‘Memoriam in A-Flat Minor’ by Douglas Cole

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News came—Bruce had died.  It was not shocking news.  He had battled Big Death in his bones for the last three years, come out victorious in that fragile way a war survivor emerges with radiant clarity and eyes that glow.  No fooling around anymore, not that he was a fool around type.  He was a shaggy-headed Bostonian with a big Irish laugh and jazz love and basketball handler’s hands and an ivy league memory.  Stories of scholarship rides and semi-pro days.  But he knew and we all knew he’d entered the land of borrowed time.  But happy.  Outwardly.  Hit by occasional, weird side-effects and glancing blows: thyroid went out, he lost much weight, a snap of the femur.  He rolled around in a wheelchair for a while.  But happy at least to be in the world.  His favorite riddle: “What do you get when you throw a piano down a mineshaft?”  He was even still ambitious to go up the administrative stream.  A good soul, if anyone can judge.

A heart attack.  That was it.  Magnificent.  Just allow that for a moment.  If you think about it—the prospects?  We never spoke of the possibilities, but I imagine and imagine I’m pretty close that he’d had a few dread dark nights looking down the barrel of his own imagination at tubes and hospital bed and withering limbs and fading air and languishing nightmare—but instead, heart attack.  I thought he’d hit the lottery.  I envied him.  What a death!

Still, there were those of us who were stunned to get the news.  Death, even most inevitable, still comes as a surprise to some people.

Testimonials at the funeral captured bits and pieces of the man.  But how dead the room was even full of people.  The green carpet of the foyer as some kind of cold pastoral.  The perfect blond wood of the chairs.  The purple upholstery of the benches—a space so generically non-denominational, hinting in its tilted way towards church synagogue and maybe mosque—floor to ceiling windows along one wall and a Zen garden on the other side with koi pond and stone pedestals and paperbark maples dripping with rain.  Up front the casket with body, and I caught the glimpse of his profile there.

Here are my colleagues, Bruce’s friends and family.  I took a spot in the back near esoteric Steve with his phlegmatic heavy brow and eyes of authorial intent.  I placed my hands on my knees.  The speaking began.

Good Man

Good husband

Smart

PhD

Athlete

Jazz Buff

Those labels hit the air, coming like cartoon anime arrows through a buzzing fly-cloud of miasmatic black stuff.   Somewhere, it slipped into a talk-show routine, microphone going around to sincere leaden student remembrances saying how much they learned from him, tears whipped away with the edge of a finger.  Family members, gratitude, moments caught in flight.  I was pretty sure I’d never draw a crowd this big.

I was slipping into a different space—rain drops out the window were bouncing on the pond—one two three—boom!—diminishing with each landing and leaving their reverberations on the surface—wonder.  How had I missed that before?

…I remember working at the radio station with him and he was always smiling and I thought he was interested but he never asked me out until I took another job…

Then I was looking down at my feet as more memory unspooled itself.  What is an eggshell doing here on the ground near my toe?  Who put that there?  How does it arrive?

…Jokes, more jokes, he could list them off alphabetically, and operas and TV shows…

The eggshell—I picked it up.  It was just big enough to fit on the tip of my finger like a little helmet.  And look, you, see how its smooth white surface is really quite rough, how going deeper reveals it’s really a lace of spongy ropes like a ball of rubber bands—rich and strange.

Continue reading “‘Memoriam in A-Flat Minor’ by Douglas Cole”

‘Morus’ by William Guppy

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In the unemployment office of a West London borough, on a musty sofa covered in flecks, Robert Morus sat, one tweed trouser leg crossed over the other. Glancing at his pocket watch, he sighed loudly and folded his arms.

‘It’s a damned disgrace,’ Robert said to the pensioner beside him on the sofa. ‘I have no doubt that these degenerates are deliberately wasting our time. I suppose they consider it an apt punishment for not conforming to their ‘work-ethic.’’

The old man smiled politely at Robert but said nothing.

“Week in and week out they carry out this charade!” he spluttered. ‘They interrogate us as if we were criminals, for God’s sake. It is our right to claim these subsidies, and yet one is made to feel like a vagabond just for exercising his freedom as a citizen of this once-great nation.’

Robert had become quite excited by this point, and was shifting his considerable weight across the sofa. The old man clutched onto the armrest beside him to resist the chasm which Robert had opened.

‘I tell you, if I have to wait another minute longer, I shall walk out. Don’t try to stop me. I would sooner be penniless than suffer much more of this indignity. You know, it could do a man of my reputation considerable damage if I were to be seen in here by one of my colleagues.’

The old man shifted in his seat uncomfortably and glanced toward the window at the far end of the room. It was a small box window flooded with sunlight. He couldn’t see through the brightness, but outside birds were chirping in the morning mist.

Robert sunk back into the sofa. ‘What brings you here?’ he asked.

The man cleared his throat. ‘Rheumatism.’

‘As I suspected,’ said Robert, becoming quite animated again. ‘I suppose they expect you to work, even in your state, the heartless bureaucrats. Any reasonable person can clearly see that you’re unfit for any kind of practical application.’

Robert had begun to wave his hands wildly as he spoke, narrowly missing the old man’s face with each gesticulation.

‘You are quite obviously decrepit, and possibly approaching senility. It is simply unreasonable to expect someone such as yourself to be able to perform even the most basic public function. It’s not fair on society, let alone yourself.’

The old man began to interject, but Robert went on.

‘I am of the opinion that people of your age and ー’ he looked the old man up and down ‘ ーability, should be properly taken care of. Firstly, you should all be rounded up and deposited in several communal homes for the elderly. No doubt you live alone in a large house with just your wife?’

The old man shook his head. ‘Dead these ten years.’

‘Worse! An entire residence for just yourself is hardly fair on the rest of us. No, I thoroughly believe in elderly-communal living,’ said Robert, buttoning up his jacket. ‘As well as opening up the housing market for those of us who still have our lives ahead of us, it would provide a greater quality of life for the elderly. For instance, you are no doubt incredibly lonely living at home all by yourself. Am I correct in this assumption?’

The old man shifted in his chair and looked straight ahead.

‘I thought so. Now imagine living in a household surrounded by those who share the same interests; bridge, crosswords and television soap-operas. You would never want for company again! You could all work together to perform simple tasks that would be impossible to perform as individuals, such as taking baths.’

The old man had pulled his cap over his eyes.

‘The government of course, would fund the project, and you could live very comfortably indeed amongst yourselves. And with all that body heat filling the house, you’d never complain of cold again.’

Robert’s energy had peaked, and he began now to grow bored of the subject. He went over to the water-cooler in the corner of the room and filled a plastic cup.

‘Of course, I offer these ideas freely to the officials here, but they never listen. Their minds are too embedded in the sludge of routine and uniformity to consider any radical solutions to their problems.’

He took a sip of water.

‘It’s a shame really.’

Robert leaned against the water-cooler and surveyed his environment. The sofa was pressed up against a whitewashed wall near the corner of the office. It overlooked hedgerows of grey slats that cordoned off each employee’s cubicle. Above them a ceiling fan hummed lazily along with the sounds of keys being hit, papers being shuffled. He looked at the old man who had retreated now into the collar of his duffle coat as the thump of stiletto on carpet grew louder.

‘Robert Morus.’ A neutral voice.

Continue reading “‘Morus’ by William Guppy”

‘Avalon’ by dave ring

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I’m sure I heard you say it.

The name fell awkwardly from your lips into the sullen din, the grace of its syllables made ugly by your clumsy tongue.   I heard it and my skin puckered, each pore tensing and every hair standing up, as longing swept through me.  My memories of there still steam, raw and hot, as if they’d just been born, just been made whole.

I will be patient if you are forthcoming with your secrets.  Have you truly been there, breathed its air and tasted the salt of its shores on the back of your tongue?  Has it put its mark on you?  Did you too feel the heat of its scorned regard every day that you did not return?

I would call it my second home if it had not so thoroughly usurped the first.  The streets there know my heart.  They’ve mapped their twists and turns onto my veins so that the simple pumping of blood could teach my feet their permutations.

No matter your familiarity, somehow I don’t believe that place greeted you the same.  It didn’t keep you awake for countless nights, singing the sweat from your brow until you could speak its name flawlessly like the benediction it should be.

I left before it was time; my string was cut short.  An accident, it was promised.  But once cut, the door creaked open in front of me.  I remember digging in my heels, holding on for dear life.  I can still recall the pressure of able hands at the small of my back. I think I was pushed.  Though I scrambled for purchase on the threshold, my flight proved as impossible to prevent as catching a cresting wave with my bare hands.

You don’t look like much.  To hear that name on your lips is torture.  I know I heard you say it.  Don’t deny it.

Oh, for another day there, for an hour, I would do anything.  Do not speak to me of obsession, of contentment, of living in the now.  I have savored those lands with every inch of myself and found this place a gauche echo, a paltry shadow.  And so I will hunt for the means of my return until my feet falter, my eyes cloud and the parched winds of this sorry consolation prize have bleached my bones.

Speak.  I will crawl into your esophagus if I must, to reclaim that homeland, one I’d forged of intention, rather than a circumstance of birth.  If you’ve hidden the cipher for the reaching of it somewhere behind your incisors, I will pluck the teeth from your mouth like boiled sweets until it is mine again.

I know what I heard.  And I lied to you earlier.  I am not that patient.

dave ring is the community chair of the OutWrite LGBTQ Book Festival in Washington, DC. He was a 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2018 Futurescapes resident. He has recently placed stories with Mythic Magazine, FLAPPERHOUSE, Speculative City and The Disconnect. He is the editor of Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was, forthcoming from Mason Jar Press in August 2018. More info at http://www.dave-ring.com. Follow him on Twitter at @slickhop.

‘Crazy Making’ by Kelle Grace Gaddis

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Test. Test. Test. I found my father’s old recorder. He used to practice his sermons on it. Test. Test.

August 1, 2018

Roaches are despicable with their little-barbed claws; they give me the creeps. One will disappear into a crack and then reappear out of another. This morning I woke up with a big one on my pillow, inches from my face, its antennae practically in my mouth. Sickening. It starts with one; then, before you know it, they’re everywhere, eating your food, taking over, making you feel like a guest in your own home. Crazy making.

A couple of weeks ago, I put a slice of bread in the toaster, and one crawled out before I could push the lever down. Killed my appetite knowing that thing was in where my bread goes. They’re no easy way to get rid of them either, not under the best of circumstances and God knows I don’t have those.

I’d like to get the Shockwave Roach Bomb. It kills everything within one hundred feet of its canister, but it’s too expensive. Besides Jolene’s nursing her twins in the downstairs bedroom limiting my options. The woman’s clueless. She didn’t even notice her two-year putting roaches in his mouth. Disgusting. Her six and seven-year-olds aren’t any better. They treat the bugs like pets, racing them on tracks made out of cardboard boxes. Half-wits.

I can’t kill them fast enough. It feels like the infestation doubles every night. I turned the light on in the basement and nearly passed out. The floor was thick with roaches, it looked like black water rising and falling. All those little bodies rolling over one another scared me half to death. I didn’t want to risk driving more of them upstairs so I shot the light out.

August 5, 2018

I’ve been praying for an affordable solution, but God hasn’t shown me the way. A while back a lady at the church told me to use lemon peels and bay leaves, but the roaches ate those up and looked for more. Another member of the parish suggested sugar and baking soda. She said the roaches would be drawn to the sugar and killed by the baking soda when it mixed with the acid in their stomachs. Liar. The roaches tripled overnight. Jolene suggested coffee traps. I’ll grant that those helped a bit, but I can’t be expected to caffeinate the roach kingdom to death, that would cost a fortune. The fabric softener cure sounds perfect. No stimulant joy for the roaches before they die, just a tidy purification. Sadly, like all else, it’s pricey. One bottle is six bucks and I’d need five or more cases a week to kill them all.

August 8, 2018

I’m thankful that Jolene doesn’t complain about the roaches anymore. She was lippy at first, testing her boundaries, but now she’s well behaved. She’s happiest listening to rock music on her headset. Ticks me off that she can’t hear her babies crying when she’s got it on, but it keeps her content so I let it go. That said I’m getting tired of having to shout to get her attention. Overall, she’s easy to manage. Jolene catches on quick, much faster than her kids.

I haven’t spared any of them the rod, especially the children who, frankly, make everything harder than it needs to be. Family order isn’t rocket science. I answer to God, they answer to me. Simple. The roaches are another story. I have no control over them.

Continue reading “‘Crazy Making’ by Kelle Grace Gaddis”

‘George Must Die!’ by Jack Mageean

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Officer Collins came out of the interrogation room and quietly closed the door. He shook his head and sat down at his desk. Officer Taylor sat at the desk that abutted to Collin’s.

“Well”? Taylor asked.

“They gave it up. Finally.”

“What was the play?”

“George must die. That’s what they said.”

“Just like that, huh?”

“It seems they’ve been carrying a grudge and thinking about this for a while,” Collins said.

“The big one, with the crew cut, his name is Peters. He’s got a scar on the right side of his chin. It seems George gave him that. He said he never forgot that and always planned on settling the score.”

Collins got up and crossed to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. Taylor’s eyes followed him, waiting for him to continue. When Collins sat back down Taylor prodded him.

“What’d they say?”

“Oh, Christ, this is depressing,” Collins muttered.

“What happened in there?”

“Okay. At first, neither one of them admitted to anything. Just played it dumb. Didn’t know why we brought them in.

“I laid it out for them. Told them this was their one chance to help themselves. They didn’t believe me, of course. They were sure we had nothing on them. Then I told them about the witness. Told them they had been seen in the act. That shook them up a bit. I then told them that right now we had them for attempted murder but that could change if George didn’t pull through. That seemed to get their attention.

“Next thing, the little one, Macklin, his eyes start darting all over the place and you can see he’s scared. The big one yells at him to shut up. Don’t open his mouth. That’s when I separated them and put Peters back in the lockup. I let Macklin sit in the interrogation room for about twenty minutes, hoping his imagination would take over.”

“That’s what did it, eh?”

“Yeah. By the time I went back in he had a lot of time to think about spending all that time in jail. He was ready to spill.”

“So, what’d he say?”

Continue reading “‘George Must Die!’ by Jack Mageean”

‘ALIEN FUGITIVE’ by Gerri Zimmerman

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Present – Beaumont, Montana, USA

Misty-eyed Morgana Jones stared at acres of a lush forest sprawled before her. This was where she first saw the handsome stranger. He had penetrating green eyes — eyes that seemed to see into her very soul. She shivered slightly in remembrance.

“I miss you, my friend,” she whispered.

He said his name was Quinn Baxter, and his occupation was that of a biochemist. He also claimed that he lived in Beaumont, which she doubted. She knew everyone in the small town of Beaumont, and couldn’t ever remember seeing him before.

Morgana’s eyes were moist with unshed tears. She wiped them away with her index finger. She shouldn’t think about him. He had been gone for a year now.In reality, she hadn’t known him very well at all, but she wanted to. She was desperate to learn everything about him, but didn’t have the time or opportunity.

The calming effect of a quiet forest helped resurrect several stored memories of the last few times she had seen Quinn.

Some time ago…

Morgana finally took a much-needed short break from her hectic job as senior pathologist at a nearby hospital. Two days off was just what she needed. She went to a river near a park and put her tired, achy feet into the cool water.

“Ah, but this feels good.”

While her feet dangled in the water, she moved them slightly, which stirred the water and created ripples. The water swirled through and around her toes. She watched the water move in rhythm with her feet. Finally, she withdrew her feet from the water, dried them off with a small towel, and put on her shoes.

Before she got up, however, she decided to lie down on an oversized towel she had been sitting on while her feet had rested in the water. For some reason, she could no longer keep her eyes open, and quickly fell asleep.

#

He had placed a hypnotic spell on the woman to put her to sleep. This was necessary in order for him to carefully study the Earth specimen.

He didn’t believe he would ever meet a woman as lovely as she. She was the perfect woman, but a lasting relationship with her would not be possible. He knew that. Slowly, he walked closer to her as she slumbered. He stopped when his feet were a scant few inches from her head.

Continue reading “‘ALIEN FUGITIVE’ by Gerri Zimmerman”

‘Just Business’ by Paul Stansbury

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“I said, I’m coming up on the perimeter,” Vel rasped into his com. He pressed it tightly to his ear.

“Go to .he .ollag .ate , I… bribe. .he ..ard to .et you in,” crackled the speaker.

“Basset, did you say the Mollag Gate?” Vel shouted over the wind. “Say again, can’t hear a damn thing with all this noise.” Static filled his ear.

Vel turned his collar up against the chill, surging wind that whipped through the crooked, crumbling streets leading to Nova Barataria. The smuggler he bribed to bring him there had landed his space junk in the deserted old Port of Barataria. The gusts raked across the uneven pavement and rough walls of the old town, sounding like the cough of a dying man. In the relative silence between bursts, he listened for the other sound that had plagued his journey across the galaxy. It had become increasingly faint since leaving Regla 7. Now that he could not hear it or feel its icy fingers tearing at his soul, he held some hope he was free of the withering assault.

As he worked his way through the crumbling buildings, he tugged at the strap of the heavy backpack, trying to find some relief from the dull pain that soaked into his shoulders. He hoped he had understood Basset’s message.

Ahead, the thin glow of street lights reflected off the transparent dome. There, he hoped to find some relief in the light and bustle of the city. The walled perimeter loomed ahead. He followed the pavement until it disappeared under the vast Mollag entrance gate. To his left was a security station and a pedestrian turnstile entrance. Vel presented the false identification he had purchased on Regla 7. After a cursory review, the guard sneered and moved a lever, rotating the rusty turnstile halfway open, the pivot emitting a hoarse squeal. Resigned, Vel squeezed into the narrow opening, the thick tines of the turnstile poking his ribs. Once inside, the guard moved the lever ever so slightly so the squeal turned into a long, shuddering groan. Once again it stopped, leaving a narrow gap for Vel to exit.

“At least put some lube on that damned thing,” he muttered, squeezing out into a dark alley. The lights of the city bled in at the far end. The groan of the turnstile was still ringing in his head as he stepped into the market square.

Nova Barataria had been a popular port of call for freebooters for over a millennium. It served as a safe haven for those who indiscriminately plundered the weaker planetary systems too insignificant for, or resistant to, the protection of the galactic trade alliance.

Every marketplace in the galaxy had its own distinct personality. Vel found Nova Barataria’s particularly offensive. As he entered, a Dushraki butcher sliced the neck of a yowling gurang hanging by its hind tentacles from the roof of an open air stall. The animal soon fell silent as its thick blood drained into a filthy carafe. An angry knot of anxious customers swelled in the congested pathway, drawn by the pungent aroma. They clamored, like a ravenous animal, for a drink of the intoxicating fluid. Their cries reminded Vel of Tholian jackals attacking their prey. Suddenly, he felt a tug at his backpack. Fearing a brazen thief was trying to steal its contents even while it was on his back, Vel pulled his dirk and whirled around to see the laughing face of a gaunt Clodian.

Vel studied the wrinkled face. “Axolo?” he asked.

“Vel Janders, I wouldn’t drink none of that juice,” he bellowed in a high pitched voice over the din of the crowd. “Your brains won’t work right for a cycle, not to mention your innards. Come on friend, let’s find a quiet spot and get a proper drink.”

Continue reading “‘Just Business’ by Paul Stansbury”