Friday, December 29, 2017

The Silent Treatment By Lena Andersson

The small agricultural town of Magnolia Falls has always been distinguished by the McCrorys and their overdeveloped vocal cords; by Lena Andersson.

By the time the McCrory sisters died, a strange and alien silence had descended upon the town of Magnolia Falls, Mississippi. God had blessed the McCrory family with an extra vocal cord. What we would normally call hollering or bellowing the McCrorys called normal pitch. So it wasn't all that surprising that, when we laid to rest the last of the McCrorys, Edna Mae and Clorice, alongside their illustrious ancestors whose mouths had long been silenced by the damp, dark earth, we did not know what to make of the quiet that hung in the air.

As long as anyone could recall, the McCrorys had always spoken loud. Delbert, the first McCrory to settle near Magnolia Falls, had been a plantation owner. Since he was out in the country and rarely ventured into town, no one found his speaking insufferable. But the Civil War changed everything.

Delbert had long since died when the war broke out, and his son Frank now ran the plantation. But Frank lost everything - first to Union troops, then to carpetbaggers. Despite Reconstruction, however, Magnolia Falls was booming. Frank found a job in the lumber mill and settled his family here.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Portrait by John Mueter

Charles Koranda is sent back in time to 1832 to carry out a nefarious duty; by John Mueter.

Charles Koranda was found one fine spring morning lying in the low grass beside a country lane in Somersetshire. Things had gone exactly according to plan: Dr Callum Gibson, who was on his way home from a visit to a nearby patient, was going to drive by in his carriage just after Koranda materialized. Koranda wasn't there two minutes when he heard the low rumbling of the carriage wheels and the unmistakable plodding of hooves on the well-trod earth. He didn't need to feign illness as he felt quite out of sorts after his ordeal - the effect was something like a hangover. He remained as he was, sprawled in the sweet-scented grass. As the carriage was passing him Dr Gibson commanded the driver to halt. Even before the vehicle came to a complete stop the doctor nimbly jumped down and knelt beside Koranda who was holding his head and moaning softly.

"My good man, whatever is the matter?" he asked, at the same time sizing up the young stranger who was dressed in a strikingly unusual manner.

"Oh, I'm not quite sure. Don't think I can stand on my own just yet, though."

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Way of the World by Mike Florian

Quebecois handyman Gaston Tardif rebels against a cruel duty; by Mike Florian.

Gaston Tardif was the handyman and jack-of-all-trades at Carmelo's Lodge in this northeastern corner of Quebec. He did everything Josephine Carmelo asked him to do. He made sure the Evinrudes were running each morning before the guests started their fishing day. He would feed the chickens in the chicken coop and pick out the wounded ones from the night before. He was always disgusted at the violence of the pecking order. The pheasants were more civilized, and of them, the Hungarians lorded it over the Ringnecks in the pheasant coop. He emptied the traps of the mink and skunk that tried to hunt the birds. When the guests left for fishing after breakfast, and with their lunch baskets full of sandwiches and thermoses, Gaston had many other chores.

He and his beloved wife Marie-Helene worked at the Lodge for years. They met there as teenagers, fell in love, married in the adjacent town of Guerin, and lived at the Lodge. During the tourist season they stayed in a small cabin not too far from the chicken coop. In the fall, after all the guests had left, and at the invitation of Mrs. Carmelo, they would pack their meager belongings and move to the larger of the guest houses overlooking the lake. In return for this favour, and for all the eggs they could eat, Gaston would take care of the complex while Mrs. Carmelo vacationed in Palm Springs, California, from mid-October to the end of April. He regularly flushed the toilets, repaired the door and window screens, and most importantly, filled the ice barn with ice blocks that he cut out of the frozen lake. The blocks of ice were used in the coming season to cool the iceboxes of the guests. Most of the guests travelled from Youngstown or Columbus, Ohio. Carmelo Lodge was the destination of choice of the blue collar families from that hard working area.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Fall from Grace by Mitchell Toews

Matt Zehen's wayward friend Davey persuades him to climb the roof of the curling rink to throw crab apples at passers-by; by Mitchell Toews.

A well-thrown crab apple, ripe and soft of skin, makes a distinctive sound when it hits a metal STOP sign. The many crab apple trees along Barkman Avenue were ready for this duty, branches slung low with dark fruit by late August. When I think of my childhood in Hartplatz, that's what I see. My friends and I would fill our pockets, alternately eating and throwing at targets like signs or telephone poles. Blackbirds watched from the tall reeds, their black bodies spattered like ink spots in the swaying green ditch across from my parents' house.

The playtime restrictions for young girls and boys in our small town were not high security. I was, in general, supposed to stay on this side of Reimer Avenue, which gave me access to the fire hall, Main Street, the 5¢ to $1 store, and other distractions including Loeb's yard. If I say we often played in the Loeb lumberyard - amid any number of dangers, treacherous without adult superstition - you will get a sense of the loose restriction placed on us. All the same, some of us were not supposed to go into the heart of the lumberyard compound - at least I wasn't. My mom had read of a boy who had been swallowed up while playing on top of a pile of sawdust and the tall, fragrant pyramids in the sleepy yard were like rattlesnake nests to her.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Date by Laura A. Zink

Tevin, who lives with his boss and fantasises about his half-sister, waves down a drug-addled woman driving dangerously; by Laura A. Zink. First published in Oakland Review #3.

Tevin sat in his boss's living room with the lights off and his hand down his pants. On the television, District Attorney Casey Novak performed an aggressive cross-examination, the sounds of violins and cellos rising as she pressed the defendant for his confession. Tevin closed his eyes and imagined himself on the stand, her accusations swarming, eyes straining to penetrate his, a faint line of bra lace peeking out from her blouse. He rose from the stand and grabbed her. Desire and fear filling her eyes, lips parting, voice choked between protest and permission, and somehow the smell of Ben Gay and rose water joined them and...

"Jesus Christ!"

He jerked around to find his sixty-year-old boss standing behind the couch, stiff and wide-eyed, hand clutching her lilac print bathrobe under her chin. She took a few steps backward, turned, and shuffled back to her room.

Monday, December 11, 2017

No Parking by Kristy Gherlone

In early 1970s America, little Stevie's family tour Maine in a rusty old red bus, in pursuit of her father's dream of being a musician; by Kristy Gherlone.

It was early September in 1973 when Stevie stood in bare feet on the edge of her grandmother's yard and watched the bus pull up and park.

The ground was chilly that time of year in Maine, but her feet had grown so tough and calloused over the summer, she hardly even noticed.

She went out to the street and circled the length of the bus. It might have been bright red at one time, but a layer of rust clung to the exterior. It made the whole thing look as if it had been painted with blood and set out in the sun to dry. She shook her head and sighed. The entrance doors screeched as they flapped open. Her mother poked her head out and grinned. "Hey, kiddo. Whaddya think?"

"Are we really going to live in that thing?" Stevie asked.

Friday, December 8, 2017

We Hunt Together: A Hominum Futurus Chronicle By Kevin Stadt

Oren, member of a new species of humanity specially adapted to live on an icy world, must hunt a Leviathan or his family will starve; by Kevin Stadt.

It hurt Oren even to breathe. He had three cracked ribs, a sprained ankle and stitches everywhere from last week's Owa'Unar hunt. As he gingerly packed his dogsled, a wave of dizziness hit him and he paused to rest. Oren leaned against the sled's frame and took in his surroundings.

To remind himself what was at stake.

Impossibly giant trees filled the forest in every direction, their bark colored in palettes of slate and indigo, their turning leaves gold and magenta. Trees so tall you couldn't see the tops with the naked eye, so thick people carved rooms into them for times when the winter got too cold to stay in the shelters built in their lower branches. Two of the young girls ran between the trunks, yelling and shrieking laughter with a half-dozen pups trailing. Kiel, his son, walked from one dog shelter to the next, dropping meat soaked with fat into bowls and taking a knee with each one to speak to them and stroke their grey fur. Oren noted how thick his son's beard had become this year, how broad his shoulders had grown.

Monday, December 4, 2017

God's Shoulder by Kevin McGowan

A cynical missionary navigates the ignorance and innocence of small town Deep South USA to spread the word of God in service of his own ambitions; by Kevin McGowan.

Conrad rocked on his heels and watched the local Negroes he had hired lather the sidewall of the church with white paint. Eight months spent selling counterfeit bibles to old loonies in Huntsville and now came the time to step up and sell God. His church was built of mixed softwood, mostly sand and spruce pine, but for the steeple, which was made from buckeye. Not one cent had been spared in his enterprise; this was no city tabernacle and he meant for people to know it. What that was called was investment and it was the holiest word he knew. Scripture was full of it. The good old Lord was a bank; people gave over everything to him with the promised return of greater riches once they were bone-dead in the soil. So said Matthew: lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Yes, the Lord was a bank, and every bank needed run by somebody. He slipped into his church, lithe and alert, like a bobcat into tall grass, the acrid nip of turpentine burning his nostrils, and stamped with his strongest foot. Solid foundation. The land, however, was less than desirable: it had an uneven pulpiness and all around the church festered thickets of alligator weed and slouching ferns.

He said to the Negro sanding a pew, 'Cut back that jungle next.'

'Yes, suh, Father.'

'Brother,' he corrected. 'Your father is the Lord.'

Friday, December 1, 2017

Cash by Angela Doll Carson

When she hears trouble on her street, a vulnerable woman fears her home might be invaded; by Angela Doll Carson.

The cold medicine was a mistake. Penny was in bed with her eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling for an hour before she finally got up and opened a bottle of wine. Bosley followed her from the bedroom to the kitchen. He watched her with head tilted as she uncorked the Merlot and poured herself a glass. She stood at the kitchen counter drinking the wine like water. She asked Bosley, "Well, they say that whiskey is good for a head cold, right? Maybe it's true of wine." The dog looked hopeful, wagging his tail and waiting for a snack or a toy or a walk. When none of that came to pass, he gave up and wandered back to the bedroom.

The house was quiet since John left. The kids were away at school, Margot at Harvard and Brad at State. John moved in with his girlfriend the week after they moved Brad into his dorm. Margot left over the summer, moving into an off-campus apartment. When Penny found John packing a bag on the bed, she knew he was leaving. They never discussed it, but Penny sensed that they both had seen it coming. Penny noticed him slipping away from her long ago, but she did nothing to stop it. If anything, she might have even encouraged the affair. The blow was not emotional as much as it was financial. She would have to get a job now. They couldn't afford to support two households, three if she counted Margot's apartment.