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.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Kumari by Bailey Bridgewater

Adesha's family take her to Kathmandu to see if she will be selected as the divine vessel, in Bailey Bridgewater's fascinating insight into a lesser known Nepalese ritual.

The mother appraised the girl carefully, turning her around and around, wiping her skirt with her hands, pressing her black hair into place, pulling back her gums to examine her teeth. She looked at the girl's feet skeptically.

"No. We will wear the other shoes."

"But they pinch my toes when I walk."

"But if they make your feet look small enough, perhaps you'll never need to walk again," she chirped enthusiastically, drifting into the other room to fetch the shoes.

The girl turned to her father. "Why do my feet have to look small?" He laid a calloused silversmith's hand gently on her head.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Underneath The Rose Leila Allison

Leila Allison's character takes her grandmother to hospital after another stroke.

It's now three feet farther to hell for persons who'd jump off the Warren Avenue Bridge. The City of Bremerton has recently installed an eighteen-inch extension to the span's rail. In my opinion, the city has wasted its money. The Warren goes up to a fatal height almost immediately, and at its middle it stands better than ten stories above the churning and hungry Port Washington Narrows. Only Serious Persons go over the Warren; less than serious persons, those who need just a little attention to feel better inside, never go to the Warren to perform on the off-chance that they might fall off. No, I don't see a foot-and-a-half - in both directions - getting in the way of a well prepared and dedicated serious person.

Such thoughts ran through my mind as I drove Gram to yet another doctor's appointment. At the age of twenty, I'm getting awfully familiar with doctors' clinics and the technologies designed to prevent, for as long as possible, what I had once heard described as an "end of life event." Nobody speaks frankly about anything at doctors' clinics after the insurance is settled. In a decrepit and mournful sort of way, visiting any of Gram's phalanx of medicos was like going to Neverland; but instead of recapturing the spirit of youth, we find Tinkerbell in bifocals and Peter Pan attached to a colostomy bag.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dino Doubter by Hassan Riaz

After trying to prove dinosaurs never existed, a CalTech professor ends up spending time behind bars; by Hassan Riaz.

Ernesto was an analytical man, a man who'd built his developing career on protein structures, a man who believed in proof, a man who'd spent enough time around science to know genuine versus hoax, and as such, he was a man who for several months now no longer believed in dinosaurs. For forty-six years, he'd been a wrong man, content to never question the validity of paleontological claims that winged beasts with fanged teeth, lizard skin, and bird bones once ruled the world. But he wasn't fooled anymore.

Illumination came at a price, though, because he was also a man in a holding cell. He sat with his hands cuffed behind him in a tiny room in Central Station on a hard metal bench behind a locked metal door. He stared out the window at the adjoining room at the backs of detectives fiddling with computers. He knew they were typing about him, his break-in and attempted burglary. His glasses slipped down his nose as he shifted on the bench, and he had to lean back and jiggle them back into position. He'd never been to a police station before. In fact, he'd never been to this part of the city, the part of downtown Los Angeles east of the freeway and restaurants. He decided that he would have to find a place in the area upon his release to lead a seminar to educate the masses about the dinohoax. T. rex, brontosaurus, and velociraptor made for good toys, but no man or woman should believe in Santa Claus forever.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hitman's Wife by JD Langert

A hitman is given a job at an inconvenient time in JD Langert's funny flash.

"Tansy, tell me why there is a body in my trunk when I'm supposed to be picking my wife up for a picnic?"

Basil stared at the tied-up body in the back of his black 1972 Imperial LeBaron. The man, protests muffled through the duct-tape over his mouth, stared back with teary, pleading eyes.

Basil slammed the trunk closed.

Tansy, an overweight man in a tailored black suit, chuckled at the younger man's distress. "Sorry, son, but you know there's no real time off in our line of work. Boss wants this trash pushing up daisies tonight."

Basil groaned. "And what am I supposed to tell my wife? I've already canceled three dates this month!"

Monday, April 16, 2018

Arise and Go Now by James Mulhern

Aiden plots with his grandfather's ghost to free his mother from the mental asylum; by James Mulhern.

I arrived at Rita's house about noon. Her blue eyes widened when she opened the door. She patted the sides of her red hair and smoothed her pleated cotton nightdress, a pattern of honey-bees. She was always donning unusual clothing or changing the color of her hair, which was ash blond a month ago.

"Aiden, I'm a mess. I fell asleep on the couch. Come in." She held a book entitled Audrey Rose.

She saw me looking at the cover. A girl in a red dress stood in front of a grave. The ground was on fire.

"Junk. I hope you're reading better things in school... What grade are you in this year? Old people lose track of time. The years merge together and sometimes they seem to disappear." She laughed.

"Ninth."

"Before I know it, you'll be in college." She rubbed my head. "Let's sit in the backyard. It's such a lovely day."

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Irony by Bruce Costello

An author is confused about where he is as his memory degrades; by Bruce Costello.

My chin rests on my shirt and I stare down at the writing pad on the meal tray, trying to fathom this strange feeling I keep getting, like I've dug a deep pit for myself, and when I try to climb out, I fall further in.

I have times of lucidity when I can still write, but my memory is failing, my ideas are all over the place. Often I write what I don't mean, or by the time I get to the end of a paragraph, I've forgotten the beginning. Sometimes I can't recall common words. And I waste time trying to get grammar right, though no editor will ever see this, or would be able to decipher it, if he did. At High School, my English teacher said my handwriting was like the meanderings of a drunken spider.

Sometimes I meander down to the end of the corridor and then find myself at the traffic lights in my pyjamas and the police bring me back here. They tell me this is where I live now. If you think that's weird, how do you think I feel? But at least I can still write when the drugs click in for an hour or two, and I'm writing my memoirs.

Monday, April 9, 2018

As Luck Would Have It by David Henson

Matthew's gambling problem has gotten out of hand, but today is his lucky day; by David Henson.

I was on fire. Blackjack one hand. Doubled-down and won. Split and won both. Held eighteen, hit a three. Stood with seventeen, and everybody else went bust. Three more blackjacks. My streak of smiles had started when a little guy with a red beard and green shirt walked up and stood beside me. Since he'd been watching I couldn't lose.

"Hey, don't go," I said when he started to leave.

"Me?" He acted surprised I'd noticed him. "Sorry, son, I hear the pub a-calling me."

"Stay. We can have a drink here. You're my lucky charm."

"Sorry." He cupped his hand to his ear. "Still a-calling."

Friday, April 6, 2018

Only Burglars by Jessamy Dalton

Old Tom tells a story of his days as a gentleman burglar, until he and his crew picked on the wrong house; by Jessamy Dalton.

Every spring, Dustin's mother would get upset all over again about Old Tom Critchley's place down the street.

"It's a disgrace," she would say. "A junk heap. An eyesore."

"He's just an old fellow who's fallen on hard times," Dustin's father would say in a placatory way.

Dustin and his friend Matt kind of liked Old Tom's place, with its overgrown yards and collection of old cars on blocks. There was a '57 Thunderbird Old Tom let them play on whenever they wanted to. They'd get in and pretend they were in Grand Theft Auto.

"The boys shouldn't hang around him," Dustin's mother would say. "He's a poor role model."

"He's just an old fellow," Dustin's father would repeat. "He needs the company."

"He needs help," Dustin's mother would reply, but whenever she made carrot cake, she sent Dustin over with a slice.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Genealogy by Niles Reddick

As Niles Reddick's character investigates his past, the anecdotes of his ancestors make him increasingly paranoid about his family's future.

The most difficult project I have ever undertaken in my life is attempting to discover my roots. I began my project in my college years, and like most people fantasize, I had hoped for some connection to royalty in Scotland, England, Ireland or Wales, but I would have settled for a link to a knight or warrior, even if they weren't the kindest of people. I began the research by asking older relatives and had the notion I would research my dad's line and my mom's line, which would be several lines, actually, since each line doubled with each generation. I met with my maternal grandmother who told me of her parents, farmers, and their parents, farmers, and I was already bored. I asked what they did for excitement, and she told me that the only time life got exciting was when her grandfather came home drunk. (They could hear him coming down the dirt path in the buggy, screaming and shouting.) She said all the grandchildren would take off to the woods and hide until they got a signal from the house that he had passed out. She said he'd point a shotgun at my great grandmother (her mother) and make her play the piano for hours while he slurred songs that in his inebriated mind somehow made sense until he finally slipped into a mumbling mode and then dropped unconscious to the floor. My great grandmother would keep playing for a while until she was sure he was asleep, and then one of her fifteen siblings would call the younger ones back to the house. My grandmother told me how her grandfather would shoot up the house and furniture when he was drunk, but would then go to town and buy all new furniture the next day out of guilt. She told me how he would jump in the well to try and kill himself and they would pull him out. I wondered why they just didn't let him drown. She told me how he got into an argument with his nephew when they were both drunk, and they shot each other, which is how he finally died. What amazed me most, however, was when she said, "He was a good man."

Friday, March 30, 2018

With Boots On by Bruce Costello

In Bruce Costello's Western flash, grief-stricken Dwight is having a quiet night in his horse-drawn cab.

Twilight. Snowflakes swirl around the street lamps. Dwight sits hunched on the driver's seat of his hansom cab. He's covered in snow and motionless, like a limestone gargoyle. His old nag, too, is unmoving, her head down, and ears held back, as if lost in peevish thought. Dwight and the mare have not budged for over an hour. They left the yard before sunset and still not a single fare.

The street is silent, apart from the judge's gas buggy that goes belching by. No drunken cowboys gallop past saloons and dance halls, high in their saddles, shooting and hollering.

Gunfire has not been heard in De Soto City for many years. The McCleary gang is just a memory, apart from Ma McCleary, who Dwight often visits with flowers in the lunatic asylum where she lives.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Abduction by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Christina du Plessis is spooked by an abduction in the nearby South African town of Waterfontein, and gets a little jumpy on her next trip to the mall; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Hans du Plessis had hardly arrived home after a frustrating morning spent in Waterfontein where he had gone to pay a parking fine when he was pounced upon by Christina, his wife. Taking one look at her agitated face, he knew she was on the brink of an hysterical outburst which would make heavy demands on him. Calling upon every ounce of patience he possessed, he asked calmly:

"What's upset you, my girl?"

"Hans, criminals are now targeting towns in farming areas like ours! A horrible incident in Waterfontein was broadcast on the local news station." Christina was in such a state she was hyperventilating. "In the parking area at the main shopping mall, when a woman opened her boot to offload her shopping, she was grabbed from behind and hurled into it. She was found traumatised some miles along the N1 to Johannesburg, dumped on the verge minus her handbag, the devil driving off in her new top-of-the-range Mercedes! Oh, Hans, I go to that mall. Is this how I will meet my end?" she wailed.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Case of the James Bond Killer by David W Landrum

When Sherlock accepts a case in which a killer is re-enacting scenes from James Bond, his American assistant Dr Ophelia Turnberg proves indispensable.

Sherlock Holmes Case #2, 1966

Narrated by his assistant, Dr. Ophelia Turnberg

The scene in Goldfinger where they show the woman who has been murdered by being painted gold shocked me. The camera focused on her suddenly. A scary blare of discordant brass music played. It made me jump. Piers, who was sitting next to me in the theater that night, smiled, and took my hand.

It was a little creepy, then, when Holmes called me in to examine the body of a girl who had been killed - really killed, not theatrically killed - in this very manner. Of course, she did not die by being painted gold. I told him as much.

"You can't suffocate from your skin being painted over," I said. "Your skin absorbs only small amounts of oxygen. If you can breathe through your mouth or nose, you won't suffocate." I looked at toxicology report. "It says here she was poisoned. Cyanide. Whoever did this poisoned her and then painted her."

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Moment of Truth by Bonnie Veaner

Bonnie Veaner's character decides never to lie to her children, but it proves harder than anticipated.

Lying Low

I was waiting in the checkout line at Target in front of a screaming toddler whose exasperated mother was pushing him in his stroller. I glanced back to see what all the fuss was about, when the mother, clearly at her wit's end, knelt down and locked eyes with her son. "See that lady?" She pointed up at me. "She's going to spank you if you don't stop crying."

Taken aback, I looked directly at the little boy. "No, I'm not," I said. "She's lying." Might as well get used to it kid, I thought. Adults are all the same; every damned one of them lies.

The mother bristled at my response to her child - clearly, I was no ally. She stood up and rummaged around in her purse until she found an old, half-eaten lollipop. She sucked off the dirt and popped the candy in her son's mouth. He grabbed the lollipop stick and stopped crying; he won the battle. An experienced manipulator, he had played his mother with the precision of a military general. This kid was the Sun Tzu of toddlers.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Remission by Charlie Fish

Archer Lemont is about to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, but the journey will be longer than anticipated.

On an overcast afternoon in late July, hundreds of us stood shoulder to shoulder in the big plaza outside Middlesex Vocational College, waiting for our futures to be decided. The air was thick with humidity and tension, all eyes facing Speaker's Plinth.

"Brown, Camelia: Lunar 4 Geomechanics."

Dean Porter stood atop the plinth wearing a ceremonial gown and a stern expression that made it look like he was delivering a eulogy. As each name and job was read out, there was a ripple somewhere in the crowd. Mostly back-patting and congratulations; sometimes commiserations.

"Dyer, Felix: Lunar 1 Planning."

I stood with Fred, Don and the Olivers (there were two of them), the guys I'd grown closest to while we'd been studying there. We were all hoping to get placed together, on the same mine at least, but it wasn't going to happen. Lunar Corps and the other mining agencies placed grads like us according to academic performance only. No mere social considerations held water.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Outside In by Clifford Hui

When conservationists Matthew and Richard head to the Aussie outback to catch crocs, they take a young aspiring photojournalist with them; by Clifford Hui.

Irritation filled Matthew's voice as he looked at Roger. "We're catching crocodiles. We can't be baby-sitting any tourists."

"I'm with you on that, but Steve's starting a photo journalism career, and Todd thought our project would make a good subject for him. I said I'd talk it over with you."

"Shit. That's even worse. We all need to focus on our project. Having someone there with his own agenda will be nothing but trouble."

"That's what I think. However, Steve is Todd's son, and we have one more project permit that needs Todd's signature."

"Shit. I didn't know Todd was such an asshole."

Friday, March 9, 2018

Last Chance by Edward Lee

Vernon leaves prison after twelve long years and wonders if he really has a choice about his future; by Edward Lee.

They tried to goad him by spitting on him, talking about his mom, his wife, his daughter. They were trying to get him to fight, lose control, so his incarceration would be extended another ninety days for disorderly conduct in a government owned building. When the guards finally came to escort him out of the prison cell block and down the hallway, all he could do was laugh at his former cellmates. And that set their voices and curses at a pandemonium.

Walking past the security checkpoints, Vernon was taken to the prison outtake area; he was given his things sealed in plastic wrap. Inside the wrap were his clothes, his keys, and fifty two dollars, still there in a money clip in his back pocket. He went inside a room, changed his prison clothes for civilian, and he came out of the room a free man.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Corn Crib by Sharon Frame Gay

Fourteen-year-old Izzy Cuthbert recounts the ransacking of her Nebraskan farm by a group of Sioux; by Sharon Frame Gay.

Journal of Elizabeth Cuthbert

The day the Sioux attacked our farm, I was in the hog pen with my mother, tossing scraps to the pigs from last night's supper. Mama grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the small corn crib in the corner of the pen. She shoved me in, covered my body with cobs.

"Indians are coming. Don't you move even one bit, Izzy. Lie still and don't come out, no matter what you hear until me or Papa call your name."

Before I could blink, she closed the door and ran off, skirt rustling against her legs like the corn husks in the field behind us. Through a small crack in the slats, I saw her boots heading for the barn.

She shouted for my father and older brother. "Jake! Isaac!"

Our horses bolted in the corral, kicking up dust and galloping round and round, whinnying at the Indian ponies as they thundered towards the farm.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Dark Side of Light by Tony Billinghurst

A stolen notebook tells a chilling 200-year old tale of a woman whose husband makes a terrible error of judgment; by Tony Billinghurst.

I was sitting at my desk when he came into the room without knocking; he was still wearing gloves.

"How'd it go?" I asked.

"Sweet. You were right, the alarms were easy to fix - some house. You should see it, antiques all over the place, real class stuff."

"You sure none of you were seen?"

"No, it was nice clean job."

"Good haul?"

"Yea - we got loads. Here, I got a pressy for you, found it in a bedroom." He took a small notebook from his pocket and handed it to me. "You like history, thought you'd be interested."

I took the book.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Do Not Pass Go by Charlie Fish

Eddie visits his girlfriend's parents to ask them a big question, and gets a surprising response.

The doorbell chimed and my heart fluttered. I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Perhaps they had all gone out for a walk, and they wouldn't answer. It wasn't too late to turn back.

The door opened. Alice's father stood there - untidy hair, asymmetric glasses, stubble, badly fitting clothes - everything about him was chaotic, animated. He broke into a broad smile.

"Eddie! How lovely to see you!"

"Hello Mister Stride."

"What brings you out here to the boonies? Life treating you well? How's Alice?"

I didn't know which question to answer first. He stared at me expectantly, sizing me up. Moving, always moving, as if his clothes itched. A flush of warmth crawled down my spine.

"Sorry! Come in, come in, of course. Don't call me Mister Stride, that's what my research students call me."

"Thank you... Tom." Even with his encouragement, saying his name felt presumptuous. Which I suppose said more about me than him.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Visit by Jim Bartlett

When Jacob visits his dying father he wonders whether it is better to let sleeping dogs lie; by Jim Bartlett.

Jacob slows as he rounds the corner, the double doors ahead tucked in a shadow of ashen gray, almost as if the damp fog clouding the sun outside has slipped unnoticed into the hospital. He shivers, shaking the color from his face, then stops and turns to Mark.

Mark smiles and points at the entrance. "We've come this far. Just a little more. You can do it."

With a nod, Jacob leans to take another step, but his leg remains frozen in place. "I dunno. Why am I even here? I haven't seen the man in like twenty years."

"It's the right thing. You said so yourself. Stay on the high road, Jacob. Otherwise buying that, ugh, flannel shirt and those Levis will be a total waste." He cocks his head. "You sure you don't want me to come along?"

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Sisters of the Dust by Simon McHardy

In Simon McHardy's fantasy, Anwen is a reluctant volunteer for a bizarre ancient ritual.

The priest was getting very excited now, droplets of spittle trembled from the corners of his mouth, his tongue darted out between pauses to dab at the drool which only had the effect of relocating it onto his chin where it hung like spindly jungle vines before dripping onto the pulpit. 'The Empire was dying, the cities had sunk into cesspits of corruption and moral decay, at night blood thirsty phantoms preyed on the weak and poor,' the priest shrieked, the high tones reverberating through the hall. Anwen winced at the sound and slumped further into the pew as if she could escape it, the hard, wooden back grated uncomfortably against her spine. On and on the priest droned, erupting spasmodically into spittle-filled tirades. How much more of her day was this old fool going to take up, she wondered? Outside, the sun was shining, the park would be shaking off the last of the morning dew, insects were humming and the smell of spring lay thick and heady in the air like the vapours of a strong wine.

'But not all the gods had forsaken the people,' the priest continued, his voice now more restrained, the previous outbursts seemingly having upset even his own ears.

'A young priest, Diecot Black, prayed daily kneeling on the stone floor of his cell. His fervent mutterings beseeched the gods to deliver the Empire from evil. One of the gods took pity on this young man and as the sun sought its rest one evening the priest's devotions were interrupted by a voice whispering within the stone walls of his cell. "Do you want to save your people?"

Friday, February 16, 2018

Terminator, Too by Stacey E. Bryan

Stacey E. Bryan parodies The Terminator in this tale, featuring a rakish Kyle Reese, a low-rent Sarah Connor, and - yes - Arnold Schwarzenegger.

SANTA MONICA, THE RECENT PAST, 2:45 A.M.

Lightning brighter than all of Los Angeles rent the dark night sky with a powerful sizzle and crackle. The mysterious birth of the full-grown man conducted itself secretly in the deserted Santa Monica parking lot. The man stepped down from a hole in the sky, fully formed and butt naked, as the snapping electrical currents gradually ceased.

Crickets filled the sudden silence with their song. The naked ex-action hero/ex-governor stood, aberrantly bulging muscles slick with sweat. He gazed around himself, taking in familiar landmarks while his genitals contracted softly in the cool beach air.

A group of 20-30 somethings turned the corner just then, a tumble of loud laughter, obviously drunk on brewed beer. When they spotted the naked, sweating man standing on the sidewalk, they stopped in their tracks and choked their laughter silent.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Back to the World by Lee Conrad

Back home, a Vietnam vet tries to make his way in the world, but with no job and no money he must resort to desperate measures; by Lee Conrad.

Joey looked out the window of his small apartment and watched the snow fall. He knew he had to find another job fast or he would be out on the street. The jobs were never high class and his last one on a loading dock was a bust. He went into the cramped bathroom, ran his fingers through his long hair and stared at the face looking back at him from the mirror. He had changed, they all said. Well who the hell wouldn't? Joey grabbed his army fatigue jacket and headed out the door.

He walked to Murphy's Tavern down sidewalks covered with snow up to his ankles. Joey had been back from Vietnam for over a year but it seemed like an eternity when jobs kept disappearing. A cold winter in upstate New York didn't improve his mood either.

Joey opened the door to the bar and a blast of hot air, stale beer and cigarette smoke hit him full on. No matter, one got used to that as the night wore on.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dear Mom by Paul Beckman

Paul Beckman's epistolary story about a son's deteriorating relationship with his mother.

Dear Mom... You were sure right about the foliage. The New Haven Green is ablaze with multi-colored trees and the constant changing hues made me want to draw or paint them so I bought a small colored pencil kit and have included a couple of sketches. Hope they're not too abstract for your liking. I'm also taking photos of the trees and have purposely blurred them so shapes don't interfere with the colors. It's starting to get chilly here now so I'm glad you had me pack those sweaters. I remember that this is the best weather in the Bay Area. I guess autumn (you always call it fall) is the best season on both coasts. Too bad I won't be seeing you for Thanksgiving, I was looking forward to it; but if you say you're physically and mentally exhausted and need the rest who am I to argue? Love Daniel.

Monday, February 5, 2018

My Father's Son by Don Herald

When his mother dies, Jarrod is determined to find out more about his absent father; by Don Herald.

I might as well start at the end.



I check my watch. Twenty after nine. It's not too late.

I grab my cell off the counter and open the address book. I scroll down, find who I'm looking for and press 'call'.

I wait.

I'm hardly breathing. My chest feels as if a steel strap is being slowly tightened around it.

An automated voice asks me to leave a message. I'm surprised because I expected a live person to answer.

"Hey, it's me."

Not the most original way to start but at least I've made the call.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Asking For It by Paul Michael Dubal

A rape victim channels her anger towards the judge who let her assailant go free; by Paul Michael Dubal.

He said I was asking for it. In the way I dressed. Too provocative, Judge Parker said as he stared down from his perch like some old schoolmaster giving his pupil a condescending and unwanted lecture.

As if I was the one on trial here. It was my fault that I got raped.

I was too promiscuous, he cried, an old bible bashing preacher casting fire and brimstone on his sinful flock.

Ye shall face the wrath of God - and he is a vengeful God!

Men are prone to temptation. They are weak and can't always help themselves. What do you expect if you dress in short skirts and high heels? You are offering it to them. You can't blame them if they if they misread the signals.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Unintended Consequences of Driverless Cars by Charlie Fish

The aforementioned consequences include London burning, Amazon making fridges, and the main character's wife having an affair. Best read out loud in a Cockney accent.

I reckon me wife's having an affair.

Sharon and I got together back when I was boning up to be a London cabbie. I was always hunched over a map, or going out for runs on the bike, or sitting there reciting every shopfront from Marylebone to the Old Kent Road. If it weren't for her I'd have forgotten to eat. How she had the patience to stick with me I'll never know.

But I passed the Knowledge in the end, and bought meself a beautiful black TX4. Filled with pride, I was, to be me own boss, to be driving such an iconic symbol of London. We used to call ourselves Cromwell's Army, a nod to 400 years of shared history.

I paid off the cab in three years. After that Sharon and I would take a month off every year and take the kids to Benidorm. That was the life. Sure, I occasionally took a fare that didn't make it onto me tax return, but I was fundamentally an honest cabbie. Not like those bloody Ubers.