Friday, December 30, 2016

Professor Middleton's Sunday Morning by Fred Skolnik

Fred Skolnik's portrait of coldly self absorbed professor of American history Julia Middleton, too sure of her place in the world.

Professor Middleton stretched and yawned. It was a delicious feeling, tensing every muscle in her body. She liked the way her body felt. She was forty-one, a mature and desirable woman. Her husband adored her, her children idolized her. She stretched again, tightening her buttocks, and imagined being taken from behind. Then she imagined three or four men servicing her at once, their hands all over her. She was becoming aroused. She had only been with three men since her marriage, years apart, in different motel rooms, youngish, wholesome types. Afterwards, sex with her husband had been more exciting, as though he were a stranger too. If he came in now, she'd call him to the bed. She was tingling all over.

Instead, she masturbated, coming with a gasp; then she got up and went to the window, naked. She knew the children wouldn't come in without knocking. Their docility was a boon; not for all the world would she want typical teenagers in her home. They'd waited till she'd gotten her doctorate before starting a family. Then she had them fast, wanting to get the breeding done with. Charlotte was twelve, self-absorbed. Samantha was livelier. And the boy, Wally, was under his sisters' sway. Mrs. Sweeney, the housekeeper, looked after them and her husband was away at the brokerage house till evening, so she was entirely free, without a worry in the world. It was a good period for them, they were just coasting along now without an ounce of energy expended on staying alive. She was an associate professor of American history with two books that had been well received. Her husband was an amiable dolt, interested in nothing beyond closing prices and the baseball scores. That was what she had wanted in a man, a provider and lover, not a conversation partner.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Encounter by Kendra Beauchesne

Kendra Beauchesne tells of a brief romantic encounter.

When I think of you my fingers make their way to my lips as though I can still feel your kiss. Biting my lip I close my eyes and remember every perfect detail of that night. I was so nervous to see you even though we agreed it wasn't a date. We set up the time for you to pick me up and you asked if I had ever been on the back of a bike before. I laughed and told you that I had grown up on them. My heart raced with the anticipation as I heard your bike roll up in front of the hotel room. My hair was swept to one side, natural curls wild and a bit untamable, but I guess it reflected the way I felt inside. I had on a white scoop neck blouse with gray flowers on it, my favorite dark faded jeans, and gray boots.

I remember peering over the rail to see you sitting there on that black bike. I was terrified of the way I felt inside. I held onto the railing as I came down the stairs in fear that I would fall on my face. You had already taken off your helmet and sat straddled on that beautiful bike. Your sandy hair cut short and thin mustache gently lay across your lip. I said hello and you greeted me with, "You look beautiful." Hearing those words come from your lips made me feel on top of the world.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Giraffe Story by Julie Carpenter

In a little town so isolated that its inhabitants often go mad, a wealthy attorney gives up profiting from his neighbours' litigious propensities to preach the danger of giraffes, in Julie Carpenter's whacky morality tale.

Once upon a time, there was a mountain village far, far away. It was a lovely little village; the town square boasted a large white Victorian bandstand where crowds often gathered late into warm evenings to hear barbershop quartets or the high school band. There was a beautiful park with picnic tables centered on an ancient, spreading oak and twisting, maple-lined roads that slid smoothly past rows of beautiful homes, from neat brick cottages to frilly Victorians. When the snows came and the rosy cheeked children flocked to the hillsides with their sleds and brightly-colored hats and mittens, the village looked like it had been plucked from a Christmas card and brought to life.

There was a downside to life in the village, though. In the winter, the snow and ice on the mountains surrounding the tiny town blocked the roads, so inhabitants who chose not to leave before the snows began were stuck there for most of the winter. In the summer, mudslides on the mountain had a similar effect. The villagers had to carefully consider their needs for the year and order far more food and other goods than they really needed just to be on the safe side. This made them a very practical people. The very rare newcomer to the village noticed a certain lack of imagination and a great deal of concern with working to buy goods, having them delivered, and storing them. Anyone might be forgiven for thinking the whole town was a sort of open-air asylum for hoarders. For instance, old Dr. Benjamin H. Johnston had suffered brain damage when he was hit by a pallet of canned beans that he had unwisely stacked atop several pallets of paper towels and toilet paper. The whole mountain of canned goods and paper goods had finally become weak, and one winter morning when he went into his basement to look for a can of tuna for his cats, the paper towels gave way and the tower of canned beans toppled over on his head. After that, he became very confused and tried numerous times to feed the beans to the cats. Eventually, they ate him. However, that's neither here nor there for our story.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Transplantation by Mark Keane

When Quinn's ruinous alcoholism threatens his life, an organ transplant triggers such a fundamental change of lifestyle that his long-suffering wife feels left behind; by Mark Keane.

Quinn's liver was damaged beyond repair. He was taken into hospital. A liver transplant was his only hope. He could not drink again. It was not a question of cutting back, not a matter of switching from whiskey to wine or from wine to beer. Alcohol was off the menu.

Quinn had been unwell for some time. He lacked energy and was out of breath after the slightest exertion. His skin developed a yellow pallor; his eyes were discoloured and dull. When his wife found him slumped over the bathroom sink coughing up a bloody discharge she urged him to visit the doctor. He resisted but she was persistent. She accompanied him to the clinic.

The prognosis of later stage cirrhosis came as a shock to Quinn. There were no throw-away remarks or offhand bravado. His wife could sense his fear and shame. Quinn's stony-faced reaction to the doctor's dry summation did not disguise his panic.

Friday, December 16, 2016

To Do List by Mary Steer

Mary Steer's snapshot of middle class domestic life will ring hauntingly true with busy couples everywhere.

Wake up. Get up. Turn on fish tank light. Take dog into backyard. Wait while dog does business. Pick up after dog. Ponder how life is less like a box of chocolates and more like a used grocery bag full of dog shit. Drag dog back in. Feed fish, but not with diced-up pieces of husband - yet. Feed dog, ditto. Make coffee. Wake kids. Shower. Brush hair. Wake kids again.

Get dressed in eye-catching outfit. Fail to catch husband's eye. Nag kids. Get kids up. Get newspaper. Momentarily get lost in headlines. Rule out Europe and Middle East as potential places to escape to. Nag kids. Get kids dressed. Get breakfast. Fight with husband. Referee kids fighting. Pack lunches, leaving out the strychnine again.

Get kids to school. Pick up mail. Shred postcard from husband's sister ("Having a blast in Bali!").

Monday, December 12, 2016

Drunlowry by Margaret Karmazin

When young Emma's father is diagnosed with a degenerative and terminal disease, the family move in with her Aunt Kathryn and Emma falls in love with a tree; by Margaret Karmazin.

My thirteenth birthday had just passed and no one would tell me what was wrong with my father. "It's several long words and you wouldn't understand it," said my mother. Her thick, auburn hair hung seductively over one eye and she gently flipped it aside.

Probably the real story was that she didn't understand it herself. It was dawning on me and would later become clear that my beautiful mother was a bit like a child. It was my father's sister, Aunt Kathryn, who explained his illness to me.

"It's a very serious disease of the nervous system that slowly takes away pretty much everything a person can do except think. I just can't believe this is happening to my baby brother."

Friday, December 9, 2016

Up On Mineral Creek by Bill Pieper

Bill Pieper's all-American story of a rugged widower faced with a moral dilemma when his good friend commits an unforgivable act.

His leg hurt, right around the knee, where he'd taken shrapnel in Vietnam. It'd never been good since then, fifty years now, walking with a pigeon-toe hitch in his gait. And always achy when he sat, but this hurt worse, because he was tied to a chair and couldn't move or stretch, and with a rolled-up sock in his mouth under a layer of duct tape, couldn't yell for help. Besides, there was no one to yell to.

It was a kitchen chair in his own house, and all Wes could do was wait for goddamn Mike to call the sheriff, like he'd promised. Eventually he would, too. In one package, the guy could be the best you'd ever meet or the biggest hardhead you'd wish you hadn't.

But, God, how Char had loved him, as if he was the son she and Wes lost years ago in that still-birth. And this kitchen was really hers. Wes had just been the helper in here, and out the big window, her bird-feeder, busy in the golden October light. She was gone fourteen months now from a sudden stroke and still owned his thoughts, night or day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stupidicide by Scott Cannon

Homicide detective Rogers and his newbie partner are called to investigate two deaths that may or may not be entirely accidental; by Scott Cannon.

"No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, however, can do it." Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

It sounded weird from the start. There were not so many homicides in the winter, especially after a massive ice storm with sub-zero temperatures. Criminals slowed down like lizards in the cold. And from what they said when they dispatched Rogers and his partner to the scene, this didn't sound like a homicide at all. Woman dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in the car in the garage; man dead in the house from the same thing. It happened every time the power went down in the winter, that and fires. This didn't sound like a cabin-fever killing. Probably it wouldn't take long, Rogers hoped as he parked behind one of the squad cars at the curb.

Huffington already had out his shiny silver shield and the blue rubber gloves. He handed a pair to Rogers and opened the door.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tax of Blood by Paul Stansbury

Leysa prepares yet again to make a great sacrifice for her family, but Yuri longs to resist their oppressor; by Paul Stansbury.

Leysa and Yuri watched Osip hunch over the table, his quill scuffing over the paper whispering a harsh tattoo as he methodically listed the taxes due. He had arrived in the morning, scratching at the door like a hungry animal. He had spent the day with Yuri walking about the farm, assessing the livestock, the crops, and anything else upon which a levy could be placed. He smelled of dung and sweat. Spittle flew from his mouth when he spoke. She hated the twisted gnome of a man.

"Go on, you bastard," Yuri growled, "why not include the stones in fields if you intend to take everything? You and your master are nothing more than beasts preying on the weak."

"Watch your words," Osip warned, looking up from the paper. He stared into Yuri's eyes, "He does not take well to vassals chiding his attendants. Know this, fool. The tribulations, real or imagined, of you and your wretched family are of no concern to me. My job is to list everything according to his instructions and place a fair value for which the assessment is made. Nothing more and certainly nothing less. He is rather emphatic on this matter. I dare say your tongue will not be so quick to wag when he comes to your door to collect what is due." He returned to his writing.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Rockingford Raphael by Fred McGavran

In an English mansion, 1937, Miss Sylph de Quimby innocently paints a copy of a long-lost Raphael, in which her cousin shows a great interest; by Fred McGavin.

How difficult it is to recreate a masterpiece, I reflected as I placed the grid over The Rockingford Raphael. The panel of two inch string squares fit just inside the frame, perfectly matching the squares I had ruled on my canvas. Streaming through the east window of the Great Hall, the morning sun illuminated The Martyrdom of St. Claridon Frigidus as brilliantly as the day it was painted. If my palette were true and my hand steady, I would copy the painting square by square for the Masterpieces of Great English Houses exhibition at Miss Trillingham's Country School for Young Ladies.

I had returned to Rockingford-on-Quimby after Michaelmas term determined to practice the moral and practical virtues she had so elegantly enunciated at matriculation. On that brilliant September afternoon before tea, the whole school had assembled on the lawn to hear her recite "The Seven Virtues of Polite English Maidenhood," her immortal contribution to English pedagogy. Those virtues - piety, purity, patriotism, pedigree, poesy, painting, and penmanship - defined young English women of quality in 1937.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Love and Happiness When an Ill Wind Blows by Jenean McBrearty

A young American woman travels to England to be married, but her dreams are scuppered by the growing inevitability of war; by Jenean McBrearty.

Helena's first trip to England didn't go as planned. David met her at the pier, gave her a wondrous kiss, but instead of taking her to the Manning Hotel where she would wait for her parents to arrive for the wedding, he drove to Woodbury.

"There won't be a honeymoon, Darling," he said as they motored past fresh-cut green fields.

"But why, David? We've planned for months."

"Father's insisted we all stay at the country house till this crisis is resolved." He rolled to a stop beneath an apple tree that was already shedding its August blossoms. "It'll be fine. You'll love my Aunt Patience. She and mother will stuff you full of biscuits and have you playing mahjong long into the night. You won't miss me too much."

"You're not staying? But you have leave..."

"Two days. And I'll be back by Friday next."

"This is terrible. Unfair. Un-American."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Bite by Julie Carpenter

Bland, busy Mrs. Mary Edelson Brooks irrevocably alters the course of her and her family's life when she upsets a fairy at the bottom of her garden; by Julie Carpenter.

One of the strangest stories in the history of Whistlestop was the story of Mrs. Mary Edelson Brooks, a woman whose main claim to fame in the village was her ability to throw stylish dinner parties; she was also known for her ability to always wear exactly the right shoes with exactly the right purse without being too "matchy," for the fact that her hair always looked "done," and for the fact that her hybrid teas almost always took a prize at the flower show. In addition, she was on three church committees and the town beautification board. Although the difficulty of these achievements was impossible to disregard, Mary was otherwise not the most fascinating person in the village. In fact, if you had asked her husband Bob, he would have called her stable and meant it as a compliment. Her seventeen year old daughter Virginia would have called her boring and not meant it as a compliment at all. But, as the villagers noted afterwards, you don't have to be a fascinating person to have something interesting happen to you.

The story recounted here is a strange one and it's hard to say exactly what did happen to Mary that hot and humid summer. Accounts vary. The story that was told by the few people closest to Mary is the one that most thoroughly explains the situation. Unfortunately, it's also the most difficult to believe. But strange things were wont to happen in Whistlestop in those days. Besides, the truth of a story isn't dependent on its believability. So here is the story of Mary Edelson Brooks, a fairy story, I guess you could say.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Samantha by Valentina Cano

A man obsesses over a waitress in a truck stop diner, and has plans to make her his; by Valentina Cano.

"Would you like some more coffee?"

The man looked up, pretending he had just noticed her. As if he hadn't sat in this part of the diner for her, as if he hadn't chosen the striped shirt last night because he knew it made him look thinner.

The young woman, Samantha, if her name tag could be trusted, was smiling. She always smiled, but he was sure it was never this wide, this bright. This is the smile she reserved for him. No question about it.

"Yes, thank you, Samantha," he said.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Trials of St. Clarice by Michael Hantman

Michael Hantman's character reflects on his relationship with beguiling, infuriating Clarice, and the films they enjoyed together.

This all started after class. I followed Clarice up to a spot on the hill where we collapsed and she smoked cigarettes. St. Clarice. At least when you know that you can't really understand someone, you can begin to appreciate them as something different. Not a partner, per se, but a deep indulgence. You can take them in on your own terms without worrying about the connections, or the pleasantries.

St. Clarice pointed her chin up and blew thin veils of smoke in front of her eyes. She puffed her cheeks erratically and stared at clouds. She'd lie down on her back with her knees bent, and she'd let her ass slide down the hill towards her feet. Her skirt would get bunched up and if you made the effort to look, you could see the tip of her panties. I didn't. Just out of the corner of my eyes. She wouldn't even care, she'd react but it wouldn't carry any weight. Still it might lead to other things. Maybe.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Herm Miracle by Paul Sherman

On the tiny Channel Isle of Herm, the church play is shaping up to be a disaster unless simple-minded Dev can save the day; by Paul Sherman.

I think most folk like me, tho' some do look down on me. Mike says, 'When you don't worry what folk think Dev, then you will be happy.' So I do stop my worry. Most folk treat me fair 'cos I do stuff for them. I'm a right smart 'gofer' I am.

One dude once said, 'Yeah, I see why they call you gofer. You look like one.'

So I went on the web to find some gofer pics. There is a 'gofer' spelt odd, with a 'ph' instead of a 'f'. There be loads of pics of the 'gofer' with the 'ph'. It's a beast from the USA. There be a word that begin with 'indig...' means it comes from that place only. I can't spell very well tho' I'm OK with short words, and even then, I spell some wrong.

I stare at the pics of the 'gofer' spelt with the 'ph' and then I look in the glass. What I see is like what is in those pics, I have to own. There is buck teeth and rings round the eyes (like my specs) and a daft look. It makes me sad. That this is how folk see me. Well, some folk.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Kinship by Ceinwen Haydon

A childhood tragedy touches a family's lives for a generation in Ceinwen Haydon's emotional story.


"Mama," said Dominic as he sucked his thumb. "I'm four now aren't I? When will Frances be four so we can play properly?"

"Darling, she won't be four until you're eight years old. You'll always be four years older than her and she's only six weeks old just now," said Rachel.

"I love her, I'll wait for her, I've got lots of good games," he said.

"You're a good boy, Dom, Frances will love you to bits too. Now it's time for your nap."

Dominic slept soundly for a whole hour. He was woken by snow pelting on his bedroom window and the wind that rattled the glass panes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Vampire Marriage by Sharon Frame Gay

Sharon Frame Gay's flash fiction about the practicalities of being married to a vampire.

Nowadays, there are plenty of books and movies out about Vampires. They are depicted as romantic, protective, mysterious creatures who woo their girlfriends, fight off other monsters, and dance with their loves under the stars. Teenage girls are mesmerized by the dangerous aspects of loving a Vampire, tittering in their seats at the theatre, squirming with joy and crying in rapture. They wish they had their own Vampire, and are filled with romantic notions.

I decided that it is time to come forth, come out, and confess that I have been married to a Vampire for over twenty years. It's a relief to talk about it, and I hope that my story might bring more interspecies marriages out of the closet, and into the mainstream.

Victor Plasmasky and I met over in Europe, when I lost my way on a day hike in the mountains, hurrying through the woods as the sun sank into the higher hills. He appeared on the path ahead, looking ominous in the growing twilight. His first instinct was to drink my blood, but he said later that there was something different about me that fascinated him, and he spared me. Victor likes to joke that I wasn't his "type." I saw a dark, unfashionably dressed dangerous looking man with funny teeth, so I was instantly smitten as young women often are by the unconventional.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

M'Buru's Prophet by Mark F. Geatches

Rich Kyle's gullible cousin visit to spread the word of his latest religion; by Mark F. Geatches.

"Wow Kally! Your hair. It's so... Rastafarian. What's up?"

"We're enlightened. We follow the teachings of M'buru," she said smugly.

"Yeah Kyle. We found the truth," Pete added.

I stifled a laugh. It had been three years since I had seen my cousin and his wife. They were prone to fancy but this was on another level. Kally's hair was matted and discolored so that it looked like an old, recently used mop. Pete's voice was the best impression of Bob Marley's I had ever heard. And the clothes... homeless comes close to describing them, from both a well-worn and olfactory perspective.

I said, "So what happened to Asatru? Did you give up on that religion? What about all the others?"

Friday, November 11, 2016

Gethsemane by Julia Richards

After surviving the sinking of the Titanic by being thrown overboard in a steamer trunk, an upper class English lady washes up on Scottish shores and falls in love; by Julia Richards.

Although she didn't know it, fortune was looking out for Gethsemane the day she set sail on the Titanic. Shortly after the ill-fated ship left port, Geth was thrown off the side locked in a steamer trunk. The vessel continued its trajectory of doom without her.

Her mother, Mrs. Harlow, a kind of Bright Young Person born a few decades too early, was in the habit of taking sizable doses of brandy to calm her nerves and prescribed herself extra shots for seasickness. Before they even weighed anchor, Mrs. Harlow was well-medicated.

Geth - who suffered from genuine seasickness - had been convinced by her mother to partake in this cure. As they were among the earliest of the first class passengers to board, Geth and her mother were in a right state by the time the gangplank was lifted.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Death of a Salesman by Nidhi Singh

Roguishly handsome Lantana, son of a womanising explorer, makes his living selling lingerie - but when a management position opens up the stakes are higher than he thinks, in Nidhi Singh's flamboyantly written tale.

Iquitos, a few years ago

Macaws and parrots swaddling in dead leaves on white-barked trees slumbered fitfully, while toucans with massive bills and bright plumage, sated from eating too many picked cacao beans during the day, tossed and turned at the higher reaches of the dense canopy. It was high-water time and the river had risen about fifteen meters already - pink dolphins sliced through her raging black waters while tiny canoes tossed and tugged furiously at their tethers.

Loud laughter drifted out from the dimly lit log cabin sitting squat in the middle of a clearing in the dense jungle. Guinea pigs roasted in huge open-air ovens outside while empty hammocks in the porch swung lazily in the breeze fanning the clammy lowland. It was too oppressive even to breathe. Save for cracks in its logs, the cabana was almost windowless; its door a mere flap of woven palm fronds.

Inside, flush from drink and dance and sleaze and sauce, grizzled gadabouts slapped their thighs with empty hands and roared in revelry - the laughter neither touching their vacuous eyes nor their desperate souls.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Angels by Louisa Campbell

Tom is infatuated with his brother's fiancé on the day of their engagement, and still infatuated nearly thirty years later; by Louisa Campbell.

Felicity's 21st birthday

'Tom, Tom, Tommy-Tom-Tom, hurry up!' Fliss was holding his hand and pulling him along on his skateboard. The physical contact was sending shockwaves through his body.

'There's loads of time.' He wanted her to slow down; the airport concourse was smooth stone and his skateboard was flying - he was flying - but people were starting to send them little dagger-glares. They were making one hell of a racket. Fliss's long fair hair shimmered as she ran. He remembered the sun glowing through it, the day she moved in next door. She had run into the garden in her white cotton nightdress and started bouncing on the trampoline. Tom had seen her in the air, hands above her head, flying, he thought. Tom was only six and he'd run to tell Leo there was an angel at the bottom of the garden. After that, Leo always referred to Fliss as 'Tom's angel' whenever he thought he could embarrass him with it.

'He's due in at 12.20!' She started jumping up and down, all that girl stuff jingling in her enormous handbag, but had to stop so she could study the arrivals screen. Tom flipped his skateboard up and caught it in one movement. He hoped she was impressed.

'Roll up a reefer, Flissy-baby, relax!'

'No, I don't want to smoke, I'm excited and I want to be excited. This is the mostest brilliantest day of my life, ever.'

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Blessed Virgin by Phil Temples

Catholic schoolboy Anthony suffers from a patch of eczema on his rear end in the shape of the Virgin Mary; by Phil Temples.

It began innocently one Saturday morning when little Antony Giordano walked up the steps to the front of St. Joseph's Parish Church in the North End, escorted by his grandmother, Francesca Giordano. Mrs. Giordano noticed that Antony was fidgeting and scratching his butt.

"Antony Mario, you stop that this instant!"

"But it itches," Antony replied.

"You're standing at the door to the house of Jesus and Mary. Show some respect to your Lord and Savior and his Mother, bless her soul." She slapped him across the head - not as hard as previous times, but hard enough to know he'd earned her ire.

Once they got inside, Antony asked his granny if he could go the bathroom.

"Yes, you may go. But don't linger. Father has a short line this morning so it won't be long until your confession. And I expect you to add this transgression to your list."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Keep On Driving by Kevin Finnerty

Kevin Finnerty's stream of consciousness from a Minnesotan bus driver trying to persuade you he's not paid enough.

They don't pay me enough.

They say driving a bus is easy. After all, just about everybody can drive a car.

Sure, but if you sat where I sit and saw what I see, you might think different.

Let's start with all those other drivers. Up here, I can see everyone else on the highway traveling between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

At least half of them have no business being on the road driving 60 miles per hour on perfectly clean roads, let alone ones with snow and ice.

It's not that they can't drive, though there's some of that. It's more that they shouldn't be driving because they don't take it seriously.

Every other car, drivers are texting or surfing the web or using their smart phones to make a call. Some put on makeup, others have a snack.

You guys would shoot me if I did any of those things.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Heavy Artillery By Mitchell Toews

Mitchell Toews tells the story of young Matty and his characterful neighbour encountering a travelling salesman in the sleepy Manitoba town of Hartplatz.

When I was a young boy, growing up in Hartplatz, Manitoba, it was a tiny place. The population was less than five thousand - more like three if you muzzled the eager beavers over at the Chamber of Commerce. And although the little town lacked in size, it knew back then just who it was and what it wasn't.

The town was a dot on the immense map of Canada; a mere speck on the globe that sat on Miss Kornelsen's desk in the imposing wooden school house on Reimer Avenue. So many people were of similar (Mennonite) lineage and had the same names, first and last, that nicknames were almost obligatory. Corny (Cornelius, a popular name) Friesen became Flash Friesen (he owned a camera). Another Corny Friesen was High-Pockets (he was tall). Yet another Cornelius Friesen was Pastor Friesen, and so on.

Not only were many of us named the same/similarly, but it was said of us that we all thought the same. In truth, we did not, of course. There were as many opinions as there were grains of sand or stars in the sky. In fact, many practical-minded people stocked up on them. They had one opinion - on the same subject - for each situation. One for Flash Friesen (so argumentative; mercurial!); one for that show-off High-Pockets; and yet another subdued, measured and deep-voiced for Pastor Friesen. And then one more secret one, whispered in quiet conspiracy, staring up at the ceiling late at night, the hushed words mixing with the sound of crickets through the open bedroom window.

And the little town slept.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Relativity by Peter Dabbene

Steven and Heather wake up to find that their airing cupboard is regularly reviving dead ancestors, in Peter Dabbene's masterful comedy with heart.

Steven Loghlin was groggy, blinking away the sun's blinding morning rays, and feeling every day of his thirty-three years as he descended the main stairs of the townhouse. Shielding his eyes as he passed the large center staircase window, he let his hand slide along the metal railing, a necessary concession to his early morning fugue. He clutched the railing tighter upon noticing that at the bottom of the stairs stood his long-dead grandfather, seeming very much alive.

Steven didn't believe in ghosts. Thus, it was safe to say that his grandfather - clad in bathrobe and slippers and holding wide the morning Courier-Times - was the last person he might have expected to greet him. And yet, there was Grandpa Benny, looking as curmudgeonly as Steven remembered him.

"What is this, a joke?" Grandpa Benny demanded, crunching the broadsheet into one hand and wagging it as if Steven were responsible for its production.


"Grandpa? Who the hell are you calling 'Grandpa'? And what's with the date on this newspaper? November 12, 2015? Where's today's paper? And where the hell am I?"

"Grandpa, it's me, Steven - I mean... Stevie. And that is today's paper." Steven grabbed one end of the crumpled mass of newsprint, freeing it slowly and deliberately from the old man's grip, like a police negotiator extracting a gun from a jittery third-strike offender. Up close the old man seemed tangible enough, but Grandpa Benny had died almost thirty years ago. Faced with such an irreconcilable contradiction, Steven did what he did in most confusing situations - he called for his wife.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Open House by Brooke Fieldhouse

After Fractal hosts an Open House in his stylish London squat, he finds himself unable to shake off an unwanted visitor; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

'...Last year one of the guests rifled through my wife's drawers would you believe?' announces Fractal to the group awaiting a tour of his minimalist apartment.

'Oooooh... hope she wasn't wearing them at the time!'

Fractal's eyebrows arch, his head swivels toward the voice. He doesn't like the sound of that... Not at all.

Visitors are gathering at the white entrance door, feet tapping the white floor... Eyes roving the white shininess of walls, white ceiling, white furniture, everything is white.

Bald heads gleam as sunlight streams through the window; stubble beards look suitably pointillist. Clothing is black, and there's an air of dedication.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shooting Star by K. M. Fields

K. M. Fields tells the touching story of a young girl whose mother is killed by a shooting star.

When I was fifteen, my mama was killed by a shooting star.

When Mama was fifteen, she found out she was carrying me, so she and Daddy got married. They were young and in love, Mama always said. Because Mama was young when I was born people sometimes thought we were sisters instead of mother and daughter.

Growing up I liked a lot of the same things Mama did. I don't know if I liked those things because Mama liked them, or she liked them because of me. We liked watching the same cartoons on Saturday morning as we ate cereal sitting on the living room floor. We liked the same TV shows later on too. We both liked chili dogs with beans and mustard but no onions. We liked wearing big hats with bright ribbons and driving with the car top down. We liked listening to the minor league Redwings on the radio, and buttered popcorn at the Saturday matinee where we sat in the back row so nobody could kick our seats. We liked reading stories about the old West and ranchers and mail order brides and doing crossroad puzzles and dipping chocolate bars in the peanut butter jar.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Retirement Plans by Mary J. Breen

Peggy travels to visit her estranged sister and finds her to be friendlier than she remembered - but is something else at play? By Mary J. Breen.

Peggy dropped the bills and fliers on the table, and took a table knife to slit open a small, creamy envelope. A piece of thick paper unfolded itself. "Look at this, Keith. A real letter. Who the hell writes letters anymore?"

Keith sighed and looked up from his bowl of no-name, no-sugar, no-fat cereal.

She turned it over. "Well, well. It's from Ty. What kind of stupid name is that anyway?"

Keith shrugged. "I think it's Tyrone. He's English."

"I know that, but... Lord. Cora and her men. So, listen. I'll read it to you."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mixed Doubles by Michael McCarthy

When a passenger plane disappears over the ocean, Susan is captivated by a man hopelessly waiting in the airport for his wife to return from the flight - but Susan's partner thinks she is being foolish; by Mike McCarthy.

'It's amazing how your life can change or end just like that. Pure luck.' Susan waited, knowing the response, if any, would not be immediately forthcoming. 'Ian, do you realise how lucky we are?'


'I'm talking about that plane that disappeared over the ocean.'

She looked at him, his eyes riveted to the screen of his tablet as he played yet another round of his favourite game, something to do with kidnapping and escape. That set the scene for the journey home from work. In fact it didn't so much set the scene as continued it. But she tried.

'You know, Ian. There must be people at the airport, waiting hopelessly in vain for their loved ones. Maybe we could just help. Offer a shoulder.'


'Ian!' She jabbed him in the ribs.

'Ouch! That hurt. Can't you see I'm busy?'

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Chained! by Matthew Harrison

Matthew Harrison imagines a dystopian future in which conjugal rights are strictly enforced.

Steve hadn't read the small print of his marriage contract, and with the honeymoon over, the breaches began mounting up.

From his cubicle in the Finance department of Proscribed PLC, he glanced up at passing female colleagues, even talked to one of them, and he more-than-glanced when passing the cubicle of Tina the certified office hottie. At lunch in the canteen, his seat in the raised area afforded a view of the cleavage of female colleagues sitting below.

As if this wasn't enough, Steve browsed some debatable websites, and on the way home passed a poster of a scantily-clad starlet. The sensors recorded all of this, relayed it to the blockchain where it was compared with the prescribed parameters, and presto! he was notified that he had gone over his contractual limit.

Friday, October 14, 2016

New Atlantis in the Pacific Ring of Fire by Bruce Costello

Bruce Costello's bleak vision of the aftermath of an Apocalyptic earthquake in Dunedin, New Zealand.

When the 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Dunedin, New Zealand’s southernmost city, in October 2021, Clive Pengelly was asleep with his wife Julia in their hillside home, high above the central business area and the lower suburbs.

There was a noise like a crashing aircraft and the house bucked and reared, tossing both against the bedroom wall, before hurling them to the floor.

Julia ran screaming from the room. Clive felt about in vain for the emergency torch from the bedside cabinet, and then groped his way along the hall towards the front door, where he could hear Julia. Something collapsed in front of him with a roar of bricks and mortar. The air was like breathing in a vile kind of icing sugar and he coughed and wheezed until he started dry retching.

Retreating with his hand over nose and mouth, he stumbled through the kitchen towards the back door, but the floor was awash with a slippery mess and he fell, banging his head. Dazed, he realised he was lying in the chicken soup that Julia had made the night before and left on the bench to cool.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Fourteen Fourteen Curse by William Quincy Belle

Donald starts experiencing time jumps in his apartment in William Quincy Belle's creepy story.

Donald tucked the blue recycling bin under one arm and stepped into the hall. He pulled the door closed and walked down the corridor.

"Hey, Donald." The man came toward him, looked at the blue bin and held up his own. "Saturday's chores. Let's all be good to the environment."

"I try to do my part, Mr. Buntrock." Donald nodded and smiled as he passed. In the utility room, he emptied his bin into a chute in the wall. He listened to the various items clatter as they fell fourteen stories to the basement.

Back in his apartment, he went into the living room and saw the stack of newspapers from the previous week. "Oh, shoot." He got out the blue bin and filled it then walked around looking for other things. He took an almost empty bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator and smelled it. After pouring out the contents, he put it in the bin and headed back to the utility room.

"Hey, Donald." Mr. Buntrock walked toward him and held up his bin. "Saturday's chores. Let's all be good to the environment."

"Yes." Donald half-smiled, took a few steps and stopped. He stared after Buntrock then shook his head and continued with his errand.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Mia Maybelle's Troubled Relationship With a Puppy of Pure Evil by Dakota James

Lonely young woman Mia gets the world's cutest puppy, only to find that everyone seems to care more for the dog than for her; by Dakota James.

"A puppy, it seems, has no desire that does not directly come from the instinct to get attention, as much attention as possible; as a result, a puppy can have no true relationship with, much less empathy for, its owner. Thus it would seem that while Dog may be Man's best friend, Puppy may be its worst enemy - no matter how cute the little shit is."

- Lost Excerpt from the Dialogues of Plato

One's early twenties can be a lonely and troubled time. It certainly was for Mia Maybelle. She had no friends, for one. She did have furniture, and she spent a lot of time on that furniture. And she clipped her toenails a lot.

Mia Maybelle, twenty-something-years-old, relatively financially successful, sufficiently well-humored, an avid runner, a reader of six or seven books a year, was desperate for companionship. So she decided to just do it. She could afford it, right? And she had enough money, didn't she? She had more than enough time, gosh darn it.

Mia got a puppy. She named it Samwell.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Another by Daniel Freeman

A writer-poet is confused when he finds books reserved in his name at his local small-town library, in Daniel Freeman's existential mystery thriller.

The wheels of my life began to come off one beautiful summer day when I drove into town to collect a couple books from the library. I had ordered a book on mazes and another about African masks, but when I walked to the reserve shelves, I found four books containing white slips of paper bearing my last name and first initial.

I pulled out the books to see their titles, and while the one on mazes and the other on masks were there, so were two I didn't order: Randomness Disproven: A Dialectic and The Art of Subterfuge. You may be thinking there really is nothing so unusual about this - after all, surely other people use the library who may share your last name and first initial. I grant you, while this may be likely for the J. Smiths, R. Johnsons and A. Robinsons of America, it doesn't hold in my situation. My name is Zachariah Sugkuria, so you could imagine seeing "Z Sugkuria" at any library would be unusual, let alone written on paper sticking out of books right next to mine in a small branch in the remote town of Guerneville, population 4,534. Aside from my mother, father and sister, all of whom lived back east, to my knowledge there were no other people with the last name Sugkuria in the U.S., let alone in the world. Our original family name - Sogkoria - had been exceedingly rare in Greece before it was mistakenly changed when my grandfather had come to America, and with that alteration, we ostensibly became the only people on the planet with that surname.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Last Train Out of Hell by Julie Carpenter

Julie Carpenter's comedic description of her stay in Hell, in which she must care for a demon cat, work a Sisyphean job, and eat clammy fries.

The train station was on the very outskirts of Hell. There was only one train coming in, Old Number 13, always coming in, never leaving. It was pulled by an ancient steam engine, and it was no match for most of the Hellscape, so it heaved and dragged itself to the outer edges of Hell and belched out its payload of souls onto the dilapidated platform. The train tracks ran into Hell Station through two steep, red, rocky banks, bubbling with blood red lava that seemed to come from nowhere and go nowhere, upon which small swarms of crimson demons clambered and scurried, switching their forked tails and brandishing pitchforks. They spat out small clouds of green poison, though it was mostly for show. It was their razor sharp teeth that kept the hillsides littered with bones. Their job was to keep the tracks clear to make sure the train could bring its payload of souls in from the Upper World and to make sure that no soul ever escaped back through the banks and tunnels that led back. None ever did.

The train station was located in Metaphorical Hell, Expected Hell, the one marketed in the Upper World. True Hell, the Indescribable Hell, was further in and deeper down. True Hell is hard to describe because, in the end, there's not much to it.

If you looked at all of Hell from the top, the very center was a sink hole, a huge black cavity with diameter enough for millions and millions of souls to fling themselves from the edges at once. Eventually, so we were told, the huge hole became smaller and smaller like a funnel. It was supposed that if you could make it to the very, very bottom you would find... nothing. Perhaps become nothing.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Portrait of the Invincible Overlord as a Young Man by William Squirrell

William Squirrell's visceral fantasy flash about a man born and bred on violence.

The screaming of the peasants was a lullaby from long ago. Aethelwulf could hear Mummy singing her tra-la-las: up and down their voices went, up and down, up and down. The shafts of cold light pierced the dust, and the smoke and the fog were sunbeams through the nursery shutters. The grime and the sweat and the blood tasted of oats and milk and honey. He was happy, happy at his work, happy to feel the heft of his sword at the beginning of its arc, happy to feel its weightless zenith, happy at the jarring shudder of contact. They weren't much of a challenge, these tithe rebels with crooked spears and dull axes, no challenge at all, but better than nothing, better than playing cards in some dreary barracks, better than drunken arguments at the Spitted Pig, better than putting the city militia through their paces again and again and again in the cat-piss stink of the drill yard at the north gate.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Educating the Nerd by Beryl Ensor-Smith

University lecturer Andrew takes a sabbatical to complete his doctoral thesis, but despite his secluded surroundings he finds himself distracted by a bored canine; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When he first arrived in the quiet country village, Andrew was convinced he would complete his doctoral thesis in the year's sabbatical he had taken from university lecturing. When he left two months later he carried the weight of yet another responsibility, one for which he felt ill equipped; and his thesis? It had barely got started!

In the beginning everything looked rosy. The old family holiday house he had hired through a colleague suited him fine. Its thick walls kept out the summer heat and it was isolated from most of the houses in the village. Not that there were many; just a few on either side of the main road, behind the few shops and businesses that lined it.

He had only one neighbour as the plot next door on the right was an overgrown tangle of weeds and shrubs. To his left was a house of similar vintage to the one he was renting, but at a lower level, so that when he stood on the big veranda onto which the kitchen opened he could look down onto it. It was presently uninhabited with curtains pulled across sightless windows. Both it and the house he was in were on long plots that sloped down to a wire link fence at the bottom, separating them from farmland on which was built a massive dam.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Neighbors by Eva Silverfine

Suzy tries to connect with her incommunicative neighbour in Eva Silverfine's quietly powerful flash fiction.

She had first noticed him a few weeks earlier. He was ambling along the fence line when the school bus pulled over to drop her off. He stopped in the bus' dust cloud and watched as she descended. She knew who he was - the Adlers' boy from the farm down the road. But she didn't really know him at all. Their parents had been feuding over some property since before she was born.

That night she asked her parents about him, Troy. How old was he? Now that she was in middle school, shouldn't he be on her bus? In fact, how come he'd never been on a school bus with her?

He's slow, they told her. He should be in high school, maybe even finished, but his parents took him out a long time ago. If they had any sense they would have kept him there, where at least he would've learned something. But those Adlers don't have much good sense, now, do they? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Macabre on Quimby Square by Sylph Trillingham Quimby, 18th Lady Rockingford of Rockingford on Quimby

In the years after the Great War, a young aristocrat befriends a disgraced recluse and helps him achieve his mysterious ambitions; by Fred McGavran.

How precious are the memories of a privileged girlhood. When the House of Lords was in session, Mother and I would accompany Lord Rockingford from his ancestral estate at Rockingford on Quimby to Quimby House in London to help ease his transition from country lord to passionate advocate for aristocratic causes. Mother, who was in service, often left me alone in the evenings, whilst she awaited Lord Rockingford's return from his club in the event he desired a hot toddy or other refreshment. Our room was on the third floor overlooking Quimby Square.

Like a sailor high upon the mast, I watched for the carriage lights that would signal His Lordship's return. Across the Square loomed the black, unlit bulk of Jaeger House, where in my childish fantasies I imagined all sorts of evil things dwelt. When I stared at it long enough, the façade emitted a pin prick of light, as if some monster were peering out for its next victim.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Which Way the Wind Blows by Charlie Taylor

Troubled schoolchild Finn plays truant and whiles away the time at home - but something is stalking him from the barley field out back; by Charlie Taylor.

The field of ripening barley at the rear of 34 Butcher's Lane moved with the breeze. The passing clouds created alternating shadows and sunbright patches that added to the illusion that the whole was a living thing. Distortions in the hand-blown window panes exaggerated the effect.

Finn was in the kitchen. He watched all of this from the window, first closing his left eye, then his right, then both. His imagination lingered in the field and from the recesses of his mind sprang to life Cowboys and Indians, then Commandos on daytime raids and then adventures in Africa. He was alone in the two up, two down, cottage in rural Lancashire, but his imagination knew no limits.

He poured himself a cupful of Tizer; fizzy, red pop barely masked the tea-stained inside of his cup. What did he care? He had drunk out of worse. An old tin can that had not very long before held maggots for his fishing expedition was fine for a slurp or two of Sarsaparilla last week on the banks of Ormerod's Pond.

Frankie, his fishing mate and best friend, had asked if they'd both get poisoned.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Four Hours by Fred Skolnik

Fred Skolnik narrates the last four hours of Jake's life in stream of consciousness style.

The day of your death is a very special day. Ideally it should be planned, but of course we seldom know precisely when we are going to die so we come downstairs feeling just slightly unwell, thinking maybe it's heartburn, and don't pay much attention to it because we've had that feeling before, as when Jake came downstairs and saw Edna in the kitchen making breakfast though she knew he never ate before nine and here it was only eight so they started bickering right away and when he went into the dining room he saw that the paper was just thrown down on the table instead of being laid out at the proper angle beside his place mat where his coffee cup should have been as in the early years of their marriage when he had called her Edna Too Good for Too Good To Be True, which was a play on her maiden name, and had loved her madly. He sat down and glanced at the paper. From the kitchen Edna shouted, "You want coffee?" and Jake said, "I'll get it myself," but didn't get up because he wasn't in the mood for coffee either and that too happened occasionally though his life was perfectly ordered, machinelike even: downstairs by eight, the newspaper, the coffee, a quick look outside to see what the weather was like, breakfast at nine, and the house to himself till lunchtime because Edna was still working half a day as a cashier in the family delicatessen and would bring cold cuts back for lunch though she warned him time and again that they weren't the healthiest thing to eat. He'd been eating restaurant food for forty years and figured it was no worse than any other kind of food, not paying much attention to the health faddists just as he paid no attention to the antismokers being a cigar smoker himself so in any case there wouldn't be a problem there, as he saw it. Jake usually had his first cigar after breakfast sitting out in the yard and finishing the paper and often went down to the club where men like himself played gin rummy or pinochle most of the day, settling up outside because gambling wasn't allowed on the premises, but today he didn't feel like going out just as he didn't feel like having coffee or his breakfast and Edna said, "You all right?" and Jake said, "Yeah, yeah," in the tone he used when he didn't want to be bothered.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cake by Genevieve Shapiro

Doug's obsession for sweet treats may have gone too far... by Genevieve Shapiro.

Doug added a king-size bag of assorted gumdrops to his shopping cart and clicked on "fun size" in the left navigation column. Twenty pages. Too much. He filtered the results by clicking on "chocolate." Five pages of mini candy bars.

"Okay, now we're talking," he murmured, and began flicking through the options. Babe Ruth for sure. They'd been his favorite since he spent his first allowance. He added a 11.5-oz bag of those. He was an old-fashioned dude when it came to candy. Mounds were his other favorite, and he got a five-pack of their snack-size bars. He was going to keep looking but a reminder popped up on his screen:

"Time to go home."

No snoozing on this task. He clicked "dismiss" and went to the checkout to pay for his goodies. Within four minutes he'd completed his purchase, saved the report which had been open in the background for the last half hour, logged off his computer, changed his shoes, and left the office. What should he get for dinner?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Shake and Bake by Nancy Cole Silverman

When former Hollywood starlet Madeline Pensky wins a life-changing jackpot, a local real estate agent wants to know why she won't sell her battered old trailer home; by Nancy Cole Silverman.

Welcome to Tinseltown, the motion picture capital of the world, the home of glitz and glamor where one can never be too rich or too thin. Where everyone has a story to tell and on every corner there is a star waiting to be discovered.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am your stage director, God, he who wields almighty power. So, if you're ready, settle back and allow me to present, Shake and Bake, a reality play, happening before our very eyes.

Act One.

It's four o'clock in the afternoon. The California sun is setting low in the afternoon sky and Madeline Pensky, our protagonist, toddles with a wine glass in hand and her loyal four-footed companion Alfred to her mailbox. Behind her, a trailer sits on a bare desert mountaintop. Madeline's visit to the mailbox is the highlight of her day. The only communication she has with an outside world that has passed her by, an aged star whose light has long since gone out. Her mail usually consists of nothing more than brochures from the Neptune Society, advertisements for medical alert bracelets and invitations to luncheons on retirement planning, offering nothing of any personal interest. But today, there is a large, legal-sized envelope that causes her heart to quicken.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Ice Shelf by Nelson Kingfisher

Widower Cornelius Fischermann visits his mountainside cabin for the New Year's holidays with his son and grandson, and they all find themselves on thin ice; by Nelson Kingfisher. An audiobook version of this story is available here.

In his seventy-eight winters - from his youth in the Black Forest of Germany to his old age in the White Mountains of New Hampshire - Cornelius Fischermann had split hundreds of logs. But the log in front of him came, evidently, from the petrified forest. The log sat crooked and defiant on the chopping block. Cornelius' ax glanced off, leaving superficial scars.

It was 4:15 pm, dusk in New Hampshire on New Year's Eve. On a typical holiday Cornelius could reach his cabin by lunchtime, but that required leaving Boston before 9 am, and today his son Carl hadn't picked him up until 11. The passenger's seat was empty when Carl pulled up in his Volvo, and Cornelius felt it unwise to ask why Carl's wife Millicent wasn't in it. The answer, he felt sure, would tell him more than he wanted to know about why Carl was late.

Cornelius slipped into the back seat and made conversation with his eight-year-old grandson, Corey, who was trying to decide which Christmas gift had been his favorite. The conversation made Cornelius feel guilty, since he hadn't thought to buy Corey anything. His wife, Ingrid, had always taken care of that.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Digit by Simon Barker

Simon Barker's humorous short inspired by Saki, in which a doctor searching for research subjects takes advantage of a drunken man wanting something else entirely.

"Copulation in the Agile Antechinus is very vigorous. Shortly after mating all males die (as in other antechinuses)."

R. Strahan, The Mammals of Australia

Without warning Dr Schartz-Metterklume stepped from her taxi and strode through the traffic towards a gang of building workers.

"Hey!" she called as the men harassed a passing office girl. "What do you think you're doing?"

The men shut up for a second then saw they were being addressed by a woman in a business suit and cranked up their harassment. The office girl fled, saluting with a finger behind her back. The lights changed and there was a tumult of car horns, but Dr Schartz-Metterklume wasn't fazed.

"Who's your supervisor?"

The gang hooted like simians. "Is this your vehicle?" she asked, indicating a shabby pickup. She turned to retrieve her phone and saw that her taxi had driven off. Oh, that was typical. Well, at least she had her handbag and the building contractor wouldn't be hard to look up. Complete Façade, was the name on the pickup's door.

Friday, September 9, 2016

No Second Chances by Marie McCloskey

Marie McCloskey's character wakes up in the bed of his ex-girlfriend without knowing how he got there, and something is terribly wrong...

I don't understand why I'm here, with her. She's ignoring me and nothing I say seems to get through. It's been over two years since we've seen each other. Things didn't end well. They were never that good to begin with, but I did care about her.

My patience wears through, and I reach forward to touch her. It's been so long, I'm eager to press my fingertips against her bare arms, but there's nothing there.

I can see her clear as ever. She still has those hips I loved to hold onto. Her chestnut hair's shorter now but it wraps around her heart shaped face with a few sexy waves. It doesn't matter; my hand doesn't respond and panic begins to shake me.

I glance down at the hard wood floors. Turning my gaze, I notice the typical living room furniture. A sofa sits against the wall facing a nice flat screen. It would give the place a comfortable atmosphere if I knew what the hell was going on.

How often does a man wake up in his ex-girlfriend's apartment without a clue as to how he got there? It sounds like something from a movie, or an episode of Dateline.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Toonies by Cameron Vanderwerf

Cameron Vanderwerf tells the story of a down-on-his-luck stick figure and his anthropomorphic friend.

People ask me all the time if it's hard being a stick figure. It's really none of their goddamn business, but I just shrug and say we all got our crosses to bear. I guess being asked that question is at least better than being called a toonie, but I'm grateful for anyone who at least makes an effort to ignore my appearance. And I suppose I don't have it as bad as my pal Gordy. He's a toonie. An anthro to be more specific. Walking, talking mutt dog nearly six feet tall, and you should see the nerve of some people around him! Total strangers just petting him on the head out of nowhere. Some people think they're being cute, but others just do it for the cruel fun of it.

Gordy and I know each other from work. The manager likes to hire toonies for the tax cuts, but you can tell he doesn't like us. It's a shit job, and the pay is crummy, but at least I've got health insurance and enough for the occasional drink. Gordy's and my passe-temps of choice is usually hanging out at Fran's, the toonie bar downtown, and drinking ourselves into a stupor when time permits. We play darts, hit on women, bitch about our job and our asshole boss, and drink until we either run out of money or Fran bumrushes out the door us with her massive arms.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Cider Mill by Timothy DeLizza

Elizabeth and her fiancé Peter Kingsman travel to his father's cider mill to investigate a series of bloody murders in a town populated by hideously deformed descendants of the Kingsman line; by Timothy DeLizza.

"Beth, that was foolish, love," Peter said.

His hands gripped her waist tightly, and she allowed him to guide her back into the carriage safely.

"I was fine," she said. "Look." She showed him her prize, a freshly picked red apple, still wet with dew from the branches of the trees outside. Peter smiled, making his face look more human.

Elizabeth bit into her apple and offered him a bite.

He shook his head. "I was raised here, remember?"

She nodded.

"I dreamt," he said. "You were a vampire queen and I was human king. My hands' touch burned vampires. You and I fell in love, but of course we could never trust each other. I wore gloves when we made love, and it scared me to let your teeth near my neck, but I let you anyway. What does it mean?"

Friday, September 2, 2016

Gorilla, Gone by Andrew Flynn

Stripes the tiger narrates the mystery of the missing gorilla in Andrew Flynn's offbeat comedy.

It's got everyone here pretty excited, I can tell you. The whys, the wherefores, the whathaveyous; the ones who talk like they were there, that they saw the whole thing, how they knew the guy, have the inside track on his story. There isn't a perch or a swinging tyre in the whole place that doesn't have some expert dispensing opinions and theories. And there is no shortage of those, I can tell you. There's a good one doing the rounds about how he was stolen by a travelling circus from Russia and now works ten shows a week pitching dwarves through flaming hoops and rescuing young women in bikinis from flaming towers. There's another one the meerkats put out about alien abduction. But given those guys are borderline paranoid at the best of times no one's been inclined, except for a few conspiracy nuts in the rhino compound, to take it too seriously. Those meerkats really seem to believe it though. Carlos, their chief, has them doubled down on shifts, scanning the skies round the clock in case they come back. Crazy guys but you've got to admire the commitment. They've tried to rope the rest of us in on it, too.

'We've all got to look out for each other,' says Carlos. 'You don't want to wake up halfway to Mars or wherever with some extraterrestrial probing you, do you?'

'Haven't you heard, Carlos,' I tell him, 'there's people right here on Mother Earth who will do that for you and call it progress.' It's true, you know. You hear the stories. 'Any how,' I say, 'there's no way this cat is sitting up all night waiting for aliens. But if ever they do come, just let them try it on with this tiger's fluffy butt.'

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Drowning by Numbers by Brooke Fieldhouse

Otto obsessively collects old post cards featuring swimming pools, but he has never before noticed that several of them feature a particularly captivating bathing belle; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

What a beauty!

Gorgeous legs, hour glass figure; brunette hair cut in a bob - 1920s style.

She's smiling up at him from the post card he's holding as he sits in his long low comfortable chair in his modest flat in Croydon.

The card isn't pornographic - not even 'naughty.' It's classy, vintage - a real bathing belle. The thing is he's never noticed her before.

'Otto, if only you spent as much time on human relationships as you do on your post card collection you'd be the perfect man.'

It's as if he can hear his wife's voice coming from the silver-framed portrait on the mantelpiece... Cruel? She'd been right, and since her death his two children have hardly visited him. Photography has been his life.

Every wall, each horizontal surface in his retirement flat, is covered with framed photos. They are massed on the table, shelves, and the baby grand his wife loved to play.