Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Okay To Let Go by Kelly Haas Shackelford

A mourning mother tries to come to terms with her guilt; by Kelly Haas Shackelford.

Sitting across the breakfast table, I stared at the man who once adored me. Now, I am object of his pity. I glanced at last year's kitten calendar tacked to the wall beside the refrigerator. Fighting back tears, I closed my eyes as if that mere act could wipe away the date mocking me.  It was Liam's death day. The day I let go of his hand.

"Honey, you need to finish your breakfast," Kevin instructed, and frowned, always taking care of me, his new child.

"You should divorce me," I announced, throwing my unused napkin onto the table.

"No." He sighed, shaking his head, tossing his own napkin down to do battle. The same battle we spar every day.

"I don't deserve to have any more kids," I shouted, slinging my plate of sunny-side up eggs onto the floor. It crashed against the pale blue linoleum.

Without a word, he grabbed his napkin and dropped to his knees, singing the Barney song that Liam liked. Replacing dishes had become a family tradition. Yet, he refused to eat off paper plates. Real families eat off real dishes, he would say, as if the clanking of silverware against fake china could mimic a child's laugh.

"He was only two." I ran over to the calendar and snatched it off the wall.

I began to rip it in two, when Kevin stopped me. "It was his favorite," he whispered, taking the calendar and placing it out of harm's way.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Picnic by R A Conine

A loving couple go for a picnic on a quiet mountaintop, but the terrible truth of their situation weighs on their minds in R A Conine's science fiction tale.

They drove to their favorite place. They left town and followed winding Country Route 90 into the russet-colored hills. They crossed the picturesque and sagging covered bridge that had been the subject of so many oil paintings. She remarked that the structure had been freshly painted.

"I see that," he answered, surprised. "Why wasn't it in the newspaper?"

They both admired the beautiful shade of barn red selected by the town council.

They carried hot coffee for the drive and extra water for the hike. It was cold in the mornings but the afternoons were still pleasant. It was autumn then and the last warm days and hints of summer still lingered in the air. Brown and golden leaves danced in the wake of the passing car, skittering across the cracked macadam like flocks of children at play.

They drove for an hour, speaking little, their minds wandering far afield. They sped through the foothills and skirted the massive state park, eventually reaching Sandy Point.

The Point was a carefully tended nature preserve with hiking trails that led inevitably upward. While the marsh birds and colorful wildflowers below were wonderful to see, the real attraction waited above, 300 feet higher than the split rails, the wooden bridges and the boggy Augusta River tributaries.

They crossed the parking lot hand in hand. It was empty. The tourists were gone. The gates were down. The admissions office and first aid shacks were padlocked.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Seeing George by Michael C Keith

Jacob and Emily, on their way to the cinema, bump into George Harrison; by Michael C Keith.

The hope I dreamed of was a dream,
Was but a dream, and now I wake.
- Christina Rossetti

We had pulled up to the curb on Thayer Street on the East Side of Providence, a few blocks up from the Avon Theater. It was where we usually found a place to park on the busy thoroughfare. As I turned off the engine, I looked down the street about a half a block and noticed a man approaching in a flowing overcoat carrying shopping bags. There was a dull ring of recognition, a mild sense of familiarity about the person. Maybe I knew the guy, I thought. My wife was gathering her scarf and gloves to face the cold December air as I continued to peer at the nearing figure. And then BAM! It hit me.

"Oh my God, it's George Harrison!" I blurted.

"What?" my wife replied.

"George Harrison... the Beatle!" I repeated with urgency.

"Where? C'mon..."

"Coming up the street. Look!" I pointed.

She moved closer to the windshield for a better view.

"It can't... He does kind of look... You think?" she gasped.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Seal of Hadruman by Ziyad Hayatli

Eli discovers a way to communicate with an ancient race from beyond the veil in Ziyad Hayatli's fantasy.

There was a time, a time of the Ancients, when strange gods, goddesses and even demons were worshipped. A time of mystery and knowledge, suffering and pleasure.

During that time there was one king who ruled, and when he died he became legend, and the throes of time turned him from legend to myth. He was King Hadruman the Wise. Kings are remembered for their deeds, good or bad. And the entire life of King Hadruman the Wise was one long terrible deed.

It said in the myths that the seal which he bore gave him a special power. It bound the spirits that came from other wordly heavens to his will. It dragged them from their own abode and into our world where they followed the bidding of King Hadruman the Wise, and they were capable of many things. He used their strength and power to build great cities and muster large armies that would destroy any foe. After looking at many writings and accounts, I have chosen to call them the Unseen. He carved out an empire under his own name across all of the Levant. He was so powerful that only one thing could eventually take his life, the thing that can and will destroy everything; time.

And so people looked for the Seal of King Hadruman - a symbol, a hieroglyph, a signature of sorts - anything that could bestow a clue as to what this power actually was. Of course, as time passed, more and more people scoffed and snickered at the myths.

Except me.

My name is Eli, and I have found the Seal of Hadruman where I live, in the depths of London.

But everything is paid with a price. And this the tale of the price that I have paid.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Wingless Wingman by Douglas Sterling

An immigrant shopkeeper consults his nephew on how to improve business, by Douglas Sterling.

I do not like the ones that walk around with the parrot on shoulder trying to impress the girls. They demean the noble creature. They teach the parrot the pick up lines.

Parrot says, "Braawk! Is your father the baker?"

Parrot says, "Braawk! Is you wash your clothes in Windex?"

I wish parrot would tear earring out - patooie! - fly away up in sky. But wings are clipped, parrot is trapped. Parrot is the wingless wingman. He only dreams of flying over his jungle, singing his song. He is stuck here now forever.

Boys, girls, all are animals here. There is no self-respect. No dignity. When they come in shop they cannot look me in eye. When they ask question or want to get t-shirt they stay looking down at floor.

But here I am selling slop to animals. I ask nephew what shirts will these kids buy? He says shirt that says Who Farted In Here or FBI Is Female Bodies Inspector. So I buy these fart shirts and he is right. They buy Who Is Farted and Beer Is What's For Breakfast and for this they pay fifteen, twenty dollars.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Potential by Thomas Kearnes

A teenage tearaway with a talent for both drawing and getting into trouble finally attempts to draw his art teacher, whom he holds in high regard; by Thomas Kearnes.

Other guys drew cartoon characters with huge, floppy genitals or whatever model of car they wanted even more than the hottest cheerleader. The whole hour of detention, however, I drew Mrs. Simpson. The bitch of it was, I knew I'd have to draw the whole picture over again because all I had was a No. 2 pencil and a sheet of lined notebook paper. Coach Elliott didn't allow me to bring my sketchpad or charcoal pencils into the portable building where all the delinquents waited for the clock to strike four. I'd convinced myself if I didn't finish the picture in time, I'd never finish. I always made stupid rules for myself. I believed them at the time, but then I broke them and forgot why I believed them in the first place.

The building smelled like stale bubblegum. Chester sat next to me, picking at the blackheads on his forearm. The fucker had big-ass arms. My friend mentioned catching him at the Anytime Fitness down the highway from school. She said Chester was pumping iron with a demonic look in his eyes, like he was punishing himself. I was in okay shape. I didn't really think about that shit. Vanessa liked me all right, and Natalie had her eye on me, I could tell. It was kinda fucked up that a junior college drone like Natalie would scope me out, but it's good to keep your options open. One day Vanessa might realize my ship was doomed to sink.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yes, It Is You by Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy revisits his sordid serial killer character Yeats, who has built himself a rather unusual device to dish out new forms of human cruelty.

This morning I was sitting in the private (make that very private, bordering on intimate) office of one of the leading industrialists in Europe, if not the leading and, from what I read, a member of one of the top five highest profile sponsors of charitable causes in the land. This person is on first name terms with the top drawer in society, names that would really impress you, from business, politics, show business and a sprinkling of blue bloods.

A man who is squeaky clean with a devoted wife, not eye candy but an independently well connected lady who is not afraid to get her hands dirty in the cause and promotion of her less trumpeted but equally laudable aid agencies.

A couple blessed with two adorable, photogenic but media shy, highly successful children.

It might impress you, but not me.

I was there for detailed discussions with him on a commission that he has given me.

But first, let me introduce myself.

My name is Yeats.

Just Yeats.

I'm going to be very famous.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Master Stargazer by Kristopher Mallory

The last in a long line of Master Stargazers must preside over a planetwide evacuation before a supernova causes the end of the world, but he holds a terrible secret; by Kristopher Mallory.

Near the core of a spiral galaxy consisting of four hundred billion stars, a unique planet prepares for exodus...

Deep below the polar ice cap, the last great research station stands on high alert. Hundreds of the station's personnel fiercely do their part to manage the impending disaster. They had practiced countless times, every worker drilled repeatedly until they were able to perform their duties with a cold robotic grace.

Now the time for drills is over; the culmination of the Stargazer's Thousand Cycle Plan is finally upon them. To the relief of all, the training has held. There's no hesitation. Not a single worker deviates. They all know the consequence of failure is total destruction.

While the station's personnel fight to save the world's population, the forty-second Master Stargazer stands over his garden, watching drops of water bead across leaves. He gently touches the seed pouch of his favorite flower, and the realization that the time has come hits him with unimaginable force. Fully aware that his heart is beating dangerously fast for a man of his age, he repeats the familiar mantra:

I must calm down if I'm to see this through.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Short Happy Life of Henry Fenstermacher by R F Abercrombie

A rich app developer seeks a companion robot to help improve his lifestyle, but at what cost? By R F Abercrombie.

Henry Fenstermacher, creator of the best-selling garage door app ("Is your big door open?"), ventured cautiously into the tiny showroom of Custom Robotics. Though Henry spent whole days writing computer code for electronic devices, he found being surrounded by a dozen life-like companion robots disconcerting. Their features appeared so realistic, he found himself compelled to reach out and touch one.

"I see you've met Andrew." The salesman strode from the rear of the store. "He's our latest model and one of our most popular."

"Yeah, I know," Henry said. "I read the brochure online."

The men shook hands and introduced themselves.

"What did you have in mind?" the salesman asked.

"Well, you know," Henry began, "I have these certain tendencies and, uh, proclivities."

"Not sexual proclivities, I assume."

Henry blanched. "Oh, no, no, nothing like that."

"Because that's a different sort of business than ours," the salesman explained.

"I understand, absolutely. I read the brochure. Online."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To Paris With Love by Verne Morse

A beautiful Russian lady witnesses a crime in Paris, and a French Inspector insists on looking after her, by Verne Morse.

The train to Paris was just arriving after a fast run from Bordeaux and the passengers were assembling by the door to disembark, but La Belle stayed behind because she disliked being in a crowd. She grasped her handbag tightly remembering what her grandfather had told her about purse snatchers. To her the trip to Paris was a blessing as she needed to get away from a family of four brothers who made life intolerable with their bickering and quarreling.

She left the train after the crowd had dwindled and made her way to her hotel. The reservation for her Paris holiday was made in advance so she had no trouble getting settled. The manager took her to her room. It overlooked the city and it was really special for she could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. This was her first excursion away from home and at nineteen she was determined to make it the time of her life. It was late afternoon so she planned a short sightseeing trip around the city and maybe to stop for a little supper at one of the street cafes she had heard so much about.

La Belle Anna Maria Walensky, a beautiful child of Russian parents who came to France after the war to seek a better life for their family. The father had succumbed to a bronchial disease he acquired while working in a coal mine in Russia. This left La Belle, the oldest, the responsibility of raising the brood and caring for her grandfather while her mother sewed clothes in a factory in an effort to make a living for the family.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sport of Kings by Judith Field

After a night out on the lash, Rick's hearing aid malfunctions, making his day at the Grand National particularly memorable; by Judith Field.

Rick woke up, rolled over and collided with something solid. Stretching out a shaking hand, he opened his eyes. He was facing the oak tree in the front garden. Rainwater dripped onto him from the branches. A moment of calm, then images of the night before tried to shove their feet in the doorway of his memory. He groaned, and tried to get up.

Francine stuck her head out of the bedroom window, her mouth pursed up like a cat's backside. She was saying something he couldn't hear. Touching his ear, he looked up at her and shrugged his shoulders: no hearing aid. Rick clenched his right fist and rubbed it in a circle on his upper chest:


Francine didn't understand sign language but it couldn't do any harm. Bit like praying, really.

He'd only recently got this new hearing aid, and it wouldn't stay in properly whatever he did. In these days of health cuts, would they give him another? The best cost thousands, if you went private. He'd been paid last week but was still overdrawn. And only another £500 to spend on the credit card.

Francine tiptoed round the puddles. Rick lip-read 'pissed,' 'knob head' (she had her own sign for that) and 'AGAIN.' He turned away. She walked round till she was facing him.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bhai Sehna by Durlabh Singh

Bhai Sehna recalls his days healing the wounded in a war against the invaders of his once idyllic homeland, by Durlabh Singh.

It was a hot, sweaty and suffocating afternoon. Not a bird in sky, only the sound of some dogs barking at the sun, perhaps showing their anger at the injustice in creating such an unpleasant weather for them to bear.

Water was evaporating fast from every pore of Sehna's body; he tried to replenish it by filling his stomach up to the bottom his throat, but still felt thirsty until it was rippling inside his tummy. He lined his courtyard with big earthen pots and then filled these with fresh water, and after that the scientific principle came into force. Water seeped through all those pores, wanting to escape into space, borrowing the heat from the pot in order to evaporate itself and thus cooling the pot down. As the pot became cool so did the water inside the pot.

And what do you expect in the month of Jeth, hotter among the hottest months of the year. Sehna dragged his cot to the verandah where it was less oppressive. The heat induced in him a sleepy state and he started musing about things and his life.

He remembered his childhood. His parents were of farming stock and owned a small plot of land, which provided them with wheat, vegetables and other things. When they sold any surplus, they managed to save some money for other things to buy. It was not a luxury living but at least they were not starving. He loved his land and the green fields, the different seasons and the different rotation of crops. He particularly loved the coming of spring when the whole earth turned to yellow as the sown mustard flowered. The intense blue skies and tarnished gold of crops induced in him a sort of poetical reverie.