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."