Friday, January 30, 2015

Glass by Michael King

A mysterious figure looks longingly into an apartment full of children playing and fighting; by Michael King.

Marcus is my favorite. He's seven. He sits at the table, folding a paper airplane, his shoulders hunched, his face flushed, his eyes watchful, haunted. His older sister just chased him around with the vacuum. I think she was calling it "the suck machine." Her name is Molly - she's twelve - and I might as well introduce Chucky and Samantha too. Twins, I believe, and a year or so younger than Marcus.

Chucky likes to watch. He doesn't like to get into trouble. His eyes dart about, taking everything in, belying his lax posture. One long-toed foot on the arm of the couch. The other almost touching the floor. Chin to chest. I like Chucky. A lot. But his backbone is a limp noodle when compared to his older brothers. And Samantha - well, she's just useless. She prefers to sit in a wooden chair, directly in front of the television, her mouth open. Probably something wrong with her.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Secondary Smoke by Michael C. Keith

Michael C Keith's story about an elderly lady who just won't quit smoking.

More doctors smoke Chesterfield than any other brand.
- 1950s cigarette advertisement

June Teller, a chain-smoker since middle school, was 84. Surprisingly she was in reasonably good health, except for a minor case of emphysema that seldom impaired her. Since her husband's death 18 years earlier, she had rarely left her house mainly because smoking was banned everyplace she went. She found this very perturbing.

"All these ridiculous rules nowadays make it impossible to live. What happened to basic human freedoms? When I was young the world minded its own darn business. You could smoke anywhere you wanted to without people giving you ugly looks... or worse."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Decision by Beryl Ensor-Smith

After Klaus van Dyk is outwitted by Hilda Jacobs and tricked into an engagement, he plans to flee, in Beryl Ensor-Smith's follow-up to The Deception.

It was at a social get-together of the 'Church Sisters' for tea at the Welcome Inn that the subject of Klaus van Dyk arose.

"For a man who recently became engaged, he looks pretty miserable," Marion Klopper stated.

"Wouldn't you, if your fiancé was Hilda Jacobs?" Elaine Ferreira replied. "She's hardly a bundle of laughs."

Normally Christina du Plessis would have objected vehemently to any criticism levelled at Hilda, but she was feeling slighted by her one-time 'best friend' and kept quiet while the 'Sisters' agreed that Hilda was beyond serious.

"All the same, you'd think that Klaus would look a little happier, especially seeing he chose her above Suzie. They were both after him and I would have put my money on Suzie any day!"

Suzie was not at the get-together, having driven Sarie Blignault to the Waterfontein vet with her two goldfish, as one was listless and seemed on the brink of death. Not only was Sarie worried sick about Fatima (she insisted she could tell the two apart), but was also concerned that Golda would catch whatever it was that was ailing her companion!

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Little Chill by George Semko

George Semko's sweet little tale of three children's fascination with hippies at the end of the Sixties.

The summer I turned eleven, my sister Brooke and I would often get together with a neighborhood friend to play a game of our own invention called Hippies. This was in 1969, and although our hometown of Scranton was hopelessly behind the times, Brooke and I were not. We knew all about hippies, and got our knowledge from television - specifically from cop shows. Our friend Amy, on the other hand, wasn't allowed to watch anything more violent than Family Affair. Still, Amy's enthusiasm matched ours. And she did have connections: her big-city cousin, who visited Scranton just the summer before, was now doing time for the dope patch in his garden.

Unfortunately, Hippies was no ordinary pastime. It was, in fact, just the sort of activity our parents worried about the most. For years, ever since we were old enough to play on our own, they'd filled our heads with nightmare stories of children who experimented with games, children who became forever lost in the unsavory worlds of House and Post Office and - worst of all - Doctor.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Depressing Command by Feyisayo Anjorin

Feyisayo Anjorin's powerful insight into the entrapment of command in a sadistic African dictatorship.

Major Benson exhaled deeply and entered the office of the supreme commander. The bulgy eyed general was seated on the throne-like burgundy chair behind the mahogany desk, with the day's issue of the Salone Times covering his face.

His desk was littered with files and papers, and the ashtray on it was filled to the brim with cigarette butts.

General Abolade was reading the article written by Fati Samuel, Major Benson was certain.

Nothing else in the newspaper would have ignited the intense hate that he had noticed when the general gave him a brief glance of acknowledgement. Major Benson was sure.

He kept his eyes on the giant coat of arms of the Sierra Leonean government that was on the wall behind his boss.

"Who the hell is this moron? This idiot had the audacity and the the... the..." The general snorted and the Major's heart pounded like a jungle drum.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dorothy, The Cadillac, and the Lake by Brandon Petty

Arthur Anderson sits in his old Cadillac reminiscing about the times he and his wife Dorothy had with the car; by Brandon Petty.

The old door burst open. It clattered and shook on its hinges as Arthur shuffled into the garage. Tucked under his arm was a simple wooden box with beveled edges, stained in a dark cherry finish. In his hand he clenched a set of keys, a faded blue rabbits foot dangling from them by a chain. He paused for a moment, considering what he was about to do. But when his eyes fell upon the midnight blue Cadillac, he was filled with determination.

He had lost his license some years ago, a byproduct of age. But, he had never stopped coming out to the garage. At least once a week he would come out and wipe the dust off with a rag. On occasion he would sit behind the wheel, listening to the oldies station on the a.m. radio. Sometimes Dorothy would even join him, but she hadn't in quite a while.

He slipped behind the wheel with some effort, placing the wooden box on the bench seat next to him. He shut the door behind him and with a turn of a key the car shook and sputtered to life. He had forgotten how good it felt to wrap his fingers around the steering wheel. As a smile began to stretch across his face, he reached down and put the car into reverse.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Noir by Fred Skolnik

Charlie Walker gets out of prison after five years and seems to be managing to restart his life, until he falls for a femme fatale; by Fred Skolnik.

When Walker got out of the pen he checked into a cheap hotel across the street from a bar & grill with a flashing neon sign. The light went on and off as he lay in his bed smoking a cigarette and listening to the rain outside. He wasn't really thinking about anything, just listening to the rain and enjoying the smoke. Afterwards he had a good meal in a chophouse and found a woman walking the rain-washed streets. It started to rain again later so he waited in a doorway smoking another cigarette and watching the cars go by. He could see the rain falling in their headlights and under the streetlamps. He felt good now, better than he'd felt for a long time. He wasn't the type to get excited about things. He was a low-key, easy-going type who just drifted along, maybe too easy-going because he'd operated like an amateur and that had gotten him five years inside. He'd gotten used to the joint fast enough and after a while it suited him like any other kind of life. Nothing really changed for him. He had long, serious talks with other cons who spoke softly like him, talks about how they'd been wronged and how you had to look out for yourself, and he liked to have one last cigarette before turning in and that put him in touch with himself, it was just him and the cigarette and his random thoughts all locked together in an intimate kind of way. It didn't really dawn on him that he was out until he'd had the woman and the good meal. But then, when he lay on his bed smoking the last cigarette of the day, it was as though he was inside again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Tobacco Tin by Jane Percival

Jane Percival's character tells the story of how he got through hard times during his childhood by spending time with his Granddad.

Granddad was killed in the Great War. He was conscripted by ballot in 1916 at the age of 31, leaving Grandma behind with four children. They never found his body. No doubt it was buried somewhere in the mud of Passchendaele. Mum said that all Grandma got was a telegram from the War Department, 'We regret to inform you...' Mum was the oldest and thirteen at the time, and it was tough going - helping to look after her little brother and sisters. She left home as soon as she could and had me when she was 25 - there wasn't much around by way of husband material.

I've thought of Granddad just about every day of my life. Anzac Day is this Friday and I saw an old biddy selling the red poppies down by Countdown this morning. The poppies aren't the real thing anymore - they're made in China. I have a framed sepia photograph of Granddad in my room upstairs. He's posing in front of a studio backdrop with his hands held behind his back. His uniform is buttoned and belted tightly, he has puttees from his knees to his ankles and a peaked cap. Actually, he looks a bit like me when I was younger.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Family Business by Micah Lally

Dara faces the uncomfortable truth about her father's job; by Micah Lally.

"What do you think he's doing in there?" Dara asked. Muffled grunts and low whispers permeated through the door occasionally, but it was never very clear. It took a great deal of her will power to keep her black boots facing outward and her shoulders pressed against the door, arms crossed.

"You don't wanna know. I can promise you that," Greg said, chewing on his toothpick. He stood in the same formation as Dara against the wall beside her, only his eyes were closed.

She envied the older man. He had been working with her father for years. The scars on his knuckles and lines in his face told more stories about their endeavors than she could ever learn. Dara wasn't inexperienced either, sporting her own share of marks, but it was rare for her to get to accompany them personally. She'd spent most of the night rocking on the thin heels of her boots, chewing on the inside of her cheek. By this hour, she tasted blood and swallowed hard. "They've been in there for forever."

"So you're an expert on eternity now?" he said.

"No," she scowled. "Dad just doesn't normally take very long when it comes to business."

"Baby, this ain't business. This is personal."

Friday, January 9, 2015

Argyle Nights by Paul Beckman

Paul Beckman's Jewish character imagines building a fence between himself and his wife, one picket at a time.

"If you loved me, you would fight with me - you would at least argue with me - you wouldn't just sit and stare," my late wife Vanessa would say. "Don't you care enough to argue - to raise your voice? What kind of man doesn't have a strong point of view? Or any point of view? I'll tell you," she would say. "A man with no love in his soul. A man with no soul. That's who. That's who you are."

Before that period of our life Vanessa would say to me, "Stop fighting with me all the time. Can't you ever go along? Why does everything have to be a debate with you? If you loved me, really loved me, you would let me have my way once in a while instead of fighting me at every turn."

Neither approach worked with Vanessa. I tried to change - I did change; but what good did it do? I was wrong no matter which way I turned and on August fourteenth everything began to change. Once the change began to happen it couldn't be undone. I didn't know it then, nor did Vanessa. On August fourteenth I began building my fence.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Peter Crown by The Wynn Brothers

The Devil visits Peter Crown and offers him a last chance to save himself; by The Wynn Brothers.

"Seventy hours," said the man across the table from Peter Crown. Peter had invited him in for tea on an impulse that didn't feel like his own. He didn't even remember hearing a knock at the door.

Somewhere in the middle of the pouring, the man introduced himself as the Devil. He said it with a disturbing pride, and Peter opted not to argue.

"Seventy hours," the Devil repeated as he stirred his tea. "That's how long you have to save your life."

Between sips, he explained the deal. The Devil had arrived precisely two days and twenty-two hours before Peter Crown was scheduled to die. But Peter could win back his life, if he could accomplish one simple task.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Moving Away by Ceinwen Haydon

Dan and Megan write their thoughts in unsent letters as they make the difficult decision to move deeper into the country; by Ceinwen Haydon.


Leaving the city was never going to be easy, but the decision was made. I could work as an informatics consultant from pretty much anywhere, as long as I could access a train station for occasional meetings. You had told me that the only way that you could write unencumbered was to move to a quiet place. You wanted a rural retreat, the more remote the better. You saw yourself as compromising on your ideal when you found the cottage, which you said that you'd picked with my needs in mind.

Last November you'd had a health scare, but in the end the lump in your breast had proved to be benign. By Christmas you'd started to believe the good news, and I was overwhelmed with relief. Thinking of losing you had shocked me more than I cared to admit, and I was ready to give you anything. I hadn't always been fair to you in the past, and I was determined to do better. I'd intended to listen to you, and to relate to your dreams instead of trying to drag you towards my priorities. When you spent Christmas Eve in a wistful reverie, aided and abetted by Prosecco, looking at properties for sale in the Northumberland hills, I seized the initiative. 'Megan, if that's where you really want to be, where you can be at ease and finish your novel, we'll find a way to go.' You'd looked at me questioningly, 'Dan, don't torment me, you know you're at home in the city. You don't mean that,' she hesitated, 'Do you?' It was the pure innocence of you that challenged me to prove myself in earnest, 'Yes of course, I wouldn't have said it otherwise.' Eventually I convinced you more effectively than I convinced myself. Onwards and upwards, the genie was out of the bottle, never to return.

Friday, January 2, 2015

To Be It by Amanda Thompson

School bully Dewey McDoogal challenges Marshall to re-enact a dangerous Japanese ritual; by Amanda Thompson.

"Come on, it's just a game," Dewey McDoogal says, a condescending sneer coloring his pudgy face, his nose crinkling slightly and squishing the smattering of freckles that lie there together. He leans a hip on the desk, his two cronies, Dumb and Dumber, boxing me in at the computer. My chair is pushed under the desk so close that the wood is biting into my chest, making it hard for me to breathe.

"Dewey," I say through my teeth, my fingers tightening ever-so-slightly on the white mouse, index finger jabbing the left button as I click on another link about Japanese folklore for my research project. "Please leave me alone, I want to finish my research."

"You're just chicken shit, y'know that?" Dewey says as he reaches over and gives me a shove, knocking me to the side of my chair. His actions receive praise from the two Dumbos, both parroting the chicken line. Dumb gains enough courage to push my head forward with two thick fingers.

"Look, Dewey, I have to finish my project. Go bother someone who isn't using their brain."