Monday, July 6, 2020

The Library by John Boeschen

John Boeschen bends time and reality in this mysterious adventure story about a beaten down truck-stop girl who, during the coronavirus lockdown, spontaneously hitches a ride with a charming rebel called James Dean.

Please read carefully. This story is not complete, it's evolving. What you read now determines what you and others read as the story comes together.

Reader Etiquette
  • Keep yourself out of the story
  • Remain impartial to individuals and events
  • Fill in or alter only small pieces missing from or inconsistent with the story
  • Leave large gaps and inconsistencies unread until more data are available
  • Avoid elaborating on data-complete individuals, events, and environments
  • Read no harm of your own making, intentional or unintentional, into a story



"Goddammit, Siri, stop daydreamin'. I toldcha to flip the sign to 'closed.'" Niall Mac Loughlin follows his outburst with a sharp slap to the side of his daughter's face, the slap loud as a slammed door.

Mac Loughlin's an angry man. Some might say his 'I'm bigger, tougher than you' attitude stems from his short stature and scrawny frame, the man standing 5'3" on his toes, no more than 145 lbs with a growler of Guinness clutched in his stubby fingers.
 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Memories by James Rumpel

James Rumpel's character has a job collecting donations for a billionaire, and he's questioning his choice of career.

"Did I ever tell you about the Christmas when I was twelve years old?" said my boss. He had that nostalgic grin on his face, the one that meant he was going to tell me the story, whether I had heard it before or not. "I, like most boys my age in the 1960s, wanted a Davey Crocket coonskin cap with all my heart. Times were tough. We were poor. My parents had been trying to hint to me that I had to be able to handle disappointment. You know, side comments about how men don't cry or how a twelve-year old should get practical gifts for Christmas. Well, that night, I prayed and wished with all my heart, but I knew there was not going to be a coonskin cap under our tiny, sparsely decorated tree. When morning came..."

I tuned out his words and focused on his face. With each sentence, the sparkle in his eye grew just a tiny bit. It was obvious how the tale was going to end. The fact that my boss was barely thirty years of age and that his parents would have barely been born during the time the story took place did not strike me as strange. I had only been working for him for two months, but this type of journey down memory lane was very common.

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Body Swinging Like the Clapper of a Bell by Robert Kinerk

Robert Kinerk tells the morbidly humorous story of three Alaskan ambulance attendants: Casey, Jason and Cranmore.

It's a rainy night in the panhandle part of Alaska, 1966. We're three men on an ambulance crew and we've hauled our gurney up a flight of narrow stairs. A woman's lying across a bed. She's on her back with her bra and panties on. Her head hangs off the mattress, her face completely bloody. Even her hair is soaked. Blood stretches out its strings, falling - drip, drip, drip.

The bleeding woman's boyfriend, in his baggy underpants, is standing by the window with a steak knife. "We were just having fun," he says.

His girlfriend croaks the same thing. She says she doesn't want to go to the hospital. What she means is she doesn't want her boyfriend to have to answer for the stab. The cops would ask a lot of questions. Jail time.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Skeleton in the Cellar by Alexander Richardson

A jilted lover visits a bucolic cabin with a talking skeleton in the cellar; by Alexander Richardson.

Lou Sanders swung the axe again, and the tree splintered. Several more strikes and it was down. He spat and looked back at the cabin.

"Goddammit."

He chopped up the wood and carried the first stack to the open cellar. Stepping within, he dropped it with a yelp; in front of him was a skeleton, dressed in a red turtleneck and beret, sitting before an easel, brush in one hand, palette in the other. The skeleton turned and shrieked, dropping its instruments and stumbling off the stool.

"The hell's this?"

The skeleton pointed at Lou. "What in the grave are you doing here?"

Lou picked up a log and, holding it like the baseball player holds a bat, advanced on the skeleton. The skeleton put up its hands and retreated to the wall.

"Wait! You don't have to do this. If it's money you want, I - well, I don't have any. Haven't for a long time. But I'm sure I can give you something."

Monday, June 22, 2020

Not Another Fish Planet by Margret A. Treiber

15-year-old Zunzheim has been rescued from a death camp by a spaceship from the future, with a skeleton crew that's barely holding it together; by Margret A. Treiber.

"I still don't understand how you became captain."

"Acting Captain," Day corrected.

"Acting Captain." Zunzheim rolled his eyes.

"Because after the accident I was the only one qualified. I tried to turn it down. When all the dust settled, it was me, a nurse practitioner, three marines and half of the maintenance department left onboard. Maintenance didn't want marines in charge, so it's me. Boucher was the ranking marine, so she is the first officer."

"Maintenance would rather have a suicidal, misanthropic captain, than a marine?"

"Maintenance is suspicious of authority figures," Day answered. "They have their own informal command structure. I don't pretend to understand it. After you're loose for a while, you'll see how they get. Things are a little different here."

"I've noticed." Zunzheim shook his head. "Every day I'm here, I find out something new and weird. What kind of ship is this, anyway?"

"The kind that saved you from the death camps," Day replied. "Can't be that bad."

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Innocent and the Beautiful by Iftekhar Sayeed

In Bangladesh, CIA agent Maryam becomes a target for assassination and flees with her lover - but neither are sure where their loyalties lie; by Iftekhar Sayeed.

"The death of 1.7 million children through sanctions in Iraq has aroused no interest whatsoever in the drawing rooms of Bangladesh, as far as agent Maryam has been able to judge."

Something seemed to trouble Maryam, as her fingers hovered above the keyboard; the hum of the air-conditioner rose above the tap-tap of her fingers; she smelled the starched pillows and breathed heavily; in the light from the quite redundant lamp, she deleted 'death' and typed 'murder'. She sighed relief, turned off the laptop, disengaged the wireless modem, switched off the lamp, and turned on her side to get some sleep.



I hated her. So I avoided the street - road 9A, Dhanmandi - where she worked and waited for a trishaw or an auto rickshaw every weekday at around 5:00.

The situation was dire. After the Gulf and Af-Pak wars, the mujahideen had grouped themselves together, as elsewhere, in Bangladesh, as freedom fighters. No empire can exist without collaborators, and the local elite and government both sided with the American and European powers. A death-squad was formed with the aid of the imperial west, and an unknown number of jihadis died in so-called 'cross-fires', the euphemism for assassination.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Higher Court by Patrick Ritter

To what lengths will the director of a Rochester hospital go to protect his staff? By Patrick Ritter.

Doctor Andrew Hanlon jogged down the middle of an empty street. Without people or cars, it was eerily quiet for a Rochester suburb. Even the dogs were sheltering in place. Despite the deserted streets, Hanlon's morning runs were about the only normal thing in his life. As director of the Rochester Memorial Hospital ICU, it was a welcome break from the pandemic.

Getting close to his home, he turned onto Park Street. The sun spilled over the roof of a large colonial house onto a wide lawn. Doctor Hanlon breathed deeply and for a moment forgot about all of it. But only for a moment. Then the troubling thoughts flooded back, uninvited and unwanted, like his merciless enemy, the coronavirus. As director of the ICU, Hanlon faced a snowballing set of challenges: insufficient beds and equipment, exhausted doctors and nurses, and lack of masks and personal protective equipment.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Crystal's Night by Alexander Schuhr

Alexander Schuhr tells the story of a tough night in the life of a Los Angeles prostitute.

It was midnight, when Crystal reached her regular spot at Santa Monica and St. Andrews. She had tried other locations. But this one worked best. Sure, there was more action westward, near Highland by the 7-Eleven. But the girls there didn't like competition. Only last week, these vicious queens had beaten the shit out of a rival and clawed her face into a bloody mess. It would be weeks before she could even think of earning money again. Plus, they had protection. The kind of protection Crystal didn't have, nor want. After all, she was here to make money for herself, and herself only. She had also tried working up East, but she had soon crossed into Spanish terrain. And the welcome there hadn't exactly been warm either. Her work was dangerous. But she had a goal. And she had long decided that it was worth the risks.

Eventually, she had settled for Santa Monica and St. Andrews Place. It wasn't the best area, but it had its advantages. Nobody seemed to be bothered by her. Sometimes a few other girls, mostly black or Spanish, worked the streets nearby. But there was no bad blood. Also, from her corner, she could see patrol cars approaching from a mile away. That way, she could easily retreat when the cops were bored and out to harass people.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Giant Worm by Frank Beyer

Frank Beyer's glimpse into the life of a vagrant.

Don't sleep much, it's the first cool night of the year. I get up because it's light, drink a glass of hot water at the corner and check out ulcer on my leg; foul, and walking it rubs against my rough trousers. Will catch the bus down to the plaza later, I can't walk it. With time to kill, I sit on the curb and people watch, the beautiful are not up at this time of the morning. Not sure how today will be, the hunger pangs are no problem yet.

I live under the giant worm, our name for a stretch of elevated highway not far from downtown. There are two colonies below the worm, the first sleeps opposite the subway stop, they recycle rubbish and their worst habit is drinking rum. The police don't bother these poor souls, once functioning members of society - every night they pass under the worm, the chances of them functioning again diminishes. The second group, the crackheads, reside a few blocks on. The police operation at their old stomping ground by the train station drove them here. At night they are a force to be reckoned with, by day they are like dug-up rotting bodies. Blankets are their only possessions: they love them for the warmth, and hate them for the smell. I've been a member of both camps in my time.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Swim by Christopher K. Miller

Christopher K. Miller's character is tired of ageing and called by the sea.

Every February, for the past nine years, you and your second husband, Jack, drive down from Ottawa to Anna Maria Island. Official snowbirds now. Always stay at the same rental semi on the beach: a well-appointed cabin, really, with cable TV and high-speed internet. Central heat and air - most days you need both. Shared cedar deck with a big gas barbecue, saltwater pool, and hot tub, too, of course. Mornings you drink coffee with whipped cream and watch pelicans dive-bomb for fish. Last year, a woman you met on an island boat tour said she'd heard they eventually go blind from all those eyes-wide-open impacts, and starve. So no pelican ever dies of old age.

Afternoons, it's burgers and beer at Skinny's. A snack shack with a bar. Close enough to walk. Decorated totally with dollar bills. Thousands of them. Like the owner tacked up the first one he made, but then couldn't stop. Then, after a nap, dinner someplace nice. Evenings, unless it's cloudy, you watch the big orange blob of a sun sink into the Gulf. Drink pink Zinfandel you buy at the local Publix for twelve dollars a gallon. Lean on the railing. Talk to the couple next door. Last year, dairy farmers from Wisconsin. From the moment the sun's orb touches the horizon until it's completely gone takes only a few minutes. You can stare without hurting your eyes. Second time you watched, you took a cell phone video and posted it on YouTube. You don't want to die of old age, either. You've given this some thought.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Doors Opening on the Left by Raima Larter

Jason is a chemist specialising in racemization, a technique vital to defeat the lethal virus spreading across South America, but there are mysterious side-effects; by Raima Larter.

Jason boarded the train at the Medical Center Station, took a seat about halfway back from the door, and looked around. The usual morning crowd. Later, he would wonder why everything had seemed so normal that day, when it was anything but.

He stifled a yawn and glanced at his phone. Nearly ten a.m. He'd been awake for over twenty-four hours. A melodic bonging came over the speaker and the train doors slid shut as a robotic female voice announced, "Doors closing."

The train lurched into motion and Jason yawned again. He wanted, desperately, to be home, tucked into his own bed. Yes, his own empty bed, but that's the way it had been since he got this job, and how it was bound to stay. Who had time for dating? He hadn't even had friends over yet, despite having lived there for almost a year. For one thing, he had only the one chair, a pathetic frayed lawn chair he'd found discarded on a curb. No time for furniture-shopping, either. The chair sat next to his one other piece of furniture, a battered card table where he slurped down Cup o' Noodles every evening while streaming late-night talk shows on his laptop.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Liberty Station by Dan Rice

On a space station populated by humans and aliens, a lowly teacher must face a growing climate of bigotry; by Dan Rice.

My students, styluses to tablets, work studiously on the math quiz - except for Ben, a top-notch pupil if a bit entitled, and Felix, a quiet and kind lad. The polka-dots covering Felix's skin pulse yellow, contrasting against his otherwise light blue complexion. His arms are crossed before his chest, and he glowers at Ben, who is whispering something and has a broad smile plastered on his face.

I stop myself from sighing. Disciplining my students is far from my favorite task, but I can't let this go on, or the boys will disrupt the quiz. Putting on my best stern teacher face, I march in between the neatly arranged desks toward the boys.

"You know, Governor Spade is going to let us throw all your polka dot faces out the airlocks," Ben whispers to Felix. "You Starlight Missionaries aren't good for anything but taking our jobs. Good, high-paying human jobs. You're going to suck vacuum - "

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Spiral Tunnel by Harrison Kim

A five year old boy dreams of leaving his body and faces up to his mortality; by Harrison Kim.

When I was five years old I lived at Genoa Bay Farm. Its fields spread down to a cedar bordered cove way out beyond Tzouhalem Mountain on Vancouver Island. My mom and dad worked the farm for owner Tommy Lines. I was the only kid there. I slept in my bed with a stuffed bear. I held him tight and carried him everywhere during the day. I could count on Bear. The world seemed so big around me, but he remained small.

One afternoon, I threw Bear over the wood fence separating the farm driveway from a drainage ditch. He lay on the grass on the other side. I reached under and retrieved him. "Sorry," I said. "I didn't mean it." Then I threw him over the fence again.

He went further this time. I crawled under the railing and searched around. It took me longer to find him. "I'm sorry," I said again, when I discovered him, lying upside down in some thistles.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Larry's Terrible Day By James Rumpel

James Rumpel tells of a near future in which a malfunctioning phone is more than just an inconvenience.

Larry Boland glanced at his phone. He had his first phone implanted into his arm when he was fourteen, a little later than most of his peers. Now, three upgrades and nine years later, his wrist was home to the most advanced communication device bit-coins could buy.

Unfortunately, even with all that technology, he could not make the line to the med-distribution kiosk move any faster. His phone told him that it was 7:41. If he didn't get to the front of the line and get his daily dosage of medications soon, he was in grave danger of missing his train.

For a moment, Larry considered leaving the line and going directly to the boarding area but he knew that was not an option. He needed treatments to deal with his attention deficit disorder, his dry mouth, his occasional bouts of gas, and the subtle throbbing he sometimes felt at his temples. He couldn't imagine trying to survive a day having to deal with all of those maladies.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Library in White Cedar by Edward Ahern

John Willman attends the death of a library, and stands to inherit its books; by Edward Ahern.

The two-day drive from Connecticut to White Cedar, Michigan was endless neon chain links - the same motels, gas stations, and restaurants sprouting up about every ten miles along the interstate.

I was on my way to assist at the funeral of the library in White Cedar. My great, great grandfather, Thomas Willman, had provided the money to build the library and on his death had bequeathed his books to it. He'd specified that if the town closed the library the books should be returned to his heirs. I was the only surviving descendent the town had found, and I'd rented a large SUV in case the books were worth claiming.

Cathy Bender, the town librarian, had been the one to call. Her voice had that slight midwestern nasality that some easterners find annoying but I had always liked.

"Mr. Willman, praise the Lord I was able to find you. We need to talk about the Willman books in our library."

Friday, May 15, 2020

The White Cadillac by Robert Funderburk

In god-fearing Louisiana, on the west bank of the Mississippi, fourteen-year-old Chris faces a tragedy and finds a true friend; by Robert Funderburk.

I grew up in Algiers, on the 'Point,' and when I played on the grassy slopes of the levee as a child, I would look across a half mile of rolling muddy water to the twin spires of the oldest cathedral in the country. To the left was the six-storied bulk of the Jackson Brewing Company, makers of Jax Beer. Both buildings were purposed as escape routes from the drudgery of the world. They were separated by: Jackson Square, with its piked iron fence and artists and entertainers and tourists; the horse-drawn carriages that clattered along St. Peter Street; and the bright endless span of eternity.

My first memories were of the smell of sweat and grease and Dixie beer, and my dad's calloused hands, as he held me in the garden behind our house. By the time I was five or six, my mother would send me around the corner to CJ's bar to get my dad's daily beer. It was never kept in the house, and I never saw him have more than one.

The three of us would sit on the brick patio with palm fronds rattling against the stone wall in the breeze off the gulf. The smell of jasmine and gardenia and my mother's roses would move in slow waves on the textured air of evening.

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Book to Live By by M.E. Proctor

In a dystopian future, Jake goes scavenging for food and finds a greater treasure.

Jake walked by the memorial at the foot of the wall every day. He remembered it when it was fresh, when the wreaths were bright and the toys didn't look like escapees from the landfill. It appeared in the early days of the Big Hope surge, when the first babies were taken to the orbiter. The orbiter was a bright beacon of optimism. People looked up as it sailed by shining like a shooting star. The news bulletins claimed the orbiter was the future and everybody believed it. Soon, the stories went, the shuttles would come down and take everybody up there where life would be so much better. It was the Big Hope, all right.

From the start, Jake believed it was the Big Bullshit Illusion. The orbiter was too small. Oh, it was a sizable ball of light, and maybe it could hold all the people in town, but it certainly couldn't hold all the people from all the towns everywhere. Even with the wars overseas, the sicknesses brought by the bad air and the foul water, and the crazy weather upheavals, it was still a lot of people. And questionable people too. Jake doubted anybody would want to zap up Rudy Two Fists or Glenda the Mouth, or even Seb, his best friend, who was sweet-natured and could tell jokes that would rip you in two, but was zonked out of his head three quarters of the time. Jake doubted anybody would want a street kid like him on the blasted orbiter. Granted, he could read and write, and make sums well enough to avoid being taken by hustlers, but how could that be sufficient to punch his ticket? Unless hustlers made it to the orbiter too. That would be funny. Maybe the orbiter was just like this crap town. Maybe they had their Rudy who beat up those who stood in his way and even those who didn't, and a Glenda who could do things with her tongue you wouldn't believe.

Friday, May 8, 2020

First Urges: A Homo Monstrum Chronicle by Kevin Stadt

Alex lands a date, just in time for the plant-based Apocalypse; by Kevin Stadt.

Alex had no way of knowing that the seeds of a new world had already sprouted, could not have imagined how man would mutate before the close of day. He sat in the back corner of a Northern Prairie Community College classroom, watching a fat black and yellow bumblebee hover over the spring peonies outside the window. The flowers led him to think of her, and he shifted his gaze to where she sat several rows over. Covered in freckles, eyes almost as dark as the black hair she always seemed to hide behind, wearing a blue sundress, heavy black boots, and a full sleeve of tattoos down her left arm, she typed on a laptop as the teacher lectured.

The debate in his skull drowned out the class discussion of Cormac McCarthy. She's WAY too hot for you, dude. You look like Ed Sheeran with a gut. But, while she exerted a gravity on him that made paying attention in The 20th Century American Novel impossible, none of the other guys even appeared to notice her. Maybe she just presses my particular buttons?

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sturgis Spins a Good One Kathryn B. Lord

Everett and Perle stop for a beer with clammer Sturgis, and hear a tall tale about their friend Mervyn; by Kathryn B. Lord.

Most weekdays around four, if the weather was decent, Everett and Perle pulled their trucks into Sturgis's driveway. Though the air was a bit nippy for early fall, the men, swaddled in worn flannel and greasy insulated vests, took positions around Sturgis's pickup bed. They leaned in on the sides, arms crossed over the top edge. Except for the truck's wheels, they could have been around the bar in a tavern.

"Crissakes, Sturgis, get to the point. The wife's making meat loaf. I got to get home for dinner." Everett lobbed his empty beer can into the truck bed. "What the hell happened to Mervyn?"

"Steady now, Everett," said Perle. "He'll get to it, he always does."

"Thank you, Perle." Sturgis made a slight bow. Wouldn't hurt Everett's waistline to be a bit late. "Much obliged."

"Take your time, Sturge," Perle said. "No other place I got to be. Wouldn't want to ruin a good yarn."

Friday, May 1, 2020

Tony Ambrosio's Unsuccessful Life of Crime Is Finally Looking Up by Michael Drezin

It takes a lot to teach hapless petty thief Tony Ambrosio a lesson; by Michael Drezin.

Anthony Ambrosio, Tony to his friends, is not an honest man. No need to be. No one who ever made it big, made it big being honest.

Honest or not, indications are Anthony Ambrosio will never make it big in crime because he doesn't have what it takes. He pulls mostly minor scams like selling weed that isn't weed, or bootlegged CDs where the cover doesn't match what's inside. And he gets caught like flu in winter. Tony's always getting caught.

He does his time without complaint, 'cause that's the way real men do time. And then he starts the cycle all over again. No thought about what went wrong, or how to do it better. He does the same thing, in the same way, every time.

He can't see that a life of crime is not for him because Anthony Ambrosio, Tony to his friends, is not an honest man. Not even with himself.

And so when he told himself he had enough money for a fine meal at the Actor's Crib (insiders call it the Crib), a five star restaurant in the heart of NYC's theater district, it turned out he did. It's just that it wasn't on him.

Upon the direction of management Alberto, the waiter, called the police. When they arrived Tony was arrested and until he was able to see a judge, he spent an afternoon, evening and the next morning in jail.

Monday, April 27, 2020

How To Be A Good Episcopalian by Yash Seyedbagheri

Yash Seyedbagheri's character considers joining the Episcopalian Church as a way to deal with the trauma of an absent mother.

Join the Episcopal church one winter day after run-ins with fundamentalists on campus. This is a particularly difficult day for you, sitting through creative writing classes (you are a graduate student), contributing nothing of value in comments or in stories, lost in a creative malaise. You are that guy who babbles incessantly, but whose words simply do not add up to anything of value. They hold a certain emptiness.

It is just before Christmas, when smiling Santas and families together put you in a bad mood. On top of this all, you have to deal with being branded a sinner by angry bearded fundamentalists who look like a combo of Hemingway and child predators.

"You're going to burn," they shout, waving their hands into the charcoal-colored skies, as though they've snorted too much cocaine. Their eyes are wide and crazed.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Peppermint Candy by James Mulhern

A teacher has to deal with a difficult student vomiting in his class; by James Mulhern.

Helen threw the candy wrapper into the trash barrel, then walked to her desk as I read a line from Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum: "For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I lay had been literally swarming with rats."

She vomited. The other students screamed epithets, laughed, or moved their desks away as chunks of school lunch spewed from Helen's mouth.

"You fucking loser," Gabe said. He used the textbook cover to wipe bits of nacho off his shirt.

"Quiet down," I shouted to the class. I grabbed some napkins from my desk and asked Sandy, who sat by the door, to get the school nurse.

I gave Helen the napkins. She wiped her face and said she was sorry.

"No need to apologize. Sit down and rest your head on the desk."

She leaned onto crossed arms.

"Go to the bathroom and wash yourself up," I told Gabe.

He flung the vomit-smeared textbook onto the floor.

"Gross!" Damien, a long-legged track star with frizzy hair, said.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Come In Number Seven by Madeline McEwen

A California State Trooper pulls over a characterful British woman for speeding; by Madeline McEwen.

When she'd rolled down the window, I caught a sniff of hot leather upholstery, the unmistakable smell of a virgin vehicle fresh off the lot.

"License and registration please, Ma'am," I asked. From her paperwork, I guessed she was a Brit with that name - Hermione Trees. She'd pulled off the freeway, turned on the interior light and the flashers. A good sign. She'd remained in the driver's seat of the Mercedes convertible.

Her hands - I'd have preferred them on the steering wheel - clutched a jeweled purse large enough to conceal a gun. I thought of the rosary on my dashboard - a keepsake from my ex-wife, my sixth, a superstitious type. Only five weeks until my retirement after twenty-seven years as a State Trooper. I hoped my luck would last.

"I'm frightfully sorry, Officer," Hermione said in a crisp British accent. "I do apologize for speeding."

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Red Envelope by Susan Taylor

Unemployed demon Asta Roth starts looking for a new job in Hell; by Susan Taylor.

Job Description:

A long term, team player needed for challenging, permanent work in a highly chaotic environment. All candidates must possess excellent communication skills and work variable hours, which may include days, nights, and weekends. Must be dependable and have a deep-seated dislike for humans. No compassion will be tolerated.

Level Two Positions:
  • Train Derailments (Killing a minimum of fifty humans while maintaining a 2:1 injury to death ratio).
  • Airplane Crashes (No survivors).
  • Apocalypse (Any type).
  • Brown Outs (Must cover at least five hundred square miles).
Level Three Positions:
  • Power Outages (At least one city block).
  • Sewage Backups.
  • Creating new dance crazes like The Cotton-Eyed Joe and The Triangle.
  • Creating and maintaining television shows such as Manimal and The Wiggles (or any other show that will turn humans into sedentary, unthinking creatures).
  • Creating movies such as Tommy Wiseau's The Room, or remakes such as The Amityville Horror, The Fog, and Ghostbusters.
Possibility for Advancement: Virtually none.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Oh ANA by James Rumpel

Move over Siri, James Rumpel tells of a future when home assistants know what's best for you.

It was a glorious autumn afternoon. Michael Walker contemplated taking a short walk before heading to his apartment. It had been another uneventful day at work. It seemed that all Michael did at work was make short ineffective phone calls. The role of a salesperson had changed dramatically in the last couple of years. In the past, Michael could use his personality and talents to try and convince prospective customers to purchase whatever product the company was pushing. Now the person on the other side of the line was able to decide whether or not to buy almost instantly.

Michael opted against a hike to the nearby city park and began trudging his way across the parking lot toward his home when he noticed the neighbor boy, Charlie, playing nearby. Michael smirked as he watched the plump twelve-year-old attempt to kick a football. The young man nearly missed the ball entirely; it glanced off the side of his foot. After an incredibly short flight, the ball bounced a couple of times and then rolled to a stop at Michael's feet.

"Little help, please," shouted Charlie.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Preserve by Ben O'Hara

Ben O'Hara's character tells a forgetful old lady a sweet story about Jack and Jennifer.

Although they were the same age, the man had to help the woman along, gently guiding her across the lawn to the bench. The hydrangeas behind it were in full bloom, nodding agreeably in the breeze.

"Who are you, again?" said the woman. Her tone wasn't abrupt, but there was a brusqueness to it. The man looked at her, contemplating how her white hair appeared as soft as dandelion seeds and how it seemed that the wind threatened to blow it away too.

"I'm a friend."

"Oh," she said, but she seemed satisfied. They sat down together, and she ran her hands down her long skirt though there were no creases to smooth away. The man's weather-beaten face broke into an expression that seemed suspended between joy and sadness.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Kobe Bryant and the Freedom Swimmer by Kevin McGeary

Basketball player Kobe Bryant is visiting Dongmen, China, and Hongbo stakes the custody of his child on meeting him; by Kevin McGeary.

Since dawn, Hongbo has been loitering outside the gate of his son's apartment complex. With graying bristles and hair tied back into a ponytail, he is in a state of dapperness that only an encounter with his thoroughbred ex-wife can inspire.

Holding their son's hand, his ex-wife tilts her white parasol toward Hongbo, adding plausibility to the pretense that they have not noticed him before they reach her new fiancé's silver Audi. Its lights beep to life and, opening the rear door, Yang Yi guides their son into the back seat. The blue cast on the boy's arm looks too big for his pre-teen frame.

The parked car is almost within reaching distance through the cast-iron rails and Hongbo stands with fists resting on hips. Yang Yi places the pink box containing a birthday cake onto their son's lap: "Fei doesn't want to be near you," she tells Hongbo.

"I know."

Friday, April 3, 2020

Larry and Wanda by Christopher K. Miller

Christopher K. Miller's determinedly non-religious character is moved to pray for Larry and Wanda.

So I got this email from my Uncle Kenneth today with about a hundred names on the "To:" line because it's one of those genealogical type spammings (which used to be disseminated via daisy-chained snail-mailings called circle letters) that someone occasionally figures will be of interest to everyone in the family. And it is kind of interesting, too.

The whole first part pertains to his son, my cousin, Larry, and Larry's second wife, Wanda: it seems they're both in the same Charlottesville hospital right now. At first I figured Larry had cracked up the family car or something because I remember driving places with him just after he turned fifteen, and that he was the kind of driver who couldn't stand to have anyone in front of him even if he was pulling a camper or a boat or something, and I even specifically remember asking him once following an extended left-lane cruise on the highways around this Christian campground near Onekama, Michigan called Little Eden where we had all congregated for a family reunion, how he decided when to drive in the right lane, and he told me, "When there's no one in front of me."

Monday, March 30, 2020

How Tall the Ladder, How Far the Moon by Dave Henson

Dave Henson's lighthearted tale of a man obsessed with measuring.

According to my mother, I quit squalling soon as the doctor recorded my birth weight and length. Mom always has been prone to exaggeration... prone to a lot of things. But it's certain I had a fascination with measuring. OK, I'll admit it: I teetered over the boundary into compulsion at a young age.

One of my first memories is from 20 or so years ago. I determined Miss Gilbert's desk was 22 first-grade hands wide and 11 deep. Billy Johnson's blue eye was less than a hand from his brown one.

My itch to measure intensified the older I got till - shortly after my tenth birthday, when I threatened to run away from home because I didn't get another ruler for my collection - my parents took me to a child psychologist.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Steffiology by Harrison Kim

Steffie is a newly qualified counsellor with a dubiously intense approach to the client-therapist relationship; by Harrison Kim.

Lived experience is the best teacher, and I have been a student for too long. I studied my way to becoming a brand new counsellor through Phoenix University online. I wanted to connect with people through the exploration of mutual traumas. Client relationships start with role plays. The client plays his or her part, I play mine. We begin with formalities, end with catharsis.

My first counselling client, Chris Auger, was in a car accident last night. Apparently he drove his vehicle straight into the Yao Ham restaurant. I knew he had a thing for the waitress, but he seemed too much of a wimp to do something like that. At least it was 4am and no one but Chris was hurt. I will visit him in the hospital, despite and maybe because of all the personal things he said about me.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Crosscut by David B. Barnes

A youth offender in North Carolina decides to deal drugs, but needs to find someone he can trust; by David B. Barnes.

Looking west, Crosscut saw the mountains were just gaining the sunlight that had been warming the ridge to the east of Crosscut's cabin. Standing on the front porch and looking back to the south he examined the gravel road as it descended to the edge of Sylva and the by-pass around it. It was a terrific view. One Crosscut had been enjoying each morning, with a hot cup of fresh coffee in his hand, since early September when he had first moved into the cabin. In Crosscut's business it paid big to have forewarning of approaching police cars or cars belonging to people he didn't really want coming to his home.

Crosscut was a drug dealer.

His real name was Sylvester N. Mull, Junior, a twenty one year old who looked every bit of sixteen until you looked closely at his eyes and saw that though his mouth smiled his eyes never cooperated. His long dark brown hair did nothing to make his age more apparent. Crosscut wasn't just a drug dealer, he was a smart, cagey dealer.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Barbarian Reed by David W. Landrum

A lonely flautist is cast back in time as a test of his strength and compassion; by David W. Landrum.

The night Carson went back in time, he had pretty much given up on Ling. She did not seem interested in dating him and the one night they went out had been - well, not exactly a disaster, but discouraging as only a date gone wrong can be. He sat next to her when the symphony performed, saw her at rehearsals, and encountered her at social events connected with the symphony. Like most musicians, he and Ling supplemented their incomes by giving lessons; both taught flute at a local music store, often in rooms right next to each other. Still, she made it clear, non-verbally, that she had no interest in a relationship.

It chagrined him. He had other women with whom he regularly went places. He wanted to be married and was "looking" (as some people termed it). He knew Ling dated. Once or twice he had seen her in public places with men she obviously did have an interest in. He was not among them.

One weekend she invited the winds section of the symphony to a party at her house. His attempts to talk with her largely fell flat, except the time he saw her standing beside a bright brass statue of a woman, dressed in traditional Asian garments, standing on the back of a dragon. The sculpture caught his sense of beauty. She noticed his attention to it.

"That is Kwan Yuan, the Chinese Goddess of a compassion."

Monday, March 16, 2020

Number Seventeen by William Falo

William Falo's character is appalled by the treatment of racing dogs in Alaska.

Ten dogs pulled the sled toward me and the checkpoint as the musher urged them to go faster. Usually, they were slowing down. A checkpoint was a chance for the dogs to rest, but he kept urging them to go faster despite me waving at him from the side of the trail.

"On by," he called out.

I stopped waving when I saw the lead dog starting to pull the sled toward me.

"Whoa." The musher yanked the sled back toward the center of the trail, but the lead dog's legs gave out and it slid sideways causing the ones behind to trip over it. The sled spun sideways and headed straight toward me. I froze unsure of which way to go. How do you stop an oncoming dog sled? The answer was that you don't even try. In a feeble attempt, I put my hands up. The mass of dogs and sled took out my knees and I became part of the sliding wreck.

By the time we stopped, there was a pile of dogs in the snow with me on top of the sled. The dogs slowly got up except for the lead dog. It whimpered and stayed down on the snow.

"Damn you." The musher pointed at me. Steam came out of his nostrils like a bull ready to charge.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Death in Bloom Kelcey Davis

Life has been created on Mars to terraform it before the Earth becomes uninhabitable; by Kelcey Davis.

It was hours before his alarm would go off. Henry pulled off the sheets and sunk into his house shoes, careful not to disturb Carol. He accepted that sleep had escaped him, and extra time to pack would not be wasted. In the cabinet above the dishwasher he found a packet of noodles and tossed them into the microwave, waiting to open the door until just before the timer. They would not bother to pack the food.

They had not intended to abandon this place when they moved in, now almost a decade ago. Henry couldn't believe he had managed so long. Now, the neighborhood was a ghost town. The suburbs of Los Angeles suffered a quick and steady decline in population, and today the homes on Huston Street contained only a few reluctant owners. Five years ago had marked the beginning of a migration Northward and Eastward. At least, for those neighbors who could afford to move.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Tree Planter by Spencer Sekulin

Kusuma is alone in a nightmarish world in which she is hunted by fleshers, until she meets a world-wise companion; by Spencer Sekulin.

Kusuma cowered in the ruins as the fleshers ghosted past.

Their footsteps were silent, as if even the ground was recoiling in fear. Guns and masks and jagged blades gleamed in the veiled sunset, as did lambent, feral eyes. Kusuma held her breath and tried not to make a sound as they stalked by, but her heart was beating so hard she could hear it.

They would eat her if they found her.

Fleshers were demons disguised in people's skin. Real people weren't evil. Kusuma had known no one but her parents, and they were as kind and gentle as flowers - at least, she thought flowers were like that. She'd never seen one before. The world was all dust and grey, nothing like the stories she'd been told - stories of lush meadows with dew-jeweled flowers. Kusuma focused on those stories now, in hopes of keeping her heart from racing faster. It felt as if it was about to jump out of her mouth and pulsate on the ground.

Friday, March 6, 2020

I Felt the Earth Move by Gary Ives

Gary Ives' character persuades her grandmother to tell her surprising life story.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 would take the lives of over 2000 sailors, soldiers and civilians but would also alter the paths of nations and the lives millions, some for the better, some for the worse. Who could have predicted that attack was actually the beginning of drastic changes that would bring the end of old imperial Japan, and that after much suffering democracy and prosperity would quickly emerge, or that the United States would ascend from the war the undeniable leader of the free world, and that former enemies would become allies and important trading partners who would come to admire each other's cultures. The surprise attack that no one suspected, not even the military, caught everyone off balance. If you ask any old timer where he or she was, or what they were doing when they learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, they'll all remember clearly their circumstance at the time of the news. So the December that I turned seventeen I asked my granny Ginger if she could remember the moments when she first learned of the attack that brought America into the war. It came as no surprise to see her head tilt back and release a sigh with the hint of a smile. Oh yes, honey, I remember it well. Sure, I do.

So Granny, tell me.

Some other day, perhaps.

No, now please. Next week I'll be off to the university and will have no grand raconteur to satisfy me. I'm a big girl now. It's not just Pearl Harbor, either. Please, Gram, I want to know all about you. I've been asking your history for years and you've been putting me off. C'mon Gram, I've shared some pretty hot stuff with you. Suppose you were to croak on me while I'm away at the university. I need your story, Gram. You know mom doesn't give a shit; it's me who'll carry on. I'm the only one because I'm the only one left who cares and who truly loves you.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Swimming and Stealing by Edward Black

A scuba-diving scavenger finds a supernatural treasure; by Edward Black.

Human waste burst into a cloud of brown filth from the through-hole in the sailboat above her and began to slowly dissolve in the water. Ana's scuba gear covered her entire body, protecting her from the foul sewage, but that did not make it any less disgusting to have been blasted with human excrement. It was illegal to discharge your holding tank within three miles from the coast, but that did not dissuade the lazier folk from dumping it into the marina waters anyway.

Treasure hunting is much less disgusting in movies, Ana mused as she forcefully kicked her feet to propel herself away from the miasma. She returned her gaze to the seabed, resuming her search for any valuables accidentally dropped overboard.

She'd enjoyed a blessing of luck that morning, discovering a woman's wedding ring tucked into the sand below a full-keeled sailboat in urgent need of new bottom paint. The diamond tucked into the prongs was hefty; she knew she'd be able to pawn a good price for it. But the sun hadn't even crested the sky and there might still be other people's possessions to be salvaged from the water, so she had pocketed her treasure and resumed her hunting. Perhaps, if she were doubly lucky, she might find another wedding ring.

Friday, February 28, 2020

A Fine Piece of Silver by Kyle Brandon Lee

An arrogant and amoral hunter seeks a mythical lion that is not really a lion; by Kyle Brandon Lee.

"Many legends contain at least a single nugget of truth and in most legends, that nugget is dung."
Resian Proverb

Poking the dead beast elicited no response.

"No matter how many times you do that, it will not change," Arkus Roselek stated as he watched his younger partner continue to prod the deceased animal. Arkus removed a silver flask from his coat and unscrewed the cap to take a healthy drink. Still, Drobir used the blunt end of his spear to futile ends. "Are you expecting it to explode?"

"I've heard stories that some animals will play dead," Drobir answered.

"Yes, you heard them all from me. And I have no doubt it is dead. Otherwise, it would disembowel you in annoyance."

Arkus stood, replacing the flask in his coat and removed a small horn. Uncapping its large end, he blew into the smaller, blasting a bellowing sound through the forest.

"I hate that ugly noise," Drobir complained.

"But you shall never hear such a noise through the western islands." Arkus bragged. "No one but I have slain the Kreglian bull of Fal'shen."

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Luck of the Draw by Leona Upton Illig

Phoebe's grandfather has quit taking his prize dog Lucky to dog shows, but he has one last outing in store; by Leona Upton Illig.

"So... tell me again why your grandfather quit?"

She lifted the washcloth from her forehead and looked at him. He was settled down, deep in the faded paisley armchair, with his feet up. She could just make out his curly hair above the newspaper he held in front of his face.

It was just like Jack to change the subject. But she was in no mood to argue.

"He said that it'd become - oh, I don't know - a silly game, and that he was tired of it - tired of the pettiness and the underhanded tricks. But I think that it was Nana more than anything else. After she died, he lost interest in a lot of things. That's why Mom and Dad were so pleased when Pop Pop decided to visit Uncle in Edinburgh. They hoped it would... make him happy again, somehow."

"Huh."

Friday, February 21, 2020

Boiler Room by Gregory Patrick Travers

Stacey is bullied at school after having had an abortion - is there anyone she can trust? By Gregory Patrick Travers.

Slut. Whore. Baby killer. The horrible names they called her and their cold, piercing stares remained burned in her brain, playing over and over in her head on repeat. When she was in class, when she was at her locker, when she was in the bathroom - there was nowhere Stacey was safe.

Even the teachers at St. Mary's seem to follow her with their eyes when she was in the hallways, standing at the threshold of their classrooms with their arms crossed, looking down on her.

The librarian scanned her books a little slower than she did the rest of the students.

The lunch lady splattered her mash potatoes onto her tray with a little more apathy than she did the rest of the lunch line.

Even the creepy old janitor, who the children had given the nickname "Old Man Frankenstein", due to his limp leg that dragged behind him as he walked, seemed to stare at Stacey deeply whenever they crossed paths.

And she could read their thoughts. They were all the same. That's the girl who had an abortion.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Mummy Track by Rosemary Johnson

A young mother longs to make more of her career, but dare she ask her husband to make a sacrifice for her? By Rosemary Johnson.

Wake up, Rod. I have to talk to you, please. Now.

I know it's early, but listen to me, please. I've been meaning to say this for... you don't know how long... but, whenever I open my mouth to speak, something else happens, something more important, more urgent. Then another year passes and here I am in the same place, every autumn.

Such a little thing I'm asking for. Please don't make it into a big thing.

No, it's not what you think. I'd never do that. I love you very much and I always will, and our darlings, Gemma and Laura, but I can't carry on like this. My life is passing away.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Further Adventures of Corky the Killer by Kathleen R. Sands

A three-inch representation of the syphilis bacterium is chosen to run as the opposition party candidate for President of the USA; by Kathleen R. Sands.

Corky opened his eyes. Where was he? Everything here was fat, not flat. A bookcase hulked against a wall, a Sputnik light fixture loomed overhead, and a blue-suited hand puppet slumped on a desk. Corky blinked at the puppet's sulfur-yellow hair, which floated in the air like an abandoned cobweb. He seemed to be in Meatworld, the home of 3D humans.

Corky knew about humans. In Flatland, he'd devoted his entire career to invading their bodies. He was a spirochete, a bacterium shaped in a spiral twist, whose sole purpose was to infect humans with syphilis. He had the traits that all good spirochetes have: monomania, ruthlessness, anomie. He'd first seen daylight in the 1945 publication of a book called Corky the Killer: A Story of Syphilis by Harry A. Wilmer. Dr. Wilmer had created Corky and the rest of the spirochete army as a swarm of dark aliens who conquered humans by sneaking through the skin-border into the body, colonizing every nook and cranny, and reproducing into the billions. Dr. Wilmer's post-World War II xenophobic readers loved it.

As Corky adjusted to his new surroundings, a 3D human entered the room: a dame, one of those 1940s-looking babes with a wasp waist, big shoulders, and copper hair waving over one eye.

Monday, February 10, 2020

My Mother Sent Me a Parcel by Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin's character is sent an unexpected package by her overbearing mother.

My mother sent me a parcel. I must admit I was surprised. She'd never been one for spontaneous displays of affection, and it wasn't my birthday or Christmas. The postman must have been equally surprised to find me still in my pyjamas when he handed over the parcel at almost noon. He didn't show it though. Like window cleaners and refuse collectors, postal workers have a knack of affecting indifference to the mess glimpsed beyond our front doors.

At least my pyjamas were presentable, royal blue silk with white piping around the edges. The kind of pyjamas you might wear to park your SUV on double yellow lines while dropping off your darlings at school. If you had children, that is. Or an SUV. Or a motorised vehicle of any genre to your name. These were pyjamas worth maxing out your credit card for, nightwear to smooth your transition to sleeping alone. I like to think the postman respected that when he passed me the parcel from my mother.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Kitty Favor by Otto Burnwell

Eddie Berger suddenly gives up porn, and his colleagues want to know why; by Otto Burnwell.

For as long as Eddie Berger worked in the tool crib at Spring Ranch Manufactured Homes, he'd been the go-to guy for porno magazines and videos. He always had hard-core stuff stashed in his locker and under the workbench to pass around on breaks.

Then, out of nowhere, he cut the guys off without a word. One day he's passing it around, making jokes, and next day, nothing. Stopped bringing it in, didn't keep it in his locker anymore, even took down the pin-ups taped inside on his locker door. He didn't say why. It wasn't just about himself, either. If someone else brought stuff to pass around, Eddie waved his hand in their face, saying he didn't have time for that shit, and how he had work to do. He'd be out of the room quicker than a hot-buttered cat.

A couple of the guys joked Eddie must have got religion. Being a part-time churchgoer with his wife hadn't kept Eddie from sneaking out late at night to the one good strip club on County Line road. But he quit doing that, too.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Story of Time by Yash Seyedbagheri

Yash Seyedbagheri's character spends the first 25 years of his life confined to an old passenger train, travelling back and forth through time.

People talk about chronology. Tell me about your life from beginning to present. The truth: I spent my life travelling through time. The first twenty-five years that is. A quarter of a century, which is something incredible and sad. Mama invented a time machine out of an old passenger train. This was in the year of my birth, 1887. The device suffered significant mishaps when she took me on the maiden voyage. Mechanical parts were lost, sending us forwards and backwards, at the machine's mercy.

She tried to repair the machine, adjusting dials and levers left, right, left, right. Time spiraled around us. We moved forward and backwards, spending months, days, sometimes hours in time periods, constrained to the train. We couldn't step foot outside, for fear of being left behind in any one period, strangers invading foreign periods. This was the only childhood I knew. I was told we'd lived in a great palatial mansion, with Mansard roofs and graceful arches, that Mama was an heiress. The home held much history. But this was all irrelevant, drifting through time.

Friday, January 31, 2020

In the World of Edges by Harrison Kim

Leon is stuck in a flat and empty echo of reality, trying to remember his life before; by Harrison Kim.

Every morning, I hear my smart phone ring. I pick it up, and as usual, it's a voice calling my name three times, "Leon, Leon, Leon." It's a female voice, and at first it sounds faint, though it's been growing stronger the past two weeks. I say, "Hello, yes, this is Leon." The line goes dead. My message box is full of "Leon" sounds. The voice becomes a familiar echo.

Every morning I step down the stairs from my room to the hotel lobby. Izzy, the desk clerk, looks up, smiling. He's always tapping a silver pen on his round, copper summoning bell. It's what wakes me up. Like everyone else here, Izzy's a complete person when encountered face to face. Yet when he turns to the side, he becomes an outline, a shimmering edge. I adjust my own position to stand directly in front of him, so I can view his face without confusion.

"Have I got any mail?" I ask. He looks up with those frosted glass horn rims. I can't see his eyes.

"No, sir," he says, as usual. "Mr. Downe is waiting for you."

Monday, January 27, 2020

Testicalia by Christopher K. Miller

Christopher K. Miller's character tells a painfully funny story in which he discovers a major disadvantage of having low-hanging testicles.

On April 26, 2003, experienced hiker Aron Ralston became trapped in a narrow section of Utah's Bluejohn Canyon after dislodging an 800-pound chockstone that rolled on its pinch points and pinned his right hand and forearm to the sandstone wall. Five days later he self-amputated to survive.

Before relating the events of my own similar fateful day, I feel it behooves the narrative to lay down some setting and character background. I hope this doesn't present as excusatory or rationalizing, but rather more just explanatory, contextualizing and even enlightening of how banal conditions and trivial events can lead to, what regardless some will think amusing alongside Ralston's misadventure, a seriously life-threatening predicament. And though no major motion picture has been or is likely ever to be made of my "heroic" ordeal, there were other rewards.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Family Court by Margret A. Treiber

Margret A. Treiber shares a court transcript from 2039, in which a judge is called upon to make a landmark decision in a child custody case.

STATE OF NEW YORK: COUNTY OF ONONDAGA

FAMILY COURT





ZENO REXNORD,

Petitioner;

-vs-

JACKSON GOLD,
Respondent

                                                                                                                   : Docket No.
                                                                                                                   : X-100-88/23


Monday, January 20, 2020

A Bath by James Mulhern

James Mulhern's 16-year-old character visits his grandmother and discovers truths about his family and himself.

"We won't stay long," my mother said. We were driving on the Jamaicaway, a curvy four-lane parkway in Boston. The pond was on our left. I knew she was nervous. She hated visiting my grandmother. Said it was so depressing. She couldn't stand to see her the way she was now.

"Do people swim in that water?"

"They used to. Until the seventies. A mother and daughter drowned. After that, swimming was forbidden."

When she spoke, the bruises on her face seemed to grow.

"What are you looking at?" She touched the side of her forehead and cheek. The blue and red had transformed into shades of orange and yellow. The colors reminded me of the trees along the water.

"Does it hurt?"

"Not any longer." She reached out and patted my head. "Don't worry, Billy. Your mother's a survivor." She braked at the crosswalk to let a man and woman pass. She sighed.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Tongue by Ronald Schulte

A homeless bum starts talking in tongues, and soon finds out he's not the only one; by Ronald Schulte.

"Pardon me, ma'am... could you spare some change?"

The woman's reaction is classic. She almost trips over her own kid in her rush to get away from me. I grin as she fumbles with her keys at the top of the stairway. Finally they make it through the door. My smile fades, and I sigh.

Alone again.

What do they hear when I speak? I have no way of knowing for sure. My best guess is that they hear what I hear on those rare occasions when someone responds to me: nonsensical incomprehensible gibberish. Mostly I get funny looks when I speak. Some people, like the lady I just met, react with palpable fear. One dude even screamed at me, although I'm not entirely sure he wouldn't have screamed at me even if he'd properly heard the pleasantries I'd offered.

I don't know. Maybe this isolation is for the best.

"Mister?"