Count to sixty - Editor
by C.J. Miozzi
Dan scrambled to his feet. Disoriented from the fall, the teenager reached out into the darkness and touched the cold, stone tombstone he had tripped over. His heart raced -- his pulse throbbed in his temples.
"Mark," he whispered. "Mark. Where the hell are you?"
Dan spun about in the dim light of the crescent moon. Amidst the shadows, he spotted a small patch of grass illuminated by Mark's flashlight. The stocky teen kept low to the ground as he rushed over to the light. He looked around nervously, but couldn't perceive any movement in the large cemetery.
When he reached the flashlight, Dan saw Mark's prone form sprawled out on the grass beside it.
"Dude, come on, we got to get out of here." Dan nudged his friend with his foot. "That guard was right behind us. He can come around any minute."
Light fell upon the tombstones mere feet away from the two friends.
Dan dove into a mound of earth behind a tombstone.
The light scanned the area. "You punks aren't getting away this time," spoke the gruff voice of the night guard. "You're going straight to juvie, and your folks are going to pay for all those tombstones you kicked over." Footsteps shuffled closer through the grass.
Dan held his breath and squeezed his eyelids shut. Don't come this way, don't come this way, he pleaded in his mind.
The footsteps receded from earshot.
The teen mentally counted sixty seconds before letting out a deep breath. He rose to his feet and tried to brush moist soil off his new Philadelphia Eagles football jersey.
After ensuring the guard was nowhere in sight, Dan turned back to Mark, who still lay on the ground. As he squatted beside his friend, Dan held a finger near Mark's nostrils, and felt warm air pulse out.
Dammit, he thought. What if he's in a coma, or something?
9,000 words, but worth every one - Editor
by Keith G. Laufenberg
God the first garden made and the first city Cain.
—Abraham Cowley, The Garden.
Thomas Wang strode resolutely across the glistening terrazzo floor at New York City’s huge Port Authority Bus Terminal. Wang, the CEO of Wang International, a huge computer-tech firm, was in a hurry but then Thomas Wang was always in a hurry. He had been in the city for two days straight, in heavy negotiations with his staff and the CEO and staff of Plum Computers, as the two firms were consolidating their assets in order to buy out an ailing microchip computer firm. It was the advent of a new year, 1990, along with a new decade and—as far as Thomas Wang was concerned, a new era—an era in which computers and high technological companies would outstrip and out-sell all others, to the extent that they would dwarf them almost into oblivion. Wang was a visionary who was consumed with buying out any software or high-tech company that showed even a hint of any intention to sell. Wang’s limo driver had taken ill and, rather than employing a new one, Wang had decided to try, for the first time in his life, the mass transit system; he had decided to take the bus back to his palatial estate in New Jersey, even though several of his staff minions had offered to drive him home in their cars. Wang had been offered a large block of shares in a bus company, as part of the microchip computer deal, and he wanted to see firsthand what he might be getting involved in and how many people rode the buses, as well as what kind of people they were. He spotted a men’s room on the second floor of the terminal and headed towards it, not even realizing that there would be a portable toilet on the bus. He noticed several maintenance men dressed in red jumpsuits pushing mops silently across the shiny terrazzo tiles and smiled towards them, as he began walking up the stairway that led to the bathrooms.
A personal favorite: rats - Editor
by Joe Nazare
How he laughed, the warped bastard, as the rats swarmed over me. To him, all those scurrying vermin added up to mass entertainment.
I’d tried to tell him, to reason with him. All too aware of the cameras set up to record the proceedings, I leaned in toward him and whispered my plea: (please don’t make me do this, not right now). Not at that particular time of the month. I dreaded that the rats would be drawn by the bloodscent to the worst possible place on my laid-out body.
He listened to my desperate request, seeming to soak up my concern only to flick it off like forehead sweat. C’mon, Edie, he told me. Fight your fear. Do this. I’d say ‘what do you have to lose,’ but I think you know the answer to that one. Always that ominous undertone to his conversation, hinting at the consequences if I didn’t play along, if I didn’t at least attempt to pass his test.
Already I had begun to curse my own weakness, my foolishness. A needy little lamb, I’d let myself be lured so easily, and now look at the wolf den I’d stumbled into. Or maybe that’s just a mixed metaphor, considering what he’d planned for me.
The red indicator lights of the surrounding equipment gleamed beadily in the basement murk. The cameras were trained on the main set piece in that modern-day dungeon: the long, glass-paneled box, some exhibitionist’s lidless coffin.
I wanted no part of it. I stood staring at it, imagining my imminent nightmare inside it, until terror finally wiped out my higher thought processes. At some point, my antagonist took firm hold of my elbow and guided me into the box. He told me to lie down, and I moved to do so with all the mechanical compliance of the hypnotized.
You might be a redneck cyborg if... - Editor
by Paul Provenza
First you people hate us, then you crush us, then you hate us some more, then we're your entertainment. We're not allowed where you are until we pay our war debt, which will never happen, but your art makes it here oftener than you realize. I've seen Cleetus: Nutria Destroyer. I've seen Twins in Love. It's very funny, very mode, this art of yours. You people even made a holo about me, Finn McCool: Bootlegger, and despite the fact that the title was the only part of the production that remotely resembled reality, I near broke a rib laughing at the exploits of my bumbling, incestuous, meth-ridden, semi-retarded holographic self. Why? Because even as I gave my pet sheep Lucy a whompin' dose of country love on screen, off-screen I was selling 20,000 pirated copies to the Cubans, who love laughing at us as much as you do. And that's what it comes down to for me. Do you understand? Finn McCool and never mind the war, the cause, the South, or, God forbid, the politics of the situation -- I leave that to my brother. But it's like I tell Cash: if you think I do the thing I do for any reason besides me, me, me...well...sorry... you're wrong, wrong, wrong.
Of course, Cash being the egghead that he is, you're better off hammering a spike into your toe and calling it a hangnail than trying to convince him of the existence of individuals.
"Individuals?" He says with a wild swing of the mash paddle, causing a swell of hot syrup to overspill the tun. "No. We're peasants is what we are -- bad peasants! Always yokeling where the neighbors can see. Always ignoring our masters. Bad, bad, bad. Finn, we paid those prancing ninnies not a whiff of mind until they nuked Miami. Fifty megatons! And then we listened! They crushed us, Finn, because we didn't...pay attention to them!"
What it is to be Alone
And the winner is... - Editor
What it is to be Alone
by F.G. King
Timothy James Norwalt. That’s my name, a name that had been announced all over the world. I had won the International Space Exploration Lottery; the publicity stunt that had become a recurring tradition. I didn’t intend on winning…I just got the ticket because my girlfriend was into the whole ‘pioneer to the final frontier’ thing and it seemed to make her happy that I bought it. The thing is I didn’t consider myself lucky to be getting an “all expenses” paid trip for an “out of this world adventure.” The thing is… I won, and that was a billion to one odds that that would actually happen. So now I’m going, now I’m the middle class nobody who gets to go to space. I’d be famous for as long as I was up there and then I’d be forgotten the moment we touched ground as the real astronauts would have lots of real important data to share with the world and all I could say was how weird it is to vomit in space.
I was acting as enthusiastic as I could. Only I hadn’t paid much attention to the well displayed information on the mission I was to attend. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill space walk. Nor was it a quick run to mars. It was to be the fifteenth inter-solar flight. Our destination…the surface of an alien world. Not just any planet though. This one was ‘special.’ It was a planet just about the size of earth, a little larger in fact. So we would be able to walk around fairly easily. What wouldn’t be easy would be lugging around the two hundred twenty-three pound suit to protect me from radiation. Yeah, it was that kind of planet. They wanted to go up and get some rock readings from the surface to see if they could learn how long the planet had taken to form. It had formed some time after the star it orbits had gone nova. Which meant that the star had exploded, leaving behind a pulsar star. So all in all everyone was excited, except for me, I was enthusiastically attempting to be enthusiastic. Only I wasn’t doing to well at it.
The ultimate outsource - Editor
by David Dalglish
The distorted figure on the opposite side of the confessional curtain remained silent while Devin Larnor chewed on his fingernails. Two minutes ago he had stepped inside the tiny booth, and in those two minutes, neither had said a word. So far, the priest didn't appear to mind in the slightest.
“Fine,” Devin said. “I've never been to confession. I don't know how this works.”
He jumped at the rapid response. The priest’s voice was warm and gentle. When he talked, his chin barely moved, and the rest of his head remained motionless.
“If need be, I can guide you with questions.”
Devin stopped chewing long enough to frown at his forefinger.
“Mind if I ask you a question first?”
“You may. I am here for your comfort.”
The thin curtain between the two was reinforced with a single sheet of clear plastic. There was no visible hole, but their conversation was not muffled. Through that curtain and plastic, Devin studied the shadowy shape.
“You,” he said. “You’re human, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Human. As in, you got a beating heart, lungs, blood. Born out of a woman's vagina, if you pardon my language.”
“You are pardoned.”
Devin sniffed. He could see the priest's hair was cut short, and that his chin and nose were stubby compared to the rest of his face. So far, he had not caught a glimpse of the man's eyes.
“No,” the priest said. “I am not human.”
A Feline Monologue - Editor
by Douglas T. Araujo
Yes, Officer, I admit I hit Mr. Whitmore. I hit him right on the head with the silver chandelier I inherited from my mother.
No, of course I didn’t want to kill him! That was an unfortunate accident, and I’m very sorry… poor Mrs. Whitmore… But what was I supposed to do? He broke into my apartment and wanted to take Miles away from me!
Who is Miles? Well, Miles is my cat. A ten years-old white Persian with marvelous blue eyes. A friend gave him to me soon after my husband passed away. He was just a kitten then, and I must say that taking care of him was the only thing that kept me alive during those difficult times.
Yes, it was like I said. Mr. Whitmore wanted to take Miles away, and that’s why I hit him with the chandelier. I couldn’t allow him to take Miles away, could I? I’m an old woman, Officer, and Miles is my only friend.
Well, I can’t say why Mr. Whitmore wanted to do that. Who can say what was going on the poor man’s mind? Besides, I don’t think we should say bad things about the dead… it’s just not right, don’t you agree?
Yes, Officer, I understand you need to know what really happened. But even so, I don’t think…
Very well, then. Since you’re insisting so much, I will tell you this: I can’t say for sure what Mr. Whitmore would do with Miles if he had taken him from me, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t see Miles again.
Why do I say that? Because Mr. Whitmore hated Miles. He always did.
Helping the Nice Guy
Nice is as Nice does - Editor
Helping the Nice Guy
by John Wiswell
Inning waited in the booth, looking out the window while hunched so that others might not see him through it. His Christian name was Inigo, but everyone had called him Inning on account of a childhood aspiration to play pro ball. Apparently he lacked the hand-eye coordination for it and three years of failed tryouts broke his spirit, but the nickname lingered.
Inning only relaxed when he saw Aldo’s red Mercedes pull up. Aldo emerged, all three hundred pounds of potential cardiac arrest stuffed into a tweed winter coat.
Aldo didn’t look at him through the window. He didn’t even look for him as he entered the restaurant, choosing instead to order his midday steak sandwich at the counter. After a minute of small talk with the pretty teen waitress who showed more interest in her cell phone, he waddled down the row of booths until he found Inning.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “Thank you for inviting me to lunch. It’s been a while.”
“They set my car on fi—”
Aldo thumped his hand on the table to stop him.
“Good afternoon,” he said again, then wedged his girth into the booth. His belly caught in the table and rose like bread dough.
“Good afternoon,” Inning said.
The waitress finished texting and brought over a house beer. Aldo thanked her and she scampered to the back to make his order. The restaurant was suddenly vacant.
Aldo said, “I presume this is about the nice guy.”
"They set my car on fire, Aldo. I didn't even know Families did that this century. They burned up my ride all over some pick pocketing. You can make this go away, right?"