Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bookworms by W Jay Fuller

Smiir and Stanton, a warrior and a ranger with a penchant for books, find themselves being followed by an unusually eloquent bird creature; by W Jay Fuller.

"You do know someone is following us," Smiir said.

"Of course," I growled. "I am a ranger, you might recall."

We continued walking along the wide path through the thickening forest. Or rather, I walked, and the enchanter glided, his robe never dragging nor rising, but forming a kind of seal with the ground. "It's a harpy," I continued, finally. "Probably from that village we stopped at last night. Caught sight of him about two hours ago. I think he's trying to get up the courage to approach us."

"Not to attack us, I hope. He's not that large a bird. Would hardly make a good lunch between us," the enchanter observed. "And he isn't a harpy, Stanton, he is a Karura. Very different, although they may share a common ancestor."

"Whatever." I waved off his attempt at educating me. "Unless he wants to club us with a book, he's not equipped for it. I didn't see any weapons."

"A weapon of mass instruction," said Smiir. "It would certainly do some damage to you."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Schrödinger’s Baby by Charlie Fish

A new dad's worst nightmare comes true when he pops out to buy some milk.

There she slept, a puckered little bundle of DNA fighting to organise. She looked and smelled like a lump of dough. Her breathing rattled less than it had when she was born; I could hardly tell she was alive apart from that relentless ticking.

There was an electronic pad tucked beneath her baby mattress that sensed her breathing, translating each inhalation and exhalation into a metronomic tick. The ticks were supposed to be reassuring, but to me they sounded like a countdown.

Everything about the last year had been a countdown. Waiting to conceive, watching the bump grow, buying everything we thought we needed. At each stage I was convinced that the hidden timer would reach zero, and Elaine would get bored of our workaday lives, escape back to the wealth she'd been accustomed to. Even after the birth, the countdown seemed to continue. I stared at the baby, waiting to feel something. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Cattle Call by Carol Nissenson

Allison, wannabe Broadway star, shows up to yet another chorus call, hoping to finally make her dream come true; by Carol Nissenson.
Godspell 2 seeks female performers between the ages of 20 and 50, all types. Must be able to sing and dance. Belt voices only.
11 am Tuesday, January 16th Schubert Theatre
Allison finished her Lean Cuisine macaroni and cheese as she watched the roaches travel north and south on the two lane highway that started somewhere behind the stove. Thirty is definitely between twenty and fifty, she could belt, and do something resembling dancing. If she didn't fit into 'all types,' who would?

Last cattle call she got shut out because she didn't sign up early enough. That couldn't happen again. Since Matt left her for the gorgeous, Amazonian, redheaded, Devora Prince (aka Debbie Pickles), she'd been stuck paying $2200 a month rent, when she could barely afford $1100. A Broadway Chorus contract paid $1500. Anything with the word 'Godspell' in it would run at least six years. Her only dilemma would be choosing whether to stay with the show, or accept a role in Godspell 3 Revenge of the Samaritans. No more standing in Foodtown passing out samples of kielbasa for $10 an hour.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Closet by William Quincy Belle

Jack falls through a hole in his closet into a mysterious and dangerous world; by William Quincy Belle.

Jack blinked. He was lying on his back, looking straight up. His brain was addled and his body felt jarred. He moved his right arm a bit. He held up his left hand and looked at it. Then he flexed his legs. His body seemed to be functioning. He turned his head to the right then the left. There didn't seem to be any pain.

He looked up again, and things slowly started to fall into place. Jack had been checking for messages on his cellphone when he had opened the closet door to get dressed for work. He had set the phone down, taken a step, and then pitched forward. He had fallen for a split second, hitting several things that snapped, and ended up on his back, cushioned by something soft and a bit prickly.

Jack sat up slowly and looked around as he tried to grasp what he was looking at. He seemed to be in some sort of fluorescent woodland. All around were bizarre trees with twisted trunks, covered in bright red leaves. An expanse of yellow grass was spotted with rectangular blue bushes. Jack realized his fall had been broken by one of them. He carefully placed the palm of his hand on the bush beneath him. It felt like a sponge.

Jack furrowed his brow as he turned to look around a little more. He raised his gaze. The sky, or whatever was above him, was an odd shade of green. But, almost directly over him, a coloured spot hung in midair. Jack stared at the spot for several seconds, trying to see through it, until he understood that it was the inside of his closet. His eyes widened.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Pink Lady by Sara Jacobelli

Young Kelly becomes captain of her father's fishing boat when it is hijacked in Sara Jacobelli's flash.

Her father stepped onto the boat, just as she had seen him do hundreds of times before. This time was different - a man had a gun stuck into her father's ribs. Kelly didn't know the man. He was about the same age as her father, forty, forty two. He was dark and lean, rough looking. Her dad ordered her to untie the boat and launch it and she did, moving woodenly, uncertainly. She felt the electricity in the air that signaled a far off storm.

As Kelly piloted the Pink Lady out to sea, the strange man searched her dad's coat pockets, tossing his knife and cell phone into the water. He tied her father's wrists and ankles with rope, shoved him onto the bench. The man picked up the knife Kelly used for gutting salmon and tossed that into the water. Stupid, thought Kelly. A knife can save your life on a boat.

"Put your life jacket on, honey," her dad said. It seemed funny, almost, him telling her what to do as if this was a normal day. "Good job steering the Lady," he added. She sensed his pride in her skills. She used to be terrified of driving the boat, scared she would hit something. Now she felt a sense of ease at the ship's wheel, a sense of power. The kids at school might make fun of her, but she knew deep down inside they were jealous, too. Jealous that she learned how to handle a boat when she was six years old.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Down and Out in Paris by Arun Dawani

Arun Dawani's character Vallerie anticipates a romantic weekend in Paris, but finds Luke distracted.

"I'm really glad you could make this weekend," I tell Luke.

"I am too," he says, squeezing my hand. It's been three weeks since I last saw him and I don't want it to be another three weeks before I see him again. He's forty-nine but looks much younger. He may not be the most handsome man I've ever seen but even his 'imperfections', a fading hairline and burgeoning midriff, are endearing. I love his ash coloured hair, always tousled like a naughty child, the gentle lines on his forehead, which I like to think come from frowning too much, his almost bashful smile and the way he looks when we're driving at night, shadows sliding over his kind face.

I'm excited about seeing Paris for the first time but that's not the reason I'm so happy. I stare out of the train window and try to imagine how I would feel if I suddenly found myself alone on the Eurostar. A pang of loneliness hits me and I turn towards him and put my hand on his arm, which is sturdy and reassuring, to make sure he's really there. It's the beginning of a weekend which I have looked forward to so much and I picture a sand timer which has just been turned over, the top of the hourglass completely full. I wish it could stay that way.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Scapegoat By Christine Bagley

An author interview the spirit of Bridget Bishop, the first woman hanged for witchcraft in 17th Century Salem Massachusetts; by Christine Bagley.

"Thou know not all of what thou write," said a strange voice.

It took me several seconds to awaken from the haze of a deep sleep. The room was cold and smelled of burnt wood, as if a window was open and a fire had just gone out. I sat up in bed and, peering across the room, saw the shadow of a woman sitting in a chair. A slow, eerie tingling started in the middle of my back, spread across my shoulders, ran down my arms and through my fingers.

"Who are you?" I whispered.

She sighed impatiently and said, "I am the one in thy book and I cannot stay but a few hours."

I groped in the dark for the lamp switch. Squinting from its glare, my eyes traveled up and down her body taking in every detail as if I myself had dressed her and was checking for mistakes. Her hair was wild, thick and black like a forest with a face. She was wearing a red bodice laced up with red, green, and yellow strings, and a white puffy blouse showing deep cleavage.

Her head tilted to one side and her chin was up as if challenging me to believe her.

"Dost thou know me now?"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saving Carla by J. H. Otterstrom

Understudy Stephanie looks out for diva Carla while the University campus seems to be conspiring to harm her; by J. H. Otterstrom.

"You have to help me with the lines."

The girl looked up from the book she was reading. "Huh?"

Carla looked down at her from beside the bench. "You're the understudy, right?"

The girl looked around and Carla felt her anger rise another notch.

"God, don't be so pathetic! No wonder you didn't get the part. Can you even speak?"

"Um... Yes."

"Then answer me, are you my understudy?"

"Yes, I'm Stephanie Collins," she flashed a smile that made Carla want to puke.

"I'll be sure to remember it," she replied, the name already thrown out of her mind.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Working Vacation by William Quincy Belle

Dentist Burt meets Penny, another first-timer in space, on the way to Mars. But what is she doing on board? By William Quincy Belle.

Burt tried to roll out of bed but couldn't. Damn, he had forgotten the straps. He fell back and relaxed a moment, looking up at the bottom of the top bunk. Had he slept through the turnaround? He wasn't sure, but he had followed procedures by strapping himself in so he wouldn't drift out of bed. Who wanted to wake up on the floor?

He pulled loose the buckle of the strap on his chest, and then undid the one just below his knees. Half rising, he swung his legs over the side and sat there, slightly hunched over so he wouldn't bang his head on the top bunk. He glanced over at the monitor and saw the timer was counting down from fifteen. Nope, he hadn't missed the turnaround. Time enough to do his toilet before the gravity was cut. He had to get hopping.

Burt stood and took two steps to the door to the toilet stall. He pressed his thumb to a small panel to open the door, then turned around and sat down. Did anybody pee standing up anymore? With vacuum toilets and sometimes less than 1 g, it seemed to make better sense to sit and avoid causing a mess. At least for the moment, while there still was gravity, Burt didn't have to use the relief tube. The timer showed twelve minutes. He stood, and the toilet automatically flushed. After a moment, the door slid shut.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Gift by Jeff Weddle

Jim’s father has an unusual - and unwelcome - birthday present for him; by Jeff Weddle.

On the way to town, Doug opened the pint of Maker's and took a hit, then passed it to Jim.

"Go on, boy. You're old enough."

Jim held the bottle like it was a dead rat.

"No Daddy, I -"

"Son, just try a little sip. Come on. We're celebrating."

Jim took a good hit and did his best not to let his father see him gag.

"Now, that's more like it. If you think that's good, wait till we get to Lula's."

The two-lane blacktop was almost deserted as Doug's late model Ford pickup cut through the night. It was a twenty minute drive into Pikeville and Jim silently counted headlights. From home to town he counted a dozen pairs. Lula's place was on 4th Street, right across from Gordy's Tavern, and Doug drove straight there and swung in fast onto the paved lot.

"Okay, son. Happy birthday."

"Thanks, Daddy. But I -"

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Advert by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Gideon Visser advertises for a wife in another of Beryl Ensor-Smith's scintillating tales of gossip and misunderstanding in the sleepy South African dorp of Prentburg.

It was Suzie Lamprecht who discovered that Gideon Visser was advertising for a wife. Since his father had become an invalid, she had been helping out where she could. The old man was difficult, very bigoted, and would allow only Gideon to see to his needs which put a lot of pressure on Gideon, as it meant he had to leave his hardware business to come home every few hours to attend to his father's personal requirements.

Suzie would pop in when she had the time, to check that the char was doing her chores and not making long-distance phone calls to who-knew-where. (Gideon's phone account had soared since his father became bed-ridden.) If the truth be told, she also had a bit of a crush on Gideon, who was a good-looking and amiable soul, so it came as a cruel blow to discover that he had turned to the internet to seek a wife.

"I was helping out, as usual," she told the Sisters of the Church after their AGM when such important matters as fund-raising, charitable work and social functions were discussed. "Gideon went to answer a knock at the door and I just happened to be standing near the computer where he'd been working." In fact, Suzie had been distracting Gideon with her mindless chatter, but he had been too polite to put a stop to the flow. The moment he left the room, she pounced on the computer and read the advert he was composing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Oliver's by Parnell Stultz

Oliver Wren's dream of running his own restaurant is soured by his scheming ex-wife - and events escalate when he meets ambitious and devious chef Carl; by Parnell Stultz.

On the day the President of the United States met an untimely end, Oliver Wren woke with the kind of food-hangover only a chef could manage. He shifted under his thin blanket, aware that each little movement exacerbated the delicate balance keeping his gorge from rising beyond the point of no return. A stale, almost charred smell lingered in the still air around his bed; it was more than he could stomach.

As he stumbled to the bathroom, Oliver kept one hand over his mouth, and the other cupped delicately beneath his chin. The bathroom floor imparted a cold absence of sympathy as he knelt before the commode, expelling the remnants of a surprise birthday dinner the night before in which his partner and relatively new head-chef, Carl, had been in charge of both the menu and the cocktails.

The charred smell renewed its assault on his senses as he stepped from the bathroom. He'd showered quickly, wanting only to get the day started so it could be over as soon as possible. Steam billowed above his head, its reassuring, soapy aroma clashing instantly with what Oliver now recognized as evidence of his ground floor neighbor's affection for deep-fried cuisine, and her inability to tell the difference between well done and prematurely fossilized. He slipped into fraying khaki slacks and a clean white t-shirt, reflecting that his neighbor, Mrs. Able, would probably think nothing of deep-frying cereal before adding milk.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jessica's Navel by Anne Goodwin

Jessica Ridley is determined to appear fashionable to her schoolmates whatever her mother says; by Anne Goodwin.

"You're not going on the geography trip dressed like that!"

Jessica glances down at her flamingo-pink cropped T-shirt and black flared hipsters. The gap between the end of her T-shirt and the top of her trousers exposes a narrow band of pale skin, like a belt with her belly button where the buckle would be. "Why shouldn't I?"

"You know quite well," Ruth snaps. "It's a totally unsuitable get-up for Cranwell Craggs."

"I don't see why," says Jessica. "It's what everyone else will be wearing."

At the kitchen table, Dominic, still in his pyjamas, turns up the volume on his iPod and shovels another spoonful of muesli into his mouth.

Ruth bends down to put her coffee cup into the dishwasher. "Maybe everyone else isn't lucky enough to have proper walking clothes."

Jessica goes to the fridge, pours herself another glass of orange juice. Pours herself a bit more time. "But Mum, honestly, it's a school trip, not a weekend hike."

She looks towards her brother for support, but he is assiduously reading the cereal packet, as if revising for his SATs.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ethel's Exit by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's character goes paddling in the lagoon, remembering times past.

The days were long past when Ethel could perch on one leg and lift up the other to put on or take off a shoe. She found a log, sat, removed her shoes, then stood and tucked her frock into her bloomers.

The creek formed a lagoon that fed into the sea. Families from the camping ground played in the sand, paddled canoes, swam and splashed each other. Dogs chased sticks and boys skipped stones.

Ethel tied the laces together and slung the shoes over her shoulder. The sand on her bare feet felt yummy. She stepped into the lagoon and splashed along close to the edge, steadying herself with her walking stick, as she was overweight and the muddy bottom was slimy and slippery.

She could feel people looking and children pointing but she didn't care.

"Squelchy," she said aloud, "A lovely word. Squel-chy. Such a long time since..."