A Lift Back to Luscious by Susannah Carlson

“…I bring His Lordship here three times a week, so they know my face and they know I am married to Perry, but they don’t know me, which is just the way I like it…”

The Earth Provides by Travis Oltmann

“… ‘You see the army outside?’
‘Tough to miss them. They’re everywhere,’ she responds with a mouthful of food.
‘Do you know where they’re going?’
‘Most of them will go to the airport; some will be on the major roads.’
‘They’re so young.’
‘The older the conflict the younger the soldiers,’ she says…”

Dark Refrain by Alexis A. Hunter

…If there had been a body, I would have clung to it. I would have looked into the lines of his young face, seen the echoes of his boyish grin and realized fully that he was never coming back. That I needed to mourn and let him rest.
Michael was dead, but he wasn’t resting…

Everything, All At Once, Forever by Michael Wehunt

“… But too soon there are things she needs to know. Answers not held within his reply. She will be seventy-six by Christmas. The “forever” end of his words begins to seem like a dream she will wake from.
She takes David to see his grave in spitting rain, the sky a low sheet of charcoal over the cemetery. Tucked inside her coat he leers out at his headstone…”

The Stories of Read Short Fiction:

A Lift Back to Luscious by Susannah Carlson

February 9, 2014 Humor, Mainstream 3 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! ***

The Diver by Colleen Anderson

August 11, 2013 Literary 1 Comment
The Diver by Colleen Anderson

The Diver
by Colleen Anderson

She pierced the air like an arrow shot from an angel’s bow. Her feet pointed toward heaven as though knowing where they’d step next, her hands pressed together, directed the way to her descent. The dive would have received the highest points in the Olympics; her form was so exact, her back arched just right, her legs together, her short blond hair tied tightly back from her head, adding to the streamlined look.

Doug was sure that he was the only one who saw her dive, viewed her perfect diving figure, the calm look upon her face. Had her eyes been open? It was hard to tell and he was so mesmerized by the image as she streaked earthwards that he could do nothing but gape, frozen in an awkward salute, shading the sun from his eyes.

Then, she did not slice through the water, for there was none. Though Doug cheered her to be able to part the earth, she hit with a reverberating thunk and sickly bounce that stopped people on the street. They turned slowly, not knowing exactly what had happened, where the fall had been, perhaps subconsciously fearing the results. In the inevitable rush to the broken doll-like thing, the screams and murmurs, the cell phones stuck to ears, and even in the subsequent wail and hysteric flashing of emergency vehicles, still Doug did not move. Could not move. That arrow of flesh and blood and bones had struck his senses at the moment she died, and there was no doubt with all the blood and other bits he would not look at, Doug had been numbed to his mortal core. His poor meat brain, its pathetically simple synapses could not absorb the mix of death and beauty. *** Read on! ***

Everything, All At Once, Forever by Michael Wehunt

June 30, 2013 Horror 13 Comments
Everything, All At Once, Forever by Michael Wehunt

Everything, All at Once, Forever
by Michael Wehunt

It seems to rain every time she visits David’s grave. Petra drips a trail from the bus stop into the house and stands in the kitchen, in those empty hours until dark. She picks at leftovers in front of the television until the gravy on the meatloaf thickens into jelly.

She has heard of people following their spouses into the earth. Dying from a broken heart after a lifetime of companionship seems so full of romance. But Petra just keeps going on, she doesn’t know why. She sits with eleven months of dust on her skin. Later, there is thin sleep, David’s smell a little fainter in his pillow each night. She has to breathe deep to get to it.

And waiting each morning is a new set of hours to fill. Her hands won’t allow her much gardening, but still some mornings she rakes them through the earth to collect clods of dirt beneath her nails. She’ll lay outfits across the bed, a dress for herself and one of David’s dark suits. She fusses over which of his ties to fold along the breast.

Through each piece of routine the hole in her life tiptoes behind like a shadow tapping her shoulder. Late in the morning she takes the bus into town and drifts through barnlike antique shops filled with things she can no longer adore. Even the joy of looking has left her and she is left with simply the familiar movement of her body.

At last the fourth in this cluster of shops is exhausted, and she along with it. She is about to pass back into the day, the clouds of minutes, when she sees her husband standing on a shelf behind the cash register, the suit she buried him in as sharp as it was the distant spring day he bought it in Essex. She stands frozen by the door until two women brush by and set her into motion.

Halfway there she can see it is not David, of course, but a doll. It stands not more than half her height, its polished Oxfords affixed to a wooden base with an inviting red button recessed between them. But it has his face. Petra was with David when the heart attack struck. She recognizes the wrenched-open mouth, the eyes that bulged in agony behind his spectacles. That very face has been captured in molded rubber. *** Read on! ***

Hassenlopf’s Stroke by Gary Cuba

May 23, 2013 Humor, Mainstream 3 Comments
Hassenlopf’s Stroke by Gary Cuba

Hassenlopf’s Stroke
By Gary Cuba

In the early afternoon of his first day of work at Reliant Data Services Corporation, Henry Hassenlopf suffers a massive cerebral stroke. It happens as he sits in his newly assigned cubicle, in front of his PC workstation. No one in the cubes surrounding Henry’s notices what has happened to him.

Henry’s initial panic slowly gives way to a cooler internal assessment. That there is still something of a mind left to self-referentially consider his own plight, he takes as a positive starting point. Under the negative column, he notes that he is completely paralyzed–no, not quite so, he realizes. As he takes sequential stock of his body, bottom to top, Henry realizes that he can still twitch the big toe on his right foot, flex his right thigh muscle, and move the first two fingers on his right hand slightly. His eyes and facial muscles still function. But he cannot utter a sound, not even a grunt. And he can’t twist his neck; his head remains fixed in position, staring at his computer monitor. Its screen clock reads 2:09 P.M.

What a pisser, Henry thinks. Sixty-four years old. After having searched so desperately for decent work in my field for the last three years. And I blow it on my very first day!

Henry sits and waits. He figures someone will eventually notice his problem and get help. Surely they will notice, he thinks. Eventually, they will. *** Read on! ***

Frost by William Meikle

April 15, 2013 Fantasy 1 Comment
Frost by William Meikle

Frost
By William Meikle

And don’t come out until I say so.

The cold emotionless voice spoke through the thin wood of the door which rattled on its hinges as it slammed. Billy Morrison was left in the cold and the dark and the quiet. Again.

He listened as his father stomped back downstairs, the steps vibrating through the floors, sending shock waves through Billy’s buttocks and thighs as he began to push himself off the floor.

I’ll bet he’s going to sit in front of the telly all night, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. That’s all he’s good for. I hate him.

He immediately covered his mouth with both hands. Even though it was the truth, he had no wish to be overheard. He’d made that mistake before, and that time he’d ended up having to be kept out of school for a week – “Suffering from a touch of flu” his mother, who had still been around at the time, had said. It was a funny sort of flu, which gave you black and blue bruises all over your body and made you pee blood for days afterwards.

He rubbed his upper arm, inspecting the large white finger imprints which blossomed there, now slowly filling up red. Using only his fingertips he pushed at the inflamed area, lightly, until the pain came. This time everything was okay. There was only a dull ache, not the bright pain of a broken bone.

Billy had just passed his ninth birthday and already had too much experience with hospitals and plaster casts. He had lost count of the number of times he had ‘fallen down stairs’ or ‘walked into doors’, or ‘slipped in the bath’. When the doctors, and then the social workers, and then the police had asked him about his accidents, he had gone along with his parents’ story. His friend Tommy had told him that you don’t get to heaven if you tell tales, and Billy would have dearly loved to go to heaven. ***Read on!***

Guarding the Henhouse by Mike Manolakes

Guarding the Henhouse by Mike Manolakes

Guarding the Henhouse
by Mike Manolakes

I was having a most wonderful dream when I was awakened by what must rank as the most chilling combination of words in the English language.

“Get up! I think my husband’s home!”

So great was my disbelief that she had to repeat the words again. On the second iteration, cold realization struck home, and immediately I bolted from the lady’s comfortable bed and began gathering my discarded clothes.

“No time!” she said. “Quick, in there!” She pointed toward the large wardrobe that stood in the corner of her bedchamber.

“I thought he was in Baltimore?”

“He was! Quickly! He’ll kill you if he finds you here!”

I could tell, from the urgency in Hattie’s voice, that she was not exaggerating the seriousness of the situation in the least. Trousers and boots in hand, I fairly dove into the depths of her wardrobe and shut the doors behind me. I decided that my life just may depend on how silent and motionless I could be in the next few minutes, for almost at once I heard the heavy tread of a man’s footsteps entering the room. *** Read on! ***

Announcement

Read Short Fiction announces Pushcart nominee

The editors of Read Short Fiction are proud to announce that our Pushcart Prize nomination for the year goes to Michael Wehunt’s “Everything, All at Once, Forever.”

“Everything, All at Once, Forever” is a rare find. This story plumbs the terrible depths of loss in a way that few stories have; in our opinion, this is literary horror at its finest.

To learn more about the Pushcart, click here.

And to read “Everything, All at Once, Forever” please click here.

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