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."


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.







                                                                                                                   : 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.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Camouflage by Ron Hartley

Soldier Ray has some terrible luck on his flight home after fighting in Afghanistan; by Ron Hartley.

His deployment was over, his biological arms and legs still attached and obedient to his brain. For twelve months he'd been alternatively homesick, sex deprived and haunted by a perverse desire to get hit just so he could get it over with. The odorous warrior dudes in his platoon were unhygienic refuse heaps of their former selves, but so juiced by steroids and firepower he couldn't help but think of them as superheroes of sorts, so he hung in there with them day after god awful day.

Helicopters would come sometime in the next hundred hours to fly the platoon out to the Bagram Air Base in Parvan Province, the first leg of their long journey home. Ray had permission to detach sooner and take the rest of his accumulated leave before hooking back up in the US. Cell phones weren't allowed in the field so photos would have to wait until they were together once more for separation processing. By then the faces in such photos wouldn't be so unhinged anymore. They'd be the born-again faces of reasonably happy beings, or if not happy then reasonably alive.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Little Light by Jessica McGlyn

Maddie starts volunteering for a Christian aid organisation working with disadvantaged inner-city kids, but hers is a much older religion; by Jessica McGlyn.

It didn't have to end like this. I should have seen it coming. After all, I'd been a young girl once too.

There goes little Bernaya writhing on the linoleum floor, her arms and legs a mass of oozing boils. There go the children of Little Lights, mocking and pointing at her. There go my fellow tutors, staring like fools, waiting on the Lord to intervene, I guess. There goes Ms LeMara, rushing in to help her.

But I know it's useless, there's nothing to be done. And all over that stupid kid, Tyrone.

Three months earlier, as I was telling my neighbor Jan about my plans, I could not have predicted Bernaya's tragedy.

"You're volunteering inside Potomac Gardens? PG? The public housing with all those drive-by shootings?" she asks.

"Jeez, it's not that bad," I say. "PG's just a few blocks from here. We should do more to help our neighbors."

Monday, January 6, 2020

To Build a Fire 2030 by James Rumpel

Todd is so reliant on technology that he's stuck when his self-driving car crashes in the woods; by James Rumpel.

Night had fallen, ill-lit and frigid, when the autonomous 2029 Ford Helmsman sped past an insignificant sign on a forsaken service road of Wenatchee National Forest. The electric car's barely audible whir suddenly ceased. All lighting on its exterior and in its interior dimmed, then extinguished. Propelled by momentum, the car continued to coast toward a hairpin bend in the gravel roadway. No longer operated by its state-of-the-art self-navigation system, the car jolted slightly as it parted ways with the road and joined the trees and undergrowth in the forest. The vehicle rolled down the steep embankment.

Todd jerked into semi-alertness when the car left the road. Aided only by the dim castings of a full moon woven amongst tree branches, he recognized the skeleton of a fallen ponderosa pine rapidly approaching the vehicle. Still slightly groggy from an unscheduled two-hour nap, Todd's survival instincts took control. Covering his face with his arms, he twisted to the left, ducking below the car's high-tech, though completely inert, dashboard.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Whose Lucky Night? by Renata Kell

Vince is about to pull off a heist that's been planned for months, but he's distracted by a captivating barmaid.

Something feels different tonight. Tonight is our lucky night. We are prepared to cash in on this casino in a big way. Yet I can't shake the feeling that something is off. Nothing looks different. The machines are flashing bright neon invitations to the dwindling bingo crowd. June and Charlie feed the hungry slot monster the remainder of their social security check. I wonder if they realize I have been watching them for more than six months. The girls in the deli are as fun to watch tonight as all the other nights. You would never know they are working. They are joking and laughing with each other and the customers that wander up to order midnight snack food. I can't help but laugh out loud as they start high-fiving and hip-bumping after a small burst of business.

"Vince," Joe says, his eyebrows narrowed in my direction.

"What? We're supposed to act like any other night, right?" I say.