All Stories, General Fiction

Southbound Traveler by Mason Yates

Dereck Banks found himself alone on the desert highway, a single vehicle on the massive but narrow southbound scar—a blemish on the natural brown landscape, that is—made of asphalt and metal road signs.  His windshield flickered in the vibrant sunlight, and his tires crunched tiny rocks and pebbles and specks of sand.  He kept the windows rolled down and radio turned up (an oldie—“Kaw-Liga” by Hank Williams—happened to be on) and let his wispy hair blow in spring winds, the temperature outside (mid-seventies) perfect for spontaneous road trips to nowhere and everywhere all together.

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All Stories, General Fiction

The Glorious Both/And by Jane Houghton

She walked down a long street, new-build red-brick configurations either side of her. She didn’t rush, she had no need for rushing, her strides slow and steady. A slight thing, tiny, some might say delicate, but she wouldn’t be stopped. Couldn’t be stopped. A row of prop-forwards would struggle against her. A decision had been made, signed and sealed in her head. She was going to do it. SHE WAS ACTUALLY GOING TO DO IT. The joy that this yielded rendered her untouchable.

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All Stories, Fantasy, General Fiction

A Flowerbed of Lies by Steve Combs​

There’s foolishness and then there’s sin. I’m talking breaking the big-ten sin. You ever did something stupid like drunk texted and thought you felt shame for it? Nah, that’s not good enough for regret! Good enough for regret is when you steal or kill.

Don’t know how I got in the park that night with my 9-millimeter. Told that fucking Puerta Rican, “don’t drag me to no gun range, I deal with depression.” He taught me to shoot, and that didn’t do me no favors. See, you own your weapon of choice and tell yourself you gotta protect your family, but the shit lays idle until it gets in the wrong hands, and in this case, it got in mine during one of my episodes.

Walking the park, don’t even know how I got there no more than how I got the gun, and I’m going down the sidewalk, you know all outta place. Got on a long black robe over striped pajama pants. Top hat going on, too. Real pajama gangster. Sign says not to step on the prairie. So, what’ I do? Step both feet on, after all I’m wearin’ a fuckin’ top hat.

What happened next, you aint gonna believe, but remember this aint makin’ me look good. I’m confessing sin. Good enough sin for regret. Them flowers on that prairie came to life. You say plant life is life too, but I’m saying they really came to life, here. Started singing so beautifully, I wept. The sunflower in the middle-had lady bugs crawling all over. Goes, “easy, ladies, I’m married.” He sang base. Most beautiful rendition of happy birthday I ever heard, and them ladybugs told me I was gorgeous.

What a flowerbed of lies. Fuck em! Fuck em’ for telling me life is sunshine and rainbows. Let me introduce you to me. I’m thorn. I pulled out the 9-millimeter and aimed it at that ol’ sunflower!

After all, it must be a hallucination, right? Right? But Mr. Sunflower in the stiff stems, squirting blood with his base range up to high pitch screams haunts the hell outta me. I can’t forget it. For the sake of Mary and all the saints—I can’t. Clovers and coneflowers and goldenrods rushed to him. That’s reds and violets and yellows or something like that. Doesn’t matter, cause even the bright colors are dull.

What matters is Mr. Sunflower in a huff says, “my last wishes are for my family to get the little house like Michael Landen’s that I promised, and that you forgive my assailant, for I too have a soiled and seedy past.” He’s a guy like me with his own rap, dying cause I popped him. And he’s praying for my forgiveness? Yeah. Hope his family gets the house so half his wishes come true.

Might of got outta that prairie without any detective looking for the pajama gangster, but neither God nor me will ever get over what I did to that sunflower.

Steve Combs

Image by Pavel Durčák from Pixabay – flowerbed filled with mixed colourful blooms

All Stories, General Fiction

Scoundrel Through the Ages by Dan Shpyra

I. Scoundrel

It is common knowledge that a man of high status but of the lowest of incomes is in need of a wife with a hefty dowry. Edgar Brown was no exception to the rule.

Mr. Brown was pacing the parlor, anxiously checking the time on his golden watch. It was one out of two fortunes left to him by his late father, William Brown: An aristocrat with a pitiful love of horse racing. It was not, however, the fortune of the watch, but rather the fortune of his looks, that got him this most desirable appointment. He was handsome, indeed: A tall young man with broad shoulders and luxuriant dark hair. Those two gifts, the golden timepiece and his pleasant looks, often brought him numerous acquaintances with the most agreeable young ladies. Mr. Brown was agitated nonetheless, for this time, the match was not to merely secure his evening but his future in its entirety.

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All Stories, General Fiction

Girlfriends by Donna Tracy

Warning – References to suicide, bullying and self harm.

It is in the dead days between Christmas and New Year that Candy finally comes. The cat stands in the doorway, back arched, tail huge, hissing into the vacant space beside me and I know, even before I turn my head and see the pale shape in the tail of my eye, that it’s her. I am twenty-eight now, twice the age she will ever be. Perhaps I wanted to believe that she had forgotten.

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All Stories, General Fiction, Romance

Cinema by Evelyn Voelter

I’m in our living room and the sun is hitting the couch in your spot just how you liked it. I always wanted to close the curtains so it wouldn’t fade the fabric, but today I leave them open, like you would’ve wanted. I suppose I’m daydreaming again because I swear I hear your voice. But when I turn to look at you, your spot is still empty.

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All Stories, General Fiction

A Sign of the Times by Hugh Cron

She walked her dog, the same places, the same time at night and also first thing in the morning.

Those who knew her spoke, but the youngsters all had their heads down reading whatever pish was on their phones.

Garibaldi was a boxer and he wasn’t the brightest, but he made her laugh.

“Hi Ella, how’s it going?”

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All Stories, General Fiction

The Year of 13 by Lisa Shimotakahara

When I was twelve I was cute. When I was thirteen I was ugly.

Acne whacked me. The cute me. The twelve me. It happened overnight. It happened so fast that inside I was still twelve. Still wide-eyed and twelve. Still wide-eyed and twelve and oh-so-underprepared.

My friends (friends!) called me Silly Putty. Me, with my shiny, bulbous, pink-colored face. Grinning like jackals, they called me Silly Putty.

How did this happen? Overnight! How did the canyon open? The open canyon. From twelve to thirteen. From cute at twelve to thirteen, bulbous.

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All Stories, auld author

Auld Author – Fahrenheit 451 brought to us by Thurman Hart.

Though this is not a particularly Auld or unknown piece it is obvious that Thurman Hart feels passionate about this and it has had a profound effect and that surely qualifies for a place in this occasional feature.

Much of what Bradbury saw has come true–social media and disaffected youth. Yet let us hope that words will still be precious to some in the worlds to come.

***

The work that I’m afraid will be forgotten is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This is, of course, a flight of insanity on my part. The book is a true classic and will always (it seems) find its way into various literature-based curricula. However, the true masterpiece of the work is overlooked, at least in my experience.

Fahrenheit is a dystopian work, set an undefined length into the future where fireman are employed to burn books, the implication being that they control dangerous ideas that books contain. The general population has been dumbed down, too interested in the parlor wall families – i.e., characters portrayed on wall-sized televisions – to even notice that they are being controlled. In fact, Mildred, the wife of the main character, Montag, attempts suicide when he tries to force her and her friends to feel and think by reading them poetry. Even people who understand what is happening are too afraid to fight back, as evidenced by Montag’s very literate supervisor, Beatty, who goads Montag into killing him because he can no longer live as a tool for this governmental control. There’s even an aspect of invasive technology via the mechanical dog that tracks Montag, and what is now called “fake news” where Montag listens to the report that he has been tracked down and killed.

This is the obvious masterpiece of Bradbury’s work: that he can look at his contemporary and near-historical events such as the red scares of the 1950s and the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s and 1940s and make them seem like they are about to happen all over again. Like the portrait by a master painter will have eyes that seem to follow the viewer as they move, Bradbury’s predictions of society seem as near-future today as they did when I first read them in the mid-1980s. In this, Bradbury is a champion of free thought and artistic expression, and it is a good and proper thing that he is studied for that reason.

But Fahrenheit is not merely this. Tucked away in the third section, entitled “Burning Bright” is a passage that deserves a canonical place next to Shakespear’s “What a piece of work is a man.” Montag has escaped from the city and made contact with a small group of rebels who exist outside of society in order to keep alive the memory of written works. The masterpiece is delivered by Granger, when he tells Montag:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

When I first read those words, I was dumbfounded. It was if a veil had been lifted and someone had shown me a timeless truth of existence. I sat on the edge of my bed, amid the dryland cottonfields of West Texas, and tried to fit the entire sum of my fourteen years into those words. Then, as now, the full measure of those words eludes me. They are a moving goal that I can only aspire to hit. It is why I turn my hand towards excellence in all that I do. It is why I write. It is why I sing. It is why, every year, I plant a new garden so I can watch the sky and worry and wonder. I know one day I will be gone, but I know my soul will live on in the things I have touched and passed along to my family and my friends.

It is this passage, above all others, that moves Ray Bradbury from someone who writes stories into the realm of an author. Here, he doesn’t just string together words, sentences, and phrases. He builds an idea. He presents a philosophy. He gives us his ability to reach through the written page and touch us. Not just for a lifetime, but, I hope, for many lifetimes to come.

Thurman Hart

Image: Pixabay.com – an old metal goblet on a dark background with a quill pen and a book