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.'