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

 

Mother’s Day

By Gill Siddle

Eileen’s youngest wasn’t coming home this year; she was away at university, one of the good ones. Eileen didn’t mind, not really.

Eileen’s world was red brick and cobbled. She’d grown up two streets over and had moved into this house, bursting with pride, shortly after her wedding. She had raised four children, now grown and gone. Encroaching modernity had never stopped her doing things the proper way, the hard way but these days there was less to do and her hands felt idle.

A card and a gift arrived, postmarked from the sandstone university town that felt further away than it was. A simple card with a heartfelt message, nice. The gift was luxury hand cream. Eileen stared down at it in her silent living room. She climbed the narrow, steep, thickly carpeted stairs and put it in the bathroom cabinet. At dinner, she gently laughed off the gift as frivolous and unnecessary but a nice thought. Her husband silently nodded while he worked the beef stew around his mouth, an image unchanged for forty years.

As she cleaned her teeth that night, she moved the cream further back into the mirrored cabinet. Guests may see it, she thought, they might think she was showy. She dried her hands and looked at them. The story of forty domestic years was in her skin.

She lay awake. Sleep would not descend. Thoughts of her children frayed the edges of her mind. Where does it all go? Are the years, the work, to be smoothed away? Gently, subconsciously, her hands wrung each other under the heavy blanket. Her husband slept soundly, loudly. She rose and crept to the bathroom.

Under the harsh strip light, she opened the cabinet and took out the hand cream. She unscrewed its gold lid and filled her palm with the white perfumed lotion. She placed both hands together and squeezed, causing the viscous liquid to squelch between her fingers, some blobbed onto the pink rug. She repeated the action. She trailed the cream up her arms, dampening her nightdress. She filled her palm again and again. She smeared it on her face, layer after layer, until the heavy perfume stung her eyes. When the tube was empty she looked in the mirror. She was grotesque. Two sad eyes stared, marooned in the gelatinous mire. Silently, she took the hand towel from the rail and wiped it all off. She put the empty tube and the towel in the bin. She went to bed and slept.


Author Bio: I don’t really have an author bio as I’m not an author but I do have a blog. It’s called Escape Grey and charts what happens when you quit your job and your flat in search of a life that fits. So far this adventure has, amongst other things, reignited a love of literature and language and has seen me pick up some editing work. It has been the experience of editing that has inspired me to pick up the metaphorical pen in recent weeks. I’m on twitter and Facebook too: www.facebook.com/Escape-Grey
@gilliansiddle

So Long Sunshine

By Paul Alex Gray

We sit on the floor of my soon-to-be old room. My legs crossed with one hand keeping the tip of my skirt down. Marc’s leaning back, smug smile slathered to his face and I think he’s playing the unblinking game again. We hear the moving van drive off.

“Manitoba eh?” he asks.

He always thinks he’s so funny.

The window is open and I wonder if I should close it. We took down the blinds and dad insisted on putting back the old curtains that apparently hung there when we first moved in. They move lazily half translucent and casting tiny pieces of dust. I watch them glow and shine in the light.

“Let’s ditch this place,” says Marc. “In fact, let’s never come back.”

He guides me out into the hall, that first wooden board at the top squeaking like always.
We pass by my Mom, checking empty cupboards. Everything echoes a little too much.

“Just a few more minutes, Sarah”, she says.

Marc leads me to the porch. All the furniture is gone and I can see more of the bushes where we once found a hundred thousand ladybugs – or so it seemed. My skin tingles in the sun. I could be lying out back, baking slowly.

“Hope you packed your snowshoes,” Marc says.

“Honestly,” I reply, wanting to say more but feeling all out of breath.

Dad’s got the car all set up, ready to go, all four doors wide open. Knowing Dad, there will be a full tank of gas, a couple of juice boxes and snacks ready to go. He looks up at me, then down, then does a double take then turns back again. I’m sure I’m freaking him out now. He moves back around, busying himself with something in the car. Marc lets go of my hand and I grab it back.

“I’ll write you,” I blurt out “I’ll call you, when I get there.”

He smiles, and it looks like he’s about to say something profound.

“Oh, wait!” he says, dashing off.

Mom comes out and shuts the door behind her. She moves down the steps and out to the car. The light flickers through the trees. Things are going too fast. Dad starts the car.

“Let’s go,” he says, but softly and without any urgency.

I stare up the street, past letterboxes and bikes laying out on lawns and kids up the street throwing water balloons.

“You don’t want to forget this.”

Marc hands me the baseball. The one we both claimed we caught and somehow always seemed to end up back at his place. I take it, squinting in the light, turning the ball in my hands. The surface feels raw and the stitches flow like a story, round and round.
Marc squeezes my hand and I think I should kiss him. The wind is picking up. It rises and races through the trees and it makes the leaves shout in whispers I cannot understand.

_________________________________________________________________

Author Bio: Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing speculative fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in 365 Tomorrows, 101 Words and Devolution Z. An Aussie now living in Canada with his wife and two children, Paul spends his days working in the software industry. Follow him on Twitter @paulalexgray.

Games

By Margaret McGoverne

The end of school was in sight. After the holidays, I was off to university. But for now, I had to do games. We had no money for sports equipment. Games were a distraction for me, I was a disappointment to sports; I had asthma, I was clever, I was weedy. I couldn’t sprint; a plodder. The PE teachers disdained me. But I loved cross country running, bounding over brooks and swerving to avoid nettles. I surrendered to the dirty pleasure of the run.
In the playground stood the games hut; musty, crusty socks, lost shirts and football boots. Each week I walked, shamefaced, to borrow a hockey stick. The gym mistress, a powerfully built Australian with a jutting chin and a tanned neck, always barked the same question;

“Why haven’t you got a hockey stick? It’s a compulsory piece of kit!”

More than a hundred sticks hung from hooks on the wall of the hut, leaver-bequests and lost property. Without looking, I would grab the nearest one. My kit was stuffed in my school bag; gym top washed and bleached to a buttery cream. I didn’t have hockey boots; I wore black plimsolls. Cheaper.

I ironed my gym kit the night before PE in my bedroom. My father was visiting, drunk again, and angry with me for locking him out the night before. He had banged on the front door, glaring through the letterbox.

“If you don’t let me in I’ll….”

Tonight he told me I was no longer his daughter; he would have nothing to do with me any more.

“Suits me!” I shouted, retreating to my bedroom to play records. I wrapped myself in scraps of beautiful words and music, a comfort blanket of art. I would escape to university, and never come back. I dreamt of taking my mother away, but she would never break her ties with him. They loved to hate each other.

My father would cadge when jobs were scarce. With his drinking, jobs were always scarce. He had just been in hospital; his lungs were bad, but he continued to smoke. It was a raw, cold spring, my birthday. I asked for a hockey stick but there was no money to spare. Inside my card, an IOU. Next week, mum promised.

Thursday morning; hockey today. I had a plan: I would hide in the school toilets with a book for an hour. My mother’s scream brought me to the kitchen; my father, face down on the floor, still and cold had bequeathed me nothing but bad temper, and relief.

###

Thursday. My first day back at school. He was cremated, dead and gone from the earth in seven days. Family travelled from far and wide for the funeral, all promised to stay in touch. An uncle pressed money into my hand, “Buy yourself a treat lassie; some records, something nice to wear.” I bought a hockey stick.

This Thursday, I was equipped. Joining the queue to board the bus, the games mistress brayed, “Where were you last week? Hockey season’s over! Leave that stick behind. Where’s your running shoes?”

I ran in my plimsolls, ruining them. It was alright. I was a plodder but that was alright too; I would finish the race. I was in it for the distance.


Author Bio: Margaret McGoverne is currently writing her first full length novel, while being distracted by short stories, flash fiction and her blog about all things writing.

Fed-Up Waiting for Keith

By Odette Brady

On Valentine’s day I tried to make it work. I shut my eyes and thought of all the hunky men in my books, the many pairs of big arms packed into my romance novels. I wanted a big hand to cradle the back of my head and kiss me with a fresh, wet mouth. I thought imagining it hard enough might make it real. On Valentine’s day Keith forgot to put the heating on and I was cold. I had to make him hurry up, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to be made love to. I just wanted it to be done with so I could roll over and sleep, and dream.

When we met we were young and we had fine facial features. As we’ve aged our faces have become fleshier. Keith’s face is all meat. His dreams are still refined. That’s all they are though: dreams. He told me he was taking me to Belize. I would have been happy enough if he’d dug the garden. The wet lawn and red blood in the skin of my eyelids – eyes closed and turned to the sun – would have been bliss. Dinner on decking, clematis on trellis. It would be ours. But he watched the rain and paced while I waited. He picked his nose and flicked through the sport channels while I read my books. He’d made snide comments about Christmas all through December, I thought he might cheer up by January. He looked miserable as sin when it came and it dragged me down. He trapped me in the slump of his jowls. Valentine’s day was his last chance.

Meanwhile, my sister was digging her own garden. She ruined her hands on her unvarnished spade and clogged her nails with black soil. Her elbows became leather in February’s frost. She took dead looking twigs and gave them time and affection. She threw seeds over the clay and she was patient, she waited, smoking cigarettes in the kitchen. In March I joined her and we waited together. We drank instant coffee and passed the time listening to the clock. We watched blade by blade of grass. Green overcame the black and shiny ground as days got longer. In return for her efforts purple flowers opened up and roses formed buds that were straight off the cover of a romance novel. By summer we had a lawn. In August we ate dinner on a blanket on the grass, closed our eyes and threw our heads back into the heat of the sun. Such was the bliss of my sister’s realised dream. I didn’t think about dinner on decking again. I forgot about clematis on trellis.


 

Author Bio: I am a fiction writer from London with a fascination for everyday people and all the things that make us similar. More of my stories can be found at odettebrady.com. I tweet as @odettembrady and my weekly serial novel can be read at soapnovel.wordpress.com

Meat

By John Xero

In the end, aren’t we all just meat and bone and guts all piled into a greasy sack?

“You gonna eat that?” Benny asked through a mouthful of hash brown, waving his fork at the last sausage on Mitch’s plate.

Mitch looked blankly back at him.

There’s machinery in there as well. Bits of gristle and flesh that make things go up and down and wave around. Flapping things. Springy things.

“Earth to Mitch. You home, buddy?”

Bits of potato sprayed from Benny’s flapping mouth hole.
There is something else, call it a spirit or a spark. Hesitate, perhaps, to call it intelligence. Something that coordinates, and something that rises above even that, something that defines an individual.

Mitch shrugged loosely, “Sure. Have the sausage.”

Benny didn’t hesitate. His fork leapt the Formica tabletop
and speared the sausage. To his credit he did pause, a moment, before biting it in half.

Long enough to speak.

“You don’t look right. You’re thinking.”

Outside the café the world scrolled onwards. Meat sacks in their tin cans. Meat sacks taking smaller meat bags for walks on bits of string. Meat sacks hanging on to each other as if they might suddenly fall off, or fall apart.

Benny shoved the last piece of greasy breakfast into his toothy hole. The ground pork went round and round in his mouth, and his tongue flapped words at Mitch, meat in meat in meat in meat, “What’s up, buddy? The job getting to you? I seen it before, grave digging ain’t for everybody, most people don’t like to think too much about death, you know, about what happens to our bodies afterwards, just dropped in a hole. I mean, sure there’s all that serious business, pomp and whatchamacallit circumstance, but that’s more for the living, ain’t it? Or is it Jeanine again? It is, ain’t it? Jeanine. I thought we were over that. She’s old news, and we’re better off without her. She was never good enough for you, buddy.”

Bits of meat, doing meat things, making more meat to do meat things all over again.
Mitch sighed and focussed on Benny, “She was too good for me, Benny. We both know that.”

“Hey, I’m trying to cheer you up here. Besides, you’re a thinker, look at you, thinking away, and let’s face it, she… well, she wasn’t, was she?”

And inside the meat some brightness you might call a person. Some shine that makes them special. Except, get rid of all the flesh and guts and bones and bits and there is no spark, no spirit, there’s nothing, at all, just blood stains and scratch marks.
Time and bleach gets rid of even those.

“Listen, buddy, what say I fix you up on a date. There’s this friend of Sally’s; she’s not, well, she ain’t the prettiest, but she’s proper clever, and funny. You gotta get over Jeanine. She left you. Walked out of your life. Vanished. You gotta stop waiting on her to come back.”


Author Bio: John Xero has been publishing flash fiction on the internet for a decade and a half. Fiction of all lengths is the *legal* way you strip away all the fleshy bits and expose the monsters within.

He is the editor at 101fiction.com. He will almost definitely one day maybe tweet more @xeroverse

Choices Made (Part 2)

By David Olsen

That had been four years ago. It was Christmastime again and, whilst the people of the world celebrated goodness and cheer, Julian found himself somber and melancholy at the result of his life’s efforts.

He’d said goodbye to Eileen. He’d said goodbye to a decent, albeit boring, job. He’d said goodbye to a family that never really cared about him anyway. Now he stood in an apartment a lot like his last one, looking out at weather that he thought he had left behind, preparing to go out to meet a new girlfriend who probably loved him even less than Eileen had at the end.

All of his problems had followed him to where he stood today. Or had they? Maybe Julian had simply travelled full circle from within one air of malaise to a new one; wholly different causes with exactly the same end result. It didn’t really matter. He was here now, dealing with his brand new but all-too-familiar anxieties.

What if he moved on again? Would that be a solution or would the same gnawing anguish track him down? He imagined a wolf with the smell of blood in its nostrils, tracking the emotionally wounded form of Julian across land, sea, distance and time. There was no escape from the troubles that were carried within you. Julian thought of this and smiled, in spite of the turmoil in his mind. He couldn’t be alone in this realisation. That alone gave him some comfort. Although he had his own issues that tore him apart, others suffered similar indignities. Julian was not alone in his loneliness. For that, he was grateful.

Still, the thought of moving to a new life once more was a tempting one. Wherever he went, however, life would follow him. The same old concerns would be there upon arrival. The same anguish and doubts would remain, deep inside, like an odd sock at the bottom of a suitcase you thought you’d unpacked.

Julian wouldn’t run again, not this time. In a world of uncertainties, that was the only thing he could be sure of. It was time to deal with the pain he carried daily, not by running away, but by charging headlong into it. Mastery of the feelings that crippled him would only come from addressing where his problems truly stemmed from. He was his own problem, not the world at large. Wherever he went, the sense of dissatisfaction followed. Where was it coming from if he was not bringing it himself? Could he ever truly be without them if they actually were a part of his soul?

Julian left his apartment building and walked out into the downpour. His umbrella left behind, the water soaked through his coat and plastered his hair to his head. Today was a day to make a change, or two, or several. He was tired of unhappiness, tired of listlessness.

Today was the day that he would rewrite his own story and chapter one would begin with a walk in the rain.

Part 1


Author Links:

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