Friday, August 31, 2018

Kensington Street by Robert Boucheron

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

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

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

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

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

"Did we leave anything out?"

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ten Seconds by Megan Prevost

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Dead and the Restless by Paul Lubaczewski

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

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

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

Monday, August 20, 2018

Brigid's Fire by David W. Landrum

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

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

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

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

"People seem to like it."

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

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

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

"What's your favorite Celtic story?"

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Threat by Beryl Ensor-Smith

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

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

Once the hubbub had died down, she explained further.

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

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Judgments by Gary Beck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

Divine Guidance by Gary Ives

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

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

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

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Killer by Ronald Schulte

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

My mind was completely blank.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

Turtle Bay by Henry Hitz

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

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

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

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