Friday, October 30, 2020

Diplomatic Etiquette and the Alien Menace by Andrew Johnston

Andrew Johnston shares a hilarious guide to etiquette for dining with an alien species.

Welcome to the Exterran Federation Guide to Human-Kro'dyl Relations. Perhaps you are reading this because you are an Envoy considering a xenodiplomatic post, or a businessman seeking practical advice on alien relations, or a member of the public curious about this strange new species. The members of the Kro'dyl Dominion have a reputation for belligerence, but they are also a species marred by cruel and inaccurate rumors, as well as simple cultural misunderstandings. These guides are intended to set the record straight on this species while also helping the reader navigate their culture with caution and sensitivity.

FORMAL DINNERS

As with any other civilized species, the Kro'dyl often conduct diplomatic and business affairs in well-appointed dining halls. Our research suggests that humans make more mistakes at these functions than any other, even Envoys with prior experience in xenodiplomacy. Take heed the experiences of our dignitaries, and remember to always behave with the utmost care when dealing with Kro'dyl in such formal circumstances.

Monday, October 26, 2020

When Does a Gambler Stop? by Gary Ives

A harmless prank on a work colleague sets inveterate gambler Ray Carter on a rewarding path of criminality; by Gary Ives.

Luck, like the weather, always changes. It's inevitable, a fact. Ask any gambler. Me for instance. Much of this story is true, however names and places are changed as well as descriptions of various documents. You'll see why.

It started six years ago as a prank. Quite harmless in intent. Yancy Oats, supervisor in accounting, was retiring after 34 years of service with the super large company which will remain unnamed. Yancy, universally liked, was an ace accountant and manager with a kind heart and a sense of humor, unusual among generally dour accounting professionals. The company's retirement gift was a Mediterranean cruise for Yancy and his wife Roberta. Our department chipped in on a flat screen television, while in Ads and Graphics, my section of draftsmen decided to add a gag gift. You see, Yancy is a huge fan of old westerns, especially those of his favorite childhood star, Roy Rogers. To many of the department's under-thirties Roy Rogers and the whole genre of western movies and tv shows are as unfamiliar as rotary dial telephones and milkmen. However, it became kind of a joke for someone to purposefully distract Yancy by asking a preposterous question about Roy or an old western movie They would catch him in the break room topping off his Roy Rogers coffee mug.

"Hey Yancy, is it true that Roy's sidekick, Gabby Hayes, was really his dad, or was he Dale Evans' dad?"

"Oh no, no, no." He'd throw his head back and launch into a biography of George Francis (Gabby) Hayes or whatever nonsense had been addressed, and his knowledge of anything associated with Roy was wide and deep.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Stella's Beauty Salon by Laura Davis Hays

An alcoholic-in-remission sponging off his grandmother tries to turn his life around; by Laura Davis Hays.

So Mom and I put my Old Grandma in Friendly Acres Retirement Home last summer. Mom signed the papers with her limited power of attorney and I did all the heavy lifting. It's a nice place and she can afford it, all right? She's a rich old broad, what with the insurance money and all, and they have bingo over there and little tea socials and all the ice cream sundaes she can eat. What could be wrong with that?

Well, lots of things, you might say. Like her roommate, Stella, for instance. Stella's a real hoot. Came all the way from Brooklyn, New York, and talks a mile a minute in that accent of hers, big vowels and all. Never shuts up about her daughter, the hairdresser, back in the Bronx, and her son, the lawyer, who lives in Albuquerque but never visits, and her husband Herb, who died in like the middle of the last century. He was an airline pilot, and she was a stewardess back when they flew over to Europe in these big prop planes and had to stop in Newfoundland or Greenland to refuel. It took 15 hours or 18 hours. That's how they met anyways, on one of those long overnights.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Lost Dancer by Heather Robinson

Orthopedist Dr. Rosenberg enjoys a case of mistaken identity; by Heather Robinson.

She looked different from my other patients. My typical customer is 70 to 80 years old, suffering from joints riddled with arthritis, walking hesitantly, and in pain. But she almost flitted about the exam room, gracefully turning, hands extended elegantly. A kind of Holly Golightly meets Misty Copeland. As I stared, half-amused, she apologized for her movements, said she was nervous. She told me she was a dancer and was hoping to join Twyla Tharp's troupe. Her words came out in a lilting poetic rush, but despite prompting, she still had not explained why she was here. Finally, I asked her to sit down and told her she had nothing to be nervous about. Again, I pressed her on her symptoms - knee pain? Hip? Elbow? Now it was her turn to look confused. She blushed and told me that she had trouble reaching climax and had been advised that I was the best doctor for such things.

I must admit I was dumbfounded. The first thing which occurred to me was that Barry, my evil practical jokester friend, was involved. But this was well above his skill level. If I had been dating someone at the time, I might have thought it was a set-up, but I was celibate then. For a moment, I also thought perhaps I had misheard her, and that it could be potentially embarrassing to try to verify her statement. Then slowly, I remembered.

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Pennant of Initiation by Tom Sheehan

A high school American football team dare each other to hang a girl's panties on the Saugus Centre statue by midnight, and young Johnny Templer knows his naivety will get the better of him; by Tom Sheehan. 

Young Johnny Templer, in the summer of his sixteenth year, at the beach on a Saturday afternoon with his crowd, was at a crossroads in his life. Already he had experienced three erections on the crowded beach, any and all girls driving him into the mindless frenzy. He could have buried himself in the sand, or gone into the cool ocean water and stayed there until midnight.

The girl in the two-piece purple swimsuit was particularly dangerous, and daring, the way she absolutely was posing for him with her back against the beach wall, posing for him alone out of all the guys around. Almost snapping it at him, he could hear his brother saying, him three years in the Navy and knowing practically everything there was to know about girls. He was sure of it. Three erections told him so.

Now game time was at hand and pal and teammate Spit Kelly had their attention. Spit had a way about him you noticed sooner than later. "So, we go off to practice on Monday. We dead sure have to cap off a great summer, 'cause if we don't, we're going to forget it in a hurry." Spit looked at the dozen of them, most of them entering their senior year, Johnny Templer and Greg Wozny and Joey Turner being the only juniors-to-be in the group, babies, just out of their sophomore years, sopping behind the ears. Virgin territory, though not so readily admissible.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Sea Of Blurred Light by Basil Rosa

Kent Paxton and his drinking buddies speculate on how their buddy Danny Rice ended up dead, in Basil Rosa's hardboiled noir. 

The shamrocks on each corner of my cocktail napkin have changed into leprechauns and jigged away. New customers have barkeep Newton Smalls jumping. Most of 'em are travelers with small Gladstone bags who sit on the stool along the far wall in the darkness under a dart board nobody ever uses. I fix my numbed senses on the sot Dooley Mullhaven whistling as he explains to pal Elton Dimmer his technique for grooming his mustache. Dooley Mullhaven refers to the mustache as his pussy pleaser and this gets a guffaw from a beefy working stiff seated elbows-up over a mug of draft to Mullhaven's right. I don't know this working stiff and don't care to. I'm kinda in a compromised position since I'm sandwiched between the working stiff and Elton Dimmer. We're what you could call Dooley Mullhaven's peanut gallery.

That ain't a good thing these days on account of Dooley's been laid off, but the man is heroically, tragically upbeat. He holds to a romantic, and what I interpret as a soon to be obsolete, form of charm. He's kinda like the boxer, Jim Braddock, with dreams to play football for the Fighting Irish that never really materialized. Another thing is that Dooley will shovel Shinola with his face before accepting a dole from Uncle Sam. The man's got moxie. He knows how to listen and make a person feel welcomed. As a clown, he'd be as appealing as Emmet Kelly. Maybe the best word is compassionate. Exudes a sense of caring for others. In my book, gotta like that about any man.

Tired of talking about his mustache, Dooley turns to me from his end position at the small bar and asks if I know why this city we live in sinks three inches a year.

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Final Summer by Tom Sheehan

Owen Blood dreams of being a baseball superstar, but his career does not play out as expected; by Tom Sheehan. 

Part One


The batter swung like a great north woodsman, and the ball and bat melded in one sound. As of one mind, the audience rose up and released a roar of tunneling wind, a loud, uproarious, expectant howl, a universal cry late-inning born, a cry of hope that pushed the ball outward toward the solitary left fielder, immersed half in shadow, half in sunlight.

Behind first base, in the first row of the box seats, Catherine MacGawran watched the ball streak toward her handsome Owen Blood, her graceful and errorless Irish god, her late-inning ball hawk, her great glove man getting his first play in the Major Leagues; up from the minors and the bases full. What small wings stirred in her then, we all have felt; suspense flighty as a bubble, the pride that is an agreeable mate to love, a chilled and momentary flash of doubt. Of course, he was her glove man, best of all, the swift leaper, ball hawk unparalleled, line drive snarer who could chase down the deer of Octobers, who would soon wait for her at the altar. Dependable. So patient. Owen Blood.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Serendipity by Marie Anderson

Jill braces herself to tell her boyfriend about her disabled mother; by Marie Anderson.

On Valentine's Day, over pasta and wine in Jill's kitchen, Felix proposed.

Jill wanted to say yes. Felix had it all. Looks, charm, a well-paying job at YouTube. It was serendipity that had brought them together one year ago. A snowstorm had delayed their flight. He'd sat on a stool next to her in a crowded airport bar. Without that storm, they never would have met. He was flying first class. She was coach, all she could afford on her teacher's salary.

She loved Felix. But she had a secret she'd have to reveal, a secret that, when revealed in the past, had killed every romantic relationship she'd ever had.

She poured them each another glass of wine. His face was flushed. His hands shook as he lifted his glass, then set it down without drinking.

"It's okay, Jill. Just say what you need to say. I thought you loved me, but if you can't say yes, I guess we both know your answer."

Friday, October 2, 2020

A Journey on the Spectrum by A. L. F. Fagan

Ian is on a long space journey, seeking habitable planets, with only an AI computer for company; by A. L. F. Fagan.

I have been traveling through space for almost five months, with at least three more months to go before I reach Planet XA34. The name of my ship is the Spectrum.

After waking up at the usual time, I hear Maya's voice coming through the speakers: "Ian, you have mail from Josh."

I look over at the computer screen, see a flashing blue light and reply, "Thanks."

Every time I hear Maya's voice, I have to remind myself that she is just a computer. The designers outdid themselves with her. All the previous artificial intelligences that I've encountered before had an annoying unnatural quality, but not her. Maya's voice is soothing. Over time, she adapts to me as well. She has become a friend on this long trip.

I open the message from Josh. He is one of my main contacts back on Earth. There is nothing special in the mail. He acknowledges receiving the data that I sent him and includes instructions for the next batch that I will transmit. There is also the latest world news. After checking to see that the DC United won, I save it on the hard drive to read later.