Steve Pease – A Growing Imagination

A Growing Imagination
by

Steve Pease

Simms is a closer; been around the block. I’m the rookie, and the home crowd has lost hope. But … hey … this is the home of the Blue Jays; the place my Dad brought me up.
I smash Simms’s fast ball out of the park.

Dylan steps away from the microphone and smiles. I launch into a blistering solo. In the audience, Beck and Satriani shake their heads in awe and disbelief.

“Enough,” sighs a still-glowing Helen. “You are, without any doubt, one in a thousand.”
As I watch the sun set over the Aegean, I admit that I’m a little proud of myself.

Outside room 306 of The Lorraine, it’s 6.01 pm, April 4.
“Look out!” I shout.
And, as a startled Martin straightens, the bullet thuds harmlessly into the balcony wall.
That night, I have a dream.

Back in England, it’s State against worker. The battle-lines of Orgreave will dictate the next forty years. As the networks capture the conviction and passion of my rhetoric, I outline my vision for a very different future. They relay it to millions.
I believe in the power of television.

The press conference is the biggest the world has ever seen. And the three of us are bone-weary from the days and weeks of negotiation. But, as Palestinian and Israeli lean together to sign the two-state accord, we are also elated. This time, we think, this time.

This morning she seems a little tired, maybe a little sharp. But I don’t consider any response beyond coffee and a kiss. I’ve never uttered a thoughtless or hurtful word. Never doubted us. Never looked at another woman. I’m never irascible, never tired, never drunk.
I love, unconditionally and selflessly. My wife doesn’t pay it any mind; it is all that she has ever known.

You look me in the eye, and say, “You are mad with grief, and more than a little crazy.”
“No, no,” I reply, returning your gaze. “I’ve been researching quantum mechanics, the universal wave function. All possible alternate histories and futures are real. It makes perfect sense.”

My daughter survives beyond two weeks. I never shed those tears. Not one.

 

 

Steve Pease once had a ‘proper job’, drafting press-releases and briefings for British politicians. He argues, rather convincingly, that this was an ideal apprenticeship in writing fantasy. These days, he and his wife enjoy an idyllic lifestyle – walking their dogs by the River Derwent in Northern England.

Steve’s story “White Lies, Black Lies” featured on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in October 2017. His work has also appeared on Canada’s Digital Fiction Publishing; in the U.K. sci-fi/fantasy magazine “The Singularity”; in Volumes 1 & 2 of Canadian anthology “47-16: Short Fiction & Poetry Inspired by David Bowie”, and – in the USA – in Fantasia Divinity’s “Distressing Damsels” anthology.

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Susan Bianculli – Visiting Hours

Visiting Hours

by

Susan Bianculli

Mary sat on her green living room couch with a wrapped present on its wooden coffee table, waiting. It was a surprise for her son, Saul, who was due to visit after school. The minutes always seemed to go by so slowly when she waited for him. During the rest of the day the hours flew while she kept herself busy, but when 3:30 pm rolled around she stopped whatever she was doing to get ready. The one occasion she’d lost track of the time, Saul had come before she’d had the chance to get her place cleaned up. That had ended up being a rather traumatic visit. Mary never wanted a repeat of that, so she always paid close attention to the clock now.

Slam! Her front door opening and closing loudly made her wince and rub her temples.

“Mom! Mommy? Where are you?”

She jumped up and ran to meet him in the tiled foyer to envelope him in a hug and kiss. “How’s my boy today?”

He kissed her cheek. “Fine, Mom. Fine. How’re you?”

“Happy to see you. Also, I have something for you!”

“What is it?” he asked eagerly.

Mary led her son into the living room, and he whooped with pleasure when he saw the package. He tore into it with little boy gusto.

“Mom! This is the latest Connectorix building set – the space station one! How did you know?” he asked gleefully.

“I saw your father last night and he told me about it. So I decided to have it here when you came to see me today,” she replied with a smile.

“You’re the best Mommy ever! Although I wish your house looked more like ours.” Saul looked with faint disapproval around her vintage parlor.

Mary said quietly, “I feel more comfortable here, that’s all. This is the house that I grew up in.”

A cloud must have passed overhead outside, because the sunlight streaming in the windows dimmed for a moment.

“I’m sorry, Mommy!” said Saul, jumping up to hug her. “I didn’t mean it. Let’s build, okay?”

She smiled as the cloud moved on. The two of them spent the afternoon building the set, but they weren’t finished by the time the doorbell rang.

“No. I don’t want to go!” said Saul stubbornly. “We’re not done!”

Mary kissed him. “It’s okay, honey. I promise that this will remain exactly as it is until you come back tomorrow.”

“Promise?”

She held out a pinky to him. “Promise.”

He grinned and hooked his pinky finger with hers. The bell sounded again.

Saul got up. “Okay, Mommy. See you tomorrow!”

He went to the front door, yanked it open, and Mary winced as he slammed it behind him again.

*

Saul took the computer jack out of his skull and held it out to the man standing beside him. “Hi, Daddy!”

Steven smiled as he took it and coiled the jack with its lead on top of the VR machine. It, in turn, was connected to the special hospital bed that held his wife’s unconscious body in their modern bedroom. Mary had been in a coma in the waking world for the last three years, but the VR machine was able to keep her connected to their family.

“Hi, son. How was your visit with Mom?” He ruffled Saul’s fair hair.

“Great! She said that you told her about the space station building set!”

“I did. Shall I tell her how much you liked it when I visit her tonight?”

“Can’t I come then, too?” Saul wheedled.

“Saul, you know the doctors said that she can only have one person at a time in her mind – that’s why you see her after school, and I see her after you’re in bed,” Steve admonished lightly. “Now come on, it’s time for us to have supper.”

Saul ran out of the room while Steven followed more slowly, the smile drooping away as he glanced back over his shoulder at his comatose wife.

“I only wish it would be time for you to come and have supper with us, too,” he whispered to her before gently closing their bedroom door.

 

Susan Bianculli, a happily married mother of two, has loved to read all her life. Fairy tales from collections like The Yellow Fairy took her to magical places when she was young; and Fantasy and Sci-fi stories took her to places such as Middle Earth and Dune in her teens. A graduate of Emerson College with a Minor in Writing, she is the author of the 4 book Young Adult e-series The Mist Gate Crossings: Prisoners of the KeepBascom’s RevengeDescent Underearth, and The Long, Dark Road. She has also written 3 prequel novellas to it, and has appeared in other anthologies. To see what else she’s written, check out her website: www.susanbianculli.wix.com/home

Josh Brown – The Zen Dragon

The Zen Dragon

By

Josh Brown

Inside a dark cave, a dragon slept soundly upon his hoard of treasure. A powerful wizard came and awakened him.

“I can offer you eternal bliss,” the wizard told him.

“Is that so?” replied the dragon.

“All you need to do is give up all your possessions,” the wizard said.

The dragon looked at his cache of riches. Realizing he didn’t actually need any of it, he dumped the entire heap into the lake.

“Now,” said the wizard. “What is the sound of one wing flapping?”

The dragon felt a calm wash over him.

“That’s easy,” the dragon said. “Dragonlightenment.”

 

Josh Brown is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His work can be found in numerous anthologies as well as in Mithila Review, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Strange Horizons, and more. He served as award chair for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association’s 2017 Elgin Awards. A native of Minnesota, he tweets at @jedeyepatch.

Scott Hughes – A Goblin’s Lament

A Goblin’s Lament

By

Scott Hughes

Every day I watch for the red-haired girl who visits the brook near my cave to wash her family’s linens. I never let her see me.

One day she does. She doesn’t scream. Her eyes brim with pity at my wretched countenance. She smiles to tell me to come over, so she can touch my grotesque face, perhaps. To show me she’s not afraid, not repulsed—that even a vile creature can be loved.

But I snarl my fiercest goblin snarl, and off she flees. It’s easier for us both to live in a world disgusted by its own monsters.

 

Scott Hughes’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Entropy, Deep Magic, Carbon Culture Review, Redivider, PopMatters, Strange Horizons, and Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. For more information, visit writescott.com.

Gregg Chamberlain – Bargain Offer

Bargain Offer

by

Gregg Chamberlain

FOR SALE: Doomsday device. Mint condition. Never used. Independent virtual simulation test results report available. Best offer takes it. No cheques. Cash or equivalent in bullion or secure government-certified bonds. Serious inquiries only. truevil@Evil.com.

 

Gregg Chamberlain lives in rural Eastern Ontario with his missus, Anne, and a clowder of cats who allow their humans the run of the house. His story, “Courtesy”, appeared on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in 2017.

Susan Murrie Macdonald – The Kissing Bridge

The Kissing Bridge

By

Susan Murrie Macdonald

Megan Buckman glanced around, delighted by the sights, sounds, and smells that surrounded her. She had never been to a Renaissance Faire before. She’d wanted to go for years, but her ex-husband had always insisted that RenFaires were too expensive.

“Mama, look!” Seven-year-old Jessica ran off to the harper.

“Wait up, Jessie.” Megan followed her daughter. They listened to the harper for a few minutes. There was so much to see and do here; it almost overwhelmed the senses. All the beautiful costumes, the smell of turkey legs and sandalwood fans and flowers. And the music! Harpers, fiddlers, singers. An hour ago, she hadn’t known what a hurdy-gurdy was. Now she had a hurdy-gurdy CD tucked into her purse. “If I can’t get a story out of this,” she started to tell Jessie, but the girl ran off before Megan could finish her sentence.

“Look, Mama, the plumber!”

Megan looked where Jessie was pointing. Standing in front of a booth was a Little Person in Faire garb. Normally, she was bad with names and faces, but she recognized him because of his height. He was their plumber.

He doffed his feathered hat with a bow. “Good morrow, my ladies.”

Megan glanced at the booth, and found it was full of artwork. “Oh, this is lovely.”

“Gramercy, my lady.”

“You did these?”

He nodded.

She looked at the paintings. “Talent like this, and you spend your time fixing stopped up pipes and clogged toilets?”

“Alas, my lady, I earn greater recompense from the mending of other people’s privies than from my art.” His blue eyes twinkled. “Starving in a garret is highly overrated.”

“But this is gorgeous.”

“Everyone admires, few buy.”

“Mama, these ones are just like the beginning of Beauty and the Beast.” Jessie showed her a series of paintings, all painted to look like stained glass windows. They were scenes from various fairy tales.

“That’s where I swiped the idea from,” he confessed.

“This would be perfect for St. Margaret.” At his upraised eyebrow, she explained, “I write children’s books. I’m working on a biography of Margaret of Scotland. This would be perfect for it. And frankly,” she sighed, “I wasn’t happy with the illustrator the publisher assigned to my last book. Is there any chance you’d be interested in collaborating?”

“What was your last book?” he asked.

Unicorn Beach.”

He nodded. “I bought a copy for my niece. The unicorns looked like draft horses.” He thought a moment. “Have you eaten yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“Shall we discuss this over lunch?” When she nodded, he called to the man at the neighboring tent, “Hey, Tom, watch the booth for a bit. I’m going to lunch.”

“Aye, Darryl.”

“Darryl Phillips, at your service.”

“Megan Buckman.” A line from Tolkien popped into her head, and she added, “’At yours and your family’s.’”

He smiled up at her, recognizing the allusion. He led the way to the food stands. “I hope you’ll let me buy. I get a discount.”

They had to cross a wooden bridge to get there. Flowers adorned the bridge, and several teenagers in Faire garb sat on the railings.

“Kissing bridge, kissing bridge,” they called.

“What’s a kissing bridge?” asked Jessie.

“‘Tis a toll bridge, fair maid. One pays to cross the bridge like so.” Darryl took Megan’s hand and gently kissed it.

“That’s not a kiss,” called out a young man dressed like an Elizabethan lord. He grabbed the wench next to him. She joined him in a passionate lip-lock. In a bad Australian accent, he said, “That’s a kiss.”

#

Two years later, Megan and Darryl had produced four books together, and were working on a fifth. He had introduced her to musicians she had never heard of: Glenn Morgan and Livy Delafield, Golden Bough and Wild Oats. She introduced him to ‘30s and ‘40s black and white Hollywood movies. He introduced her to Chinese food. She’d never had it before, because her ex-husband didn’t like it. She rescued him from meals that went from the freezer to the microwave to the table (all without ever leaving the box). At first, he came to dinner once a month, then once every few weeks, and now he came over for dinner two or three times a week. He’d become the closest friend she’d ever had. And on summer weekends when her ex had Jessie, she helped him at his RenFaire booth.

“Look, a dwarf!” A girl about three or four ran into the booth, and her parents ran after her.

While her parents admired the artwork, she turned to Megan and asked, “Are you Mrs. Dwarf?”

“Alas, sweet damsel, I am not.” Megan sighed melodramatically. “He waits for his own true princess, and will not so much as glance at a sundial to give me the time of day.”

Puzzled, the girl stared up at her while her parents laughed. Darryl merely looked at her.

After they had bought a painting and left, Darryl said. “Time for a break.”

“I’ll watch the booth.”

“You need a break, too.” He led her toward the food vendors, but stopped at the kissing bridge. He pulled himself up onto the railing, so their heads were level. “Was that just Faire flirtation back there? Or were you telling the truth with that alas?”

Megan hesitated. “I didn’t want to risk ruining a good partnership – and more importantly, a good friendship – by getting what Jessie would call ‘all mushy’ on you.”

He reached over and kissed her. “Who says you’d be ruining anything?”

 

Susan Murrie Macdonald is a freelance proofreader and copy editor.  She has also written a children’s book, R is for Renaissance Faire, and several short stories which have appeared in Alternative Truths, Heroic Fantasy Short Stories, Bumples, and Sword and Sorceress.  She has written over 100 articles for Krypton Radio. You can check out her blog, Assorted Scribblings of a Minor Author, follow her on Twitter @WriterMacdonald, or visit her website, Susan Murrie Macdonald: Wordsmith for Hire.  

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction – update for 2018.

Happy New Year!  All of the story selections have been made for 2018 and the authors have been notified.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, there will be no story for January – but be sure to follow Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction and check out all of our fantastic stories every month, beginning on February 1.  (This gives you time to catch up on reading the amazing work published here in 2017!).

PBFF’s reading period is now closed.

Another reading period has come to an end at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction!  Thank you to all the fantastic authors who submitted their work.

At some point during this coming week, I will be making the decisions about the 2018 selections, so watch your inboxes!

Thanks again for your interest in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction!  Happy holidays!

Norm Roberts – Hard Times

 Hard Times 

By Norm Roberts

I knew the economy was bad, but I never thought it was as terrible as it is turning out to be.  Everyone has heard of someone who has been laid off or has had to take a cut in the hours they work or the pay they get. Yes, the hard times are here for a lot of people. It seems that even Santa Clause has been affected by the economic downturn.  Really, when you think about it, Santa has had to change with the times like everybody else.  First it was outsourcing gift-giving: Parents, then e-bay, and on to Amazon. Santa and the reindeer are doing a lot less of the deliveries these days also, what with the UPS and FedEx and the other couriers helping out.

Surely, all that outsourcing must cost extra for the jolly old elf.  Just last week I went to do some Christmas shopping and what should I see:  Kris Kringle employed at a store.  But not to sit and listen to the little ones’ wishlists. Nope, he was pushing the floor cleaning machine.  Up and down the aisles he went, stopping every time he spotted a child, to wish them a Merry Christmas and hand them a candy cane.  Oh, how times have changed when Santa has to get a part-time job to make ends meet.

Hard times, indeed.

Tabitha Baumander – Dragon

Dragon

By Tabitha Baumander

Unemployment when your life is supposed to be hitting its stride is less than fun. The more frustrated he got, the more Ben felt a connection to the young men and women who came of age during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In both instances, the economy had been trashed by a lot of idiots who played games with paper that represented money and goods which either didn’t actually exist or were worth so much less than their assigned value it was scary. The truth came out, and the house of cards fell. The damage it did to the financial security of the world would be felt for a generation: his generation. 

At the same time, Ben knew he was better off than most. He had a good education and at least a little practical experience in his field. If he could find the money, he even had a good practical business idea. He didn’t have money, of course, and that meant getting a job with someone else. Problem being, he’d been let go when the crash came and getting a toe in the door with a new company was proving a challenge. On the encouragement of his employment councilor, however, he kept moving and that included going out as much as his budget would allow. 

This evening, that meant going to watch the Chinese New Year’s celebrations featuring fireworks, free samples from local restaurants and a twenty-foot-long dragon puppet worked by fifteen men. The pamphlet organizers gave out said, in contrast to European tradition, seeing a dragon in China was good luck. He could use some luck but this wasn’t China. All the same, the celebration was fun and free and that was a good enough excuse to attend in spite of the less than perfect weather. 

Going home on the warm subway, Ben watched as a small elderly Asian man boarded and walked the length of the train. His age was hard to stick a number to, but he couldn’t have been less than mid-sixties. He was bundled against the cold with a big puffy down coat and a Russian-style hat. His eyes stared out at the world from under the furry brim of the hat like polished pebbles that had a difficult-to-describe gleam. Adding to the old man’s fairy-tale appearance were a white beard and mustache groomed to stiff points. To Ben, he looked like nothing more or less than an actor in a Kung Fu movie: the sort of character that was sometimes wise, sometimes comical, and sometimes dangerous – often all three. 

The odd little man took out a small bottle. It reminded Ben of a perfume bottle, only it looked genuinely old and was closed with a cork. The man studied the level of whatever was in the bottle by holding it up to the light. Ben wondered how the old boy could see anything because the glass looked opaque. He put the curious artifact away, then unexpectedly looked in Ben’s direction and smiled. 

Ben’s heart hiccuped. For the moment – just a heartbeat – their eyes met, the strange old man’s eyes changed. They became gold, totally completely gleaming gold. Then they were normal: slightly beady, human eyes once more.  

The old man got off the subway. Like an echo of the vision of the golden eyes, something new was sticking out of the man’s bulky coat. That something was the tip of a golden reptilian tail. Mouth hanging open, Ben stood and leaned against the subway car’s window, staring out at the old man as he moved to the center of the deserted platform. The farther away from the train he got, the more tail slipped out from under the coat.  

Ben was transfixed. The subway began to move before he realized the doors were closed. The old man was glowing now. The tail was long and swooshed through the air like the victory of dreams against reality. Ben’s last view of this impossible figure showed the old man tossing the bottle high in the air. Then there was a flash and Ben found himself sitting in a seat facing forward. 

Oh no, you don’t, you’re not going to try and tell me it didn’t happen. It happened! he thought to himself. 

At the next station, Ben got out, then crossed the platform and backtracked on the first south-bound train. The only sign of the man was a small intricately-decorated leather shoulder bag. Ben picked up the bag and, without thinking, slung it across his body. It fit perfectly, although if it had belonged to the little man it should have been far too small. Getting on the next subway going his way, he carefully looked into the bag without anyone noticing. The bag held twelve bundles of bills and a gold medallion on a leather thong.

Estimating the amount, Ben’s mind buzzed, It’s hundreds, all of them. There’s at least a hundred thousand here. 

Getting off at his stop and leaving the subway, mind still spinning, Ben passed a homeless person. He stopped and looked back. They were almost the same age, only this guy had slid farther down the ladder of life than Ben even wanted to picture. The guy sat on the ground next to his backpack, strumming a guitar in a way that showed he knew what he was doing.

It was a vision that reminded Ben of one other thing he’d read while killing time at the library after reading the want ads. Blessings, be they from gods or fairies or even dragons, should be shared. The swiftest way to a poisoned blessing was greed. He took a bundle of bills out of the leather bag, walked back, and dropped it into the guy’s guitar case. While the guy stared at the money, Ben said, “Don’t give up,” and left.  

Ben took the fortune the rest of the bag contained and started a small business. A year later, he met the woman who would become his wife. Three years later, in the living room of his new home, he held his first born child as he and his wife watched a new singing star being interviewed on television. The young man was describing the moment a small fortune came from a total stranger. It was a gift that let him turn his life around. 

“I can’t describe him, don’t make me try. I’m also not going to get all weird and say it was an angel, but the guy dropped the money in my case and said don’t give up. I didn’t, and from that day onward, everything changed. It’s one of the reasons I always give ten percent of my concert fee to homeless charities. As long as I’m selling, I always will.” 

Feeling the gold coin hanging around his neck, Ben smiled, thinking, Pal, you think getting that from me was spooky – you should have seen the guy that blessing really came from. 

 

Tabitha Baumander is a divorced mother of adult twins who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her writing style tends to put unreality in as real a background as possible. The logic there being: a dragon in Narnia is hardly worth mentioning, a dragon on the subway, now that’s something. Tabitha has work published in several horror anthologies and two novels on Amazon. You can find them here: http://www.amazon.com/Tabitha-Baumander/e/B00F6GJCZ2.