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.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Stars That Were Her Eyes by Dave Henson

Dave Henson tells the story of a loving couple, each with very unusual psychological conditions.

The landscape painting is square. The lamp shade is a cylinder. The clock is round. The nurse brings in a rectangle with my wife's supper. Dorothy says she isn't Hungary. They can drip away her pain, but not her fear, and there's nothing I can do about it.



My wife and I met more than 30 years ago. My Geometry Syndrome tended to flare with my emotions, and Dorothy - so pretty and smart - made me more than a little nervous on our first date. As she put on her coat, I looked around her entry, saw a carpet runner and said I'd made reservations at Long Rectangle's Fish House. When she gave me a look, I realized my mistake and told her I meant Landon's Fish House. Dorothy only smiled. Quiet girl. I felt stupid and, when I grinned back, her face blurred, and I saw her head as an oval. I knew I had to get control of myself, or the evening was going to be a disaster.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Nests of Birds of Paradise by Bailey Bridgewater

Lynn works for an answering service and starts getting regular calls from a vulnerable psychiatric patient, in Bailey Bridgewater's moving story.

"Watkins and Kinny Psychological Services. How can I help you?"

There was flat silence on the other end before a wavering man's voice cut it. "Is this the answering service?"

"Yes it is." The handbook clearly stated that we should never tell people we were a call center representative unless they asked directly - then we couldn't lie.

"Thank you for telling the truth." Another silence.

"Can I help you with something?"

A muffled thumping like he was playing with the receiver of an old wall-mounted telephone. I pictured this person wrapping the curly cord around his fingers as he hesitated.

"I don't know. Maybe. No. I don't... There's another girl that used to talk to me sometimes. Her name was Sharon. Does she still work there?"

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Widow's Club by John Conaway

A mischievous group of ageing widows hire a male stripper for entertainment, but they don't get what they expect; by John Conaway.

Fran gets the chocolate chip cookies started while they wait for the naked house cleaning guy to arrive. She'd found out about the service through one of her friends and talked the girls into giving it a shot. The cost, based on the number of attendees, is $350.00. The woman who answered the phone tells Fran that the house cleaning will take about half an hour and that their cleaning guy's name is Steve.

The girls get together about once a week. They talk. Sometimes they watch movies. They smoke pot, get the munchies, and bake cookies. Lately they've been watching porno on Fran's laptop, something new to all of them except Fran. They always express amazement at the endurance of the actors - if that's what you call them.

They call it the Widow's Club although they're not all, strictly speaking, widows. Sandy was a widow but remarried. Fran's husband, from whom she's presently separated, was on the plane that crashed into the Hudson so she was almost a widow. She's always telling people, "If it wasn't for that fucking Sully Sullenberger I'd be lounging on the deck of my Palm Beach condo right now." They assume she's joking. Joan's ex died after they were divorced. Only Deidre and Deb are actual widows.

The girls agree to divide the fee evenly, $70 each. "What about a tip?" Joan asks.

Friday, March 15, 2019

When Coal Was King by Gareth Clarke

Gareth Clarke's character tells of his childhood in a not-quite-traditional Welsh mining town.

I was born in the mining village of Cwmstgwynfryn. My dad lives there still, and in the same house too - in his nineties now, and still cooking for himself. I make the journey back three or four times a year, or whenever I can. One of the few original terraces left (they've pulled most of them down and built a rash of one and two bed bungalows) though you'd hardly recognise it for the smoke-grimed terrace it was when we lived there in the late Fifties and through the Sixties. Now it's all bright colours, open-plan living, teak veneer and Audis parked outside.

The pit's long gone, of course, with little sign of it now but the concrete cap over the pit shaft. The slag heap's all grassed over, and there are woods on its slopes, mixed pine and deciduous. Different as you could possibly imagine from when I lived there with my mam and dad. The kiddies from the local school are taken for walks along the nature trails through the woods where we used to scrabble for fragments of coal for the fire.

I was an only child, unusual for those times. Now, whether that's because after having me my mother turned against all that sort of thing in an outpouring of Presbyterian virtue - striding along to the chapel as she would, massive legs placed firmly apart in her Sunday best breeches and donkey jacket, breathing in the spirit of the Lord along with the smoke-laden air - or whether she'd imposed a strict no-go policy on my father for reasons of her own, and which he would have had no choice but to respect, I don't know. Doesn't bear thinking about, to be honest. Still, there it is - at the end of the day I remained an only child.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Electricity by David Rogers

A man whose life is plagued by visions is confronted by one realer and yet more fantastic than he could have imagined; by David Rogers.

The whole sky flashed, a searing electric blaze, fading to the blue-brown of the horizon. Lightning here did funny things to a man's vision. The clouds were patchy, silver gray, like the plains of an airless moon.

Masters checked the zippers on his wetsuit, snugged the goggles down over his eyes, and waded into the surf. The water was cold. He'd have to make the repair fast and get out.

This was his first real job since the last episode. He'd been turned down by half a dozen companies before he decided in desperation to change his name and doctor his resume. Not that he felt bad about the deception. At least, not most of the time. After all, didn't people usually do the opposite of what he did - claim skills and experience they didn't have, in order to get jobs they were not qualified for? But he'd been told he was overqualified enough times to know it was code for "untrustworthy." So he did what he had to, in order to survive. It was evolution at work. Natural selection. Not that it had been easy, even so. The first three employers he applied to checked his references and invited him to go away, without bothering to be polite. Not that he blamed them. That was how things worked.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Best Revenge by Patrick Ritter

Mike fears his mother has been conned and wants revenge, but is it too late? By Patrick Ritter.

It came back right after dessert.

"Happy birthday, Mom," Mike said, unwrapping a small birthday cake. "I couldn't fit eighty candles on it, but I know you don't like too much fuss."

"It's perfect," she replied. "What a nice surprise, Michael. And I have a surprise for you too."

"Oh yeah," he said, cutting each of them a piece of cake. "What's that?"

"I know you've wanted me to sell the farm property in Merced and move into that senior home. Well, I'm finally going to do it."

"That's great Mom, you really deserve it. The money from the sale will make your life so much more comfortable. When are you going to list it?"

"Oh, I already have someone who's going to buy it," she said chomping into the cake.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Soldiers' Children by Harrison Abbott

Harrison Abbott tells the chilling tale of a wartime raid.

The villagers had been receiving panicky messages from relatives and friends throughout the night. The invading soldiers were heading north, and the village was directly in their path: they needed to escape before the soldiers reached them. There was no resistance to the invasion anymore; the capital in the south had fallen, and the soldiers were flooding across the nation. Doing what, the villagers couldn't know. In the northern mountains, few people even understood why the invasion was happening.

Only one man made it out of the village before the platoon arrived. The rest of the families were thrusting survival goods into their cars, when the platoon's jeeps appeared on the long road from the hills, just as daylight had emerged. The jeeps did not snarl or send black fumes against the snowfields. They only petered down to the village at a calm pace. Ten vehicles, clad in military gear. And all the villagers could do was stand and watch and imagine what was going to happen.

When the jeeps arrived, the soldiers alighted with controlled expressions. The morning temperature now seemed warm, the snow light, the flakes dallying about their uniforms. Slowly they approached the locals, who were terrified of their machine guns, but even more by their serenity. All the soldiers did was ask that every adult villager gather in the main street, so they could be spoken to.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Follow That Car by James Paul Close

James Paul Close foresees a fundamental problem with self-driving taxis.

I could hardly say, "Follow that car," so what else was I going to do?

I simply said "Amsterdam Avenue," because I knew it was the same direction the car in front was heading. It was late, I had just left the nightclub, and I was feeling quite tipsy. Needless to say, things didn't go to plan. The autotaxi replied with its off-the-peg voicefile, sounding all cheap and synthetic. "Amsterdam Avenue is only zero point two miles away from your current location. Travelling short distances will incur the minimum fee of twenty dollars. Do you wish to proceed?"

"Yes, dammit, go!" I barked.

I had to catch that car in front. It was getting away, the rear lights of the silver Mercedes blurring into the rain-soaked night. It was a classic model - manually driven - and I could just about make out all five silhouettes; especially his large frame filling the driver's seat. That was definitely them.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Prayer for a Punch Line by Michael Guillebeau

A priest hears a confession that creates a difficult moral quandary which makes him question his own career choices; by Michael Guillebeau.

"Forgive me, Father Carson. I've killed a girl."

I started to laugh through the confessional partition. Freddie liked to joke, or at least try. But even a priest who liked jokes in the pulpit couldn't allow jokes in the confessional - and there were enough people who thought I didn't take my calling seriously enough as it was.

"Freddie - my son - this is not a place for jokes. Begin by saying something like, 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.'"

Freddie was crying softly. It was the first time I had heard a man crying in confession. Of course, it was only my second year hearing confessions.

"My son," I said. "We both know you're sometimes confused. Perhaps you're mistaken."

"The news man says she's dead. They haven't found her body, but they said she's pressured dead."

"Presumed dead. OK. Perhaps we do need to talk about this."

Friday, February 22, 2019

Books to Read, Stories to Write by Mark Joseph Kevlock

Mark Joseph Kevlock's character wants more time in the day, so he duplicates himself, with unintended consequences.

It was a pretty simple decision. There just wasn't enough of me to go around. So I had to make a duplicate. After all, I couldn't afford to fall behind in my schedule. There were books to read, stories to write.

Allyce wasn't as thrilled as I'd hoped she would be with my decision.

"I don't need another you," she said. "He'll just get in the way. I don't know why you think you need another you."

"Remember how we talked about if the days were twelve hours longer, how much more I'd get done?" I said. "Well, I can't figure out how to do that, so this is the next best thing."

We were out by the wishing tree, Allyce and I. Someone had cut off all of its branches. But it could still be used as a transmitter to the stars.

"I'm wishing that I'll wake up beside myself," I said.

"I guess that's better than beside someone else," Allyce murmured.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Crow Barn by DC Diamondopolous

Calypso and Phoebe follow a dream-vision through a post-apocalyptic wasteland to try and find their sister Alawisha; by DC Diamondopolous.

The rope pulled at Calypso's waist. She staggered then stumbled as she clawed her way up the hill with Phoebe tied below. They had been searching for Alawisha, their younger sister, since her disappearance the day before. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue were ignored as panic pushed them to the edge of collapse. When sleep grabbed her, Calypso dreamt of Crow Barn.

Sweat burned her eyes. She carried a knife swathed in rags and kept it tucked into her belt. A cloth bag was strapped across her shoulder. Her feet wrapped in bark and tied with hemp made the ascent slippery. She plodded on looking at burnt hills and toppled chimneystacks, tombstone markers for homes, homes her grandmother had told her once nestled in green hills covered with orange poppies and goldenrod. Calypso had been enchanted by tales of California's central coast. Once there were streams of fresh water, an ocean to swim and surf in, vineyards, cows that grazed along miles of farmlands and Monterey Pines silhouetted against a blue horizon. There had been a highway that connected villages with towns and towns with cities.

It was dangerous to let her thoughts drift when they were being hunted. Since Alawisha disappeared, Calypso leashed herself to Phoebe.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Once a Dreamer by Terry D. Williams

A weary newspaper reporter meets an old flame who claims to have a story for him; by Terry D. Williams.

On Monday evening, June thirtieth, there was an accident on I-95 and I arrived a few minutes late for my first reporting assignment at Warren Town Hall in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I parked my Subaru alongside a new 2003 Range Rover and toe-walked (due to having one leg shorter than the other) toward an empty chair in the front of the meeting room. A handful of well-tanned and perfume-scented townspeople pattered at their seats. At the head table roosted the town clerk, Deputy Mayor DeVito, and several councillors. Behind the mayor's nameplate sat an empty chair.

As if he had waited for me to arrive, the deputy mayor said, "The meeting of the Town Council of Warren is called to order," as I settled into a seat in the front row. Compared with the outcries about drug addiction and crime that took place in towns adjacent to Bridgeport and Hartford, I expected to hear citizens of Warren discuss dreary things such as the fire department's pasta dinner or the concessions for the fall Farmers' Market. And it pretty much went that way. That is, until an attractive woman, wearing a silk blouse and plum skirt stood at the lectern and addressed the council.

I recognized Becky Schneider. Her slender body suggested she'd taken good care of herself since we were together, some thirty years earlier. A surge of nerves coursed through me. Not only had I never stopped loving her but seeing her triggered soul-shredding regret about the shameful path my life had taken since she broke up with me.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Consider Me Dead by Clive Aaron Gill

An art lecturer at the University of California shelters a homeless man in the hope of reigniting his own artistic flair; by Clive Aaron Gill.

Andrew Miller drove to 16th Street in downtown San Diego on a Monday afternoon to buy paint and paper supplies. He parked and walked toward his favorite art store, his back stooped, his head of untidy hair like a shrub. He crinkled his nose as he smelled the garbage and exhaust fumes.

Winos clung to the shadows, and arrogant young men sat in large cars, seemingly prepared to deal drugs.

Andrew's eyes traveled to a man wearing dirty jeans and a torn denim shirt who appeared to be in his early forties. The man stood on the sidewalk in front of watercolor paintings and charcoal drawings propped against a low wall. One drawing showed a woman with sunken cheeks.

"Good God," Andrew mumbled, looking at the picture of the woman.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Orville's Crop by O. D. Hegre

O. D. Hegre channels Stephen King in this creepy tale of Professor Orville Berkinbeck's experiments to make a stronger kind of corn. Dedicated by the author to the memory of Lee.

"Can the human race survive every seemingly good idea man has ever had?"
- Madame Romani




DECEPTION

"Enjoy the weekend, Professor." Ben Jackson closed the door of the incubator and engaged the time lock. "Going out to the farm, I bet."

Dr. Orville Berkinbeck looked up from his desk and nodded. "You get going now too, Benjamin. I'll close down everything before I leave."

The Professor watched the grad student gather his gear and exit the laboratory.

Berkinbeck not only had the hobby farm - and the barn - but he also had a M.A. in Agricultural Science from Cal State, and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Harvard. He and his lovely wife, May, lived in Ames but spent most weekends in Millsberg, out on their four hundred acres of rich fertile soil.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Rain Falls Like Rain by Richard Risemberg

Richard Risemberg's reflective vignette about a lonely but content old man.

The rain was steady now. There had been an hour of fury around four in the morning, a downpour and a few grunts of thunder, and it had awakened the old man. The gentle rain that followed had lulled him back to sleep. He had always loved the sound of rain in the downspouts, loved it since childhood. Two and a half hours later he awoke again, went to the bathroom, dressed, and made a pot of tea. Now he was sitting in the unheated front room, cozy in a sweater, cuddling the cup of tea to his chest, and watching the rain. It fell steadily onto the asphalt street in front of his apartment, made little vanishing circles in the puddles. A few drops clung to the glass of the lattice window. One of his neighbors, a younger woman whose name he didn't know, walked by under a red umbrella. She wore a puffy down parka and black tights. Her face was serene, neutral as she walked past his window. The odor of the tea rose to his face, warming him. The rain fell steadily. He was close enough to the glass that he could see the world inverted in the clinging raindrops, looking brighter than the real world.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Interrogation Consistency by Lori Lipsky

Kara escapes heartbreak by travelling to Nepal; by Lori Lipsky.

When friends and family asked why she would quit her job in the States to move across the world where she didn't know a soul, she told everyone it was for the adventure. In part, she spoke truth. Kara did love adventure, but the real reason she quit her job - a successful position for a growing computer software company - was to flee the pain of a broken relationship. Her boyfriend of three years ended things between them, and she'd been devastated.

Kara couldn't face the questions of well-meaning friends and acquaintances. How could she grieve the loss of the man she loved when someone mentioned his name to her every day? She gave notice at the job she loved and travelled alone from her home in the Midwest to the Asian country of Nepal.

After landing at the airport in Kathmandu, Kara rode in a tiny cab to her designated training location. Because of her height she found it necessary to hunch over in the back seat the entire ride. She held her hands over her head to shield it, hoping to avoid a concussion as she and the driver travelled the bumpy roads. As she crouched in the rear of the tiny cab, she recalled a conversation with her mother only three weeks before.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Wreck by Subodhana Wijeyeratne

In this heady sci-fi, something extremely strange has happened to the inhabitants of Hozido, and Subodhana Wijeyeratne's character must visit planet Wreck to find out what.

The settlement of Hozido is six kilometres inside the Wreck. They trade ingots of Wreckmetal and cryptic old tech and sometimes, if they have a good year, the dried meat of their cross-eyed airlock goats. It is a thriving and noisy place and so when all goes silent the scavengers nearby notice. When they break through the airlock and into Hozido, twelve days after they last heard from it, this is what they find.

Empty corridors and clacking air conditioners and vending machines that stutter to neon life when someone approaches. No sign of violence. The scavengers - impoverished drifters all - are armed and tense. They keep going until they've combed every inch of the place and mulled things over and finally concluded, with much head-scratching and whispering of prayers, that everyone in the settlement has just disappeared.

Most of them leave at this point, scampering back through the lattice shadows, flinching at every drone that comes gormlessly out of doorways like a puppy, lights winking and eager to help. But about twenty of them linger, and eventually they get to talking about ransacking the place. In the freezer at the back are great haunches of meat suspended from hooks, rose-fleshed and crimson and perfect for the eating.

Friday, January 25, 2019

An Outdoor Dog By R.W. Dufresne

Near the end of World War II, R. W. Dufresne's character wants a dog of his own, but will his overbearing father let him?

Butch was a comical little puppy with short brown hair, a long tail that rolled up over his back like a big question mark, or maybe a hook to hang him in the barn with. He had a white patch over one eye and the tip of his tail was white, too, like he'd dipped it in a can of paint. The eye under the patch was blue, but the other eye was brown. His head was round, but flat in front like his father's, with pointy ears that stuck straight up, like his mother's.

It was 1944 and my father told me, "There's a war on." I wasn't sure what that meant, but I'd seen the posters at the post office: "We Can Do It," and "Loose Lips Sink Ships," and "Buy Bonds." Sometimes we'd sit around the radio and listen to President Roosevelt. He talked funny and I didn't understand everything he was saying, but I liked the sound of his voice. I remember we hated the Japs.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Bureau of Transparency by Leland Neville

Leland Neville's character gets a visit from a dystopian government agency.

There was a faint knock on the front door. My hands shook in anticipation. "Go away. I'm not interested in what you're selling."

Three sharp bangs rattled the windows. "It's only a starting pistol," he said. "You need to install a video doorbell."

"Get off my property," I said.

"I'm from the Bureau of Transparency. I'm not going anywhere."

I am often overwhelmed by the arrogance that has spread like the plague throughout this land.

"You are required by federal law to let me in."

"Do you have a search warrant?" I said.

"I don't need one. The Bureau of Transparency is a quasi-government agency. We're exempt from the restraints of the Constitution." He was indignant.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Twenty-Seven Club by Kevin McGeary

A musician looks back upon his arrogant younger self, busking and working illegally in Shenzhen and contemplating how to emulate his heroes; by Kevin McGeary.

They say there are two types of lyricist, those who write while overlooking a phosphorescent ocean, and those who write while staring at a blank wall. I always saw myself as one of the former, but that night, as I crouched over the windowsill scribbling in the notepad where I wrote all of my completed lyrics, the neon Shenzhen skyline refused to shine behind the evening shower. I still remember what I wrote:

I have never lived in prose and am no good at writing it, but I hope this provides consolation.

No matter how hopeless our lives are, there is always one door we can pass through unimpeded. This is the door I have chosen.

Do not think I have left this world in anger or bitterness. I leave behind only love and music that will live forever on the worldwide web.

I placed my notebook on the pine desk, next to a black marker I had borrowed from work.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Wingwork by Chris Panatier

An ageing fairy struggles to do her rounds; by Chris Panatier.

Carol was getting old. Real old. And her bones weren't feeling all the travel anymore. Flying first-class was okay, she guessed, if you'd never experienced the thrill and freedom of the open air as she had for so many decades - was it decades already? Airline seats cramped her fragile wings no matter the cabin.

Oh, how she wished she could hide them away. Her wings, the tools of her trade, had once been a source of pride, lustrous as pearls and whip flexible. Now they crinkled against her back, shrunken and desiccated. The older she got, the harder it was to find anything that might give them the jolt they needed to kick into gear. She'd chugged coffee, triple espressos, Kool-Aid, soft drinks, and even guzzled honey straight from the bear's head, but all failed to rejuvenate them.

Thankfully, her fellow passengers were mercifully aloof, never visibly acknowledging the obvious. Being a fairy that could no longer fly was humiliating enough. And if Jack hadn't racked up so many frequent flyer miles before his heart got him, she'd be out of the job for sure.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Common Courtesy by Steve Gergley

Wilson Clarke believes in common courtesy and respect for his fellow citizens, and he goes to great lengths to get it; by Steve Gergley.

Wilson Clark's shift had ended over an hour ago, but by 9:15 he was still stuck at the store doing cycle counts. He kneeled on the cold tile by the bargain laptops and counted the boxes stored in locked cubbies under the display shelf. The air was stale and dusty down here and a needling itch danced in his nose each time he took a breath, but the sales floor was quiet so he was able to move fast.

Soon Wilson came to the last section of his count and started walking to the video game aisles to finish up. For years this area had been his favorite part of the store. Before becoming department manager, he had often spent his lunch breaks down here, browsing the new titles with a sweating bottle of Yoo-hoo and a half-chomped Milky Way in hand; but after nine years of serving the angry customers of this store, all the thrill of conflict had been squeezed from his brain like soapy water from a sponge. These days, just the thought of playing a video game made his mouth go dry with anxiety. Now he spent his free time listening to film soundtracks and reading his old history textbooks from college.

Just before starting his count, Wilson saw a middle-aged woman tottering toward him with an iPhone case clutched in her hand. She wore a sour expression and her mouth was pinched and tight and deep vertical wrinkles fanned out across her upper lip like tire-ruts in soft dirt. Wilson swiveled his head left and right and looked around for Missy and Amanda, but they were not behind their registers or facing their aisles or anywhere else in sight, so he circled behind the service counter and pushed aside the "Next Register Please" sign and waved the woman in.

Monday, January 7, 2019

My Darling Pills by Mike Todd

Mike Todd's character is captivated by the ugliest girl in his school.

The first time I met Pills she spat in my face. It was the first day of second grade and she had just given me what she considered to be an appropriate answer to an inappropriate question.

Quite innocently, I had asked this new kid, "Why do you stink so bad, boy?" She made it clear that she didn't appreciate my reference to her odor. It wasn't until I was older that I understood she was even more insulted by my failure to recognize she was a lady.

As I stood on the playground, startled, with her spit running down my cheek, the only thing I could think to do was apologize. Then she was startled. Pills knew how to respond to insults, but apologies seemed to perplex her. She simply punched me in the chest and ran into the school building without saying a word.

I still carry a picture of Pills Carkix in my wallet. I never knew why she had such an unusual name. Her parents were obnoxious, illiterate and unshaven, so I assumed they were just plain weird, too.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Haunted Telescope by Dave Henson

Harold is getting jealous of his wife's success at work, and begins to suspect her of something sinister; by Dave Henson.

"Harold, could you put away the dishes, please."

Harold turns toward his wife. "Denise, you might be a division manager at work now, but that doesn't make you my boss at home."

"Sweetie, I didn't mean - Oh, never mind. I'll do it myself. It's just I've got an important presentation tomorrow, and I want to practice it."

Harold walks part-way out of the kitchen then stops and turns toward his wife. He wants to say something about her getting ahead by being a kiss-up at work, but smothers the urge and goes upstairs.



Harold comes in from the patio and goes into the kitchen. "That's the perfect place for it. There's a nice clear view of the sky."

"How'd you happen to get a used telescope?" Denise says.