by Susan Cornford
Carley crouched on the floor and listened to bullets slam into the wall behind her. Someone must have compromised the motel safe-house.
Why had she followed Jake into that alley while he bought drugs? Was it lack of excitement in her middle-class life or some kind of death wish? Questions were not going to help her, she decided, with the police-person outside dead.
Crawling toward her phone, she tried to work out how to escape. Moments later the door burst open; pain and gunshots tore her body.
When the pain stopped, she opened her eyes and saw several people she didn’t know.
‘Who are you?’
One of the women, a slutty-looking blonde, stepped forward. ‘I’m Mandy and we are the ghosts of people who have been killed here. You’ve come to join us now.’
‘No!’ escaped Carley’s lips as her eyes darted around the room, coming to rest on her dead body. ‘Oh, no!’
After a time she faced them again. ‘Why are we here?’
‘To warn anyone else who comes.’
‘Didn’t work for me, you bitch!’
‘No, but we always try. Sometimes they see or hear us in time.’
‘So that’s it … forever?’
‘No, the light has come for some of us. The rest of us hope.’
They all turned to the sound of a car pulling in at Reception. Carley saw a young woman slumped in the back. The group surged toward the car, calling out; Carley soon followed and added her voice.
Perhaps it’s just the coffee
by Cath Barton
My heart’s beating too fast. Perhaps it’s just the coffee. But our meeting like this after so long has turned me over and pulled me inside out.
It started as a day like any other, except that I was late for work. You were in front of me in the coffee queue. You ordered, a flat white you asked for, double shot, and your voice was gravelly. It made me think of some old singer we listened to back then, I don’t remember his name. I didn’t know it was you. I was anxious about the time, jiggling my keys in my pocket, shifting from foot to foot.
Until you turned and smiled. You smiled your slow smile at me, your grey eyes widening in recognition and surprise, and the world shifted back twenty years. Back to a summer’s night when we walked together across the dry grass of Hyde Park and you kissed me under the plane trees and the sodium lights and it was just the start.
But at the end of the summer you left and all I could do was listen to sad songs, until I got over you.
I did get over you. I did. But now we’re sitting together in a London cafe with only a table and two coffee cups between us and I have no words. I smile into your grey eyes as I sip my coffee. You put your hand on mine and all my nerve endings fire. Now, for the first time since back then, anything is possible.
I don’t care about being late for work but my heart’s beating too fast and I know it’s not just the coffee.
by Michael T. Best
We arrived on a smog ridden day, bursting through clouds of gray, hovering, waiting, watching.
We see your future. We predict your demise. It is why we are here.
One afternoon, I left our orb. I barely knew your language, barely knew how to move one foot in front of the other, barely knew how to clean my borrowed body. My hands were a filth of muck and dirt when we met by the Merritt of Lake in Oakland city near a night heron and a thicket of marshy reeds.
You knew I was different, yet you answered what the device was in your hands and what it did and what it hoped to inspire.
I had never seen one before, not in our research documentation about your nation state.
You offered the device to me, as a chance to learn how it worked.
If you lived like Barber’s Adagio for Strings, then you would survive.
See, little teenage one, it turns out we came for Bach, yet your leaders gave us guided laser missiles.
We came for Mozart. They gave us Morse code.
We came for Beethoven. They gave us more fire and brimstone.
We came for Chuck Berry. They gave us the nuclear option.
Give us Bach and Beethoven and we will sing your praises from milky way to orion’s belt.
We came to be friends. You made us an enemy.
Once you cared for your neighbor.
And so we are silent. We watch. We wait.
We will win this world without destroying a spec or even a mustard seed.
To the watchers go the spoils.
by Alex Z. Salinas
I must’ve been eight years old when I first saw The Cosby Show. My dad had gotten home late from work and walked into my bedroom smelling like moldy cheese. There was no mistaking it was him. He tapped me on my shoulder and I opened my eyes, though I hadn’t been asleep. He said he knew I’d be awake if I was anything like him. He told me to get up and come to the kitchen. I did as I was told.
On the kitchen table was a brown paper bag. He’d brought chili cheese dogs and fries. I tore into the bag while my dad retrieved a forty-ounce can of beer from the fridge.
When he sat down with me, he grabbed the remote off the kitchen table and flipped on the television.
There he was: Doctor Cliff Huxtable. He was wearing a brightly colored sweater and making a silly face at his son. I didn’t know what was happening, but I couldn’t help but smile.
“This is a classic,” my dad said.
After we ate, we hopped on the couch and watched the show until I fell asleep.
A scream woke me up in the middle of the night. The television was still on; Cliff Huxtable was about to stuff a delicious looking sandwich into his mouth.
I heard a bang on the wall and another scream. It was my mom’s. After a few more bangs, I heard my mom sobbing.
I hated that I couldn’t do anything. Dad would’ve killed me.
I stayed up watching the show until I fell asleep again.
* * *
The Cosby Show is still my favorite show, despite the fact about Bill Cosby.
If it reappeared on air, I’d introduce it to my son. Fortunately for him, I’m happily married.
by Robert Salinas
He would talk to me at night, and I never really made a point to mention it to anybody. They weren’t long conversations, but on occasion we talked about things like dreams and desires. I never knew a puppet could contain so much angst, but being controlled for a living can add up I guess.
People started to notice that I got attached on set, and as the seasons progressed I felt more isolated. The other puppeteers would go out for beers while I would stay back and talk to Kenny. He really only talked to me on his own, and believe it or not he sounded very different from what I would act him up as.
“You and Kenny are one in the same it seems,” my director told me once. “He’s the frog version of you.” We chuckled. Kenny kind of took that personal later.
“We are not the same.” He got angry sometimes, but being in the spotlight does that to you.
Our last conversation came on the night before the final episode. We had a big number with the entire Cast as the finale, and we were ending by actually coming out with the puppets at the end for the wave goodbye. The world would “know” the faces behind the characters. I thought Kenny would be upset about it.
“This will be great for me,” he said to me that night. “This will help me.”
“You mean to be free? Like what you’ve told me before?”
I see him on shows and movies, but that’s not the same Kenny. I know it. It’d be interesting to know where he went.
Better Like That
by Alva Holland
‘Better like this? Or like this? Or are they the same?’
The doctor repeats this question so many times, my ears hurt more than my eyes. The model human eyeball perched on a rotating metal plinth in the corner of the examination room glares at me with each gyration. I blink and replace the stare with a disco ball – that suspended rotating glitter ball reflecting our pitiful efforts to dance to The Bay City Rollers’ ‘Bye-Bye Baby.’
The memories come flooding in.
You wore a pink halter-neck top over purple bell-bottoms. You told me your friend was more attractive but it was only ever you. With multi-coloured beams catapulting across your face I could tell your eyes were blue, the same blue you passed on to four of our six children. Ben’s favourite colour was blue. His only request for Christmas four years running was a blue plasma ball lamp which you still switch on in his room, lying empty, preserved in his memory – the blue room with four lamps.
‘Better like this? Or like this? Or are they the same?’
It was better like that. Better when we were young, when the music switched to a slow number and you stayed. Better when you accepted my ring, when we danced again under a disco ball I hooked up in the living room a month after Ben was born. Better when I could see your smile. Better when blue was a happy colour.
You sit quietly in your chair while the doctor explains.
‘To be honest, macular degeneration is such a slow-moving disease, I doubt he will go blind before… well, you know, before… taking his age in account.’
Doc faltered. I felt your hand squeeze mine.
‘Let’s go,’ you say. ‘There’s a disco ball waiting.’
Better like that.
Can’t Ain’t Our Word
by Sian Brighal
He’s Jonas Marley and he could all that A-Team building magic. Put him in a garage and he’d build you ten different things with wheels, a machine for washing those windows you need to do, or a catapult. A tinkerer the grown-ups called him…as if that were a bad thing.
Can’t ain’t a word, he’d say, as he worked away in Dad’s garage. It was his thinking place, and there was always something hiding under a tarpaulin in there. Some secret thing he said would make him rich…famous, like. And his eyes glimmered like those balls with lightning inside as he spoke. He was the go-to kid who was going somewhere. Can’t is a word our parents use, he added. Can’t do this…can’t do that. It ain’t our word! He affirmed with a wink and smile.
He’s building his own future on the discarded junk of our neighbourhood’s past. He found it ironic. After all that ‘can’t’ and they were gifting him what he needed. I think some of them, the more weathered, are helping on the sly, as if he’d rekindled some dimmed spark. Maybe they remembered when can’t wasn’t their word either and want to get that lightning out of the ball before the energy gets sucked out. I’d always thought they looked…deflated.
Today, there’s this science exposition, and he’s going. He looks odd with clean hands and no grease smudges on his cheeks, but that lightning is practically fizzing out his eyes. It’s thrilling and all kinds of scary. The taxi has beeped its horn again, and he grins, plucking up his little wonder. He’s off to grab his chance. And I’m going to sit but not wait, hoping he’ll come back, ‘cos I know he won’t. He’ll get his chance and he can’t say no.
by Jack Koebnig
Tom still didn’t know if he’d made the right decision. It had felt right last night. But now, lying on top of his bed, staring at the ceiling, he wasn’t quite so sure. He wondered if he could patch things up with Brian. It was Sunday, after all. They would have the whole day to bury the hatchet.
As Tom walked across the landing towards the bathroom, he heard voices. One voice in particular sounded so deep it could almost be mistaken for the growl of an accelerating sports car. Drying his hands on the sides of his jeans, Tom entered the kitchen and stopped dead in his tracks.
His mother wasn’t reclining in her rocker by the large bay window, drinking coffee and reading the weekend newspapers, she was sitting at the kitchen table beside a tall man. The man was in uniform. On seeing her son, she raced over and wrapped her arms around him. Tom could smell cigarette smoke. This must be bad, he thought, she doesn’t touch her cigarettes unless …
‘I’m afraid I have some bad news,’ said the Policeman, his voice sounded like an atom bomb detonating in the spacious kitchen. Tom could not only feel the Policeman’s words, he could smell them too; they reeked of sour onions.
Thirty minutes later, while Tom and his mother were walking back from the local corner shop, licking identical ice creams, he thought: If I’d gone with Brian, I wouldn’t be eating this now. The corners of his mouth turned up then quickly straightened out again before anyone, especially his mother, noticed.
If there were any further thoughts on whether he’d made the right decision, they vanished in another lick of tasty vanilla ice cream
Cross My Heart And Hope To Die
by Munira Sayyid
Pepper lay at the end of the railway tracks, scared and dead. Her body was bent in all the wrong ways but her hair was still straight. It shined just like when she was alive.
I heard a soft sniff next to me and found Ruth staring at Pepper too. Her cheeks were wet and her lips were moving in silent prayers. I wanted to punch her face.
I chose to put my arm around Janice. She stood with wide eyes and her palm stuck to her mouth-like she couldn’t decide whether she was sad or scared. I knew she would miss Pepper the most.
Pepper came into our lives when my cousins decided to stay over for the summer. I hated them immediately. All dressed in white, they were loud, polite and playful; an instant hit with father. Everyday, when they prayed together, father looked at me with disappointment. He didn’t know that they laughed at my insect collection and bullied me into performing dares that left me dirty.
Like the time they forced me to trap Mrs. Claus’s cat. Poor Rudolph went missing after a few days. Ruth was terrified so I kept her secret.
Worse was that I couldn’t spend much time with Janice, my best friend and the prettiest girl in the whole world. The evening my cousins returned to the city, I rushed to Janice’s house to find her laughing with a golden haired girl. Janice easily trusted Pepper. I didn’t trust her one bit. But Janice is really nice. Ruth had decided to stay a while longer and Janice let her tag along. She didn’t even mention it once.
As Janice bid goodbye to Pepper, I sighed and silently grabbed Ruth’s hand – assuring her that I would keep this secret too.
Return Of The Sorcerer
by Steve Lodge
“You are trying my patience, Youngblood.” Simmered The Boss. “I’m not mincing words here, when I say that we as a company are indebted to you for your innovative past work, which includes our No 1 successful product and the ensuing spin-off varients that we have squeezed from the original, but Nature’s Breath, man. Your current batch of inventions are like wandering back into a comic of 100 years ago or even as far back as the 1960’s.”
“I mean get a grip on yourself, man. Where is that jetsetter I plucked from a laboratory kitchen in Cluster 7 all those years ago?”
“I am actually asking you. If you don’t have an answer readily about your person, we will have to postpone this meeting until I return from meeting the shareholders. And you’d better make an interesting list of projects because unless I missed a couple of your memos, you appear to be working on…let’s see, toast you can eat in the shower…. soup you can eat on a stick…. a bit of a pattern forming here. I suppose since your biggest success (and ours) is with robot meat and flame-grilled variations thereof, I shouldn’t be surprised that all your subsequent projects have been foodal related. You seem obsessed with foodality, man. Yes, I know man has to live on something, but, the last educated guess was that Technology will completely replace Humans within the next 68 years, I would have thought it might be better if you worked on something…oh, I don’t know…like a spaceship to get us off this planet cluster and be quick about it.”
With that the Big Man stormed out of his office. Youngblood Ferns just stood there, muttering “I love a good storm-off, but I had so much I wanted to tell him.”
by Mike Murphy
The decision needed to be made now. There was no more time to waste. The man didn’t know who had miscalculated the amount of food to store, him or the boss, but it really didn’t matter at this point.
His animals were eating each other to survive.
Already, he had lost the majestic flopar birds; the oh-so-cute millinows; and the furry, slow-moving pedrals. He couldn’t leave these life-and-death decisions up to the creatures anymore.
He sat at what he called his desk and looked at the sheet of papyrus before him. If his calculations were right, this ordeal would be over in two days. After that, all the animals would have plenty to eat, but, until then. . .
He examined the list he had made of all his animal species. One of them would have to die to provide nourishment for the others, but which one? Some of them wouldn’t yield much meat, others would serve a useful purpose once this trial was over, and still others he just really liked and couldn’t bear to sentence to an ignominious death.
He contemplated the very last entry on his list. Yes, they would provide a good amount of meat. He had heard from friends that their flesh was tender, flavorful, and – most important – filling. The boss hadn’t chimed in at all on the problem, so the choice was up to the man.
Yes, he thought, that was the proper decision. He would miss the soon-to-be-food animals, but their species would be honored throughout time as the ones who had made this trip possible. The man stood up from his desk and called to his son – who arrived promptly.
“The unicorns,” Noah said, “slaughter them, and feed their meat to the others.”
Invest in fire
by Mark Sadler
The priests of Hephaestus were here in the town on this exact spot, although on a different street to the one where we stand now. The city was very different then. They were making a clamour, beating their copper pans. People came out of their houses and followed them to a small public square that occupied a location further north-east from here.
There was an announcement: A race between the city states of Athens and Corinth to the temple of Hephaestus, which lay equidistant between the two settlements. A fire would be lit at the gates of each city and allowed to travel over the land to the temple, and thereafter to consume it and blacken the rubble. Henceforth Hephaestus would be worshipped only in the hearts of flames. It was forbidden for the competing fires to be moved by human hand, though their passage across the ground could be steered by laying down those materials that would feed the advance. One person in the triumphant city would find favour among the gods and be granted immortality.
My father gave away the wooden table, around which we ate, to be burned. The priests carried it sideways through the door of our house and loaded it onto the back of their cart.
Many centuries later I funded the railway line from Athens to the site of the former temple. It was during the age of steam locomotives. The image of Hephaestus flared-up in the coal burners that powered the engines. Now that era of transportation has ceded to electric trains, and the people who dwell in this region curse the wild fires that ravage the forests, and gnaw at the fringes of their settlements.