Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dream Catcher, Heart Listener by Christine E. Schulze

Blind cat-person Michaela falls deeply in love with a mysterious person who teaches her to see in her dreams in Christine E. Schulze's rich fantasy world.

He took her hand and whispered, "Hold out your tongue."

She slipped her tongue over her teeth, between her lips, and anxiously waited. Then, the cool drops began to slide gently over the plush fur of her arms, legs, and head. Several drops danced on her tongue which she zapped back inside, laughing, "Lemonade! It tastes like lemonade!"

He laughed too and said, "Now, open your eyes."

Her heart raced familiarly. She took in a deep breath, and then she opened her eyes.

She could see.

The colors surrounding her bloomed so crisp, so vivid, that though she had only ever seen them a few times before, she was certain they could not be this wonderful, this real, even in her own world. The symphony of rich smells overtook her, each of them enhanced, enriched just for her, to help her remember the colors - the precious, lively colors.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Math is Funny by Amy Burns

Amy Burns's character, obsessed with numbers, tells the story of her husband's death.

My mother was fourteen years older than me. My name has fourteen letters.

I married a man who was twenty-eight years older than me. He divorced me after seven years of marriage. He had a daughter who was seven years older than me and a granddaughter who was fourteen years younger than me. His name also had fourteen letters.

After the divorce I moved in with his daughter.

After the divorce he bought a cabin in Tennessee.

His dream was to be an artist. He set about it. He bought a fourteen inch chainsaw capable of cutting logs up to twenty-eight inches in diameter. During the day, he used the chainsaw to sculpt animal figures from tree trunks. During the night, he sipped Jack Daniels, smoked Jose L. Piedra cigars and wondered at the Tennessee night noise.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Government Worker by Ed Nichols

A down-on-her-luck mother appeals to an uncaring government worker for aid; by Ed Nichols

"There are a few things you need to know before we start," the obese woman behind the metal desk said to Sarah.

“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah answered in her most polite voice.

“I work for the U.S. Government, and everything we say is open to public knowledge, and

scrutiny. Whatever you tell me must be the absolute truth. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The woman motioned to a chair beside the desk. As Sarah sat down, she couldn’t help but stare at the folds and rolls of fat, hanging from the woman’s chin and neck and arms. Her breasts were enormous and they lay softly on the desk when she leaned forward. Sarah looked into the face of the huge woman and watched her eating a Snickers candy bar. As she ate the candy with her right hand, her left hand sifted slowly through a stack of papers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Entertained by Gary Hewitt

Gary Hewitt tells the story of a doomed intergalactic circus troupe featuring an old-time cannon launch with a jetpack twist.

Being spat from a metal tube isn't the most pleasant experience you can enjoy. I ensure everything is strapped down before I hear the countdown. I don't move. The count reaches zero. I'm rocketed into the atmosphere.

We don't need the 'Big Noise' but Pomuh insists. He says the sound reminds him of sideshows from ancient Terran circuses.

I'm flying across the plains of Zemedia. Twenty disinterested spectators look up. I remember how different the interest was when I joined Pomuh's troupe twenty years ago. People flocked from all over the moon to watch. They loved Pomuh's bombastic style.

We're met by indifference these days. We're too set in our ways to learn a wealth lesson and compete with these new shows and their huge budgets.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Comet by Katherine J Parker

Katherine J Parker's flash about the life of a classic Mercury Comet.


Jason's eyes lit up as his fingers danced over the cool hardness of the steering wheel. There was no new car smell, no retailer's agreement on the window. This darling hadn't been on a car lot in something close to 35 years. It was a classic. It had age and personality on its side.


Leroy's Cheshire cat grin drew a smile from his father as he handed a crisp white envelope to the salesman.

"She's a cherry," the slick-haired, blue suited gentleman assured the kid behind the wheel. "Treat her right and in a few years you'll be able to sell her for good money."

Leroy hardly waited for his to close the door before he put the muscular beauty into drive. Sure, he'd sell it someday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Heartwarming Story of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Benjamin Drevlow

A sheep breeder takes umbrage when the Bayfield County Fair's judge makes insinuations against the virility of his impressive specimen of a ram, in Benjamin Drevlow's hilarious tale.

We should've known that his dignity would've been hurt. Arnold was a proud old ram and he'd served us well. Bred us more lambs than we ever thought possible. Good ol' Arnie, though, just wasn't grand champion stock. At least that's what the judge at the fair said. Wasn't Arnold's fault. He just didn't have enough under the hood to compete with Raspatnik's Scottish-bred Hampshires. But I tell you what, Arnold Schwarzenegger, boy, camshaft or not, he was the most fertile damn ram we ever mated with our ewes. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he'd just about inseminate anything he could mount, and I'll tell that to the Honorable Judge Sorenson's chicken-fried face myself. Only I don't have to, because I got the fruits of Arnold's labor to prove it.

Arnold was only a yearling ram lamb back in eighty-seven, but even then, boy, what a physical specimen! Had him a stance like a nose tackle. At least that's what everybody who saw him said. Not only that, but there was his neck like an oak tree. And those hindquarters seemed big as the duelies on a John Deere 7300 series. These shoulders, too. Big and boxy like the front end of a riding lawnmower. And tall. Almost four-foot-six when he'd stand on all-fours and rise up with that big black muzzle of his to dig through your coat pockets for oats. Old Arnold could be quite persuasive with that muzzle of his.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No Curfew by Matthew Wilding

Delmon Rose, returned to his hometown for Thanksgiving, drinks in Murray's Bar and reflects on the girl he left behind; by Matthew Wilding.

Murray's Tavern was quite a ride every third or fourth Friday in November. The day after Thanksgiving, from time immemorial, all the town's recently minted adults descended upon their native land and, loaded up on Turkey and football, made one last stop at the saloon their grandfathers built and fathers ignored them for - making it their own for the night.

The townspeople, to their credit, accommodated their young. Men went home to their wives while their sons, and even their daughters (that's what college does to them), took over their stools and tables: Grandstanding about their careers, academic accomplishments, and other successes, real or imaginary. It was high energy and usually included a lot of laughs, a bit of crying, a fistfight or two, and a dozen or so broken glasses.

What most frustrated Ox Bowman, the bartender and roughneck sage of Appleton, was that they always broke martini and wine glasses. Pint glasses were easy to replace. His friends Sam, Bud, or Miller delivered them almost weekly for free. Promotional swag. But the fancy stuff cost him money. And the college daughters and even some of the converted big city sons opted for the fancy stuff.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Midnight Appointment by Charles Howard Wise

Charles Howard Wise's sad and beautiful paean to music, nature and loss.

John put down his pen, straightened his desk and slid on his wool jacket. He used to wear it when he went hunting with his father, but that was long ago. He hadn't hunted in nearly thirty years, but the jacket still fit even if it did smell of mothballs. Once he stepped out onto the patio, John pulled up a chair and lit a Pall Mall. The smoke curling off into the moonlight reminded him of his father.

His dad had been a paratrooper in Europe. He had dropped into the night sky over Normandy early on D-Day. John's prize possession was the Colt .45 his dad had carried through Europe. John's dad never talked a lot about the war; at least about the fighting, but he would have times when he was very quiet for days at a time. It was as if he was living in another place and would drop in randomly to visit with his family. He had seen more during the war than any nineteen-year-old kid should ever see. He was especially affected by the condition of the inmates of the concentration camp his battalion liberated. His last years were spent fighting lung cancer and emphysema. John remembered his emaciated features, his sunken eyes, his grey pallor. He looked as if he had been carried out of a concentration camp. He did not die peacefully.

John sat listening to the November breeze rustling the dried oak leaves where they'd blown against the foundation. Oak leaves curl up when they dry, maple leaves stay flat. That's why the oak leaves make such good mulch: the airspaces act as insulation against the cold. Good for the roses. Maggie, his wife of twenty-two years, had died nearly a year ago. She had died suddenly. The doctor said it was her heart. Maybe, but not the way the doctor thought, not plaque and atherosclerosis.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Rat Catcher By Max Detrano

Rudy Schmidt's devotion to his cat may end up threatening more than just his relationship with his girlfriend Mary Jo; by Max Detrano.

Rudy Schmidt slept on a mattress with no box spring just eighteen inches off the floor. A squeak close to his head woke him. He opened one eye and saw his cat, Der Schlaffer, sitting beside the bed. The muffled squeak of a rat came from the cat's mouth. A long black tail swished back and forth beneath its chin.

Rudy knew the drill. He sat up in bed and reached for the heavy metal flashlight he kept on a fruit crate next to the alarm clock. He held the flashlight like a club in front of Der Schlaffer, and waited.

Der Schlaffer stood on all fours and dropped the rat. The rat, slimy with cat spittle, froze. Der Schlaffer corralled it between her paws. The rat's eyes bulged. It ground its little rat's teeth. Then the rodent ran in a circle inside Der Schlaffer's paws. Finding no route of escape, it sprinted toward the giant with the flashlight.

Rudy brought the heavy club down on the rat's head, crushing its skull. The creature twitched and died.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Heroin Girl by Josette Torres

Josette Torres' character hears a spontaneous confession from a woman who has fallen on hard times, which leaves a lasting impression.

You're nearly at the Damen El stop by the time you notice Flash Taco, a Mexican restaurant, right across the street from the Double Door. In your post-bar daze you completely missed it. The shady characters lurking nearby unsettle you and you decide to pass on dinner until you get back to the hotel. You swipe through the turnstiles and head upstairs.

A few people mill around on the other side of the platform waiting for the outbound Blue Line train. Several feet away from you, a girl in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap reads a book. Huge black headphones cover her ears. You sit a respectful distance away from her and watch traffic passing below, the spring breeze tossing papers around in the street.

You've been away from Chicago for months, and now you're here one last time before you head off to teach at a school on the West Coast. You discovered the Red House Painters were touring from an Internet message board posting a few weeks before and booked the entire trip online, never speaking to a single person as you bought a show ticket, made Amtrak reservations, found a cheap rate at a nice hotel. You even bought the CTA fare card online. You haven't talked to anyone other than to say "Thank you" or "Can I get a Pabst Blue Ribbon?" or "I'd like a number six, supersized" or any number of meaningless phrases since you boarded the train to Chicago in the morning. You're not a small talk kind of person when you're traveling.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Frozen Packages by Pathos

Chris and Ronnie, burger flippers in a Chuck L's drive-through, find something disturbing in the walk-in cooler; by Pathos.

Looking back, it's shocking to think that for over a year I had been working in such close proximity to the packages. At times only feet away. But in the routine of my mundane occupation, I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was standing in the very shadow of something so horrifying.

I looked out the drive-through window at the sheet of rain that smacked against the concrete of the parking lot, creating a continuous growl as the downpour splashed off the surface of the earth. I adjusted the microphone on my headset. It was fortunate that few people ventured out of the comfort of their homes on such a night. The overcast skies shielded the stars and moon from penetrating the gloom, the sparkling sheen of the rain catching the reflection of any far off light the only thing truly visible. And when anyone was so bold as to order at the outside menu of Chuck L's Roast Beef, I was the guy who would have to stick my head out that window to handle their money and give them their order. On every occasion, rain and wind would infiltrate the building and wreak havoc on my neat little stacks of paper cups and plastic lids, and leave me soaking wet in the process.

"Hey Chris," Ronnie, the night manager called my name, "you wanna help me get the rest of the freezer ready for freight?"

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mahadsanid by Jon Moray

Carl Racine, a farm boy in the big city for a conference, tries to find out the meaning of a mysterious word used by the homeless people he passes on the streets.

"First time in a big city?" asked the bellman at the four-star hotel in the heart of the business district to the new guest as he stepped out of the taxicab.

"Yes sir, how did you know?"

"The eyes, I can always tell by the wide eyes," he answered, as he grabbed the wrangler's duffle bag and held the glass door open.

"Been a farm boy my whole life, this surely feels like another world to me. Is it always this loud?"

"You'll get used to it. Check-in is to the right."

"Thanks." The guest, Carl Racine, reached for his leather wallet from his denim jeans back pocket and leafed through the slots to give the help three dollars.

The burly bellman accepted the bills with a tip of his uniform hat. "Oh, just a little piece of advice, beware of the meek, they can be quite bothersome."

"I noticed an awful lot of the less fortunate on the ride over from the airport. It's a shame," Carl commented with a genuine sincerity.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why Can't They Leave Things Alone? by Harry Downey

A habitual shoplifter's luck runs out in this humorous short by Harry Downey.

Would you buy a used car from a flashy, smooth-talking salesman called Ambrose? I wouldn't. But my wife fell for his patter and now she's my ex and living with him in Basingstoke. And good riddance too. So Charlie Medwin, that's me, on my own for a few weeks now, had a few adjustments to make in the way things went. By now I've pretty well sorted out my new routine. Take shopping for instance. Vera used to do what she called her 'big shop' down at Tesco's on Friday evenings. Not me. Now there's a lot less needed, and anyway, I've got my own way of doing things. She paid at the checkout for everything she took from the store. I don't. I pay for what's in the trolley and everything else is a nice little earner for me.

Chissingford where I live is big enough to have the lot - Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco's, Asda, a Co-op of course, even a Waitrose - the one they call 'the toff's supermarket'. No continental stores yet, but it's only time, isn't it? So I've got a bit of a choice when I shop. Of course, I don't look for 2 for 1 offers and that sort of thing. No way. I just look where it's the easiest to steal from. The supermarkets are getting better on their security these days - in fact, there's one of the big boys I don't go near anymore - that is unless I'm being an honest member of Joe Public at the time and queuing up at the check-out like the ordinary punters. Which one? No way, José. That's for you to find out. After all, it's taken me a long time to get all this know-how and I don't give info like that away for free. Now if you offered to pay me for what I know, well, that's another matter.