Sunday, November 29, 2015

Carjacking by Jerry McFadden

Two gang members get more than they bargained for when they jack a Chevy; by Jerry McFadden.

Jason and LeShawne were in an ugly mood. No one would give them a ride to the mall. They finally had to take the Metro bus, slouching low in the seats so no one could see them. The massive parking lot in the hot sun turned their mood from ugly to surly as they looked in vain for a vehicle to 'jack, something slick and sleek that would impress the homeys.

Then they thought they had it: A dude walked out of Macy's, going straight for a black Dodge Viper. Definitely a sweet ride - but their timing was off. The dude backed out of his parking space before they could get there. The car blew out of the lot in a screech of tires and blue smoke, laying a strip of rubber all the way to the exit. Jason and LeShawne were outraged. They didn't get the license plate number but they agreed the next time they saw a black Dodge Viper, that driver was in trouble. The car was gonna be theirs for sure, but they were gonna trash his ass, too, as payback.

They went once more around the parking lot, in the hot sun, righteously pissed. Have a good day, your ass. By mutual but unspoken understanding, they were not doing any more sports cars. Gotta go instead for something big. Something oversized. Something that would take up space in the 'hood, something they could party in.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ma Blake's by James McEwan

James McEwan's story of lust and addiction in the swamps of Belize.

The plank snapped and Allan fell off into the rancid mud, where his legs sank in up to his knees. He leaned forward, stretching towards the solid ground, and grabbed hold of a mango tree root. As he pulled himself onto the path his left foot slid out of his running shoe, which was stuck fast by the suction of the sludge. A murky effluent oozed into the vacant holes, and air bubbles gurgled up through the slime as if his trainer was whimpering for help before it was drowned in the stagnant swamp.

He sat down and laughed. Perhaps this fall was a sign, like some ominous warning of how every step from now on would be just as precarious. So what, he wasn't superstitious. Not like Mai Ling who would chide him with, 'Disaster follow disaster,' but she was not here, unfortunately.

Was it really so long ago when they had held each other and kissed? Six months gone since he had smelled the fresh jasmine from her hair as it waved softly over his cheek. She had held him tight, and repeatedly said that he must write every day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finding Space by Alice Benson

Divorcee Ann is content with her lot in life, but maybe she should be demanding more; by Alice Benson.

Ann was grateful for the automatic timer on her coffee pot, a gift to herself on her recent thirty-third birthday. She could smell the pungent brew before she was completely awake. Some days, the sharp aroma of coffee was the only thing that got her out of bed. Well, that and two high-maintenance middle-school kids.

"Mom, what's for breakfast?"

"Mom, I can't find my Miss Me jeans."

"Mom, can you drive me today?"

"Mom, I forgot, I need batteries for my science project."

Once Ann got the kids off to the bus stop, she treasured her second cup of coffee and ten minutes of solitude on her tiny back porch before she had to leave for work. The porch was a mud room; coats hung there in the three seasons when it wasn't so cold that they froze solid over night. A catch-all for shoes, canvas bags, and recycling, without even enough room for a chair. But when the weather was above freezing, Ann took her coffee to the porch, stood, sipped and watched the world in her backyard. It calmed her. A big walnut tree, home to dozens of squirrels. A small patch of crab grass and dandelions that she'd given up doing anything to except mowing once a week. Chipmunks nesting under the back steps. And her birds. She hung a small birdfeeder on a squirrel-resistant pole, right beside the lilac bush. Cardinals, chickadees and sparrows hopped, sang, and pecked, adding color and sound and grace to her morning routine.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Killing Frost by Sharon Frame Gay

At 92, James Frost enters a retirement home, and the company of women stirs old lusts; by Sharon Frame Gay.

James Frost leaned back in the recliner, adjusting his body into the soft confines of the old chair. It was leather, shiny with age, comfortable as a slipper. It was the only piece of furniture he had brought with him from home when he moved into Garden Court last year. Hell, at 92 it was time that he treat himself to a little comfort. He was tired of cooking, tired of housework, tired of watching his late wife's garden wilt and deteriorate into patches of dirt, only memories remaining of the gladioli, daisies, and Lily of The Valley that Millie loved.

After Millie died, Checkers, the old spaniel, withered and died too. Suddenly the lonely house echoed with the groans of ancient boards and mice in the attic. The sound of his own footsteps shuffling down the hall was enough to make James wish he had died too.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Nun's Arse by James Mulhern

Molly and her grandmother visit addle-brained neighbour Mary Muldoon, whom Molly can't stand; by James Mulhern.

"What a shame," Nonna said when I arrived at her place after working at the family restaurant. "Mary Muldoon just called. Drunk as a skunk, asking if I knew where her husband Jim was and quite annoyed at the Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant. Said they were sending her pork fried rice and egg rolls at least three times a week. Claims she never ordered a thing."

"Where's her husband?"

"He's dead, Molly. Has been for years. She found him in the living room around dinner time. Massive heart attack."

"Oh, that's terrible."

"She must be having blackouts and forgetting things. Or she's imagining that they are delivering the food. Mary has squash rot," Nonna said. "Poor thing. Her mind's all messed up."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Murder by Plastic by Phil Slattery

Alan Patterson wakes up to find past indiscretions have caught up with him in Phil Slattery's crime short.

When Alan Patterson awoke, he found himself naked and bound with wire to a heavy wooden chair with duct tape sealing his mouth. His head throbbed. The night was hot and humid and sweat rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, blurring his vision. He blinked a few times to clear them. He noticed a large, sharply dressed man sitting on another wooden chair a few feet away. The man seemed very serious and squinted through small, piggish eyes.

Glancing around, Alan saw that he was in a dilapidated warehouse. A half dozen younger, just as sharply dressed, just as serious men stood behind the seated man. One held a bucket of water. On a small work-bench to his left, Alan saw a hacksaw, a blowtorch, pliers, a claw hammer, a skinning knife, and a meat cleaver. He also saw a dozen stolen credit cards he had recently bought from Joey "Snake Eyes" Abandonato and had intended to sell.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Creep Factor by DC Diamondopolous

When her friends' shop is held up, jewellery store owner Tammy gets scared by a menacing-looking potential customer; by DC Diamondopolous.

Tammy had nightmares of the man she saw in her store window. His elongated face chased her through the streets of the San Fernando Valley, her terror mounting like a progression of staccato hits rising up the scales on an untuned piano. She always woke up screaming before the crescendo.

It all began after Rachel had a gun held to her head for a measly fifty dollars. How dumb could the thief be, holding up a pillow-and-accessory shop when Dazzles, Tammy's store three doors away, sold jewelry? It was costume, plastic, some silver, a few pieces of gold, but, a pillow store?

After the police left, Rachel came in screaming and crying, "Why me?" her eyes red and twitching, mouth pinched. Tammy knew what Rachel was thinking: you take in more money than I do, why didn't he put a gun to your head?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Another Time by James Mulhern

When his wife leaves him and his school descends towards anarchy, a teacher is forced to change his perspective; by James Mulhern.

It has been two years since my ex-wife, Kate, announced that she was unhappy and wanted to end our marriage. I had confronted her about emails from her female lover, Deb, whom she had met in yoga class.

Kate said that our relationship lacked passion, and if I were honest with myself I would recognize this truth. In order for both of us to grow, she explained, we needed "clarity in our communication process." Meeting Deb was the beginning of a new phase in her life. A process of individuation, she called it, a term Dr. Kelleher, her Jungian psychologist, had used.

"Crisis is good, Jack," she said one morning while we were both getting ready for work. "Both of us have the opportunity for real growth here. I'm sorry that you had to find out this way, but why the hell were you snooping around in my email account?" She looked at me in the mirror as she applied her makeup. Her blue eyes, the first thing that I had noticed about her when we sat across from each other in high school math class, seemed cold and hard.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dancing in the Moonlight by James Krehbiel

Charles returns to the home of his newly widowed father and spends time with his sisters, bossy Cynthia and reserved Claire; by James Krehbiel.

Cynthia texted me while I waited at the baggage return in the Buffalo airport. Her message was cryptic. Where are you? You're too late and we're heading back to the house. It didn't surprise me that she texted instead of calling. And it didn't surprise me that there was no mention of Dad and how he was holding up. It probably never occurred to her that I'd want to know.

The taxi ride home pulled me back to what felt like another life. My high school soccer field where I stood during phys. ed. class hoping I wouldn't be picked last again, the third floor art room window where I'd wait outside the door waiting for Mr. Silveri to show up so I could avoid Richard Faulk's torment and the Buffalo Zoo that Dad had taken us kids to seemed held in the past.

The driver turned into my neighborhood where the houses built back in the early 1900s stood with purpose. Their front porches stretched across their facades with ornate woodwork and bay windows with leaded glass. My family home stood proudly amongst all the others.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Moon on the Water by Matthew Lee

Silvermoon, the Lord Regent's daughter, send the men of Kong Du on a dangerous quest in the hope that one will prove himself worthy to be her husband, in Matthew Lee's rich fantasy.

Silvermoon stood by her bedroom window, deep in thought, and contemplated the falling snow. The flakes gathered thickly on the pine trees that stood guard throughout the palace's inner ward, and while the branches turned to long, lumpen fingers like an arthritic old lady's bloodless hands, the young woman thought about the kind of man she wanted to marry. Clever, compassionate, wise and brave - was this too much to ask? Instead she got one foolish boy after another trying to seduce her, and none of them with a single thought in their heads for anyone besides themselves.

In the First Kingdom, when a daughter of one of the noble families came of age, tradition meant she was generally expected to pick out a promising candidate herself. Countless suitors had already flocked to Silvermoon's door. Some of these men were beautiful, some were skilled with a blade, some were well versed in courtly discourse and others titled. But she found them all insufferably self-centred.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Assumptions by James Mulhern

James Mulhern's character recalls growing up in a strongly Catholic family with characterful neighbour Peggy Fleming.

"You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you." (Song of Solomon 4:7)

Peggy Fleming, according to my grandfather was the "homeliest damn woman" he'd ever seen. Her face was swollen and pasty, with broken capillaries that sloped down the sides of her nostrils, flooding the arid plain of her skin, like some dreary river and its tributaries eking over a delta of nasolabial folds to terminate in the red seas of two droopy cheeks. Spindly, awkward limbs stuck out of a round body, like you might see in a kindergartner's rendering of a person. She was, unfortunately, toothless, and hairless as well, suffering from a mysterious childhood disease that had left her with chronic alopecia. Peggy used to tell us kids that she lost all her hair because she refused to eat green beans when she was a child. I always thought it a cruel irony that she had the same name as the graceful and beautiful skater who had won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1968.

I remember hearing my grandparents and Auntie Ag, my grandmother's older and "much smarter" sister (the one who graduated high school), likening Peggy's features to those of a bulldog, as they puffed away on Lucky Strikes and Parliaments, stopping every now and then to slap down a poker chip or a playing card, and take another sip of whiskey. While they played cards, I circled the kitchen table and listened, picking up snippets about Peggy's tragic life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Angelic Tendencies by Jordan Anderson

Abigail wishes for the protection of angels after being sexually abused by her uncle, but when the angels come they are not what she expects; by Jordan Anderson.

There was a small hole in Abigail's favorite blanket, towards the end that she kept at her feet most nights. It was near the side with the worn paper tag and she often woke up in the mornings with one of her toes poking through. It was still night, however, and as her big toe wiggled in and out of the tattered hole, she stared out of the window to her left above where she lay into the clear midnight sky.

Uncle Reed was going to visit again tonight like he had every night since Aunt Cheryl had gone, leaving on some trip for work a week prior. Abigail remembered her aunt telling her that, when she got back, they were going to go together to the elementary school in town to register for second grade. She hadn't remembered exactly how long Aunt Cheryl was supposed to be gone, but Abigail had stopped hoping for her return after the last few horrific nights.

The first night he had come to her, she had awoken to him sitting on her bed, stroking her face with his calloused fingers. They were rough but he was family and she assumed it was meant to comfort her. And it did, at first. When his hand had moved down to her chest and stomach, she still did not think ill of his touch. But then his fingers were inside of her and that's when the pain had started.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

SID by Julian Harvard

A man buys a domestic robot that exhibits surprising behaviour; by Julian Harvard.

For one week in April, Sid woke me with updates on the death toll from some landslide in Pakistan. On Monday, one hundred. By Wednesday it was double. On Friday five hundred were confirmed to have drowned, or suffocated or whatever kills people in a landslide. By Saturday it was no longer the main story. Instead, Sid told me about a massacre at a school in Norway. The death toll was, and would remain at, fourteen. Five days after the landslide, hours after the massacre, Sid would suggest that I kill myself.

Sid's voice was almost like a real person's, dipping and rising, conveying surprise or excitement or pathos. It gauged the mood of the landslide perfectly, adopting that matter-of-fact newsreader style. There's this many dead, there'll probably be more, a tragedy on a vast scale... But it is what it is. It's the tone of a doctor telling you they're sorry, you have inoperable cancer, but that's simply how life goes. I tried to approximate the tone myself when I was put in charge of redundancies at work. At first I was too grave, like I was telling them the worst possible news imaginable, something that once heard would irreversibly destroy their lives. And so they took the news as such. If you talk about someone's job like it's their life then they'll run with that.

You're fired.

You're dead.