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.