Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"Grandfather’s Dream" by Jan Hurst-Nicholson (Short Story)



Genre:  Adventure

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Short Story:

South Africa

Sipho set out to fulfil his Grandfather’s dream, and in doing so learnt the power of imagination.

Careful of the precious bundle tucked under his arm, Sipho climbed out of the rattling bus and stepped down onto the rutted dirt road. It felt warm and welcoming beneath his bare feet. He stood for a few moments breathing in the familiar smells and watching the bus as it sped further into the mountains in a fast disappearing dust cloud.

He smiled to himself. His heart was glad. He was on his way home and he had done it. At last he had his Grandfather’s dream. Now his Grandfather would be well again.

He saw that the sun was at its highest, and there were still many hills to climb before he would reach his own kraal. If he was to be home before the sun went down he could not delay. But first he must check the bundle. He settled on a small rock, sending a dozing lizard scuttling into the long dry grass. Carefully, he unwrapped the tattered red shirt and inspected the bottle to make sure that none of the precious contents had escaped. Satisfied that all was well, he re-tied the shirt and set off.

At first the path was well worn and there were many people to greet. “Sawubona,” they called. “Hamba kahle. Go well.” He waved to the young herd boys tending the goats, and the girls gathering wood for fires.

When he neared the first kraal, he caught the tempting smell of chicken stew bubbling in an iron pot. “Woza, sidle nansi inkukhu,” they invited him. But Sipho could not be tempted to join them. “Ngiyabonga,” he said regretfully. He wanted to be home before the sun disappeared behind the tall fingers of uKhahlamba, the mountain they called the Barrier of Spears.

Over the next hill the path grew narrower and he passed tall fleshy aloes with their fiery orange flowers, and the prickly thorn trees. High in the sky, no more than a distant speck, an eagle soared.

In places, cattle cropped the patchy grass. “Weh, bafana,” he called to the herd boys who would soon be driving the animals back to the safety of the boma.

“Hello,” the boys returned the greeting. “Go well.”

Sipho’s own kraal was still far into the distance. But he would not allow his legs to tire, or his feet to grow sore, because he knew that in the bottle he held his Grandfather’s dream.

As the sun slowly slid towards uKhahlamba he picked his way over the smooth worn boulders and stones of the trickling river. The icy water sent a chill through his feet and he stopped for a few moments to wash the dust from his legs, and to cup his hands in the clear liquid to quench his thirst. Soon he had the bundle tucked under his arm again, and was heading up the final slope toward home.

When he neared the kraal he caught sight of the wispy smoke as it drifted lazily from the sweet-smelling wood fires. Cattle shuffled contentedly in the boma, and the scratching hens scattered at his approach.

Sipho hesitated for a moment before ducking into the cool interior of the darkened hut. In the small spear of sunlight from the hole in the roof where the smoke escaped, he saw his Grandfather resting on his sleeping mat.

Bowing his head respectfully, Sipho announced quietly, “Grandfather, I have brought it.”

The old man slowly awakened. Awkwardly, he propped his shrunken body on his elbow. Sipho began to untie the bundle. But the old man put out his hand to stop the boy.

“Let us go into the light where I can see better,” he said, struggling to his feet.

“Woza. Come,” said Sipho, placing his strong young arm around the shaky old man. He guided him to a low wooden stool, worn shiny with use outside the hut. He disappeared for a few moments before returning with a clay pot of foaming sorghum beer. He handed it to his grandfather. The shaky hands gripped the pot, and tipping it back, the old man took a long drink before settling down.

Sipho carefully untied the tattered shirt. Then he gently placed the bottle in the gnarled hands. As the aged, brown fingers wrapped around the jar, they reminded Sipho of old worn hide. When his grip was secure, the old man lifted the bottle to the sun and allowed its weakening rays to glint on the clear water.

“Look well, Grandfather, at the sand at the bottom of the jar,” urged Sipho. “It really is the sea I have brought you.”

The old man smiled, squinting in the fading light.

Sipho reached forward and unscrewed the cap. “Smell inside, Grandfather. Smell the sea.”

The old man brought the bottle to his nose and drew in a deep breath.

“Can you not smell it, Grandfather?”

The old man nodded. Sipho eagerly took the bottle from him. “See how it tastes, Grandfather,” he said, trickling a little of the water into the old man’s cupped hands. The old man pressed his tongue to the liquid.

“Does it not taste of salt, like I said it would?”

“It tastes as you said,” agreed the old man, chuckling.

Sipho fetched a spoon, and scooping out some of the sand, poured it into his Grandfather’s hand. “Feel it, Grandfather, it is finer even than the finest salt. When you step on it, it moves softly under your feet.”

The old man smiled at the earnestness of the young boy. But then he shook his head. “You have travelled far to bring me the sea, my son. But I have not yet seen it.”

Sipho fell back, disappointed. He did not understand. Had he not shown the bottle of seawater to his Grandfather? Had he not pointed out the fine grains of sand and the tiny pieces of shell from the creatures that lived in it?

He searched his Grandfather’s face for some meaning. Perhaps it was his eyes that seemed filled with smoke prevented him from seeing, or the little red pathways running around the faded brown centres, like the pathways that criss-crossed the valley. Was that why his grandfather could not see? But his Grandfather had seen the bottle and the water. Had he not held it up to the light?

Sipho pondered on this as he again looked at the bottle. And then all at once he knew what his Grandfather meant. He had seen the bottle of water, but he had not seen the sea.

“I will show you the sea, Grandfather,” he said, settling down on his haunches. He closed his eyes and sighed as he recalled the long journey he had undertaken.

He had set off the previous day well before the sun had risen. He had asked many people the way to the sea. Three times he had changed buses and taxis and it was already past midday when he’d had his first glimpse of the sea.

“Look. There it is,” the young woman sitting beside him had cried when the bus crested a hill. He’d glanced eagerly out of the window. But in the distance, where the sky touched the earth, he saw only a disappointing grey flatness, like the sky when the storm clouds gather.

But a little while later, when the sea was finally before him, Sipho’s eyes had grown round like an owl’s.

“The sea is as wide as the mountains, and beyond, Grandfather,” Sipho began, “as if the sky has fallen to the earth. It moves as the long grass when the wind runs through it.”

Sipho felt the remembered drumbeat of excitement in his chest. “And the colour is sometimes that of the sky, and sometimes that of the waving grass, and the distant forests when the sun has left them.”

The old man too, had closed his eyes. He rocked gently on the stool and let the words flow over him.

“The voice of the sea, Grandfather,” said the boy, “is the voice of the wind when it shouts across the mountains. It growls and grows more fierce until the sea bursts and froths like sorghum beer, and then it runs hissing and singing up the sand.”

Sipho recalled how he had lain awake almost the whole night listening to the powerful voice of the sea.

But now he was aware of his Grandfather. The old man coughed and a spasm shook him.

“Grandfather,” said the boy, his face full of concern.

“Go on, boy,” said the old man. “Tell me more.”

“The sand was hot, like the ashes of the fire before they finally die. The water had the warmth of the sun in it. At first, it pulled at my feet, as the goats tug on their tethers. But as I went deeper, it knocked me over and dragged me under, as if it were a creature with many arms. It had not the stillness of a deep rock pool. The sea tumbled me over and over, like the time I slipped and rolled down the hill. The water was in my eyes and my mouth and my nose. When I thought that my lungs could no longer bear it, the sea spat me out as if it were telling me, “This is my power, I challenge you.”

He turned to his Grandfather and saw that the old man was smiling and laughing quietly to himself. Had he too, seen Sipho spat out by the sea?

“When the sun has gone,” Sipho continued,” the sea grows as dark as the inside of the hut when the fire has died. But when the moon peeps through the clouds the sea is like the wet nose of the cattle.”

As he finished his story, Sipho watched for a sign from his Grandfather. The wrinkled face did not seem as troubled, and he could see a smile on the shrunken mouth.

They sat in silent thought while the sun gradually sank behind the spears of uKhahlamba . Finally the old man roused himself. “I am tired. Take me inside,” he told Sipho.

Sipho settled his Grandfather on the sleeping mat and then returned with the jar of seawater. He placed it at the old man’s head. In the darkened hut Sipho could barely see his Grandfather’s face, but he sensed a peace about him.

“Thank you, my boy,” said the old man quietly. “At last I have seen the sea.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

"I Dance with the Devil" by S. M. Daniels (Short Story)

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Story:

I spun her around again, in time to that enchanting melody, or was it the most horrendous shriek that had ever cursed my ears? I never knew the chorus, nor understood the tune, but I danced. Yes, I danced like it was my last night on earth. Indeed, every night could be my last night alive if I failed to dance each moment of it away with this witch, for the life of my true love, my angel Kate, was in this foul Devil’s hands’. I gazed into the eyes of the woman with which I stepped in time so beautifully, and seeing my staring, she smiles back; ah, what a smile. Doubtless, it was the most enticing offer I had met with that day. And the offer was simple, “I am here, be mine and all will be well.” Oh, how my heart ached, the devilishly glorious angel with which I waltzed tempted me so every night, and every night it was harder than the last to refuse. If I accepted, this spawn of Satan’s offer, my fiancée would close her eyes for the last time, and be found dead in the morning. For this angel of death whom with I swayed so perfectly had power, yes she held the power of death in her perfectly shaped hands. Those hands- nay, those talons of the damned would command my love dead if I refused to dance with her every night for an eternity.



As I reminisced, I missed a step, treading on her perfect foot. She laughed at my mistake, and I realized how exhausted I was. How long had it been? I glanced at the clock behind her. Damn, it was still broken as it was every night. Always showing the same time; midnight. I suppose that was her favorite time, or perhaps she had read the Halloween stories of the day and decided that time fit her bill- so to speak.



“Tired?” She said, “Care for a rest? A brief slumber? Fall asleep, my love, and it will be over, and we can dance again in the morning.”



Though her voice was that of the sweetest honey, when I gazed into her eyes; there was no love. No, in those windows to her soul, if this creature even had one, lay lust; realization of the opportunity at hand. Returning her gaze, I stated with all the conviction I could muster,



“No.”



She sighed. “Well, it’s dawn. Last chance to return home with me.”



I averted my gaze, I had made the mistake of meeting it when the offer came before, and it was unbearable to resist. “No,” I said simply. Her eyes flashed with fire-- not figuratively, her eyes suddenly became engulfed in flames as her fury overtook her, but as suddenly as it was there, the fire was gone, and in its stead, was the previously worn smile.



“Very well then, my love,” She said, “It is time.”



And with those words she drew me in for the parting kiss. I knew this was coming, but every night the pain still shook me. Her lips met mine, and instantly I felt all the pain there was. Not physical pain, but that which Jesus had felt on the cross. That of total abandonment, a complete neglect from whatever deity supposedly rules this universe. I’m sure I screamed as hard as I did every night; harder perhaps. When she finished, for it only lasted a moment, I sank to the floor shaking; my body glistening with sweat.



“There,” came her sickly-sweet voice, “You are free to go.”



I pulled myself from the floor, took one last look upon my hated captor, and left. As I walked out, I thought back to how my life had become such. It had started that fateful night in the ambulance…



*****************************************************************************************************







The sound of sirens filled my ears, but at the same time I couldn’t hear it, seeing Kate there, some strange apparatus attached to her face, hooked up to a machine I didn’t recognize, blocked out all sound but the pumping of my agonized heart. We had been on a date, the most important date in any couple’s life; I had proposed just a dozen minutes prior, but in the elation of the moment, she fell as though death had taken her. A nearby man happened to be a doctor and performed some procedure that kept her alive until the paramedics arrived. What he did I can’t say. I was too busy making a fool of myself, calling her name, trying to reach her, I had to be held back by bystanders, so the doctor could work on Kate. My Kate. Laying there; dead.



As it turned out, when the paramedics arrived, she wasn’t dead. They speculated this and that, doubtless telling me what they would do to help her, save her, and I couldn’t recall a word of theirs’ if my life depended on it. All I knew was that I was losing my Kate, the child of God with whom I was meant to be with forever, and no one could tell me what it was that was stealing her away.



The ambulance ride could have been five minutes, or it could have been a year. I was so numb to the passage of time, and my mind fixated upon one name, “Kate.” We arrived at the hospital, and I believe they tried to stop me from following her into her room, but one of the nurses took pity upon my pathetic mentality, and bade my stay whilst they dressed her in a gown, checked her vitals, and hooked her up to a machine that beeped. At some point I found myself in the hallway, slightly out of breath. I must have been pacing. I had no recollection of doing this, but I decided that must be what had happened. Just as this conclusion graced me, a doctor walked over, hesitantly.



“How is she?” I inquired, my voice hopeful, but at the same time not daring to hope.



“Not good, John. She has a hemorrhage. I would give her a few hours at the best. At the worst? She could fade at any moment.”



No. Not my Kate, she couldn’t be dying!



“Isn’t there anything you can do?” I asked, my voice cracking with emotion as tears streamed down my face.



“We’ve tried everything, it’s been almost two days since she came in. It’s a miracle she has lasted this long.”



Before I could open my mouth to speak a third time, the doctor interrupted, “Go be with her. You don’t have a lot of time left.”



Numbly I followed the order, walking into her room and sitting down next to her. I stared at the seemingly lifeless body on the bed in front of me, and thought how peaceful she looked laying there. Surely, there was nothing wrong with her! Of course, the doctors had made a mistake! See? Her breathing was steady, and though her heartbeat was weak, it was certainly present! Therefore, she was alive, and if she was alive. She would recover. Right?



“It won’t happen,” said a soft, but indifferent voice. “She isn’t going to get better. In fact, she’ll be gone within a few minutes.”



I looked up and saw a woman there, dressed head to toe in black.



“Who are you?” I asked, irritated I was being disturbed.



The woman laughed, “Nobody of consequence. Well, that’s not true actually, but you’ll never see me again, so what does it matter?”



Her response irked me more, and I pressed the button for the nurse, intending to have the nurse remove this annoying woman. The nurse jogged in promptly and gave me an inquisitive look. I gestured at the woman,



“Please help this lady find the room she’s looking for,” I said.



The nurse looked confusedly around, “What lady?” She inquired.



“The one right next to you,” I said, my impatience with both of them growing.



The nurse glanced around again, “Sir, there is no one here but you.”



I jabbed an aggravated finger at the woman, “Her!” I said raising my voice, “Tell her to leave!”



The nurse stepped back surprised, “Sir, I believe you need rest, is there anything I can get you to help you relax?”



I opened my mouth again, intending to give this jokester a tongue lashing, but then the lady spoke again.



“She can’t see me John, only you can.”



I was confused, what did she mean?



“Look,” said the lady, and with that she walked over to the nurse, then… walked right through her? I couldn’t believe my eyes! She had just walked through a human being.



“You see John, I’m not just a lady. I am death, and I have come to take the life of your fiancée, Kate.”



I was too stunned for words. When I found my voice, I thanked the nurse and asked if I could just have some privacy, apologizing for my earlier behavior. The still very confused nurse nodded graciously and left.



“What do you mean you’re death? Why are you visible to just me?”



“I am death, the ruler of all afterlife, responsible for making sure people who are old, die. As for being able to see me, I sometimes do that for amusement, it’s a dull job you know.”



I stared at her. What? She takes pleasure in this?



“How can you do this?” I demanded



“It’s my job, it’s not personal.” She replied. She looked from me to Kate, then back to me, and said,



“You really love her, don’t you?”



These words were spoken without a trace of emotion, but merely as a statement of fact.



“More than a demon like you could ever dream of understanding.” I growled, my teeth grinding at her audacity.



“There there,” she said reproachfully, “No need for that. I wasn’t always death you know. I used to be a naive mortal like yourself, and yes, I even found love when I was as you are. I know what it is and how it feels, I just simply no longer care.”



I knew I had to buy more time to think,



“Tell me about him,” I said quickly, “This love of yours. What was he like?”



Death sighed, “Not unlike yourself, actually. He was strong and brave, like you and willing to challenge anyone or anything that threatened to steal me from him. Our favorite thing to do as lovers was to dance, sometimes we would dance the entire night away. I loved him so dearly, so much so that when the time came that it was necessary, I made a fateful decision to save him.”



Now I was not only buying time, but was also curious and asked,



“What decision?”



Death smiled cruelly, “Ah my dear, man, I know you are trying desperately to stall me at my work. A brave effort, but in vain. I have my job, and I do it without exception.” She added, coldly.



With these icy words, she placed her hand over Kate’s heart, and a glowing essence began to rise from my love’s chest. I felt panic rising, “WAIT!!” I yelled.



Death hesitated, raised an eyebrow and cocked her head at me, “Yes?” she said, annoyed at the interruption.



“In all the stories, people meet death and they make bargains!” I said hastily, not thinking how absurd this sounded.



“A bargain…?”; she was confused.



“Yes!” I said, speaking rapidly, “Surely there’s something you want! Anything!”



Death threw back her head and released a laugh similar to that of a bat screeching.



“What could you, a mortal human, offer me, Death? An immortal being. I have everything I need provided for me!”



“Me.” I said, hesitantly.



Death’s laugh stopped as quickly as it hard started, and her cruel mirth was replaced with guarded curiosity.



“What?” She said.



“Me.” I said again, with more confidence this time seeing that I had her attention. “You said you had someone like me once that you loved, but to know he was like me, you would have to have watched me; to have been around me. You fell in love with me, didn’t you?”



I knew I was grasping at straws, but I had to think fast, I had to make it up as I went and pray to whichever deity might exist that I was right.



Death’s eyes widened slightly, and though now I saw a distant longing, she did not speak.



“I’ll do it,” I said, striking while the iron was hot, “you said you used to dance the night away with this man, I can do that with you—for you. I’ll come to you every night, and we can dance all night together, and in return for my companionship you will let my Kate live, that she and I can also be together.”



Death hesitated, suspicious.



“What makes you think I would take such an offer?”



“Can’t you just threaten to kill me or something?” I responded



“No no no,” said Death, “It doesn’t work like that. I take lives to keep a balance. Bringing her back would cause only a small disruption, but I could cover that up. However, taking a life where it wasn’t meant to be taken, that can’t be hidden. I can’t kill unless your time has come, that will disrupt the balance. No, this won’t work.”



“I haven’t even lost my Kate and I would give anything to bring her back. You lost your love, and it still torments you. Wouldn’t you give anything to dance with him again?”



Death looked at me, and again, she hesitated. After what seemed like an eternity she spoke.



“You would give anything?” she said.



“Anything!” I replied without hesitation, or thinking.



“Then this is how this will work. Every night, you will meet me at a church- any church. We will dance all night, and then in the morning I will kiss you and take a tiny piece of your soul. I will keep this piece, but also use it and give Kate life; one day at a time. Should you fail to keep your end of the bargain, she dies in your arms.”



I immediantly nodded, not taking time to process the implications of such a bargain.



“Deal,” I said, “anything for my Kate.”



Death nodded and produced an ancient parchment from thin air,



“Sign here,” she said, handing me the parchment and a black pen.



I took the pen and immediantly scrawled my name without reading the document. As I did so, I felt a stabbing pain over my heart, and looked down to see blood soaking through my shirt. I looked at Death, then opened my shirt, and saw a star had been carved into my flash right over my heart.



“There,” she smiled, “The deed is done.” With that she vanished, and I was alone with Kate again. Suddenly, Kate gasped and sat straight up, it was a miracle!



“Kate!” I cried, joyously, “you’re alive!”



****************************************************************************************************







And that brings me back to where I am now, forced to dance every night with Death itself for the life of my beloved. Every night I dance, and every night I lose a bit of my soul. I feel it’s affects more and more each time, as if I am wasting away, soon to become a soulless shell. But I keep going, knowing the alternative is to lose my heart.



As the years have gone by, I came to realize what had happened with Death and her first love. He had been injured, or fell fatally ill, and she must have struck a similar bargain with the being that was Death at the time, agreeing to give him pieces of her soul in exchange for her loves life, and in the end, she would take his place where there was no more soul to give; and now such is my fate.



Is it worth it? Is my soul worth the love if my life? To that I can only answer yes, yes, my Kate will be worth every moment that I Dance with the Devil.
Read story for free here.

Friday, November 4, 2016

"Painting Rainbows" by Sue Lilley (Short Story)



Genre:  Romance

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Soulmates since they were children, Mandy and Joel are grown up now and destined to be together. Until life hurls a curved ball in their direction. Can they find each other and live happily ever after? Or will life conspire to keep them apart?

Excerpt:

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” she announced before she’d even sat down.

She’d dressed up. Did she think it would soften the blow? She looked like the bluebell fairy, all floaty skirts and wild purple hair. On anyone else, it could’ve been a thrift store costume. But Mandy was ethereal, sexy as hell yet somehow untouchable. Was she already withdrawing because she was leaving? He picked up a stick and poked around in the bonfire, trying to sound normal when all he wanted to do was beg.

“How come?”

“I haven’t been home all summer. I should go back for a duty visit before uni.”

“We could go together?”

“God, no!” she laughed, tucking the silky skirt beneath her as she kicked off her shoes and sat cross-legged on the grass. “Can you imagine? My dad would have a fit if I turned up with you in tow.”

Odd they’d been so close all summer, yet they’d never once discussed the long connection of their families.

“He never approved of me, did he?” he remembered.

“I can’t imagine your folks would be any more approving.”

“They might. They’ve always wanted me to be happy.”

“You don’t think they’ve been indulging their only son? There’ll come a point when they’ll expect you to grow up and toe the party line. Don’t you want to do something useful with your life?”

“Plenty of time for that,” he insisted. “My priorities are different.”

“You mean all this arty nonsense?” she scoffed, which shocked him.

He’d meant his priority was her. She’d possessed his every waking hour as well as his dreams. He’d believed she felt the same. But something about her closed expression stopped him from saying so.

“It’s not nonsense,” he said, floundering around in the dark. “I know I’m good. I can do something with it.”

“Like what? Painting’s not real life, Joel. It’s a game. You’re chasing rainbows, putting off the moment when you have to face the future.”

“I thought my future would be with you.” He took her hand, desperate to feel the heat of her as his heart was clamped by icy dread, his beautiful dream slipping like sand through his fingers. “Real life seems less of a cage with you there beside me.”

“Nice line. How long have you been practising that one?”

He’d been sincere but he laughed along with the joke. He hardly recognised himself. He’d become so much putty in her hands but he couldn’t bear the thought of being without her...

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Friday, August 12, 2016

"The Big Rip or Lemons" by Andrew O'Connor (Short Story)

Genre:  Comedy Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Short Story:

“Yeah, somebody told me that once actually, I think. I just don’t get how it would happen” Charlie looked down into her cappuccino as she spoke, slowly turning her silver spoon in a clockwise direction, propping her chin up with her thin fingertips. Her white gold ring dug into the bone of her jaw, but she relished the discomfort.


“It’s quite simple. I mean, if you can use your imagination a little bit. Just picture, for a moment, the universe in an impossible size, say, the size of this hair tie” Aldous slipped his hair tie from his dreadlocks, allowing them to spill out over his shoulders. Charlie always did have a thing for that type; rugged and disheveled, reeking of cigarettes and chaos. Exactly the type of guy her mum would have hated her spending time with. Aldous was still speaking, but she had completely tuned out, far too lost in her thoughts to care about his words. She just nodded her head at every upward inflection, as she did in many a social situation, always sneaking off into her own head rather than meaningfully engaging. Charlie never really liked to be told things.


“…And since the big bang, the universe has just been stretching and stretching, growing into expansive nothingness. Eventually, it’s not going to be able to stretch anymore right? Like a hair tie; if you pull it tightly enough…” Aldous exerted further force on the elastic he had been slowly stretching as he spoke, and it snapped, morphing from the circular object it had once been into a useless, slack piece of string.


“…It’ll snap,” He concluded after a lengthy pause, still looking directly at Charlie as he spoke. She smiled coyly, having tuned in for the last few sentences of his lecture, but still largely unsure of the overall content. Aldous felt like he was playing his cards right as he mistook her expression for genuine interest and adoration. In reality, Charlie was worlds away.

“What are you going to tie your hair back with now?” She asked softly, as she lifted a napkin from the table and begun gradually ripping it into little shreds. Her mother used to fly into a state of panic whenever Charlie picked something up, worried that her daughter would break whatever object it may be. Her mother’s worry was not misplaced, as Charlie usually did destroy the things she fiddled with. It wasn’t because she was a destructive person per se, she just liked to play.

“It’s okay, I don’t need to have it tied back. You know, sometimes it’s nice to just let things flow.” Said Aldous, as he placed his hand over Charlie’s, disturbing her dismantling of the napkin. She instinctively felt herself pull away from his touch, even though she had consciously tried to keep her hand under his. Oftentimes, our body makes decisions for us, regardless of the objections of our minds . The flesh on his palm felt cold and rough against hers. She resented it.


“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Stupid,” He muttered, clearly flummoxed.

“No, it’s fine! It’s not you. It’s just, uh…” Charlie racked her brain for an excuse, with her date’s stare lingering on her as he waited for her to finish her thought. Charlie fumbled with her words as she said, “Uh, I’ve got like… um… it’s like a condition. Not like aids or anything. Like a skin condition. Like… yeah, sometimes I get rashes and stuff you know? And um, people can like… get them on their skin from rubbing against mine. So I was just trying to… save you. Uh..?” Her hands shaking slightly, Charlie poured a glass of water from the converted wine bottle that adorned the table, and drank it in a quick succession of gulps, before pouring herself another one and consuming it in the same manner. Aldous’ eyes tracked her movements, perplexed. He chuckled.


“It’s all good. I wouldn’t want to get your rash, thanks for helping me avoid that situation. You’re a lifesaver. A real hero actually,” Charlie forced a sudden grin, bearing her teeth for a split second, before she hurriedly changed the subject, desperate to get him talking again so that she wouldn’t have to.


“You’re welcome, yeah. So um, what were you saying about the universe? It’s like a hair tie right? Stretch, stretch, snap?” Aldous cleared his throat and raised his mug to his lips, quickly drinking what remained of his vanilla latte, which had begun to grow cold over the course of the fractured conversation. He winced slightly at the lukewarm nature of the beverage before continuing.


“Yeah. More or less. The theory is called The Big Rip. Basically, scientists don’t have much of an idea regarding the ultimate fate of the universe, so this theory is just one of many. I think it’s really lovely. It’s so very unfathomable, but just picture all of the matter in our enormous universe; from the stars, to the galaxies, to the atoms, all the way to the particles and the subatomic particles that make up all that is and ever will be. And now picture all of that being progressively torn apart by it’s own expansion. If the expanding universe is dominated by phantom energy, then it's expanding at an ever-increasing rate. Eventually, the speed at which everything is stretching will surpass the speed of light; and when that happens, interaction between the fundamental forces becomes impossible. Gravitational forces, electromagnetic forces, every power in the universe won’t be able to do its job anymore. And when all of these interactions have become utterly impossible, there will be a final singularity – The Big Rip – in which all distances diverge to infinite values, and that would be the end,” Charlie actually managed to listen to everything that Aldous had said. She knew she was making progress when she could get through someone’s entire verbal tirade without drifting off. She nodded her head and attempted to pull a face that was interested, curious and fascinated at the same time. No easy feat.


“So what, would it like, all happen at once? Everything just tears apart? Me, and the turtles, and the atoms in this coffee cup, and all of the stars and galaxies, all at once?” Aldous laughed in response, pouring himself a glass of water as he did so.

“No, not quite. Lets say, hypothetically, the universe is going to completely end in twenty two billion years from this second. So, about one and a half billion years from now, the stretching of the universe will cause all of the galaxies to separate from one another, that’s step one. Step two would occur maybe sixty million years from the end, and that would be the point when gravity becomes too weak to hold the Milky Way and other individual galaxies together – all the planets and solar systems would start to drift from one another, much like the way the galaxies drifted. About three months before the end, each solar system would become completely gravitationally unbound. And then, in the last minutes, the stars and the planets would be torn apart. A split second before the very end of everything, each atom would tear apart. But hopefully a couple of atoms would be able to survive the carnage, and then collide with one another to create the universe again. Like an infinite loop of creation and destruction. It’s all quite beautiful to me. Maybe I’m crazy,” In that moment, Charlie attempted to appreciate the beauty of the universe being torn to pieces under the weight of itself. But this was a concept that she perceived as fairly horrific. Then again, she liked to tear things apart herself. By now, the napkin she had been casually ripping to shreds was not even a shadow of it’s former self; it had become a tattered mess that embellished the corner of the wooden table which held it up. As her eyes darted to the chaos she had created from such a simple object, Charlie could suddenly see the end of the universe.

She was traversing space as the very fabric of existence tore around her. As she floated, she watched millions of clusters of galaxies, like reflections of the sun on the water rippling, as they began to separate and spread into the eternal blackness of all that is. Charlie witnessed each galaxy explode, billions of colored lights, bundles of stars so fine they looked like smoke reflecting purple cellophane placed over a lamp. They emancipated themselves and flowed outward and into one another, new shapes forming as the old disintegrated, everything being and then ceasing to be right before her eyes. She shrunk, feeling her entire being deteriorate to the size of an atom, and now she was within the invisible realm, watching the tiny vibrating particles around her tear away from one another in electric bursts, their energies pulsing in an attempt to salvage their own physical integrity, only to be violently torn apart themselves. The weight of the pull of the universe from either side destroyed them, leaving them severed and tattered…

“Are you alright Charlie?” She felt the rough skin of Aldous’ palm bearing down on her hand again, and was shocked back to reality. She had gone as pale as a sheet of paper, her knuckles whitening as she gripped her fists tightly, gazing off absently into the distance. A bead of sweat slipped from her forehead, oozing down through the fine hairs of her eyebrows, and slipping along her cheeks. She shook her head, confused, and forced herself to say something, anything at all, to alleviate the awkward nature of her momentary departure, and Aldous’ concerned stare. She fell over her words, making them up as she went and praying that she formed some kind of coherent sentence,

“I’m fine. I think it’s that damn skin infection. It’s messing with my brain or something maybe. I dunno,” She quickly downed a glass water, starting to panic.


“Did you know my mum is selling my childhood home? Like, the house I grew up in? It’s so crazy. Somebody is buying my dogs grave!” Her eyes widened at the realisation, and she wore a grieved expression. The gravity of it all, the universe, the date, the social expectation, her dog, became too much for her – it tore her apart, ripped her limb from limb. She was a separating atom. She was lost.


“They’re selling my dogs grave! My dogs bones are there and someone is buying them!” She shouted, smacking her fist down with an audible bang, gaining the attention of other patrons, who’s eyes darted toward the table. A hush came over the cafe. Aldous looked embarrassed, hiding his face behind his hand as he tilted his head downward. He spoke softly in an attempt to subdue the situation.


“Wow, okay. Calm down. Is that what’s bothering you? Is that why you’ve been so strange and standoffish towards me?” Charlie burst into laughter again, her hand visibly shaking as she poured another glass of water.

“Nothing’s bothering me! Look at this smile!" Forcing a grin from ear to ear, she continued to ramble.


“I promise I’m not being strange or standoffish on person… I mean on purpose. You’re nice. You’re very aesthetically pleasing, and you’re conventionally attractive and obviously pretty smart what with all of your space talk… it’s just that I need to go to the bathroom, that’s all. Would you excuse me? Great.” Bewildered, Aldous muttered something incoherent as Charlie rose from her chair, knocking her knees against the table, causing a rattle of the cutlery, crockery and cups that littered its surface. She grabbed her hand bag that was hung over the back of her chair, and pottered away from the table, patrons peering eyes still fixated on her, but hers looking straight ahead, ignoring the rabble of judgmental faces.

She pushed open the bathroom door with great determination, and once she was inside she leaned against it, closing her eyes and breathing deeply, letting the air fill her lungs in increments, slowly leading to her heart rate decreasing as calm normality embraced her again. It was quiet in the bathroom; the hushed chatter of the café becoming a distant rumble, her breath and a single consistent drip from the chrome faucet above the sink the only sounds in her immediate vicinity. Charlie knew she had to leave, as there was no way she could bear the grim nature of facing Aldous again, attempting to brush over her previous behaviour. It was better for her, like in many situations she encountered, to simply cut her losses, and trust in the truth that more opportunities would rear their heads for her in the future.


She noticed an open window above the hand dryer. Swinging her bag over her shoulder, Charlie mounted the sink with her left foot, placing her right hand on the dryer for support and hoisting herself up. She stood on the sink with both feet now, and luckily it took her weight. Gripping onto the bottom of the window frame, she pushed herself up until she sat on the sill, her legs dangling outward, the air causing the fine hairs on her shins to dance. Charlie let herself drop, her feet hitting the ground with a thud, the Newtonian shock wave of the force resonating up her legs.

Meanwhile, Aldous sat in patient silence, his hands folded on the table in front of him, staring vacantly out the window of the café, watching the cars whizz past and the wandering people filter in and out of his line of sight. He waited for Charlie to return from the bathroom, still feeling as though he could salvage the situation. He attempted to run over ways of rectifying it in his mind, whizzing through possibilities and outcomes. His trail of thought was interrupted as a man in his early thirties with five o’clock shadow, tired eyes, a short mess of hair on top of his head, and a large brown trench coat draped over his shoulders approached the table.

Aldous looked up at the newcomer with curiosity, and the man held out a single hand to him. In his hand was a lemon, slightly browned in spots and looking as though it had been pulled from a tree recently, its green stem still intact, a single leaf clinging to it for desperate life, wilting but determined. Scrawled on the rough surface of the citrus fruit in maroon lipstick were the words “when life gives you lemons…”

The man cleared his throat.

“Um, so some girl in the street gave me five bucks to give this to you?”

Aldous reached out his hand and retrieved the lemon, his eyes lingering on the words splayed on the object. As the man in the coat walked away, he vacantly responded,

“Thanks”.

Aldous never heard from Charlie again. He didn’t even like lemons.



Funnily enough, neither did she.

Read more by this author here or here.

Friday, June 24, 2016

"Go to bed" by Melissa “Brownie” Grant (Flash Fiction)



Genre:  Erotica

Type of Short Story:  Flash Fiction

Summary:  What do you get when you have a sleepless night, a bottle of rum and two good friends? These are the ingredients of a captivating night. Join Carla and Justin as these two friends show you the meaning of nightcap.

Excerpt:

Another sleepless night, Carla thought to herself as she turned onto her left side. She began to kick the bottom of her blanket, trying to tuck it under her feet, but it wasn't working. Now she was annoyed. Annoyed that her feet were still cold and at the fact she was still awake knowing that she had a big meeting tomorrow. Checking her alarm clock, she saw it was11:34. For many this would be considered an early night, but for Carla it was late. Finally, she gave up her pursuit of sleeping and decided to sit on her back porch. It was a nice night out.

Carla got out of her bed to search for some comfortable lounging clothes. After a few minutes, she came across her favorite sweats and tank top. She quickly slipped them on and headed downstairs to her back door. Before going outside, she grabbed her bottle of rum. Why not do a few shots while waiting on sleep?

Out on the back porch, the sound of crickets began to soothe her. Carla was happy that summer was coming.

“I see that you can’t sleep either,” a familiar voice said from over the fence.

“Huh?”

“Girl, stop playing.It’s me—Justine.” Justine popped her head over the fence. “Oh you brought out the good stuff, Captain Morgan.”

Carla chuckled, “Yeah, you wanna do a few shots with me? Maybe this will help both of us sleep.”

Justine’s footsteps joined the noise of the crickets as she made her way to Carla’s porch. Once Justine was seated, Carla handed her the bottle.

“You don’t want to take the first shot?”

“Nah, you can. I have another bottle just in case we run out.”

“Turnt on a Tuesday night.” Both Justine and Carla laughed.

“So, why are you up so late?” Carla took the bottle from Justine.

Before answering, Justine ran her fingers through her curly tresses. “Well, I was up doing this research paper. Now my mind won’t shut off. You?”

Carla took a swig of rum then spoke. “Got this big meeting with higher-ups tomorrow. This could make or break the company.” Carla downed another shot. “I see why some of the bigwigs do drugs. I can’t take this.”

“Girl, calm yourself. Just think of it this way—you’ll still have a job at the end of the day.”

Holding the bottle up, Carla acted as if she was giving a toast. “You’re right about that. But still,there’ll be others that may lose theirs. That’s the part that is eating away at me.”

Justine got up off the steps and sat adjacent to Carla. “Look, try your best not to make that happen. I know that you can.”

“I guess.” Carla handed the bottle to Justine. “It’s just when I took this position on, I thought that I could change the company around.But I see it’s just as much bullshit at the top as it is at the bottom.”

“You know what? You need this rum more than me.” Justine set the bottle in Carla’s lap. “You know what else you need?”

“What?” Carla gulped the rum.

“This.” Justine leaned over and kissed her. Carla pulled away, but Justine pulled her closer. After a few seconds, Carla gave in and kissed her back.

Suddenly Justine pulled away, “Wait, wait, wait, I thought we agreed not to do this again—I’m sorry.”

Breathing heavily, Carla nodded her head in agreement.

She sat and thought for a second then she said, “Aw, hell with it.” Carla straddled Justine’s lap then began to kiss her passionately once again.Her hand found its way up Justine’s shirt. She leaned back and gazed at Justine. “You sure you want to do this here?”

“Girl, shut up, you’re fucking up the mood.” Justine shoved her hand down Carla’s sweats and searched for Carla’s hot spot. Carla let out a low moan. “Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for. You’re wet as shit, girl.”

Another moan left Carla’s lips as Justine continued to toy with her spot. With each flick of her finger, Carla became even wetter. Carla buried her face into Justine’s shoulder.

“That’s right, I need for you come for me.” Justine could feel Carla’s whole body tensing up as she began to search for her G-spot.

“Please, I can’t take it.” Carla’s words were muffled.

“Yes you can.” Justine found her spot. It was soft and moist. Justine couldn’t help but play with it. The more she toyed with it, the louder Carla’s moan became. As Justine kept feeling on Carla’s G-spot, a warm liquid began to trickle down her wrist and through her fingers. “You didn’t tell me you was a squirter.” This gave Justine more incentive to make her come. Justine was getting ready to remove her hand, but Carla grabbed it to keep it in place. Carla began to move her hips in motion with Justine’s strokes. The warm liquid began to run down Justine’s hand as Carla cried out that she was coming. Carla jumped off Justine’s lap and fell into the chair across from her.

“Don’t touch me.” Carla’s body began to shake. “My goodness, I needed that.”

Justine licked her fingers. “I know.” She laughed. “Now go to bed.”

Buy this story on Amazon.

Friday, June 3, 2016

"The Siege of Abigail Beson" by Tyler Smith (Novella)

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  An isolated family in Virginia finds themselves under attack shortly after the end of the civil war.

Excerpt:

Another booming crash jarred Abby from sleep. Calmer this time, Abby rolled away from the window, hoping to hide her eyes from the intense brightness of the lightning.

Another explosive rumble. Something didn’t feel right. Abby turned back toward the window, her mind racing to figure out what new prank her brother had contrived.

There was no lightning. Why was there no lightning? Abby got up and walked to her window. The fog of sleep was clearing from her mind, so the next explosion finally registered as the firing of a gun.

Confused, she peered out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the source. The rain had stopped, but the cloud cover continued to hinder any illumination from the moon.

Why would there be gunfire? Abby asked herself silently. Lee signed the surrender when the Union was just miles from our door. At least, that’s what the last letter from Benjamin had said. That letter was two months ago. They hadn’t received any letters since. The post had been spotty throughout the war, and after the surrender it had stopped entirely. Had the war started again? She’d heard rumors of bandits and raiders exploiting the chaos of the war to wreak havoc in the west, but here? Just a few days ride from Richmond?
Read the complete story on Google Docs.  Support the story on Kickstarter.

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Leaves of The World Tree" by Adam Misner (Short Stories)



Genre:  Dark Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story Collection

Summary:  Leaves of the world tree is a collection of six short stories that take place in a wide variety of worlds, with varying degrees of fantasy and technology. The stories are stand-alone, making each is it's own adventure. Ranging from a bloody Viking battle to a necromancer love story, the collection is sure to give you a diverse dose of fantasy both high and low, urban and medieval.

Excerpt:

Like many Olafs before him, he was named Olaff. It was not a bad name by any means. He shared his name with four others born that year, and he would share it with seven the year after. Olaf was then, as it had been before, and would be for generations to come, a common name. It was as though his parents had expected him to be average. Growing up he never felt as though he were different from the other boys. He was not scrawny and smart, or muscular and dumb, nor better or worse at most things. He threw the axe at the tree and hit five times out of ten, and his spear landed smack in the middle of everyone else's. It was only when they taught him how to write his name that he realized he was unique. His mother, being the literate one, had spelled his name with an extra “f.”

Buy this collection on Amazon.