Friday, October 19, 2018

Dead Drift by James Hacker

Dave and Steve head into the remote river canyon to go fly fishing, but there's more than just fish in the river; by James Hacker.

Dave woke once, early, hangover pounding in his ears and the taste of cheap beer still on his tongue, to the soft sound of rain on the roof. He rolled back to sleep, a slight smile playing across his half-drunk face. If the weather held, a morning rain would keep the river canyon cooler and keep the air damp through to the evening. When he woke again, hours later, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and a dry wind blew down out of the north. He smiled again, knowing a big spinner fall was coming. Spinner falls meant dry fly fishing, meant trophy fish, meant magic sessions where big fish rose to every cast. He hoped it was tonight.

Dave finally rose around noon. Steve was already up and cooking breakfast. Once they were both fed and coffeed up, hangovers still sitting with awful weight behind their eyes, they loaded themselves and their gear into Steve's truck and headed into town.

They made straight for the local fly shop. High end gear was artfully arranged in the windows, $500 waders next to $2,000 fly rods set between high-def shots of anglers at work and trophy fish in nets. Inside, a handful of tourists ogled the equipment while one of the local guides tried to sell them on the benefits of the most expensive pair of boots in the store. Dave and Steve slid through the sales meeting to the back, where Ted, the wrinkled and wizened proprietor, sat next to the rows of flies and lures for sale.

Monday, October 15, 2018

In the Shadow of the Hive By Kevin Edwin Stadt

In a future where everyone is telepathically linked, a homeless man and his dog struggle to survive outside the Hive; by Kevin Edwin Stadt.

The obese, sweating manager at the grocery store in whatever stupid little town it was didn't say that Billy's disease made him unemployable. He didn't tell Billy that the Ryker's Syndrome created acute discomfort for everyone in the building. Not a word about the mismatched shoes, worn khakis, grungy shirt or desperate eyes. The manager didn't say anything at all. When Billy asked about a job, the man just shook his head quickly and disappeared through a thick metal door into the back.

Billy had to traverse the meat section, produce and baked goods to reach the exit, through a gauntlet of silent employees and shoppers all stopped frozen in their tracks, staring at him in otherworldly silence.

Outside, Oliver danced when Billy came out the front door, straining against the cord tying his collar to a tree. Billy picked up the tiny brown puppy and the dog licked his face. "Let's get the hell out of here, huh Olly?"

As he trudged westward, Billy's mood got a little bump and the tension in his shoulders slackened when he came upon a sprawling, gorgeous public park.

He could use a bit of refuge. He'd slept badly under a bridge the night before, the October nights having recently turned cold, his stomach three days empty, trucks thundering past just feet above him, coyotes howling in the blackness.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Backlash by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In a previous Prentburg misadventure, Christina du Plessis mistakenly kidnapped geriatric mischief-maker Malan Bester - now he sees his opportunity to get revenge; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

When the oldest resident of Prentburg, Ma Bets, met her maker at the age of one-hundred-and-six, most of the dorp's residents wished to attend her funeral. Even some who had never clapped eyes on her, like Malan Bester.

"He shouldn't be allowed to go," Sister Marchant protested to the matron of the old age home, "he has no right to!"

"We can hardly prevent him from doing so," Matron pointed out, "especially as half of the squatters in the informal settlement will be there. They asked Reverend Motsepe to go, being full of admiration for someone reaching such a ripe old age, and the family has said they're welcome."

"Their motives are admirable," Sister Marchant argued, "while Malan's are highly suspect!"

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Rude Awakening by Jim Bartlett

Major Henning and his spaceship crew have been woken from cryogenic sleep and find the ship may not be working well enough to get them home; by Jim Bartlett.

Henning reaches for his cup, only to pull back at the last moment, remembering it was just as empty as the last time he grabbed for it.

Get it together, Major.

He takes in a deep breath and lets his gaze wander down to the chronometer. At first, none of it makes sense, a little too much fog in his brain for the numbers to work.

Okay, 32 hours. He's been up 32 hours. Cut yourself some slack.

Shifting his focus back to the thick swath of asteroids that stretches across the frontal screen, he places his palm on the roller, and once again begins to wrestle with the retro control. It only takes a few moments for his frustrations to get the best of him, and he flings his arms upward, nearly striking the overhead panel. No matter how hard or which way he spins the damn thing, the ship seems to be drawn in their direction.

He leans back, taking in a deep, long breath. Relax. Relax.

Relax...

Friday, October 5, 2018

That Second Death by Daniel L. Link

When Nellie's twin sister disappears, she suspects murder, but how far will she go for the truth? By Daniel L. Link.

THE END

I couldn't see the dawn as day broke over my final resting place. I heard birds, though, as they rose from their nests and went about their daily scavenging. The finches and jays were the loudest. I knew they were getting close to the hole in which I lay.

Every time I moved, the burlap tarp over me rubbed at my nose, creating a nagging itch I couldn't scratch. That was worse than the handcuffs, worse than having my arms pinned behind my back. That rough fabric scraping across my skin was a constant reminder of what was to come.

It was getting warm when the workers arrived. Sunlight peeked through tiny holes in the tarp, thousands of golden pinpricks in my otherwise black grave. The beep-beep of a truck's backup alarm rang out, feet from where I lay, silencing the birds' cries and signaling that the end was near.

The night had been cold, but the heat of the morning had me sweating. That sweat all froze to my body when I heard the truck.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Frances by Pam Munter

Frances Marion, screenwriting powerhouse of Hollywood's golden age, longs for intimacy with her self-destructive superstar friend Mary Pickford; by Pam Munter.

The irony didn't escape Frances that though she was the premier screenwriter of her time she couldn't find the right words to describe how she felt about Mary. Or why.

It didn't seem like that many years ago. World War I was raging but Hollywood was thriving, existing in a cocoon. Frances had come to the editing room at Biograph and found Mary alone. She was startled when Mary turned around, her petite frame dominated by her big blue eyes and long, curly blonde hair. "I know we're going to be best friends," Mary had said within minutes of their meeting. "I don't have many friends," she had confided. "No time."

Frances knew it had to be more than that. Mary was an international icon, untouchable, unreachable some would say. And the most powerful woman in the industry. That was more likely the issue. "I would like to be your friend," Frances echoed, carefully. She felt an unfamiliar jolt come and go from within, like a blast of hot air. It wasn't at all unpleasant but surprised her with its intensity.



Now, some 15 years later, Frances looked forward to seeing Mary again, even though she was unsure what she would find in that house tonight. She remembered a time when there was no ambivalence or anxiety about her dinners there. They were fun, lively events full of lawn games, alcohol and opium. She was amused that Hollywood's highest paid stars would find it hilarious to shoot home movies of each other, each trying to outdo the other with outrageousness. It was about making each other laugh and it wasn't hard to do. Someone would always be thrown into the huge pool in their evening clothes or go down the slide backwards.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cold as ICE by Lee Conrad

Divorcee detective Derek Steele navigates dystopian near-future USA, trying to solve the mystery of the missing immigrants without upsetting Immigration and Customs Enforcement; by Lee Conrad.

The late morning heat and humidity was already oppressive. It was early May but the climate in the Northeast was so screwed up it felt like July in the old days. I hated this weather. I kept telling myself that as a private investigator I could set up shop anywhere. A cooler climate would be nice. But that was another day. Had to meet my client.

I drove down Floral Ave past trees butchered by the electric company in order to free the wires of damage by tangled limbs. They didn't even look like trees anymore, more like skeletons sliced through the ribs. I dodged deep potholes as I headed to Danny's Diner. Since the economy collapsed road paving had been slipping. Christ, weren't we supposed to have hover cars by now? After all, it was 2022.

I texted the client to say that I'd arrived, he texted back that he was in the last booth on the left.

Danny's wasn't crowded. It was 2pm, the lunch crowd had already left. Luckily the soup specials kept the business going.

I nodded to the cook. "Hey Jaymo, how's things?"

Monday, September 24, 2018

Wild Child by Eamonn Murphy

When she suffers from heart failure at 56, Jessica is forced to rethink her life and her relationship with her parents; by Eamonn Murphy.

Jessica could scarcely believe her ears when the consultant told her.

"Heart failure!" she said. "I'm only fifty-six. I'm too young for heart failure!"

She was in a single room at the new Super Hospital. It was a nice room with an en-suite bathroom that had a mirror, in which she still looked slim and attractive. Her dark, curly hair needed washing and her thin, elfin face looked a little more drawn than usual but the reflection was still a Jessica she recognized. The room had a large window that looked out over the central concourse of the hospital with its various entrances to outpatient departments and shops and cafes. The bed was a hospital bed and the leads that ran from the patches on her chest went to a monitor over the bed that showed her pulse and blood pressure. Other than that it might have been a decent room in a three-star hotel, the kind her smug, suburban parents stayed in when they went to Torquay every year. The food was good. Her treatment had been wonderful. Jessica had no complaints at all except about the diagnosis.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"My Love, Ana" -Tommy by Jhon Sánchez

Tommy and Ana fall deeply in love with each other's internal organs in Jhon Sánchez's quirky vision of the future.

For Melissa Ortiz, Ninotska Love and Yani Perez, three ladies who can easily steal your heart.

My wife divorced me because doctors removed my tonsils. She said that I wouldn't be the same. "A different being," was the precise wording she used. I was appalled. My mind flooded with images of the first time I saw her.

Initially, I hadn't been particularly drawn to her insides, her heart, her guts. I had asked the matchmaker for someone different, unique, like Grandma was for Grandpa. Their pictures together, their love notes and photographs, were like an oasis of warmth and care scattered throughout the apartment that they left for me.

Of course, I marked on my application all of the regular boxes of women I didn't want at all. No people with kidney stones, no people with risk of coronary disease, no HIV/AIDS, no risk of cancer, just the regular stuff that everybody asked for. I wanted someone who would die of old age with me like Grandma and Grandpa - sixty years of marriage - but also someone unique, who kept me mesmerized all the time.

Monday, September 17, 2018

SHORT by Doug Hawley

Doug Hawley returns with a not-very-PC screwball comedy in which Duke Hanley is fed up of being discriminated against for being short.

Duke and Gary, actuaries for a large Portland insurance company, were having lunch together. As usual they were complaining about their treatment as short guys. Duke started off with, "You know, we're usually ignored, and stats prove we get paid less and don't get the promotions we deserve. Studies which have been corrected to take account of all other variables show that."

"I know that, Duke. We've been whining about that for years. At least you've got a great wife. I have a hard time getting a date, much less laid or married. How did you attract a great gal like Sally?"

"You aren't the first or the tenth to ask me that. Sally has a strange history which made her avoid tall or even average guys. Everybody else in her family is over 6 feet tall, even the women, and she is only 5'3". I think that her 6'3" father wondered if he was really her father and always called her runt. Then there was the time at the circus where the so-called tallest man in the world had a heart attack and almost fell on her. In high school, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to give a talk on education. Sally was to present him to the student body, but he suffered from food poisoning and vomited on her. After that, she would only date short guys like me."

Friday, September 14, 2018

Delivery by Stephan Malone

When Stephan Malone's character orders a pizza, the self-driving delivery car gives him a lot more than he wanted.

The whooshing din of distant latter-evening traffic hushed through my partially opened patio slider door. My phone vibrated harshly against the coffee table stone, breaking the ambient calm. "Your pizza has arrived Jayden," the phone announced, casting a cold, bluish-white light against my living room ceiling. For a moment I mindlessly stared at the faint luminous glow above me.

"Be right out," I said.

The phone acknowledged my response with a short blip. "Delivery vehicle notified." I rolled off my couch and shuffled toward the front door. Not a single light illuminated my house's interior save for two small under-the-microwave pilot lamps, for it was in the darkness that I took in a strange yet fortifying comfort during these newly borne days. After my four year relationship with Aeliana reached its inevitable conclusion several weeks ago, my spirit lingered in an unfamiliar, heady space located somewhere between the celebratory freedom invoked from a fresh start and the palpable melancholy that emerged from recalling familiar comforts, now lost to memory alone. I imagined that I would find my way just as everyone does when such things happen.

But for now, I have to eat.

I walked outside, elaborately donned in sock-feet and pajama bottoms, the empirical attire of suburban bachelors everywhere. After all, would anybody care what I'm wearing? The automated car certainly wouldn't. I rounded the delivery car's front bumper, lights on, idling in absolute silence. It looked to be one of those old Chevy Volts from the middle twenty-tens, blacked out and de-badged, retrofitted with a high capacity battery and re-purposed for driver-less metro deliveries.


Monday, September 10, 2018

What Tomorrow Brings by Charles Tabb

Jenny waits for her boyfriend at her favourite restaurant, and she does not expect what tomorrow will bring; by Charles Tabb.

Jenny Fremont sat alone at the small table in Mama Guali's, her favorite restaurant. She and Bob had discovered the small Italian diner one night when a sudden rain storm had forced them to find refuge. Now here she sat once again, waiting for Bob.

While she waited she thought of how she had fallen in love with the simple ambiance of Mama Guali's the moment they had dashed in from the cloudburst. Tables with just enough space between them to prevent crowding while promoting coziness dotted the dining area like small islands. Each was draped with red and white tablecloths in a cliché checkerboard pattern, while wooden chairs gathered around the tables, keeping them company until someone sat down to join the party. Colorful, net-wrapped globes of glass on each table held a lit candle and squatted beside a drinking glass offering stale bread sticks. Aromas of tomato, basil, oregano, and garlic melted from the kitchen into the dining area, making mouths water. Yes, simply being here made her smile.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Soulmates by Roger Ley

Martin, who never quite fitted into the gender binary, finally finds a woman who understands him; by Roger Ley.

Martin had never been comfortable in his masculinity. As a child he hadn't enjoyed rough and tumble, camping, climbing trees, making campfires. His mother described him as 'gentle,' his father rustled his newspaper and tried to ignore him. The other boys derided him and occasionally beat him up. He was an easy target, being of medium height and light build. As he grew into his teens, he suffered the taunts of the football oafs, the noisy muscle heads. He found it easier to spend most of his time alone in his bedroom. Thank God for the internet. He was still interested in girls but for different reasons. It was their makeup, their hairstyles, their nail polish, their clothes, their perfumes, it was all so self-indulgent, so narcissistic. It fascinated him.

Things were easier at university. Staff and fellow students were more polite. Everybody tried hard to be PC, more tolerant of sexual preferences.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Metaphysics 101 by Mark Joseph Kevlock

Dottie falls in love with a man more concerned with philosophy than reality; by Mark Joseph Kevlock.

"I wish you'd stop asking questions that take up the whole class," Dottie said.

She and Humbert were walking together.

"I know. But I can't help it. This is stuff I just need to understand."

Dottie thought about taking his hand. But that could lead to a lot of things.

"I'll try not to do it today," Humbert promised.

Moments later, Professor Carlsbad called on him in class. "Yes, Humbert?"

"What is the true first step, then, to begin us all upon this worldwide shift in consciousness?"

Dottie sighed and sat back in her seat.

Professor Carlsbad took his usual grip upon the edges of the lectern. That meant he was in it for the long haul.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Kensington Street by Robert Boucheron

Robert Boucheron's character starts work at an architecture firm in 1970s Connecticut, and learns on the job.

Ray Constantine is a burly, middle-aged man who used to be a remodeling contractor. After a heart attack, his doctor told him to ease up, eat less, and stop smoking. Now he runs Fair Haven Housing, a nonprofit agency, and chews on an unlit cigar all day.

On a Monday morning in June, Ray teaches Zach and me how to measure existing space using the office, an old house. We are graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture, and this is a summer job, our first day. Ray looks at our sketches.

"Use the one with fewer smudges," he says.

That is mine. I hold one end of a steel tape measure and write dimensions on a rough plan, while Zach holds the other end and calls them out. Zach is at the smart end, Ray says. We discover that I misjudged the thickness of walls, made the stair too small, and missed some closets. I erase and redraw. When we complete the first floor, I hand the sketch to Zach.

"Did we leave anything out?"

Zach stares at the paper, crowded with numbers, notes, and arrows. "Beats me."

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ten Seconds by Megan Prevost

Lyle undergoes a dangerous initiation to become friends with Noah and Ethan; by Megan Prevost.

"I knew you were a wimp, but damn, it's just water," Ethan said. He stood with his arms crossed, a few feet from the hole in the ice. Ethan had driven the three of them out onto the frozen lake. Noah and Lyle had watched while he cut through the ice. He created a hole big enough for a person to fit through.

The wind bit at their faces, it was almost midnight and the temperature crept below zero. The three stood to the side of the lake where the ice was the thickest. The only light came from Ethan's headlights.

Lyle cowered away from the freshly carved hole. "How cold do you think it'll be?" Lyle said. He inched closer and peered into the water below.

"Pretty cold," Noah put his hand on Lyle's shoulder. "But it's safe, we've all done it. Just ten seconds and then you can get out. It's not that bad."

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Dead and the Restless by Paul Lubaczewski

Peggy befriends a local voodoo practitioner while volunteering on a renewable energy project in disaster-scarred Haiti, but there are people who do not want her there; by Paul Lubaczewski.

Dear god, it was hot. This was nothing in the way of a surprise, though, Haiti was always hot, just like the Arctic was always cold. It was always hot, and steamy, and often miserable without air conditioning or a ton of fans. So why was she here? It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but then again MANY things seemed like a good idea at the time, hell was probably full of people who said that. "It'll count towards your degree!" "You'll be doing good for a community!" OK, and maybe the treacherous honest thought, "Free all expenses paid trip to the Caribbean!" might have been in there somewhere. Peggy had thought she knew hot, she went to Cal San Diego for Pete's sake. She had now discovered, though, the phrase, "But it's a dry heat," was not just a phrase but a steaming hot reality.

Why SHE was here, though, was that Haiti was viewed by many in the Green Revolution as the ultimate opportunity, born of the most terrible of tragedies. Due to natural disaster after natural disaster, the energy infrastructure had been reduced to almost nil, this provided a chance to start from scratch. Enter David, and his company, Green Sun Rising, a solar energy firm. David was a Cal grad and a former Prof who had left to form the company. Now, he used the connections he had with the college to get undergrads to use for labor. What a beautiful sales pitch, doing good, free travel, learning by doing, the exact sort of thing that might appeal to you if you were naive as all hell, and sitting around an off-campus apartment a few credits short for the year. Especially if there had been a lot of those "Feed The World For Pennies A Day" commercials running that week.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Brigid's Fire by David W. Landrum

Musician Mathias Berends meets an Irish goddess, but her sister is determined to keep them apart; by David W. Landrum.

Brigid told Mathias she had come from Ireland as an exchange student. She said she liked the sequence of songs about fire he often did when he performed.

"How did you decide to do something like that?" she asked.

He smiled. "I got the idea from something I saw on TV once. I laughed and laughed. It gave me the idea for a new routine."

"People seem to like it."

He loved her Irish brogue, pretty face, and marvelous legs.

"They seem to," he answered, I've gotten a lot of good gigs since I started doing it. But enough about my musical career. What are you studying over here?"

"Mythology. I'm doing a degree in comparative literature with emphasis on Celtic story and how it relates to myth."

"What's your favorite Celtic story?"

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Threat by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the sleepy South African dorp of Prentburg, the Church Sisters face a mutiny by a group of younger local women; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

The Sisters of the Church were surprised to receive an urgent call to an Extraordinary General Meeting. While some grumbled at the disruption of other plans, curiosity ensured a full turnout and they fixed their eyes on the chairwoman, Helga Swanepoel, as she walked to the podium. She shuffled papers, put on her spectacles and stared back solemnly before declaring: "Sisters, we are in danger of being ousted!"

Once the hubbub had died down, she explained further.

"There is a group of younger women in our church who have been voicing the opinion that the sisterhood is, to quote the ringleader, 'An ageing bunch of dithering has-beens who should retire and let a younger generation with fresh ideas introduce the changes needed to meet the challenges of a new age!'"

This time there was no quelling the storm of outraged protest that resulted.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Judgments by Gary Beck

Two corrupt cops interrogate an old man in the wild desert of the Great Divide Basin, about the legends of a local troublemaker; by Gary Beck.

The minute they walked into the store I knew they were cops, but not locals. Some kind of state boys come up from Cheyenne by the look of them. I started for the bathroom to avoid them, but the meaner looking one, in a blue suit that looked like he found it in a thrift shop, called me.

"Just a minute, sir. We'd like to talk to you."

I turned to my assistant, Bobby Runs-with-Elks.

"Why don't you help these gentlemen, Bobby."

"We need to speak to you, sir," the oilier looking man said, taking off his sunglasses, revealing black eyes as soulless as lumps of coal.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Divine Guidance by Gary Ives

When Mexican teenager Tomás is struck blind, he must find a new way to help support his family; by Gary Ives.

My blindness came rapidly. Our house, like all the houses in our village, lays under a high conical roof of reed thatch and tessellated palm fronds. Tree rats nest between the thatch and the palm. Other than occasional nighttime squeals the rats are not a bother. The year I turned fifteen, a strange kind of insect moved into the thatch. Tiny black specks fell from these little bugs in the night. Only later did we learn that the little black specks from these thatch bugs could cause blindness should they fall into the eyes.

Each spring my family travelled north in big stake trucks with several other families to work the fields of the gringos, picking lettuce in Arizona, then to California for tomatoes, moving north to the peach, apricot, and prune orchards. Since I can remember, with my family I had worked these fields and orchards, proud to contribute to my family's security. Sometimes families continued further north to harvest apples in September and October, returning late in the year to our little village tired but rich. I loved those summers working in the north. Sure, the work was very hard, but evenings and Sundays in our encampments were so enjoyable. The children played games while the adults smoked and told stories. Too there was gringo television in some of the camps. By the time I was twelve years old I could speak English which I had learned largely from the gringo television and road signs. I am very strong, and my father was proud of my work. Somedays I earned more than three, even four days' wages for a man in Mexico. This all for my family. Our jefe was Don Francisco. It was in his trucks we traveled, and it was he who negotiated the contracts with the gringo rancheros. Don Francisco, a very large jolly man, was much respected for his fairness. Other jefes cheated their workers. When my father reported to him that I had suffered this blindness Don Francisco said I would not be permitted to accompany the rest of my family. My father argued that even though blind I could pick tomatoes by feel and use of a tether. But Don Francisco was firm in his denial. My father told me to trust in God and stay strong. "You will be in our prayers every day, my son. You must realize that even though this blindness has come, God will show you a way if you trust in Him."

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Killer by Ronald Schulte

Ethan's career is paralysed because of his fear of public speaking, until he finds an app that claims to change your personality; by Ronald Schulte.

My mind was completely blank.

I glanced around the conference room, frantically trying to remember the words I had prepared. The silence stretched into awkwardness. I was acutely aware of the changing facial expressions of my audience. Many looked away as I struggled. Some nodded encouragingly, trying to will me back on course.

Finally, the hiring manager tried to jump to my rescue.

"Ethan? Why don't tell everyone a little about yourself?"

It took me a second to focus on the manager, whose name I couldn't even remember. My mind was a black sludge. This whole thing was a mistake; I didn't belong here.

"I'm sorry," was all I managed to croak out.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Turtle Bay by Henry Hitz

When his marriage fails, a man returns to his parents' house and retreats into his shell - literally. This story by Henry Hitz first appeared in Magnolia Review.

The collapse of your second marriage has left you feeling numb, wandering around in a fog, unable to think, or feel, or do much of anything. You left her, so you don't really have a place to stay. You impose upon your friend Matt for a while, but it's clear you are in the way of his complicated marriage. You decide to leave the Bay Area and head back east.

You collect some supplies and hole up inside your Toyota camper, hauling your camper shell on your back, complete with bed, refrigerator, stove, stereo, library. You wear nothing but turtleneck sweaters even though it's summer, you drive, slowly - very slowly, out of California, across the country, stopping only every other day or so when the white line begins to blur, camping by the side of the road, all the way to Pike Lake, your ancestral home in exurban Wisconsin.

You allow yourself two months to recuperate before you will have to return to your job as a writer for an environmental magazine. After a brief tour of the place to find your old haunts: the boathouse, your shack of a hideout, your dank mad-scientist laboratory in the basement, you hibernate in your old room, your childhood room, with walls and ceiling of manly knotty pine.

Monday, July 30, 2018

All I Love Dies Alone by Leila Allison

After a young priest pulls Sara back from the brink of suicide, she dredges through memories of her tough childhood searching for absolution; by Leila Allison.

Squirrel Pen Diary: First Entry

Last Wednesday morning I entered Our Lady Star of the Sea church during mid-week mass. While two dozen or so senior citizens went through the ancient, dusty rites (monotonously administered by an equally ancient and dusty priest), I rose unseen and snuck upstairs to a small balcony that communicates with the church's attic. I climbed atop the guano-splattered stone rail that hugs the balcony, balanced myself on one foot and held the other out as though I intended to take a seventy-foot step onto the marble walkway below. After I had done all that, there wasn't much else to do except wait for someone to notice me.

"Probably not," the young priest said when I asked him "Will God catch me?" The young priest had been in the rectory across the street. He was the first person to see me on the rail, and he ran upstairs so we could "talk things over." If the old priest had somehow managed to huff his way upstairs without suffering a heart attack, and recited the tiresome company policy against suicide, there's no doubt I would have taken that last big step - if only on general principle. But proof that there still was at least one honest human being left in the world gave me enough pause as to allow the young priest to snatch me off my perch.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Glorious Affair by David Henson

A series of technical failures on a spaceship loaded with tourists forces Captain Neenah to make a difficult decision; by David Henson.

Captain Neenah peered out the portal of his conference room as what looked like a debris cloud, illuminated by the light of Arcturus, streamed away from the ship. A streak of orange caused him to catch his breath, but he quickly gathered himself.

"Computer, update log," he said, looking around the dead quiet conference room. "After a series of unavoidable events, we have experienced a horrible accident..."



The cruise was fully booked with 202 passengers. As he always did, Captain Neenah stood at the main gangway nearest the bridge, smiling and welcoming the tourists aboard the Glorious Deep. "Enjoy your voyage, folks," he said to a man and woman with a small boy and girl in tow. The four were dressed alike in bright yellow flight suits, a throwback to the 22nd Century. "Over the next month, you'll see wonders you couldn't imagine."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Simulation by Roger Ley

A retired doctor indulges his new hobby by going on an alarmingly realistic flight simulator; by Roger Ley.

Retirement hung heavily on Martin Riley. He’d had his time as an important government scientist, with meetings to attend, reports to write and a team of scientists to oversee. Now it was all over, and he had little to fill his time. His wife Estella had her bridge games, tennis, coffee mornings and the grandchildren. Riley was thrown onto his own resources and found that he didn’t have many ideas once he’d redecorated their retirement bungalow and dug a fishpond.

‘It doesn’t matter what you used to do, it’s what you do now, Martin. Retirement’s a great leveller,’ said Estella, when he came in sweating from mowing the lawn and sat drinking tea in the kitchen.

‘You can’t just sit there looking hangdog. Decide what you want to do and then get on with it.’ So, no sympathy there.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Meeting By Rachel Doherty

A talented salesman wants his buddies to succeed, but at what cost? By Rachel Doherty.

"I wanted you to be the first to know," Jason confided in me. When he called me over, I had prepared myself for the inevitable long-winded build up that Jason was so prone to when divulging some juicy bit of office gossip. However, upon seeing his sober expression, I realized that this was no office romance he was reporting on. "Mack has been fired and it is now up to you and me to keep his whole sales team from the same fate," he whispered, glancing back at the door to be sure no one could hear. Jason was jumping to conclusions, as usual.

"You're crazy... he's on vacation you jackass," I laughed.

"That's what I thought," Jason hissed, "but I overheard his assistant on the phone. She was in tears telling her boyfriend whole story of how it happened." "What the hell could he have been fired for?" I wondered. "He's the only one who even cared about giving this company results."

Jason countered, "Well, he did give them good results. Too good to be true. He's been fudging the numbers for months." I knew my sales had been pretty dismal for some time but never worried about it since Mack assured us the team as a whole was doing great. I figured it was safe to ride the others' coattails. Over the next few hours, as I perused Mack's papers, I realized everyone's sales had tanked recently. We were all just coasting on Mack's lies.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Getting Better by Clifford Hui

Primatologist Daniel Wright is shocked by his old friend Gordon's xenophobic confession, but determines to help him; by Clifford Hui.

"Because I don't want my daughter to marry anyone who's Japanese, that's why." Gordon Johnson looked up at the island one kilometer away, then bent down and pulled the starter rope of the outboard motor.

Daniel, still holding the bow line looped over a dock cleat, stared at Gordon. Where did this come from? he thought. "What? You're joking, right?" Without waiting for a response he continued, "This... this revelation just blows me away. You're such a good scientist because you're so unbiased. What's going on with this?" He stepped into the boat.

"Actually, it's been lurking in the background. And with marriage in the picture my feelings got really intense. It surprised even me." After the motor sputtered to life, Gordon let it idle for a moment before adjusting the choke. Daniel freed the bow line from the cleat and Gordon pointed the boat toward the thirty-eight acres of Cayo Santiago. Off to their left an osprey searched for breakfast. The tropical air, soft as a caress, slipped over Gordon's face as the boat slid across the glassy surface. The mumble of the motor and the muffled slapping of the water against the boat provided a gentle sound track to their morning.

"For the record, I don't dislike Wayne because he's Japanese. I actually like Wayne."

Daniel nodded, then said, "I sense a 'However' coming on."

"However, marriage is different."

Friday, July 13, 2018

Dancing for Buddha by Bethany Jackson

Ballet dancer Faith endures the crushes and disappointments of adolescence as she grasps for her true self; by Bethany Jackson.

Before Val came, Faith was certain of one thing concerning her time at the dance studio: Where you sat determined your social status.

She'd stepped through the front door for her first day of ballet at age eleven, starting behind in skill from the other girls, who'd been dancing since they could walk. Faith knew that choosing to sit near the back corner booths, where her peers gossiped and flailed about, would garner unwanted side-eyes and giggles into palms. They would sense she didn't belong immediately. On the other hand, the booths closest to the entrance contained haggard mothers with sensible haircuts wrangling three-year-olds into tights. Not ideal either.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Pyromaniacs Guide to the Homes of Suffolk Writers by Roger Ley

A failed Suffolk writer plots revenge against his more successful contemporaries in Roger Ley's black comedy.

The one hundred and thirty-eighth rejection of Riley's zombie novel was the straw that broke the camel's back. Other writers offering far inferior work could get published, why couldn't he?

Those bastards, those smug, self-satisfied bastards. They'd taken their books to the fabled 'Palace of Publishing,' snared an agent, captured themselves a publisher, got an advance and stepped into the express elevator to literary success. They thought they were so clever, with their story editors to smarten up their plots and copy editors to smarten up their punctuation. And here he was, still grubbing around outside, hawking his first three chapters to literary agents, who brushed him aside or condescended to take his lovingly prepared proposal and dump it in the waste bin as they entered their offices. It would probably end up shredded, pulped, and used to make the paper for the books of the authors he hated so much.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Woilin Player's Confession by Greg Szulgit

A Pilgrim wanders through a rustic land and shelters with a local outcast in Greg Szulgit's characterful fantasy.

Pilgrim had spent the previous three nights sleeping outdoors in the chill autumn air, since the people thereabouts seemed unfamiliar with, or suspicious of, his robes and his role. And so, when a young girl skipped up alongside him at sunset and said that he was invited to spend the evening at her family's house, he smiled broadly and bowed his head low to her; lower than was fitting to a child who looked to be no older than seven or eight.

She led him along the main road in the direction from which he had come, turning down a footpath after several hundred yards to arrive at a small cottage nestled among a stand of spruce pines.

"My mother is making squirrel and potato keffles," the child said as she approached the porch. "We saw you go by and thought that you might like to join us for dinner. Mati said that you could probably use some meat on your bones."

Monday, July 2, 2018

Crossing Over by Brooke Fieldhouse

A childless couple travel to Geneva and visit an old widower friend, who lets them in on a spooky local mystery; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

I always suspected that I would lose him.



'Any drinks?' The words are in harmony with the smile, orchestrated with sparkling eyes, and in perfect pitch with the livery of Swissair. The stewardess's lips look engagingly red, and for the first time I feel envy, of her and of all her kind.

'G and T for me!'

Simon's voice has never sounded so loud. Heads in front swivel to investigate. '...Aren't you having one Shivvy love?' He spits the first syllable of the verb, like a child in a fit of petulance.

'I'm not thirsty.'

'What's thirst got to do with it?'

He's right, what has thirst got to do with it?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Stones from the Sky by Steve Gergley

Ally and Molly are "beefwatching" in a Thunderbird convertible when the sky starts raining extraterrestrial stones; by Steve Gergley.

It was the day before my high school graduation when the nuggets started raining down from the sky. It was a nice day. Not too hot or gross. Sunny. Clear blue sky, a few wispy strings of clouds like ripped cotton balls hovering somewhere really high above our heads. Me and Molly were cruising around in her mom's Thunderbird convertible, enjoying the nice day, the heat, the sun, the freedom. That tingling giddy feeling of being surrounded by infinity on every side, whether it was the curves and twists of the never-ending road, or the inexhaustible reservoir of time we had at our disposal to live our lives exactly the way we wanted. And all that time and space was exciting, totally, but it was kind of scary too. At least for me. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life after graduation. But I tried not to think about that too much because on this day, we were doing one of my favorite things in the world. We were beefwatching.

Beefwatching is kind of like birdwatching only way more fun. Because instead of staring up at the sky like a dummy and straining your neck to stare at birds for some reason, a beefwatcher cruises around in a comfy car and looks for hot guys. And just like with birdwatching, there are all different species of beef to be spotted. You've got your Sweat-Glazed Runner clomping along the side of the road, you've got your Tanned Groundskeeper grunting in the dirt, and, if you're real lucky, you might even spot a flock of Bored Jocks playing shirts versus skins football on a front lawn.

Monday, June 25, 2018

On Mental Health by Robert Levin

Marcus, living in the shadow of guilt and self-loathing, sees a series of unconventional psychotherapists; by Robert Levin.

If I ever see a shrink again it'll have to be under a court order.

No, this has nothing to do with what happened with Frieda. Not, of course, that what happened with her wasn't at the time disappointing. Fiftyish, on the boards of major psychiatric associations and married to a man who was also a prominent doctor, Frieda had been working with me for three years on my guilt and shame problem. Although I wasn't making much progress in that area - I remained as afflicted by self-deprecation and most of the maladjustments that attached to it as ever - I had, with her assistance, finally stopped trying to go down on myself. And for helping to rid me of this hazardous compulsion - it had already resulted in a couple of blown-out discs in my lower back and several hospitalizations - I'd come to have a large admiration for her skills, large enough to send a live-in girlfriend to her for counseling.

While I was partial to poor hygiene and self-destructiveness in a woman, I did have my limits. This girlfriend's habit of picking her nose and then eating it, for example, had long caused my proudest erections to scramble into my bladder somewhere. What's more, the drug overdoses had evolved into too regular a thing. Routinely called at work by neighbors who'd discovered her face down on the apartment house stairs, and rushing home to flashing lights and frenzied paramedics cutting through clusters of onlookers with a gurney, was increasingly vexing.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Miles Between by Bruce Costello

A failed student is ready to give up hope - will a down-to-earth Maori trucker be able to talk sense into him? By Bruce Costello.

"Where're you heading, mate?" The driver of the Kenworth yelled down to the hitchhiker.

"Dumtin Bay."

"Hop in!"

The young man climbed aboard. The driver, a broad-shouldered woman with a tattooed face, shook his hand.

"Kia ora. I'm Oriwa Waihape."

"Mathew O'Malley. Awesome of you to stop."

"Someone to talk to. Fall asleep, otherwise. Just joking!"

The curved dashboard displayed a multitude of dials, screens and knobs. Furry mascots clung to the steering column and from the rear vision mirror dangled two teddy bears.

The truck rode smooth as a cloud. Oriwa's fingers danced over the 18 speed gear shifter, and the Kenworth surged ahead to soar effortlessly past a campervan.

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Poor Irish Bloke by Phil Temples

A Bostonian barkeep welcomes illegal aliens, and his policy of tolerance encourages a very unusual visitor; by Phil Temples.

"Want another?"

Jimmy, a heavy-set Irishman, belches loudly, then smiles at me and nods in the affirmative. This is his fourth Black and Tan this afternoon. I make a mental note to keep an eye on Jimmy after this one to make sure he isn't going to get too wasted in my bar. The ABC was sniffin' here in Mahoney's last week, a respectable Irish bar in the Fields Corner section of Dorchester. All of my permits are in order and I keep things clean and safe. I don't want no trouble from them over an intoxicated patron. ICE? Well, that's different kettle of fish. Immigrations and Customs can go fook themselves for all I care.

A few minutes later another one of my regulars, Pedro, saunters into the bar. The good-natured journeyman from Guatemala is a skilled roofer and carpenter.

"¿Qué pasó?" I greet him.

"No mucho," Pedro replies. "Can you cash this for me?"

Pedro hands me a third-party check he's been given for payment for a recent roofing job. Pedro - along with other patrons of the bar - are in the US illegally. Consequently, they don't have bank accounts.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Sometimes If You're Lucky by Sharon Frame Gay

Susan tells her story of surviving polio in Sharon Frame Gay's flash fiction.

Sometimes if you're lucky and everything falls into place, magic happens. For me, it is the nights when the stars are so bright they shimmer through the windows. If I am placed just so, I see them echoed in the mirror above my eyes. How hopeful they look, like flinty chips piercing the night sky, dancing so far away, such endless possibilities.

I peer up into the silvery length of mirror and smile. Stars are meant to be looked up to, our faces pointing towards the vast universe. So many times, I see the world upside down, but the stars remain where they are supposed to be. People come to talk, and I stare into their nostrils, the bags below their eyes, the jiggle of fat beneath their chins as they waggle with words. Some days I make a game of it. I'll look straight up into their faces, trying to visualize how they really look. Then, I'll turn my head sideways and see them when they take a step or two away, and gauge how close my guess was. Were they handsome? Fetching? Better upside down?

I'm content, warm and dry for the most part. Once in a while, my diaper seeps through before the caregiver Molly helps me when morning comes. She is filled with apology then, her large brown eyes distressed as she looks down on me. I smile back up at her. What does it matter, in this vast universe, if I get wet? How does this small thing factor into a lifetime of sorrow, pain, and yet such grace.

I have a television in my room, though I seldom watch it. I listen to the music of Mozart and Bach rather than hear canned laughter all hours of the day. I prefer nothing canned. Because this is what I live in. A can. A big silver bullet of a machine that has kept me alive now for over 60 years.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Depth of Field by Martyn Clayton

As a favour Maggie takes a picture of her friend's father at the moment of his death, and soon discovers a wider demand for this morbid service; by Martyn Clayton.

It had begun innocently enough. A rarely seen friend mentioned something as a possibility over coffee. Jo said she didn't think her dad had long left to live. He'd been a life-model in his youth. He'd been so good looking back then, super-confident, never talented enough to make it as an artist but he liked to hang around with the art school crowd. That was where he met Jo's mum. Her parents had been interesting once, she'd laughed.

Maggie's heart ached for a friend coming to terms with imminent bereavement. You get older and one by one friends and family members begin to fall away. A circle that had once felt tight and invincible is shown as frail and vulnerable. Maggie had reached the point where she said a silent prayer of thanks to God knows what for each new day.

Then had come the phone call.

'It's dad. He'll be going soon. How soon can you get here?'

Friday, June 8, 2018

Blink! by Matthew Harrison

Joshua starts work at a law firm without realising what he's getting himself in for; by Matthew Harrison.

Joshua was anxious. It was his third day in Melton's litigation department, but he had nothing to do. And he had worried about having too much! Maybe the lawyerly life was easier than he had thought - although his father, a partner in another firm, was always in the office. Joshua's mother had suggested smiling at his supervisor, but the mahogany door seemed always closed.

"It's rather relaxed here," he remarked to his buddy Sam.

"What did you expect?" Sam said, leaning over his desk. Sam was always impeccably dressed, his shirts crisply ironed, his blond hair slicked back, although his eyes were a little glassy.

"I thought I'd be given work right away. What should I do?"

"Don't worry about it!" Sam laughed. "You'll be remembering this moment," he said, chortling as he returned to his cubicle.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan

Sherry Shahan tells an unsettling tale of two dangerously anorexic lovers.

When she was wheeled into the day room, attended by her IV drip, Jack thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She seemed absolutely pure, evacuated of all evil, honed to perfection. Her head was an imported melon covered by the finest filo pastry, stretched and rolled thin. Her cheeks were eggshells. Concave. The hair on her head was shredded coconut. The hair on her body was dark and fuzzy, like the mold on Gorgonzola. Her skin was the color of Dijon mustard - that wonderful brownish tinge that comes from lost vitamins and minerals. She was everything gourmet Jack had denied himself.

According to the nurse, her name was Iris and this was her eighth admission in three years - her parents checked her in, she put on some weight, she went home, she lost it. This time, she'd done a two-month fast and then eaten a carton of laxatives. Jack was impressed, he felt encouraged; apparently, it was possible to go through the program without being totally brainwashed.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Make-Over by Beryl Ensor-Smith

The conservative South African villagers of Prentburg are troubled by the showy behaviour of Bennie Ferreira's mother-in-law.

The usual group of men met at the Sports Club at the weekend to watch their local rugby Sevens team get clobbered by the team from Boompies, a real disgrace considering Boompies was even smaller than their own village, hardly more than a hamlet.

"We need new blood," David Klopper said grimly, cradling his beer. "We should be choosing school-leavers, full of energy, instead of the breathless thiry-year-olds in our team."

"Useless," Hans du Plessis agreed, "they can't keep up the pace."

Other comments were offered by Frikkie van Wyk and Koos Venter, but the normally talkative Bennie Ferreira said nothing, staring abstractedly into his glass and looking pretty miserable.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Flowers and Diamonds by Lori Cramer

Lily takes scant comfort in meeting with her flirtatious best friend; by Lori Cramer.

Lily hadn't heard from Cecelia in more than a week, so when the e-mail from cbauer@starrybrightindustries.com appeared in Lily's inbox between meetings, she clicked on it right away, even before the more-important work-related messages.

"Sorry I've been so out of touch," the e-mail began, then went on to say that Cecelia had been "crazy busy" at work and felt "just awful" about "dropping the ball." The message concluded with a promise that if Lily arranged a time and place for the two of them to get together, Cecelia would make every effort to be there.

Eager to connect with her best friend again, Lily picked up her phone and punched in the familiar number, but the call went straight to voice mail. At the prompt, she said, "Hey, Ceece. Got your note. Let's meet at Betty's Beanery tomorrow at noon. See you then."

Friday, May 25, 2018

Turing Test by Roger Ley

Widower Mr Riley dislikes his former wife's parrot, who might be smarter than he thinks; by Roger Ley.

Mr Riley liked to start his day in the library. It was a short walk from his house, and conveniently situated at the top of the main street in the Suffolk market town that he and his wife had retired to. When they'd first arrived, he'd joined the local writing group which met at the library and he'd spent many happy, creative hours in its welcoming embrace. He told his wife that it was as much group therapy as creative writing, but sadly it was all gone now. People had moved away, lost interest, died, he was the only one left of the old crowd. He and the chief librarian Mrs Peterson, who was nearing retirement. Mrs Peterson had a soft spot for Mr Riley, she had known his wife Estella before she died and liked to exchange a few words with the widower, not every day, but most days. He was a fixture, in his corner, reading the newspaper.

Mr Riley finished reading the paper and rummaged around, preparing to leave. He checked that he hadn't left anything - gloves, hat, scarf, phone - then walked across the street to the "Hideout Café" for his morning coffee. It was a little life but a life all the same.

He arrived home at about noon, unlocked the door and stepped into the hall.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Hit and Run by Paul Michael Dubal

A renowned lawyer specialising in wrongful death must face up to his own past transgression; by Paul Michael Dubal.

Over twenty-eight torturous years had passed, but for Rick Sanders the memory of that terrible rainy night was as vivid as if it were yesterday. Time seemed to have frozen, so that there was only that terrible moment in the past and the melancholy reality of the present. Everything in between was just detail. Yet in the past quarter-century he had built an extraordinary career as a litigator, savagely shredding companies and individuals in the civil courts.

The irony was that his specialty was wrongful death. Cases where manufacturing companies had caused death through a failure of their systems, resulting in ugly industrial accidents. Some of them were like scenes from gory horror movies, including chemical burns, being caught in machinery or crushed by a forklift truck. He had savaged the culprits as much as the company's work environment had savaged the injured plaintiff.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Slapstick Blues by DC Diamondopolous

In the golden age of Hollywood, with all its tarnish, a bookish black man in Louisiana sees his missing sister on the silver screen; by DC Diamondopolous.

Booker La Croix liked nothing better than to put on his best hat, hitch a ride from Huddle Creek up to Baton Rouge, and spend his day off in a dark theatre watching the moving pictures. He paid his seven cents for the ticket, went around the side entrance, and climbed the steps to the balcony. The matinee featured his favorite, Buster Keaton, in The Balloonatic and Our Hospitality, and there would be short movies in-between. It'd be a whole afternoon of laughter, except when he looked over, wishing his sister to be sitting there next to him. With Lila Mae gone, his closest friends were books and the flickers.

His brother Jeremiah thought him crazy to spend his day off watching white folks. The youngest of five boys, Booker was always picked on. His brothers nicknamed him Booker for preferring to read over playing ball and sneaking shots of moonshine. They teased him for working in the parish library and laughed at him when he tried to slick back his hair with brilliantine like Rudolph Valentino, but nothing straightened his thick coiled hair.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Sick and the Damned by Jennifer Benningfield

Upon hearing his mother is ill, Kyle reluctantly goes to visit his painfully staid parents; by Jennifer Benningfield.

Kyle's father had not asked, but direct entreaty was never the man's style.

Over the shoulders went the fleece coat. Into the air went the veiny hand. The woman behind the desk, copper-haired and honey-lipped, returned the gesture, envy evident in the set of her face.

"Still looks nice out," she noted.

"Not for much longer, though."

"Big plans for the weekend?"

"I'm going to see my parents. My mother isn't feeling well, apparently. The other day she told my father that another day in bed and he'd need to call an ambulance."

"Oh no."

Kyle sniffed. "My mother tends to exaggerate."

Friday, May 11, 2018

Drive by Ateret Haselkorn

Ateret Haselkorn's character makes a life for herself driving for a ride sharing service, but is haunted by her past.

I remember the first natural lie I ever told. Not your standard, "I didn't steal the cookies from the jar" fib, but the kind that emerges on its own to serve a purpose for however long you need, like a disposable life raft made from your own breath. I can even recall the way the lie felt as it rose to the back of my throat, before I knew what I would say, before I let the words form on my tongue and then catapult through the air. The best I can describe it is as a feeling of organic creation. I had the same sensation in the moments before my daughter was born, of a force, a likelihood, an about to. Then her head came out, and then she was there. It happened from inside of me as it should, as was intended, and all I had to do at that point was allow it to take place.

A natural lie isn't exactly like the creation of birth but tinier, like resting back on your heels and looking at the sky in surprise, as if it didn't exist at all until you glanced up and made it form. When I told my lie, I wasn't more than sixteen and at the bar of a local restaurant thanks to a fake ID and a drunk bartender. I thought I'd pick up a freebie, like a drink or a burger, because that's what my friend Vanka was training me to do, at least whenever she gave me her attention. She was a senior and said she hadn't paid for a thing since junior high when her breasts grew in. I was sitting at the bar and watching her "role model the behavior," as was often described in Living Skills or detention. I guess her trick was her smile and maybe the way she looked twenty-two or three. She laughed loudly and often and, well, her bosoms were pushed up like they were going to reach her chin one inch at a time on a slow conquest. Since Vanka said I didn't have those curves to "work with," we did what we could and used a five-finger discount at WalMart on a small push-up bra and the padding of a much larger one that Vanka called, "The Rusky." The padding went into my underwear, slid right over my derriere, turning me not into an hourglass exactly but maybe a minute glass.

Monday, May 7, 2018

City Lights by Mitchell Toews

Erich is invited by his boss to a cocktail party, and fears he's being made a fool; by Mitchell Toews.

Working out of Winnipeg, I was an aufsteiger - an up and coming employee for a big U.S. company. I reported to a woman named Teresa Jarvis and the proof for my conceit came when she brought me to the Canadian headquarters in Toronto for a special training course.

"Back in a week." I kissed my wife goodbye at the airport. Seven months pregnant and she still turns heads, I thought, appropriating her good looks for my own vanity.

I was a valuable corporate resource, in my mind, anyway. A greater certainty was Teresa, who was without debate a rising leader in the company. She had been summoned several times to San Francisco and New York City to meet with the CEO and it was widely believed that she would soon become the Western Canadian Director.

"I don't control that," she'd say. Always deflecting, but like a veteran goalie, directing her rebounds strategically into the rounded corners.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Marie by James McEwan

A Scottish veteran returns to Italy to face his past, and maybe find his old sweetheart; by James McEwan.

Carl Mackenzie caught a glimpse of her. His heartbeat raced, he stumbled and sat down on the edge of a pushcart. Was it Marie? He drank some water and took a few deep breaths. He stood up to look around in the fish market, searching for her among the crowd, but the woman had moved on. He wet his handkerchief with water from his bottle and wiped his brow and neck to cool himself. The heat of the Mediterranean climate made him feel lightheaded, and his shallow breathing sucked at the warm air. He wanted to speak to her, but what he would say after all these years? He wandered on, gazing about at the bustling groups, and he took frequent sips of water that seemed to leak through his skin and out under his armpits. He could be wrong about the woman, after all it was only a fleeting glance of her head and shoulders.

The ripe smell of fish lingered around him, impregnating his shirt and hair. Sellers screamed their prices for tuna and, once sold, the buyers dragged boxes away scraping them over the wet concrete towards waiting vans. In front of him labourers grunted as they hauled a fish carcass along the aisle, they shouted obscenities and he jumped out of their way before being pushed.