Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Now It Can Be Told by Fred Russell

Fred Russell's bitingly funny satire about the American military operation in Iraq.

It was the Vice President who got the idea of putting together a Special Forces team to mop up and flush out Saddam after the President proclaimed victory in Iraq. He wanted to put Clint Eastwood in charge of the operation but the Secretary of Defense told him that Clint didn't do that kind of thing anymore, having gone a little arty in his old age. "If only we could get Arnold," he said.

"What about Steven Seagal?" the Vice President said.

"I think the Israelis are using him in Gaza."

"Van Damme?"

"Let's keep this American."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers by Ceinwen Haydon

Two strangers with deep personal tragedies meet on a lonely hillside path, and for a moment their destinies are intertwined; by Ceinwen Haydon.

"...Sometimes one feels freer speaking to a stranger than to people one knows. Why is that?"

"Probably because a stranger sees us the way we are, not as he wishes to think we are."

From 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

1. John

I left the house, my chest tight and my face rigid. I followed a track at the end of the village, an old drovers' road on which I was unlikely to meet anyone. As I walked I kicked a fallen conker in front of me, it had lost its sheen and was now a sad reminder of the bright nut that had lately emerged from its prickly green shell. The lignin veneer had dried up, but the shell was now the stronger to bear my buffeting as it rolled along. I had lost my shine too but I was not stronger, at least not today.

After a mile or so I got into my stride and my heartbeat steadied. I tried to think what to do next, but accepted that this might take quite a while. I had to manage my agitation before I made my final decision. A hare with a strong gait loped across my path three or four meters ahead and it entranced me; then it disappeared into the hedgerow, and overwrought as I was I felt its departure as a personal loss. An air of sorrow clung to each aspect of my senses and it reinterpreted the world in terms of naked sadness.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Posture Pictures by C. Davis Fogg

C. Davis Fogg tells the story of how as a Yale freshman in the 1950s he and his friends conspired to steal the notorious Ivy League nude posture photos from Vassar.

I stood buck naked, arms by my side, in front of the camera. The short, hunched, wizened photographer leered at me with a crooked smile and said: "Arms down, front to the camera. Click. Turn ninety degrees. Click. Turn. Click. Turn again. Click. You're finished. Next."

This was not a picture for the Yale class of 1959 freshman directory. Nor do I think that there were a bunch of perverts or pornographers who sold our pictures to Vassar or Wellesley girls so they could pick a date with some well-hung guy. No, they were posture pictures - images taken to see if our posture was correct, or if we had curvature of the something or other, an unbecoming lean, or some other skeletal distortion that we didn't know we had. I've forgotten what my breach of "posture etiquette" was, but it was apparently serious. I was assigned posture class for a semester. They hoped to make us military erect, not that any hormone-driven freshman ever minded being fully erect.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Old by Doug Hawley

Mike Wilkie has the perfect family, but will he remain blessed through difficult times? By Doug Hawley.

The Perfect Couple

Everyone thought that Janet and Mike Wilkie were the perfect couple, and with good reason. Both of them were as close to physically perfect as imaginable. Janet was a tall Filipina-Irish mix and Mike was Italian-German. She was 5'8" and model-attractive and he was 6'3" and could have done ads in Esquire. Both were athletic, she was a distance swimmer who had swum the Bosporus and he had been drafted as a point guard for the Boston Celtics, but decided to start his own business.

While Mike was perfecting his electronic empire, Gold, which rivaled Apple or Microsoft, Janet had moved from local showings of her paintings to achieving huge success in New York and other world capitals. Many of her works of neo-impressionism, or as they came to be known to those who lusted for neologisms, heightened reality, appeared in the halls of major corporations. Her paintings, according to one critic "looked more real than real".

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tiny Dancer and the Roadmaster by Renata Scruggs

Elton buys a haunted Buick which forces him to question his and his mother's past; by Renata Scruggs.

The Roadmaster station wagon had seen better days. Dry rot claimed all four tires and the fake wood grain paneling, just a large sticker really, had peeled off in places, exposing the dull olive steel underneath. Still, it had no rust and the engine ran strong. Long and sleek, it could seat three people easily on each bench seat, plus two more in the way back. At $750, it was a bargain to begin with, but Elton figured he could talk the guy down to $500.

"It's a '94," said the owner. "I bought it used for my wife, but she wanted a minivan." Behind him, the man's crammed garage retched random auto parts onto the gravel driveway. Robbie had driven all the way to Staunton to see the Roadmaster. He wasn't sure why he wanted this car, but he did.

The owner eyed Elton. At twenty, Elton looked more like sixteen. He wore his wavy reddish hair draped across his forehead, torn jeans and a Leon Russell t-shirt. His skin was so pale that his best friend Dave sometimes called him a ghost. Dave had come along for the adventure; he wore a similar outfit, except his t-shirt displayed a faded cannabis leaf.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Clasp and Whisper By Matt Duggan

Barbara inherits a dark and insidious curse that threatens to bring her life to ruin; by Matt Duggan.

Barbara and Tom Watkins live very comfortable lives. Every year they select a room in their home to undergo a renovation. Their two children, Claire and Lillian, twins, will graduate from college in three months. Barbara works at her leisure as a yoga instructor. She's olive-skinned, a very youthful-looking fifty-year-old woman with straw blonde hair and hazel eyes. Congenial but slightly uptight, Barbara has led a privileged life. She's charitable when it's convenient. After the kitchen was remodeled Barbara purchased new silverware and gave her old knives, spoons and forks to the homeless shelter in Venice Beach where she donates all of her discarded belongings.

During one of her drop-offs at the shelter Barbara sat at the trunk of her car and waited for the two gentlemen who always unloaded her latest donation. This time it was an old tube television. Nearby, Barbara noticed a very frail elderly woman struggling with a walker as she sifted through a garbage bin. She turned and looked at Barbara. Barbara averted her eyes and quickly checked her iPhone. When she stole a glance back the elderly woman was making her way toward Barbara.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Art of Ownership by Brooke Fieldhouse

Hereward and his wife Sweetsmile put their beloved home Penn'th Hall on the market, but Hereward harbours secret motives; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

Hereward struts into the dining room, and gazes gloomily out to sea. The mist of the early morning has cleared and it's a glorious day. Trees are glowing like nuggets of gold, the water on the estuary shining like a giant plate of silver.

From a distant part of his estate he can hear the drumming of a woodpecker, and just outside the window a dove breaks free from its perch in an alder and a thousand fat little catkins swing backwards and forwards, releasing a tower of pollen into the warming air.

It's so unlike how Hereward feels inside.

There's something hanging over him. A dark cloud... A collection of gases; grubby, menacing, and coalescing inside his head. He's got to face facts - but please, not yet...

His eye comes to rest on the baize-like surface of the lawn outside the window, and he recalls the night twenty years ago when he danced. Not upon this lawn, but on the modest square of grass which had been the garden of his semi-detached in... somewhere no longer important. It had been the night his mother died, and he became certain that he would inherit a fortune large enough to purchase Penn'th Hall.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Whole Big Other World by Kevin Lavey

Annie's husband Mark, unsettled after leaving San Francisco, is having an affair with Jeff - how will Jeff's girlfriend Trang respond? By Kevin Lavey.

Mark, Trang, and Jeff sat beneath a light-filled canopy of tree branches on the second story deck in back of Mark and Annie's house.

"I haven't played much chess lately," Mark said.

"Who has?" Jeff said.

"Mark's not telling the truth," called Annie from the kitchen. "He plays on websites."

"Yeah, but I lose all the time."

Jeff glanced through the open sliding glass doors at Annie who rinsed vegetables at the sink. Adjacent to the kitchen was the sunroom with bamboo furniture, TV, Bose speakers hooked up to an iPhone stereo dock, large potted plants, and bookshelves. Annie washed her hands then wiped them with the kitchen towel.

"I'm thirsty. Anybody want anything?" Jeff said to Mark and Trang. He would cadge a moment alone with Annie.

"Grab some beers," Mark said.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Killing Time by GJ Hart

A drug-addled con artist reflects on his fall from grace; by GJ Hart.

He understood how people could disappear, people had legs, people could run! But the house, the swimming pool, the Vergogna Phryne in marble and bronze...

He closed his eyes and was back.

He strolled out, past the variegating beds, past the vast sycamore and on down to the wooden jetty cut between river birch.

He stood at the water's edge, breathing in breeze scented like tanned skin. From the kitchen he could hear Sharon singing and mixing Long Island teas.

When he opened his eyes what he saw seemed less real.

The jumble of gardens, barely delineated by broken fencing and littered with filth. The pissheads by the BT box fighting over last night's fried chicken. All set beneath tower blocks like upended pill trays, their panes patched with cardboard and hung with rags.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Skeleton Foxtrot by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste's quirky Halloween tale about sweet little witch.

Abrielle stomped her foot. It was a bedazzled foot, complete with striped stocking and black glitter. No self-respecting witch would tolerate anything less.

"I'm old enough to trick or treat by myself!" she scowled. "I'm nine years old, you know. I'm practically an adult."

Her father folded his newspaper on his lap. "It is a good neighborhood," he said. "She should be fine."

"I don't know." Brow furrowed, her mother lingered at the window as a pint-sized alien complete with silver antenna dashed past. "We haven't lived here long enough to know all the neighbors."

"You better let me go," Abrielle said and waved her plastic wand. "Or else I'll turn you both to newts."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Iridium by David W Landrum

Eyoline poses as a sex worker on a mission to infiltrate a gang of space pirates and assassinate their leader, for the good of the Merovingian people; by David W Landrum.

"So why don't you want to work with your own government?" Menv demanded. He had a reputation for getting right to the point.

"Because iridium is so rare they'll confiscate the mine the moment they find out about it - 'nationalize it,' they'll say. And they don't protect us from Biddle's pirates. We've got to pay him protection money, and we're tired of it."

"The Mervogian military can't bring ships and troops into your prime system. We can't set up a base here either. It's too dangerous."

"You can do it if we hire you as private contractors."

This time, Menv did not have a sarcastic comeback.

Prasata, who sat next to Stang, and who had been silent all this time, spoke up.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Character Assassination by Harry Downey

Peter tells the story of the supernaturally mysterious death of his detective crime writing friend; by Harry Downey.

That was the third call this morning. This time it was from the Sydney Clarion. Apparently they remembered down under just like everyone else seemed to everywhere. The media people won't leave us alone just now − all because it's ten years since Marty died. You know how these folks love their anniversaries. It gives the press and TV the chance to rake over the story again − not that it ever went away. Such a bizarre tale wouldn't anyway. But, just in case you don't watch telly, don't buy a newspaper or you've recently arrived from Alpha Centuri, let me tell you all about it. And this is the real story, from me − Peter, his closest friend since we were kids together − and Audrey, Marty's widow and now my wife.

Marty, of course, was Martin Bowden, author and creator of D.D. − 'Dolly Dalrymple' − the telly detective who is up there with Morse, Frost, Miss Marple, Taggart, Poirot and that bloke John Nettles used to play, living somewhere touristy where it seems as dangerous to live as Chicago was in the twenties. Every time they have polls on these things Dolly is shown right at the top of the fictional detective listings. It made Marty famous, very rich, and the young, barely-known actress chosen to play the lead into one of the biggest names around.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Timeline of a Crush By Rosemary Cacolice Brown

Andy recounts the story of how he met and fell in love with Julie; by Rosemary Cacolice Brown.

Today, while anticipating a relaxing weekend of ribs on the grill, football and cold beer, I casually glanced through the window of my Buick Century as I waited to turn left onto the freeway that would take me home. There she was, at the wheel of the car on my right. I recognized her instantly and hoped she would glance my way, but she never did. Then the light changed and she made the turn, leaving me to wonder how her life turned out.

In that moment, my self-promised weekend blipped off the radar as the summer of my eighteenth year rushed in, every crisp detail of that sweet slice of time in Rosedale, New York, 1998. I'd recently graduated from high school, still unsure about furthering my education or getting into the trades like my father, a carpenter of fine repute who provided services for those living in the bungalows and ranch houses that permeated our placid, tree-lined environs.