Friday, October 31, 2014

Binary Code by Jim Bartlett

When Seymour Dunston rescues his old-school adding machine, the network conspires to reward him; by Jim Bartlett.

"Are you still using that confounded adding machine?"

Seymour Dunston glances up from his work coming nose to nose with his manager, Morris Fretterhorn, a younger fresh-face racing up the fast track of the executive ranks of Myes, Zerr, and Lee, a highly respected and long standing accounting firm in San Francisco. As he studies that angry look, his vision fills - just for just the briefest of moments - with the scene from the old Warner Brother cartoons where Daffy Duck or Elmer Fudd become so infuriated that their face turns beet-red, steam jetting from their ears to the sound of a train whistle. And his mouth flirts with a smile.

"Have there been complaints about my calculations? Audits on my returns?" His retort only seems to work the young man into more of a frenzy.

"Mr. Dunston, you don't seem to fathom what it is we're after here." He points an accusing finger. "You see... it's not the accuracy or the quality that I question." Fretterhorn puts his hands on his hips and begins an agitated pace along the side of his desk. The room takes on a deadly quiet, all eyes intent on the skinny manager.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reaching for the Sky by Mitchell Waldman

A guilt-ridden mother must face telling her paralysed son that his only brother is dead, but first she wants the truth about his past; by Mitchell Waldman.

She didn't know what to think anymore. The question went beyond whether her son had meant to rob the man, whether he had been harassing the man on the subway, whether he had just been going along with his friends, or whether he deserved what he had gotten. How many times had she shaped and reshaped these questions in her head over these last twelve years, to no avail? No, it went to the larger question of whether there was a God, for how could He, if He existed, let her and her son suffer like this, for so long, no matter what he'd done? Or was this the living hell she'd heard some speak of?

It had happened three days before Christmas. Oh, they were going to have a good Christmas that year, Betty and her sons, Bradley and Noah. No matter that Sam had up and left for good six months before. Who needed him, anyway, with all his talk about all the money he was going to make. She didn't want any money the way he meant to make it. She wanted a clean life, no drugs in her boys' lives, a straight life. And that's what they'd had. She'd gotten herself a job at the grocery down the street. Bradley had gotten a job at a shoe store, part time, after school, and even Noah, only fourteen, had helped out delivering Sunday papers with old white-haired Mr. Sanderson down the road.

Bradley had wanted to be a baseball player, a musician, a scientist, he'd wanted so many pie-in-the sky dreams.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gluttonie by Tyler Tristao

Tyler Tristao's bizarre and gross story of a carer who feels guilty for enabling the extreme obesity of a 1000lb man.

I'm seeing the most atrocious and sickening event of my entire life. I feel the weight of dread in my gut, physically ill. How could this have happened?

"One thousand and two pounds," the doctor announced in a deadpan voice. "I'm concerned about massive generalized edema in Mr. Hale," I heard him say from some place far away. "Other than that, the vitals have remained consistent. As per my instructions, I'll omit my professional advice. Will there be anything else?"

I couldn't in my wildest imagination think of anything else the doctor could do for my ward and I. The little tight frown on the old man's face appeared in lieu of a formal goodbye. I'm over here trying not to vomit.

"Did you call Conquistadors?" The one-thousand-and-two-pound-man asked me after the doctor quietly left. We are in a large room, which is dwarfed by the profound form of Philip Hale. Around us the space is mostly cluttered with unused medical equipment and a seventy-two inch flat screen television in front of the place where this obese man lives his entire life. Beneath his oozing form is a specialized couch. "I gave you the order already. They should be here any minute. And get me some sodas when you go back into the kitchen."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Programmable Love by Bremer Acosta

Bremer Acosta's story about Gillen, a neuro-bot suffering an existential crisis, and her human boyfriend Jon, who must confront the prejudices of his friends.

Part 1

Gillen gazed into the plasma-mirrors coiled inside her dome apartment. They bent all the contours of her body, mirroring her flesh in crosshatchings of light. She stood in front of the mirror, naked, pale and veined in her legs and arms, with gears turning under her skin like cockroaches crawling under a rug.

Her mind lingered into a weird daydream as she stared. Is this neuro-bot really supposed to be her, this creature, this thing, compiled of the ghosts of human data, the replicas of their past? She felt alien in the bathroom, wishing for something she couldn't quite put into words.

Gillen didn't feel the same way the humans told her she should feel, as a duplicate of their humanity, as an afterthought of their existence. She felt real when she saw the gleam around her purple irises, the faint hairs on her legs, the pockmarks lining her back, the bumps crowning her nipples. And her stomach looked molded out of clay, capable of being shaven down to its abdominals or expanded out into a simulated pregnancy. All of this, everything she was made of, she thought she knew already, without speaking, with only one glance.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Women Are So Much More Interesting To Men (Than Men Are To Women) by Charlotte Hayden

Charlotte Hayden's stream of consciousness about being a woman and wanting - or perhaps wanting to be - a man.

When my Modernism and Modernity lecturer first stroked my leg I thought, I'll go with it. When my best friend Eloise told me he did the same with her I thought, are you kidding me? I had predicted a lengthy, passionate affair with a 40 year old married professor and instead, after he'd finished with Eloise, he left the university and moved to France. I heard his wife ran off with another woman. Good, I thought. Generally I try not to be bitter. But sometimes it's hard not to indulge myself in some healthy Schadenfreude. Only this morning I couldn't help but take de-light in discovering that a girl I went to school with was left at the altar and the man in question has run off with more than a handful of her money. I remember (at the tender age of 15) when this same girl told me (among other things) that I can't look good in a bikini because my boobs are so small. Now that I am older and less afraid I may well find this girl's ex fiancé and ask him politely to play with my nipples and have sex with me on the beach.

Sometimes when my period is due or when I'm watching a comedy gala and struggle to find any women or when I have a smear test and the nurse tells me that I remind her of a 'little doll' while I lie there with my legs spread in front of her face, I think about what it would be like to be a man.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Girls - Beautiful - Girls by Arthur Davis

A New York City journalist reluctantly takes up a story about a seedy old dance hall and its nubile dancing girls; by Arthur Davis.

The Broadway bus pulled up at 48th Street across from the blinking yellow sign announcing, "Girls - Beautiful - Girls." I got off.

The Tango Palace, in the heart of a Times Square, swarming with platform-heeled hookers, Three-card Monty sharks, drug dealers hawking salvation on every corner and police who were often too willing to look the other way, was the oldest dance hall in New York City.

It was 1988. A leap year. Urban blight was still a national issue.

A tired black and white photo of a girl in her early twenties wearing black panties and bra filled the weathered display case. I pulled open the door and was greeted with an endless slide of stairs. I made my way down with characteristic hesitation.

"Twenty dollars," the cashier announced. An empty coffee cup overflowing with crushed cigarette butts sat precariously at her elbow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Over But Not Out by Bruce Costello

A girl starts work in a care home and finds herself dreaming about the past life of one of the men in her care; by Bruce Costello.

Mr Smythe was a skeleton with staring eyes. Mumbled sounds came from his mouth, but no words. His right arm shook as he reached out to the caregiver. She took his hand and pressed his fingers, which were twisted into claws.

Mary was a petite woman, just out of her teens, with smiling lips and the frown of a thinker.

"Just need to turn you over and clean you up," she said. Then she faced away and dry retched.

After throwing the sheet into the laundry trolley in the hall and helping him lean back against the pillows, Mary sat with Mr Smythe and held his hand.

The sun was low in the autumn sky. It entered the room through a gap in the curtains and lit up a portrait on the wall across from the bed. It showed an officer in a blue uniform, with a flowing moustache, a square chin and piercing eyes. Wow, she thought. What a hunk.

"Is that you in the photo?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Rebellion by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When an overbearing city minister takes over the local church for three months in the quiet drop of Prentburg, Sarie rebels and decides to take a break from Christianity; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When the residents of Prentburg first heard of the Interfaith Initiative, some were supportive of the idea while others were dubious. Among those less enchanted was the Dominee's wife, Anna. The wording of the Directive from the mother church in Pretoria offended her.

"Listen to this, Hendrik," she said to her husband, reading from the Directive, "'The Council of the Mother Church feels that it would benefit both the communities of small country towns and those in the cities to have an exchange of Dominees for a three month period. This would enable city congregations to experience the more relaxed attitude of a country Dominee, while the village congregations would gain greatly through exposure to the disciplined, academic approach of city Dominees.' Doesn't that strike you as being patronising in the extreme? It makes congregations in dorps such as ours sound like a bunch of ill-bred yokels! And how about the 'academic approach'? Where do they think you got your degree from; a lucky packet?"

Her husband laughed good-naturedly. "Ah, don't take it personally, Anna. It will probably be good for all of us to have a change. Don't you fancy a few months of more sophisticated living?"

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Strike Not by Scott Archer Jones

A crew of car crushers out by the Rio Grande witness a scene of domestic abuse; by Scott Archer Jones.

Las esperanzas engordan pero no maintienen. Hope fattens, but it doesn't keep you alive.

It turned noon as David Alvarez raised the roof of the crusher. With short little explosive sounds, the Rambler lying in the crusher's bed released tension from its new shape, as if it tried to pop its bones back into its joints. The compressor topped up its pressure, and when the gauge showed right for a fast restart, David turned off the diesel.

He removed his earmuffs and hardhat, and the sound in the air flipped from deadness to singing quiet. At that moment, in the time between the crush and the removal of the metal block that had been a car, things felt preternaturally frozen. Then a woman cried out.

They had parked the crusher in a byway beside the river road, on a tributary that fed down east into the Rio Grande. The little river carried only snowmelt just now, fast but thin, quick and not yet quiet as it would be in summer. Cottonwoods stood up shaggy and gray on all sides, the emigrants who had survived in a dry canyon by burrowing their feet into the river.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Secrets of the Night by Arthur Davis

A cleaner plagued by secrets from his past listens to the confessional radio show broadcast each night from the eighteenth floor of the building he cleans; by Arthur Davis.

Meyer Holbein pushed his broom down the partially lit corridor as he had done for the last dozen years. It was a simple task, something he was uniquely qualified to tend. He was a tall, stooped man in his early seventies whom the building maintenance department preferred to believe was ten years younger. Meyer was gifted with large hands, powerful shoulders and a dogged diligence that was best applied to repetition.

Meyer was not a bright man, not by conventional standards. He was smart in the sense that he understood the difference between right and wrong and practiced the ancient art of integrity with an uncommon zeal. He worked his own responsibilities and paid little attention to the complaints and cunning of those around him.

As he made his way down the hall, voices danced and flowed in his head. Echoes and images from his childhood in Odessa, Russia, and how he and his brother had fled the pogroms with their uncle who was lost in a ferocious blizzard, seeped up from his subconscious. How both young boys fought hunger and privation to get to the western borders of Germany on the eve of the Second World War was a miracle worth recounting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Levitation of Mrs. Caruso by Lyon Kennedy

After her husband's death, a lonely and crotchety old lady struggles to face her prejudices and rediscover her will to live; by Lyon Kennedy.

The shadow of approaching sunset lingered by the bay. It then slipped through the sliding door of 99 Battersea Avenue, crept over a stolid walnut buffet, muted a persnickety red Persian carpet and slid atop all four feet eleven inches and ninety-nine pounds of Sylvia Caruso.

Every evening at the same time, though of course not the same time as she was reminded by the ship's clock on the mantel, dusk arrived. On occasion, it fell herky-jerky, like the curtain of a children's stage production, as she nodded off to sleep.

In the room, above the buffet, hung a multi-colored map of Italy; opposite, a shelf supporting the Virgin Mary, flanked by two smaller statues of Saint Joseph and Saint Robert.

Mrs. Caruso said her prayers in the morning, took the Eucharist weekdays when Sister Margaret came to visit, and said her prayers in the evening before she had a little something to help her sleep. She preferred Frangelico or B&B, but settled for sherry on the weekends because she suspected her helpers helped themselves once she nodded off.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Idle Feet Do the Devil's Work by Ray Charbonneau

A group of runners are in for a strange season when one of them makes a deal with a shoe company and starts winning every single race; by Ray Charbonneau.

I was hanging on the rear of the lead pack in fifth place and thinking about when to make my move as we passed the 9-mile mark of the Jones 10-Miler. It was the first race in this year's Grand Prix, and I wanted to get off to a good start, but I knew that if I waited, I'd be out-kicked at the line. My only hope of picking off a runner or two before the finish was to start to push first, and count on my strength to grind down their speed.

Just then, a runner in an unfamiliar red singlet zoomed by. My head snapped up in surprise, throwing me off stride for a step. The singlet belonged to Mark Refner, who I knew from Division 3 cross-country. What was he doing putting on a charge? I never had to worry about Mark when we raced in college.

At the head of the pack, Al Frentist and Burt Bunker felt Mark coming and picked up their pace. Soon the three of them broke away, leaving the rest of us to fight over fourth place. I managed to catch one person before we reached the school parking lot, finishing in fifth place.

After I crossed the line, I jogged over to where Al and Burt were standing. They were looking at Mark, who was talking with some fat guy wearing a red nylon tracksuit and smoking a cigar.

"What happened there?" I asked. "I figured one of you guys was going to win."

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Toontown Riots of 1949: A Critical and Historical Analysis by David Perlmutter

David Perlmutter's essay on how racial tension between humans and the "toon" community flared into violence in 1940s Hollywood.


Though much has been written about inter-racial conflict in the United States, particularly that between Caucasians and African-Americans in urban areas, other areas, for a variety of complex and uncertain reasons, have never been nearly as well documented. One prominent example of this is the continuing strife-filled relationship between "normal" human beings and a class of beings that is loosely termed "cartoon characters", due to an inaccurate assumption on the part of historians related to the belief that these beings existed only within the frames of the animated films which were their primary means of exposure to the wider world. Such an assumption entirely and patently ignores the fact that these beings existed for thousands of years before the invention of the animated film, as well as denying those placed under the label the intelligence and resourcefulness they have and the respect they deserve. As a consequence, while it is largely under-documented within the folds of academic research, this still ongoing conflict remains a potent and divisive force in American life which has shaped it drastically in ways few "normal" people have even attempted to try to understand. One prominent example of this is the Toontown Riots of 1949. Begun as an act of vengeance against the Los Angeles Police Department for their continued and hostile persecution of the "toon" race, this destructive dispute caused considerable damage, not only to the city of Los Angeles itself, but also to the incredibly fragile psyche of the "toon" race as a whole, which, coupled with the recent introduction of television, shattered fragile coalitions within the group and created tensions that continue to exist within the community to this day.