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Corner of River and Rain

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Keep your voice down - Editor

Corner of River and Rain

by Gary Cahill

From the bird's eye view, above the old tenement rooftops down to what's left of Hell's Kitchen, through the spinning rain that flipped between covering like cream and icy bite, our lonesome parade looked like two campesinos driving two wayward burros to water. Switch out the Mexican peasants for me and Willy, the watering hole for the Hudson, and the doleful donkeys for a pair of booze sweating, bleeding, braying jackasses, and you've got it.

A little earlier, I'd seen this coming. Things were going to go badly if these guys didn't shut the hell up.

#

On the way to meet him, I'd answered a call from Willy on a cell I answered only when it was him.

"G...G... where the hell are you? I'm waitin' here." Here being the old bar on the edge of Manhattan's West Side where we met socially and professionally. Professionally being if we needed to collect money -- owed on outstanding loans with exorbitant interest rates, or illegal gambling loses, or to insure a string of broken windows and fires of unknown origin would not interfere with someone's fledgling business becoming a success. Like that. All the stuff that invigorates our underground economy.
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Southern Justice

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Precious gifts - Editor

Southern Justice

by Peter Howard

The Krufts motel on Water Street faces away from town like a man who believes hiding his face makes him invisible to strangers. Sheriff Doug Porter had paid an official visit here more than once in his career and despite the best intentions of the owner this was still the shallow side of the law in Eden, Kentucky.

Inside one of the rooms the Sheriff stood and walked the information around his head using the floor boards for traction.

''You can''t be serious? You can’t be?''

''Kid needs a dad.''

"'Your daughter probably has one. That’s no reason to do something stupid!''

''Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it depends on how you look at it.''

''You can''t be serious.''

''As cancer,'' said the man, ''serious as cancer.''

#

Sometimes a missing child is a good thing. Social Services threatened to take kids all the time, some that shouldn’t be but could, and others that should be and never were. Some were just ignored altogether. If there was ever a kid that needed to be, it was Molly Sanders.

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La Cosa Angeli

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Ruffled feathers - Editor

La Cosa Angeli

by Don Norum

Oriel woke up in the Himalayas, tucked beneath a blanket of new snow. His wings unfolded and he rolled upright, sending a sudden plume of white powder into the wind screaming down the mountainside. Mikael stood before him, feathers unruffled by the howling storm.

"Wake up and get dressed. Today's important."

"Hmm?" Oriel ran his hands through his luminous hair, brilliant fingers vaporizing the ice that had locked around his head like a crash helmet.

"Dress warmly. We're headed into winter."

The younger angel had just enough time to cast ahead and see their destination, and then they were walking down the streets of Los Angeles.

"You said we were headed into winter," he asked the Principality.

"I meant you should be clothed."

A kid glided past on a skateboard, weaving around the two young men in windbreakers with oiled hair.

"What's the first stop?"

"Joseph Bonner, First United Assembly of God."

"What'd he do?"

The two angels paused before the glass doors fronting the cavernous building. Behind the doors was a series of vestibules, safety systems designed to prevent sparrows and robins from flying in during the spring months and getting lost and trapped in the thirty-thousand seat fellowship hall.

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BJ's Last Shift

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Outer or inner space - Editor

BJ's Last Shift

by Lawrence Karis

"This is Willie Sims, second in command of the Mars Explorer, 267 days out from Earth. I am recording this message for delayed transmission to Director Mike Jackson at mission control. By the time you receive this message, BJ will be dead." Willie looked over his shoulder at the hatch to the aft cabin. He knew BJ couldn't hear him, but he still whispered.

He walked to the storage rack where two space suits hung in readiness. He picked up the life-pack with BJ's scrawled initials and carried it back to the work bench.

"I saw this coming, but I didn't want to believe it. I hoped he would snap out of it. There's no hope now. BJ is completely insane.

"Two days ago he went through the cabin with a marker writing his initials on everything he thought was his. He even marked the dishes and utensils in the mess kit. He left a note saying that if he caught me using any of his stuff, he'd throw me out the airlock.

"I am delaying this message transmission because he changed the password and locked me out of the main computer." Willie looked up at the video display and adjusted the camera pointed at his face. "I think he would kill me if I rebooted the computer to reset the password. That's what it has come to: I kill him or he kills me."

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My Salieri Complex

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To H.G. Wells - Editor

My Salieri Complex

An Untold Story of Griffin and Kemp

(dedicated to H.G. Wells)

by Marina Julia Neary

(University College, London, 1884)

“Awake, Samuel!  Boarding with a genius will not transform you into one.”

That was the voice of reason, one that guided me through most of my career.  Yet another voice, one of superstition and vanity, tried to persuade me of the opposite.  How I wished to believe that a fraction of Jonathan Griffin’s brilliance could project onto me if I only spent enough time in his vicinity!  I fancied our brains being like two communicating vessels, with grandiose theories and mysteries passing between them.  Little by little, that toxic swamp of self-flattering fantasies sucked me in.

Griffin, a native of Cardiff, was almost three years younger than me but only one year behind in his coursework.  He transferred to University College in the autumn of 1883, allegedly to study medicine.  I emphasize the word “allegedly”.  From the very beginning I had serious doubts that this man had any intention of treating patients for the rest of his life.  As I learned later, medicine was the profession of his father’s choice.  Griffin feigned compliance only to gain access to London’s best library and laboratory.  He took most interest in optical density and refraction index, two topics that had very little to do with medicine.

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Cold Steel

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Hot blood and... - Editor

Cold Steel

by David Pilling

Hasan Al-Asim, outlaw, assassin, thief for hire and currently a mercenary soldier, watched indifferently while the Duke of Slaveni was slaughtered by a howling mob of men-at-arms.

Cornered with his back to a tree, the doomed nobleman reminded Hasan of a stag at bay surrounded by a pack of hounds.  Grimy hands ripped the Duke’s pole-axe from his grasp and pitched him into the thick winter mud. Halberds, spears and axes smashed down onto his fine gilded plate armour as he struggled to rise.

The Duke’s ignoble death was the last act in a long and bitter war between the Kingdom of Salymra and Slaveni, a rebel province. Eighteen months of war, of slaughter and siege and fire, and Hasan had somehow survived with nothing worse than a few scars and a lot of difficult memories.

He had been shrewd enough to sign up for the winning side, which was why he was not one of the scattered fugitives currently being pursued through the woods while their master was butchered. Always a military blunderer, the Duke’s last mistake had been to lead his army into a forest ambush.

“Three shillings says he drowns first.” said a rough voice.

Hasan turned to its owner, a hard-faced stripling named Hungry Jock. Jock was an army scout like Hasan. Unlike Hasan he was a tough Wastelander with a casual attitude towards murder, rape and other people’s property.

“I don’t care to wager upon a man’s death.” Hasan replied quietly.

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A Natural

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Do you mind if I come in? - Editor

A Natural

by Sylvia Hiven

The shape on the other side of the stained glass door was all too familiar to Bill. He knew that dark-blue uniform anywhere, and he didn't need to squint at the glint of gold to know it was a badge. Even the damn knocking sounded authoritative.

You can do this. Just act natural.

Bill glanced into the mirror, certain that the truth was etched into his features. But an oddly calm face stared back at him. Sure, it was thin and wrinkled--and perhaps paler than most--but it was decorated with friendly blue eyes, and there was no sign of distress. No, sir.

See, you are a natural. And nobody knows.

He plastered on a slightly disheveled, Sunday morning look, and opened the door.

“Morning, Bill.” Jake Kitchener's familiar face looked back at him across the threshold.

Damn.

Bill had hoped for someone he didn't know. Perhaps one of those young new officers, or the tall black guy he never really cared to get to know. But Jake Kitchener lived just a few blocks away. Last summer during the community barbeque, Bill and Jake had spent hours tending the grill. And when you've barbequed with a fellow, you may as well have fought in Vietnam by his side. He knows you.

“Morning,” Bill replied. “You're up early for a Sunday, Jake.”

Jake shifted his weight. “I am here on official business, actually,” he said. "Do you mind if I come in?”

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Temple of Mirrors

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Refreshing Fantasy setting - Editor

Temple of Mirrors

Wm. Luke Everest

On his first contract, Tzu-lung was hired to kill a famous swordsman.  Tzu-lung revered him.  General Wen had proven his greatness twenty years ago fighting the Tung Ma, a triad society.  He now lived in disgrace three day's trek from Chang An.  Tzu-lung didn't know why.  The pig-men of nobility wanted him dead.  Someone was going to kill him.  This way, Tzu-lung could meet his hero, and ensure Wen died with honor.

Tzu-lung passed the colorful fruits of the market stalls, ignoring the salesmen's shouts and the guards who flanked the gate, halberds glinting in the sun.

Yellow River extended east, wide enough it might have been an ocean.  He followed it through sopping rice fields, passed old mountains, weathered to look like musician's fingers, long and curved.  He avoided the villages, living off smoked meat in his pack, sleeping under trees and beside rocks.  When he reached General Wen's home, it rained.

It rained like Yellow River had been turned upside down.  The water seemed to freeze on his scalp.  The home was a shack of wood planks and thatch.  It rested beside a low cliff, surrounded by trees with leaves in flat clusters like wisps of cloud.  Water bounced off the wood, creating a white, hazy aura.  Yellow River lapped a mud bank nearby.  Tzu-lung planned to keep the fight near the trees.  Mud made footwork unpredictable.

No answer at the door.  Tzu-lung pushed it open.  Rain drummed the ceiling, leaked into a cooking pot and chimed like a bell.  Bookshelves overflowed along every wall.  On the table was a teapot painted with a phoenix, and half-wedged underneath it, a letter addressed to the Tung Ma.  There were two cups.  Tzu-lung drew his sword.

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Man Tracker

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the Coquille marshes - Editor

Man Tracker

by Kevin M. White

Arthur Bindell eased the '55 panel truck down the narrow mud strip that passed for a road near the Coquille marshes. The vehicle bounced and slid like a roller coaster car about to jump the tracks. This caused him to stab his upper lip with the tooth pick he was teething on.

“Son of a b-” he cursed as the wheel began to turn against his sweating hands. The brush to either side of the mud track seemed to press in as if waiting for him to slide from the road so it could grab the vehicle and pull it into the dense foliage.

The road dumped out into a grass clearing with gray light filtering down from above.  A number of vehicles were parked haphazardly in the clearing like toys tossed in the middle of a room.  A sheriff and about a dozen men stood around drinking coffee from thermoses or smoking cigarettes.

A low, guttural whine rose up from the darkness of the back of the panel truck and Arthur rapped the knuckles of his fist against the wire screen behind him.

“Shut up back there!” he bellowed.

The whining retreated in volume but didn't entirely cease.

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Sticker

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Dirty, bleak, and dangerous - Editor
Sticker

by Bryan Veldboom

Felix’s head snapped sideways at the sound of the conversation. Spanish always made him nervous. Doing what he did, Felix heard it a lot and it usually meant trouble. He looked over at a trio of Mexicans gathered around a high table, watching them empty their pockets to an aging waitress who forked over three shot glasses of identical brown liquor. Tequila. Even from this distance he could make out its sharp, distinctive tang. He felt a small twinge of excitement jolt up his arm, but he stuffed it down, taking a long sip off his ginger ale instead.

Slaughterhouse laborers. They had all the telltale signs, the restlessness, the empty eyes, as if their occupation were stamped upon their foreheads.

He wasn’t happy being back here. Greeley was a special kind of awful: dirty, bleak, and dangerous. The smell was the first thing you noticed, long before it was even in sight, that stink was all around you, drawing deep into your pores, as if marking you.

Back then it had given him headaches. His cousin Fabian had told him not to worry, that eventually you got used to it. But he never had, not in three long years.

Felix’s left hand moved instinctively over his missing fingers. Sticker had been his title back then. In a lot of ways, it still fit.

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