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Robot Confessional

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The ultimate outsource - Editor

Robot Confessional

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.”

Aftershock Treatment

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A personal favorite: rats - Editor

Aftershock Treatment

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.


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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

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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?"

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."

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.

Dirty South

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You might be a redneck cyborg if... - Editor

Dirty South

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' attention to them!"

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.

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.

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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