Sunday, August 30, 2015

Aunt Mary's 100 Birthday Party by Bill Vernon

Bill Vernon's flash about an old lady reflecting on things changing in the last hundred years.

Land sakes, I ain't seen so many people since they put me in here. I mean this place is all right, but I hated leavin' my home. Lived there, you know, for 55 years. But I cain't walk the two blocks to church no more. Cain't walk the aisles when I'm driven to market. Don't hear like I should. And my eyes ain't no better. I got to squint up even with glasses on, and lean close fer details.

You get my age, you got aches and pains all over. No wonder I mix up names, acallin' Kay Judy; Pat Jerry; Ruth Emmy, but she's dead, I know it, don't tell me, three or four years now. No wonder I fergit things like my teeth. One time I couldn't eat fer two whole days, lookin' fer 'em. Then there they was all the time sittin' perty as you please in a glass by the sink.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mia Bambina by James Mulhern

Molly moves into her student accommodation, ready to start a new life at Boston University, but she instantly takes a disliking to her roommate; by James Mulhern.

After I showed my paperwork to the girl at the desk and signed in, David, an upperclassman at Boston University who was helping freshmen move in, brought me to an elevator in the rear of the hall. In the short time it took to get to the fourth floor, he managed to tell me a bit about the alleged haunting of Eugene O'Neill. Shelton Hall was once an apartment building, and O'Neill and his wife Carlotta, whose psychiatrist had an office on Bay State Road, lived in suite 401 starting in 1951. Eugene died of Parkinson's disease in 1953.

David said, "His last words were 'Born in a hotel room and goddammit, died in a hotel room,'" as we reached the door of my suite, a pair of bedrooms (each shared by two females) with a common area. I was having trouble with the key; it wouldn't turn.

"Molly, let me help you with that." He placed his warm soft palm on my wrist. His hands were big with long delicate fingers, like those of a guitarist. I noticed how clean his nails were and I could smell his body odor - a mix of sweat and freshly baked bread. I felt my nipples harden. Maybe he would be my second? I thought. And I hoped he would be better than my first, a boy from my high school American History class, who I later found out was gay.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Blackberry Condition by Benjamin Cooper‏

A henpecked husband wants to spend some time away from his suffocating wife, but mysterious forces conspire to amplify his guilty conscience; by Benjamin Cooper.

Enthusiasm is not contagious, at least not when it comes to my wife. She never enjoyed or even feigned interest in the few simple pleasures that brought happiness to my otherwise mundane routine of married life. Whether it was a movie or a stand-up comedian I was looking forward to seeing, she was unequivocally indifferent. I was beyond caring, for it was now futile, a lost cause. Not even a ninth inning comeback by the home team could get her up from her seat and pry her eyes from her phone. Maybe she was just going through a mid-life crisis. Regardless, I was through trying to include her in my endeavors; there was no use in straining the relationship any further.

Thinking back to that life changing evening, I am glad I was alone for the night, reveling in personal time long overdue. For months I had succumbed to a life of monotony. The cycle of eating, sleeping, and working awaiting my every morning. And it was all done with my wife at my side, literally. We worked at the same telecommunications company, a faltering business with sub-standard pay and benefits. Almost every moment of my day was spent with her. My father had warned me living, let alone working with a significant other, was a task requiring tenacity. In hindsight, I should have heeded his words of wisdom.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Just a Spoonful of Horror by Gary Ives

A con in a horrible prison plots revenge against a fellow inmate; by Gary Ives.

Of the boys at the Malloy Farm, Mickey Markham was by far the prettiest with blond hair, fair skin, full lips, blue eyes and long eyelashes like a girl's. Let me say that here pretty counts. This he traded on among other boys but especially with the warden and screws. He could smooth talk candy bars and cigarettes out of the screws without, according to him, having to drop his pants. It was just on his looks and a certain charm. Work lists for the cotton field or mucking out the stalls or the tannery never saw Markham's name. This charm got him a soft permanent job in the kitchen, but everyone knew he was a sweet little pet to at least three fairy screws. His only duties were to help with clean up and to keep the napkin holders and salt shakers filled. Just the salt shakers as pepper was not allowed at Malloy farm. I think we, all of us, hated him for the ease that his face and frame allowed him, a primitive jealousy I suppose but I loathed Mickey Markham not just because he seemed to lead a charmed existence but because he was evil. Late one night during my first week at Malloy he and two other thugs had forced upon me a most unpleasant situation for which I had no defense. Since that time I, as the smarter boys here, carried a shiv. Me, I kept my distance from him as well as from his companion Jeremy Toomey, Malloy's 250lb yard shark. Toomey, mentally challenged, was serving his term for having killed his father and two brothers with a kitchen cleaver. It was ironic that his work station was as dishwasher in the scullery. My work stations were divided between mornings in the turnip fields and the afternoons on the garbage truck making pick up rounds, which seldom placed me in contact with either Markham or Toomey. Some may think of all of us at the Malloy Farm as evil individuals. After all, were we not all convicted youthful felons, condemned and sentenced by courts of law to the state's hundred year old reform school? But even here among us bad boys, evil, true evil is never prevalent. Evil is here, to be sure, and wicked things occur, but such things occur on the outside too. Most are here due to stupid choices often made under the influence of peer pressure, poverty, ignorance, and drugs. Even here the good outnumber the bad and the ugly. Certainly the truly bad are present, but in reality these are few.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Afternoon Express by Kate Franklin

Kate Franklin's character gets a cryptic warning from a stranger and wonders whether to heed it.

I had decided I was going to take the bus home, in spite of the warning I had received. As I made my way to the corner of Lincoln and Broad streets, I replayed the strange incident. That morning, hurrying off the bus as usual, I bumped into a woman, and was about to beg her pardon, when in a voice that was barely above a whisper, she said, "Don't take the 513 bus home this afternoon."

"What?" I had never seen her before. She was young, early twenties I'd guess, dressed jeans with a grey sweatshirt. Her hair was pulled into a single braid that fell between her shoulder blades and disappeared beneath a tattered backpack. This was definitely not the kind of person you'd expect to utter a cryptic warning to a complete stranger.

"Don't take the 513 bus home this afternoon," she repeated in a whisper. Her dark blue eyes met mine, and her hand rested lightly on my shoulder. "It really wouldn't be a good idea." Then she turned away.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Beyond the Veil by Jace Killan

Edith's father asks her to come with him on a mission to sail past the edge of the world - but great sacrifices will need to be made to succeed; by Jace Killan.

My father told me that he planned to sail to the abyss at the edge of the world.

"Again with this nonsense, Cap?" I said.

My father started to speak, but refrained, instead making his way to the docks. He preferred being called Cap, being the most experienced seaman around, though a growing number in the kingdom thought him insane - including me.

I spat and hurried to catch up. Mother was probably turning in her grave to see her teenage daughter behaving so uncomely. But I took after Cap, from his soft blue eyes to his large stature, even his sailor habits.

I was only eighteen, yet I knew more about the trade than most sailors. I accompanied Cap on many journeys to sea, but he never took me to the edge and I never protested.

Most knew about the edge and stayed away, but when he was a cabin boy on the Genesis, the captain and crew celebrated a racing victory by getting drunk, as was the custom, only this particular time they forgot to lay anchor. When the crew awoke, they were poised on the edge of the world. Where the ocean fell into an abyss, the veil kept the ship from doing the same.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Misfit by Andrew Elsakr

Andrew Elsakr's despicable character strays from his marital vows during yet another long business trip, but things will soon come to a head.

She doesn't flinch when she sees my ring, and that's how I know I've got her. Our hands come together above the thin economy class armrest and our fingers interlock. Her palms are hot and sweaty and I'm willing to bet she's never done this before.

"Wake me when we're there," she says as she tilts back her head and closes her eyes. I look at her enviously, wishing I had the capacity to fall asleep on flights. You'd think that with all the flying I do I'd be comfortable by now but I'm not and I don't think I ever will be.

The flight attendant walks by in the brisk way that they do and I nearly fall out of my seat to get her attention.

"Sir?" She says in a foreign accent.

"A bloody mary, please," I say in my most sweetest voice.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Goodbye Butterfly by Hanja Kochansky

Hanja and her son go for a meal in Paris with a friend, and find a butterfly in the street, in Hanja Kochansky's charming autobiographical scene.

What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.
- Lao Tzu

We had already walked past it before I realized that what the corner of my eye had accidentally observed on a wet cobblestone in the alleyway was a black and white butterfly. I turned to see that indeed it was, right there, in the middle of the passageway, where, at any moment, a foot might crush her, or the tyre of a bicycle might... Oh!

I picked her up carefully. The underside of her wings was the colour of saffron. Immobile, she was hunched within herself like a tulip that had closed up for the night. It had been raining. Perhaps her wings had gotten wet. I recalled my father telling me when I was a child, as young as my son, Kasimir, who was now watching over me with wide blue-eyed interest, that butterflies have an imperceptible mantel of fine dust on their frail wings, which, if tampered with, might cause them such damage that they would no longer be able to fly. Oh!

"Can I kiss her very gently?" asked my almost six-year-old boy.

Philip laughed - his laugh is a mixture of mirth and cynicism - youthful folly and steel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

From Yesterday Today, From Today Tomorrow by Ceinwen Haydon

Marianne revisits scenes from her past and wonders if her parents were truly happy together; by Ceinwen Haydon.

We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours.

Dag Hammarskjold (1905 - 1961)

Once upon a time in 1958 in a north east English town, the zeitgeist was hard at work, kicking the traces of convention and opening doors for the young. Truth is multifaceted according to who is telling the tale, and who is listening. A judiciously placed fly on the wall might have described the unfolding events as follows.

The bus raced past, throwing up dirty water is in its wake. The young woman who'd attempted to hail it was drenched by the rank and oily spume. Ignored and desolate, she gave up and made to return to her room in the boarding house. Linda had worn her one pretty dress, a lightweight cotton garment more suited to summer nights than this October gloom. The sodden cloth now clung indiscreetly to her goose pimpled thighs. Her mac offered her no warmth and little protection from the fast falling rain. Recklessly she'd dared to dream. She'd thought that this canny lad, who she'd shyly warmed to when he came to pick up his wages each week from her accounts desk at the factory, might be the one for her. Her fantasies careered skywards when he'd invited her out last week. Now they spluttered out like a damp squib. More fool her, she berated herself. Normally she was more modest in her aspirations, she'd had to be after life in the children's home where she had grown up. She'd learnt her place in the world right enough. She remembered asking the careers advisor about teacher training college in her last term at school. A modest enough ambition for most bright girls, but for her? Well, the woman's face said it all, her mocking frown, then her attempt to erase it with a smile, as she counselled this silly child to be realistic.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Apps Themselves by Matthew Hentrich

Quilla is recruited as a cryptographer on an airship embarking on a suicide mission in post-apocalyptic Florida; by Matthew Hentrich.

Popular misconception number one: Airships are super cool bags of helium that are either A) indestructible or B) comically easy to destroy, making everyone wonder how the airship got anywhere to begin with. In reality, the airship concept was perfected in the year 2021 with the launch of the Aeroscraft, a 512 foot long and 198 foot wide fully rigid luxury airliner. Its skeleton was made of a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber, and its lift was generated by a series of non-flammable helium cells that inflated and deflated like balloons as needed. It certainly wasn't indestructible, but it wasn't likely to go all Hindenburg either.

Popular misconception number two: Sentient artificial intelligence would arise as the product of an ultra secret government defense project and it would decide to start nuking everyone because it misunderstood its primary objective or because it just stopped caring about the humans who programmed it. In reality, computer-based sentience came online the same way human sentience did - gradually, without any big announcement or fireworks that it had arrived. Nobody knew - especially the AI in question - that it had sort of, kind of, became sentient. It just was sentient, eventually. After all, it's not like some primate ancestor of humans just hopped off its tree one day and declared, 'Whoa! I just realized I'm sentient!'

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Disgrace by Beryl Ensor-Smith

The innocent and prudish Church Sisters of a backwater South African town are shocked to learn that one of their number is reading Fifty Shades of Grey; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

It was the liveliest discussion the Church Sisters had had in years, but Christina du Plessis managed, with one stark, startling comment, to bring it to an abrupt halt.

The new outreach programme needed a name and suggestions had been invited from the broader church community, the only requirement being that the name be alliterative. That had not seemed too much to ask, but some of the proposals received had led to heated argument among the Sisters.

The purpose of the programme itself was to make up parcels of basic necessities for the poor, many to be found in their own community and even more among the squatters along the banks of the vlei. Who would have thought that giving the programme a name would prove so difficult? Some of the suggestions received were nothing short of ludicrous; take, for example:

Charming Charity. Mrs Merton snorted that this was an oxymoron. Few of the Sisters knew what the word meant, but many were of the opinion that she was the moron.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

One Oh for Tillie by Tom Sheehan

Mike, thirteen years old and blossoming into adolescence, spends a memorable summer at the farm of his father's friend in Tom Sheehan's intimate and lyrical coming-of-age tale.

It didn't announce itself, the difference in the room, but it was there, of that he was positive. It wasn't the soft caress of the new blanket, or the deeply sensed mattress he'd never slept on before, or the grass-laden air entirely new to him pushing through the open window and tumbling like puppies on his face. If he opened his eyes he'd know, but he had kept them shut - enjoying the self-created anxiety, the deliciousness of minute fright that he'd conjured up. There was apprehension and a plethora of mental groping going on. Being alone was also new to him, but being aware of a presence did make a difference, if he could only believe what he was telling himself. At thirteen he knew you sometimes had difficulty believing yourself.

But the fact of presence suddenly hit him full force, though it had an argument attached. He didn't want to leap wildly out of bed (there was a chance he could be embarrassed), so he pretended again, this time emergence, slow and oh so deliberate emergence - from his woolen cocoon, from a dark and mysterious Caribbean cave close upon the jungle, from under the lashed canvas aboard the ship of an evil one-eyed captain of pirates, from behind the dark curtains of a magician or castle wall. What he could not do was look out of the back of his head, though he tried, trying to move the slits of his eyes, now finding morning by its faintness, so that he could see behind him.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Distant Sun by Grant Boshoff

A luxury space cruiser carries an empath on a vital mission to preserve her species, and a mysterious assassin determined to stop her; by Grant Boshoff.

Doors plague my dreams.

All of them just out of reach, they beckon to me, speaking in some ethereal tone just below the level of consciousness.

My mind is numb, my thoughts mangled. I am wrapped in a furnace of emotion so intense that I will surely suffocate. Not a single thread of logic can I derive from the maelstrom that is my consciousness.

Or is it even consciousness?

Perhaps I have passed from the physical world?

Coherent thoughts remain elusive. Yet at the edge of my perception there is always a door, its cold white surface enjoining me to approach. To pass through.

I sense that I have achieved a great triumph and yet an unspeakable loss.

But nothing is clear now. Nothing is certain.

Except the ever present heat.


I wait for her in the outbound terminal.

The immense blackness of space presses against the viewing port in front of me. A blackness I share. A void within, which mirrors that without. And in my void winks that single star. My singular purpose. Not devised or constructed by me but rather embedded at the forging of my being. A purpose I shall soon fulfill.