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Fiction 84: Other Interesting Entries 

Every Species Counts

"It's just an ant!" the son protested.

The father placed his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Every species has a purpose and provides a benefit to other species. Ants to lizards, lizards to birds. Birds then provide eggs for lizards. Even trees and rocks provide homes and protection. We're all connected and depend on each other for survival."

"What do we provide?" he asked innocently.

"Us, well, we, ummmm," he stammered. "Hey, let's go build a nest box and hang it outside."

Brian Nicholas


Division Street

The midtown explosion sent Marcus face-first into an unforgiving stucco wall, creating fault lines in his skull. Groceries pinballed out of the bag; the jar of beets rolled, tracking a crack in the pavement. Pulsating and lost, he attempted to stretch out and turn his head to the left, toward the fourth floor of the building at the end of the block, where his wife was watching, her cry clashing against the reverb. He remembered the beets.

Brandon Derrow


Fun Times on E. Johnson St.

The phone rang in the dirty apartment. Nathan answered it.

"Is Nutty Bishop there?" inquired the voice.

Nathan's last name was Bishop, but he had never gone by the name Nutty, so he said "Nutty" was out.

Nathan returned to the living room and informed his roommates of the phone call. Adam explained that he'd filled out some application forms using the name "Nutty Bishop" when he was bored earlier in the week. They shared a good laugh and went back to watching television.

Kyle Tusing


True Love, Don't You Think?

He thinks he knows me so well. A tall, slender female with big earrings and smile. We're supposed to move in together come January, if everything's still going perfect as now. He really means the world to me, and I to him. Just one thing worries me. When he discovers (as he must) that I still wet the bed, will he be as tender?

January morning, in bed: "You what?"

"I should have told you."

"I'm delighted."

Contorted face.

"What?"

"I do it too."

Jessica Sendlak


Don't Speak

Disgusted, Laura followed the hand to the dead body of a woman. Bright-red fluid flowed out of her open neck wound. She had been murdered, and not long ago. Shaking violently, she searched her purse for her cell phone. Within seconds, she was dialing 911. Laura was so involved in calling the police, she did not hear the light footsteps creeping up behind her. A cold, sharp blade quickly slid across Laura's neck. Hot gushing blood spattered on the cement below her ...

Vanessa Padilla


La Mera Verdad

It's a slow night for a hotel dick. She careens through the lobby, stewed to the mickey. I'm a rookie on the midnight shift, escorting this heiress to her room. Pacify her; "please ma'am go to bed." She's happily defiant. "Young man, do as I say." She sashays to the dresser; a penoir set appears, bra, panties, the works. "Put these on, get into bed, and wait for mama like a good little boy!"

Bart Schneider


"Don't Go, Daddy"

Infatuations are heavenly—or hell. I know.

Younger than my wife, she was a Marilyn Monroe double.

The first month was paradise. Then, increasingly, I was plagued by thoughts of my final hour at home, after arguing with my wife. The words of my two young daughters haunted me.

That's why I came home, won my wife's forgiveness and a share of happiness. But I will never forget how they clutched me, tears streaming down their cheeks, crying, "Daddy, don't go. Please don't go."

Milton Schwebel


Foreclosure

Elegant French doors open onto a 3-foot drop. Fresh decals romp across a bedroom wall, but the child they danced for has gone.

The people who built this house raised a barn, generations of chickens, corn, asparagus, their kids. Planted seedlings now tower over the sloped tin roof.

But the next family was not so lucky. No time even to build front steps for their lovely French doors.

Sherry Sass


Only the Freshest

Henry could see why this bistro was so popular. A spotless wall of glass afforded an enticing view of the kitchen, where the staff prepared all manner of wonderful things using only the freshest ingredients. Jars of human eyes, ears, tongues and numerous other delicacies lined the shelves. A chef in a blood-spattered apron regarded Henry with an unnaturally wide grin as he sliced a brain into thin strips. Henry approached the cashier.

"I'll take the antipasto. Extra eyes, hold the testicles."

Clayton Harmon


Truth or Consequences

Living on a rock. Of course McGovern would win. "Just keep telling the truth," she told him when they met. The next year, she married. Her life was solid: raising kids, running a business, yakking with friends, following paths by the sea. Visiting Tucson, she stepped on a rattlesnake coiled up by the curb at Sabino Canyon. Poof. Flying overhead Chagall-like, Michael Jackson, Elvis and John Lennon whizzed by. When you get back, yelled Lennon, "Tell Sarah Palin she's an asshole."

Sheila Wilensky


Community

Midnight already. Closing the book, she became aware of music filtering through the wall. People were talking below her bedroom window. "Well, I have to get up early for work, if they don't!"

Prepared to scold someone, she peeked through the blinds. Teenagers were sitting on the sidewalk, probably friends of the boy who lived with his screaming, drunken mom in the next apartment.

Poor things, on a summer night. She wished she could suggest some better place for them to hang out.

Sandy Fronius


Lamentable Quandary

"Is adhering to a view of uncompromising moral relativism sincerely and ignominiously foolish?" Professor Machias pondered. The only black professor at a depressingly whitewashed Catholic college in the Pacific Northwest, the weathered philosopher gazed at his globe and harumphed. Life in the rainy gloom had changed him—morphed him—into something he was not. Perhaps it was the white faces that never knew Birmingham 1963 like he did. He stood, grabbed his finest pen and scrawled a will. The noose hung by the door.

Michael Whitney


Congeny

Crawling up from the cavern, there was only one question. "Has it been long enough?'

Rounding a bend, his breath caught. Framed in the dark was the brilliant green and blue of an impossibly beautiful earth.

His mind reeled. Tears poured as he moved into the warm, long unseen, light.

Later when reason returned, the question changed. "Can I really let humanity destroy this all over again?" Then, without conscious decision, to the more practical: "How do I disable the reactors powering the cryo-chambers?"

Jim Owen


Time Is Short for Life and Love

The bus smelled like other people—washed and otherwise. Dozens rode in silence, avoiding each other's eyes.

Jason looked up as the Fourth Avenue stop approached and glanced at the girl with the long red hair. They'd never spoken, though she'd smiled at him shyly.

As she grabbed her bag, her pen fell out, rolling down the aisle. He caught it, hesitated, then came forward.

"Here," he said.

"Thanks," she replied.

"I ..." they said together, smiling.

He followed her off the bus, work ignored.

Jennifer Tramm


Caucasian

He ran.

Stupid, but he couldn't help it. Although scrubbed clean, he knew blood was still on his brown hands. So much blood.

As lightning hit the ground in front of him, he knew it was pointless.

A voice boomed from above.

"Why did you kill him?"

Defiantly he screamed, "So you would notice ME!"

The air grew still. "From now on, EVERYONE will notice you—and your children."

He grew pale—and paler still.

Fish-belly white, Cain ran into the night.

Junesse Farley


A Cat Yowled

"Here," she slurred, "I know you work late. So just let yourself in." She slipped a key into his shirt pocket and disappeared.

Five hours later, and now drunk himself, he stumbled into the foyer. It might as well have been a cavern. Tracing threads of moonlight, he found her, loosely draped in black satin, soft curves haloed in silver. She snored gently.

The swamp cooler clunked on. Somewhere, a cat yowled. Standing in the archway, he stared achingly, and retired to the couch.

Jack Long


Snow Ride

My dad stopped the snowmobile in the middle of the cornfield. The full moon cast shadows from the prairie grass still standing in the snow. He had my sister on the back while me, my brother and mom rode in the sleigh. He turned around and yelled, "Put your heads down NOW!" We did, and as I turned my head to the side, I watched the scattering deer jump over our heads. I was glad to be there but sorry we scared them.

Nancy McKinney


Rabbit Crossing

Pahn is 13, and Tohono O'odham, and has long hair that whips his cheeks when he runs. He lives on the Mexican side of the reservation, and watches people crossing this ocotillo desert at all hours of the day. Two weeks ago, a coyote dropped off a little Mexicana named Maria. "She is too young," el coyote said. "She slows us down. I'll be back." But he didn't come back. And now, Pahn and Maria must cross together, quiet like jackrabbits in the dawn.

Amber L. Adams


The Unfinished Symphony

For a lifetime, he had been haunted by the music. He spent countless waking hours piecing together a masterpiece from the aching melodies and deafening chords that plagued his dreams. Yet, his composition remained incomplete.

Today, the old man would choose a single instrument to voice his symphony's final note. As he lifted it gently from its tattered case, his gnarled fingers and quick breath warmed the cold metal curves.

With surging expectation, he raised it to his lips—and pulled the trigger.

Patte Lazarus


World War II

"Get down! Get down! They're behind you!"

I tried to grab every which way I could for something. For proof.

"Oh, you're making them mad! They have guns, you damn fool!" Grandpa yelled. He must have thought that I had compromised everyone in the platoon with my antics, my stubbornness.

"No, Gramps," I tried to reason. "There isn't anyone there. See?" I did gymnastics to prove it was just his bedroom.

But his mind was calm again, gazing at some lone horizon cancer created.

Hans T. Carlson


The Caregiver

Katie walked through the heavy institutional doors to start her new job.

"But you'll be working with crazy people," friends had said. Maybe they're not crazy, just misunderstood, Katie thought.

Her favorite patient, Lucy, saw leprechauns that everyone said weren't there. Katie knew differently. She had met them, too, at a late-night tea party.

Lucy walked out the institution's doors and never looked back. Katie watched her through the barred windows. Lucy was free from her demons. Katie would take care of them now.

Kay Calendine


The Night Michael Jackson Saved My Life

Walking out of the Sixth Street overpass with my friends one dark night, we ran into a gang. We had been to see the Icecats and so, of course, were high on mushrooms.

My Marine buddy Dags, whose eyes were spinning like pinwheels, laughed, "Let's dance it out." Being the oldest, I snapped into "Sharks vs. Jets." But as they weren't middle-aged street toughs, it had no effect. But when Ray started doing "Thriller" with Dags and I joining in, they quickly ran off.

Jim Owen


El Tiradito—Only Until Morning

Blasted rain. I finally have the courage to do this and the monsoons start, threatening to drown my flickering candle. I've been here for hours protecting it, huddled close with water streaming down my face. Just like that night. His face flushed red from someone else's mouth—he didn't even apologize. Said I had misunderstood, fingering gaps where buttons used to be. He's not worth this. I stand and walk away. Behind me, the candle sputters out, and the thunder rolls in agreement.

Megan Durham


Bad Joke

There was three of us, gay Rob, guido Larry and me, walking down Congress sharing a joint when we first saw the little man. He was an alien looking for anal-probe victims. I never saw gay Rob again.

Larry then found a lamp, rubbed it, and a genie came out. "One wish, motherfucker." He wished to be the sexiest man on Earth; that's when two beautiful women came around the corner. I never saw that guido again.

Man, I need to stop smoking.

Miguel Mulholland


Eighty Four Words or Less

"Gimme three shots of Maker's Mark, a Stella and one brandy."

The bartender raised an eyebrow.

"Of Hennessey."

The bartender eyed him but turned to get the drinks.

"Coming right up.

In less than a minute, the drinks were lined up. In less than a minute, the drinks were emptied.

"What's your story?"

"Just lookin' for inspiration. Ever try to write a story 84 words or less? It's extremely infuriating."

He threw down a 50 and headed for the door.

"Keep the change."

Charles Hoekstra


Sweet 16

My 16th birthday, 1941. I went shopping with three girlfriends in town. So what? I wolf-whistled at a cute bunch of soldiers. Embarrassed, my friends rushed me off. Fortunately, the damage had already been done. The soldiers followed us in our car. Fatefully (and fearfully), we blew a tire, but the gentlemen fixed it up straight away! They proved their worth and attended my surprise party! It's been 66 years since I wed my soldier. Who says things don't happen for a reason?

Lyla Tucker


Summer in Tucson

The hum of the swamp cooler and the soft jangle of reggae vie for her consideration, but her attention is completely focused on a conversation from months ago. Nothing has been the same since she came back, and now she feels a little shiftless and sort of immature. Should she have said yes? That other life feels somehow more real than this one, but maybe because it's dark, and this is not her house, not her bed she's laying in. Her eyes flutter closed.

Malonie Nicols


Liquid Summer

Cautiously, I follow friends behind a vacant house where we hop the fence. Once inside, all fears dissipate as we peel off our outer clothes to slip quietly into the cold pool—spirits energized from the thrill of delinquency. While admiring the summer stars floating above, someone finds an orange and inexplicably throws it at the house. A motion light flickers, and we panic, whispering obscenities at the idiot pitcher while fleeing the water, clambering over the fence and running half-naked towards the car.

Ariana Brocious


Summer Romance

Out in the Big Dark, jostling with the other guys—we're pretty lit. Too much testosterone at this party.

There she is! I flash my best smile. Lighten up, says my wingman, zooming in on her. But she has the cold hots only for me. I hover closer.

Wait! She disappears in the crowd. I'm burning for her.

Then I spot her—she winks at me.

Suddenly, huge things lumber between us. She's gone. My heart drops into my thorax.

"Dude! Awesome fireflies!"

Sherry Sass


And Now, Rebuild

A boatful of survivors probed the coast for somewhere to found a new city. They stared east, shoreward, clutching maps redrawn (using extra blue) by earthquakes. Above stretched murky, muddy sky. Underneath, former desert (murdered by the sky and buried by the sea) and the 200-mile crater in the gulf's tilted, cracked, rifted floor. West, unrecognizable California. The pilot carefully steered past islands, into a bay. Turning around, Angela identified Sentinel Island, with its "A" washed away or buried, like so much else.

Yinka Joan


Pandemonium

I didn't realize how fast an elephant could run until it came stampeding toward me at the circus. I ducked underneath the bleachers, narrowly missing the elephant's stamping foot as it crushed through the tent fabric. I was so scared, I could not even hear the screams of the people fleeing away.

When the elephant was completely clear of the circus tent, I stood up, and over the ruckus, I heard circus' janitor grumble, "That's interesting. Who knew elephants were actually afraid of mice?"

Leah Edwards


The Big Dust Devil

Biggest "dust devil" I ever saw came through yesterday. It was big and dark, sounding a lot like Abigail with a mean on.

We were planting corn, and Abigail was explaining to me what I was doing wrong. Abigail took off with the mule to the barn, while I grabbed the plow and ran for the house. Looking back, I saw it take the barn, Abigail and the mule.

You know, I can rebuild that barn, but I'm sure going to miss that mule.

Ronald G. Bailey


God of Love

The pavement's warm for nighttime, like the blood streaking from my face. Unconsciousness, but the pain blocks that peace. Memories flood at moments. The hateful screams, and signs; "God Hates Faggits, and Matthew Shepard is in hell."

Is this God's work? Wasn't it their God that orchestrated the gay bash at Sodom and Gomorrah? Where are my angels? Why is this happening? I hear a voice. "It's their choice and arrogance to think they know my heart. I'm the God of love. Welcome home."

Darrin J. Belford


Back

Being back was repetition. They repeated questions, pats on the back and handshakes. He repeatedly smiled and played good soldier.

He would describe what it was like, and they would stare blankly like he was speaking gibberish.

He was happy to be back for a time, then back became a sick lie. Back had family, but no honor-bond brethren. All it offered was sleep disturbed by silence and a still dark. He missed his sun-baked desert home. Being back had numbed him.

Erik Upshaw


The Chosen One

The last thing he remembered, he was storming out of the house, saw in hand, determined to cut down that large eyesore of a tree.

Now he stood overshadowed by a majestic gate. A voice called from inside, "We will only take one of you."

"But I am alone." he replied.

"There is another, more worthy. There was a rustle behind him and he watched as the tree glided past through the gates to paradise.

Brian Nicholas


Good Old Mom

Mom and sis headed for the old Hoeschel Kohn store downtown where the up and down escalators ran next to each other with mirrors on the walls. Hoeschel's had underwear on sale, and Mom needed a steady supply because, since her colonectomy, many a pair had to be thrown in the garbage. As they were riding up to the lady's department, Mom noticed their reflections in the mirror, and when they reached the landing, Mom said to sis, "I think I know those people."

Mike Rice


Writers Block

James Schultz, critic of critics, Edison of editors, stared at the blank page. It stared back at him in a disconcerting kind of way.

His eyes wandered the room for inspiration.

A horse on a shelf, the last remnant of his shattered marriage stirred thoughts he couldn't quite grip. Did he want to? How could bric-a-brac rend pleasure deep, and pain so complete, from his very soul?

"Come on Jimmy, you can do this. You better, you have a deadline."

The page mocked him.

Raymond Galindez


Tiptoe

Awakened by the sound of his child softly calling, he leaves his wife and bed and tiptoes down the hall, as he has every night for the past five months. He looks into his child's room—they left everything as it was, half-built fort in the corner, clothes thrown over the chair. The bed is empty. He looks and looks, then returns to his wife's side. She lies in fetal position, encased in her impenetrable sorrow. Can he ever awaken from this dream?

Liz LaFarge


Zid and Zod

Zid and Zod spoke excellent English, after 60 years of watching Earth television.

"It's time," said Zid one morning.

"That's a shame," said Zod. "They were so close to discovering immortality and FTL space travel."

"Oh great," said Zid, "Just what we all need—a bunch of immortal cowboys galloping through space faster than light, armed with lasers and nuclear bombs. Just push the button, will you?"

"OK, Boss," said Zod as he pushed the button, "but I'm going to miss The Simpsons."

John Haradon


The Dream

I had a dream. A new factory came to town, but we couldn't breathe. The City Council said the factory wasn't violating any laws—there was nothing they could do. We went to Washington and met with President Bush. He said that the factory didn't want to breathe, and that if we did, we should buy gas masks. We went home and started to look into the factory. It turned out the factory made gas masks. I woke up in a cold sweat.

Andrew P. Odell


When Gold Turns to Dross

"I think I'm going to find some gold today," her boyfriend said confidently. They were on a beach in Maine on a steamy August morning. "Right," the young woman responded with more than a hint of disbelief. Being a competitive sort, however, she began walking with eyes glued to the sand, looking intently for something shiny. Nothing presented itself. Later, when he showed her a 14-karat gold, men's five-strand puzzle ring—already found and pocketed when he presented his challenge—she felt betrayed.

Wendy Grahm


AM Radio Tryst

He listened to the AM Radio talk-show host who stole his wife, for some kind of sign, key or answer as to what happened. The Tucson pundit was loud and angry. She was painfully shy, adept at avoiding confrontation.

He tried not to hate this arrogant, opinionated, local celebrity who freely insulted all or any. He turned down the volume in the car. He was surprised only two cars were parked in front of the building. The pistol felt heavy in his lap.

Anthony Rosado


She Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Every time I pass the house, I have this sick urge to try the key. Just to see if the door will open. Like nothing's changed. She'll greet me, yelling from the back of the house. I'll make my way to her office to say hello properly. I wonder if the homeowners know that cross up the road is hers. Do they walk up the road toward the canyon every morning, like she did? Each time I drive by, I have to remember.

Allen Hobson


Butt Hurt

I woke up naked next to a midget. She was lying on her stomach; all I could make out was blonde hair and tiny hands—time to leave.

I put on my pants to find a pocket full of receipts; $20 for eegee's, $40 for Circle-K. Apparently I was having mixed drinks last night. One hundred fifty to TD's East and $200 to TD's West; where the hell did the midget come from?

Than she rolled over. It was Stags from KMFA.

Miguel Mulholland


Father

I could smell the Old Spice, alcohol and motor oil on him. He popped his knuckles then gazed upon me. It was as though I had shrunk 10 feet below him. When his hand came down, I could feel the warmth of the blood running over my lips. I didn't cry. I didn't scream. I just clenched my teeth and prepared for the next blow. When it came, and the world went black, in the darkness I decided I was going to kill him.

Stephanie Savory


The Lion Tamer

"Pick one," her mother insisted.

Red-haired Kate rejoined her two suitors, saying, "I'll decide today. Wait outside."

She phoned an actress-neighbor, explained the situation and asked her to put on a sexy act.

As Kate watched, her neighbor bent low before Benjamin, revealing plenty.

He kept reading a book.

She sauntered to Dan, who laughed and squeezed her butt.

Kate called the guys up.

"Benjamin, you'd make a good husband. Dan, I pick you, because I want to be a lion tamer."

Milton Schwebel


In the fire, she lost her photographs of Berto, her newspaper clippings from when Malena was homecoming queen and when Junior was an all-city defensive back. Berto's Purple Heart was gone, along with the flag that a grateful nation gave her on a gray morning 38 years ago last April. She looked over the scorched foundations and the toppled adobes. She crossed herself and turned back to Junior, who was waiting to drive her home to his house.

Jacob Lines


My Own Eyes

They abandoned her. The group accosted by Border Patrol fled without concern. Too slow to keep pace, her swollen belly hailed medics to milepost 348. She arrived full-term. The baby born still, discarded to triple-digit heat.

Leathery-skinned at 26, she'd lost teeth. On the ward, I brushed her hair and wheeled her out, avoiding the nursery. She noticed and pointed, pleading.

"It's not a good idea," I said.

"I want to see," she replied. "With my own eyes, let me see."

Priscilla Hawkins


C & S

They were at a party.

They met like this:

"Drink some water. I don't want you to vomit." Sophia handed Claire a glass.

Who has thirst when Claire stared at eyes as blue as stratosphere? Unable to articulate, Claire scoffed, but what she really wanted to say was, "You are beautiful, and I've thought this constantly tonight like mosquitoes buzz in the jungle. I itch for you."

Instead, Claire poured the glass of water onto the floor, staring defiantly at Sophia's lovely, atmospheric face.

Michelle Sohn


Relations

Fleeing unwelcome family visits, we moved west. Speedily, a dusty stray littered under our shed, tendering two kittens and their sire.

They come inside. Now costly shots, neutering.

They sleep deeply, then hork on my rugs.

Frequent chuckles, then atrocious mutterings, mean, for lazy Captain, Feed Me Now.

With impatient squeals, his wife, Lily, bullies me into bed nightly at 9.

The quarrelsome youngsters scuffle. Elegant Dora judgematical, smug. Darcy oafish, attentive.

Intrusive kinfolk eastward. A crowd of cats inside.

I'm ahead on points.

Fred See


The Vivisectionist

The dog yowled incessantly, restrained tightly on the steel slab.

"Cut the vocal cords," the researcher ordered.

"Any narcotic?" asked the technician.

"No, lower animals don't feel pain like we do," sniffed the researcher, picking up a scalpel ...

The man bound to the long cold table screamed in terror.

"Silence him," ordered the alien scientist.

"Anesthetic?"

"No, humans do not feel pain as we do." Cold black eyes did not flicker as the researcher opened his mouth in a long silent scream.

Rebecca Greene


Goodnight, My Lovely

She has been his "lovely" for 62 years, six months. Her withered, birdlike body holds no resemblance to the girl he married, and his heart has turned to stone watching her suffer through her final days. The cancer that consumes her has snuck back in like a thief in the night, and as she struggles for each breath, she beseeches him with her cloudy eyes. He kisses her dry, cracked lips and places the downy pillow over her lovely face.

Sharon Francis


The Squamate

I was born in a desert. One day, I was sprinting along on some very hot flat rock, and I came upon this amazing blue pond, and I just had to jump in and check it out. But then I couldn't get out; the sides were too steep. Soon I was drawn into a whirlpool at the edge of the pond. I was about to drown, when the pool guy saved me. I scampered back to my nest and licked my eggs.

Stephen James Vitelli


Conspiracy

"Do you think he will do it, Comrade General?" asked the Colonel.

"It is hard to believe such a small man is capable of something so important," replied the General.

"Call the other American and tell him his mission is a go," ordered the General.

"Understood, Comrade General," replied the Colonel, picking up the phone.

"Gemstone, your mission is go. Do not fail," the Colonel said then hung up.

"What is this other American's name?" the General asked

"Jack. Jack Ruby," replied the Colonel.

Steven L. Greene


The Tourists

She welcomes the visitors with half a smile and eyes lowered. They have come to see how she lives.

She works quietly, as they photograph her poor plumbing, modest furnishings and small children. She offers them tea and snacks. They smile at her—slowly nibbling the unusual treats.

Finishing their questions, they thank her appearing satisfied. As they leave, she forces a smile. Tired, she slips back into her home, lies on her couch, and wonders, "How do they live? Is it so different?"

Gail Bornfield


Another Death in the Afternoon

My grandmother died while I was wearing the dress she bought me. I was using the fact that it was short and low-cut to my advantage. As my boyfriend slid one hand up one end and another down the other, my grandma toed the line between life and death. I was contemplating whether it would be wrong for me to stick my hand down his pants, because he was two years younger than me when she left this world for wherever Jewish grandmothers go.

Alexandria Kassman


Delivering Pizza to the Dead

It was just another Sunday afternoon at Uncle Frank's Pizza. Skip, one of the drivers, was a retired stockbroker who liked taking food to hungry people, and not wearing a tie.

When his next run came up, Skip said, "But that's a cemetery."

"It's not a prank; they paid with a Visa," the manager replied.

Arriving, he drove toward the only crowd he saw. Then a woman walked up to him.

"My condolences," he said.

And that was how Skip and Lydia began.

John Haradon


Mario's Short and Happy Life

He was 30 and unemployed when he was introduced to eBay. From then on, his life was transformed. He bought stuff at garage sales and sold it on eBay, making huge profits, but not everything did, and it accumulated. He shared a five-room house with his mother. Soon all the rooms, except his mother's, the bathroom and the kitchen were full of stuff. He was 35, and while at the computer, a strong earthquake toppled stuff on the walls onto him, killing him.

Regine L. Haynes


The Boost

Migi sits up, wipes sleep from his eyes and searches his crib. Butterbear's familiar face stares at Migi. Migi giggles, grabs Butterbear and rolls him to the corner. Once Butterbear is situated, Migi climbs. He uses Butterbear to boost himself and leverage his torso, swings one leg over, then the other. His little body catapults over the crib.

Migi lands on his back; he is free! He looks up. Butterbear's head protrudes through the crib bars, his plastic eyes filled with tears of pride.

Nina Madrid


Stood Up

Mom hovered nearby. My little brother and I over-emphasized sound effects as our army laid siege to the plastic fortress of our enemies.

We were all expecting it, but when the phone rang, we jumped. Today was visitation day. My brother rejected Dad's excuse, climbed on a chair to reach the wall-mounted phone, "It's her or us, Dad!" he squealed in his tense boyish voice. A second passed. He hung up, stared at it a second, climbed down and bawled like a baby.

Christine Dykgraaf


The Dead Body

"Do you see that up on the hill? It looks like a ..." she started. "... a body!" I finished. We ran home to tell my mom.

My mom didn't want to see a dead body, so she called the cops.

Later, the cop came to my door. He had found our body!

The cop looked at us and started laughing. "What's up there is an old water heater! No body, little ladies."

I still get teased about the "water heater body."

Deborah Twyman


A "Dove-Tail" of Lost Innocence

Suddenly, a loud fluttering of wings, up in the tree. A black snake attacking or being attacked by a dove. It was a Darwinian fight in the nest above.

It lasted a matter of minutes.

The bitten and scarred dove flew away, unable to protect the baby bird from being eaten.

The snake slowly swallowed and digested the baby dove and left.

It all happened again not 10 minutes later.

An hour later, the dove reappeared, wandering the grounds in unimagined loss.

W. Patrick Coyne


Warmth on a Cold Day

The day turned cold. It wasn't supposed to, an Indian winter, I guess. But as I came out of the store, the one with the spunky yet interesting girl, I realized the cold. It didn't smack me in the face like some cold weather can, like in Chicago or Colorado. Just a slight chill in the bones. A shiver in your skin. Then I thought, what a perfect chance to go back in the store and meet that girl. That girl who sells coats.

Brian Rosnick


Autopsy

Rosalie, the medical examiner, reported the cause of death as sleep apnea. Actually, the 48-year old lesbian died from loneliness and heartbreak. Rosalie found the scent of eternity on the deceased woman's pallid skin intoxicating. Evidence revealed this lady had battled addictions to carrot cake, horror films and polychromatic tattoos. Every night, she had fallen asleep spooning a teddy bear. She'd never found love. Tearfully, Rosalie realized that her soul mate was right under her nose. That night, Rosalie purchased a gun.

Dave Ryan


Ready

She awoke drenched in sweat and with a nagging pain in her jaw. Susan knew what it was. Both her parents had died from heart attacks. Most of her adult life, she'd been prepared for it.

In spite of the pain, she slopped the hogs, scattered feed for the chickens and fed her two dogs. Only then did she call 911 and go out to unlock the gate to her farm.

Susan met the EMTs at the gate. She said, "I'm ready to go."

Elena Díaz Bjorkquist


Lasting Love

I was standing over the broccoli display about to make my selection when I noticed an older couple approaching. She was leaning on his arm as they walked together. They appeared to be in their late 80s. Just as they walked by, she suddenly stopped and put her hand over her mouth. She said, "I've forgotten my teeth." He looked at her lovingly and patted her arm. "You look fine. We'll get them after we shop." Together, they slowly walked on.

Shirley Hartman


Survival of the Fittest

The woman looked at the three dollars she had pulled from her wallet and tried to decide whether to buy gasoline or toilet paper. The woman wasn't panicked. Billionaires might be jumping out of their penthouse apartments with this economic recession, but she knew how to survive. Survival of the fittest. It turns out it wasn't about being able to bring in the most resources, but being able to survive on the least. And the bouncing corporate billionaires were being culled from the herd.

Cecilia Graham


The Monkey on Her Back

Here she was again, driving down a darkened road in the middle of the night. She didn't feel good about herself; she didn't want to do this, but she couldn't stop. She had to get her fix, to sate the monkey on her back. When she reached her destination, the light was on. It was too late to turn back now. Walking in, she felt almost high from anticipation, as she heard the familiar greeting: "Welcome to Krispy Kreme."

Cecilia Graham


A Good Day

"Stupid sunshine," he thought, upon waking. A night of drinking hard whiskey will make you think like that. He looked around; glad to see that the bed he was laying on was his own. "Hello," he shouted. No answer ... good sign; obviously he didn't bring home any strays last night. He opened his wallet; he still had money. "Hell yeah," this is turning out to be a good day! He sat down with his morning beer, oblivious to the blood on his bumper.

Cecilia Graham


In a Future Far Distant

He told her he was a time traveler, that in a future far distant, where 100,000 souls comfortably shared the globe, there was some debate over what exactly happened during the 21st century. After a certain point, there was no written record to refer to, only a mountain of broken cell phones and frustratingly corrupted hard drives.

"Yeah," she said, "I'm not sure what to make of all this, myself. But I just downloaded this iPhone ap that shows you the nearest soup kitchen."

Andrew Coltrin


Fear in the Forest

During the deep ditch of a moonless night, the creature silently crept between the scrub pines toward the only clearing we could find before nightfall. Its footfalls easily crunched the fallen snow. With low guttural snorts, it paused at the edge of the clearing. Sensing danger, Sophie raised her head, sniffed the air and growled. Her barking roused the confused campers from their sleeping bags. They collected their wits and rifles firing blindly into the cold night, accidentally killing Sophie and the hungry wolf.

Anthony M. Gravagne


Night Air

I was walking along Miracle Mile last evening and nice lady asked me if I wanted a date. Flattered, I said, "OK, sure." Wanting to take the lead but also wanting to be thoughtful and accommodating, I asked her if she had a favorite place or if I should just pick one. She suggested we needed $50. I told her that I only had $27 on me, but that I knew where we could get something to eat cheaply. She was not hungry.

Joe Rollins


Byline, 2096

At the turn of the millennium, President George H.W. Bush stunned the world by arranging his interment at the Skull and Bones Society in New Haven. The simultaneous return of Geronimo's remains to the San Carlos Apache for burial softened official shock. Today, the tomb, located at the Bush family's seat of political power, is infrequently visited.

Recently, the incident was again brought to light with a story, leaked by an unnamed Bonesman, that disclosed that the late president's skull has gone missing.

Duncan Scott


Ray, the Boy Who Washed Away

I saw his flooded car abandoned in an arroyo. Water rushed through, collecting sand and gold in the glove compartment. The carcass of his beat-up Honda looked like a cicada skin. The washes are ignored all year, but during the summer, they let you know they're still around. The rains leave soft sand that's been worn into little globes; miniature models of their aspirations: tiny desert planets. The desert decided it wanted Ray, and it doesn't change its mind.

Carlos Garcia


Yes, Except I Don't Lay Eggs

One spring morning, I was walking in the barrio and paused to take in a charming little garden of bright multicolor spring flowers when I saw a picture book sight: A large garden wagon full of toddlers pulled by a tractor. As the tractor was turning into the driveway right across the narrow street from me, the babies and I regarded each other: they with open faces, me with delight and bemusement. Then, from the wagon a question: "Are you the Easter Bunny?"

Jan O'Kelley


Next Week

On Day One every car alarm shrieked; digitalized voices said, "We're coming."

On Day Two every cell phone rang, the voice saying, "We're coming."

On Day Three all PCs crashed. An error message read, "We're coming."

On Day Four, television screens went blank, voiceovers saying, "We're coming."

On Day Five every private and government satellite fell to earth. There was no message.

On Day Six mainframe computers across the world failed, killing the electrical grids. Someone muttered, "They're here."

On Day Seven, They rested.

Albert Vetere Lannon


Love Me, Love Me Not

She rolled the grapefruit between her weathered palms.

He liked them nice and juicy.

She looked at the recliner.

Asleep again.

She pushed thick slices of buckwheat into the toaster, an accomplice to his intestinal health.

His vitamins were plunked into a crystal bowl.

If it wasn't for her, surely he'd have dropped dead by now.

She blew a smoke ring around his sleeping head before butting out her fag.

Not a flinch.

Dead on fish night, and the mackerel wasn't even on sale.

Julia Grover


Right of Way

If the pain would just go stop for a minute, I could think. It was today, no yesterday, I left for work. Same time, same route. Everyday the same as the day before.

Nothing special about today. Just 25 years at the same job. Everything by the book, by the manual, and all is well. Follow the rules, and you make it.

Bent metal, smashed glass, airbags deployed, hospitals.

I remember it now.

Alarms, doctors, nurses, flatlines.

But, I had the right of way.

Bill Garrison


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