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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From "Ghosts of the Asylum" by Ty Johnston

“Where is this nephew of yours?”

A shadow fell across his table as Kerjim looked up from his dinner into a set of dark eyes surrounded by stringy gray hairs atop a mammoth head the size of a melon. The Docks Guild chief lifted a red napkin with frayed ends, the best the Stone Pony had to offer, dabbed at the corners of his mouth, then slid away his nearly finished bowl of pigeon stew. “He is no longer any family of mine,” he said as he lifted a wooden cup of ale and sipped from it.

The big woman huffed and those present in the tavern’s main room went quiet. All conversation stopped, as did any slurping of drinks or scraping of plates. All eyes were on the monstrosity that was Mama Kaf as she leaned forward, towering over the seated Pursian.

Where is he?” she asked.

Kerjim set down his drink and looked up at her. “I have no idea. Perhaps he is upstairs in his room packing to leave town. That would be the smartest thing he has done of late.”

The big woman tromped off to one side, heading toward the stairs.

From "The Knowledge of Good" by C.A. Kendrick

Jav is an immortal mentoring newly-changed Simon on how they can sense the emotions, thoughts, and will of humans...

"When you were transformed a gray veil fell over your senses. When the power of immortality cleansed you of your mortal frailties, you started to experience the world through senses designed for another place. A place – or dimension – unmarred by evil. Because you are now tuned to this new dimension, you sense this earthly reality in a different way than before. You can feel the evil permeating everything."

Simon leaned toward Jav, riveted with excitement by what he was learning. "Yes," he said, almost breathless. "Exactly. This place and everything in it. It's not like before. Food, colors, smells, sounds; they are all muted by something. I hate it."

"Except," said Jav, "for the inner life of the humans. Even before your transformation I bet you never experienced colors so vivid, smells so intense, sounds so all encompassing as when you are drawing in the flow of a mortal. But all is not beauty and light. Before I even taught you how to examine a flow, I taught you how to buffer. Humans have absorbed the evil around them. But they alone in this cursed world have control over how much of the evil permeates them. They have choice."

From "Until Charlie" by Linda Picinich

“Hey…Hey, Abbey...”  Charlie’s spoke softly, waking me from my slumber. I pried one eye open, squinting in reaction to the morning light.  I realized that I must have clung to Charlie all night long, as my entire right side was draped over his body, my leg still wrapped around his, my arm stretched across his chest, my hand firmly clenched around his rib cage.

“What time is it?”  I asked.

“8:00am.”  He replied.  “I have to go.”  He gently removed my hand from his side, slid his leg out from under mine, and slipped out of bed.  I stretched and yawned in pure pleasure.  Never a morning person, I was amazed that I was already smiling and feeling so chipper.  This must be heaven, I thought.  I studied his graceful movements, admiring Charlie as he walked around the room, as if it were my own private symphony.  He pulled on his jeans and sat himself down on the edge of my bed.  I leapt up and threw my arms around him from behind, pressing my cheek into the space that was the crossroads between his shoulder blades and the crux of his neck.  I squeezed him tight, taking in a long, deep breath.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

From "Book of Mercy by Sherry Roberts

Mercy Study Club weeds out "undesirable" literature from the school library...

The Stupids Step Out,” Irene said. “Describes families in a derogatory manner and might encourage children to disobey their parents.”

Arabella huffed in disgust. “That’s an absurd name for a family, fictional or otherwise. What if Tolstoy had called her Anna Idiot instead of Anna Karenina?”

Arabella got no argument from Irene, who constantly fought the battle for eloquent language with her own children. She thought “suck” should be something you did with a straw, not a description of your homework.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. One California library gave students copies of the book with all the ‘hells’ and ‘damns’, pardon my French, blacked out.”

“Not a bad idea, if you ask me,” said one member.

“I agree,” Irene said then went on to the next book. “A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein.
Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them . . .”

Julie cleared her throat and attempted a half-hearted smile. “Irene, surely when you were a child, you too hated doing the dishes.”

Irene peered over her glasses at Julie. “We had a maid for that. Even so, there is never an excuse to take a hammer to the Wedgewood.”

From "Wyndy: In a Heartbeat" by Aithne Jarretta

Malik is having a bad night. Can he flip it? Driving in storms can be hazardous...

Up ahead the empty road beckoned. He didn’t remember getting this far. His turmoil of thoughts carried him so close to home.

He punched his foot down, seeking one last push of high before slowing down to turn into his driveway.

The light changed. Red glared, waving like a spectral omen on the coastal wind.

Lightning flashed, blinding him briefly, then…

A scream and sudden flash of movement surrounded by blue.

He braked hard, unsure of the apparition. Tires squealed. Lexee lost her grip on the wet pavement, spinning rakishly. Rotating the wheel opposite to Lexee’s motion, visions of his life flashed before his eyes.

He expected a crash. None came.

Silent stillness…

Breathing hard, grateful for continued life, he reached for the door handle. The scream echoed in his mind, horror at possibilities out in the wet world compelled him forward. He stepped out, instantly soaked, feet moving of their own volition.

His heart shook…

Blackness engulfed the world beyond the blue white lights shining from his car. He froze, unable to make his body move through the shock wrapping his brain.

From "Epiphany" by Stuart Land

Chapters alternate from different continents. This one is from Africa and is self-explanatory.

Ayira approached cautiously, for she’d never been to the outsider’s hut. The entire village was warned to keep safe distance, especially at night, for bad things can happen in the dark. She didn’t believe any of the children’s tales told about outsiders, but her heart seemed to pound as loud as her fist rapped upon his plank door.

Bwana David, Bwana David! Nisaidie, tafadhali! Help me, please! They come.”

A voice from sleep called back. “Nini? What? Who’s out there?”

“It is I, Ayira Mukendi. Please, open door. You must come with me now.”

Angled shafts of light moving through cracks, scuffling feet, then the door pulled back. David, squinting and shirtless, peered down with his flashlight beam into Ayira’s frantic eyes. “What’s wrong, Ayira? Are you sick?”

She glanced at his concerned young face, then grabbed his hand and tugged. “We must go now, Bwana David. They come for you.”

He grasped her shoulder with his free hand, steadying her trembling body. “Hold on, Ayira. What are you talking about? Who’s coming for me?”

Tears came with her words. “Wazee, elders, believe you made me with child and come ninyiua, kill you.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

From "The Latch-Key Solution" by Larisa Naples

The homeless nut looked at me with genuine concern.  He placed a gentle, well-manicured hand on my shoulder.

“You know, I really think you should have a glass of wine — or three — before I answer that.  It’s not something a man should see sober.  Why don’t you join me in my cardboard condominium?  I still have that bottle of chardonnay.”

“You are really beginning to irritate me.”

“All right.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Here.”  He dug into his trouser pocket and handed me a lady’s compact.

“I don’t wear make-up.”

“Take it!” he commanded.  “I want you to take a good long look at your eyes.”

“Why?” I said, suddenly nervous.

The nut looked me straight in the eye.  “I think you already know the answer to that.  Now, look!”

I open the compact and slowly — ever so slowly — I brought the mirror up to my eyes.

“Aaack!”  The mirror shattered on the floor.  “What’s wrong with my eyes!  My pupils are…”

“Square?” completed the nut, “With some kind of… something crawling around inside, just behind your cornea?”

I stared at him in disbelief.  “But… how?”

From "MiG-23 Broke my Heart" by AK Dawson

Thomas was bored. He was down on his stomach and elbows in a shallow ditch scooped from the side of a dune, his R4 rifle aimed at the border. He was supposed to be watching for terrorists but his eyes were on the only cloud in the sky, a little cotton swab high over the heat and sand of South-West Africa. 

‘Hey, bru?’ he said, without looking away from his cloud. ‘Want to smoke a joint?’ 

‘Shut up, surfer boy. You’re not on Miami Beach.’ 

Thomas turned and squinted up to the lip of the dune. There, silhouetted against the sun like the periscope of some buried U-Boat, was the head, shoulders and rifle of one Pieter ‘Skeletor’ Venter. He was in the same nutria-brown uniform as Thomas and topped with the same standard-issue bush hat, but his uniform was free of creases and all the floppiness had been starched from his hat. 

‘You sure?’ Thomas had been brought up to be polite. ‘It’s Durban Poison.’ 

Skeletor said nothing. He was obviously too busy looking for something to kill.

From "The Vagabond King" by James Conway

The morning after my mother’s death, I was surprised to see the sunrise. From behind the curtain of my bedroom window I was surprised to see the people leave their homes and begin the day. Downstairs, the hands of the grandfather clock continued to tick, marking each passing hour with a chime that echoed over the black and white chessboard tiles of the front hall. I was surprised to see the mail come at the same time as the day before and, later that evening, the sun set once more as it did since the beginning of time. My mother’s death did not disturb the planets in their courses. And, though everything kept moving like she never existed at all, my world erupted into chaos until the universe swirled around me like a whirlpool of scattering stars.

From "Soul Protector" by Amanda Leigh Cowley

I opened my eyes and the restaurant came back into view, but something was different. Something was very wrong. I’d been facing the main door before, I was sure of it, but now I was turned towards the kitchen. Even that seemed insignificant. It was a far more disturbing situation causing my heart to thump. In the blink of an eye Lydia had gone. In her place, the face staring back at me was my own.

Friday, November 25, 2011

From "Greet the World" a story in "The Uncanny Valley" by Bryan R. Dennis

A disaffected employee has been informed that resignation is against company policy...

Taylor leapt to his feet. He paced the room, rubbing his hand over his mouth. After a moment he whirled and pointed defiantly at the counselor.

“What if I told you I don’t care about the rules? What if I told you that I’ve been pushed past the limit and to hell with the consequences? What then?”

“Is that what you’re telling me?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Taylor nodded.

The counselor clucked his tongue, produced a pen from his clipboard and scratched a note. His expression soured.

“What can management do?” Taylor challenged. “Fire me?”

“They don’t fire people.”

“Well, damn it, what if I just leave? What would happen if I simply walked right out the front door and went on my merry old way?” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and waited for a response.

After a delay the counselor set his pen down and folded his arms across his chest. “You can’t leave.”

“And why not?”

“You’d die.”

From "Love Hurts" by Catherine Green

“She is connected to the job in Scotland; they both are.” he said, “I’m sorry Jessica; it looks like we have inadvertently drawn you into our mess.  I need to find Jack and go sort this out.  Please promise me you will stay home, don’t answer the door unless you know who it is, and phone Jack or me if you get worried about anything, no matter how small or trivial.  Will you do that?”

He grabbed my shoulders, staring directly into my eyes, and I gasped, shocked at his forcefulness.  I nodded, feeling sick with nerves.

“Yes of course.” I said, “Am I in danger?  What about Liz?”

He relaxed slightly and eased his grip on me.

“Liz will be fine,” he said, “she is of no concern to them.  But they seem to have found out about you and your relationship with Jack and me.  You don’t need to be overly concerned just yet; hopefully we can settle this tonight.  Please just stay home and keep all your doors locked and your mobile phone handy, ok?”

I nodded and Danny left, saying he would call Jack on the way.

From "Charity" by Sarah Rae

Scott didn’t speak. Didn’t blink. He sat on the rocking chair of his porch. Swung slight and slow. He stared. Watching Henry on his porch put stolen beer into an ice chest. Scott wasn’t tired, hungry, thirsty, or even sad. He fought a fury of red matter in his temporal lobe.

“In bout two hours you gone wish you had yaself some beer, too, boy. I don’t know how yous spectin to get to sleep tonight.” Henry chuckled and pulled himself up with a sigh. Pains in his left heel made it hard to even sit down. Ivory’s diagnosis was a bone spur in his heel, telling him time and again to get it checked. But Ivory was out in Mississippi and she couldn’t see him limping now. The next time he was able to get a phone call out to her he wasn’t going to tell her how much worse the pain had gotten.

“Goddam, son. Whatchu starin at?” Henry yelled across the driveway that divided their homes.

Atop a car, half a block away, a dog was floating their way.

From "Kansas Dreamer: Fury in Sumner County" by Kae Cheatham

Disquiet filled her. It seemed she would be ill, her stomach rolling, fingertips chilled. And the vision returned: The man smiles at her. Fringe. Dark. Falling.

“Marshal,” she said, her voice tight. “Marshal Stamford!” She jerked Phineas to a stop.

Stamford turned, smiling as he reined up his horse. Cra-ack! His lips formed a grimace, green eyes wide with surprise as he jolted forward, still in the saddle, but he held his right shoulder and clutched his horse’s neck, struggling for balance. His horse tossed its head and pranced. Ellen spurred Phineas forward, vaguely hearing Lutecia’s exhortation to take cover. She grabbed the sorrel’s headstall. Craack, came another shot. Phineas snorted. Ellen urged Stamford’s horse toward the tall serviceberry bushes beside the trail. Two shots came from Lutecia’s Pettingill.

“Get down!” Stamford growled at her. “It’s you he’s after!” The dark stain on his jacket spread as he took control of his horse and slid to the ground. With his left hand, he pulled his rifle from the scabbard.

Craack! Phineas jerked. Red blossomed across the big draft’s left ear and the horse whinnied a protest and bolted into the thickets.

“Run, Ellen! We’ll hold him down!” Lutecia called.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

From "Anonymous Realm" by Linda Picinich

I smirked, feeling fairly confident that I was going to get the better of this prank.  “Oh, okay.  So what happened to you then?  You know, since you’re not really dead?  Have you been reincarnated?”

“Kind of.  Maybe.  I’m not entirely sure.  That’s why I need your help. To find out what happened to me.  To my body, I mean.”  This man truly believed he was who he said.

“You died.  You suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack, and you DIED.” He looked genuinely stunned and confused.  “Oh, and you donated your organs too.  Your two minutes is almost up, Pal…”  I got up again to leave.

“Wait!”  He said.  “Meet me here again tomorrow.  Please.”

“Yeah, okay.  I’ll jot it in my calendar…lunch date with the dead guy with no organs at the park.  Right.  Look, Pal, I may look lonely, but I’m not so desperate that I’ll start dating zombies.  Rest in peace, Fella’.” I turned to walk away, but he stood up and blocked my path.

From "Embody" by Jan Tilley

It is hard to believe that it was just over a year ago in fleshling time, that I began this amazing journey. I was young, naive and inexperienced. Accepting this challenge eagerly, I had no inkling what it would entail.  The lessons that I have learned are overwhelming.

        There was no way Kinstep could have prepared me for what I would witness on Earth. What a magnificent place. Its ever changing, constant beauty was hypnotic. And, as lovely as the planet was, it was no comparison to the splendor of its inhabitants. 

        I discovered, sometimes the difficult way that fleshling life is not always as easy and carefree as it appears. The torture that some of my hosts endured was excruciating at times. Their suffering will linger with me, forever. Their memories are now mine as well; we shared it all, the good and the bad.

From "Reel Life Crime" by Cary Pepper

The damn fool kid. Was the car worth it? Did he really think his father was going to press charges? Or was he just trying to stick it to the old man, the way, he was so sure, the old man had been sticking it to him the entire 17 years of his angry young life. Maybe he was just being 17.

He’d taken the old man’s Lamborghini. The 1972 Miura with the collector’s plates and the drop-dead price tag.

“It’s a P400 Miura SV,” Lathrop told Sampas, and waited for a reaction. When he got none, he continued. “Only 142 were made. Or 147, depending on who you talk to. Only 21 were approved for import into the United States.”

Sampas had never been wowed by cars, but clearly he was supposed to say something. “Sounds like a very nice car,” he mustered.

“Ferruccio Lamborghini called it his ideal sports car,” Lathrop explained, his voice a nuanced blend of pride and condescension. “It’s also been called the most beautiful sports car ever built. Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, the Shah of Iran, and the king of Saudi Arabia have all owned one. Yes, I’d say it’s a very nice car.”

From "Mocked by Faith" by Michele Richard

Alexia Cross and Justin McNear live in communities where their faith only believes in arranged marriages...

“Okay, folks, if you would be so kind as to allow a change in tonight’s venue. We have a very special announcement to make. Alexia Cross, would you please come up here?”

My heart beat frantically in my chest. I balled my shaking hands into fists and pinned them to my sides.

With everyone’s eyes locked upon me, I weaved through the room to join my parents on stage. Before I could even ask what was going on, the other McNear couple joined us.  Looking at my friends, I could see the ladies were beaming, not so much for Crazy Eight; he was in hysterics as Johnny just shook his head.

“Tonight Alexia Cross has been contracted to marry Justin McNear, son of James and Jane McNear from our sister church in England! Since he was unable to make the trek himself  tonight, we’ll be holding their tying ceremony next month, on Saturday, June twenty-sixth, the day of their wedding. So, please join me in congratulating the future bride.” 

The announcement left me flabbergasted and gaping.

Did he seriously just say I’d be marrying a man I wouldn’t meet until the day of my actual wedding?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From "Drop By Drop: A Thriller" by Keith Raffel

Sam Rockman, a Stanford professor, is dropping his wife Rachel off at San Francisco International Airport:
I pulled Rachel's black Tumi case out of the trunk, extended the handle, and trotted into the terminal to check the gate for the flight to Boston. I arrived in front of the bank of terminals and turned around to look through the glass. Rachel waggled her fingers and blew me a kiss. I smiled, jerked a thumb at the video monitors, and turned around to find out her gate.

Then it hit me – an enormous whoosh and the sound of a dozen thunderclaps.

I was deaf. Couldn't hear anything.

I was blind. No, the air was filled with sooty black smoke.

I was on all fours. Sticky blood was smeared on the floor beneath me. I pushed down on my hands and heard the crunch of glass underneath them. Shards embedded themselves into my palms. The pain chased the grogginess away.

Rachel. I staggered up and crunched my way back toward her. Now I could see dim light through the smoke. The huge window I had just looked through had been blown out. Even as I stepped through the jagged opening, I could see an abandoned Accord in flames.

I started to scream.

"Rache, Rache." Where was she?

From "Unforgettable Embrace" by Joanne Clancy

I am officially fat. Rachel Jenkins surveyed her naked body critically in her full-length and rather unforgiving bedroom mirror, and made a silent promise to herself that she would join a gym immediately. Time is of the essence, she thought to herself, pinching the definite layer of flab sitting uncomfortably around her usually fairly toned mid-section. Her thighs had developed a few more lumpy bits, despite her lashing on tubs of expensive anti-cellulite cream. Damn you Anthony Raynard, Rachel thought in annoyance as she pinched her chubby bits. I suppose that's what breaking up with the self-declared love of my life has done to me, she muttered to herself, that and bucket loads of red wine and shed loads of ice cream.

From "Snorr's Saga" by Timothy Brommer

Stretching out to the horizon, hewn limbs lay as numerous amongst the hacked bodies as the weapons dropped by dying hands. Corpses by the tens of thousands were strewn across the trampled wildflowers of the sunny plain of Asgard, putrefying the air with the pungent cloying stench of emptied bowels and coppery blood. Thousands more gravely injured warriors moaned and wailed as death approached, many blindly pawing at the sky or clutching their wounds.
“You’ve waited long enough,” Thor’s father, Odin, called out above the din.

“I don’t answer to him,” Thor shot back angrily, glancing to his right.

His father angled his rune-engraved spear, Gungnir, over one shoulder. “That isn’t the issue, is it?” His father’s spiteful grin jabbed Thor in the belly like he enjoyed knowing his son was troubled. Beside his father stood a lithe dark-haired Valkyrie in a white dress of gossamer cloth. The top of the human’s head barely reached his father’s waist.

“I’m trying to watch the fight,” Thor said bluntly, not swallowing the bait, returning his attention to the pair of human men trying to kill each other.
Soaking in the thrilling sights and odors, Thor eagerly raised his drinking horn.

From "Rys Rising: Book I" by Tracy Falbe

Amar and Urlen reach the climax of their initiation rites into a notorious outlaw society...

Kez warriors began to tie the circular blocks of stone to the wrists of Amar and Urlen. They triple knotted the bonds and made them tight. With paralyzed dismay Urlen watched himself be tied to the stone. He was breathing in stuttering gasps and shaking. 

“Initiates, we ask you to die for us. Cast in your stones and join the Brotherhood of Vu,” Kym said. 

The Kez warriors stepped away. Urlen and Amar were left with their blocks at the water’s edge. Amar finally looked at Urlen.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” Amar said.

Then without any hesitation, he bent down and pushed his block with his bound hands. With a scrape and a splash, it yanked Amar into the water. It would not be said that Amar had hesitated at the test of the waters. 

A great shout went up from the crowd. Urlen cowered beneath the noise and stared in horror at the radiating circles on the water. Amar was gone. 

When Urlen did not move, the warriors began their chanting again. “Die for us and become our brother. Die for us and become our brother.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From "Maggie's Fall" by R. Lynn Wilson

“Stupid dog! Now look what you’ve done.”  With her arms around Jett and her head buried in the thick black coat, Maggie cried – for T.J., for her parents, for the ranch, for herself – the tears came like a flood, washing away all of the pressure and sorrow that Maggie had let build up over that past weeks.  Wiping away the tears with her flannel sleeve, Maggie took a deep breath and got to her feet.  Taking her mug of coffee to one of the lawn chairs strewn about the yard, Maggie sat down, and Jett laid his head in her lap.

“What are we gonna do, fella?” Maggie stroked Jett’s gleaming black head.  “I get so tired of fighting battles day in and day out.  Maybe I’m never going to be able to make a go of this dude ranch business; I just don’t know.  I want to do what Daddy would have wanted; I just don’t know what that is.”  Jett kept his black eyes on Maggie as if he understood every word she was saying. 

From "They Called it Moosicide" by Lisa Hall Deckert

That is when I saw the body – Jake’s body.  I’d never seen a dead person before, much less someone who had been attacked by a moose.  It wasn’t pretty. 
But if this is going to make any sense, I guess I really I need to start at the beginning, with the moose.

From "Expected" by Sarah England

Samantha Sweet is supposed to be getting married to a man she has slowly realised is a psychopathic game player...

He knows it's over. I know it's over.
So fathom this one if you can. I wake up to hear Neil Diamond singing 'Love on the Rocks.' An all time favourite song now tainted forever. Later, in the shower, there come the distant strains of Annie Lennox singing, 'Why.......? Why......?' Another favourite. Spoiled. You would think, would you not, that Simon is pining the loss of his one true love? 
         For the last few days the flat has been a war zone. He grabs at me from dark corners, bangs on the spare room door just as I'm dropping off to sleep - demanding to 'talk'. He hisses insults, sniping nasty names at every opportunity. Tonight 'The War of the Roses' is on TV - and there he sits staring at me with watery eyes and a devastated, dropped-open mouth as if he's just been stabbed through the soul.
          He knows I'm going. I know I'm going.
          He doesn't know when.
          I do.
          "I won't let you go, you know that, don't you?" he says.
          The film is brilliant and extremely funny. Kathleen Turner is a scream and it's annoying that he's talking through it. Every laugh he winces. "You really are a heartless bitch, aren't you?"
          "Guess so."