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Standefer’s Last Commission

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Nothing like Gunsmoke -Editor

Standefer’s Last Commission

by Steve Lowe

The string of scalps bounced against a buck-skinned thigh. Near the middle of the thin braid of rope, the scalps were small and shriveled, their edges curled in toward the center. Twigs of remaining hair bounced stiffly with the mottled mustang’s hoof steps. Fresher trophies hung on the outer ends of the string, sodden and weighty. Coagulated crimson tendrils waved in the breeze in stringy wisps behind the lone Apache warrior.

Standefer recognized the shock of fiery orange hair sprouting from a glistening patch of skin less than an hour removed from the head of Morris Dupree. “We’ll follow for now,” Standefer told his crew. “He’ll lead us to the rest.”

They slipped back down the rise and remounted their nervous horses. Of the seven animals in the group, one trailed along without a rider, the property of Mr. Dupree. The best cook among this special commission of Apache hunters got up early that morning to collect wood to fire up breakfast, but did not return. The other men in the company were spooked by Dupree’s disappearance, and rightfully so. Many of the stories they had heard along the way were turning out to contain more truth than legend.

Just nigh of eight in the morning, they had come upon Dupree’s body, dangling from a Black Cottonwood limb by his feet, his innards loosed from his belly to hang down and pile up on the ground, his head a slick, dripping dome.
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Skinned Deep

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A not-so-easy rider - Editor

Skinned Deep

by Scott Lininger

I was on a bicycle excursion near the little Colorado town of Silver Plume. It had been a long summer spent in corporate hell for me, working too much and moving too little, and I was on a mission to get some kind of exercise in before the warm days of fall were done. I have always felt self-conscious in those tight bicycle shorts with the crotch padding, and those gaudy Lance Armstrong leotards were right out of the question for a guy like me. No, I'd settled on a pair of baggy shorts, plastic shades, dusty helmet, and an "I ♥ Linux" t-shirt schwagged from a recent tradeshow. As I got onto my bicycle and pedaled to the end of the parking lot, I suddenly wished I was wearing something more flattering.

There, straddling a state-of-the-art mountain bike, was a ponytailed blonde in sports bra and black spandex... and lord what spectacular terrain they covered. She was a golden goddess, the kind of girl that you were compelled to stare at, open mouthed, no matter how cro-magnon it made you feel. As I rode past, she studied me in what seemed a purely dismissive fashion, then to my surprise she spoke cheerfully.

"Morning. You Paul?"

I wasn't. I wished I was. I pedaled myself to an awkward stop. "Ah, no," I said, then thought of the most insightful question I could. "You meeting somebody?" Ugh.

"Only kinda," she said. Her jade-green eyes were full of laughter, clearly a joke I didn't get. "I met this guy, Paul, at a party last night, and we agreed to meet up here at 9:00."
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A Son in Winter

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Baby, it's cold inside - Editor

A Son in Winter

by Manfred Gabriel

Women may never be left alone during the first few weeks following childbirth, for madness has more power over them.

Jessie slept in fits and starts between feedings. She would nod off for minutes at a time, perhaps as much as a half hour, Alex still at her breast. Sometimes she even dared to dream.

…It is spring, the sun warm, flowers finally in bloom. Alex, no longer a newborn, too soon a toddler, runs towards her through the tall grass, each precarious step a controlled fall. His gold curls, impossibly long, flow down below his shoulders. His outstretched hand holds a bouquet of dandelions. He laughs. He trips over his own feet. Jessie reaches out, fails to catch him as he drowns in a sea of green …

Jessie woke with a start. She had fallen asleep sitting up in her grandmother’s old wingback. Alex dozed in her arms, swaddled tight, face warm against her naked bosom, rosebud lips moving as if still nursing. A tuft of black hair peaked out from under his cap. Jessie had been born with that same black hair. Before she turned one, it had all fallen out, replaced by blond tresses.

On the other side of the living room, Alex’s empty cradle swayed. Jessie rose and went to the cradle, bracing herself against the faded arm of the chair as she clung to Alex with the other, cringing as her episiotomy stitches stretched.
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Wear IT

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You know those graffiti messages... - Editor

Wear IT

by James L. Grant

The words had been written on concrete in black marker. Shelley frowned at them.

She’d found the underpass purely by accident one day. Doctor Gonzales had recommended exercise to get her blood pressure down. This had prompted a litany of reasons why Shelley had no time for such an endeavor. After hearing about how she worked from seven to seven, Monday through Friday, and there were no gyms anywhere near either her house or the mortgage office, and all the other reasons, the doctor had held up his hand patiently.

“You have a lunch break?” he’d asked.

So that had been that. Just to prove him wrong, Shelley had taken his suggestion and turned her regular lunches at the desk into strolling mealtimes. At first she’d merely circled the block for an hour, counting off a mile and a half via a cheap electronic pedometer. It had been boring, so she’d changed up her route. Sometimes over a few blocks and back, passing the medical buildings and a coffee shop. Other times walking in the park, swatting away flies that tried to suckle at runners of perspiration on her neck.

And in eighteen months, her blood pressure had dropped like a rock. She’d also lost ten pounds in the first nine weeks. Shelley wasn’t exactly large, but she’d been poking at the weight she’d gained over the last few years and wishing it would go away. Like her father had always said, wishes had failed where action succeeded. She’d even traded up her regular noonday sandwiches with energy bars.

She’d found the hiking trail by happy chance one day. It was a concrete sidewalk, bisected lengthwise into two lanes for various joggers and bicyclists. Much of it paralleled the road near her office, and ran under two of the nearby freeways. It had been there the whole time she’d worked at the company. She’d never noticed.
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Incarnadine Stars

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Magenta moon and... - Editor

Incarnadine Stars

by Chris Deal

“When's the sun come up?” he asked from the other end of the bench, his voice quiet, not his usual boisterousness. He was shrinking into himself as the night drifted.

“Not for another hour.”  I looked up, past the lamp's halo, past the city’s lights, into the pale gray of the birthing day.

“Shit.” He spat the cigarette butt away, onto the walkway.

“Think you'll make it?” I light a another smoke and hand it to him, his hand shaking, weak, then I do another for myself.

“Nah. Wish I would, but don't believe it to be.”

I lean forward, elbows on knees, and there's a smudge on the black leather of my left shoe. With a clean handkerchief I wipe away the dull incarnadine.  It came from him.

“Stars sure are clear,” he said.

“Yeah.  I figure that’s 'cause it's so cold.”

“How's that?” He coughs, and it is the sound of a blade cutting through wheat.

“I think it's the cold, it keeps the molecules in the atmosphere from vibrating, making the stars appear clear.”

He grunted, or made a sound that could be construed as a grunt.

“But I ain't a scientist or nothing, so I don't know.  Could be we’re closer to them in orbit or whatever.  I don’t know.”

He didn't say anything, and neither did I, for several minutes, we just sat there, looking up at the sky, and it was getting to be a brighter shade of gray, the same color of the ash that was growing on his cigarette, between his fingers, unmoving on the armrest, the cherry dying, fading.

“Sorry it went down like this,” I said.

I stood and walked toward the car, stopping only to pick up the lone casing, then away, towards where the sun will soon be.

©2009

 

The Dead Girls

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Memories can flow like water - Editor

The Dead Girls

by Aaron J. French

Chris Evans has heard the rumor of the two dead girls.  But he thought it was only a superstition.  He’s fished this section of Lake Erie since he was a boy, since back in the seventies when the water deterioration was so bad it spawned an article in Time Magazine and the subsequent Clean Water Act of 1972.

His father used to bring him here at dawn, when the sky was lit up with pink and the waters swirled a dark, uninviting gray.  They’d sit in his dented boat and wait patiently for fish to bite.  A peaceful experience, a time for father and son to be alone.

But now Chris is sitting alone on the lake in the middle of the night.  In the same boat, the one his father bequeathed to him; a beer cooler at his feet, the sprawling tackle box on the bench.  His pole leaning out.  A Styrofoam cup filled with dirt on his lap.

It’s the smell that gets him, that earthy fresh aroma.  Nothing fuels nostalgia like soil and worms and fat grubs.

When the pair of luminescent shapes first appeared over the water, he’d assumed it was a trick of light.  But that was more than three hours ago.  They’ve moved over time, drifting slowly across the lake, going up and down the shoreline.

When they passed before the boat, Chris forced himself to watch.  He studied their golden faces, their long flowing hair, their tiny bodies wrapped in grass and reeds.  They glanced at him, each girl putting a finger to her lips, then continued on.

At the moment they’re at the other end, but he still sees them.  The night sky is reflected in the water, so they resemble two planets orbiting the stars.  They’re absolutely silent, and aside from their luminescent auras, they’re undetectable.

Aided by the moonlight, Chris plucks a worm from the Styrofoam cup and splices it onto the hook.  Guts squirt across his fingers.  He wipes them on his jeans then stands, rocking slightly with the boat.
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The Arrest of King Albrecht

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More than your face in a mirror - Editor

The Arrest of King Albrecht

by Nathan Hicks

To her credit, when Princess Antonia was told her brother had been arrested for selling Shakespeare forgeries in another dimension, she took it extremely well. But then, Albrecht always had been impetuous, and the news wasn"t entirely unexpected. She leafed through the police photocopies of carefully-handwritten manuscript pages, noting (not without a touch of pride) that her brother had achieved spelling, grammar and tone indistinguishable from the playwright"s own.

"How many are there?" she asked General Braunhaus, Chief of Intelligence, who was looking very grave indeed.

"Four," he replied, shortly. "Four plays composed, written and sold to rare-book dealers by His Majesty, pretending they were this... Shakespeare"s. My Lady, this is a national emergency."

"Well," she said, "Albrecht"s been a very naughty boy, but –"

"My Lady, he is King of Inner Alicia! He can"t go around breaking laws! He can"t just disappear only to resurface nine years later in a police cell On the Other Side of the Glass!" General Braunhaus wiped a fleck of spittle from his moustache. "The officer informs me His Majesty could be facing a very long prison sentence."

Officer McGriffin, of the New York Police Department, had had a very strange day. He smiled nervously at the assembled courtiers in their sumptuous brocades and powdered periwigs, and realised they expected him to say something.
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A Phoenix By Any Other Name

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Rare and exotic, indeed - Editor

A Phoenix By Any Other Name

by Abra Staffin-Wiebe

The tall, well-dressed customer smelled of wealth, power, and expensive cologne.  Bruant, dealer in "Rare and Exotic Animals Imported from the Hinterworlds," knew who he was instantly.  On the small, but exclusive, satellite Newfortun, Jahan Lupant III was the richest man anyone could name, though most looked uneasy and fell silent when asked how he made his fortune.  It was as if they thought that merely speaking of his unscrupulous tactics might bring Lupant's attention to bear on them.

Bruant gulped and hurried to Lupant's side.  His eyes gleamed at the thought of the profit he might make today, but he was well-aware that disappointing this man would be a terrible idea for any merchant.  For a merchant not yet in business for a year, it would be a disaster.

"I need," Lupant stated, in the tone of one accustomed to obedience, "a rarity."

Bruant smiled. "But of course!"

"I need a creature that none have seen, and it should be wild and impressive to the eye. It must be perfect.  I am hosting a party, and I intend it to be an occasion that people will speak of for months.  It occurred to me that a live, exotic creature would add a touch of novelty."

Lupant looked down his nose at his surroundings, as if doubting such a thing could be found here.

"Certainly, sir," Bruant said.  "Let me show you our stock."  He gestured to the store window, where two rigid gray lizards balanced upright on the tips of their tails, their eyes closed, their forelegs crossed over their chests.  "These tomb-lizards are from the planet Cassial.  They are known as tomb-lizards because of the resemblance between their dormant state and gravestones: the gray color, the posture--"

"Do they do anything interesting?"

Bruant blinked.  "Every half-hour, they revive, change to their normal color, and run around frantically for about ten minutes."

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Shark's Tooth

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Bite me... - Editor

Shark’s Tooth

by Michael Guillebeau

Sunrise at the beach was beautiful, but the dead body wasn’t.  “Funny,” said Detective Terry. “Funny how a hot young girl dead looks even worse than an old fart washed up on the shore.”

“Incongruent,” said Detective Blackbeard.  “Reminds us of our mortality.  A symbol of life, dead.”

“Yeah, you say so.  Still, young girl with a body like that, in a bathing suit like that, all I’m saying is it should make you feel something other than just another sad job.”

“Incongruent.”

They had to park all the way up in the parking lot at Margaritaville and walk in; the lieutenant and patrol officers on the scene had roped off a solid block around Pier Park to keep the tourists and the press away.  Particularly the press.  Dead bodies on the beach weren’t good for tourists.  Terry looked at the body, both of them standing back and taking a long last look before they turned the scene over to the techs.

“Forty-seven minutes.”

“Forty-seven minutes what?” said Blackbeard.

“Until we get the call from the Chamber of Commerce.  Looks like a shark.  We get a call soon, I say forty-seven minutes or less, explaining that that line of deep punctures that look like they could have, just might have come from a big set of teeth, really came from a new secret weapon the gang-bangers are using.  But it wasn’t a shark.  Besides, they’ll probably tell us she was just some tramp from out of town, down here to party, not worth worrying about.  And it couldn’t have been a shark.”
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4-8-2

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2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate - Editor

4-8-2

by Spyder Collins

Sierra Van Tanner stood agape at the mess that spread out before her. The blood that splattered across the room was ungodly in measure. It looked to be the blood from a hundred people, yet only a solitary body rests in the center of the room. The room she stood in appeared to be a living room, she could only gather because of the fireplace that dripped fresh blood from the mantle.

Sierra traced the oval shape of the room, running her eyes from floor to ceiling and back again. Everything, every square inch of the room was blood stained. Everywhere except for the outline of where the body lay. It appeared clean beneath the body, male, Caucasian, late thirties to early forties Sierra observed. From the body the maple hardwood was clean. Sierra gathered perhaps a foot in all directions, like a chalked outline of a body. The blood pooled around the circumference, and seemed to push against the invisible outline, as if it wished to enter but couldn’t

“4-8-2, what is your locale?” Someone at dispatch called to her.

“4-8-2, I say again. What is your locale?”

Sierra drew her hand to her shoulder. “I’m in the apartment,” she replied.

“4-8-2, step away and return to duty.”

“Dispatch?”

“4-8-2, leave now.” The voice from dispatch grew cold and authoritative.

“There’s been a crime here,” Sierra replied. She looked down at her mic as if to reinforce her point to dispatch.

“4-8-2, leave!” Dispatch called intolerantly.

"There is one dead here dispatch, send back-up."

"4-8-2, Back-up?"

"There has been a murder, a damn brutal one I might add. Send help now."

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