Friday, June 28, 2019

To the Pain of Death by James Rumpel

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

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

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

Monday, June 24, 2019

Mrs Neb by Ceinwen Haydon

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

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

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

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Bubble by Craig McEwan

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

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

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Debauched by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Woman on the Bus by Karen Toralba

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

Penang, Malaysia

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

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

Monday, June 10, 2019

Twelve Steps From a Breakdown By Cathy Beaudoin

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

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

“You okay?” one of them probed.

“There a meeting here tonight?” I asked.

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

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

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Tram by Cameron Dusting

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

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

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

Monday, June 3, 2019

March on the Deniers! by Simon Di Nucci

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

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

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