Friday, September 18, 2020

A Pound of Flesh by William Quincy Belle

Chuck Bianchi wakes up missing a finger, with no memory of how it happened; by William Quincy Belle.

Chuck blinked and stared at the ceiling. He turned his head to one side and looked at the dresser across the room. That was his dresser. This was his bedroom. How did he get here? He remembered dinner, cleaning up the dishes, and watching TV. Then nothing.

The digital display of the clock on the side table showed 7:28am. Twelve hours had passed. Had he blacked out? There had been no alcohol, so he couldn't have gotten drunk and passed out. Had he suffered some health event like a stroke? What the hell had happened?

The clock-radio sounded. Chuck slapped the top of the device, and quiet returned. He lay there, arm outstretched, feeling dazed. Something didn't seem right.

He rubbed his forehead, squinting as he concentrated. Try as he might, nothing came to mind. He turned his hand back and forth and examined it. He shifted position. The left leg moved, and the right leg moved. His body seemed to be functioning okay.

He raised his left hand and stared at it, puzzled. It was wrapped in white gauze, and it felt odd. There didn't seem to be a normal level of sensation. Instead, there was numbness. Was this because of the bandage?

He tried to wiggle his fingers. That seemed to be okay, just impeded by the gauze. What had happened? Had he been in an accident? But he'd been at home. Hadn't he?

Chuck rolled to his left side and propped himself up on his elbow. He looked around the bedroom. Everything looked normal, nothing out of place. If there was an explanation, it wasn't obvious.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Who To Call In Case Of Emergency by Marina Rubin

Tulip's mundane work environment is brightened by her adventurous, bubbly and promiscuous co-worker; by Marina Rubin.

You can learn a lot about other people's lives when you ask for their emergency contact number. A daunting task Tulip undertook with a mix of idealistic dedication and administrative weariness, when one of her colleagues, a senior underwriter, Didi Estefanos, fainted at work. Everyone ran around the office, scrambling to find a number for her next of kin as she lay on the floor unconscious, her feet in thick brown stockings protruding from the partition of her cubicle. As the crowd swayed above her, spewing water on her face and wailing Didi, Didi, someone found her profile on Facebook, tracked down her son and sent him an SOS message. By the time two masculine paramedics rolled in and strapped Didi onto a stretcher, someone was already on the phone with her frantic son, Nicholas, instructing him to meet his mother at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"Would you look at that man?" Senna, the new girl from marketing, whispered into Tulip's ear, smiling at a tall paramedic with a sleeve tattoo. "It's true what they say - New York has the best looking men!" Senna had recently relocated from Florida so most of her sentences began with "It's true what they say" and were awe-inspired declarations about her new city.

Tulip had seen the tall paramedic before. Twice. Once, when the Operations Manager collapsed with a stroke and, of course, the staff struggled to find his emergency contact number since the one on file in HR was from twenty years ago - his father who had long been gone; and the second time, when one of the salespeople had a seizure while closing a deal on the phone.

"What kind of business is this?" the paramedic sneered, shoving consent papers into his EMS bag. "Everybody gets rolled out on a stretcher! What do you people do here?"

Friday, September 11, 2020

In the Land of the Rain Gnomes by Harrison Kim

A retired social worker takes his lady friend for an adventure in a creepy ghost town accessible only by boat; by Harrison Kim. 

Decaying isn't that bad. It's a unification with your beginnings, a melding into the earth, a relaxing absorption where you do nothing but rot. The ego humbles itself before this ultimate dissolution, this disintegration of body and mind, this unthreading and wasting towards lightness.

I live in the ghost town of Nitnat Falls. I pace its abandoned, crumbling streets under drizzling skies, bed down on tree boughs at night, cool and damp in my lean-to under huge cedars. I've cut myself off completely from my old life. This wasn't quite what I had planned for my retirement, but it's stress-free. I've never felt such calm, such a letting go. I trace the lichen patterns growing from my navel, and wet my face in the mist.

Two months before I arrived in Nitnat Falls I'd retired from thirty years as a social worker at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital. I was ready for a lift from the bondage of routine, a permanent vacation from listening to people's delusions, being exposed to their madness day after day. I looked towards a life of travel and good times with my new friend Amanda, a thin, elegant lady semi-retired from the real estate business. This first trip of our relationship involved taking a boat up the remote west coast. The cargo boat stopped at fishing camps and Indian villages to deliver mail and supplies. Its halfway destination was Nitnat Falls, an abandoned pulp mill town located under towering mountains, with only a score of diehard inhabitants left living in a few moldy, crumbling buildings set against a view of dark clouds. I wanted to re-experience my adventurous youth, explore remote places. I'd always been fascinated by local history, and the story of Nitnat Falls intrigued me, how it began as a planned village built for the mill workers, laid down eighty years ago in one huge period of construction. The industry thrived until the company went bankrupt in the Seventies. More rain fell here than any other place in North America, no way in but by boat. The ruins of a hotel and indoor swimming pool molded away. Residential streets slowly lost their neat rows of houses to storms, floods, and decay.



As our boat pulled into Nitnat Falls, Amanda and I viewed the pulp plant's abandoned, skeletal hulk, its mossy, collapsed roof and smashed in windows open against the drizzling sky. The vessel anchored to deliver mail and other supplies for the diehard twenty-five inhabitants, and to give adventurous tourists a chance to walk the town while the ship's workers took their lunch break.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Elevated by Bruce Costello

A retired doctor confesses a long-held guilty secret to an old vicar; by Bruce Costello.

"It started as a joke," I say, feeling my heart rate quicken. "Just can't stop wondering how it ended, though I'll never know now, after thirty years."

The woman nods, one eyebrow raised. She doesn't look like a vicar except for the clerical collar. Probably near retirement age herself, but healthy-looking, blond, and clear-eyed.

"Maybe it's something important you need to work through?"

"My life's like a jigsaw I can't finish. There's a bit missing in the middle and nothing makes sense without it." I lean back and fold my arms. "I saw your sign, Spiritual Guidance and Counselling. I was hoping you'd give me some answers."

"You've known yourself all your life, but I've only just met you." She leans forward, hands outstretched, palms upwards. "The answer is in you, not in me." She settles back, hands in her lap. "Talking often helps."

The room is sparsely furnished. Our two chairs, close together, facing each other. And a desk with an incense holder from which blue smoke curls, filling the room with fragrance.

I take a deep breath. "I was a doctor for twenty-five years, recently retired."

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Canister By James Rumpel

Desperate scientists risk the Earth to send a message of warning back through time; by James Rumpel.

2063:
The canister sat in the middle of the elaborate mechanism. Its metallic surface sparkled as it reflected the device's myriad of lights which constantly flickered on and off. Two individuals, each dressed in a lab coat, stood silently staring at a control panel.

Eventually, one of the men broke the silence. "You are sure there is no one else out there?"

"I am," replied his cohort. "Since the last round of mega-storms, every known base and individual contact has been silent. It has been two weeks. If there was anyone out there, they would have answered our transmissions."

"Are we absolutely certain we want to do this?" asked the first. "Creating a wormhole on the planet's surface will destroy it. It will rip the Earth to pieces."

"The Earth is already dead. If there's any chance of us getting a warning back far enough to stop this, we have to take it."

Monday, August 31, 2020

Evidence by James Mulhern

Molly learns some questionable morality from her scheming grandmother; by James Mulhern.

Nonna slipped; her wig flew into a mound of snow. "My back!"

"Help!" I yelled.

A crowd surrounded us.

"Someone, call an ambulance," Nonna screamed. "Don't no one touch me." Her coat and pants were torn.

The bank manager said, "Let me assist you."

Nonna said, "Keep away! Your maintenance person must be a bombast. He should be fired for leaving that ice." She moaned, mascara a dirty mess on her wet cheeks.

"I've got your wig," a hunched-back elderly woman said. "Do you want me to put it back on?"

"Are you crazy? What's a wig gonna do for me? What I need is an ambulance."

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Konigsberg Affair by David W Landrum

In Nazi Germany, a US diplomat discovers a clandestine smuggling operation, and must make a difficult choice; by David W Landrum.

My secretary told me the meeting with Golper was on and that he was waiting for me at a small restaurant seven miles away. Since it was urgent, I left at once. I stuck the reports of the incident that involved him into a diplomatic case, headed to the garage, and threw the satchel into the sidecar of my BMW R75 motorcycle. I am the only US diplomat who lives in this part of the German state of Prussia. We have a Consulate in Konigsberg, but there are enough Americans in the local settlements and surrounding countryside to warrant having a representative for them so they did not have to go all the way to K-Town when they needed something or got into a scrape.

I pulled out on the road that led to the largest town in the area. To my left, the Baltic, grey and choppy, spread north toward Scandinavia and the Arctic. Gulls screeched. The road was clear that morning. I turned the throttle open and felt the cold, raw morning air buffet my face. I liked riding in weather like this. Sometimes after a long ride on a blustery day my face felt like the top layer of skin had been sandpapered off, but the pain was worth the thrill of riding fast, of wind, mist, and rain on my skin - and of nothing ahead but the air and the road.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Kind Girls by Alexander Richardson

Ethel and Elizabeth take diabolical action to avoid a visit from their abusive uncle; by Alexander Richardson. 

Elizabeth clutched the book under one arm and held the wicker basket in the other as she took the steps down two at a time. She reached the front hall, and was about to run out the door when he spoke.

"Lizzie? Just where is it you're goin' to, girl?"

She turned to her father. He wore soiled overalls, and was rubbing an oil-spotted rag between his hands.

"Up to the hills, Pa," she said. "Me and Ethel gonna have a picnic."

He nodded, moving the rag from one hand to the other. "Y'all finish cleanin' your room?"

"Yes, Pa, and I'll dust again 'fore bed."

He smiled. "Good girl, Lizzie. I want ever'thing lookin' nice for your uncle."

She felt a knot in her stomach, and swallowed. "Yes, Pa."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Lessons and Lies
 by Mitchell Waldman

In a Chicago suburb in 1975, Jewish teenager Robert Friedman tries to muster the courage to ask out his crush, Sandy Auerbach; by Mitchell Waldman.

It was the year the Nazis were threatening to march in Robert Friedman's hometown. It was another so-so year for the Cubs who hadn't won a World Series since 1908. And it was the year that Robert Friedman's interest in the Cubs was starting to be overshadowed by something else...


Robert was seventeen years old and had never been on a date. It wasn't that he wasn't interested in girls. It wasn't even that he couldn't imagine why any girl would go out with him, but instead that he didn't know if any girl on earth even knew he existed. Earth, for this purpose, being the country of the United States, State of Illinois, village of Skokie, and high school, Niles North High.

He didn't know how to act with girls, didn't know what to say to them, got flustered, sweaty palms, knocking knees, pink cheeks, just being around them. It was nuts. While other guys in the neighborhood were hanging around with all the local girls and taking them out on dates, then talking about their exploits in the park at night, smoking their cigarettes, strutting and spouting off about what base they got to with Martha Wasserman or Sharon Silverstein or Penny Moskowitz, he would sit with his hands jammed in his pockets smiling nervously at them, feigning to understand what it was all like. On the fringes of the group, while Steve Bittermyer and Ralph Goldman went on and on, showing what big men they were.

"We were at the drive-in, see," Bittermyer was saying. "You know about drive-ins, right?" The five other guys circling around them, as Bittermyer smoked his twig and bounced the basketball in the dark, broke out laughing.

"Yeah, drive-ins. Who doesn't know about drive-ins?"

Monday, August 17, 2020

A Piece of Your Mind by Ryan Collins

Ryan Collins' character tests the limits of his colleague Randy's whacky conspiracy theories.

"It tastes just like chicken, they say," Randy said as he climbed back in the truck.

"What tastes like chicken?" I asked even though I was pretty sure I didn't want to know.

"Cats." He pulled the door shut. The old delivery truck rocked and squealed.

"Who says that?"

"The fucking orientals, man. Who else?"

We just dropped off a pallet of restaurant supplies to The Golden Dragon, an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet - a damn good one - on the west side of Burton. I nodded at the hunched over old man who'd just signed for the delivery. He was still looking over the invoice. "Mr. Xiu told you that?"

Randy winced. "Naw, man. He wouldn't tell me that. I'm talking about people on the internet. I'm telling you, check out my message boards, man. You'd learn some shit." He punched in the delivery as complete in our tablet and poked his chin at Mr. Xiu. "You ever eat there?"

It'd been a long time since I'd eaten at any Chinese buffet, but as far as I could recall, I hadn't eaten any cats. "Nope."

"You'll never catch me dead in there."

"You think there was any cat meat in the pallet we just gave him?"

Friday, August 14, 2020

Astral Sex by Harrison Kim

Seventeen-year-old Matthew has an out-of-body sexual experience that gives him a new perspective; by Harrison Kim. 

It's midnight, I'm in Bonnie's apartment, I'm seventeen years old and she's a mature woman who wants astral sex, she's lying on her back in her bikini underwear. I'm on my side, my stomach, I'm flipping like a porpoise. Bonnie's going for soul travel, the ultimate high, she says. I have a hard time holding back, viewing the sheen of her legs against the moon light from the window,

"Matthew, we have to breathe in and breathe out slowly," she says. "When we hear a loud bang, that's when our souls leave our bodies, right through the middle of our foreheads."

She continues "I've made physical love with many men, but this is a spiritual calling. If I get pregnant with astral intercourse, I'll be like Mother Mary," she laughs. "We're both spiritual sex virgins, Matthew. That's a real turn-on for me."

"Pregnancy?" I pushed that out of my head. My teenage mind had room for nothing but lust.



We met as I rested by my bicycle outside Winfield Hall following my debacle premiere at the Okanagan composers' contest. I'd cycled a hundred kilometres to Kelowna, camped overnight in a baseball stadium in preparation for the event. I entered a song called "Throwback," about a small-town kid who because of his quirks and differences is doomed to work forever in a fast food restaurant.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Around Her by Bruce Costello

A Russian peasant regrets her literacy; by Bruce Costello.

Agafya hears a knocking and through drowsy eyes watches her shrivelled granny leave the table and shuffle to the door of the hut. A familiar figure stands there, silhouetted against the sunlight that floods into the gloom.

Doctor Chekhov enters, greets Granny, goes to the bench where Agafya is lying, and bends to ask how she is feeling.

"So tired. Just awful all over. Can't do anything."

"Let me take a look."

His hands, twice the size of hers, are warm and soft. He has beautiful eyes. So brown with good-natured wrinkles at the corners. And the whites of his eyes under the funny glasses are bright and clear, like the full moon on a frosty night. They say he writes stories, grows flowers and loves all animals, especially dogs. He doctors to peasants without being paid.

Friday, August 7, 2020

In the Heart of the Woods by Christopher Johnson

Ten-year-old Herbie Hereford explores the local woods with his friends, and his courage is sorely tested; by Christopher Johnson.

The woods felt vast to me, with their deep, dark, secret places. They loomed like a sorceress at the end of our block in Upton Grove in northern Ohio, lying thick and black, feeling so different from the everyday life of school and church, tempting me yet repelling me, promising adventure like none we would ever have in the strict, narrow confines of our daily existence.

There were four of us - Darlene, Roger, Tommy, me. We were suburban kids starving for adventure, thirsting to break out. We had a voracious hunger, and the woods beckoned with seductive arms open. Yet we could not have articulated this hunger, which felt like the edge of a sharp knife held against our souls. The need was inchoate. It lay at the back of our ten-year-old collective unconscious - a yearning so acute yet so unexpressed.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Forward: March by Mike Lee

Mike Lee tells the story of two American political refugees in the South American country of Antanzia, with a complicated personal history; by Mike Lee.

"How exhausting all this was. In fact, if only people knew how madly tiresome it is to be a criminal!" 

- Hermann Hesse, Klein and Wagner 

The question was resolved with an answer I steadfastly refused to accept. My hands became putty in this memory of a profoundly painful aspect of my past. That is, doing something that seemed a good idea at the time, but really never was to begin with.

This fact was laid out before me while with my old camp mate Stefan at a table at the beach in Antanzia City.

We sat under a fuchsia umbrella chatting over some business regarding his novel and likely temporary employment writing copy for a public relations firm I had an excellent connection with.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Maestro by Lawrence Martin

A prestigious conductor auditions for a new member of his orchestra, and gets a moving surprise; by Lawrence Martin.

"Maestro, the candidates are waiting."

The fifty-year-old conductor, tall, handsome and urbane, nodded to his young assistant. They walked to the audition auditorium.

"How many performers today?"

"Four, sir. Two from Curtis in Philadelphia, two from Juilliard."

"These are a chore, Robert, but I must endure them. You have the Mahler score, so I can study it during the auditions?"

"Yes. About the performers, three are seasoned violinists, and one is a Juilliard student."

"Oh, they always try to slip in a student, heh? A waste of my valuable time."

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Trophy Wife by Rhema Sayers

When Jessica's overbearing husband has a heart attack after a skiing accident, she and her sister-in law suspect foul play; by Rhema Sayers. 

Hank Tavison, age forty-six, tanned, buff, ruggedly handsome, with his young, gorgeous, fifth wife at his side, leaned back in the ski lift chair, letting the cold wind blow through his thick dark hair.

"What a great day!" he enthused as Jessica shifted uncomfortably in the seat next to him. She kept her gaze locked on the back of the seat ahead and her gloved hands clenched on the safety bar.

"You're going to love this." Hank continued. "There's nothing like a brilliant, sunny day on the slopes with the wind in your face. You'll feel like you're flying!"

"Are you sure I ought to start on this slope? I've never skied before. It looks awfully steep."

"Don't worry. You'll catch on quick."

"I'm a little scared, Hank."

He glanced at her irritably. "Don't get whiny. You'll spoil the whole day." And he turned his attention back to the slopes.

Jessica turned her face away to hide the anger and the tears.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Memory Keeper by Fiona Nichols

Supermarket security guard Chris harvests old photos from his ailing mother's house, and flirts with Gemma, a waitress at the supermarket café; by Fiona Nichols.

Outside, the storm rumbled on, leaving the rain-slicked carpark almost empty. Chris headed for his usual table by the window, wet hair dripping onto his tray. He had picked the wrong day to cycle. With half an hour until his evening shift started, he set down his coffee and toasted teacake and shouldered off his backpack, leaving a puddle on the floor. He'd been turning up for work early these past few months, and the rest of his day had become a prelude to sitting in the supermarket café, in the hope Gemma was working. Chris sat facing the counter, raised his mug at her and smiled. The waitress nodded back from her cash register, but she seemed tired - not her usual sparky self at all. She was busy serving the only other customer, so he dragged his eyes away and remembered to check the old shoebox in his bag.

At least by wrapping it in a plastic carrier before leaving his mum's nursing home, he had ensured the whole thing wasn't reduced to mush. The box was still dry, but the ragged corners were held together by peeling tape. Chris lifted the lid on his mother's memories to examine the contents. He considered lovestruck newlyweds on the brink of parenthood, and family snapshots with Chris on his father's sandy shoulders. It pleased him how many remnants of his mother's past they had managed to label with names and years today.

Chris yawned and ruffled his hair. He needed this coffee tonight. Packing up someone else's life was exhausting, and he welcomed the caffeine as he took his first sip. He wondered whether he could release the top button of his trousers discreetly to be comfortable, without looking creepy. His waistband had been digging into his skin lately, leaving a red stripe along his belly like a scar. He should start running or something. There were four individual butters with peel-off lids on his plate. Two were low-fat margarine, two were the good stuff. Best just make it margarine. Back when he had started here, he could chase after a shoplifter, fast as a whippet. But now? He shook his head. This whole security guard thing was only ever meant to be temporary after his redundancy, but everyone here was nice, and time kept slipping away.

Monday, July 20, 2020

My Deal With The You Know Who by Lawrence Martin

A successful author longs for some musical talent, and is prepared to sacrifice his very soul; by Lawrence Martin.

I entered Jake's Deli on Cleveland's west side and, as instructed, took a seat in one of the booths. The waitress came over and I told her I was waiting for someone, and we would order together. A minute later he walked in. From a distance, he seemed to be just another guy coming from the parking lot. Though we had never met, he seemed to recognize me right away. He walked straight to the booth, sat opposite me.

"Hello," he said, in a deep baritone voice that sounded affected. I was still skeptical at that point. We shook hands. His hand felt cool, almost clammy, and his grip quite strong.

"Hi," I said, rather meekly. "Why did you choose Jake's Deli for this meeting?"

"They have great pastrami, of course. Good enough reason."

I searched for some sign of his identity and think I found it in his face. The angles were sharper, more unnatural-looking, and his eyes were deeper into the sockets than normal, as if he was made up for some horror movie. He wore a felt hat and I am certain there were two protrusions, one on either side of his head, poking up the felt. This was no imposter, or if so, a very good one.

Our waitress returned and didn't look twice at the new arrival. "What'll it be?" she asked, after depositing two waters.

He ordered pastrami on rye. I ordered lox and a bagel.

"Are you paying?" I asked, sort of joking.

"Yes. You'll pay later." He was not joking.

I cleared my throat.

"So," he said, in a somewhat haughty manner, "what exactly do you want?"

Friday, July 17, 2020

Divergent Memories by Tim Frank

Tim Frank tells a chilling science fiction tale of the Church's capacity to foster self-denial in service of its own ends.

The congregation, consisting mainly of young couples, some accompanied by their children, the rest single men, knelt in prayer as the priest's voice boomed from the altar to the nave.

"Now," he said, placing his hand on the bible that was open at the Book of Proverbs, "I want you to access your memory chips and go to a place you dread the most - the hidden, the traumatic. Remember, we have analysed your chips meticulously and we can assure you there is nothing too disturbing recorded in them. And yet these memories must be confronted, held up to the light, because if we blot out the past we cannot truly live in the present. Well now, let us proceed, shall we?"

Malcolm grabbed hold of his wife's hand and squeezed tight. She responded with a reassuring smile and briefly rested her head on his shoulder. They both closed their eyes and began to sift through memories on their memory chips. The chips were lodged in their skulls just behind their left ears.

Now that he had been prompted, Malcolm knew exactly which memories to focus on. After all, these particular recollections had been haunting him since their inception.

His mind was transported back in time until he arrived at a flashback where he was standing in a deserted toilet. The lavatory had five cubicles, three sinks and a large mirror, reflecting the light from the windows, creating a phosphorescent cube. Staring back at him in the mirror was a youthful Malcolm, maybe aged fifteen years old, wearing a school uniform - his tie twisted out of shape and one side of his shirt untucked. He could smell a cigarette burning from the far cubicle and plumes of smoke played against the ceiling before they were sucked into the air vent. As the smoke spread throughout the room, Malcolm's lungs became constricted and he began to wheeze. He approached the cubicle from where the smoke was emanating and found the door was ajar. He pushed it open gently with his foot. He revealed a young man, roughly Malcolm's age, holding a cigarette with a limp wrist, wearing thickly applied eyeliner and lip gloss.

"Can you put the cigarette out? It's bad for my asthma."

Monday, July 13, 2020

Candy by Dave Wakely

Dave Wakely's character has to look after his estranged fifteen-year-old daughter for a few days.

"God, you're so useless!"

She stands before me, two skimpy candy-pink tops dangling from their hangers like the discarded skins of lurid reptiles, her ferocious glare expecting me to choose. Decisions, decisions... Luminous Lycra or acrylic machined-lace the colour of bubblegum.

I scratch my chin while her right foot counts out the seconds on the rough concrete floor.

Tap tap tap.

This is her second day with me after half-an-hour's notice, after what passes for an explanation from her mother. Just a text, neither predictive nor predictable. Hasn't her daughter told her? Abbreviations are sooo last year.

Moved in new house but hv chickenpox + R on business in Singapore. B not had it. Don't kno neighbours so cant ask. Yr office sed u r on study leave, so sending her over w driver. Shd be ok in 2 wks. Will xfer £s to yr a/c. Spk later. J.

Since she arrived, we might still be in my town but we're in her world now. Mine never smelt of fast food and unisex perfumes. The lighting was kinder, and it was quieter there. How's a man to think? More to the point, what would the man she now calls Daddy do? Would he even allow her in a place like this?

Friday, July 10, 2020

Crusade by Lawrence Martin

Doctor Miller will try anything to get his patient to quit smoking, but who is more determined? By Lawrence Martin.

Dr. Lewis Miller always struggled to get his smoking patients to quit. He cajoled, he pontificated, he pointed out facts. When all that failed, he used his funeral home gambit.

"Mable," he would say to his patient, when her smoking habit came up, "What funeral home do you do business with?"

This question would, of course, get Mabel's attention. After her "why-the-heck-are-you-asking me-that?" response, he would go into his the-cigarettes-are-killing-you-quick spiel. He tried some variation of this question with most of his addicted patients. Sometimes it worked, but most often not. Still, he kept trying.

And if one of his smokers was admitted to the hospital, for whatever reason, he would, in the middle of examining the patient, ask where they stashed the cigarettes.

"My cigarettes?"

"Yes, the ones you brought with you."

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.