Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Alien Reading by Bill Vernon

An alien attending a poetry reading turns out to be a harsh critic; by Bill Vernon.

Tobor gazed at the clouds streaming east from the huge setting sun and repeated, "Vermilion! Vermilion!" The word rolled off his tongue in tri-syllabic sonority, and somehow its sound seemed to encase his experience of the wonderful sky.

Then he noticed a poster tacked onto a telephone pole: POET in huge letters. A person who made beauty out of words. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. EVERYONE WELCOME.

The serendipity of this announcement struck him forcefully.

He read more: INTERNATIONALLY FAMOUS AND ACCLAIMED, the poster declared, giving location and time, which was now, at this moment.

But did Tobor detect redundancy? If the poet were so famous, why list the titles of his 10 books or the PRESTIGIOUS national and international literary prizes the poet had won, none of which were in Tobor's encyclopedia. If this were not redundancy, then what? Possibly exaggeration. Was any living poet, in fact, famous in America? Tobor had observed very few people reading anything.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Stella's Starwish by Erica Verrillo

While working as a cleaner at an old people's home in Texas, Stella makes a friend from the other end of the country; by Erica Verrillo.

I'd been working at Shady Grove almost a year the morning Clarence moved in. It wasn't a day I would have remembered otherwise, since it started fairly typically with Mama red-eyed on the sofa and Hector passed out on the kitchen floor. Nothing new on the home front. It was wall-to-wall traffic all the way up I-10, as usual. My AC was on the fritz, so the commute was literally hell on wheels, and the only thing my radio was picking up was ET trying to make first contact.

Beam me up, I thought.

No such luck.

After I'd changed into my uniform, Mrs. Jackson took me over to meet the new inmate.

"Mr. Savage," said Mrs. Jackson. "This is Stella. She'll be cleaning your room." Mr. Savage bobbed his head at me. They were all polite when they first arrived. Once he'd gotten used to the place he'd be pinching my butt and hissing dirty jokes in my ear along with the rest of them.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Barabbas's Cross by Forest Arthur Ormes

A convict working at Lincoln Meadows Racetrack and his alcoholic friend get in trouble with security and are forced to spend 75 hours in community service with the local chaplain; by Forest Arthur Ormes.

Rafael had been doing real good for the first two months of the meet at Lincoln Meadows Racetrack. He was grooming horses for McCain Stables. I was walking hots for the same outfit. At night, Rafael was attending church services in English and in Spanish. He was laying off the alcohol completely. I knew. I sat beside him for the English-speaking services.

Even though his problem was mental, it was the booze that woke up Rafael's demons. If he drank, he started answering the empty seat across the table from him in the kitchen. Before long he and that empty seat would be involved in an intense discussion ranging from the finer points of bandaging the legs of his favorite horse, Christmas, on up to the disrespectful manner in which Tom McCain's assistant trainer spoke to him when he arrived late to work.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Puff by Phil Temples

A pair of farm yokels is disturbed by an unidentified flying object hovering around their cattle barn; by Phil Temples.

It's 9:30 in the evening. I put Sally to bed over an hour ago, and now I'm standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes. Harold is in the study foolin' around with his model airplanes or talkin' on his ham radio or some such.

I look out the window and admire the pasture, and the stars. It's a moonless night. The Milky Way appears as a brilliant vertical swath painted across the canvas sky. Suddenly, my attention is drawn to a bright light that appears out near the barn.

It's another damn yufo.

This one is about fifty feet tall and ten feet across, mostly dark green, with pulsating pink and yellow triangles that radiate off the side like a dragon's spine. I'm calling this yufo "Puff." I give names to all the yufos that I see. I name all of our farm animals, too. I can't help it.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Decision by Phil Slattery

In early 1970s rural Kentucky, Travis, son of a cruelly racist mill worker, is forced into a moral dilemma.

Travis was in the barn milking the cow when his father shouted from the front of the house, "Travis! Get the shotgun! Come see what I caught!"

Travis ran through the backyard and into the kitchen, where his mother was frying squirrel and green tomatoes. "Travis, what is it? What's all the excitement?"

"I don't know, but it sounds important," he said hurrying past into the living room, where his father's double-barrel twelve gauge hung in a gun rack. Travis pulled the gun down and loaded it from a box of shells in the rack's drawer. He ran out onto the open front porch and saw his father holding his Winchester rifle on a middle-aged black man in a business suit holding his hands in the air.

Travis's mother ran out behind Travis. "Cyrus," she said to Travis's father, "what's going on?"

"Get back in the house, Lizzie," said Cyrus.

Friday, December 18, 2015

R.I.P. by Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb recounts the story of the first funeral he attended as a 10-year-old child - he would never attend another like it.

When I was about ten years old, a black woman named Claudia Thompson kept me during the day while my parents worked in the Seminole Cotton Mill in Clearwater, South Carolina. This was summertime; no school. I grew very fond of Claudia, and in concert with my mother's disapproval of bigotry (without her even knowing what the word meant), Claudia's love and kindness immunized me forever against racial hatred, though in that place, in that time, prejudice against blacks was part of the white child's cultural legacy. I still remember my shock and disgust upon hearing a man, white of course, proclaim in earnest, ignorant fervor that "Niggers are just like dogs; they don't have souls." Poor, benighted son-of-a-bitch. I swear, I've come to suspect that truth is in inverse proportion to the certitude of the declaimer. But I'm straying from the subject.

Claudia's older sister Shirley "passed over" at home one Saturday after lingering for days in a coma. Her funeral was scheduled for the following Monday, and of course Claudia would attend. Trouble was, Monday was a workday for my parents. So when neither Mother nor Claudia could find somebody else on short notice to keep me, it was decided that I would accompany Claudia to the funeral, a graveside service in a church graveyard way out in the country.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Opportunity of a Lifetime by Gael DeRoane

Gael DeRoane's account of a home security sales technique that never fails.

The job was doing me in. When I told this to friends they scoffed. You sit around grading papers, they said. How hard can it be? I played in a tennis league with men of various occupations: lawyers, doctors, salesmen, middle managers. They grumbled about high-level stress, long hours on the road, psychotic bosses. Some had visited my office and seen me with my feet up, the remnants of a cheeseburger-and-fries lunch cluttering the desk, a swimsuit-model site unfurled on my computer screen. Word had gotten around, and my complaints were met with derision.

Had I been a full professor there would have been no complaints, but in my youth I had drifted out of a PhD program, and now the only position I could muster was Composition Drudge. Sure, I had a MonWedFri schedule, but I was on campus from seven till dusk, and unlike my elevated colleagues had no variety in my courses, no teaching of Swords and Sorcery, Splatter Films, Queer Lit, all the academic fluff that eases a professor's pain after reading the eighteenth essay entitled "My High School Graduation."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dorothea Parker on North Lake Shore Drive by L. S. Sharrow

The Professor and his wife move to a retirement community and find themselves suffering the company of an obnoxious neighbour; by L. S. Sharrow.

The Fall the Professor retired from the Black Studies Department, we sold our space, stored our stuff and moved into our friends' apartment - the Pinkneys were on sabbatical overseas that semester. Then, we went to a real estate agent to find our fortune. The lady at the real estate agency was thin, with a green tint to her skin - a bit like a frog - and a dull competence about her. When I am in the presence of such people, I am often asked, "Have you been a housewife all your married life, honey?" But, that can bring the edges of the Professor's teeth together. So, the Professor handled the negotiations for our team. We wanted, he said, an apartment in a retirement community. We preferred an integrated retirement community. We wanted neighbors who were quiet, who kept to themselves, who didn't stand around and gossip.

"My wife," said the Professor - and the lady seemed to wait for him to add, The Little Missus - "my wife and I must have quiet neighbors."

"I understand," she said.

"She paints," the Professor said.

Now that we've weaned her off crayons, the lady seemed to infer, we've moved her on to tempera colors.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Phyllis by Paul Beckman

A waiter is attracted by a regular visitor who sits outside his restaurant to read; by Paul Beckman.

I first noticed them on Tuesday, five days ago. Phyllis, I've decided to call her, is sitting on the red bench by the hedges that surround our restaurant's outdoor space. There are many benches but the closest is the red one and the only one she uses. She is sitting with her long legs crossed, reading. Her legs are beautiful, thin and shapely and every so often she uncrosses and re-crosses the opposite way and her short skirt rides up and becomes even shorter. She is very provocative, more so because she's absorbed in her reading and doesn't appear to pay attention to anything as minor as her skirt riding up and up - up enough to show her underwear or lack of it some days. I feel like the luckiest waiter in our restaurant. Phyllis checks her watch, dog-ears the page and gets up from the bench, smoothes her dress, picks up her bag and walks off.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Look Away by Gael DeRoane

A travelling salesman befriends a colleague suffering from a bizarre curse; by Gael DeRoane.

The first time I saw Jordan Swale it was hard not to stare. You don't expect to see a movie star gliding among the pale, lumpy drones in the employee cafeteria of a Midwestern electronics company. But there he was, a Tom Cruise look-alike - except taller - standing at the salad bar carefully assembling a taco. For the next few moments I ignored my sandwich and the commission reports I'd been reading. I watched him gather his lunch materials and move gracefully through the checkout line. He had dark hair and broad shoulders, and was nicely turned out in a pinstripe Oxford shirt and black chinos.

He sat down at a table not far from mine, and when he glanced my way I caught sight of his astonishing blue eyes. It seemed odd that he sat alone. Surely a man so strikingly handsome would generate a small entourage. But his coworkers passed by with their trays as he devoured his lunch, his eyes scanning his laptop open on the table. Perhaps he was a visitor, a representative from one of our satellite offices. I ended my speculations when Artie Harrington, our most successful - and most annoying - sales rep came over with his tray and started in about the commission statements.

We ate and argued, and then I noticed the movie star rising from his table. "Hey, Artie," I said, sotto voce, "who's that?"

Artie looked up from his baked chicken. "Jordan Swale. One of the drudges in Research. Why?"

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Roadkill by Jane Hertenstein

Laine, with barely enough money to feed her growing family, decides to salvage a dead deer from the roadside in Jane Hertenstein's blackly comic piece.

"Mom, for Halloween I want to be a hobo old man. Either that or a scary guy with fangs and long fingernails."

Her son's rambling carried over from the backseat where he sat in his safety booster. Since she'd sworn off coffee, mornings were like walking backwards through molasses.

"What was I last year - oh yeah, Robin Hood. Do we still have my hat?"

She nodded. Through the top half of the windshield a black object in the sky hovered, a raven making large aerial loops over the roadway. "It's upstairs in a box in the back of your closet."

Bright orange and red tree canopy sheltered a narrow bend in the road where runoff trickled down the hillside over ancient exposed rock. Off to the side, in the gravel berm, upon a bed of frost-coated leaves was a deer, still and stiff, steam rising slowly from its blood encrusted nostrils.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Lighthouse by Wendy Steele

Ben seeks solitude in a lonely lighthouse, but the island and its violent sea hide a frightening secret; by Wendy Steele.

Abraham Davies shut the door behind him, allowing his ears to acclimatise to the relative quiet. He'd struggled to hold his lantern upright as he performed his circuit, the gusts at the top of the lighthouse, unpredictable at this time of year. The glass was clean though rain lashed and the warning beam shone into the dusk. All was well on his island home.

Ben Hughes packed away his sodden tent as the morning brightened. He'd risen with the cows and, in exchange for help mucking out, had partaken of a particularly good cooked breakfast. He was glad of the warmth in his belly after a disturbed, damp night. Rucksack and saddle bags balanced, he climbed on his bike and set off on the coastal path. Mist hung around leisurely as he cycled the undulating terrain, standing on the pedals on the hills, determined to be on the jetty by midday.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Rumour by Beryl Ensor-Smith

A planned Country & Western evening seems doomed to failure in ultra-conservative South African backwater Prentburg, until an unlikely rumour spurs interest; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

At first when the residents of Prentburg heard that a group from another town would be performing at the Welcome Inn's "Country and Western" evening, not much interest was shown.

"It'll be those dreadful singers from Waterfontein," Suzie Lamprecht said dismissively when the Sisters of the Church next met. "They're always changing their name and their way of singing, but they're hopeless."

"Country and Western?" Christina du Plessis looked down her long nose in disdain. "It hardly qualifies as music; more like caterwauling if you ask me! Why must we import the worst of American culture? I..."

"Yes," Marion Klopper interrupted hastily, trying to prevent Christina getting onto her "culture" bandwagon, as once in full stride, she was impossible to stop. "If it is that Waterfontein bunch, they're not up to much, but they're also going to show a video of some fat guy singing something that was a hit. They have a picture of him on their posters. There's one up at the Welcome Inn and Jan Badenhorst's also displaying one on the municipal notice board."

"Pavarotti?" Christina enquired eagerly. "It's probably Nessun Dorma which he sang at the start of an international football match to uproarious applause."