What We Were by Gregory Leunig

“…With the sofa and the recliner and the gasoline, it finally became obvious to all of us. The ash-black sky, the failing crops, the dead livestock and dying game, the empty river. Sometimes a thing is just over, and all you can do is let it be over. So it was for us. This realization, and the recliner, gave us a last purpose…”

Too Smart by Michael Haynes

“…’You’ve watched that three times this month,’ my phone said.
‘So?’ I swigged from my beer.
‘Well, maybe it’s not my place to say, but you certainly could find something a bit more edifying to watch.’
What the hell could be more edifying on a lonely evening than watching a bunch of shit blow up?…”

Denmark by Mitch Edgeworth

“…but never any birds of prey. Never any cats either. Did the virus kill them off too? Why couldn’t it have just killed off everything? Why didn’t it kill me? Why was I left to drink myself stupid and cry at the stars?…”

Replacement by Sara Backer

“…Luke takes the remote control off the bed table and throws it across the floor, out of Gloria’s reach. “Hold me,” he says.

Gloria pats his back, like her mother used to pat hers when she was a child. She thinks about Ketut’s hard back, how his wiry muscles stand out. Luke’s back is white, freckled, and soft…”

The Stories of Read Short Fiction:

What We Were by Gregory Leunig

What We Were by Gregory Leunig

What We Were
by Gregory Leunig

When the last ship vanished into the sky, afterburners flickering briefly in the dense black cloud ceiling that shrouded our world, there were fires. There were more of us then, and we poured angry through the streets, a human pyroclastic flow, burning indiscriminately. There were Molotov-on-car fires, one or two apartment buildings set fire, dumpster fires. One guy, someone’s kid brother, set fire to himself in the streets like that Buddhist monk so many years ago. The monk, if you believe the writers from back then, never made a sound while he burned. The kid brother screamed, long and loud.

It was a time of fires, when they left us, but there was never a fire like this.

We don’t know who began building the pyre. One day, one of us noticed an olive green sofa, the kind you buy because you know the color will conceal the mold when it eventually grows moldy. This one had journeyed well past that phase of its existence; it stank of ancient urine and beer. We found it in a field facing the city. Some of us sat in it and watched as the generators gradually died and the lights in the buildings that comprised our meager skyline went out by sections. The reality show of us, live broadcast.

Not too long after, there was an expensive-looking leather recliner, piled on top of the sofa, and a jug of gasoline sitting nearby. We found John, who always wore suit jackets and ties even after the last ship left, standing there and looking through the sofa and chair. His black blazer too clean for the end of the world, his arms folded, five years of beard growth obscuring his face and spilling over onto his tie. We never asked, but we knew the recliner was his, and the gasoline. *** Read on! ***

Too Smart by Michael Haynes

September 29, 2014 Humor, Romance 2 Comments
Too Smart by Michael Haynes

Too Smart
by Michael Haynes

I hit the send button, but instead of a little animation showing my text message being sent, my phone chirped. The digital assistant’s voice asked, “Are you sure you want to send this message?”

“Yes,” I replied, frowning.

“Very well, but I don’t think she’ll like it much.” The animation started up.

“What do you mean?”

The progress meter paused halfway.

“It’s just that…” The assistant stopped, as if hesitating. Then it continued. “Cheryl has said before that she doesn’t like Thai food. Suggesting Bangkok Palace for dinner might not be the best choice. Perhaps El Acapulco instead?”

This was definitely not typical behavior for my phone. I remembered being asked to accept a software upgrade last night, but even so…

“Just send the text!”

The meter filled up and my message was on its way. Three minutes later, I heard back from Cheryl. I knew u didn’t pay attention to what I liked. Enjoy your pad prik king, Jason. I’ll see u around. Maybe. *** Read on! ***

Denmark by Mitch Edgeworth

August 29, 2014 Science Fiction 5 Comments
Denmark by Mitch Edgeworth

Denmark
by Mitch Edgeworth

After Lisa died I left the city. Had to get out. Just sat in my car and drove. I was going to York where my mother and stepfather lived, almost subconsciously, but I realised just as I was clearing the outer suburbs that I’d only find more death and silence and that I didn’t really want to go to York at all. So I turned out on a side road and drove through the forest and the national park and found myself at Mundaring Weir. A caravan park, chalets and cottages scattered across a grassy slope leading down to the water where black swans waddled through the reeds. I’ve been here ever since. A roof over my head, plenty of drinking water, the Coles at Kalamunda not too far away for food. The basic needs of a human being are really very simple.

The view from the verandah is nice. The sweeping crescent of the lake, the gum trees pressing in on it from all sides, the purity and silence of the hills. There’s a swinging lawn chair on the verandah where I can sit and look out over the water. There were bodies in some of the chalets but I dragged them out and burned them in a pile. This one was empty so this is the one where I sleep.

In the first few weeks there were other people, or signs of people at least. A plane, a Lear jet, glinting in the sunlight as it banked out of the airport and flew east. A four-wheel drive on the road running past the lake. A sedan not long after. Nobody came out here.

Every single day I look at the knives in the kitchen drawer or the pills in the pharmacy next to Coles and I think about it. I would have done it by now if I was going to but I still can’t get it out of my head.

All of the cars have died as well – flat batteries, expired fuel – but I have a bicycle with a little trailer. It belonged to a Swiss couple in one of the other chalets who were cycling around Australia. I know that because I looked at their passports and flicked through her journal before putting their bodies on the pyre. They flew in to Perth from Dubai and were going to go counter-clockwise around the country. Barely even got started. I burned the journal along with their bodies. I can’t put millions of bodies to rest but I wasn’t going to let these ones sit around rotting next door to me.

I never went back for Lisa’s body. I can’t anymore obviously. *** Read on! ***

Jimmy by Renee Marie Philomena Therese Kray

June 30, 2014 Paranormal 2 Comments
Jimmy by Renee Marie Philomena Therese Kray

Jimmy
by Renee Marie Philomena Therese Kray

The moon shouldn’t be so bright when you’re dead.

I’ve been dead for thirty whole years, much longer than my entire life on earth. Throughout that time, I’ve found that almost nothing bothers me as much as the fact that the closest I can ever get to seeing the sun again is looking at the cold light of its opposite.

Before I died, my name had been Jimmy. It’s a name that many other people shared with me, but it had also been uniquely mine. No other name could have fit me so well; no other name could have described my sandy brown hair, big smile, and love of having fun. My name was me. Now my name is just five letters carved into a cold piece of stone, forgotten and uncared for in a corner of an overgrown garden.

The stone doesn’t even show where I really am, because my parents never found me. That’s ironic, considering how what’s left of my bones is actually buried right near the garden where my gravestone now is. They were put there, in that shallow hole in the forest ground, by the man who stole me from my world. I don’t even know why he did it, he just did. He viciously separated me from my life, attacking me with a huge knife that glinted in the moonlight as he raised it over my body again and again.

It’s still something that I don’t like to remember, even now.

My parents used to own this land, all twenty acres of it, and I lived there happily until that man pushed me away into this cold misty world, where I have been stuck ever since. Here there is no sense of feeling and there is no one to talk to. Everything is hazy, as if I’m stuck in a fog that will never lift. The only thing that can part the fog is the sun, but it is so bright that it blinds me and I have to hide. When the moon rises to once again mock me with its cold glow, the only light I can bear now, I rise with it. *** Read on! ***

Replacement by Sara Backer

May 19, 2014 Literary 2 Comments
Replacement by Sara Backer

Replacement
by Sara Backer

Luke never knew Gus; he wasn’t responsible for taking his job. The drug test fired Gus, fair and square, but the staff seems to blame Luke for replacing him in the operating room.

Luke looks at photographs of Gus on the staff coffee room bulletin board, trying to understand his appeal. The staff is so lazy they never bother to remove them, although they’re five months old. Gus dressed up as a punk Santa Claus with a Mohawk wig and dark sunglasses, holding two nurses on his knees at the hospital Christmas party. A candid snap of Gus downing a Pepsi after surgery, a small line of blood still on his forearm. He wears his blah-blond hair in a crew cut in front and a small pony tail in the back. He has a large nose and a badly capped front tooth. Then there’s the photo of Gus and Diane. Luke doesn’t know why he keeps looking at it–Gus’s tongue is stuck out like a snake and Diane’s leaning back with her mouth open wide. They’re dancing in the cafeteria, under garlands of syringes and gauze. They don’t mean it seriously.

“Gus was a damn good surgical nurse,” Diane told him. “And a great guy, too.”

“Do you have to use that word?”

“What word?”

“The D word.”

Diane laughed in disbelief. “You know, you’re scary.”

Diane’s hair is black, a short pixie cut, and he can’t tell if her skin is dark or tanned. His own face stands out for its paleness. In Oregon, no one has a tan in March, but this is California. Everything’s different.

When Gloria, Luke’s wife, asks him about his day, his work, his co-workers, he doesn’t know why he never tells Gloria about Diane. He hasn’t from his first day on the job at the university hospital. He’s created a secret when he has nothing to hide. *** Read on! ***

A Lift Back to Luscious by Susannah Carlson

February 9, 2014 Humor, Mainstream 5 Comments
A Lift Back to Luscious by Susannah Carlson

A Lift Back to Luscious
by Susannah Carlson

“Le chien est retourné à son propre vomissement, et la truie lavée au bourbier.” (Henry V, Act V, Sc. 3)

“I want pizza,” my stepson says from the backseat.

It is eight-thirty in the morning.

“Maybe after your test,” I say, knowing the test will last at least until dinnertime.

“I want pizza now,” he says, his tone an emotionless command.

“Well, Michael, we can’t do that. We have to be at Seaside in ten minutes.”

“I’m hungry.” He kicks the back of my seat.

“I gave you breakfast, Honey.”

“I hate pancakes.”

“You like them when your father makes them,” I say, sweetly as I can.

“I hate your pancakes.”

And I hate you, I think. “I don’t know what to do about that, Michael.”

“I’m going to tell my dad you didn’t give me a good breakfast before my test.”

In the rearview mirror, I see he’s holding his cell phone. My throat clenches. I swallow. “I gave you breakfast, Michael.”

“Nothing good,” he says, giving my seat another kick.

I tighten my hands on the steering wheel as if it were His Majesty’s spoiled little neck.

In my past life, I delivered lunches to Silicon Valley tech companies, lugging stacks of insulated carriers full of scrumptious numnums for engineers and executives and their peons. I made so little back then I often couldn’t afford lunch myself. Now, on a full stomach, in new clothes, my nails ground down to the quick and replaced with long, blunt, white-tipped acrylic, I steer my husband’s silver Volvo into a space in front of Seaside Taekwondo. I glance in the rearview at The Dauphin, who glowers in the backseat in his starchy white gi and danbo belt. He hates taekwondo almost as much as he hates me. It’s mutual. *** Read on! ***

The Earth Provides by Travis Oltmann

January 4, 2014 Action/Adventure 2 Comments
The Earth Provides by Travis Oltmann

The Earth Provides
by Travis Oltmann

1.
Nyiragongo looms in the distance. There are beggars that look like scrap metal, children with yawning machete scars across their faces, and women that walk around sterilized and lifeless.

All while Nyiragongo chortles and coughs and spits out vaporous clouds of smoke.

Kevin stands on his balcony and examines the leftover damage from the last time it got agitated. Veins of charcoal stained ruts are apparent in the countryside. Bonte traces a path in the air with his finger. “When it erupted in two thousand two, the lava flow through the city and buildings disappear. Smoke was everywhere. We were running and running, people were screaming and falling because they choke. It causes a lot of damage, my uncle had a shop and it burn to the ground. He lost everything in less than one day,” he tells Kevin.

“How come you didn’t leave?” Kevin asks.

“This is my home. I never leave. I did not leave when CNDP fought the army in the streets and I will not leave when it happen again.” Bonte leaves some air in his lungs so his chest puffs out slightly.

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t.”

“It will, it always does. The only people who can stop it make too much money from it.”

“They’re saying Achibe is going to make a move soon.”

“Yes, I hear the same things.”

“Do you think he can do it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. He will need a lot of guns. The Army has the UN and they help with helicopters and troops.”

Kevin nods and thinks for a moment. “Can we move the meeting with Osei to tomorrow? With him knocking at the gates I should probably speed this trip up.”

“I will check and see. I will call you in the morning.”

Bonte exits the room and the door shudders when it closes. Kevin locks it and pulls a satellite phone from his bag. Day fades as the sun eases itself into Lake Kivu. The remaining shreds of light creep through the windows and broken shutters, coating the back wall in streaks of apricot and umbra. Kevin squints as he dials. *** Read on! ***

Dark Refrain by Alexis A. Hunter

November 30, 2013 Paranormal 10 Comments
Dark Refrain by Alexis A. Hunter

Dark Refrain
by Alexis A. Hunter

I get a letter from my brother every day. He’s been dead for seventeen years.

The first one came the day after his funeral. A dozen pastel envelopes packed the mailbox — condolences from family and friends who couldn’t make it to the service. I clutched these piles of empty words and tucked my head down against the drizzling rain. It peppered the back of my neck, a cold kiss that made me hunch my shoulders up further.

As I stepped onto the porch, a gust of wind snatched away his letter and it stuck against the railing. A single white envelope. So plain. Abnormally small…

…and so achingly familiar.

The condolence cards flipped to the wet grass and lay forgotten. My fingers found the coarse white envelope and gripped it tight. I could not tear my gaze from his name in the upper left corner: PFC Michael E. Colt.

I fought to breathe. My world spun. I sank to the porch, my back pressed against the railing’s wet boards.

His last letter. His last words.

But the date on the envelope read September 5th. It had been mailed the day after the officers came in their dress uniforms to tell us the news.

Trembling fingers. Hunched over the letter to shelter it from the drizzle, I worked slowly to avoid tearing the rain-splotched paper. A furtive glance toward the front door. Mom was asleep. She’d been sleeping a lot since my brother died.

Thin sheet paper. I could still see the outlines of his scrawled handwriting tucked between the folds. I used to tease him — told him that he wrote like a five year old. I brought the paper to my nose and inhaled. Mildew and sand. Or maybe that’s just how I imagined it.

I unfolded the pages.

        Ann,
        Sorry I haven’t responded to your last letter…

I dragged my gaze from his words to the date he’d written near my name: September 4.
*** Read on! ***

Eudon by Sean Eads

October 22, 2013 Fantasy, Horror 2 Comments
Eudon by Sean Eads

Eudon
by Sean Eads

On a spring day in May of 1351, in the village of Castrum Saint Jean, two brothers named Adelard and Henriot saw a boy no older than twelve come from the woods that marked their farmland’s northern border. Henriot saw him first when he stood up to knock dirt clumps from his spade. He rubbed his eyes, because the boy was naked and appeared to be underfed and exhausted.

Such occurrences were not unknown in those hopeful months following the Black Death’s decline. Entire villages had disappeared. One might have encountered the sick, beggared orphan anywhere. Nevertheless Henriot was stunned by what he saw, and without a word he cast down his spade and ran.

Adelard looked up, saw his brother hurrying toward the boy, and followed. At twenty-three, Adelard was older by two years, though more often than not he bowed to Henriot’s judgment.

“You, boy!” Henriot said. “What is your name?”

The brothers stopped within a few feet of the lad, who teetered and fell to his knees. They bent over him in alarm and rested him on the ground. The boy’s breathing was very shallow and his shrunken stomach made a steep slope down from his prominent ribcage.

“He has not eaten in at least a week,” Adelard said.

“Let us bring him into the house.”

Adelard stripped his shirt and wrapped it about the boy, whom Henriot carefully managed over his broad right shoulder. They ran the quarter-mile to their farmhouse, which had belonged to their mother and father before the plague took them the previous year. The boy moaned as if very ill but he ate the bread they gave him and drank several glasses of water. Then he smiled and looked up at them. *** Read on! ***

Other Summers by Ray Cluley and Michael Kelly

September 15, 2013 Literary 4 Comments
Other Summers by Ray Cluley and Michael Kelly

Other Summers
by Ray Cluley and Michael Kelly

The moon is fat and bright, holding back the dark. A warm wind blows across the high summer grass, touching their faces, their sticky summer skin, and moves on, its faint summer song trailing and fading like summer itself. Dying.

The girls giggle, nervous, excited; their faces glow in the shine of the moon, wide and innocent still. The boys shuffle, kick at the dusty ground, snort, push and shove and laugh.

“Summer,” Mary-Ann says.

“Summer,” Alisha repeats, wistful.

“There’ll be others,” Ryan says.

“Other summers,” Josh agrees.

The high grass sways. They wait, giggling and sniggering. “Shush,” one of them says, and that gets them laughing.

Sixteen-years-old, all of them. Their skin smooth, eyes bright like glass marbles, hair thick and glossy, lips red as cherry popsicles. The four of them stand in the tall honey-grass, looking out beyond the field and the fat moon’s brilliance to the edge of darkness. Waiting.

“When?” Mary-Ann asks.

“When?” Alisha repeats, anxious.

“Soon,” Ryan says, staring into the dark.

“Real soon,” Josh agrees, licking his lips.

They are thin and bronzed, fidgeting, touching, all angles and questions. How? Why? Who? When?

Then, from the inky darkness, a sound, faint and growing. Music. An organ, an accordion, like a child’s wind-up toy. And as they watch, their thin bodies aquiver, coloured lights wink on, lighting the darkness in reds and blues, greens and yellows, like strands of Christmas lights strung across the night sky. Christmas in summer. *** Read on! ***

Resonance

Validating short fiction as the ideal writerly art form for these current jam-packed times, this article from The Telegraph on the rise of the short story is a nice overview of short fiction's coming into its own.

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