Sunday, June 30, 2013

Haunted Houses by Jeremy Billingsley

Terry, a tougher kid than he seems, leads his friends into an abandoned house with a terrifying history, in Jeremy Billingsley's atmospheric creepy story.

The old Victorian mansion, the only abandoned house on Smith Street, had been passed by the neighborhood kids a hundred times to and from school, had hovered over them as they played street-hockey and stickball on the shared street. One of the few Victorians left in town, its architecture highlighted the home against its more mundane, modern neighbors. Long-since denied human occupation, the house's windows, black like pupils, watched the children and their joy and life, watched with envy and maybe even a bit of contempt.

"We come back after dinner," Terry said, pushing the wire-framed glasses up his nose.

"Do we wear our costumes?" Billy Lancaster asked. Billy was short and pudgy, his blonde hair in a crew cut.

"Of course we wear our costumes, dick weed," Joey Tanner said. "It's Halloween. That's how we get our parents to let us out." Joey was as tall as Terry, but where Terry was lanky Joey was more athletic. Terry's hair was wispy and a dirty blond and Joey's was jet black.

Terry said: "We wouldn't much convince them that we were going trick or treating if we didn't wear our costumes."

"Sorry," Billy said. Then added under his breath: "Geez."

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Great Mexican Raid by Tom Sheehan

A hardened adventurer reflects on the contributions of his loyal followers as they return from a raid of Montezuman treasure and ride into Hidalgo to divvy up the loot; by Tom Sheehan.

It was, all of them would agree later, as if they had passed through time. Few of their countrymen, and few occupants of the first saloon they'd visit to singe their thirst, would believe where they had been and what they had accomplished... they'd gone deep into Mexico and brought home a chunk of the Aztec treasury, right out of one of Montezuma II's formidable Holy Caissons dug for eternity. Where many historians attested to the grand structures the Aztecs had raised in the midst of jungles, Pappy Dyk, in his own right, knew about the secret caissons the Aztecs had dug and chiseled into Mother Earth herself. No one in Hidalgo but Pappy Dyk knew from what tribe he had come on the land, coming a whole year earlier to Hidalgo to plan the expedition, and now coming back from Mexico.

Time after time, on their way home, on the way to get across the final river, they traversed death-borne areas covered with bones and burial markers, ravines and canyons and mountains that put heavy strain on their horses and spirits, thick jungles crawling with threats, and then, in one canyon after another, wild rivers claiming some of their more timid horses. The remuda had been a good size at the start, with pack animals a necessity for the expedition, as Pappy Dyk called it. It was, from beginning to end, fraught with physical perils from all corners and all comers, as well as the insidious likes of dysentery and scratching hints of morbidity.

But, all in all, it was the biggest heist in the West, led by the renowned Pappy Dyk, surname never revealed, who, in spite of his appearance, his language and his morals, always knew that history sat on his lap every time out of the corral, so his aspirations were always monumental. This time he had not ignored the summons, for Mexico had called him, the Aztecs had called, Montezuma II himself had called, from beyond the void, from his unique place in history's queue, atop a holy mountain of wealth.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Idols of Appeasement by James Eastick

Farinne travels to the unfriendly Eastern land of the Borbrandas to investigate the disappearance of some of the King's subjects on the road north of Fyrholt.

Farinne had been on the road for more than week and had been travelling east for longer than she could remember. Over the preceding few days it had rained almost constantly. She wore several layers beneath her long brown coat but still felt soaked to skin. In contrast, Missen, her light-skinned palfrey, coped admirably, accepting the endless downpour with very little complaint. Even so, as they approached the crest of the hill she could feel him tiring beneath her. The rain had turned the roads to muddied furrows, snaking through forests which stretched on further than any eye could see. For poor Missen, traversing them had become something close to a battle of attrition, and he couldn't go on for much longer.

She dismounted and felt her own boots sink into the mud right up the ankle, but trudged on, pulling Missen up the hill. As she reached the crest, the road became firmer and easier to use. Water streamed down both sides so that the road resembled a river to such an extent she wondered how they'd made up it with such relative ease.

It seemed a good place to stop. From where she stood Farinne could see almost a quarter of a mile in both directions. Anyone approaching would be visible from a distance and the conditions would slow their passage further still.

She led Missen under the long creeping branches of a tall oak by the side of the road. Water ran through the leaves above but it still afforded some degree of respite which they were both grateful for. There they waited a while, hoping in vain for a change in the weather. Farinne drank from her canteen and fed Missen an apple. He nodded his head up and down, the way he always did when eating, making her stifle a laugh. She had a general rule not to become too attached to the horses that she used, but Missen had been the only constant companion throughout this venture and the rule was becoming increasingly hard to stick to.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Skin of the Enemy by Franz Hansen

An embattled crew find a pair of enemy space lizards drifting helplessly in a broken ship; by Franz Hansen.

"AND SO, we pay our final respects to our fallen comrades." Captain O'Donnell listed off a dozen names. When he said the last name, he paused and bowed his head.

Ensign Tonia Korlova watched the ceremony on the viewscreen in the crew mess hall with two dozen others. She bowed her head with the captain. He continued, "Also to the men and women of the UES Kansas, UES Denmark, UES Erikson, and the UES Venus. Be it noted that they gave their lives in defense of Earth and her colonies, joining the thousands that have already given their lives in this war. We will continue on because of them. And, we will continue defending the Earth Union with renewed invigoration, to be sure that those who died today did not die in vain. We fight now, not only for Earth, but also for them.

"All will stand now as we observe a moment of silence to remember and reflect on their sacrifice."

Tonia came to her feet with the others. She kept her eyes down, staring off into memories. Having joined the crew only four months ago, she didn't really know many of those who had died. Except for Anne Li Su, the chief medic. Anne, with her soft smile, was among the first to welcome her aboard. Her gentle laughter echoed in her memory. It was a mere two days ago that they were in this very room, enjoying a game of chess, as they often did. Now she would no longer enjoy such games with Anne, or laugh with her. Tonia found her eyes blurring. She sniffled and wiped the tears away.

"Dismissed," the captain finally said.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Son of a Sailor by Bill Russell

Bill Russell recounts his memories of moving to Hawaii as a little boy in this extract.

Girdles Don't Work in Hawaii

Taking charge was never my way. Even now, just trying to arrange my memories seems monumental. There are so many to sift through, events like the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor at which my brother, Dave, and I had a front-row view until Mom stuffed us in a closet. There was that traumatic first day of school when I fell in love with a starched, golden-haired goddess who wouldn't even look at me. My thoughts take me to glorious hours spent mucking around in the dirt with the neighborhood kids only to be dragged home, complaining loudly, to do exactly the same thing in Mom's victory garden. Of course, as any kid knows, digging in a garden is work. Later, there was the gigantic policeman my mother ratted me out to and the catastrophe of my first encounter with a BLT. I remember the frenzy of my hormone driven teen years, the yacht Dave and I built and sailed to the bottom of Mission Bay and my cool plan to escape Mr. Scaley's remedial math class by joining the Marines. In Georgia I had a blind date with an overly ample Southern belle, and made my one and only attempt at chicken stealing. In Barstow, I recall a sergeant who had me dead-to-rights in a booze smuggling caper before he drank the evidence. With all these stories and more waiting to be told, the logical place to start is 1939 and my first glimmerings of a world beyond my nose...

My first real recollections are from when I was four. One of the more vivid was the image of looking up at a giant white wall with little round windows in it and a bunch of people standing on top looking down at me. There was a pungent odor I couldn't identify that seemed to be everywhere and burned my eyes. Many years later, I learned it was fuel oil.

I remember going through a door into the big, white wall and Mom told me and my brother it was a ship. That might have been exciting news, had I known what a ship was. All I knew was it was big, white and there were a lot of people standing around. It was like being lost in a forest of legs.

"Stay close, boys and for heaven's sake, Billy, stop picking at your seat. People are looking at you."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mine! Thoughts on Sisters by Katie Bickell

Katie Bickell's touching vignette of family life.

Six adorable children and I sat around the table when our conversation turned to "the baby in my belly." I had recently had an ultrasound, so I brought a picture to show the gang while we ate.

"This is little Baby Chloe, kids. The baby in my tummy is a little girl. Here's her face, and..." I started.

"NOOOO MOM! I want to do it!" interrupted my two year old daughter Caily. Of course she does, I thought. Caily wants, needs, to do everything "all by herself." Of course she wants to show her friends a picture of her little sister.

Caily took the picture and rounded the table, showing each child, one by one. "Look Jake, Here's Baby Chloe's arm. It's little! Hehehe, Jorja! See Chloe's bum?" She had a captive audience, the kids engrossed, and I was impressed by Caily's attention to the details of the fuzzy picture, and by how articulately she described Chloe.

Then I noticed the ketchup, everywhere: on fingers, faces, table and shirts. We were eating hot dogs that day, and each child is under six - you get the picture. Sticky, red hands grabbed at the photo, some dirty mouths were even kissing it.

"Umm," my control freak-self started, "it's time to put the photo away now everyone. Let's finish eating."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

If Only... by Miriam Ruff

Nathan logs into an online chat room to talk to his unusual friend Jeffrey about life with a facial disfigurement; by Miriam Ruff.

Darkness poured through the still-open curtains, but Nathan barely noticed. The bright light of technology's wonders - computers, recorders, editing boards, and more - bathed him and the room in a warm glow, staving off the darkness, and he basked in its comfort. He barely looked around the small apartment. He knew what all the walls held without having to look - a bizarre mix of strange and serene images - picture-perfect models, a large cardboard Rambo, a dozen or so science fiction aliens, Dirty Harry, Travis Bickle. To Nathan, they had been there for such a long time that they were simply part of his world. He ignored them to smile instead at the numerous gleaming gadgets before him.

His workstation was clean, as if it were prized above all his other possessions; the rest of the room was a disaster. Clothes, disks, and empty food wrappers lay everywhere in disarray, the shelves bent under the strain of the books heaped on them, and numerous bottles of pills covered the counter top. Under piles of clothes in another corner of the room stood a television and a radio, both blaring loudly, but tuned to nothing in particular; they were simply a source of white noise to fill the room. Yet oddly enough, there were no mirrors, as if the apartment hid a man who did not want to be seen in the light, even by himself. Of average height and build, with brown hair and wearing a T-shirt and jeans, he seemed in many ways the most unremarkable object in the entire space.

His computer, though, sported numerous remarkable enhancements, including digital and Web-based cameras, specialized software, a voice synthesizer box which was now silent, and a video transmitter. With a movement that looked like a fluid cross between a rock star and a talk show host, Nathan leaped in front of the computer, turned it on, and grabbed a laser pen from the desk. Pretending it was a microphone, he spoke into it, his hands gesticulating wildly and expressively, his voice resonating - a strong, captivating, well-modulated sound.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Notes from the Complex by James Cox

James Cox's character snaps and goes on a destructive rampage.

The precise moment that I gave up all hope is not really important. Was it the day last week when I opened Yahoo to see: "Woman pepper sprays fellow Black Friday Shoppers"? Possibly. Or perhaps the news that "Dancing With the Stars" had been renewed for another season. Or was it the new celebrity show that Drew Pinsky created where struggling young actors can volunteer to be injected with various highly addictive drugs in exchange for a starring role in "Celebrity Rehab - The Prequel"? Shit, could have been any of those things or something else. Bottom line, the ammo had been purchased and the targets decided upon. Just needed to empty Claudius' litter box, take a shower and head out. Bob was on the roof of the parking area. Interesting guy, Bob. A fellow traveller. The government was killing us. That type of thing. Always wore his headphones. I think he was listening to Rush or maybe some Satanist mantra. Hard worker though. I decided to use the .38 on him. No particular reason. Maybe because it would be quick. Nice guy, Bob.

Evita had been very talkative last night. Maybe too much coffee. I remember reading that coffee can keep one from developing pancreatic cancer. Or was it that one would actually have a better chance of getting pancreatic cancer with coffee? Thought about this while waiting in line for my daily Vente Drip. I would use my last charge on this Starbucks. No need to be without coffee even during Armageddon. Still the idea of no coffee gave me a bit of a chill. That's when I would go. After the last Vente Drip. Hell, maybe just stay there chatting with the cute college chick with the big rack. Knowing   that we would both be incinerated in moments. The look on her face when I ask, "What are your hopes and dreams, Georgette?" seconds before the plastique kicks in about five feet from us. Knowing. That was the kick. Knowing what they did not know. Just like with Evita last night. Good girl. Not part of the plan though. The look. Priceless, as I removed her nose. Messy business though. Thank God that cats are not as finicky as is generally believed. Another one of those "Old Wives Tales". Like the one that states that human beings will pass out after a certain amount of pain. The body's default as it were. Not true! Just ask Evita. Thank god for my new stereo. Jesus, could have been problematic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Marked as Strange by Kristina Kellingley

A public defender gets the worst possible case, a teenage murderer who gets under his skin; by Kristina Kellingley.

The kid was nineteen. I studied him carefully as I introduced myself and spread out my junk. The unusual, violet eyes were wary and harder than you might expect. Still, this was not the face of a murderer. As Bethel's one and only public defender I did the job I was paid to do, the job I was committed to. But it's nice for the soul if you can, at least once in a while, believe your guy is innocent.

I pulled out my chair and sat down waiting to be convinced - one way or the other. The kid smiled... and in that moment, I knew he was innocent. No killer ever smiled in such honest misery. So his next words rocked me back in my seat.

'I am a murderer, Mr. Harker. I've killed five times and when my description goes out you'll find I'm wanted by the police in five different counties. I feel no guilt and no remorse for what I've done. Only a sense of desperation because I've run out of luck.'

He leaned toward me across the small space of the table. 'And if by God's miracle I somehow get out of here, I will kill again, soon.'

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Smell of Rain by Debra Doggett

William seduces Hannah in Debra Doggett's erotic vampire story.

William lifted the rattling window and let the cool breeze waft over him. He knew his body formed a dark silhouette through the thin lace curtain but the hunger craved satisfaction. Forced for so many nights to wait, it clawed at him now with a ferocity bent on release.

He'd given up a great deal for this night and nothing would stop him from seeing it through. Confinement never suited him and the cramped, shabby room suited him even less. Whitson's Inn was clean but basic, not at all the elegant quarters he generally preferred. But Abigail Whitson never heard a thing that moved around her once she'd taken to her bed and that benefit, together with the isolation of the boarding house at the far end of town, brought him here each time he came to Trudeau.

William smelled the rain in the air as he noted the tempest to the west that waited with an impatient hum, rumbling clouds, gray and splotchy against the stormy sky. The threat of it comforted him. Between the night and the storm, perhaps no one would be about when he left town. No questions to answer, no conversation to be remembered at a later inopportune moment. All gone according to plan with the promised rain to remove any trace of his leaving. As he stared out into the empty streets, William's sharpened gaze caught the quiet shadow of steam rising from the dampened ground, bringing a scent with it he'd nearly forgotten, the smell of earth, of fertility. The smell of the living.

Friday, June 7, 2013

When Teachers Lie by Gary Ives

A feisty schoolboy defies his teacher and has to face the consequences, but he won't take them lying down, in Gary Ives' comic story.

Carl opened his notebook and began doodling.  He drew a frowning stick woman with a big head and bangs like Mrs. Binker who was at her desk in front of the class reading aloud to the class from the textbook about the Roman Republic blah, blah, blah, Julius Caesar blah blah blah. Jesus, what a monotone.   Ten more minutes before the last bell.  Andy had promised him a ride to Miss Reba's where he would pick up his little sister then walk with her the six blocks to their house.  He was thinking that six blocks was a long trek for a little short legged girl of five when Mrs. Binker called on him with that sarcastic edge of hers. She'd been watching him.  

"So Carl, you tell the class some of Caesar's legacies."  

"Legacies, whaddaya mean 'legacies'?"  

"Things we remember him for, why do we even care about Julius Caesar, hm?"  

"Well there's the bloody assassination. Twenty-three wounds makes him front page tabloid material."  

The class chuckled.  

"Very funny, Carl.  So, are none of Caesar's accomplishments memorable? 

"Aw no, Mrs Binker,  Caesar, he totally screwed the republic, he screwed the senate and yeah, Cleopatra too."  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Small Town Dreams by Melissa Davis

A newlywed couple move to an idyllic village with a screaming problem; by Melissa Davis.

Mountain Village - sounds like a quaint little town, right? That's what I thought, too. I was looking to get out of the big city and spend some quality time with my new husband. Things were going to be perfect. We'd been having some trouble, but then, don't all newlyweds? We just needed to get away from the stress of the city - the work, the traffic, the noise, our families. I first heard about Mountain Village in a travel magazine. It seemed beautiful. It had fresh springs, wooden cabins, and an assortment of spas and yoga studios. A community that consisted mainly of young married couples like us and retired women's groups. What wasn't to love? The prices were also great. Dan, my husband, and I pulled our savings together and put a down payment on a cabin after our first visit. We never wanted to leave.

We moved to Mountain Village a month later. At first, it was so quiet. Almost too quiet for us city folk. We adapted quickly, though. Soon we both had favorite spas. I was getting a massage and facial every week and going to yoga every morning. It was better than we could have imagined. We would spend the weekends swimming and frolicking in one of the natural springs. Then, one night it started. Screaming. Dan and I ran outside. We couldn't see a thing; we could only hear the blood curdling screams. We thought it might be a coyote or something until the ambulance came. It pulled up to a cabin down the street and the screaming stopped. For a while at least.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Cochran Resolve by Tom Sheehan

Silas Tully, an ageing small-town Massachussetts cop, is haunted by a 50-year-old brutal murder case and determines to solve it at any cost; by Tom Sheehan.

Closing on forty-five years in the Saugus Police Department, all of it on the street it seemed except for the last few years of count-down to his retirement, Silas Tully owned up to a few things. If he were asked to give a thumbnail sketch of himself he would have replied simply, but very graphically, as follows: God-fearing, American to the absolute and final core, stiff believer in the Marine Corps and its heady history, a cop every day until his last, and a detailer. That he loved, and lived by, details, was of paramount importance in all he did. So in 1990, late in the year, leaves crisp and yellow as butter or red as lava flow, the stadium a full bandbox of sounds on Saturdays, it was not odd that dates and anniversaries and common events came piling across the back of his mind like some inner movie being run for the hundredth time.

Silas Tully always paid heed to such mental home movies. Now the old headlines grabbed at him, tossed their thick and tall blackness and page-wide shrieks into his mind, their gripping attention reaching out to him. MURDER, they had screamed, VIOLENT MURDER, a girl, a nice neighborhood girl, some fifty years ago, garroted and strangled and fiercely and barbarously treated and then dumped off the side of a lonely road.

He'd been just a spanking brand new fifteen-year-old when the murder had taken place, and even now, after all the years on the force, after all he had seen and wished he hadn't seen at times, the newer murders, the later crimes, the heinous deeds he had been sometimes witness to, it still came at him as if it had happened only yesterday.