Diane Callahan – Paradise Slipping Off Her Tongue

A few years before the divorce, they’re in a busy restaurant outside Acadia National Park, and he’s reading the menu while she’s thinking about pushing a rock up a hill. Her head climbs with Sisyphus, whom she pictures as a French philosopher with a cigarette pinched between his lips, even though Camus is not a Greek hero and is perhaps not heroic at all. She loves him all the same.

Because their diet has not evolved beyond the stubbornness of childhood, they order mac and cheese and a plain burger. The blackberry bourbon lemonade sings to her, drink me, drink me, drink me, as if it could make her ten feet tall. She’s twenty-five but has never had a full glass of anything alcoholic. She asks the waitress for a blueberry soda, because when in Maine, and when married to a teetotaler . . .

They talk about plans, because that is what they do—a time-lapse of the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, a walk across the land bridge that only appears at low tide, popovers and strawberry jam in their sweat-soaked shirts, and no thoughts of Sisyphus. But those things haven’t happened yet. The day is still darkening beyond the restaurant windows.

The park is called “Acadia,” but she finds paradise slipping off her tongue—“Arcadia,” the fabled utopia, a Thomas Cole pastoral populated by the tiniest of beings in fingernail robes, markings in the dirt as small as a sneeze. How absurd it was to be one of those specks of paint but to focus instead on the choice between flavored liquids and to try so hard not to change anything about yourself, when that, too, could be scraped off by a giant thumb.

They’re sitting across from each other. From their first date, they sat with elbows touching, moving napkins and menus to the same side, arm over arm as their forks poached bites from their shared plates. Here, though, the tables are too square, and a pole blocks the middle, so they don’t touch beneath the table at all, although she holds his warm hand in her cold one, feeling the dimples in his ring beneath her thumbnail, as if she could peel the silver away.  

Then comes the blueberry soda: fizzy, sweet, different. New. A question bubbles up from the bottle. She’s the one to ask it—the meaning of life. They’ve talked about it before, of course.

It’s a first-date question, but they’re two thousand one hundred and ninety-five dates in, so maybe it’s time they rewound back to the beginning.

He says what he’s always said: “It means nothing, but you make your own meaning.”

The question must’ve been wrong. She frowns at it, willing it to sharpen at the edges against a mental whetstone, wanting to hear thoughts that could draw blood.

“I just like thinking about these things,” she says, shrinking. “I want to doubt myself. I want to doubt everything.”

“Does that you mean you want to doubt us, too?” His expression is that of a wounded baby bunny, and she can’t help but rush to protect him.

“No,” she lies. “I’d never doubt you, silly.” Well, maybe that is true after all. It’s the other half of the equation that gives her an existential itch: the “me” independent of “you” in that “us.” She wants to separate solute and solvent so that they’re no longer homogenous and marvel at herself under a microscope, knowing full well that “me” is not an equation nor a solution but rather a Cheshire cat that shifts every time she tries to pin it down with her gaze.

He kisses her hand, and she blurts out, “What do you think of when you stare off into space?”

Her husband blinks at her. “Nothing.”

“Nothing at all?”

“I guess I just notice what’s in front of me. Like right now, I’m thinking about how beautiful you are.”

His answer is not a wrong answer because there’s no such thing. Though she smiles demurely, a barb of disappointment finds her anyway.

He looks down at his phone to check the weather. “What’s got you thinking about all this?”

Her heart perks up at the question. She fumbles an explanation of her readings about the idea of suicide in the face of a meaningless, contradictory existence. Too many inelegant “somethings” and “likes” get thrown in with Camus’s precise phrasings. As she falters along, her declarations suddenly feel obscene under the romantic restaurant lighting, beneath the stare of the bright-colored abstract paintings on the walls. So she trails off in the middle, and instead of continuing her sentence, her husband says:

“Should we get dessert?”

For the rest of the meal, they smile at each other and make pleasant observations about the size of their entrees, the crunchiness of the garlic bread. They discuss their plans, ready their leg muscles for quiet hours of hiking. She lets the myth of Sisyphus melt away as her husband takes pictures of the restaurant, their food, her—capturing only what can be seen.

She loves him all the same. He doesn’t need to doubt, has no doubts, no doubts have found him. The glass bottle of blueberry soda sweats in her hand, and the fizzy sweetness lingers on her tongue. It’s not so different, really, from what she knows: the sting of carbonation, the taste of blueberries, the familiar packaged as novelty.

Diane Callahan strives to capture her sliver of the universe through writing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. As a developmental editor and ghostplotter, she spends her days shaping stories. Her YouTube channel Quotidian Writer provides practical tips for aspiring authors. You can read her work in ConsequenceTales to TerrifyShort ÉditionTranslunar Travelers LoungeRiddled with ArrowsRust+Moth, and The Sunlight Press, among others. Follow her writing, reading, baking, and traveling exploits on Twitter: @quotidianwriter.

More places to submit your flash fiction.

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction is one very small publisher of flash fiction – there are many other publishers looking for your stories! I am sharing a few that have come to my attention, and I’ll do this periodically on the site from now on. If you wish to recommend others, please email me for consideration (see the Contact page).

Writers, please remember to do your research before you submit your work to any publication: read and understand all of the details of their guidelines and contract (if issued). I am posting this list for informational purposes only. I don’t know anything about the publications listed and I am not supporting them in any way.

Alphabet Box – United States

The Arcanist – United States

The Birdseed – United States

Freefall Magazine – Canada

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction is now open to submissions!

Here we go! I’m excited to announce that Paper Butterfly is finally open to submissions of your finest flash fiction! You’ll have until Tuesday, November 30 to send me your work. If you’ve submitted to Paper Butterfly in the past, please note a couple of very important changes for this year:

***You will be submitting your work to a different email address. If you send anything to the old address, I won’t look at it, so please ensure you are using the right one.

***In the past, there were no limits on the number of stories you could submit during a submissions call. Effective immediately, you will be able to submit up to two (2) stories per submissions call.

#

SUBMISSIONS:  OPEN NOVEMBER 20 TO NOVEMBER 30, 2021

YES, PLEASE:

Flash fiction stories only.  Word count: 1,000 or less.

English language only.

Original work only.

Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, humour, western, mystery, literary…and any variation or combination thereof.  If in doubt, send it along – you never know.

Multiple submissions:  feel free to send up to TWO (2) submissions during the reading period.  Please send each submission in separate emails.

Simultaneous submissions: all good. If your story is selected for publication elsewhere, please contact me right away to withdraw it from my consideration.

NO, THANK YOU:

Word count over the limit.

Poetry, non-fiction, essays, children’s stories, anything other than flash fiction.

Erotica, excessive gore, abuse, or ‘isms such as racism, sexism, etc..

Overly saucy language.  I don’t mind swear words, I just would prefer to keep the content on the site closer to the PG side of things.

Reprints.

Stories sent outside of the reading period.

Artwork.

Queries. They’re not necessary.  Send me your work if you think there’s a chance I might like it.  Please don’t ask me about your submission after you’ve sent it. I will get back to you by December 31, 2021.

FORMATTING:

I’m not picky about fonts or font sizes or margins or paragraph indentations or anything of the sort.  I will format your work to fit the site if it is accepted for publication.  If your story has an experimental form and I accept it, we’ll work together to ensure it is posted properly.

Cover letters are not required.

Your contact information (name, email address) MUST be included somewhere in your submission.

Please watch your spelling and grammar – if your story is littered with errors, I am likely to give it less of a chance.  Don’t worry about American/Canadian/British spelling; I’ll sort it all out.

Submissions may be an attachment (.rtf, .docx., .doc) or pasted into the body of your email – it’s up to you.

If your work is accepted and edits are required, I will make them and send you the proof for confirmation before publication on the website.

If your work is accepted, I will ask for a short bio.  This will be an opportunity to add a link to your author’s website or blog.

REMUNERATION:

If your story is accepted for publication, you will be paid $15.00 (Canadian funds).  Please note that if you live in countries outside of Canada, the exchange rate may mean you don’t quite make fifteen bucks from your story.  I’m sorry about that, but if it’s a problem, please don’t send me your work.  Payment will be issued via PayPal.  In order to receive payment, your PayPal email address must be provided to me.

  • If your story is selected during the November reading period for publication in 2022, payment will be issued on or before January 15, 2022.

PUBLICATION:

Authors retain all rights to their work.

Bear in mind that if your story is posted on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction (or anywhere else on the Internet, for that matter), you may not be able to submit it to another publisher as it will be considered a “reprint.”

If, for some reason, you wish to withdraw your story from Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction’s website, please send me a message and I’ll remove it as quickly as I can.  Again, it will still count as a “reprint” in the view of a future publisher, even if it has only been posted for a short time.

If your story is accepted, I will let you know when I plan to post it on the website.  It will be posted on the first day of that month.

OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW:

I will send you a confirmation of receipt of your story within 72 hours of your submission.

I must apologize, but I cannot offer more than a form rejection letter at this time.

SEND SUBMISSIONS to paperbutterflyflash1@outlook.com. (That’s a numeral after the word paperbutterflyflash, not a letter.) I will not consider submissions sent outside of the reading period, so double check that it is open before sending me your work.

I’m looking forward to seeing your work!

Sheryl

Rob Francis – The Squatter

The Squatter

by Rob Francis

Nick stubbed his cigarette out on the paving slabs and placed the still-warm dog-end in his jacket pocket before he crossed the threshold of No. 60. It wouldn’t do to show any disrespect. The front door was long gone, but he hesitated a moment anyway, considering how best to announce himself. He glanced back at the office Merc, its shining blue magnificence incongruous in the derelict street. Don gave him a thumbs-up from behind the wheel. Nick nodded.

“Prick,” he muttered through clenched teeth. He shifted the model house he held against the crook of his elbow and cleared his throat. Keep it simple, he decided.

“So. I’m coming in now.”

The front entrance opened onto the living room, No. 60 being a late Victorian two-up, two-down terrace. Everything was the same as the last time he’d visited. Wooden floor sturdy but covered in dust. Old wallpaper hanging down in reams, like peeling skin. Gaping holes in the plaster where thieves had ripped wiring or pipes from the dilapidated house. Rotten-brick chimney, the fireplace clogged with detritus: old clothes, pamphlets, food containers. A stink of damp and mould that tickled his nose.

They’d found the Simmons boy in the front of that fireplace. Nick hadn’t been there in person, but he’d seen the photos.

“Afternoon,” said Nick, to the aching silence. “I’m Nick Pearson, of Moggridge, Pearson and Tench. We’re housing developers.” He looked back through the open door, though from his position all he could see was the waist-high weeds that choked the tiny front yard. “My partner Don Tench is outside.”

If he could be called a partner. Nick had seen the emails Don had sent his wife. And her encouraging replies. He didn’t know what either of them was thinking. They both had kids, after all.  

“I know you’ve been here for a long time. Maybe as long as the house. I’m not sure how these things work. City records show these went up about 1890, so that’s a good hundred and thirty years. I’m guessing you were here by 1900 at least. That’s the earliest record I could find. When the mother burned her baby alive in its crib. I’m assuming that was you. That, and all the others up to the Simmons boy.”

And what a list it was. Almost a dozen incidents over the years, the last couple after the house had been abandoned. Murders, fatal accidents, suicides. Nick had sensed something amiss that first time he visited No. 60, back when they were starting to plan the new estate. High Hallows: Quality Homes for Quality People. Whatever that meant. It was Don’s stupid tagline.

The Simmons boy had confirmed it. The vagrant who did it — if he did it — had no memory of the act, and no history of violence. Said he’d only come in to shelter from the rain.

Nick sighed. “Here’s how it is. We’re knocking the place down. Razing the entire street. All new houses. We — I — don’t want any trouble. Accidents, workers killed and so forth. So. I have a proposition.”

Because that’s how the world worked. Nick believed in God, and when he prayed, he didn’t ask Him for anything. Because why would God give anything for free? No. He offered deals. Look after little May and Ellie, he’d say. Keep them safe. Keep Clara happy and loving. (And faithful.) And I’ll be the best husband and father I can. And if there’s suffering to be done, send it my way. Not theirs. Or better yet, send it to someone else entirely.

Whatever was in this house wasn’t anything like God. But he thought the same principles would work.

He crossed to where the boy’s ragged body had lain and placed the model house carefully on the boards. He’d made it himself from plans he’d found in the city archives, a scaled replica of No. 60 in balsa wood and foam.

“If we tear it down and you’re still here, things’ll go bad. I can tell. No knowing where you might end up. So.” He patted the model. “Move in here, on a temporary basis. Just for a little while. Then we’ll get you rehoused somewhere better, I promise. I never go back on a deal.”

He walked to the door to give the house — or whatever occupied it — some time to consider the offer. In the Merc, Don held up his hand and tapped his watch. Time was wasting. Nick took a few deep breaths, scenting the yard’s wildflowers with their undertone of decay, then nodded. Did he hear something from the room? A faint scraping on the boards? He went back inside.

When he lifted the house, it felt just a little heavier. He smiled.

Back at the car, Don was checking his phone when Nick slipped into the passenger seat, resting the house on his knee. Don put the phone away.

“All good? We’ll be late for the meeting.”

“Sure.” Nick nodded to the model. “Just needed to check a few things before we schedule the demo.”

Don smiled. “That’s a nice miniature. Man, our Simon would love that. He’s well into all kinds of models and things. Bedroom full of ‘em.”

“Yeah? Well, he can have it.”

“What? Oh no, I didn’t mean—”

“Really. I don’t need it anymore. It’s served its purpose.”

“Thanks, Nick!” Don looked genuinely pleased.

“No problem, Don. Happy for it to go to a good home.”

Don pulled the car away from the curb and turned towards the bypass. “You’re a good man, Nick.”

“You said it.”

They drove in companionable silence through the ruined streets.

Rob Francis is an academic and writer based in London. He mainly writes short fantasy and horror, and his stories have appeared in magazines such as The Arcanist, Apparition Lit, Metaphorosis, Tales to Terrify and Novel Noctule. Rob has also contributed stories to several anthologies, including DeadSteam by Grimmer & Grimmer, Under the Full Moon’s Light by Owl Hollow Press, and Scare Me by Esskaye Books. He is an affiliate member of the HWA. Rob lurks on Twitter @RAFurbaneco

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction is now open to submissions! UPDATE: CLOSED

SUBMISSIONS:  OPEN TO SUBMISSIONS BETWEEN OCTOBER 20, 2020 AND NOVEMBER 5, 2020 ~   NOW CLOSED!

YES, PLEASE:

Flash fiction stories only.  Word count: 1,000 or less.

English language only.

Original work only.

Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, humour, western, mystery, literary…and any variation or combination thereof.  If in doubt, send it along – you never know.

Multiple submissions:  feel free to send as many submissions as you wish to during the reading period.  Please send each submission in separate emails.

Simultaneous submissions: all good. If your story is selected for publication elsewhere, please contact me right away to withdraw it from my consideration.

NO, THANK YOU:

Word count over the limit.

Poetry, non-fiction, essays, children’s stories, anything other than flash fiction.

Erotica, excessive gore, abuse, or ‘isms such as racism, sexism, etc..

Overly saucy language.  I don’t mind swear words, I just would prefer to keep the content on the site closer to the PG side of things.

Reprints.

Stories sent outside of the reading period.

Artwork.

Queries. They’re not necessary.  Send me your work if you think there’s a chance I might like it.  Please don’t ask me about your submission after you’ve sent it. I will get back to you by December 15, 2020.  

FORMATTING:

I’m not picky about fonts or font sizes or margins or paragraph indentations or anything of the sort.  I will format your work to fit the site if it is accepted for publication.  If your story has an experimental form and I accept it, we’ll work together to ensure it is posted properly.

Cover letters are not required.

Your contact information (name, email address) MUST be included somewhere in your submission.

Please watch your spelling and grammar – if your story is littered with errors, I am likely to give it less of a chance.  Don’t worry about American/Canadian/British spelling; I’ll sort it all out.

Submissions may be an attachment (.rtf, .docx., .doc) or pasted into the body of your email – it’s up to you.

If edits are required, I will make them and send you the proof for confirmation before publication on the website.

If your work is accepted, I will ask for a short bio.  This will be an opportunity to add a link to your author’s website or blog.

REMUNERATION:

If your story is accepted for publication, you will be paid $15.00 (Canadian funds).  Please note that if you live in countries outside of Canada, the exchange rate may mean you don’t quite make fifteen bucks from your story.  I’m sorry about that, but if it’s a problem, please don’t send me your work.  Payment will be issued via PayPal.  In order to receive payment, your PayPal email address must be provided to me.

  • If your story is selected for publication during the October/November reading period, payment will be issued on or before January 15, 2021.

PUBLICATION:

Authors retain all rights to their work.

Bear in mind that if your story is posted on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction (or anywhere else on the Internet, for that matter), you may not be able to submit it to another publisher as it will be considered a “reprint.”

If, for some reason, you wish to withdraw your story from Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction’s website, please send me a message and I’ll remove it as quickly as I can.  Again, it will still count as a “reprint” in the view of a future publisher, even if it has only been posted for a short time.

If your story is accepted, I will let you know when I plan to post it on the website.  It will be posted on the first day of that month. 

OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW:

I will send you a confirmation of receipt of your story within 72 hours of your submission.

I must apologize, but I cannot offer more than a form rejection letter at this time.

SEND SUBMISSIONS to shrob17(at)hotmail(dot)ca. I will not consider submissions sent outside of the reading period, so double check that it is open before sending me your work.

I’m looking forward to seeing your work!

Sheryl

From one of Paper Butterfly’s authors: Scott Hughes.

I’m delighted to give a huge shout out to author Scott Hughes and his most recent work!  His story “The Goblin’s Lament” was featured in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in April 2018 (check it out here!).

The Last Book You’ll Ever Read
A mysterious book on your doorstep, a man trying to outrun an otherworldly horror, an elderly woman who creates strange concrete creatures, a computer that isn’t what it seems, an enigmatic nothingness closing in on someone’s house… The Last Book You’ll Ever Read is a collection of five macabre tales that you won’t soon forget. Available now from Weasel Press: https://www.amazon.com/dp/194871227X
LBYERcover
The Universe You Swallowed Whole
The poems in The Universe You Swallowed Whole fly from the microcosm of ripples in a lake to the macrocosm of light bending in a black hole, from math to jazz, from informal to formal, from the here-and-now to the hereafter. This short book contains an infinite universe—one that you will long to return to again and again. Available for pre-order now from Finishing Line Press: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-universe-you-swallowed-whole-by-scott-hughes/
Hughes_Scott_COV_EM

ScottHughes1

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.

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.  

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.