Friday, April 29, 2016

At the Fourth Annual Sharm El-Sheikh Freedom Fighters Convention by Fred Russell

Nothing is sacred in Fred Russell's absurdist satire, in which freedom fighters of all stripes try to survive a convention.

All that was left of Walid al-Nishkeini was a torso the size of a shoe box and a big head. He got around on a battery-powered skateboard, accompanied by his faithful companion Mustafa Dawin, who carried a steamship trunk filled with plastic organs and Walid's life support system. When Walid spoke at the rallies he would be propped up on metal legs like a card table, the product of North Korean technology. He was always the last to speak, already jacked up to his full height among the dignitaries in the first row, the tears streaming down his cheeks as he listened to the other freedom fighters talk about Palestinian rights.

I had arrived with the Israeli contingent, mostly Peace Now types. Some of them had participated in the Great March to Herzliyya a few months back when over two million Israelis had taken to the roads to try out for the season's new reality shows. We were on a package tour this time, getting bussed down to Eilat from Tel Aviv for a day of fun and then across to the old Bir Gafgafa airbase in Sinai where an ancient Tupolev transport plane disguised as a blimp took us down to Sharm. Our bus driver made it clear that he expected a big tip.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reaching You by Ceinwen Haydon

When Shelley's brother dies, she and their friend Jo are compelled to return to the site of the tragedy; by Ceinwen Haydon.

'For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.'
- Khalil Gibran


I came round in my own bed, as the August dawn was breaking. I sat up slowly, and next to me on the camping mat, on the floor, was Shell. The pain behind my eyes made me shrink from the light as I tried to remember the night before. We'd been on the beach, just the two of us. No, wait, Ben had been there as well. He'd been in a bad way; he'd lost his place on the Job Centre 'Back to Work' scheme for turning up late three days in a row. That meant his benefits would stop. We'd gone out with cans of Magners to try to cheer him up, and if I'm honest, to keep an eye on him. So, where was he now?

I stumbled out to the bathroom and heard my mum call, 'Jo, I'm off to get the bus to Newcastle. Could you give Shell's mum a call, she wants to know where Ben is. Bye, love.'

The front door slammed shut. Mum's words jangled in my head, 'She wants to know where Ben is.'

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mistaken Identity by Steve Slavin

A lonely man gets a glimpse into the lifestyle of his namesake on the other side of town; by Steve Slavin.

I have a rather unusual name. If you checked the residential phone listings in all five boroughs of New York, you would find just sixteen Kanadlehoppers.

You might assume that someone with a name like that must be some kind of nerd. But nothing could be further from the truth. OK, maybe I haven't had an actual date in eleven years, but that's just because I happen to be extremely selective. Just the other day I got a call from a young woman, and I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was very attractive.



"This is Marty."

"Are you sure you're Marty? Marty Kanadlehopper?"

"Trust me, no one pretends to have that name."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn by Bruce Costello

An ageing grandmother meets an old physics teacher who helps her to reframe her problems; by Bruce Costello.

"To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season..." my mother hums in her hospice bed, mind and memory very much alive.

"Remember us singing that in the old Wolseley, Paula?" she says. "It's okay to be old and dying. Old people know they've had long lives. Young people never know when they'll be struck down. You have to make the most of now."

I was going to tell her Derek's drinking again, there's another hole in the kitchen wall and these bruises aren't from banging into a door - but what's the point?

Her fingertips glide over the bruise on my wrist.

"He's a lost cause," she says. "Life's too short. Find someone better."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Slightest of Indiscretions by Phil Slattery

A national park guide in New Mexico has lustful urges for a Vietnamese visitor with a domineering husband; by Phil Slattery.

Quinn sensed something disturbing about the couple as they entered the park's visitor center. He couldn't express it, but the feeling penetrated to his body's core. Quinn thought it had to be the contrast between the woman, a demure yet stunning, young Vietnamese woman of Quinn's age, and the lasciviously grinning, much older Caucasian man following her. No, thought Quinn, "following" was not the right word; some variant of stalking would be a better word, something that implied tolerated stalking with undertones of masochism and sadism.

By the time the couple had taken five steps into the store, Quinn had decided that the only things the couple had in common were clothing and matching wedding rings. "Good afternoon, how are you today?" he said with a smile.

The woman nodded and smiled slightly. Never letting his grin slip, the man let out a quick, soft "fine," as if it were a small burp.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lefties by James Ryan Curtis

James Ryan Curtis's self-deprecating character bumps into two women he admires on his way out of the movies, and trouble brews.

They were there when I walked out of the movie theater, alone (again). I sighed and pretended not to notice them, but I knew I couldn't make it to my car without them seeing me, so I slid on my sunglasses and pretended to be focused on my cell phone as I not-so-subtly fast-walked towards the refuge of the parking lot jungle. A few more steps and I'd be home free...

"Pat!" one of them screamed.

Who me? I kept walking.

She called again.

Shit. I couldn't fake it anymore. I sighed again, turned towards the voice, and scraped myself over to them, phony smile blazing in hot summer sun.

The two girls, both brunettes with brown eyes, tortured me with their gazes. One was named Ivy and the other Iris (cute right?). They could've been sisters, but I knew better. Ivy giggled as I assumed my definitely-unintentional-but-still-go-to-awkward-conversation-stance in front of them (leaning heavily on one leg, hands over my stomach) and vomited rehearsed words:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Fast Fool by Michael C. Keith

A racist private eye recalls a time he lost his temper in a fast food joint; by Michael C. Keith.

Beware the fury of a patient man.
- John Dryden

One time I lost it and went way over the line, letting my temper get the best of me. Hey, I'll admit I have a short fuse, but on that particular occasion, I really just let it rip. Sure, I was drag-ass tired after a day shadowing this broad who was cheating on her old man, but that's no excuse for putting myself in a potentially bad situation. An assault charge and my PI license is a goner... and so am I, for that matter. Not a damn other thing I can do to make a living. No other skills, period. Suppose I grew up dumb on that score, but it's not been so bad. Got plenty of freedom, if not a lot of dough.

Anyway, here's what happened. I was on my way back to my pad, and I stopped at this White Castle on Langley for burgers... love those quarter size heartburns. So the joint was empty at 2 AM, except for this black dude waiting at the takeout counter. I took my place next to him and waited for service. Finally, this young Latino comes out from the back and begins cleaning the grill, totally ignoring us.

Well, me and this other customer just stood there figuring the guy would stop what he was doing and take our order. Wrong. He just kept scraping at the frigging grill like we weren't even there. The black cat looked at me and rolled his eyes, and I did the same back. Still, we didn't say or do anything, but I could feel my blood pressure beginning to rise. Is this patty flipper deaf, dumb, and blind? I wondered, and cleared my throat loud enough to be heard a block away.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Weeder by Steve Smith

After a drunken encounter with a knife wielding sociopath, things get weird for martial artist Rick Stancil; by Steve Smith.

Rick Stancil studied the chunky body sprawled at his feet. The dim glow from the corner streetlight ten feet from the bar entrance illumined an unshaven face turned to one side, mouth sagging open, light gray eyes gazing vacantly at nothing. Stancil bent and pressed the carotid. No pulse bump. Still, he was jittery. Only moments before the stranger had narrowly missed opening him up with a sweeping slash of his spring knife, and Stancil's torso crawled with unexpressed adrenaline. He scooped up some dust, sprinkled it on the nearest eye, and got a convincing lack of reaction.

Stancil stood and growled out a mixture of tension and elation. It was the first time he'd used his training outside the dojo and he had prevailed. His shoulders shook with a violent spasm, the last of the adrenaline kicking in, and it took all his control to keep from bellowing a victory cry into the night. Then a vagrant sense of guilt struck and he wondered if he shouldn't have pulled his punch. Under interrogation the guy might have admitted to some unsolved killings. But chances were he'd have skated and somebody else would have been his next victim.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ecru Skin by Chris Milam

A man learns about his upstairs neighbour only by the sounds she makes; by Chris Milam.

Her sound is my daily routine, my first cup of coffee that never empties. It alternates between a scrape, a roll, and a sob; the hardwood floor above a symphony of something greater than infatuation. She has no name, no face, no aroma. She exists only in patterns of noise.

Her mailbox is next to mine. It fills daily with envelopes and flyers; secrets and utility bills. It's tempting to take a peek, to see what consonants and vowels are typed on the front. Maybe they spell Jennifer, Kathryn, or Agnes. The not knowing has its own heartbeat: thump, bang, dammit. She comes down the steps at precisely 5:15 everyday to check the mail. I never look through peephole, instead, I put my ear to the door and absorb her movement. She is elegant on the stairs, agile and confident. Her steps are measured and tender. I imagine her to be in her early thirties.

In the evening, I mute the television when her orchestra begins. A concrete ball bouncing across the floor. A metal trowel digging into the wood. Roller skates skidding or a dead body being dragged. Things are happening up there, things I can't decipher.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Pen Name by Alec Lavictoire

A lonely man tries to connect with a work colleague in Alex Lavictoire's bleakly comic short.

The bathtub creaked and groaned as Gerald's hefty frame stepped into the water. He took in a deep breath and exhaled down into the four-slice toaster he held in his hands. He smiled through the tears as he plugged the toaster into the wall socket.

As he stood there in the tub, he imagined that his death would come as no surprise to his co-workers. He was aware that his size had always gotten him noticed while his personality assured he was soon forgotten. He imagined the organizational announcement that would be emailed to staff members following the news of his untimely death. In it, someone like the assistant to the vice-president of inside sales would note that Gerald's death was a great loss to the organization. Period. It would resonate with an appropriately hollow ding.

In all of this, the only person Gerald imagined would be upset by his sudden demise would be Henrietta from the mailroom. She would hear her co-workers ask each other "who's Gerald?" He would be an embarrassment to her - even in death.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Commitment by Kara Burke

Two doomed crooks muse on their relationship as the cops descend; by Kara Burke.

The carpet of the hotel room was cheap. The stiffness of it rubbed against June's toes, and she put her foot back in her shoe. The mustard yellow wallpaper looked stained, and the room smelled like cigarettes and mold. Lincoln slammed the door behind her, sliding the chain closed. An open bottle of vodka dangled from his fingertips. He crossed the room and stared out the sliding door. It had been a nice day.

"What's the point of us being here, Linny?" June said. Her voice was quiet, and the words seemed to stick in the humidity of the room.

Lincoln laughed, combing a hand through his graying hair. He needed a haircut.

"I don't want to die on the street. Here, nobody can see it." He raised the bottle to his lips, then lowered it, glancing at June standing in the hallway. She still had blood on her cheek. "Drink?"

Sunday, April 3, 2016

In Her Purse by Gary Ives

The Chief Groundskeeper of the luxurious Rio Plata Spa and Hotel recounts the story of a particularly troublesome guest; by Gary Ives.

First let me tell you of May Maloy Spooner then you may make up your own mind about this woman.

May Maloy Spooner, one of the hundreds of Las Vegas whores, had no trouble catching SeƱor Rigby's eye. You would no doubt agree that like many of her sisters in the business she is most pleasing to look at and artful in the ways of seducing men. Here let me say that I have nothing against prostitution or prostitutes. As with all professions a few are very, very good and a few very, very bad. Most however are neither particularly good nor bad. And as for the occupation, only politicians and religious zealots fault this universal, old and pervasive occupation, often by circumstances the only one open to women. But this Spooner woman, she was not one of those good working girls. Looking at her lovely frame, however, easily aroused and provoked basic masculine feelings.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Letter to Piper by Don Herald

Labrador Maggie writes a letter to her boxer friend Piper giving hints on how to live with humans; by Don Herald.

Hello Piper:

You don't know me but I just felt that I had to drop you a line. Last night I overheard the humans who live with me talking about you coming to live with two other humans they know.

Since I'm older than you, I know a lot about training humans to live with dogs. So I thought I'd share some of my learning because you are still a Boxer puppy. Perhaps I can save you some valuable time playing your humans.

My name is Maggie. I'm a four year old Labrador Retriever. My colour is brown but most humans call it 'chocolate'. I'll be five years old when it gets very cold again outside. I weigh about 80 pounds soaking wet. I'm not sure what that is in kilos.

Speaking of wet, I just love to play and swim in water. When my humans are not at home, I drop my favourite toys into that water-keeping thing they call a 'toilet'. It's in a special space right next to their sleeping room.