All Stories, General Fiction

Orchids in the Sun by Dorothy Rice

Sadie Blankenspiel was raised without faith, which she’d always been stubbornly proud of. Pricing caskets at her brother-in-law Peter’s deathatorium, she wasn’t so sure she’d hadn’t been too hasty in giving short shrift to all that spirituality and after-life mumbo jumbo.

In her eightieth year aboard the mothership, with achy hips, estranged from her two narrow-minded children, she wondered if daughter Maribel hadn’t been right after all. What had the ungrateful girl screamed out the car window before tearing away from the house that last time? Always so dramatic. Something about her mother likely running out of time to make things right before the Grim Reaper plucked her number.

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All Stories, General Fiction

Karaoke Cowboy by Domonique

Seated at a table in a karaoke bar was a blend of characters, men who had all worn a couple hats, in a couple colors.

Seated naturally in a thinking man’s posture, a man with a countenance expressing he owned masculine intellect, and, to be fair, a man well-liked for his intelligent conversation, was Think Too Much Tony.

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All Stories, Fantasy, General Fiction

The Locust Seller by Andrew Yim

Don’t believe a word I say.  I am just the bastard daughter of a Persian courtesan, a lower city locust seller who says little but hears everything.  Like these ancient walls of Jerusalem that surround me like a skin, I don’t believe in Gods or prophets.  I’m just a cast-off, half breed who spends her days cooking locusts for your pleasure.  I am nothing. 

***

He appeared in the market just before the Spring equinox.   My mother called it Nowruz, the Persian New Year.  But besides the honey cake with candied quince we ate for breakfast, the day was like any other in the brothel that was my home.  The Hebrews called it Passover and the Romans, like most every day, called it an opportunity to drink and whore.

From my perch, between the Egyptian weaver’s tapestries and rows of Galilean fish mongers, I observed the market preachers, with their grand  prophecies and revelations.  But they were only a distraction from my sore hands and back, the toil of locusts and boiling water.

The first day he spoke, the market was abuzz with stories of his miracles; water into wine,  the dead brought back to life.  Bastet, the Egyptian weaver who sat next to me, laughed as he took a locust from my pile.

“Nothing new in this world, Qimiya, My gods are seldom forgiving or loving.”  Few knew me by my given, Persian name. Qimiya, the alchemist.

In the quirky Aramaic of the Nazareans, he promised victory of good over evil, life over death.  The same as the Zoroastrian prayers my mother whispered after a day whoring for the high priests and senators.  Empty promises to trick the meek and gullible. 

The next morning I saw him wandering alone through the market. As he approached, I noticed sleepless shadows around his eyes and a tremor in his right hand. I offered him a locust. He refused.  He was fasting, he said in apology.

“You wear the amulet of the Faravahar, the Zoroastrian god of fire. Tell me of your god.”

“It is only a memory of my mother.  I know no gods or faith.” I noticed fresh scars on his forearms, as if lashed by palm, then asked him about his miracles. He looked up from examination of my locusts.

“My friends fear the people will not understand. Won’t feel the spirit in my words. So they tell these tales.”

When he preached that day the crowd was large and unsettled. His tremor stopped as he spoke of justice, peace, and mercy. I saw Quintus, the Roman agent who visited the brothel where I still slept. In search of sedition or rebellion, Quintus cast his restless, baleful eyes round the crowd. The courtesans despised Quintus and his repulsive arrogance.

“The crowd will turn, the Romans will destroy him,” Bastet commented. His cynicism annoyed me. I thought to comment on his illicit trade. Denied by commandment the death masks of the Romans, the high priests came to him in grief after death of wife or mistress. With gold in hand, they beseeched him to make taboo images of the dead with his flax linen. It was an ancient Egyptian art his grandfather had taught Bastet, before his exile to Judea.

The Nazarean came to talk each morning, our words like ripples in calm but rising sea.  Each hesitation seemed a sorrow, each pause a yearning.

Yearning and sorrow became desire, desire like desert flower in morning dew, fearful of midday sun.

When he left to preach, I heard my mother warn, as she cried herself to sleep. “Trust no one, Qimiya. We are alone.”

The fifth night of that week I dreamt of my mother, leading me across Babylonian plains to her village in eastern Persia, near the base of the great Pamirs. I woke to the groans and cries of the brothel and heard Quintus talking with his harlot.

“The crowds are too large.  Pilate is in bad temper at mention his name. He must be silenced. We’ll arrest him tomorrow.”

I ran to the parlor where the courtesans gathered to rest and gossip. I asked where the Nazarean might be.
“Gesthemane,” one replied. “They say he goes to the garden to pray at night.”

I walked past three disciples, sleeping at the gate, and found him pacing as he prayed. He turned to me as I approached.

“I know Qimiya, I know it all.  I am terrified.”

“You know nothing,” I cried.

I had a vision of a simple life we might lead, far away from this corrupt city.  As I described the vision a tear ran down his cheek. We sat in silence on a wooden bench beneath an olive tree and watched Jerusalem turn its dusky walls to dawn.

Don’t believe their tales. When they nailed him to the cross, his disciples fled from Golgotha in fear of Quintus and his agents. His mother could not bear the sight of his agony. Only I stood at the cross, assuring him he was not alone as his blood soaked the cypress wood. His cries reached Herod’s castle. Then suddenly there was only the sound of rain on mud and stone.

After they took him from the cross I knelt by his body, as if to nurse him back to life, then followed the gentle merchant and his servants as they took him to the tomb. I could not bear the thought that someday memory of him would fade and disappear. I ran to the market and begged Bastet to preserve his image. Just before they rolled the boulder back to close the tomb, Bastet threw the linen across his body.

On the eve of each spring equinox, I take the shroud from my mother’s silver box.  I look into his eyes as I caress his linen cheeks. I allow myself to cry and gasp in grief as I place it back and lock the box. My heart again is stone, crumbling slowly into dust.

Andrew Yim

Image – Wikicommons – public domain. Shroud of Turin

All Stories, General Fiction

Hunger by Shawn Eichman

The old woman would still be alive if she had just stayed inside.

Stefan clawed at his sweat-soaked blanket. She haunted him every night. Damned locals. It was their own fault.  If they didn’t sabotage the supply lines, the soldiers wouldn’t need to requisition food from the villagers. Requisition. Steal. Stefan didn’t care. He was hungry. Her farm looked abandoned. The doors on the dilapidated barn came off the hinges with little more than a pull. Inside there were an emaciated cow, two goats and a few chickens. Pathetic. Stefan balked when Ivan ordered him to search the attic—he was sure to break his neck if the stairs collapsed. But orders were orders. One bag of wormy grain. Wasted effort.

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All Stories, General Fiction

The Van by Peter O Connor

Claire Jones took my virginity.  It was in the back of her father’s 1968 Morris Minor van.  The van, an F-reg MK II, crouched on the drive of 68 Moor View on four splintering wooden blocks.  The engine removed, along with the bonnet, wings, lights and windscreen.  It perched blind and unmoving in that pose for five long years of my life. Even today, years later, the ghost dark patch of dripped, fluids can be seen on the drive of No 68.

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All Stories, General Fiction

Clémentine Season by Karen Schauber

Undulating pistachio-green hills cover the valley like fondant in the small peaceful hamlet of Parisot. Horace, the hamlet’s lumbering menace, has been thrown down the oubliette. The dungeon’s musty stink jolts, and Horace lets out a wail for Pétunia, his zaftig sow. The pig, the runt of a litter of nine farrowed in June, is pregnant, and left without breakfast in her muddy pen. The last time the Elders consigned Horace to stew, this time they are intent on teaching him a lesson.

***

It is the season of Clémentines, within six days of the harvest. Katydids and crickets chirring. Horace is on the prowl bent on snatching the plump ripe fruit to tempt his precious pig. A single remaining Clémentine tree stands tall on the secluded hilltop, nestled among juniper haircap moss and wild pink phlox. The solitary tree is prized and cared for by the valley folk as if it was the last of its kind. Garnet-red flesh encased in glossy orange skin, fringed with dark green velvety tapered leaves, flavour irresistible, is coveted like crown jewels. In the murk of night, its colour beacons like fireflies. Horace trembles with excitement. The delectable syrupy Clémentine confiture infused with hibiscus honey, zest of bergamot and pinch of cardamon, already titillates lips and tongue in anticipation.

But they are watching. Under the sheen of the blue wolf moon, Horace is clumsy and obvious. A stinging arrow stops him in his tracks.

***

When they release Horace after the treasured crop has been harvested, he makes a beeline for his farm and directly to Pétunia’s pen. It is empty. He scours the winter barn, the one held for the two Valais Blacknose sheep during the frigid season. It too is empty. He wails loudly calling to her through hurried incoherent yodels. Blubbering, he takes off in the direction of his neighbour’s backwoods farm. She is sure to be there. His neighbour would have tended to her, of course. Pétunia, the runt of the litter squeezed out of the feeding line from her mother who had eight teats for nine piglets, was bottle-fed and slept under layers of linen coverlets like the princess and the pea in her first few weeks, in bed next to Horace. When he held the feeding bottle for her to suckle, the soft contented grunts and dainty blush-pink Pétunia-shaped birth mark on the piglet’s snout, made him swoon.

He takes the long route trekking through woodland trails to the creek expecting to find his precious ensnared in the underbelly of tree knots, whorls, and exposed braided roots. The pig would look for dark muddy cool spots and shade, some berries, duckweed to munch, wild purple yam. He uncovers bits of dried scat, ungulate hair, and bone fragments, but none recent. The neighbour does not have Pétunia. Horace gallops back home on thick brutish thighs, unhinged leather galluses flapping at his sides. He throws open the latch and door to the summer kitchen. An enormous salver of whole roast ham garnished with sprigs of rosemary and thyme, soupçon of black prune and red currant, occupies the middle of the harvest table. Potbelly stove stone cold. — She was the last of her kind.

Bereft, Horace drinks himself into a stupor, slobbering in a fit of rage and despair. In the morning he wakes to the sound of snuffling and grunts on the front porch. The hefty Pétunia bumbling around the slat-boards. The Elders take their disciplining far too seriously.

Karen Schauber

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay 

All Stories, General Fiction

Ice Cream and Oxygen by Chris Klassen

There are so many people here, in this space.  Where did they come from all of a sudden?  The space seemed empty just a little while ago.  And now it’s not.  It’s packed.  It may not be a problem legally, this crowd, but it must be a problem psychologically.  No proper room to move around, so much bumping and jostling.  It’s unsettling.  It’s a mass of people.  Or maybe a glut.  Is that the right word?  It’s a swarm of bees, a herd of cattle, a flock of birds.  Even a conspiracy of ravens, that’s a good one.  For people, it should be a glut.

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All Stories, General Fiction

Shove by Ronan Hart

Sunlight streams in, catches the edge of a teaspoon placed just so beside The Good China cups, prized museum pieces brought out for an exclusive exhibition. Shadows of steam from the thrice-boiled kettle dance over the wallpaper, distant churning storm clouds the ship’s crew knows they’re destined to meet. The kitchen holds its breath. I’ve dreaded this moment since mum welcomed me home for the weekend by asking, “Guess who’s coming to visit you?” Her hands can’t stay still; a microadjustment to a napkin, the butter dish lid removed and replaced, a smoothing of the fancy table linen.

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All Stories, Editor Picks, General Fiction, Short Fiction

Week 406:Beware of the Vicars of Obfuscation; the Week that Remains and the Eight Articles of Rat Bastard

Beware the Vicars of Obfuscation

I recently saw a documentary in which a scientist discussing the Big Bang said that there is a condition in which something can arise from nothing but went on to say that it is too difficult to explain what that means. Although I am positive that there are lots of equations in the explanation, the scientist was guilty of a form of religious hypocrisy; he behaved as though it were a secret knowledge to be dispensed to the unwashed by the learned on a need to know basis. The way it was with the clergy of the middle ages.

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