Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Wish Box by Ray J Robbio

Dr. Phillip Kent visits a young woman in a mental institution to try and understand more about her fantastical story of an evil wish box; by Ray J Robbio.

Some people have the ability to pinpoint, without hesitation, the moment their life took a turn for the worse. Piper remembers that day, that moment, with incredible detail although it was many years ago. In fact, if there were any visitors for her to talk to, she would recount everything that happened to her. Even the nurse that brought her meals would sometimes get sucked in to listening to Piper's story, for a brief moment anyway.

But this day was different from the others. Someone had, incredibly, come to see her. And, to Piper's surprise, wanted to hear her story! The nurse led the man down the long hallway past the solid white walls and locked doors.

"Now Mr. Kent," the nurse said while they walked, "remember, I am only a hallway away. Miss Johansson is deeply disturbed, as you well know, and I don't need her getting agitated. The last time that happened, it sent one of my nurses to the infirmary with a broken wrist."

"I understand," said Phillip.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Favor by Michael C Keith

Tough guy Palm Gordon returns to his old haunt to call in a big favor from an indebted friend; by Michael C Keith.

The delight that consumes the desire.
The desire that outruns the delight.
- Algernon Swinburne

Palm Gordon stepped out of his vintage Studebaker Golden Hawk. He adjusted his tie and shook out the wrinkles in his gabardine suit jacket. When the traffic cleared, he walked with intent to the other side of the street toward Mora's Café. He caught his image in the glass door as he pushed it open and it pleased him.

Inside the small eatery sat a handful of people sipping coffee and eating eggs.

"Hey, Palmy, where you been? Ain't seen you in a coon's age. You dodging the bail bondsmen?" inquired Sammy Flynn, his thick fist wrapped around a white cup.

"You get uglier every time I see you, Sammy. That on purpose? How you doing?" replied Palm, taking a stool at the counter next to his friend.

"I been better and I been worse."

"You look on the worse end this time."

"Getting over the flu. Had me on my back for a week. Crapped and barfed off ten pounds."

"Hell of a diet."

"You ought to try it, Palmy. You could use a fin off your gut and a saw buck off your ass."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Scandal by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Beryl Ensor-Smith returns with another wonderful story of Prentburg life as Frikkie van Wyk's wife leaves him and the dorp gossip distorts the scandal into something else entirely.

Frikkie van Wyk was drinking a beer in front of the television set when his wife Rina dropped her bombshell. He had been vaguely aware that she had come into the room, but his eyes had been fixed on the rugby match and it wasn't until she spoke and he registered what she said, that he actually looked at her.

"Frikkie, I'm leaving you," she had said quietly. It had taken a moment to sink in. She then had his full attention. Rina was dressed in a dusty pink suit with a navy blue scarf and navy blue high-heeled shoes. She looked smart and distant and a cold shiver travelled the length of Frikkie's spine.

"What?" he croaked.

"You heard. My bags are packed and waiting in the hall. I've arranged for a taxi to take me to the station so you won't be put out in any way." She motioned with a contemptuous nod to the TV. "You can get back to your game now."

Instead, Frikkie lumbered to his feet. "Rina, what's going on?"

"I've told you. I'm leaving you."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sister Act by Michael McCarthy

An ageing vet becomes dangerously obsessed with a lonely woman whose bay window he can see into from his hostel across the road; by Michael McCarthy.

Pat lay in the dark, on his couch watching the television, but not really taking it in. His attention was focused on the house directly opposite. It had been that way since he'd moved here. Sometimes he lay reading but he'd stop after every paragraph to check across the road. Occasionally he'd take a swig from a bottle of whisky before returning it to its temporary hiding place, beneath a cushion, under his buttocks.

Nothing was safe around here.

Over the road, Carmel was kneeling on her expensive looking, classically designed looking white leather armchair by the bay window, head phones on, eyes closed and conducting a, to the outside world, silent symphony, her long elegant fingers tracing arcane, delicate movements in the air. A bottle of mineral water and a crystal glass on a small foot stool beside her.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Quarry II by Pam Van Dyk

Pam Van Dyk's nostalgic tale of two friends enjoying each other's company before they move on to a new phase in their lives.

I had a dream last night that my teeth fell out. I am in front of my Creative Writing II class reading a critical essay I have written about T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". I feel something hard and loose in my mouth. I watch as first one tooth and then another travels toward the linoleum. I read somewhere that people who dream their teeth are falling out are afraid that their youth is slipping away from them.

Me and Billy Ray are skipping school today. Billy Ray has been my best friend since elementary school. He's been my best friend since we learned that country kids and town kids don't mix. City kids hang in crowds. That's what makes us different. Country kids don't travel in packs. It might be because we remind each other of how poor or different we are, but it's probably because our houses don't have recreation rooms where we can lay around on the floor and listen to Led Zeppelin albums.

In another time and place, Billy Ray might be one of those guys who plays piano in a smoky jazz lounge. He might call himself Bill or William. But here, in this little town, he is just Billy Ray. He wears his dead grandaddy's old suits and shirts. If that's not bad enough it's made worse by the fact that he's only as tall as me (5 feet 6 inches) and weighs about 125 pounds soaking wet. Judging by the clothes, his grandaddy must have been six feet tall and a good 200 pounds. Billy Ray looks like a kid dressed up for Halloween every day of the year. I keep telling him that he should try to be less obvious. He keeps telling me that my hair is never going to look like Cissy Spacek's hair in Coal Miner's Daughter.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tug Life by Jeff Alphin

In Jeff Alphin's delightful comedy, a Fells Point Maryland tug worker with a fondness for practical jokes finds a kindred spirit with whom to conspire.

Rusty couldn't get off the Harriet Moran fast enough. Two weeks of knuckle busting and fried bologna had him hopping the bulwarks and bouncing off the tire fenders onto the gull-shit-splattered docks of Canton like a state-fair rubber frog.

What he called his Papillon moment. Sure, he'd be back on this 92-foot 3005-horsepower Devil's Island, but for the next 14 days he was a free man. Just enough time to blow through his tug money and report back to the boat in paper pants.

Rusty hoisted his duffel and started up Clinton Street, lengthening his stride with every step, no longer one of five turtles sharing a floating shell. He tamped down his big-ass grin at the hangdog faces of the replacement crew shuffling aboard for the next run.

Tug life. Sleeping on a closet shelf, showering in a box, shitting down a pipe. Tater tots by the bag. Towboat coffee. The 24-hour rumble of diesel until you can't remember what quiet is. Chip and paint. Splice and coil. Disassemble. Reassemble.

Six hours standing watch felt like ten; six hours off felt like one. The kind of sleep deprivation they serve at Guantanamo. A flashlight in your face announcing your watch just as the dream mermaids begin to surface.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mall Santa by James Croal Jackson

Beware James Croal Jackson's extremely creepy mall Santa.

All the bright, hanging lights above me make me shiver, especially around this time of year. The holiday season. Everyone and her mother comes to the mall. Often to see me. Right?

Swarms of people buzz by my little station beside the small train ride. I'm on my red chair, with a red suit and a red hat on. My fake white beard looks so out of place. They know I'm not Santa. Don't they? There isn't a line now. Maybe parents don't talk about Santa like they used to. Maybe it's because I'm not fat, and not yet in my fifties, so they don't trust me. Maybe I don't have that twinkle in the eye they're looking for.

A mother and her black-haired boy, about six-ish, come to my station. He's a little gremlin: ears falling out of his curly brown hair and a smile that twists around his nose. His mother waves her hand at me. Not a hello, but a "get over there, you brat" sort of gesture.

"Ho, ho, ho," I joylessly recite.

The kid plops on my leg, smelling of old sweat.

"Tell Santa what you want for Christmas," I say.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Less Than a Pair of Shoes by Kelly Haas Shackelford

An eccentric old lady returns to the site of her granddaughter's suicide; by Kelly Haas Shackelford.

My gnarled fingers gripped the steering wheel of my departed husband's battered Ford truck. Its shocks offered little buffer to the neglected potholes on that God-forsaken Georgia back road. Shooting pain jolted down to the very marrow of my old bones, but it was not as excruciating as my broken heart. Every night for the last year, I had made the journey to the washed-out Etowah bridge. Praying, I would peer over its crumbling side and wonder where that cruel river had squirreled away my twenty-five-year-old granddaughter's body.

Nearing my destination, a faded "Danger Bridge Out" sign mocked me. Shaking my fist at the damned sign, I swore to fight on and have the access to the road closed off. Three suicides in three years and yet the county commissioners saw no practical need in spending the money to block the road.

Sighing, I pressed the brake, stopping a few feet short of the edge of the washed out section of the bridge. Some days, I wondered what would happen if my brakes failed and I just kept rolling. Would that be a bad thing?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Twenty by Ray J Robbio

Ray J Robbio's character Nick recalls a frighteningly intense dream at his local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

I could feel my knees shaking as he called on me to speak. I had attended these meetings for some time now, but had only been a passive observer and never contributed. My mouth felt like it had cotton balls in it, and I took a gulp of my bottled water before standing. I could feel the eyes of the room fall upon me as I made my way up to the podium. I felt dizzy and nauseous, like I was drunk. I would give anything for a hit of cocaine right now.

"Hi," I said loudly, much too loudly, I might add, "My name is Nick, and I'm an alcoholic."

Everyone responded with the customary "Hi Nick" and then fell silent.

"Um, it's been six hours since my last drink." I thought a moment for something else to say. I could feel sweat beading up on my forehead as the few seconds I paused seemed like minutes.

"Nick," the moderator chimed in, "Why don't you tell us your experience with not drinking the last six hours."

I thought for a moment, trying to think of something interesting to say. Then I thought back to the night before.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Amethyst Cloud by Jacqui Pack

A woman suffering from amnesia tries to remember details about her very devoted husband, but finds herself emotionally disconnected; by Jacqui Pack.

I think Reece must care for me very much because he comes every day, and every third day he brings me flowers. I know a lot about flowers, apparently. Often I see the bouquet through the room's glass viewing panel before I see him. He carries it high, in front of his face, as he comes along the corridor, as if he were using it as cover; a distraction to allow him near enough to ambush me. I wonder if he thinks that by surprising me he'll accomplish something. That the sudden shock of seeing him will be the jolt I need.

He's very patient, but I can see how hard it is for him. Last week I heard him, just outside my room, talking to one of the doctors about my scans. He was asking if they'd found anything which would tell them when my amnesia might pass.

When he came in he looked really agitated. Normally he comes straight over but this time he handed the flowers to one of the nurses then stared out of the window as if he didn't know what to say to me. As if we were strangers. Then he said, "Don't you remember me at all?" but he still didn't look at me.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Seller by Tony Dews

When John gets fired, he calmly plans his revenge as he prepares for his new life; by Tony Dews.

Monday October 10th, 2011.

"Sorry John, I have to let you go."

That's how simply it can happen. Eight words and your whole world changes after being with the company for nearly eighteen months. Just eight lousy words. I wasn't the only one. It was a conveyor belt of people filing in and out of the bosses' office to be told their services were no longer required and they'd better start looking for something else. And find out what entitlements they were going to get. Which wasn't much very much if my letter was anything to go by. Still, I was used to it. It wasn't the first time it had happened and I survive as best I can, no matter what happens, but he really should've picked someone else, not me. Paybacks are a real bitch.

"I'm truly sorry John, but business has been really bad lately. Our contracts have gone out the window so I have to let people go and hopefully ride it out." He was a nice guy and I felt for him. He was hurting even if I wasn't. Can't be easy for anyone to see what they'd built up over the years be on the verge of falling over through no fault of your own. It wasn't something I'd like to face but I never would and I knew it, I just copped the end of it like so many others, but they'll learn, they'll learn. "It's the GFC boss, the same everywhere." Yeah, right, of course it was.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Power of Life and Death by Arthur Davis

Albert Mercante, a quiet man bored with his marriage, witnesses a gangland killing, but will he have the courage to do the right thing? by Arthur Davis.

Albert Mercante was not a brave man. The retired sixty-four year old English teacher who, along with his wife Bea, had earned his tenure in the New York City schoolrooms considered himself fortunate to have served in a district where you did not measure success by how well you survived the day. But he did believe in fate.

Inwardly Albert knew his good fortune began when he first garnered the attention of one Bea Hastings, an attentive, affectionate girl originally from Armonk, New York, who also believed that life was a matter of doing your best, throwing in a little prayer, and of course when all else failed, serving an ebullient bowl of chicken soup to quell the vicissitudes of life.

Creatures of such belief often follow the precept of continuity. Organizing a neat and orderly world in an environment where change was the only constant offered a sense of needed stability. So Albert and Bea Mercante worshipped at the altar of regularity and constancy, sacrificing both imagination and daring, and were thereby anchored in a harbor of safety.

Bea Mercante was just as devoted a mother as she was a wife, providing tender times and firm direction. She was both a source of pride to her family and resource to her neighbors. But of late she had become less enchanted with her role, not because she wanted more or something different, but because she sensed that her partner of a lifetime did. There was nothing concrete she could point to, but waves in the ethers that surrounded her beloved Albert had recently become unstable, and it was that unpredictability that stiffened her antennae, flushing up primal fears from her roots.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Carnival by Whit Walker

Sean is so fed up of dealing with rude Quickie Mart customers that he agrees to join in with Vince's crazy plan for revenge, in Whit Walker's transgressive crime novella.


The slow steady grumble of the ice machine had become normal. The whooshing noise of the fountain machine as it pumped out caffeine and sugar to the masses. The 'beep beep beep' the door made when a patron would walk in. Even the fluorescent lights hummed as they lit the place up. I didn't know what quiet was anymore. I couldn't remember silence.

My name is Sean, and I was gainfully employed as the slave of a convenience store. And, not one of those fancy corporate owned convenience stores that offers health benefits, a retirement plan, or even overtime pay. My boss didn't sit at a table with however many other board members and make decisions about a business in which they never really worked. No, I couldn't get that lucky.

My boss was Marge, and Marge was a horrible, horrible person. She had to have been around fifty five years old. She kept her gray curly hair out of her face by wearing a visor every day. Marge was the kind of woman who wore lipstick when she wore sweatpants. She always had a menthol 120 lit and hanging from her mouth. And, for some reason, she thought that all of this was what a man wanted. She thought she was sexy.

The deep growl of the air conditioner kicking on. A baby screaming as its mother ignores it while she barks into her cell phone. Rap music. This was as close as I got to silence. This was normal. I remember at some point being surprised that my ear drums hadn't started to bleed. I became jealous of deaf people. Helen Keller didn't have to deal with this. Lucky broad.

The constant noise was bad, but it wasn't even the worst part of working at Quickie Mart. The worst part was the customers. Day in and day out I had to deal with one ignorant asshole after another. The complaining over prices. The rich kids. The poor kids. The money throwers. One right after the other. In constant rotation like dicks in an orgy. All of this with Marge standing over my shoulder switching between degrading me one second and then pinching my ass the next. Her menthol 120 just inches away from burning my flesh.

Jailed criminals have it better than I did.