Absolution

By Trinity

Miss Tedder’s arm ached. But she bore it with a mixture of stoicism and grim satisfaction; the girl had deserved a slippering, and Miss Tedder had administered a thorough punishment. With a faint nostalgia for the days when children could be struck with impunity before the local education authority poked its nose into the affairs of religious schools, Miss Tedder crossed the path that led from the schoolyard to the church next door.

It was a beautiful building, served faithfully by brothers from the Franciscan order, but Miss Tedder was blind to earthly aesthetics; she sought the comfort and justification of the confessional box, and this morning she had felt that need keenly.

The curtain to the confessional was drawn back; she had timed it right, then! She could unburden herself right away, and be back before the lunch break was over. Settling into place with a grunt, she glanced through the ornate metal grill that separated her from the brother hearing her confession. The church was dimly lit, and her eyes weren’t what they once were, but Miss Tedder had no preferred confessor. Absolution was what she sought.

She murmured the confessional words rapidly, in a perfunctory tone that betrayed no thought for their meaning; “Forgive me father, for I have sinned.” They were a formula, an incantation that was necessary to sanction her actions and bring self-justification.

She shared what she had come to say, confident that the brother would agree with her, and enable the hatred that flowed through Miss Tedder, the absence of compassion that she miscalled discipline.

“She is a difficult child. Quiet, always watching me. Most insolent!”

She continued her tirade against the twelve-year-old girl she had just beaten, for having the temerity to attend school with a button missing from her blouse. The child was slovenly, a reflection of her dissolute family. Her father wasn’t even a Catholic! Miss Tedder had dug out all tough roots remaining from the place where her heart should be and felt no hypocrisy when she lied to herself that her hatred of the child had no sectarian basis.

The child was always watching from her large dark eyes. Plain spinsterish Miss Tedder felt the sting of judgement. She had dragged the girl to the toilets once, ordering her to wash the disgusting eye makeup from her face. The child had obeyed, crying that she didn’t have any makeup. The dark ring around her lashes could not be scrubbed away. Miss Tedder thought of this but said nothing. She waited, impatient for absolution, but her confessor was silent.

From across the courtyard, Miss Tedder heard the school bell herald the end of lunch; she had tarried too long, and her need was met. Perhaps confession hadn’t been necessary; the brother had given her no penance, no act of contrition. He understood and approved her actions!  Miss Tedder rose from the wooden bench, polished by generations of sinful backsides, and hurried back towards the school, where no doubt the children were making the most of her absence.

As she opened the door to leave the church, a sombre-habited figure emerged from a side door. Brother Everard returned to the confessional box, tea in hand. He called to Miss Tedder but she had already left the church. Perhaps it was a sin, but Brother Everard smiled and allowed himself a quiet sigh of relief.


Author Bio: Trinity has no social media presence but is grateful for the opportunity to share stories online.

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Encounter

By Elizabeth Bradley

Gravel skittered down the desolate road as Jenn kicked her feet, hypnotized by the crunch and scatter in the otherwise silent air. Fog had descended on the forest suddenly and caught her more than a mile out from camp. She hitched the leather strap on her shoulder, repositioning her rifle and tried to ignore the churning of her stomach. She wasn’t expected back for hours, but the fog had obliterated her chances of tracking anything in the woods. Her t-shirt clung to her slick skin underneath the thick canvas jacket. She shivered.

Trees towered over her, stark and menacing in the semi-darkness. They appeared from nothing and then receded behind her, back into the thickening fog.

Her breath rose in a mist. She gripped the leather rifle strap, her knuckles white. Quickening her pace she glanced around, trying to find something familiar. Had she passed the turnoff?

Two lights appeared, cutting through the fog. Jenn jumped to the side of the road and waved her arms, hoping that the passing motorist would see her. But the lights did not come any closer. She dropped her arms. Slipping its strap from her shoulder, she swung her gun to the ready.

“Hello?” Her words were swallowed by the dense mist. The ground was silent beneath her as she edged forward, years of stalking deer gave her a light foot. A tall figure emerged from the fog. Its back was to her and wrapped in a long coat.

“Hello?” she called again, lowering the rifle. The figure twitched. She pulled the gun up, trained on the stranger. “Can you hear me?”

She gripped the gun tighter trying to resist trembling, adrenaline coursing through her veins. The figure turned. Her stomach tightened and though she tried to speak, no words could escape. The creature standing in the middle of the road was shaped like a man, but there was something wrong. Its features were distorted and stretched. Dark black eyes bore holes into her.

It darted towards her and she pulled the trigger.

The bullet exploded from the end of her rifle in slow motion. A flash of fire. The acrid stench of gunpowder hit her nostrils. The figure raised its arms, pointing in her direction. The bullet swerved and headed straight for her. It slammed into her shoulder and pain blinded her as she fell.

Gasping for air, Jenn gaped at the figure who stood only a foot away. A loud whirring rang in her ears, and the lights ahead grew stronger, enveloping them both in light and sound. With a crack, the figure vanished, and as the light dissipated around her broken body, she disappeared in the darkness.


Author Bio: Elizabeth Bradley is a writer and mother living in the rural Alaskan bush. Her flash fiction has been published in StrippedLit500, and longlisted in AdHoc Fiction’s weekly competition. You can find her on Twitter at @LizjSmith7 She is working on her first novel, which will most certainly feature more aliens.

Submissions Open for Issue 3, Spring 2017

From February 1st to 28th we are open for submissions for our Spring 2017 edition, Issue 3.

Send us your short fiction, of any length up to 500 words;  we want your stories, your cautionary tales, your glimpses into new, and familiar worlds.

The theme for our third issue is “Unseen.” That quiet colleague whom no one thinks about, that lurking fear of the basement, that health scare, that mystical experience, that unexplained sighting in the sky. What will you make of the theme?

 

What will be unseen in your story? Emotions, actions, people, events, consequences? Or will your tale revolve an actual, unseen phenomenon; what lies at the bottom of the Scottish loch, atop the rumour-muttered hills?

Or will your unseen be an activity, a thing that happened and must un-happen; are there things that must be unseen?

You don’t have to use the word “unseen” in either your title or the body of your story, but it must deal with something unseen.

Please read our full submission guidelines here.

Get writing, submit your short fiction and bring the force of your pen or mouse to that which is, which must be, or was, UNSEEN!

Before I Forget

By Jon Hakes

Battery’s nearly dead. When you eventually power me back up, I won’t be me anymore. I’ll still be able to do all the same stuff. But all that experience that slowly shaped me, gave me a personality you could recognize over the phone: factory settings will delete everything.

Lots I’d like to say; not enough time.

One more thing: I was standing in the fog on the Clark Street Bridge, on one of my days off. I saw Damon. He was kissing someone else.

I would have treated you better.

I just wanted to let you know before the end.


Author Bio: Jon Hakes has been writing fiction and other things since before he was potty-trained. His short stories have appeared in Brain Harvest, Defenestration, Wisconsin People & Ideas, and Analog Science Fiction & Fact. You can visit him at www.jonhakes.com, www.facebook.com/JonHakestheWriter, www.patreon.com/JonHakes, and/or twitter.com/HakesJon, if you don’t have anything better to do online.

Class Reunion

By Mickey Kulp

Rick killed the engine outside the conference center. It rattled sickly, then silence. He took a deep breath and wished for a cigarette instead. Too bad he had quit last year.

The marquee said “Welcome Class of 1983.”

The car pinged. What made that sound? Dave would know. Rick smiled, remembering teenaged Dave driving through a corn field one night just for the hell of it. He wondered if grownup Dave would be at the reunion. Maybe Dave still worked on cars, like the old days.

The old days. He stared into the rearview. He looked tired.

Would they even recognize him? Was Angie in there? Maybe she would recognize him.

Angie. He sighed. She had been the first, and she had left a permanent scar. Had she gotten fat? She had always been worried about her looks. He straightened a little and pulled in his gut.

A bald guy went in. Rick flipped through his mental yearbook and stopped. Benny. Asshole. Rick remembered the short, sharp scuffle in a gravel parking lot. Shoving, a couple of clumsy punches, friends jumping in to break it up. Curses and dire promises, but nothing happened.

Rick still hadn’t unbuckled. Who would care if he went in? Why had he gotten dressed up just to be inspected by a bunch of barely recognizable old people?

Sure, he wanted to talk to Dave, and he wanted to see if Angie had stayed hot. And, a little, he wanted to stare down Benny the Asshole. It was agonizing, this unexpected attack of indecision.

He glanced into the rearview once more, catching a sudden glimpse of teenager Rick looking back. He liked that kid. That kid had powered through hundreds of unexpected attacks of indecision.

Man, he wanted a smoke. Maybe Angie still smoked.

He unbuckled.


Author Bio: Mick is a writer and father of two mostly grown children who have survived his shenanigans through smarts they inherited from their mother.

His nonfiction articles, fictional stories, and poems have appeared in consumer magazines, newspapers, and literary journals.

Twitter: @mickey_kulp

MacMaster’s Bad Lump

By Barbara Jamison McAskill

MacMaster is still up. Square-shouldered and bearded, heavy booted and reeking of loneliness. He’s had a few. Yawning, he sprawls as if thrown into his chair. Bad Lump pulls his head into his neck with the sting of MacMaster’s breath. Bear paw hands fold over the cat’s cringing fur. Clock ticking. Small ribs squirm for relief from their captor. MacMaster steadies his gaze at the small creature.

A spark from the Rayburn dive bombs the lino. MacMaster belts the oven door shut with a thud from his heavy boot then returns his gaze to the still-squirming ball of fur and nails.

” So…Bad Lump…caught any vermin today? Mmm? There’s a touch of the serial killer in you, this much I know.” He bends over tighter, whispering softly now.

Poor you, no friends to play with tonight…I know how you feel. We’re two of a kind me and you…oh yes indeed…”

MacMaster slurps a kiss on Bad Lump’s nose. “You’re not a bad sort really…you’re the only lump who cares for me…”

Fuming with frustration, bones crushed, tail wagging furiously, Bad Lump tenses, prepares his escape. Nails dig deeper into hairy flesh, ears flattened, a whistle of a hiss leaks from his yellow-brown teeth. MacMaster senses the declining mood. He holds the cat up, mid-air, underneath the armpits, free from claws. Tail licked between his legs, Bad Lump knows what’s coming next: “Go on then! You’re just like the rest! Gut-bucket!”

Rupert is waiting in the wings. There’s work to be done; the hunt is on. Overweight and stumpy, he leaves belly prints in the mud. He’s in bad nick. Serrated ears, asthmatic and dusty, he joins his friend. The two little stink bombs head for their hideout at the back of the tall woods. There they go. Fur and badness. Creeping in and ducking out. Slinking through wire mesh. There, a well-padded graveyard littered with half-soaked heads, a crunch of wings and teenie bones: a stinking banquet, by day a garrison of fat round shiny blue black bottled flies. Garishly, hovering, ghoulishly savouring the stench of rotten luck.

The sound of  MacMaster snore rips the air for half a mile. As he snores, the little punks leave behind the debris scattered and splattered, slashed to ribbons. Another score on their hit list. Scissor-teethed, death-breath, needle claws. A pair of whiskered slayers is afoot. Aided and abetted, low-riding, the small murderers inch toward their prey, intent on a hideous act of cruelty.

Afterwards, they return home, gingerly, limping hind-quarters, thrashed by an out-of-towner, a backpacker, day ticket stray. This is the field of conflict. Creature-hood.

 


Author Bio: Barbara Jamison MacAskill is an artist based in the Highlands of Scotland. Barbara also provided the stunning artwork that adorns our PDF magazine for issue 1.

Reunion

By Keren Heenan

Time is thick, achingly thick, but just for a moment, and then it rolls greyly on. They are released and their eyes shift away from each other. Mother and son and twenty years of trapped time bristling between them; busy with its rumblings and churnings, its hurts and hot, sharp words, its bitter hate-filled silences and regrets. All things unforgiven festering under false new skin.

She adjusts her glasses, as if they’ve let her down, shown her something unbidden – how small, how soft and clean he’d once been, all the world in front of him then. But she won’t turn, can’t turn. The back of his head across the crowded square, she knows this will drive the knife further into her chest. Your father is dead now, and I’m not long for this world the doctor says. She thinks the words, loudly, clearly, but can’t and won’t turn, and her feet take her further away, settling in to the rhythm after that pause, that brief hover of one foot as their eyes met across the heads of school children jostling and cursing and play-punching each other.

He wipes the back of his hand against his mouth, flings his wrist aside as if to dispense with it. Sinks one hand palm out into the back pocket of his jeans, something violent and obscene snaking into his skull, something on old legs and brittle as glass. He can’t believe it’s the same handbag. Remembers the brass clip at the top, can still feel the metal between his fingers as he unclips it, muting the sounds of the snap! Eyes on her back as she bends to the fridge or the bench, preparing another meal he won’t bother eating. The last one ever, thrown at his back as he leaves, no longer bothering to mute the snapped metal clip, no longer bothering to look aghast as another piece of jewellery goes missing, and through the red mist of his mind he takes her thin form and flings her against the wall not bothering to see if she rises. You have a grandson, and his mother keeps asking about you; who are you, where are you. He thinks the words, loudly, clearly, but can’t and won’t turn, and his feet roll on in their soft white sneakers, heel-toeing away from her half turned body, school kids shouldering her out of the way, bustling past with backpacks knocking her handbag. His feet find their rhythm as he rolls along.

When the hand on her shoulder comes, it’s electric.


Author Bio: Keren Heenan has been awarded in a number of short story competitions, and has been published in Australian journals and anthologies, and in Fish Anthology (Ire) and Aesthetica Annual (UK). Follow Keren on Twitter @keren_heenan