Monday, September 16, 2019

Bunker by Harrison Abbott

Harrison Abbott's musically gifted character plots a long-festering revenge against a playground bully.

People talk about bad parenting, rough upbringings and ego when they try to explain sadism. They say it proves maturity to recognise somebody else's perspective. Then you'll learn to forgive the person. If they do something mean to you, just forgive them, because it's not about you, it's about them. But I already understood this notion as a boy. And it didn't work.

A pigeon. I felt a thud on my backpack, turned and looked. This blue-grey lump of mashed feathers, lying on the grass. I looked up, and he was there. Calum Lowe. An enormous grin on his face, mirrored on the faces of his friends, who were my regular tormentors. Calum was always the worst of them. I stood by the dead bird, and they walked past me guffawing. When I got back to the playground at the end of lunch break, the news had already surfed around the children. How Calum had thrown a dead bird at me.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Fiji by Ateret Haselkorn

A new mother visits a friend for lunch and recalls her struggle to get out of the house with baby Henry; by Ateret Haselkorn.

Theodora needed an emergency Cesarean section, Belen followed her birth plan but tore, and Justine did it all at home in front of her entire family.

These are the things I've learned about the women in my new mothers' group, before I know where they're from or how long they've lived in the neighborhood. Our standards, the metrics against which we peg ourselves and our babies, are presented within moments of meeting. I know that some moms slept for two hours at a time for four months but a few got five within two. I know "Jackson was born at seven fourteen" doesn't represent a time but a weight in pounds and ounces, and that "did you save it" intrinsically suggests the placenta. What else could it be?

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Case of the Broken Bow by Paul Miles

During the Great Purge in Stalinist Russia, two senior party members attend the scene of a murder, and the author invites you to work out whom they will arrest; by Paul Miles.

Doctor Artymov, logician and advisor to Comrade Stalin, was watering his garden one spring afternoon in 1936 when his friend Police Commissioner Bunin stuck his head over the fence.

"Artymov, I am on my way to a murder in the Sokiol District."

Doctor Artymov, for whom crime was always a matter of interest, immediately gathered his hat and walked with Commissioner Bunin to the latter's car.

When they arrived at the scene of the crime, a two bedroom apartment on the twelfth floor of one of the district's newest worker housing units, Sergeant Korshev - that burly veteran of Pulkovo - was already there. The Sergeant had secured the murder room and gathered the attendants in the side kitchen.

The Commissioner nodded towards the room with the body.

"Let's take a look here first."

Then to the Sergeant: "Let no one leave."

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Birthday Bash by Beryl Ensor-Smith

In the quiet South African town of Prentburg, the local church has new models for its nativity scene, and teenagers Adele and Adam are hosting a party; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Dominee Seibrand was surprised at his congregation's conflicting reactions to the gift of two display mannequins from Koos Venter's shop window, to replace the parental figures in the nativity scene that had been trotted out each December for more than fifty years and was showing its age. The church sisters, in particular, were of differing opinions.

"It's only because he's bought new modern models in the hopes of attracting more business that he's foisted these ridiculous things on us," Marion Klopper said scathingly after the next Sisters of the Church meeting.

"Perhaps so," Helga Swanepoel replied, "but these are life-size with movable joints. We'd be able to arrange the arms of the female to hold a large doll in her arms, adjusting the head of Joseph so that he is looking fondly down at the new born babe. Dressed properly they would be very effective."

Monday, September 2, 2019

Cameron and Lucia by Clive Aaron Gill

Clive Aaron Gill tells a story of lust, betrayal, and long-borne grudges.

"I... I'm pregnant," Lucia said to Cameron at the San Diego Magnet High School.

"No way."

She moaned, her face turning a deep red. "Yes, way." She removed the black windbreaker she had outgrown two years earlier at fifteen. "I missed two months. Got morning sickness. I took a home pregnancy test. Must have happened that time you forgot..."

He inhaled a short breath through his teeth.

"We need to talk," she said. "I have fifteen minutes before I start work at the library."

Lucia Martinez, who lived with her mother, studied performing arts and had received a scholarship for her living expenses in the spring of 1984. When she was one-year-old, her father had been killed by gang members.

When Cameron Williams first asked Lucia to go to the movies with him, she had refused. Undaunted, he continued to visit her in the library. A few weeks later, he won her over.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Telling the Truth by Harrison Kim

Nine-year-old Eric is confused by faith and lies; by Harrison Kim.

"How was Sunday School?" asked Eric's mother, as her son bicycled up to the front steps.

"It was good." Nine year old Eric turned and began pedalling towards the back door. His mother stopped him.

"What did you learn?"

Eric looked at the side of the house. "We learned about Jesus, and the disciples, and things like that. Stories and stuff."

"Did you have to remember any verses?"

"A couple I guess." Eric shrugged.

His mother sighed. "Do you believe in the Bible?"

"I guess so." Eric thought a moment. "That must have been a very big boat the animals went on after the flood."

Monday, August 26, 2019

Unseen by Tim Frank

Banker Mathew Brook witnesses a crime in the office across the street, but is all as it seems? By Tim Frank.

On the forty-first floor of the high rise building in the Lehman Brothers offices, Mathew Brook's concentration was diverted from the accounts page on his Apple Mac computer to a stream of light cutting through the myriad of buildings outside and finally resting on the tower block opposite. The flare of sunshine brought to Mathew's attention the strangest thing. He saw a man in the bankers' building, some two hundred yards across, on the same level as Mathew, struggling by the window as two men grappled with him, threw a bag over his head and dragged him out of sight. Mathew leapt to his feet and pressed his face against his office window to see more clearly, but the light had changed and the building opposite was suddenly cast in darkness.

Mathew rushed to his secretary, Nia, who was seated outside his office, and found her staring blankly into space, fiddling with a stress toy.

'Nia,' said Mathew breathlessly, 'I saw something, a kidnapping maybe, or I don't know what. Can you find out if anyone on this side of the building has seen anything while I call the police.'

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Monolith by James Rumpel

An extraterrestrial monolith appears in a forgotten corner of rural Wisconsin, and a citizen must be chosen to carry out its message; by James Rumpel.

There are many forsaken highways in rural Wisconsin. Briar Creek Road was as lonely as any of them. When the highway department built the interstate in the 1950s, they decided to forgo an exit to Briar Creek Road. Instead, they simply closed the road on both sides of the freeway. From the north or south, the final half mile of Briar Creek Road was an abandoned stretch of blacktop, serving no purpose other than occasionally collecting jettisoned beer cans and McDonald's wrappers. Days could pass without a sole traveler making their way to the abrupt dead end. The only person who regularly visited this unused stretch of road was John Warren. Big John, as his friends called him, was the snow plow driver for the town of Baldinville. In all honesty, he wouldn't bother to plow that waste of a road if his superior didn't insist that every inch of highway be plowed any time there was a measurable snowfall.

On this morning, John made a shocking discovery on the north side of Briar Creek Road. A barbed wire fence marked the end of the unimportant town road. The expanse between the dead end and the freeway was occupied by a copse of large evergreen trees. The sixty-year-old pines stood straight and tall, like soldiers preventing the little road from even dreaming of someday being aligned with the interstate. It was near the run-down fence that Big John spied something very strange. There stood an enormous black cube.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Neighbor by Jason Kreth

John is more frightened by his sister-in-law than the inter-dimensional being that lives next door; by Jason Kreth.

"John, you have to go talk to him," Angela said from across our faux-wood kitchen table. She had started in on me as soon as I woke up and stumbled my way down to the kitchen. I looked like death, but that wasn't going to deter her.

I was wearing an old bathrobe from college that had more holes than actual fabric and my hair was a disheveled and thinning salt-and-pepper catastrophe that matched the two-days-worth of stubble on my face. To top it off, my skin was a pale, sickly shade of green that Crayola would have named "plague victim." I looked like a walking hang-over and I thought, once again, that I needed to cut back on my drinking.

I caught vague bits of her complaints as I made my way through the kitchen. I tried my best to ignore her. It wasn't that I didn't care about my wife, but there was a drumming in my head that had me convinced that a woodpecker had taken up residence inside my skull. I knew that as soon as I started paying attention, there would be no escape and I needed at least a few minutes to try to counteract the alcohol-induced ruination of my body.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Beyond Repair by Nancy Beach

Nancy Beach's character loses her temper at her husband and stalks out of the house in a whirl of anger and guilt.

Allie's breath caught in her throat as she stumbled down the stairs. Her husband stood frozen, slashed by her weapon of choice - her words. She hadn't meant for it to happen, again. But when words volleyed back and forth, the volcano erupted without warning. She'd looked like a two-year-old, her voice squealing and her arms flailing like the geese in the back yard.

She shuffled through the pile of papers on the washing machine, receipts and junk mail flying to the floor until she found the keys. She didn't pause when the door slammed behind her. She threw the car into reverse and roared away. It felt good, the cool wind rushing in the windows as she sped down I-71. As the miles sped past, her temper raged. How could he, after all these years, still push her buttons? He was wrong. He was an idiot. He could go crawl in a hole and never come out for all she cared. Past Medina. Past Lodi. She didn't recognize the landscape any longer. She zoomed around a truck and pressed her foot to the pedal again. Stupid, slow drivers. Faster. Freedom. Maybe she'd never stop. Except she'd need gas sooner or later. Gas. She'd forgotten her wallet. Oh well, at least she could pay for gas with Apple Pay on her phone.

As the miles passed, her anger at Rodney turned to disappointment towards herself. She shouldn't have lost her temper. Again. If she could have stayed calm, they could have resolved the dumb disagreement. Granted, his mom was out of line, for sure. And he was defending her. Again. But she could have handled the whole thing better. When would she learn? If only she could put a muzzle on her mouth when she started seeing red. No matter how hard she tried, she always seemed to end up back in the same mess, her temper flaring without warning. It wasn't as often as before. But still.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Vet Cemetery by R.R. Trevino

...In which a teenager steals from the dead. By R.R. Trevino.

My life ceased being my own on Veterans Day, 2013. It started with my mother rousing me at the crack of dawn and dragging me from my bed to the car so that we could stick to our annual commitment of visiting Rick, her dead brother, who was buried at the local veterans cemetery. The fact that I had never met Uncle Rick, due to him bleeding out in a Vietnamese jungle decades before I even was born, wasn't justification enough for her to exclude me from the tradition.

The gates to the cemetery didn't open until 7am, but there we were, waiting diligently near the front of a long line of cars. "Almost time," my mom said, "so go on and start getting up." I sat up in my seat and looked out on the rolling hills of granite headstones, spaced at perfect intervals. I turned my attention to the passengers in the other cars, all somberly waiting to pay their respects.

"Still don't get why we have to wake up so early," I said. "It's not like there's going to be a line at his grave."

She turned to me and glared. "Please, please, don't be asshole you right now," she said. "Not today."

Friday, August 9, 2019

Put Your Money on Ted by J. D. Hager

Ted is starting a new job as a school bus driver - but does he know what he's getting himself in for? By J. D. Hager

McFarlan described the district's situation as desperate more than once. He used the word emergency. He said drastic times called for drastic measures, and mentioned something about circumventing the background check if needed. He spoke of a loophole that offered an emergency permit if working part time and taking classes on the weekend. McFarlan wanted Ted to start the next morning, if Ted thought he could handle it. For thirteen thirty-seven an hour, Ted thought he could handle just about anything. McFarlan then flogged Ted with the glory of the manual.

"Study it. Memorize it. Keep it with you at all times in case you forget what you've memorized. If you encounter any problems while driving your route, just refer to the manual." McFarlan gripped a rolled up copy of the manual between short sweaty fingers, waving it around as if swiping at mosquitoes. "You're inexperienced, but I like your enthusiasm. Reminds me of myself at your age. But I'll be honest with you, Todd."

"Ted," Ted corrected.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Vmbra Wormwood by Leila Allison

Since her mother died, in place of the sun, Claire has only seen the suppurating star Wormwood; by Leila Allison.

And the name of the star is called Wormwood...
- Revelation 8:11

Pus star Wormwood glowers ceaselessly in the cigarette sky. Although it is only midday, Wormwood pulls long shadows from the sour crabapple trees, whose fruit not even the crows will eat. Embittered little trees, Scotch broom, feral blackberries and scrub grass are all that grow in the brief ridges and ravines and knolls that serve as the community "backyard" throughout the valley. During wildfire season the broom pods burst and the smoky wind disperses their dusty spore. During wildfire season it's easy to believe in hell.

At sixteen, Claire has spent her entire life at one of the sturdy white farmhouses so dominant in the valley. Unless you count the people who grow weed under artificial Wormwoods in their attics and basements, there isn't a single farmer in the valley, yet everybody lives in a farmhouse nonetheless. Local farming began its long dwindle into obsolescence when the interstate arrived in the 1960s; money could be made easier elsewhere then brought home. Times change.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Burrbrook by Joseph Burns

In the small Canadian town of Burrbrook, Ashlee is starting a new life, Lynne runs an elitist daycare centre, and someone is burning down churches; by Joseph Burns.

She was lost
Now found, redeemed
Her paws splayed wide and nailed to the oak
Belly split, birthing entrails
Cold

He found her there
A night spent searching, vainly hoping
His flashlight passes her eyes
Glinting, unglinting
The oppressive presence of nothing

Below, white lines - chalk scraped on granite
A five-pointed star, encircled
A feeble concession to meaning
He heaves and one edge is erased in acid
Another offering

Her canine shell vacated,
He stands there, flesh upon bone
Under starlight unseeing
The smell of iron and bile
Just so much meat



Slabs of gray rock emerged from the rise and fall of the roadside, their primeval, rain-blunted faces wreathed by browning scrub grass. Perched atop them or crowded between were aging blueberry plants, nearly bare, their dry sockets long devoid of fruit. The treeline began to thicken here, where the balding maples and birches were outnumbered by their needled brethren - an ancient acquiescence by the keyed to the coned. The tall pines, though evergreen, were washed red by the setting sun.

Ashlee removed her sunglasses and dropped them on the dash. She rubbed her right eye and scratched absently at her nose. Her chipped purple fingernail found the spot where the bridge of the plastic shades pinched her skin. In the rear-view mirror she saw Zachary, very much awake but spellbound by the old smartphone he held in his tiny hands. He rocked gently in his car seat in time with the undulating road as their rusted sedan skittered northward.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Sin Eater by James Ross

An odd couple meet a tramp with an impossible promise; by James Ross.

Babe needs new boots.

We're down at the river on a market day. A hard sun is shining on the crowds, on the stalls, the polis, more people, parked vans, buskers, the glistening river. I count four Big Issue sellers in less than five minutes:

'Big Issue?'

No thanks.

'Big Issue! Help the homeless?'

No thanks.

Men in ponchos are banging out Chilean folk music on leather drums and electric pan pipes. I've just been paid and Babe needs new boots, so I'm going to buy him a pair.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Bye-Bye by Phil Slattery

A former naval officer tells a stranger a story of young love from his time on Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise; by Phil Slattery.

I was sporadically dozing in my seat at an airport gate at Dallas-Fort Worth, waiting for my wife to return from ladies' room, when another late middle-aged man with close-cropped white hair sat a couple of seats down from me. He opened up a paperback book he had been carrying, A History of the Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise, CVN-65.

"You interested in maritime history?" I asked.

"That's right," he said.

"I was on the Big E for two deployments with VA-95, the Green Lizards, an A-6 squadron, in 1986 and '88. I was an intelligence officer. It was a great time."

"I was on her then too," said the man. "I was ship's company."

Monday, July 22, 2019

The North Window by Judson Blake

Sheila Tamm lives in the kind of small American town where nothing ever happens, until a dead body is found with its hands missing; by Judson Blake.

"There's a man in that house," said the child. His face dipped as he spoke. His voice was mewling. Sheila Tamm stepped back to look around the fir trees. It was a house she knew well. She turned back to the child.

"That's not so odd," she said and then wondered if she might be wrong. It was the house of Coleen, who had a dog Sheila sometimes cared for. An aging solitary, Coleen had never married.

The child squinted under the blinding angle of the sun. So softly she could barely hear, he hummed a song as if he knew she was thinking of something else. Then he stopped without any reason.

"There's a man in that house."

Friday, July 19, 2019

Jory's Grove by David W. Landrum

A powerful witch is called upon to help protect a group of young girls who are dabbling with forces they do not understand; by David W. Landrum.

As a strega, Alessia knew that there were still places in the world where the natural and the supernatural intersected. There were portals or, as she had once read in Neil Gaiman's novel, Neverwhere, places that had a lot of time, where all the time did not get used up, and so one encountered "bubbles" of it here and there. If you entered such a site you would end up in the period and era the bubble contained. Such places had always existed. And they did not just contain time.

The problem began when a group of young women in her community began going to one such place and engaging in what they thought was occult practice. A mother of one of the girls came to Alessia and told her what was going on.

"My daughter, Angela, and her friends are going out to Jory's Grove," the mother told her.

"Why are they going there?

"Oh, you know: they got into the occult - wicca and all that. They're into casting spells - the whole shebang. It's a phase and a fad, but that place... well, I've heard it's really haunted. And I don't like them going there at night."

"What do you want me to do?"

Monday, July 15, 2019

Louie the Hatchet by Mark Tulin

When his father befriends a hitman, Mark's character feels the consequences; by Mark Tulin.

My father did not discriminate when it came to choosing his friends. So, it wasn't a big surprise that he befriended a notorious hitman. This particular hitman didn't wear a shiny suit, have gold chains around his neck, or wear a pair of sharp alligator shoes, but he did have a scary scar on his hand and an aura that made my teeth chatter.

I remember staring at this hulking man like an infamous celebrity, looking at his big, stubby fingers that could probably tell of a thousand deaths and the keloid scar on his right hand the shape of a lightning bolt. Those bear-like claws of his were capable of things that my naive mind could never imagine. He had the power to destroy life without the least bit of hesitation.

It was interesting to see how relaxed my father was with such a hardened criminal, almost as if he were a respectable member of society.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Of Forests and Fathers by Christopher Johnson

Herbie, a kid from Ohio, tells about the innocent wonders of his first camping trip; by Christopher Johnson.

"Will there be bears and wolves?" I asked.

Dad looked at me and narrowed his eyes the way he did when he was irritated with me. "What do you think, Herbie?"

"I... I don't know. When I watch Davy Crockett on TV, there's all kinds of wolves and bears."

"Oh, for God's sake, Herbie, that was one hundred and fifty years ago! And that's TV. And that was in Tennessee. We're in Ohio, and it's today, not one hundred and fifty years ago."

We were driving to pick up Steve Sable and his father and start our journey together on a camping trip, which I was worried about because I'd never ever been on a camping trip in the forest before. We turned into the Sables' driveway, and Dad honked the horn. "Get in back, Herbie, so Mr. Sable can ride in front and we can listen to the Indians."

Monday, July 8, 2019

St. Isabelle's Downfall By Tiffany Renee Harmon

At St. Isabelle's Home for the Mentally Disturbed it's not clear whether the sole patient needs the staff, or the other way around; by Tiffany Renee Harmon.

Each day at St. Isabelle's Home for the Mentally Disturbed was the same as the last. The residents would wake up, cope with being abnormal, and then go to bed. Meals and medication were promptly served at 8am, 12:30pm, and 7:00pm. Bedtime was 10:00pm. There were no exceptions.

St. Isabelle's stood on a sprawling green manor, surrounded by trees as lifeless as the hopeless patients who entered. The trees created a canopy that shrouded St. Isabelle's in a constant, ominous shadow. A small pond, no longer home to any fish ever since a patient had taken an interest in them and they had all disappeared, was nestled in the back yard, behind the looming old Victorian building. Ivy ran along the exterior wooden paneling in upward spirals.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Wall by Dan Rice

In a totalitarian future America, a 16-year-old girl's life is about to change forever; by Dan Rice.

The minute hand of the analog clock edges with agonizing slowness toward 3:45pm, release time. I hate the way the hands move around the clock-face as if stating: this boring class is almost over, but not quite. I prefer digital clocks, just like everyone else with a half functioning brain and a heart made out of anything other than stone. Mr. Brown, our genius teacher, decided in all his wisdom that to pass his class, all of us spoiled brats need to be able to read an analog clock. Stupid? Yes, but that's Mr. Brown, and he lectures, drones is more accurate, on the most fascinating topic imaginable: Founding Utopia, The Fall of the Two-Party System and The Rise of the American Prosperity Party. Fun? Not so much. Required for graduation? You bet.

"Miss Harris," Mr. Brown's voice rings in my ears. "Staring at the clock won't make time pass any faster. Now, answer the question."

My peers' twittering laughter echoes through the classroom. I blush. I'm in trouble. It's just like Mr. Brown to ask me a question while I'm not paying attention. I meet his gaze. His piercing blue eyes stare out at me from under a heavy brow. He looks dapper in his starched white shirt and neat blue and red tie with the conspicuous exception of an oil stain on the shirt's left breast.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Pacific by Ky Hensley

On an excursion to Costa Rica, Ky Hensley's character visits the ocean for the first time.

Pacific waves are powerful.

I can tell from a considerable distance, as the whitecaps crash on the bright reflective sand and roll up the long stretch of beach. The cars and trucks seem to ripple in the heat of the day. We aren't even there yet, still shielding the sun from our eyes as we attempt to cross the road. Quite frequently, cars honk at the slow-moving trucks, all while seemingly oblivious to the beach stretched out before them like a framed landscape piece. I see a car slowing, and begin to dart across.

Damien's grip tightens around my hand as he pulls me back. "Hold up, Maggie." The car I was watching vrooms past as if frustrated by my indecision. "You trying to get us hit? It'd be a shame to lose my girl like that." Damien laughs at what he thinks is incredible wit. He barely looks both ways before making the decision to drag me into traffic himself.

If that's what it takes.

My lips stay sealed. The beach. I am here for the beach.

Friday, June 28, 2019

To the Pain of Death by James Rumpel

An interplanetary comedian is selected by computer to fight a battle of great political import despite having the physical prowess of a banapple; by James Rumpel.

Shiver Trueorbit thought things were going well. This was the first time he had ever performed in an Abeberian club. An ever-growing layer of indigo haze floated near the ceiling, like rising dew on a spring morning. The lounge owner had told him that Abeberians expressed their laughter in two ways. The first was an ear-piercing squeal. The second was by releasing a dark blue gas. Shiver figured that either the audience was finding his routine to be humorous or the buffet was serving Borilian cabbage.

"And what's the idea with anti-gravity boots, if you're just floating around, you don't need boots. You know what I mean." Shiver paused to let the screeches reach a crescendo before continuing. In addition to entertaining the occupants of the half-filled lounge with his wit and repertoire, Shiver was also wowing them with juggling. He had discovered early in his performance that the Abeberians were amazed by juggling, which probably had something to do with that race having gnarled claws instead of hands. Always the showman, Shiver performed most of his act while simultaneously keeping three shot glasses in the air.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Mrs Neb by Ceinwen Haydon

A solitary woman is annoyed by her neighbour's prying and tries to avoid her - until one day their paths are forced to cross; by Ceinwen Haydon.

Work's ok, but coming home is better. Well, it is unless she's standing by her gate. I have to pass her house and she's unavoidable. I call her Mrs Neb, not out loud, of course. Every feature of her face is etched into my mind: her pinched plum mouth that bleeds lipstick beyond its outline, her wrinkled nose with blackheads and wide nostrils that emphasise her scowl, her jaundiced dandelion-clock hair and her beige pancake slap that chokes every rut on her jowls and chin. She's disapproval incarnate.

I loathe her relentless scrutiny. I'm sure she lives to see folk get their come-uppance, some sort of avenging angel. When she speaks to me, which she always does if she catches my eye, she pretends to be all nicey, nicey. The fact that I see through her ruses is lost on her. She minces along in her fluffy mules, proud as a queen. Although lately, I have to say, she's let herself go. Last time I stood close enough to tell, she was a bit whiffy if I'm honest, and her clothes were un-ironed and food-stained. That would never have happened a couple of years back. She was born in the village and has always claimed special status following the arrival of all us incomers. But the truth is, I recognise her for her real self. She's a witch.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Bubble by Craig McEwan

Craig McEwan's character has trouble navigating the social mediascape - which opinions are the right ones?

The economy is going down the plughole again: because of Brexit this time. Everyone on my timeline voted Bremain. Who didn't? We think there should be a second referendum: surely we'd get the right result this time. Our poor economy. First the bankers and now this. We hate bankers. I spotted that rat-faced cashier from Barclays the other day in TK Maxx. If looks were daggers, she'd be a pincushion. Yotam Ottolenghi posted a new recipe for soy grilled quail eggs with sesame salt today. We love Yotam Ottolenghi.

I was signing a petition to save our libraries - we love libraries - when what popped up but a friend request from Emma Braine! My family did everything with the Braines when me and Emma were kids. Her dad, Brian, was a great block-faced man who worked for Plastimo, and the only man I ever heard interrupt one of Dad's stories and get away with it. Brian Braine. He sounds like a cartoon character, and he was, in a way. Larger than life. Emma and I were inseparable until Plastimo offered Brian a big raise and a relocation to Surrey, and that was the last I saw of her.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Debauched by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

The 1905 Russian revolution has turned St Petersburg society on its head, and the aristocratic Misha Sergeyevich fears his sister is seeking solace in an unsavoury place; by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri.

My eldest sister, Tatiana Sergeyevna, was disrobed and bathing Rasputin when I returned home one evening, in 1908. She ran her slender fingers over his hirsute back, bare and dirty. This all was transpiring in my own marble bathroom with its porcelain tub, of all spaces. The tub which Papa had imported from London in the good days, the days before things came apart. I'd gone in to take a long bath after an evening dining with friends. This had been a nice release from the tensions, from our disintegrating home, our family slowly breaking apart in light of Papa's recent gambling debts and his own liaisons in Monte Carlo while abroad with the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, our tsar's uncle. I was twenty-two and the youngest in our family, my sister twenty-eight.

Rasputin held a bottle of Madeira, which he waved like a weapon, while my sister kept washing his back, whistling something from "The Nutcracker." This all struck me as I entered the room, as if this were the most intense moment of a dream. The moment where I'd wake up and everything would be all right. But it was happening here. My sister was completely disrobed, so was Rasputin, and their bodies seemed to defile this vast and wonderful room. I shook my head once and again, as if that would restore things to their natural modes of being. I thought of just leaving, walking out the door, out into the night, but some force pulled me back.

"Have a drink, Misha," he said, laughing, waving the bottle. I could smell the alcohol on his breath, thick and overwhelming. "Live a little."

"What are you doing, Tanya?" I said, using the nickname I'd used for my sister. She smiled.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Woman on the Bus by Karen Toralba

An American tourist in Penang is baffled when her child receives a mysterious injury; by Karen Toralba.

Penang, Malaysia

"The doctor at the hospital said I should report this," she showed the stoic officer at the counter her young daughter's infliction - a mark similar to an elongated X that seemed to be transforming from a red scratch to an almost rotting appearance. The woman continued. "He said to show you this. I'm sorry, but I'm on vacation, and we leave in two days, so I'd like to handle this quickly, if that's possible." She produced an envelope with a message on the front which sent the officer quickly scurrying away through closed doors, who then reappeared with a slender, aging man. The police chief ushered her personally into his office and shut the door.

"I don't understand what's going on," she said as she seated herself with her child. "The doctor said it was an unusual scratch but sent me here. I'm not sure why." The woman, American, sat stiffly in a crisp white sleeveless shirt which tucked neatly into light jean shorts that stood guard over her knee caps. Her dirty blond hair, usually more styled when not on vacation, was twisted messily and clipped to the back of her head.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Twelve Steps From a Breakdown By Cathy Beaudoin

A high-flying executive pretends to be an alcoholic so she can attend AA meetings in the hope of salving her soul; by Cathy Beaudoin.

Standing at the top of the basement stairwell, nerves made me shaky and ready to vomit. Afraid the typical Manhattan brownstone was a private residence, I peered through the gritty, ankle-high window. There were a dozen rows of plastic folding chairs and a table with a coffee pot on top of it. About ten feet away, at the curb separating the street from the sidewalk, a couple of scruffy bearded guys stood smoking. I glanced at them and when we made eye contact I wanted to turn and run home, to bolt my apartment door, grab a glass from the kitchen cabinet, and squeeze it until it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.

“You okay?” one of them probed.

“There a meeting here tonight?” I asked.

“Yeah, you’re in the right place honey.”

I bristled at the word honey. I wasn’t his honey. I wasn’t anyone’s honey.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Tram by Cameron Dusting

A Czech woman recalls her childhood and the events that shaped who she is; by Cameron Dusting.

When I was nine years old, my family lived in a leafy district of Prague; my brother and sister and I went to school nearby. Our mother would chat with the other parents by the school's metal fence while she waited for our classes to finish. After that, we'd walk home with her. It was a fifteen-minute walk under the leaves. Sometimes our friends and their parents would walk with us too. We'd pass the graffiti-covered buildings and the red-and-white railing, talking about what we'd learned at school that day.

On the walk home, my sister Kristýna, who was a year older than me, always complained about the wind getting in her hair. "So, tie it up," our mother would say. Krista's hair was honey-coloured; mine was much darker. We both had long hair. Yet the wind never bothered me. I loved feeling the breeze through my hair. It felt similar to my mother's fingers running over my scalp. On one such occasion, I spoke up. "I don't mind the wind in my hair," I said. And my mother laughed, and replied, "Of course you don't, Anna."

Monday, June 3, 2019

March on the Deniers! by Simon Di Nucci

Simon Di Nucci gives us a glimpse into a post-Apocalyptic Australia that has descended into tribal savagery.

The trees are bare, killed by the salt I guess, but there are fresh weeds underneath them and the goats eat happily. I herd them through our sector, slowly in the early heat, and we are out of the dead wood in an hour. Then we walk round to the seaward side of our territory. The storm surge brought piles of fresh seaweed up the slope, before the sea retreated out of sight again. Long may it stay there.

A work party are repairing the damage to our seawall, piling the rubble back up to the proper height. The foreman tips his straw hat to me and I nod back. Manners are important in the Tribe. We look at the half-naked labourers, building our new fleet of fishing canoes, sweating to get the job done before it gets too hot. I stop to admire some of the women, their brown skin smooth over strong muscles. Some stand up and smile at me: word has got out. The foreman and I look at the wall and exchange glances: will it ever be high enough? He grimaces. I nod again and leave.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Missing Crows by William Falo

William Falo tells the story of a world-weary crow.

The smell lured her and she flew closer to the ground. The dead animal was on the side of the road near the entrance to a bridge and she wanted to be the first, but another crow landed before her. It was her partner, he roosted next to her at night. She tried to land next to him, but her landing was clumsy. An impact with a car had left her with broken, dangling feathers, causing her to fly in crazy patterns and to fall over when she landed, much to the amusement of the other crows. He called her zig-zag due to her erratic flying.

She fell on her beak this time. He hissed. It was his way of laughing. Above them, the sky darkened with black forms coming closer. Food was scarce lately due to all the building in the area. The woods shrunk and the animals vanished.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Cinco de Mayo by Celia Perry

Celia Perry's flash fiction about an Arizona State University student whose Cinco de Mayo celebration goes very wrong.

Karen blamed her husband for the May 6th phone call. It was all Jeff’s idea to have Brian enroll at Arizona State after high school graduation in San Diego. Karen had hated the thought of their only child being so far from home. She didn’t think he was ready or even wanted to be there. But it was Jeff’s alma mater and he insisted it would be good for Brian to have a little more space. Space… from whom? She hated him for it. She would always hate him for it.

“Mrs. Peterson?” She made out a man’s voice, unfamiliar and heavily accented, through the static on the line. “I am Capitan Jose Ramirez of the Nogales police here in Mexico. You have a son named Brian Peterson?” Silence followed.

Karen felt weak kneed, leaning on the kitchen counter to steady herself. “Yes?” She paused. “But I don’t understa -”

“We have detained your son here until deciding if any charges will be made against him. Do you have an attorney in Mexico you wish to contact? He would be allowed to speak with your son. No one else, though, at this time.” Again, silence. Karen could hear her heartbeat growing louder in her ears.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Rescues of Brittan Courvalais by Tom Sheehan

A storied old man has an unusually deep connection with his fresh born grandson, but tragedy nips at his heels; by Tom Sheehan.

It did not come with electricity or a smash of static on the air, but it was there. Brittan Courvalais, five minutes into the darkness of a new day, a streetlight's glow falling through his window like a subtle visitor, was caught on the edge of his chair. Knowledge flowed to him, information of a most sublime order, privacy, intimacy, all in one slow sweep of the air; his grandson was just now, just this minute, into this world, his only grandson. He could feel him, that child coming, making way his debut into the universe, and his name would be Shag. And for this life he and Shag would be in a mysterious and incomprehensible state of connection. This, in the streetlight's glow, in the start of a new day though dawn was not yet afoot.

People of the neighborhood shortly said that the oldest man among them, white-bearded, dark-eyed, 75-year old Brittan Courvalais, loved his only grandchild Shag in a deep and special way. They said there was a virtual connection, a most generous connection between them, more than the usual. At times they dwelled on the love ingredient, and then on the old and the young, the near gone and the coming. On days when young Shag came by, just an infant in his mother's arms, the old man's step changed, his gait changed, his shoulders stiffened, his voice went lyrical. Some heard him singing under the silver maple tree in the side yard, the tone reaching, ascendant, carrying more than day in it or cool evening or a new stab at dawn. Shag would come, put his arms out, and nestle against the old man's beard. The pair would look into each other's eyes and the world about them seemed lost, distant, at odds with the very young and the very old. Brittan's daughter Marta could only beam when the topic was broached, or say, "I don't know what it is. It mystifies me, but it's as if they share an infinite else." She'd smile broadly when she said it, shrug her shoulders, be fully happy in her puzzle.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Tech by Saket Badola

A dying mob boss receives a visit from a man with a mysterious technology capable of healing him; by Saket Badola.

It was three in the afternoon when Olan arrived at the village. He gazed out the train window. He could see that the heat was dry, the sun was bright, the people were sparse, and the sleepy village was even sleepier at this time of day. Olan brought the tech with him. He'd taken the tech around the world many times over: from large cities like London and Hong Kong, to boroughs and suburbs, to so many nameless, faceless small towns. He liked the small towns. To them he was a stranger - a foreigner with no name.

Olan exited the train. He rubbed his face, dusted his long coat, kicked his shoes against the bench to shake the dirt off, and picked up his bag.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Arcadia Swept Down by Scott Archer Jones

An ageing couple live in a decaying old house in Galveston, and it's not clear who will collapse first; by Scott Archer Jones.

Until today I took care of my younger brother Donnie. Each morning Donnie would ask, Elizabeth, what shall we do today? For sixty years I gave the same answer. Donald, we'll have breakfast, then we'll tend to the past.

Great Grandfather called the house Arcadia. Cotton shipping built it on an elegant Galveston esplanade. Flat-roofed: how I hated that roof - its amalgamation of tin and copper, solder and hot-tar patch. Leak in, cold in, bats in.

I had lived within one of the beautiful bedrooms that opened not only onto the landing that circled the stairs, but that had double doors onto a balcony that overlooked the ballroom floor. After my first fall, we moved downstairs to the Jubilee parlor, a room that flanked the front hall. Donnie and I emptied out the furniture, the books and boxes of family photos, my Barnard degree. We disassembled the breakfronts. He would tug on the area rug we placed under each piece of furniture, and I would shove. Into the ballroom depths, into narrow rows of the past. Twin beds in the Jubilee, where we could keep tabs on our infirmities, his dementia, my heart and eyesight.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Something Extra by Patrick Ritter

Patrick Ritter imagines a world in which track racers' mechanical hearts are fine-tuned like F1 vehicles, but it's a future Scott Ryan is determined to resist.

Scott Ryan rose out of a deep stretch. He glanced up at the stadium clock above the track infield. Fifteen minutes until the start of the race.

Scott felt strong and ready. He started jogging along the edge of the infield past the warm-up areas for the other runners. He moved easily, with power and lightness, lifting his knees high with each step.

From the infield, a large red and black banner caught his attention. Scott clenched his jaw as he read it - Flowmax Racing Hearts. Beneath the banner several technicians bent over a young runner sitting in a padded chair. His bright jersey showed off the large Flowmax symbol. The runner was calm, almost bored, his face flushed with confidence. Inside his chest, an artificial heart - the Flowmax T4 - whirled silently.

The hair on Scott's neck bristled. Over the public address system the first of the runners was announced and the crowd roared. Thirteen minutes to go.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Assault on Mount Carmel by Tom Sheehan

At the end of World War II, a gang of small-town crooks foment resentment when they persist with their shady weekly poker game; by Tom Sheehan.

Mount Carmel Road was a quiet dead end in the north section of town. And in the middle of the night when the war in the Far East was over and the radios blared out the news, all the lights went on in all the houses on that blind street, except where the card game was being played. Many of the neighbors were solidly indignant about that turn of events on VJ Night, two Mount Carmel boys among those who would not be coming back from the mad Pacific, which most of us had only seen in Saturday newsreels at the theater.

This house was a dark house on a dark street in my town that, with some lesions and scars, hangs on to a place in my memory and will not let go. Not ever. The family that lives there now most likely is unaware of its past. Tenants and landlords hardly leave scribed notations of a dwelling, thinking all things will ferment, dissipate, and eventually pass on. Fifty years or more of recall usually get dulled, terribly pockmarked, or fade into the twilight the way one ages, a dimming of the eyes, a bending at the knees, a slow turn at mortality. But this one rides endlessly in place, a benchmark, a mooring place. It resides as a point of time, a small moment of history colored up by characterization of one incident.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Night of the Haunted by Michael McCarthy

A hit man is haunted by the memories of two of his victims, by Michael McCarthy.

It's a balmy evening, there's a couple leaning out of a dimly lit window at the side of a house overlooking an alley. They're both naked and their heads are wreathed in smoke from their cigarettes, its effect heightened by the intermittent blinking of a faulty street light. You can't even see the moon or stars.

Let's call her Kate and him Daniel.

There's a very light drizzle shining on their skin. If you saw them, and you were that way inclined, you might find their bearing iconic like a scene from a European Art House film.

This house is empty apart from them. There was a fire in which two people died. The only two people in the house: the owner and his female friend. The house had been in the process of being converted into flats for rich singles as an additional pension for the owner.

The man is clearly older, he's tanned and balding with cropped grey hair. Kate is a dyed blonde, her hair lying loose on her shoulders. She looks about twenty years younger than Daniel, but neither of them care. Age is irrelevant to them.

Kate prefers the cool shade of her back garden, while Daniel is very well travelled. They're both smiling. There's some music playing in the background, an infectious pop song. It's not loud, it just... carries. Kate's moving her head from side to side in time, while Daniel's swinging his hand in front of him and clicking his fingers like a band leader.

They've clearly found each other. It took them long enough.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Hazard by Ronald Schulte

Billy's golfing ability mysteriously improves overnight, but at what cost? By Ronald Schulte.

At six over through twelve holes, Billy had a great round going by his standards. With a little luck he just might break eighty. However, as he watched the sun dip toward the horizon from the thirteenth tee, he wasn't sure he'd finish before dark. A damn shame that would be, walking away from a round like this. Time to stop dawdling. He grabbed his five-iron and walked up onto the tee box.

Number thirteen wasn't a tough hole. It played about one-ninety to the front edge, with a nice wide green and just one small bunker in the back right. There was a little water on the right, but it was well short of the green and not really in play. The contours felt good to Billy's eye, and his normal right-to-left draw would be perfect for feeding the ball toward the back-left pin location.

Billy teed up his ball and started his pre-shot routine. He visualized the shot he wanted to play, took a deep breath, and approached the ball. Two practice swings, as always. Another deep breath. Then the swing.

He knew right away that he'd mis-hit it. He'd made contact, just barely, but far from the center of the clubface. It was the dreaded shank, a hosel-rocket, and in Billy's case, a serious momentum killer. The ball shot out diagonally to the right, straight into the (not really in play) water hazard.

"Shit!"

Monday, April 29, 2019

Give Her Some Credit by Joe Giordano

Jennifer is glad her daughter is finally financially independent... by Joe Giordano.

"How does your daughter enjoy receiving a paycheck?" Hairdresser Emma clipped Jennifer's brunette bob.

"We like it more."

Emma's scissors snipped. "I get it. She's no longer your financial obligation."

Jennifer sighed. "Cara graduated without student debt, but it wasn't easy. The day she matriculated at the University of Texas, we cut our credit cards in two. Cash-only disciplined our spending. I can count on one hand the number of times Ted and I ate out in the last four years. Vacations? Forget about it."

Emma said, "You two lived like a cloistered religious order. We insisted our William work while in school. Bill Sr. told him, 'Nobody will roll you over in bed and stuff a hundred dollar bill inside your pyjamas pocket.'"

Friday, April 26, 2019

Closure by Proxy by Tony Billinghurst

A drifter working as a barkeep is befriended by an unusual regular; by Tony Billinghurst.

My father died shortly after I was born. Mum's latest partner was a pig; he didn't like me and I didn't like him. To make matters worse, I think Mum was afraid of him; whenever we had arguments she'd side with him. It all finally blew up on my 16th birthday with another row and I'd had enough; I told them to shove it and left. The last time I saw Mum she was standing at the gate crying. I didn't know what I wanted to do in life so I drifted from one dead end job to another, I even briefly considered joining the Navy but didn't and I did bar jobs instead.

In this pub it always happens when it rains. The bus stop outside doesn't have a shelter; those waiting put up with rain till it gets heavy then overcome their misgivings and come in and wait. Most keep their backs to the bar and face the window. The more brazen sit at the tables and don't give a damn. A few buy something small like a bag of nuts to ease their consciences.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Good With Animals by Gary Ives

Emma Goldfarb, a high-flying commercial artist, has almost given up finding a partner who matches her intellect and ambition when she meets Glenn, and discovers a new kind of peace; by Gary Ives.

Em glanced through the window over the sink to see Glenn down on one knee rubbing Tuck's huge head while talking soft and low to Nip. The oxen were still yoked. She knew he wouldn't come in to eat until they'd been unyoked and rubbed down, and he had washed up at the outside spigot. She had a thick piece of fresh salmon to poach with a little garlic and ginger. Glenn had grown fond of these two critters and she reckoned he was anticipating separation anxiety as they were due to return to the owner soon. He was funny that way with oxen and mules he trained. He'd spent three months with this pair and, as always, grown attached to the animals. Noticing him washing up, she put the salmon filets into the pan but did not light the fire. "Let's have a beer on the porch and catch the sundown before we eat,' she said.

Years earlier Emma Goldfarb had stumbled into this strangely comfortable relationship with Glenn Harka. Now they spent most nights together at her place on the lake but sometimes at the A-frame up on Henderson Peak. He came down to the city only to hit the book stores and then only rarely as he loathed the traffic, the noise, and crowds. He was that way. Twice they'd vacationed for a month, once in Oaxaca and another time on Skye. Emma Goldfarb had family money and she had grown up rich but ambitious too, enjoying a very successful career as a commercial artist. While still a young artist she had a breakthrough when her submissions to Paulson-Palmer Agency secured a fat renewable contract with a nationwide fast food giant. This was followed within a year by another contract with Tabu Perfume. She thrived and by her 30s had reached the comfortable plateau of being able to turn down job offers. She was steadfastly independent and while she had enjoyed a few relationships, none of the men measured up to her idea of love and certainly not commitment. Each relationship had ended when she asked the man to leave. Experiencing these men, a Silicon Valley tech, a realtor, and a professor, had left her with a strong dislike for pretty boys, pretense, greed, drugs, and inflated egos. So few men of her acquaintance could engage any woman as an equal much less a superior in any field of endeavor or intellect. Whoever claimed that men were the more rational gender had it wrong. By 40 she had come to the belief that needing a man was a weakness.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Ancient Science of Soul Travel by Harrison Kim

A homeless man starts a relationship with Ally, but must contend with her paranoid father; by Harrison Kim.

Out of the hammock, feet in the dirt. Wow, what a thunderstorm last night! I dreamed lightning came from the skies and cut my throat with a bang. Woke up breathing hard, I saw flashes migraine bright and constant through the plastic sheet above me. Rain pounding on that sheet. It held, as did the rope between the trees holding the plastic peaked and triangular. I cocooned and rocked below, in my custom-made hammock.

I lay and think of the woman with the strange request. Yesterday, I played my guitar down at the beach for some coins and she stood there listening. A petite older lady wearing bright red lipstick. I played Cat Stevens' song "Father and Son," and she walked to me afterwards and said she had a problem with her own father. He's living with her and he's threatening and violent. What should she do? She dropped fifteen dollars in my hat and talked and talked.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Love's Labors Lost by Bonnie Veaner

Bonnie Veaner's funny flash fiction about a childhood crush.

I was playing with other children on an over-inflated truck inner tube adorning the playground lawn of Green Meadow Nursery School.

"Okay, boys and girls," said our teacher, clapping her hands three times to get our attention. "Sit down on the inner tube with your feet in the center so you're all facing one another. Steady yourselves with your hands and bounce gently."

We positioned ourselves and began to bounce, some more enthusiastically than others.

"Goodness, Randy, not so hard," said the teacher. "We don't want anybody to fall off and get hurt."

Friday, April 12, 2019

Adrift in the Global Village by Fred Skolnik

An Algerian TV personality moves to Paris, where she lives alongside an Arab orphan, a German pimp, and an Israeli with mysterious motivations who has piqued her interest; by Fred Skolnik.

Samiyah was afraid one of the hotheads would do her in after she talked about masturbation on MBC so she didn't go back to Riyadh after they taped the show but went straight to Beirut from Amman and rented an airy apartment near the beach, but then the war came and though most of the bombing was in the south of the city she got jittery and flew to Paris. Meanwhile her Saudi husband divorced her so she couldn't go back there anyway without his consent, which was all right with her because she'd had just about enough of that godforsaken country, which was like a nightmare if you thought about it.

Samiyah liked Paris. She found a furnished one-bedroom apartment in the 19th arrondissement for 700 euro and settled in. A German pimp who brought in East European girls had the apartment above her and a little Arab boy who must have come from the projects attached himself to her from the first day, so these two became her new family. She let the boy sleep on the sofa and gave him the run of the apartment when she was out of the country. Samiyah had been born in Algeria but had made films all around the world and now she had the talk show which was being filmed in a different locality every week and transmitted by satellite from Dubai so she'd usually fly in in the morning and get the sheet with the list of topics an hour before the taping - wife beating, honor killing, masturbation, rape, or whatever else excited the minds of Arab men - and then fly out the same day.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Parma by Alan Nicholson Harold

Farmer Harold wakes up with trotters, and fears what fate has in store; by Alan Nicholson Harold.

TROTTERS! NO! No no no no no no no, aw fuck NO! No hands! Jesus Christ! What the fuck! Trotters? Tiny little trotters! Well then I'm a... oh shit that's bloody stupid! I can't be a... I'm human! Dream, obviously it's a dream, bad dream; got to be, but what if it's not? What if it's true? If that's the case what about... am I still male? Have I got... are they still there? So important. Can this be happening? No; it's, it's a dream, got to be, a bloody awful terrible realistic nightmare! It's got to be.

The two guys looked over the latest litter in the pen, 12 snuffling pink little bodies each intent on finding a teat, then perversely sliding off their prize to try and sample their sibling's teat, this causing a slowly revolving pink carousel of piglets.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Intervention by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When the old church sisters have a big argument with the newer, younger members, their husbands are forced to stage an intervention; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

"It's really most awkward," Marion Klopper complained when the group of older church sisters met for tea at the Welcome Inn. "The only time we can speak openly now that we've so many younger members is when we lot get together here or at the Astonishing Café."

"Without them, you mean," Suzie van Blerk said, adding mischievously, "so that we can moan about them."

"Well, we've got a lot to moan about," Christina du Plessis bleated. "They keep coming up with new ideas that make my life a misery. How can a woman of my age be expected to climb ladders, break her back packing and unpacking boxes and do all kinds of gymnastics to turn the crazy things they dream up into reality?"

Monday, April 1, 2019

Water and Ink Andrew Konicki

Struggling artist Jake accompanies his unconventional roommate on a roadtrip a mysterious purpose; by Andrew Konicki.

Jacob Ryan stopped at a rest stop just a few miles shy of Plighton, Maine. It was one of those places were the idea wasn't to rest so much as it was to take a leak, buy some snacks, and re-apply deodorant while standing by your car's open trunk. It was unseasonably warm for the spring here, and Jake had been driving for several hours straight, so he found himself doing all three activities with the rest of them.

Along for the ride was his roommate and part-time art critic, Clarence, who had propped an elbow on the open window of the car and was sipping a soda. Twice Jake had caught him rubbing a hand through his short blond hair and checking himself out in the wing mirror. Jake rummaged through the trunk, which was full of art supplies and clothing roughly packed into suitcases and backpacks. He procured his own drink from the cooler hiding in the depths.

He wiped some sweat from his forehead. "I tell you, Clair, if this whole deal is as god-awful as it sounds, I'm never going to forgive you."

Friday, March 29, 2019

Nobody's Bride by Anna Halabi

A baker and a jeweller in Aleppo are visited by a beautiful woman. This is one of eleven stories from Syrian Brides by Anna Halabi.

Abu Issam was smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk under the awning in front of his bakery.

"This damn rain. It's keeping the customers away," he murmured under his breath and took a long drag on his cigarette. He pleasurably exhaled the white smoke when a young woman walked past him and into his store.

He coughed awkwardly, flicked his unfinished cigarette into a puddle on the street and fondled his thick black moustache as he followed her inside.

"Ahlan wa sahlan, Madam! It's an honor to welcome you in our bakery. Welcome! Welcome!" he babbled.

The slender woman loosened the knot under her chin and peeled the wet, white scarf off of her head to reveal a long mane of black curls. The aide in the back froze next to the burning hot oven, the metal baking tray in his hand, lined with rows of pistachio fingers, hovering in midair. He stared at the beautiful customer, his lower jaw dangling loosely from its joint.