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 Irene Allison

Irene 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 he 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.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Philip's Beaches by Bruce Harris

A British diplomat drops everything to rescue his reporter brother from a war zone, and reflects on their relationship; by Bruce Harris.

The door to the pilots' cabin is slightly ajar, to enable immediate communication if it becomes necessary, and I am only a few yards behind them, so any crisis arising can be dealt with. At last, that sense of events hurtling rapidly out of my control has subsided a little. I have even occasionally managed something like dozing in the last twenty minutes, a rest for my aching body and mind.

The big air ambulance has one patient centrally placed and medical equipment, including monitors, on both sides. Incongruous as an armed ambulance may be, we are still in dangerous country and we do have a few sophisticated armaments, including machine guns and even a few small missiles, the airborne equivalent of mortars. My sister in law Ellen, along with Olawale and Kebe, a doctor and nurse respectively, are in the centre with me; at the back, in front of a complex dashboard, a thin young guy called Peter Gibson is keeping a careful eye on what's happening on the ground and in a twenty mile radius around us. Though he looks only recently emerged from adolescence, Peter has already demonstrated his considerable tracking and hacking abilities and he has had a lot to do with our success so far. Olawale and Kebe are Nigerian, as are the pilot and co-pilot; Olawale is once again checking his patient to ensure he is moving as little as possible, even though the best of pilots cannot avoid causing some movement.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Symphony by Chloe Nakano

Jocelyn faces up to her grief at the loss of her husband; by Chloe Nakano.

Time heals all wounds.

Over the past month, Jocelyn's family and friends had offered her so many different variations of the popular phrase, that she now found herself hating it. 'Does it?' she wanted to yell at the next unlucky person who dared say it. 'Because it sure as hell don't feel like it.'

Even now, something simple like the doorbell ringing made her feel like she was suffocating beneath memories of her late husband, Charles. He was a cellist at a lounge downtown. After work he'd come home, hands full with his cello and papers or sound equipment, unable to open the door; he'd ring the doorbell to get her to open it for him. She'd sometimes get annoyed because it would interrupt her writing.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Farewell to Bikes by Frank Beyer

A delivery of Paxter electric carts changes up the bicycle-riding routine of a group of New Zealand posties, and they wonder what else the future holds; by Frank Beyer.

1

The exercise on the bike was something to appreciate. Twenty-odd hours of fat-burning a week - hard to replace. My direct manager was measured and fair, not a bully like at my old branch. She was going to go on maternity leave soon though, and so this purple patch wouldn't last. Things are always changing as people love to say, one has to stay flexible... 'Within five years it'd be drones delivering Chinese Rolexes to agoraphobes, everyone on a universal income, slurping low fat milkshakes... In the meantime the current technological issue was a sorting machine in Auckland that refused to count mail. We had fun messing with each other while counting thousands of letters.

32, 33, 34, 35...

Hey listen to this... 35, 36, 34, 35, 32, 96, 96.

You bastard... I've lost my place!

Monday, January 15, 2018

I Didn’t by Mary Kaye Valdez

Mary Kaye Valdez's flash about a schoolboy's regret.

When you’re sitting next to your Emilio Mercado for the first time on Monday morning, make sure you pay attention to him. I didn’t. I was too upset about separating from my friends to care about him. The last thing I wanted was to sit next to someone I didn’t know, but you shouldn’t ignore your Emilio Mercado. Don’t only think about yourself, and start a proper conversation with him.

“Mr. Santos really separated everyone,” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“My friends are all the way on the other side of the room.”

“Oh.”

“I think it’s the same for everyone. Everyone is yelling across the room just to talk to their friends now. I hate this.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Heist by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Small-town South African couple Bennie and Elaine get a taste of the big city high life in Waterfontein; by Beryl Ensor Smith.

When Bennie and Elaine Ferreira returned from their six-week cruise, there was much talk among the villagers, most of it less than kind.

"They're very full of themselves," Marion Klopper said indignantly, "not at all interested in what's been going on here, just go on endlessly about all the exciting things they've experienced since they left."

"That's probably because nothing much happens here," Rina van Wyk sighed, "and from what Elaine's told us about their cruise, it sounds heavenly."

"If you ask me," Christina du Plessis sniffed, "she was hoping to meet up with that singer from a cruise ship that she once had an affair with."

"That was just gossip," Helga Swanepoel reproved. "There wasn't a grain of truth in that rumour. Elaine and Bennie are devoted to one another."

"Perhaps," Christina replied sulkily, "but you can't deny that since they've been back they are more interested in the friends they met on the ship than in us!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Getaway by Bill Vernon

An Ohio couple travel to a country retreat, but Marcie does not feel at ease - and for good reason. By Bill Vernon.

Frank said, "Marcie, let's take a little hike and look the place over," and I let him lead me through the large parking lot onto a trail that began just beyond the cars. It went a hundred yards, then started up a mountain and narrowed so much I had to walk behind him.

Climbing, we made three U-turns, and I already felt as if we were deep inside a mysterious forest. Skinny, whitish trees shrouded us with tons of little spade-shaped leaves.

"Can't see much," I said, looking downhill. The lodge and its lake, in which we'd watched a moose feeding, like a big horse with oddly humped shoulders, lay hidden behind foliage.

I was breathing hard, but stretching the muscles felt good after driving here from Missoula.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Case Study of Post-Necrosis Development in the Domesticated Feline by Daniel Olivieri

Young Tara loves her smart cat Socks so much not even death can come between them; by Daniel Olivieri.

Professor Socks was a cat of few words. No words, actually. In addition to being mute, he was also illiterate. Illiteracy is rampant in the cat community. Despite this, Tara had decided that Professor Socks was one of the foremost intellectuals of his generation. Occasionally, she would treat her parents to a lecture on Professor Socks' achievements. They were numerous. He was tenured, to start with. Tara's parents shared a wry smirk when they heard that. Both of them were professors. Neither had tenure. Professor Socks, Tara would continue, had a litany of publications. He even had a teaching position at Tufts, Tara would add. Once, Tara's father asked, "What field does Professor Socks work in?" This question threw Tara. She was pretty sure that farmers worked in fields, not professors. She responded, "You know... all of them. Left field, infield, cornfields, wheatfields."

"Your father means," Tara's mom jumped in, "what does Professor Socks study?"

"Oh," Tara said. "Biology, mostly. He specializes in viruses."

Monday, January 1, 2018

Shag DeBrillen, Brickie (or The Usual Flat-out Failure at Most Things Unexceptional) by Tom Sheehan

A lowly bricklayer witnesses a possible crime and hears the voice of his mentor in his head coaxing him to rise to the occasion; by Tom Sheehan.

As Shag DeBrillen was about to turn the corner in the suburban area where he lived, he spotted a lone car a short ways down the town road. He whistled. It was an Impala, an oldie, an olden golden, a gem of an antique. With the six ports in the rear end looking like gun ports on a fighter aircraft, he affirmed it was a '63. The car was parked at a siding and the driver, leaning out the window, was talking to a young girl of ten or so that Shag assumed was on her way to school.

An illusion? An old car, a young girl, not much else to look at, or take your eye to the quick. Sometimes what you see is not what you see.

It was early October and school year had recently started. Soon, he thought, the leaves would begin to change color, the big silver maple directly across from him soaking up the early sunlight, the threat of change poised and real in its broad cast of leaves. The nights would come cooler in a matter of a week or so, the year looking at its cold ending.