Sunday, November 30, 2014

Redemption Song 1776 by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon imagines an ancient tale of tragedy, loss and religious redemption.

I shut the front door quietly, hunching against the freezing rain. Snow would not be long in coming this night I'd wager. The shower glistened in the lamplight at the end of the garden path and I pulled up the hood of my cape. I walked passed the closed shops, still bright, redolent with the colours of the winter festival. The icy dampness surged into my shoes each time my foot pressed on a rocking paving stone: I misjudged all too often, and cursed roundly.

I went out that night to fulfil a promise. One made a year since, when I knelt with the ragtag and bobtail congregation that gathers on this sacred eve. My senses were assaulted by the stench of damp tweed, cinnamon, stale drink, goose fat, flatulent emissions and lavender, as I knelt to pray. I huddled gratefully in their midst, warming my poor perished body against the heat of the convivial herd.

That night I had no front door, no inside to enter from outside, no matter how cruel the elements. I had returned from sea, to this small Northumbrian town, intending to keep a promise to my lass. My eye had had an optimistic gleam, as I strode on with nuptials on my mind. Presents from the orient lay in my mariners' sack. Celebrations would burst forth, in the depth of darkness, at the turning of the year.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Deception by Beryl Ensor-Smith

A bachelor moves into the quiet drop of Prentburg with the sole aim of capturing a rich wife; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Before Klaus van Dyk arrived in the dorp, he had done his homework carefully. It was by no means a random choice; he had given careful thought as to where he was most likely to find a rich widow or spinster who could keep him in the style to which he would like to become accustomed. He was tired of scraping by and realised that his greatest asset was his good looks. It was the only thing of any worth that his useless, long dead parents had given him. His father was shiftless and his mother a drunk. Klaus had learned to fend for himself at an early age. It was a dog-eat-dog world and he had been the underdog long enough!

Klaus was not given to sentimentality and prided himself on his pragmatism. He knew when to voice opinions and when to obfuscate, and realised that in persuading the right woman to take him on, he had to tread carefully.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Tormentors by Stanley Wilkin

Stanley Wilkin's horrific glimpse into the inhuman violence of war.

The sun flashed into his eyes as he peered out of the foliage. He tightened his grip on his rifle. He moved his head back into the shadows sinking slowly once more into the copious fern. He was sick of war. His friends lay in the dust a mile down the road, their many wounds saturated with heaps of busy feeding flies. How many friends had he left behind in such a condition?

“They’re around here somewhere.”

The voice was near, maybe in the nearby copse.

“I’m sure I hit one. At least one.”

It was an old man’s voice.

“Where is he then, if you shot him? Where is he?” Another exclaimed irritably. “Just like you. You thought you’d hit him. Always claiming you hit someone or other.” The man now sounded angry.

“Hey, don’t take it out on me. I’m telling you I hit him.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Konichiwa, Mr. Miyashita by Gary Ives

An ungrateful Baby Boomer rants about his parents boring stories about their past; by Gary Ives.

I suppose just about everyone of my generation, that's us Boomers, would admit that his parents had it rougher. But so what? Mom and Dad both grew up on farms during the depression. Instead of heading to college after high school Dad was drafted two days after his wedding and sent off to the war someplace over in the Pacific. Mom worked on her folk's farm. Yeah, yeah those tough times with all that hard work and privations; they're such a big deal now. That war, how long did it last? Four years? Whoop dee doo! But the way I see it theirs is the donkey work generation. We're the smart generation. I'll put my money on smarts every time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ordinary Average Guy by Jim Bartlett

Jim Bartlett's character Lee makes small talk with a friend about a visiting politician, but he has something to hide.

Lee slips out of the car and stretches from the long ride under a sky that looks like rain. Finding a dry spot on the cracked asphalt, he leans his wrapped package against the back door of the car and works his hand trying to get some feeling back. He glances over at Frazier, still behind the wheel listening to the radio.

Damn news. He'd heard enough of those reports over and over again on the trip here to last a lifetime.

He takes a step away from the car and looks around. From where he stands he notes the employee parking lot to be only half full, but it's still early. And it's a Friday.

"Gonna be a big day today," Frazier says, finally stepping out.

Lee shrugs, says nothing. He watches Frazier move to the front, kick a foot back against the bumper, and light a cigarette.

"Not sure why that asshole is comin' through these parts, ain't no one here gonna vote for him no way."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maintaining Appearances by Michael C. Keith

When Hank dreams his deceased friend is calling him from the grave, he decides to take action in Michael C. Keith's silly story.

 I wander in the ways of (dead) men,
Alike unknown and unknowing.
- Robert Burns

Like most everyone else, Hank Capron had an occasional nightmare. Lately, however, they had become more common and taken on a more personal and intense nature, as they centered on his longtime friend, Jacob Howell, who had died three years earlier.

Normally, his dreams about his close buddy dealt with events from their mutual pasts, such as the many trips they'd taken together, gatherings with close friends, games at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, and similar happenings. In other words, nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, pretty mundane stuff.

Over the past week, however, Hank had dreamed that his always-dapper friend was talking to him from his grave. For five consecutive nights now, he had awakened in a cold sweat after dreaming of standing over Jacob's grave and hearing his voice beckon him. The message was the same each time, a plea to dig him up so he could make a crucial appointment. The otherworldly entreaty remained with him during his waking hours.

"Please, Hank, get me out of here. I must get somewhere. It's very important and can't be put off any longer!"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Water Baby by Jane Percival

Jane Percival's creepy story of an orphan girl whose strange behaviour and affinity for water grow gradually more acute as she grows up.

Zoe was an odd little girl, there was no question of that. From the day that she first joined the family - a small scrap of a child with a shock of black hair - she was different. She had such a grave way of looking at the world. Her aunt, uncle and cousins would take turns to try to make her smile, but she would just look back at them neutrally. When she was a toddler, she was content to play by herself, although she did play alongside other children if she had to. And it didn't go unnoticed that she had a habit of staring at people, watching. Jo would often look up and catch her gaze.

Zoe was a collector. In itself, that wasn't unusual. Her father had collected those cardboard coasters that they have in bars, and her mother's childhood stamp collection was still up in the attic. But Zoe collected round river stones and had a pile of small twigs that she'd found somewhere. She'd spend ages sorting the stones and rearranging the twigs into different shapes. When not playing with the twigs, she'd bind them up in her old baby blanket, the one she'd been wrapped in on the day she was rescued.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Sea of Trees by Greg Leader Cramer

Greg Leader Cramer's moving flash about a schoolboy trying to cope with the stigma of having a dead mother.

"Take it back." I've got Pank in a headlock, his head hovering over the cracked and dirty toilet bowl. Our faces are inches apart, which seems weirdly intimate. He's struggling now with everything he's got but he can't get free.

"She was a whore and you're a -" I don't give him a chance to finish. I yank the lever and shove his head into the bowl. He tries to shout but just chokes on the filthy water. The other kids go quiet. I let him up on the count of five Mississippi.

"Take. It. Back." I brace for another flush but then my collar is yanked across the cloakroom and Mr Leighton is yelling at us, at everyone. Pank's face is stained blue from the disinfected water and a small puddle forms at his feet. He is out of breath and panting like a greyhound. I realise I am too. Mr Leighton stands in between us, barking orders, but I don't hear him. The other kids drift away. Fun's over.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

River Cats! by Jonathan Danielson

When the levee bursts and floods Jess and Scott's neighbourhood, they welcome the tragedy as an opportunity to be the centre of attention - but how much suffering is too much? By Jonathan Danielson.

When the levees for the Delta and American River burst that morning, Jess and Scott laughed. "At least they bought their house on short-sale," they said, before gathering everything they could, water seeping through their doors and rising up their legs.

"Should've listened to FEMA!" Scott joked, carrying photo albums upstairs, the fact that they paid eighty-five thousand under asking price putting in perspective that black mold wouldn't be as expensive as it could have been.

"But who knew!" Jess laughed, following with cans of food.

Before Katrina, when the Army Corps of Engineers determined the levees bursting in New Orleans was the number one potential disaster facing the US, people accused the Corps of being Debbie Downers and buzz-kills. Something like that would never happen, they argued. This was the Big Easy. The city of Mardi Gras.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding Out by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon's character looks forward to a lad's holiday in Spain with his housemate, but unexpected tensions roil under the surface.

I open one eye, squinting as the streams of sunlight flood through the gap between my curtains. I get up on autopilot, stretching exultantly before yanking them open. The warmth of the sun hits my sleep fuddled face, and I remember, today's the day. Finally, Saturday morning: holiday time, Spain awaits!

I look in the mirror, I look pale and knackered. That's a harsh reality for a twenty-two year old. My hair is wild and out of control, like an Irish werewolf. I pull a face, stick my tongue out, then bare my teeth. Bring it on: Viva Espagna.

I am desperate for a break. I work too hard, burning the candle at both ends. Sleep is a luxury. Two years into my media degree at college, and working twenty-five hours a week at the Indi Cinema to keep body and soul together (whilst still getting into a shitload of debt). I never seem to stop, except on occasional Friday nights when I go out with some mates after work. A few beers, then bed, I'm hardly grooving through as a dissolute student: chance would be a fine thing.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What the Creek Carries Away by Miranda Stone

Miranda Stone's powerful story about cousins who meet twenty years after a terrible misunderstanding changed the course of their lives.

I expected my grandfather's house to be empty a week after his funeral, but I spotted a figure sitting on the top porch step, and as I eased my car closer, a spasm seized my gut.

Twenty years, and my cousin still looked the same. Long brown hair that refused to hold a curl, hazel eyes set deep in her pale face. Three years my junior, she'd be thirty-five now. Despite the morning chill, she wore a tank top and denim shorts. Her feet were bare.

I swallowed hard. My unfamiliar vehicle drew her attention, and I was tempted to hunker down and keep driving. The back of my neck prickled with heat.

"No," I muttered. "You won't run me off this time."

I parked the car on the street and cut the engine. For a long moment, I didn't move, just watched her through the window. The sound of rushing water penetrated the silence. A bold creek traversed the property behind Granddad's house, and I wondered how high the water had risen after last night's heavy rain.

As I got out of the car, Alma didn't wave or move to rise. I scratched the stubble on my jaw, wishing I'd shaved that morning, and then berated myself for wanting to appear more presentable.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Resurrection Hardware by Deb Smith

At her sister's funeral, Marion Ward reflects on their suffocatingly conservative family and prepares to deliver her sister's controversial last wishes; by Deb Smith.

After a few short readings and one soloist of average height, Reverend Summers introduced the next item on the funeral program. It was called "The Healing Miracles". The lights dimmed in the small chapel and we saw what appeared to be the opening credits for a movie. There was a wide shot of what I took to be something generically Holy Land-ish, a rocky desert scene with a village of sun bleached houses. Then the camera cut to a small group wearing hooded robes and sandals walking slowly through the village gate. The camera zoomed in to reveal the familiar blue-eyed bearded Jesus of my childhood. He was followed by several, I'm guessing twelve, apostolic looking men and one woman. The woman was tall with rich auburn hair. That woman was my sister, Vic.

Almost in unison the assembled guests sat up rail straight and held their breath. There was some low muttering from somewhere behind me, however Jesus was not deterred by our surprise and proceeded to cure the blind and the lame with my sister at his elbow. The whispers became almost audible and there was a cloud of humid tension in the room. As the film concluded, I snuck a peek at the faces to my left and right. Midwesterners can be hard to read when it comes to these things, but I could see a mixture of grief, agitation and disapproval.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Ladder of Success by William Ogden Haynes

Larry Leonard takes a break from University to visit Colorado, but his summer doesn't go as planned; by William Ogden Haynes.

It was the year that Larry Leonard was taking a break from Northern Michigan University for the summer semester. He had no classes to take for that term and he looked forward to seeing his parent's new home in Colorado. Larry Leonard's father was a Major recently stationed at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy. Colorado, Larry imagined, was a lot like California. They sold 3.2% beer to eighteen year olds, the women looked like tanned surfer girls, the weather was sunny and everyone was cool and laid back. It was a far cry from the cold weather in the upper peninsula of Michigan where the girls were mostly pale-skinned Scandinavian types with Canadian accents. Larry would look out across Lake Superior and listen on the car radio as the Beach Boys sang, I wish they all could be California girls. But absent spending the summer in Malibu, Colorado would be the next best thing. When the boys in the dorm found he was taking a road trip out west, they lined up to give Larry twenty dollars each for a case of Coors beer which was not then sold in Michigan. Somehow Coors had increased value just because it was unobtainable in Northern Michigan and Larry took only enough orders to fill his trunk on the return trip. In the fall, Larry's popularity would soar among those who received a case of that Rocky Mountain spring water.