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Best Stories on the Web

The Day is Done

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It's nothing personal - Editor

The Day is Done

by Allen Kopp

I knew Mrs. Beaufort on sight. She was a frumpy, middle-aged woman who had probably been pretty in her day, except that her day was past. I was surprised when she called me on the telephone and asked me to come out to her house. Strictly business, she said. I knew there would be money involved—quite a lot of money, I hoped—so I told her I’d be there at the time she indicated. I had experienced several reversals—failures, if you know what I mean—so I had been praying for just the kind of opportunity I hoped this would be: one that would pay me a maximum amount of money with a minimum amount of involvement and risk.

I had been doing some investigative work for years that allowed me to remain on the sidelines of the criminal underworld. I could go either way—I could tip off the police or I could perjure myself in court; I could provide a hiding place for somebody on the lam or help a murderer get across the border if there was enough in it for me. I had done some work for Mrs. Beaufort’s husband. Work he called “under the table” because it was work he didn’t want anybody to know about. That’s how Mrs. Beaufort knew about me and my reputation.

I had a feeling it would not be a good idea for people to see my car parked at Mrs. Beaufort’s house, so I took the bus out there and when I got off the bus I walked about four blocks to her place. It was raining but I was prepared for it; I was wearing a raincoat and a hat and carrying an umbrella. I looked as nondescript as I could.
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The Unicorn

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Man walks into a bar... Editor

The Unicorn
(A Tale of Hranda)

by Steve Lockley

The Unicorn was tucked away in the back streets of Hranda, out of sight of casual prying eyes and attracted the drinkers that other inns would not entertain; thieves and cut throats, beggars and vagabonds. And yet there was rarely any trouble for the landlord Piotr Garim, an incomer who  had bought the run down business many years before. He was a big man, well over six feet tall and barrel chested, his once blond hair now running to grey. But it was not due to him that there was never any trouble in The Unicorn. All the men who drank there knew that they would never be allowed into The Black Cow or The Welcome Arms or any of the other inns scattered around the city and at the first sign of anything getting out of hand, the trouble makers would be ejected by their fellow drinkers. It was a situation that suited Garim well as despite his own appearance he detested violence.

People came to Hranda for many reasons; some were looking to make a better life for themselves or their families, others to get away from their past. Garim fell into the second category and although he had left his former life behind he could not forget it. The arrival of a heavy cloaked stranger late in the evening threatened to change matters if he did not take any action.

The stranger was still sitting beside the fire when the last of the regular customers left. Garim took the man's empty beer mug to add it the rest and waiting for him to rise. The man showed no inclination to move though and Garim felt his heartbeat increase, fearing the confrontation that he knew would follow.

“It's been quite a while,” said the man.

“Sorry?” Garim said, trying to act as if he had no idea of who the man was, though he knew that the act was destined to fail.
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Siren Song

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Nurse...Nurse!

Siren Song

by H T Garton

When they sent Ewan to the State Secure Hospital, I thought I would never have to see or think about him again.

Twenty years later, Granddad died. No one but Gran and I turned up to mourn his passing. I had never given much thought to how sour things must have turned for him and Gran since the day Ewan crashed into the jetty with the butchered remains of his best friend on board.

Gran took her time before she recognised me. When she did, joy obscured the grief in her eyes for a moment.

“Alison! I thought I’d lost you forever!” she cried as she clasped me to her. I smelled the salt in her tears and the familiar lavender of her soap. I went back to her home, which seemed even smaller than I remembered it.

While she rattled around her tiny kitchen preparing tea, I studied the photographs all over the living room walls and mantelpiece. I found only one with Ewan and me together with both our parents. In it, I am smiling at the new baby in mum’s arms. Dad looks ready to burst with pride as he stands behind, enveloping us with his brawny arms.  Mum is tilting her head to one side as though distracted by a distant sound.

Gran caught me looking as she came in and set the tray down.
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The Taco Bell Heist

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R and N rated - Editor

The Taco Bell Heist

by Robb White

Odraye Maybon Dremel IV was poorer than a shithouse rat and that was the entire problem and story of his life. Out in the street he was called OD and wore his Levi’s below his buttocks so that his paisley boxer shorts were exposed to every passing car on Station Avenue; he wore extra-large white T-shirts like all his boys and kept his do-rag wrapped so the two ends flopped like tiny rabbit ears over the middle of his face. He woke up late, spent his mornings watching cartoons, his Moms had the satellite dish, courtesy of his dope-slinging cousin Venard.

The front door to the house was canted at a crazy angle–also thanks to his cousin, who happened to be running full tilt when he collided with it, and it just happened there were two white boys—cops—a half-step behind him, panting, batons and titanium flashlights at the ready, hoping to be able to get close enough to Venard so they could lay a couple good licks on him. That was some motherfucker, he smiled. He liked telling the story, had all them ass-scratching crimeys laughing. They could laugh, too, because big, tough Venard, down on the river in the state lockup, wasn’t around to do anything about it. Three weeks after busting through Odraye’s front door, Venard shot a cop in the face off 38th Street because of a warrant over some stupid traffic beef. Now he had a death penalty on him. Too bad but fuck him; what did he ever do but push weed, buy stolen satellite dishes, and make babies?

Odraye was a father, too, and that was a big part of the problem; his baby’s momma was on him all the time about money now–money for clothes, money for food, money for toys–but shit, he had to live too, didn’t he?
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Transmissions of the Mind

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Exterminator - Editor

Transmissions of the Mind

by Joe Jablonski

They tell me the name of this planet is Omnithept.

After my drop craft hits the ground hard, I don’t hesitate getting out of the cramped vessel. I escape onto the firm soil with both feet running and suck in a deep breath of the only truly fresh air I have known in years with a feeling of relief to be liberated from that small metal coffin. It felt like I was in there for an eternity.

All around me is endless forest; a boreal paradise. It looks like every other forest on every other planet I’ve been as if all habitable planets were built from the some universal assembly line. A cold wind comes over me; dry and saturated with foreign particles. Bushes, vines, green leaves, brown trunks; all damp and unforgiving. All these things are surrounding me and I could pretend I’m anywhere.

Off in the distances, a primal scream cuts the air. It sounds like what four hundred years of science has told us the ancient dinosaurs sounded like. The reverberations of some kind of insect can be heard in a steady unrelenting monotone. I look up to see twin moons shinning like silver orbs in the night sky.

Standing in this Eden, I stretch muscle worn and cramped. Inside my veins, I can feel the reversed engineered bacteria the science team injected surging through my system. That tingle means it’s working. Theoretically, I am immune to the disease infesting this planet; the very thing that has turned all the colonists into mindless puppets, controlled by whatever consciousness is out there.

Think of said bacteria as working like anti-venom. The new strain kills the old while protecting the host. I hope it works.
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The Water Bearer

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Death by misadventure - Editor

The Water Bearer

by John F.D. Taff

Jim was the kind of neighbor who never said too much; a wave when he saw you outside, maybe a few polite, friendly words at the mailbox or when you caught him outdoors as he puttered in his well-kept yard, but little more.

The year is 1947, and Jim, oh, he must have been at least 80 years old. Never married, but in good health, his back slightly stooped, his legs bowed.

My wife and I live in a newly built suburban home, bought with money from a GI loan. This was supposed to pay me back for the year I'd spent tramping through the muddy fields of France and Germany, living with an ever-dwindling group of men, sleeping wherever I fell, and shooting at--and being shot at by--people I couldn't even understand.

Now here I was with three suits in my closet, a new Chevrolet in the garage, a kid born while I moved through the dark trees of the Ardennes, and young wife I barely knew. It was an adjustment for all concerned.

This spring, though, we had begun to settle in, to make our peace with our long separation. We had begun to find a rhythm.
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Calling Cards

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Poor Ms. Dore - Editor

Calling Cards

by Stephen Pohl

I was in the Owl Bar, off the Hotel Belvedere’s lobby, working on a prime rib French dip sandwich and fries, when Dolan walked in and scanned the room. He came to my table and took a seat without waiting for an invitation.

“Glad you could join me.” I said, wondering why he was there.

Dolan didn’t smile. He squared up to me, and leaned forward over the table. It had been ten years since we worked together, but he still had the lean and hungry look I’ve traded in for a bulky and bemused facade.

“Name Janice Dore mean anything to you, Moriarty?”

“No,” I didn’t like his tone, “Why?”

“We found one of your business cards in the glove compartment of her car. I was hoping you could shed some light on your relationship with her.”

“I don’t know her. How could I have a relationship with her? Is she a suspect or a victim?” Sgt. Mike Dolan was Baltimore PD Homicide, which meant he was talking about a homicidal relationship.

“She was strangled in her apartment at Charles Plaza.”

“Great.” I shoved my plate away. “So, I’m a suspect or a PI with a murdered client I never met. Don’t know her, never heard the name.”

Dolan didn’t respond. He just cocked his head and eyed me. I was glad he wasn’t a regular dinner partner. I prefer more reassuring friendships.

“Look, you have more of a relationship with your victim than me. At least you’ve met her body. But I would like to know how a dead woman got my card. I’ll check it out. Somebody may have referred her to me and she never got around to calling. I’ll give you whatever I come up with.”

“OK, but stay on your side of the fence.” He got up.
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Dead Things

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Crybaby - Editor

Dead Things

by Marius Dicomites

It was worse than she expected.

Nothing could really prepare you for the cold, irrefutable confirmation - the shock of the moment when all doubts and illusions were snatched away to be replaced by a suffocating and onerous grief. The final day for the dead was the beginning for those left behind. This was when the mourning truly began.

Rachel watched silently as the long procession gradually gathered around the graves. It was still raining heavily – it had been raining for most of the day – and as they held their umbrellas over each other, she felt they were closing themselves off from her. They were a close, impenetrable group, and she was not allowed to be part of them. But she understood; she was the one to blame for all this. She had no right to share their grief.

From a distance, hardly feeling the cold or the rain, she held herself as she watched the ceremony. Desperately, she tried to draw some consolation from the priest’s words, but she was only reminded of what she had lost. How could words relieve the gnawing shock and disbelief she still felt? How could words ease the emptiness? There could be no persuasive reason or justification for all this. She just wanted those she had lost back again. She wanted things to be the way they had been before.
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Peeping Bomb

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It's always why - Editor

Peeping Bomb

by Erik Lambert

I didn’t want to blow up the hospital. It wasn’t like I was someone with a grudge who lost a son or wife or a nut job with a political agenda. I hate people. They bore me. I can find more interest in a cactus. Just let me have my shitty job in the cemetery and my shitty apartment where I eat my shitty food and I’m fine. Some people would not be satisfied with this life, but when you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you might change your tune. Regardless, the hospital never once crossed my mind, until they appeared outside my window.

If you’d see them you’d understand. When you’re a guy who has no friends, no family and a night of strolling through a graveyard in the pitch dark to look forward to, the little things make you happy. When I first saw them it was with a passing glance. As each day progressed, those glances turned to glares. At the time I had no idea why. I just felt compelled to know them. So I decided to try jogging. I got on the path at the same time as them, pumping my flabby legs and arms. The velour jogging suit would be swishing like a saw against the trunk of a tree. They would come up behind me and I would introduce myself and ask her name.

“Abigail Dresdan. This here’s Zeus,” she would say, ushering to the dog next to her in between measured breaths.

“Oh, nice to meet you, I’m…” I would start before my lungs began to claw for more oxygen and she would leave me behind. I could never match her pace. Perhaps the names were enough.
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Heavenly Scent of Strawberry

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Ain't love grand? - Editor

Heavenly Scent of Strawberry

by Christine C Terranova

Even under the artificial light of the bookstore her angelic glow radiated.  I had to force myself not to stare at her as she repeatedly pulled books down from the shelf, carefully ruffled through them with her long, delicate fingers, and then returned them to their initial location.

I pretended to be interested in a book so I could remain close to her without seeming suspicious.  A part of me hoped she would notice me and perhaps we could start up a conversation, but another part of me hoped she would leave the bookstore soon, so I could regain my bearings and leave as well.  Unfortunately, she noticed me.

“Turner, is that you?” she asked.  I removed my nose from the book I was holding and altered my countenance.  I wanted it to say, “I haven’t been stealing glances of you for the last seven minutes.”

“Hey, Anabelle, how are you doing?”  She walked up to me and for the first time I noticed that we were the same height.  Five feet and four inches is a fine height for a woman, but for a man, it’s about six inches too short.  And with that knowledge, my insecurities grew, making me even more nervous than I was before she began talking to me.
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