don't exactly see you getting the electric chair."

"How you figure that? You a lawyer now? Already got one of those. He pretty good, too."

"No I'm not. But I don't imagine there's a jury on earth that'll convict you, and even if they did, there's no judge who'll hand out anything but a suspended sentence. You're a national hero, after all."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lost in Glass Slippers by Kelly Haas Shackelford

Cancer comes between a mother and her enjoyment of her daughter's birthday, in Kelly Haas Shackelford's emotional vignette.

Trembling, I flicked the lighter, hovering over the three candles on my daughter's princess cake. Her bright green eyes danced in glee as she slid her fingers close to the pink icing to sneak a swipe. Shoving her sticky prize into her mouth, her lips curled up in delight at the sweet taste. I tried to smile. It would be my last birthday with her.

Friends and family said to forget about the cancer, the treatment, the pain and to just live for today. Such easy words when one is not planning a funeral.

"Your turn, Mommy." Isabella ran her slender finger across the cake, scooping up a fat helping and pushing it into my mouth. Her blonde curls danced as she threw her head back and laughed. So full of life was that sound.

Bittersweet filled my mouth. How I hated myself. Why could I not just live for today? Why could I not just treasure what little time I had left?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bug Job by James Heflin

A spy plants a bug on his German target in James Heflin's charismatic flash.

I planted the bug in his trousers. Necessity, invention, mother - you get the picture. The War had cooled; a tricky job didn't bring out the cheering generals in bristle-cuts like it used to. I'd been interrupted in mid-bug, ended up hanging by my fingernails out the picture window, Florsheims dangling over the headlights on the Kurfurstendamm till I found a ledge.

I knew not who the fellow was as I spied him in the gap between curtain and sill. He entered like a Cossack exploding from a Turkish bath. A strapping man: shiny head, stomach bowling-balled. His twiggy legs led to embroidered slippers.

What had he done?

They never told. Just sent us out with crumbling headphones, tapes reused so often the ghosts of targets past chattered in the electronic distance.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Case of the Bottled Killer by Tom Sheehan

After an old man is violently beaten to death, Silas Tully dives into the world of bottle collecting to try and catch the killer; by Tom Sheehan.

Long before Silas Tully, the Saugus policeman with an eye and mind for details, had put Loman L'Supprenant away for what was left of his life for the fifty-year-old murder of Frances Cochran, and long before he had solved the Guidon Labs murder via the Square One Mall, he had struggled for a whole year trying to solve the murders of two collectors of antique bottles. The bodies of the collectors, both male, were found on the same morning, but were six miles apart, one in Saugus and one in Wakefield. Both towns are a short ways north of Boston, on Route 1 or near it.

Peter Stocker, the Saugus victim, was an old Yankee residue, the last of his family to live locally, and had spent all of his later years building up his bottle collection, one not sparse to begin with. When he was found by a young landscaper, at the rear of his rather large and spacious home in the Breakheart section of town, he was face up in the grass with half his face bashed in. Not three feet from his bloody head was an empty Pump Cola bottle, which has a rather solid base. Its distinctive label, an old kitchen pump attached to the back of an obvious super space buggy, had been scraped off the surface of the bottle. Very few pieces of his varied and manifold collection had been touched, but it was certain, from apparent spaces on his shelves and in his show cases, some items had been taken.

Robbery had summarily moved into mayhem, and old Peter Stocker, an active but weaker seventy-five year older, could not survive the beating. Time of death was estimated at 2:00am.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Twin Search by Irving Bronsky

A surreal existential fable by Irving Bronsky.

A long, long time ago, there was a boy who came from a good family. He was growing up nicely, he had friends, he enjoyed school, and he was a good student. He loved sports and was a good athlete. He loved his parents, his brothers and sisters. But -

Deep within him he felt he was missing something and didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was God, or something like that. This need kept pushing him to look for whatever it was. One day he decided to look for it and he searched his home and didn’t find it. He looked outside his home and in his neighborhood and didn’t find it. He went out of his area to other parts of the city and didn't find it. He went out of the city and into the country. Nothing. He traveled over meadows, into valleys, down to the sea, through deserts and plains, up and down hills. Nothing.

Finally, he came to a dark forest and went fearlessly into it. He came to a lake that was surrounded by trees, bushes and flowers. He sensed that he was getting closer to it. He stood on the sandy beach, with a clear sky above and said to himself: "This is it."

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Museum of Angry Women by Gary Ives

A family on a roadtrip make an ill-advised stop at a roadside attraction in Gary Ives' short comic story.

Jenny, my sister, and I in the back seat of Dad's old Jeep Cherokee had been quiet across the entire state of Missouri. It was hot as hell and the Cherokee had no air conditioning. Dad had promised Mom and us girls that the trip to California would be fun; in his words, "A journey, full of history, education, and jolly times."

"Route 66 girls, was the transcontinental lifeline, the heartbeat of this great nation," Dad explained. "Yep, the heartbeat of America before the interstates. You're gonna love Route 66." This, as we rolled through Joplin.

"Looks like America's heartbeat has a clot or something; anybody gotta spare defibrillator?" Mom asked.

"Well, I'm betting that opinion will change, ladies,"Dad said as we rolled to a stop in the gravel parking lot of a Tastee Freeze whose giant tin soft ice cream logo was in sore need of a paint job.

"I want a milkshake, Dad," I said.

"Me too," Jenny echoed.

"Ron, let's go ahead and eat, I'm starved and I'll bet the girls could down a hamburger, couldn't you?" Mom knew that Jenny and I were just like herself, temperamental when hungry.

"No my lovelies, maybe a little later. Because look. This is why we stopped here, he said pointing to an old farmhouse next door. "Behold!" A sign mounted on two upright landscape timbers proclaimed in stark black letters against a red background, "The Angry Women Museum. Admission $2.00. Open 9:30 - 4:00. Children under 10 Free!"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lola Fenwick by Allen Kopp

Allen Kopp's character, obsessed with a soap opera starlet, can't believe his luck when she turns up at his door.

A woman in a trench coat and a stylish hat ran down a city street in the rain, ably but not fast in high-heeled shoes. When she came to a certain apartment building, she ducked inside, stopping just inside the door to shake the water off her coat.

"Elevator's busted, Miss Fenwick," the clerk said from behind the desk. "I'm afraid it's the stairs tonight."

She gave the man a tense smile and hesitated for only a moment before crossing the lobby to the stairs. She nearly fell on the first step but caught hold of the railing and righted herself. The clerk turned around and watched her until she was out of sight up the stairs. He smiled but there was no telling what the smile meant. It could have meant that he knew something she didn't know but was about to find out.

When she came to the sixth floor, she wasn't out of breath from running up the stairs, but she had an anxious look on her face. She went along the deserted hallway to the door she wanted, inserted the key into the lock and opened the door. She stepped into the darkened room and turned on a lamp.

"Hello, Lola," a man's voice said.