Monday, December 30, 2019

Toilet Paper is Expensive by Frank Beyer

Frank Beyer gives us a glimpse into the harsh life of seasonal labourers in southeastern Australia.

How's it going? I asked a guy sitting outside a tent reading Harry Potter. Do you know where to get work round here?

Yea, cotton chipping is the go, I work with Clive - he's got a full gang at the moment, but Bert is always looking for people. You should be able to sign up at the campground reception.

Cheers mate, I'll do that!

I went straight over to the reception signed up. I told Ross about it and he resentfully came out of his tent and went over to sign too. I had teamed up with my mate Ross in Sydney, he'd been doing some bar work there, but found nothing steady. Now we were in the middle of NSW, a one hill town, where Ross reckoned it'd be easy to find work. A pretty enough place, from the top of that one hill you could see orchards and vineyards stretching towards the horizon. Ross left looking for work to me, he stuck to reading in his tent, no Harry Potter though, more likely Che Guevara.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Annie Apple by Raima Larter

Molly moves in to a rickety old house in North Dakota, and finds a ghost trying on her clothes in the basement; by Raima Larter.

Molly first saw the ghost in the cellar, behind a shelf filled with dusty canning jars. The ghost was - or had been - a young woman. She had long glossy hair and a sprinkle of freckles over her transparent nose, and was floating in front of an old mirror. Molly could see the cellar wall through the ghost’s transparent arms, which were the only part of her body not covered by Molly’s dress, the scoop-necked gold satin.

Why was the ghost wearing Molly’s dress? And where was her camera when she needed it? The ghost grabbed hold of the skirt and turned this way, then that, in front of the dusty mirror. When she twirled, the dress billowed out like a bell.

The ghost’s reflection was visible in the mirror, which seemed surprising. Did ghosts even have mirror reflections? The ghost twirled again and, this time, caught sight of Molly. She dropped her hold on the dress and, just like that, was gone. The gown hung empty in the air for a few seconds, then slinked to the floor, pooling into a puddle of satin.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Flames of Freedom by Iftekhar Sayeed

A lyrical and transgressive story of political intrigue, love and rage, set in Bangladesh and Burma; by Iftekhar Sayeed.

PART I

CHAPTER 1
AT MONGLA

I shall always feel affection and respect for the man who wanted to destroy western civilisation. I remember clearly how we met - that was an adventure in itself. We met through Faria, and I met her at Hotel Poshur at Mongla.

I was having a melancholy meal by myself in the octagonal Royal Bengal Restaurant; melancholy because I'd just failed to get campaign money for the General's election: he'd been powerless too long, deposed several years ago by donors and students. It was a sultry evening, and the air-conditioners hummed.

When she entered, the room seemed to become warmer and more humid. She was a tall, brown-complexioned girl in a black, flowered saree. She strode, her high heels striking the floor, to a table close to mine.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Norah's Gift by James Wright

Norah is a deeply unhappy child, and her secret superpower may only make it worse; by James Wright.

"Why are you looking at the rest of the class like that, Norah? Like you mean them harm. A scowl really doesn't sit well on your pretty face." Miss Froome gave Norah and the rest of the class her best toothpaste ad smile.

"Because I want to leap into their brains," Norah replied coolly. "And make their bodies do terrible, horrific things." She followed it with her own practiced smile. Norah and Miss Froome could have passed for mother and daughter. Norah hated that.

The class murmured with uneasy laughter.

If only they knew, thought Norah, with a fizz of sadistic delight. Lucky for them, she wasn't wasting her time on a bunch of sappy fifth graders anymore. Lucinda Froome, however, with her perfect blonde hair, her perfect southern manners, and oh-so-perfect, rich boyfriend, Eddie Beaumont. Now that was a project which showed ambition.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Haunting of Piedras Blancas by DC Diamondopolous

Lovesick ghost Astrid wanders the California coast, longing and fearing to leave the Earth forever; by DC Diamondopolous.

There is no end to my love for Jemjasee. I pace the ragged cliffs, searching the sea for her ship. My longing will not cease until I am entwined in her marble wash of lavender and green arms.

It's dawn. The sunlight's red varnish stretches across the Santa Lucia Mountains. The mist from the sea floats through the Monterey Cypress. Backlit in pink stands the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

The waves caress my vestige feet. The foam licks my revenant face. The damp never seeps into my gossamer bones. My long silk robe opens, my breasts exposed to the witless wind. It hisses, jeers, but I am invincible, adrift in my chariot of grief.

The gulls perch in conference on the white rock. Beyond is the blue empty sky, the vast sea without sails, no horizon. Blue. Come, Jemjasee. Am I to roam this rugged coastline for eternity, this journey without distance? I feel doomed, my struggle invisible. You must come, Jemjasee. Save me from my weariness.

I skim the jagged bluff. The elephant seals raise their massive heads when they see me then fall back to sleep.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Pardon My Persian by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

A young American writer feels oppressed by his father's pride in their shared Persian roots; by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri.

Your father has dragged you to another Persian party, even though you know almost nothing of his culture, a culture he has attempted to impose upon you, deeming you too American because you like movies, don't adhere to his chauvinistic notions of gender roles. Because you lead a social life that is anathema to his own vision of things. At this stage, you're young, in your early twenties, and don't yet have the balls to draw lines in the sand.

The facts: You are American, by birth, by sensibility. English is your natural idiom, the language in which you create and curse out people you despise. The language in which you argue with your father, the mustache man. You're in your early twenties, and have lived in this city, attended party after party for years. Your father calls you Persian, slipping that fact surreptitiously into any conversation.

Women and men with grotesque smiles kiss and hug you, streaming in slowly, half an hour late, the pace picking up. Salaam, salaam, they proclaim. Peace. Peace. Your father shoves you into their line of fire, space invaded by labyrinths of arms. They grow in number, expanding, like a bad Sci-Fi Channel movie. Persiannado. They wear fakeness like a veil. You cannot pronounce their names. They offer a few words in English, retreat into their social orders, into the Persian language, a language replete with fake sweetness. A spoonful of too much sugar and bullshit.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Family Property by R. C. Capasso

An Ohio hermit plucks up the courage to meet her solitary neighbour, and finds out the dark reason for her solitude; by R. C. Capasso.

When I first moved to Westline Road, I didn't intend to meet neighbors. I wanted to be alone. But when I saw her and realized she was a woman or a girl, alone like me, I thought maybe we should at least be on speaking terms. Woman to woman. In case something happened. But I didn't expect or intend for anything to happen.

I saw my neighbor first from a distance. The way she dressed, that baggy coat hanging to her knees, shapeless pants, thick boots, and a tight knit cap, she could have been a short man. And I would have guessed old. She moved so sleepily, not like someone young. But with all that yard work every day it couldn't be a terribly old person, I thought. And although she was small, she couldn't be a child. The authorities would never let a child live that alone.

I tried not to think about my neighbor. I was there for solitude, after everything else that had happened. Yet my eyes kept turning toward the other yard.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Watchers from Above by James Rumpel

Chaos ensues when a moon-sized spacecraft starts orbiting Earth, even though it seems to be doing nothing but watching; by James Rumpel.

The attendance at the Saint Benedict's High School class of 2004 twenty-year reunion was minimal. The lack of alumni attending the get-together was perfectly justified seeing that the world was about to end. While most reunions featured conversations about stuffy teachers or outlandish pranks, the conversations at this one dealt with the large alien craft that had been orbiting the Earth for the last six days.

"The vessel is large enough that it has affected the tides," said Captain David Wolfe. He was seated at a table with another St. Ben's graduate, Deb Barton.

"I believe it. The thing is the size of a small moon," added Deb. "The scariest part is that it's just sitting there. It's been nearly a week and it's done nothing. At least the rioting and looting have slowed down. Things are returning to normal, at least as normal as they can be with a giant space ship looking down from above."

Friday, November 29, 2019

Hustle by Brian Moore

An up-and-coming writer happens upon her best selling idol in a restroom; by Brian Moore.

Kate's badge is lavender. Lavender means she is a conference presenter. The status of presenter comes with special privileges.

For instance. Presenters have access to the President's Lounge: plush, burgundy furniture, exquisite reprints of Degas and Monet arranged dramatically on all the walls, and a buffet of foreign cheeses and cream-filled pastries. Presenters also receive five complimentary tickets to the wine bar, six dollars a glass for attendees, and Katrina intends to redeem every single ticket before she leaves tonight. Best of all, access to any seminar, workshop or speech is free. The only exception is the evening gala with Eilleen Gatrick.

Katrina substitutes brie and eclairs for her Tupperwared breakfast of yogurt, a bruised banana and two Oreos pilfered from her son's lunchbox. She sinks into one of the comfy red chairs and flips through the conference program, balancing a glass of white in her left hand. She stops at Gatrick's page.

Monday, November 25, 2019

All Fish are the Same by Peter Ninnes

Two Australian anglers win a fishing trip to New Zealand, but it's not the kind of fishing they're used to; by Peter Ninnes.

"You little beauty!" Leo's hairy arm waved his phone in my face as I opened the front door, rubbing my eyes. "I tried to call before I came, but you didn't answer."

"What day is it?" I asked, tightening my Batman dressing gown against the fresh breeze slipping through the door.

"Saturday, mate. Check out this message!"

I pushed his phone further away, so I could focus on the text.

My eyes refused to obey. "What's it say?"

"It's about the Christmas raffle!"

Leo and I were both members of the local deep-sea fishing club. We fished together every Sunday. We'd each bought a book of ten tickets in the club Christmas raffle every year since 1998, without a shred of luck. It was enough to make me doubt the existence of the white-bearded man in the red suit.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Shiny Side by M. C. Tuggle

Trucker Travis enlists a friend's help to carry a particularly unusual load; by M. C. Tuggle.

"All right, Wanda June, brace yourself."

I gave Travis a look, and he gave me a grin right back. He slid the hatch, turned the handle, and pulled the creaky metal door open.

"Damn." I scratched my chin and just stared.

The setting Texas sun reached deep into the trailer of Travis' articulated truck, illuminating strange, otherworldly stuff you'd expect to see in an Indiana Jones movie. Among dozens of odd-sized wooden crates stood golden columns topped by silver crescents, altars of blue stone with metal inlays, and big-mouthed brass urns.

"Whatcha think, Wanda?"

"What is this?"

"The owner says it's for his temple."

"Temple?"

"That's what he said. Name's Vakil. Calls himself a magus."

"What's that?"

"I didn't wanna ask. You shoulda seen him. Skinny, bug-eyed, all dressed up in black."

Monday, November 18, 2019

On the Edge by Clifford Hui

Clifford Hui tells a story about the importance of friends and family in hard times, featuring avian biologist Raul Vega.

Raul Vega pulled their hotel room door closed. He and Josh Leitner turned to walk toward their rental car when Josh said, "Isn't that our phone?" They paused and listened.

"Nah," Raul said. "It's the room next door."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I'm sure."

They walked to their car, drove to Saldanha Bay, and crossed the causeway to Marcus Island, home to a colony of Jackass penguins. With the braying of the penguins in the background, they parked their car and walked toward their workspace in the low tin-roof building. Their waffle-soled boots crunched on the rocky pathway. Josh was taller, with sandy hair curling over his ears and down his neck while Raul's wiry form was topped with fine dark hair in waves so tight it appeared almost kinky and cut so short it almost looked painted on.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Nor Gloom of Night Tom Sheehan

Blind, one-legged veteran Jack Carrick relies on audiobooks, and the man who delivers them, to keep him company; by Tom Sheehan.

Upstairs in the front bedroom, blind amid the toss of linens he had known intimately for seven long years, in touch with passing traffic and summer conversations when the windows were open, Jack Carrick lay in the middle of sound, in the middle of darkness. His left leg, set upon by diabetes and the surgeon, was elsewhere; his right hand was stained by nicotine, the index finger and close companion yellowed as shoe leather, and those fingernails bore fragments of that same deep stain. Gray, thin hair, most of it about his ears, drooped like fallen stalk, except for one thatch above his forehead as if an odd bird, at length, would roost there. The stubble of his beard sprouted as off-white as an old field of corn waiting the last reaper. Once, Jack Carrick's eyes were as blue as eggs dipped at Easter. Once, they were deadly remarkable over the sights of a Springfield Ought-Three.

Darkness, most of us know, normally has its antecedents... the last of sunlight long over the horizon cutting the world in half, and the day, like a lamp being switched off or a fire snuffed to gray smoke and ashen smell, time eventually giving itself up to a new caretaker. Blindness, though, as with bed-ridden Jack Carrick, is prefaced at times not out of color, or the memory of it, but erupts ringing out of a collection of sounds.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Infinity, in Four Acts by James Rumpel

James Rumpel gets meta.

Smith

In Captain Smith's version of reality, he was eternally seated at the wheel of an assault vehicle. Today was no different. Glancing over his shoulder he spied Private Kohler waited patiently in the back of the vehicle. To Smith's relief, the reckless young soldier had nestled into the safety harness. Kohler's survival of the imminent collision was of primary importance to the plan. As the captain waited for the enemy to emerge over the nearby knoll, he once again checked the surroundings.

The assault vehicle was snuggled between a large speckled boulder and an enormous concrete wall. None of the soldiers stationed on this planet knew the origin of the ominous structure. Smith did not know if the barrier had been constructed to keep something in or something out. What he did know was that it was too tall to scale. As far as its length, Smith could not even begin to estimate. Troops had investigated to the east and west and no one had ever found the beginning or end of the expansive structure. As far as Smith could tell, it went on forever. Mystery aside, their assignment was to protect this structure and he was not going to fail on that mission. Smith was, by design, the ultimate soldier.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Arms and Legs by O. D. Hegre

One heart, two patients - can there be justice when politics gets in the way of medical ethics? By O. D. Hegre.

The conscious mind provides excuses for our misdeeds, allowing us to suppress the guilt with rationalizations. But one cannot escape the unconscious where all is laid bare. And while society may not punish you, and God may not exist, be assured - in your dreams you will find the punishment you deserve.

Madame Romani



Friday
3:45 pm
Chapel at the Underwood Heart and Vascular Institute.
Richmond, Virginia


Raymond Kirkland, MD stood outside the door of the Chapel. He'd lost a patient overnight, and that was always a sobering event for any physician. But this death was jarring and totally unnecessary by Kirkland's assessment. The donor heart that should have been sustaining the life of his young patient - that, by all ethical standards and clinical criteria, was hers - now beat in the chest of another, a new patient of the Cardiologist, recovering four floors above in the ICU.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Boys by Gary Ives

Two smart, caring kids with very different backgrounds become such firm friends that surely nothing could keep them apart; by Gary Ives.

Noah entered the art room having to pee really bad. Before taking his seat he asked Miss Wilson for permission to go to the bathroom. "You've had plenty of time to take care of that between classes, so please just sit down." He had tried to go after Geography but Mr. Rolf, the janitor, was mopping the boys' bathroom. Thursday was art class day for the seventh graders during the last period. Miss Wilson told each table to create a "Florida, The Sunshine State" poster. These would be displayed at the assembly on Friday. He shared his table with Fredrico, a Mexican boy he barely knew. They were cleaning up before the bell when Noah lost it. Though he tried to stop, a little pee came out and then a lot. The khaki school uniform pants were soon darkened, and a small puddle lay at the foot of the stool.

"What's the matter," Fredrico asked.

"I had an accident; I peed myself. Everyone is gonna laugh at me. Look there's pee on the floor."

"Jus' stay there, don' say nothing." Fredrico took a roll of paper towels from the cleanup shelf and sopped up the pee. "Don' feel bad, such things happen. No?"

Friday, November 1, 2019

Dark Vader Isn't Real by James Rogers

Andrew is the only one left to care for his mischievous vanishing son; by James Rogers.

"Dark Vader isn't real," Colin told his father as they stepped into the elevator.

"That's right," Andrew replied, raising his eyebrows to the woman in scrubs who was already aboard. She smiled.

"What's this guy about?" Colin asked, throwing his tiny little five-year-old thumb at the woman.

"Colin, have manners," Andrew said. "I'm sorry, he hasn't quite figured out 'he' and 'she' yet."

"Oh that's ok. He's so cute." Colin turned to face her. "Oh dear, he has a little bruise." She frowned at the purple-yellow smudge on the boy's cheek, just below his right eye.

"Yeah it's... You know the way these things happen," Andrew said.

"And his spaceship isn't real. And his light saver isn't real."

"That's right, Colin. You've said that several times today."

"My friend thinks he's real. She thinks he's out in space but he's not. Dark Vader is fiction."

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Stroke of Blood by Mark O'Connor

Faithful Muslim wife Amal discovers a talent for painting, but is it enough to escape her grim existence? By Mark O'Connor.

Blood. I knew the perfect combination of colours to paint realistic blood. It was a strange thought to have but, like most thoughts, it arose without invitation. Vermillion, an obvious base, but it is the spicule of ultramarine blue and the dab of burnt umber that holds the key. Zinc white could be handy. Arterial blood is brighter you see. Thoughts can go too far sometimes, but it pleased me that I knew these things. I was improving. Ismael agreed. I was happy, thrilled, for the first time in my life and one day I would paint a masterpiece, sign it, and it would hang in a great Mathaf or a Grand Mosque. People who didn't know me would look at it and discuss me, Amal Haddad, the great painter. I am not a proud person, and I know it is wrong to think like this, but I am becoming good, the best in my class. Ismael has not told me this directly, not yet, but I feel he sensed it. I imagine Ismael, working on his canvas, between classes. It is an image that keeps coming to me. Uninvited. I can't resist it. I think these days in colours, in brush strokes, in subtleties of shading and tone. I calculate proportion and form of the objects around me, their pastel hues and chalky outlines. It calms me. My husband, Feras, I think is happier, although no children have come. I tell him to be patient, I have seen them, and Allah will bring me the clay and colours to shape them. Under my abaya, the purple blotches fade unseen. I can paint blood. Real blood. Uninvited.



Judging by the excessive sway of her hips, and the casualness of her amble, Souad had noticed one of the male students, Khalid, setting up an easel near mine.

'You know you have paint over the hem of your abaya, Souad?'

'Of course, Amal.' She picked up a brush from my easel and scooping up a blob of vermilion red from the palette, flicked it at me, 'And now so do you.'

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Divine Spark by A. Elizabeth Herting

Gentle giant Zain P Alexander lives for the past in his quiet little antique store, until the past begins to haunt him; by A Elizabeth Herting.

It was the eyes that clinched it. He was totally in love.

Perfectly rounded lids with just a slight flare at the corners, a thick layer of wispy dark lashes on both top and bottom decorating them in a most alluring fashion. Each lash was charmingly turned up at the edges in an effect that Millennials and Instagram stars only achieved with falsies and copious amounts of caked-on mascara. Zain couldn't say that her eyes were exactly symmetrical. The right one drooped ever so slightly below the left, giving her a bemused expression. Captivating, but certainly not beautiful in any modern sense of the word. In a selfie-obsessed culture, she'd be mocked for her shortcomings, but Zain knew better. He, of all people, understood there was a divine spark in imperfection. He'd been living it his entire life.

Of course, that singular imperfection might have been the angle of the shot or a careless turn of the head. There were no "do-overs" back in the day, it was all serious faces and drawn out poses. What one couldn't escape was the deep, all-encompassing color of her eyes. Even captured in soft sepia tones, Zain could see they were of the purest, richest brown, with a generous touch of amber around the edges. Liquid gold.

Intelligent. Playful. Wise. Loving. Sad.

That last thought broke him from his reverie as the store bell chimed. Zain jumped up in alarm, grabbing the feather duster in an attempt to appear busy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

To and Fro By James Rumpel

James Rumpel's character tries to live his best life while jumping involuntarily backwards and forwards through time.

The heart rate monitor droned on. The rhythmic beeping created an odd combination of annoyance and comfort. It may have been irritating and monotonous but constant noise reassured me that I was still alive. Every inch of my body was in pain. It took all of my internal strength to find the will to turn my head a tiny amount and gaze on the group of people standing by the door of my hospital room. There I saw another of the infinite supply of nameless doctors conferring with Susan, my son, John, and one one of my grandchildren. I was not certain of the grandchild's name, not because my mind was addled or my thoughts negatively affected by the pain, but because of the great number of grandchildren I had during my lives. It was difficult to keep track of all the different names my children had selected for their offspring during the different iterations of my existence.

Susan, lovely Susan, was clearly being given the obvious bad news. Her face, still attractive even as she approached the age of seventy, expressed her sadness. I wished I could tell her that there was still hope. I could still be granted a reprieve and we could be young and together again. I could not relay that information to her, however. My body would not let me speak. The cancer was that close to victory. Even if I could have told her, she would not have believed me. My story was too incredible.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Offspring by Tim Frank

In a neighbourhood so neglected that trash has piled up to the top-floor windows, Allison is sent out by her parents to scavenge for food; by Tim Frank.

Allison felt eyes on her, peering through her window as she was jotting down the finishing touches to the latest secret language she'd invented. She turned and looked over her shoulder. Outside were mounds of rubbish that had built up from years of strikes due to a breakdown in the running of the local district. As she looked at the rubbish pressing against her window, she thought she saw a face. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a pair of eyeballs seemingly made of shards of glass, and behind the broken fragments were irises like two bloodied pools of egg yolk. Beneath was a jaw made of chicken bones and wire mesh, drool dripping from its lips made from thick veins. Then the face disappeared into the black sea of junk.

Allison's parents knocked on her open door and she raced over to them and ensconced them in a desperate hug.

'What's wrong darling?' said her mum.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Elegy for Kurt by Eliza Mimski

Rebecca Jean is grief-stricken by the death of her hero Kurt Cobain; by Eliza Mimski.

He stuck the gun inside of his mouth. A single blast with a shotgun, the MTV news reporter said.

"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club," Cobain's mother was quoted as saying. The Morrison/Joplin/Hendrix club.

Man, that was cold, Lah thought to herself. Really hardcore. His mother must be some kind of a trip. Lah could relate, as her mother was a trip too. If Lah were to kill herself, her mother would say something choice like that, something of that order. Something stupid that totally lacked soul.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Door by Tara Wine-Queen

A rehabilitated  drug addict undertakes a spiritual quest to heal her terminally ill daughter; by Tara Wine-Queen.

It would be different this time. She would get the man in the boat to open his hands so she could read the words burned into them before they reached the waterfall, before she woke up.

She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep in the cramped hospital bed, willed herself to the wild and verdant landscape of the dream she had been chasing all summer. She knew where it would begin: deep within the forest, the sounds and smells of the earth and its creatures filling her senses, the air so heavy and wet it was almost intoxicating in its oppression. Sometimes it varied in small ways, a different grove of trees or an unexpected companion. But always she would hike through the forest, following the footpath of former fellow seekers, and make her way to the boat where the man would be waiting, and always they would go together down the river.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Mosaic By Steve Haywood

Derek's granddaughter is digging for shards of pottery in the garden while he reflects on his life and career in Steve Haywood's sweetly sentimental story.

It was a hot day for April. Derek peeled off first his jacket and then his sweater as he toiled in the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun. The spade dug deep, sliding through the soft clay soil like a knife through butter. He lifted a wedge of soil out of the ground and upturned it next to the newly made hole. The soil was dark, almost black, except for a small creamy white shard sticking up like a crescent moon shining against a midnight sky.

"Grandpa, we found another one!" He smiled at Amelia as she dived in to retrieve the newly found treasure, curly golden locks bouncing off her slim shoulders.

"So we did! Does it have any patterns on it?"

Amelia wiped the mud off on her sleeve before shaking her head sadly. "Just another plain one."

"Never mind, there'll be plenty more where that came from. Help me plant the potatoes and then we can do some more digging."

Friday, October 4, 2019

Her Sister's Keeper By Wes Blalock

When a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome goes missing in 3000 square miles of national forest, Rangers Birdie McLaren and Katie Reynolds pull out all the stops to find her; by Wes Blalock.

11:33 AM

Ranger Birdie McLaren heard voices rise up from the Jacobson Campgrounds six miles from where she stood on the McClure Trail. The trail ran the edge of a hillside, a grassy slope to her left and the sequoias and madrones in the treeline to her right. The campers called out "Dor-o-thy," in a sing-songy plea for a response from a lost child. Birdie sighed, concern turning her lips into a small frown as she thought just how lost a child could get in 3000 square miles of national park. Scared, alone, and wondering when her parents were going to come to her rescue; the Sierra Nevada mountains unforgiving of age or innocence.

Oh, Dorothy, she thought, where are you?

The radio on her hip blared for all units to listen to an emergency broadcast. Turning up the volume, Birdie heard that Dorothy, a fourteen-year-old with Down Syndrome, wearing a Girl Scout uniform and a polka dot backpack, was last seen at the Jacobson Campground around ten in the morning. Birdie notified the dispatcher that she was nearby and another ranger, Aiden Walsh, asked her to meet him at the Brooks Fire Road. Birdie quickened her pace down the trail; few things were as sad as a fruitless search for a child. Except for a successful search that ended too late. Minutes meant everything.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Blue Lady Jenean McBrearty

In the chaos of World War II, Gabby and Francois are each trying to hold on to the person they love; by Jenean McBrearty.

We were on our way to see Agnes' new baby. I said, "Let's walk down the alley, Ciebel," but he said no. He wanted to walk by the water and see the sailing ship that had tied up at the pier. "Okay, I'll meet you at Agnes'."

He gently grabbed my wrist. "No, Gabby. Come with me. You want to see a baby; I want to see a Blue Lady. If you want me to see a baby with you, why would I not want you to see a tall ship with me? Babies are born here every day, but the ship may never come again."

I did want him to see the baby. I wanted him to think how wonderful it would be for us to marry and have one of our own. Did he want me to see the ship because he wanted me to think of us sailing around the world? To see Athens, perhaps? Or Alexandria? "We'll walk the alley there and by the pier on the way home. How's that?"

Friday, September 27, 2019

Kansas City Ganges by Henri Colt

Henri Colt's character has run an outdoor gear shop in Boulder Colorado for a year, when his benefactor dies in a climbing accident.

Loren died last week. He was hiking to the summit of Pyramid Peak, a fourteen-thousand-foot climb in the Elk Mountains about 12 miles west of Aspen, Colorado. According to friends, a rock gave way under his feet, and he plummeted down a vertical slope into an inaccessible gully. When I heard the news, I closed the shop and contacted my colleagues at Search and Rescue. A helicopter had spotted his mangled body at the bottom of a cliff, but there was nothing they could do to save him. I loaded my gear and left Boulder immediately.

It's been a year to the day since Loren invited me to dinner in Kansas City. Remembering the evening better than a sports commentator remembers the blow-by-blow of a heavyweight prizefight, I ran our conversation through my head as I drove past fields carpeted with wildflowers on my way to Pitkin County.

He'd taken a phone call from his doctor.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Abraxas by Joseph Cusumano

In the run-up to World War II, Vatican priest Primo Ferrara is assigned to conduct exorcisms at the local mental asylum - but what price is he willing to pay to succeed? By Joseph Cusumano.

September 1939

Ten years as a Jesuit priest, the last seven assigned to the Vatican library, Primo Ferrara spent his days cataloging new acquisitions and making sure that all of the library's holdings were accounted for and intact. Of secondary importance in Primo's mind was his responsibility to verify the credentials of scholars requesting access to the library's massive archives. The oldest holdings dated back to the eighth century, and some of the more recent ones included a request from King Henry VIII for a marriage annulment, a transcript of Galileo's trial for heresy, and a letter from Michelangelo regarding overdue payment for his work in the Sistine Chapel. Somewhat of an introvert, Primo found himself better suited to library work than fulfilling the obligations of a parish priest as he had done for the first three years following his ordination.

Although immersed in one of the largest repositories of ancient works and records, Primo avidly kept up with current events, especially the confrontation between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini. New rumors about the Pontiff's ongoing power struggle with Il Duce circulated every week within the Vatican hierarchy, but Primo was not one for rumors. Instead, he relied mainly on articles in L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, although he occasionally ventured out to read Il Popolo d'Italia which was published by the Italian Fascist Party. Primo had no trouble finding the "fascist rag," as he called it, at a newsstand near his favorite trattoria on the Via Veneto, but he always discarded the paper well before returning to the Vatican.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Notebook By Randy Attwood

When Jeremy Broad's friend Don Bowerman kills himself, he travels to Don's old house looking for a notebook that might hold the secret to his friend's demise, in this very twisty tale by Randy Attwood.


(Jeremy)

I had two phone calls from Don before he killed himself. Each call should have tipped me off. Maybe not the first one, but certainly the second. I couldn't have gone to him anyway; he lived in another state far away. Still, I could have done something, called somebody. I wonder if Don knew at the time of the first call - the first contact I had had with him in three years - that he was going to commit suicide. When do suicides know for sure: just before they pull the trigger?

He had called that first time to say hello, but instead of wanting to hear an update on my life, he had launched into a rambling account of his own. Then he told me:

"You know, the other day I suddenly remembered I left a notebook in the attic of that house where I had my college apartment."

"What's in it?" I had asked him. The mention of his college apartment had brought back memories of heaps of books, his cluttered desk, stacks of papers. A mess, but ordered, it seemed, to make an impression of disorderliness.

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.