Monday, November 11, 2019

Infinity, in Four Acts by James Rumpel

James Rumpel gets meta.

Smith

In Captain Smith's version of reality, he was eternally seated at the wheel of an assault vehicle. Today was no different. Glancing over his shoulder he spied Private Kohler waited patiently in the back of the vehicle. To Smith's relief, the reckless young soldier had nestled into the safety harness. Kohler's survival of the imminent collision was of primary importance to the plan. As the captain waited for the enemy to emerge over the nearby knoll, he once again checked the surroundings.

The assault vehicle was snuggled between a large speckled boulder and an enormous concrete wall. None of the soldiers stationed on this planet knew the origin of the ominous structure. Smith did not know if the barrier had been constructed to keep something in or something out. What he did know was that it was too tall to scale. As far as its length, Smith could not even begin to estimate. Troops had investigated to the east and west and no one had ever found the beginning or end of the expansive structure. As far as Smith could tell, it went on forever. Mystery aside, their assignment was to protect this structure and he was not going to fail on that mission. Smith was, by design, the ultimate soldier.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Arms and Legs by O. D. Hegre

One heart, two patients - can there be justice when politics gets in the way of medical ethics? By O. D. Hegre.

The conscious mind provides excuses for our misdeeds, allowing us to suppress the guilt with rationalizations. But one cannot escape the unconscious where all is laid bare. And while society may not punish you, and God may not exist, be assured - in your dreams you will find the punishment you deserve.

Madame Romani



Friday
3:45 pm
Chapel at the Underwood Heart and Vascular Institute.
Richmond, Virginia


Raymond Kirkland, MD stood outside the door of the Chapel. He'd lost a patient overnight, and that was always a sobering event for any physician. But this death was jarring and totally unnecessary by Kirkland's assessment. The donor heart that should have been sustaining the life of his young patient - that, by all ethical standards and clinical criteria, was hers - now beat in the chest of another, a new patient of the Cardiologist, recovering four floors above in the ICU.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Boys by Gary Ives

Two smart, caring kids with very different backgrounds become such firm friends that surely nothing could keep them apart; by Gary Ives.

Noah entered the art room having to pee really bad. Before taking his seat he asked Miss Wilson for permission to go to the bathroom. "You've had plenty of time to take care of that between classes, so please just sit down." He had tried to go after Geography but Mr. Rolf, the janitor, was mopping the boys' bathroom. Thursday was art class day for the seventh graders during the last period. Miss Wilson told each table to create a "Florida, The Sunshine State" poster. These would be displayed at the assembly on Friday. He shared his table with Fredrico, a Mexican boy he barely knew. They were cleaning up before the bell when Noah lost it. Though he tried to stop, a little pee came out and then a lot. The khaki school uniform pants were soon darkened, and a small puddle lay at the foot of the stool.

"What's the matter," Fredrico asked.

"I had an accident; I peed myself. Everyone is gonna laugh at me. Look there's pee on the floor."

"Jus' stay there, don' say nothing." Fredrico took a roll of paper towels from the cleanup shelf and sopped up the pee. "Don' feel bad, such things happen. No?"

Friday, November 1, 2019

Dark Vader Isn't Real by James Rogers

Andrew is the only one left to care for his mischievous vanishing son; by James Rogers.

"Dark Vader isn't real," Colin told his father as they stepped into the elevator.

"That's right," Andrew replied, raising his eyebrows to the woman in scrubs who was already aboard. She smiled.

"What's this guy about?" Colin asked, throwing his tiny little five-year-old thumb at the woman.

"Colin, have manners," Andrew said. "I'm sorry, he hasn't quite figured out 'he' and 'she' yet."

"Oh that's ok. He's so cute." Colin turned to face her. "Oh dear, he has a little bruise." She frowned at the purple-yellow smudge on the boy's cheek, just below his right eye.

"Yeah it's... You know the way these things happen," Andrew said.

"And his spaceship isn't real. And his light saver isn't real."

"That's right, Colin. You've said that several times today."

"My friend thinks he's real. She thinks he's out in space but he's not. Dark Vader is fiction."

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Stroke of Blood by Mark O'Connor

Faithful Muslim wife Amal discovers a talent for painting, but is it enough to escape her grim existence? By Mark O'Connor.

Blood. I knew the perfect combination of colours to paint realistic blood. It was a strange thought to have but, like most thoughts, it arose without invitation. Vermillion, an obvious base, but it is the spicule of ultramarine blue and the dab of burnt umber that holds the key. Zinc white could be handy. Arterial blood is brighter you see. Thoughts can go too far sometimes, but it pleased me that I knew these things. I was improving. Ismael agreed. I was happy, thrilled, for the first time in my life and one day I would paint a masterpiece, sign it, and it would hang in a great Mathaf or a Grand Mosque. People who didn't know me would look at it and discuss me, Amal Haddad, the great painter. I am not a proud person, and I know it is wrong to think like this, but I am becoming good, the best in my class. Ismael has not told me this directly, not yet, but I feel he sensed it. I imagine Ismael, working on his canvas, between classes. It is an image that keeps coming to me. Uninvited. I can't resist it. I think these days in colours, in brush strokes, in subtleties of shading and tone. I calculate proportion and form of the objects around me, their pastel hues and chalky outlines. It calms me. My husband, Feras, I think is happier, although no children have come. I tell him to be patient, I have seen them, and Allah will bring me the clay and colours to shape them. Under my abaya, the purple blotches fade unseen. I can paint blood. Real blood. Uninvited.



Judging by the excessive sway of her hips, and the casualness of her amble, Souad had noticed one of the male students, Khalid, setting up an easel near mine.

'You know you have paint over the hem of your abaya, Souad?'

'Of course, Amal.' She picked up a brush from my easel and scooping up a blob of vermilion red from the palette, flicked it at me, 'And now so do you.'

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Divine Spark by A. Elizabeth Herting

Gentle giant Zain P Alexander lives for the past in his quiet little antique store, until the past begins to haunt him; by A Elizabeth Herting.

It was the eyes that clinched it. He was totally in love.

Perfectly rounded lids with just a slight flare at the corners, a thick layer of wispy dark lashes on both top and bottom decorating them in a most alluring fashion. Each lash was charmingly turned up at the edges in an effect that Millennials and Instagram stars only achieved with falsies and copious amounts of caked-on mascara. Zain couldn't say that her eyes were exactly symmetrical. The right one drooped ever so slightly below the left, giving her a bemused expression. Captivating, but certainly not beautiful in any modern sense of the word. In a selfie-obsessed culture, she'd be mocked for her shortcomings, but Zain knew better. He, of all people, understood there was a divine spark in imperfection. He'd been living it his entire life.

Of course, that singular imperfection might have been the angle of the shot or a careless turn of the head. There were no "do-overs" back in the day, it was all serious faces and drawn out poses. What one couldn't escape was the deep, all-encompassing color of her eyes. Even captured in soft sepia tones, Zain could see they were of the purest, richest brown, with a generous touch of amber around the edges. Liquid gold.

Intelligent. Playful. Wise. Loving. Sad.

That last thought broke him from his reverie as the store bell chimed. Zain jumped up in alarm, grabbing the feather duster in an attempt to appear busy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

To and Fro By James Rumpel

James Rumpel's character tries to live his best life while jumping involuntarily backwards and forwards through time.

The heart rate monitor droned on. The rhythmic beeping created an odd combination of annoyance and comfort. It may have been irritating and monotonous but constant noise reassured me that I was still alive. Every inch of my body was in pain. It took all of my internal strength to find the will to turn my head a tiny amount and gaze on the group of people standing by the door of my hospital room. There I saw another of the infinite supply of nameless doctors conferring with Susan, my son, John, and one one of my grandchildren. I was not certain of the grandchild's name, not because my mind was addled or my thoughts negatively affected by the pain, but because of the great number of grandchildren I had during my lives. It was difficult to keep track of all the different names my children had selected for their offspring during the different iterations of my existence.

Susan, lovely Susan, was clearly being given the obvious bad news. Her face, still attractive even as she approached the age of seventy, expressed her sadness. I wished I could tell her that there was still hope. I could still be granted a reprieve and we could be young and together again. I could not relay that information to her, however. My body would not let me speak. The cancer was that close to victory. Even if I could have told her, she would not have believed me. My story was too incredible.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Offspring by Tim Frank

In a neighbourhood so neglected that trash has piled up to the top-floor windows, Allison is sent out by her parents to scavenge for food; by Tim Frank.

Allison felt eyes on her, peering through her window as she was jotting down the finishing touches to the latest secret language she'd invented. She turned and looked over her shoulder. Outside were mounds of rubbish that had built up from years of strikes due to a breakdown in the running of the local district. As she looked at the rubbish pressing against her window, she thought she saw a face. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a pair of eyeballs seemingly made of shards of glass, and behind the broken fragments were irises like two bloodied pools of egg yolk. Beneath was a jaw made of chicken bones and wire mesh, drool dripping from its lips made from thick veins. Then the face disappeared into the black sea of junk.

Allison's parents knocked on her open door and she raced over to them and ensconced them in a desperate hug.

'What's wrong darling?' said her mum.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Elegy for Kurt by Eliza Mimski

Rebecca Jean is grief-stricken by the death of her hero Kurt Cobain; by Eliza Mimski.

He stuck the gun inside of his mouth. A single blast with a shotgun, the MTV news reporter said.

"Now he's gone and joined that stupid club," Cobain's mother was quoted as saying. The Morrison/Joplin/Hendrix club.

Man, that was cold, Lah thought to herself. Really hardcore. His mother must be some kind of a trip. Lah could relate, as her mother was a trip too. If Lah were to kill herself, her mother would say something choice like that, something of that order. Something stupid that totally lacked soul.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Door by Tara Wine-Queen

A rehabilitated  drug addict undertakes a spiritual quest to heal her terminally ill daughter; by Tara Wine-Queen.

It would be different this time. She would get the man in the boat to open his hands so she could read the words burned into them before they reached the waterfall, before she woke up.

She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep in the cramped hospital bed, willed herself to the wild and verdant landscape of the dream she had been chasing all summer. She knew where it would begin: deep within the forest, the sounds and smells of the earth and its creatures filling her senses, the air so heavy and wet it was almost intoxicating in its oppression. Sometimes it varied in small ways, a different grove of trees or an unexpected companion. But always she would hike through the forest, following the footpath of former fellow seekers, and make her way to the boat where the man would be waiting, and always they would go together down the river.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Mosaic By Steve Haywood

Derek's granddaughter is digging for shards of pottery in the garden while he reflects on his life and career in Steve Haywood's sweetly sentimental story.

It was a hot day for April. Derek peeled off first his jacket and then his sweater as he toiled in the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun. The spade dug deep, sliding through the soft clay soil like a knife through butter. He lifted a wedge of soil out of the ground and upturned it next to the newly made hole. The soil was dark, almost black, except for a small creamy white shard sticking up like a crescent moon shining against a midnight sky.

"Grandpa, we found another one!" He smiled at Amelia as she dived in to retrieve the newly found treasure, curly golden locks bouncing off her slim shoulders.

"So we did! Does it have any patterns on it?"

Amelia wiped the mud off on her sleeve before shaking her head sadly. "Just another plain one."

"Never mind, there'll be plenty more where that came from. Help me plant the potatoes and then we can do some more digging."

Friday, October 4, 2019

Her Sister's Keeper By Wes Blalock

When a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome goes missing in 3000 square miles of national forest, Rangers Birdie McLaren and Katie Reynolds pull out all the stops to find her; by Wes Blalock.

11:33 AM

Ranger Birdie McLaren heard voices rise up from the Jacobson Campgrounds six miles from where she stood on the McClure Trail. The trail ran the edge of a hillside, a grassy slope to her left and the sequoias and madrones in the treeline to her right. The campers called out "Dor-o-thy," in a sing-songy plea for a response from a lost child. Birdie sighed, concern turning her lips into a small frown as she thought just how lost a child could get in 3000 square miles of national park. Scared, alone, and wondering when her parents were going to come to her rescue; the Sierra Nevada mountains unforgiving of age or innocence.

Oh, Dorothy, she thought, where are you?

The radio on her hip blared for all units to listen to an emergency broadcast. Turning up the volume, Birdie heard that Dorothy, a fourteen-year-old with Down Syndrome, wearing a Girl Scout uniform and a polka dot backpack, was last seen at the Jacobson Campground around ten in the morning. Birdie notified the dispatcher that she was nearby and another ranger, Aiden Walsh, asked her to meet him at the Brooks Fire Road. Birdie quickened her pace down the trail; few things were as sad as a fruitless search for a child. Except for a successful search that ended too late. Minutes meant everything.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Blue Lady Jenean McBrearty

In the chaos of World War II, Gabby and Francois are each trying to hold on to the person they love; by Jenean McBrearty.

We were on our way to see Agnes' new baby. I said, "Let's walk down the alley, Ciebel," but he said no. He wanted to walk by the water and see the sailing ship that had tied up at the pier. "Okay, I'll meet you at Agnes'."

He gently grabbed my wrist. "No, Gabby. Come with me. You want to see a baby; I want to see a Blue Lady. If you want me to see a baby with you, why would I not want you to see a tall ship with me? Babies are born here every day, but the ship may never come again."

I did want him to see the baby. I wanted him to think how wonderful it would be for us to marry and have one of our own. Did he want me to see the ship because he wanted me to think of us sailing around the world? To see Athens, perhaps? Or Alexandria? "We'll walk the alley there and by the pier on the way home. How's that?"

Friday, September 27, 2019

Kansas City Ganges by Henri Colt

Henri Colt's character has run an outdoor gear shop in Boulder Colorado for a year, when his benefactor dies in a climbing accident.

Loren died last week. He was hiking to the summit of Pyramid Peak, a fourteen-thousand-foot climb in the Elk Mountains about 12 miles west of Aspen, Colorado. According to friends, a rock gave way under his feet, and he plummeted down a vertical slope into an inaccessible gully. When I heard the news, I closed the shop and contacted my colleagues at Search and Rescue. A helicopter had spotted his mangled body at the bottom of a cliff, but there was nothing they could do to save him. I loaded my gear and left Boulder immediately.

It's been a year to the day since Loren invited me to dinner in Kansas City. Remembering the evening better than a sports commentator remembers the blow-by-blow of a heavyweight prizefight, I ran our conversation through my head as I drove past fields carpeted with wildflowers on my way to Pitkin County.

He'd taken a phone call from his doctor.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Abraxas by Joseph Cusumano

In the run-up to World War II, Vatican priest Primo Ferrara is assigned to conduct exorcisms at the local mental asylum - but what price is he willing to pay to succeed? By Joseph Cusumano.

September 1939

Ten years as a Jesuit priest, the last seven assigned to the Vatican library, Primo Ferrara spent his days cataloging new acquisitions and making sure that all of the library's holdings were accounted for and intact. Of secondary importance in Primo's mind was his responsibility to verify the credentials of scholars requesting access to the library's massive archives. The oldest holdings dated back to the eighth century, and some of the more recent ones included a request from King Henry VIII for a marriage annulment, a transcript of Galileo's trial for heresy, and a letter from Michelangelo regarding overdue payment for his work in the Sistine Chapel. Somewhat of an introvert, Primo found himself better suited to library work than fulfilling the obligations of a parish priest as he had done for the first three years following his ordination.

Although immersed in one of the largest repositories of ancient works and records, Primo avidly kept up with current events, especially the confrontation between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini. New rumors about the Pontiff's ongoing power struggle with Il Duce circulated every week within the Vatican hierarchy, but Primo was not one for rumors. Instead, he relied mainly on articles in L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, although he occasionally ventured out to read Il Popolo d'Italia which was published by the Italian Fascist Party. Primo had no trouble finding the "fascist rag," as he called it, at a newsstand near his favorite trattoria on the Via Veneto, but he always discarded the paper well before returning to the Vatican.