Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Flash Fiction by Rick Hartwell

For Whom the Ducks Call
(A Hymn on Hemingway)
Pullman let his eyes wander upward to the blue afternoon sky. His gaze caught the tightly held vee formation of the planes returning from the bomb-run against the pale indigo background and the glinting silver of the planes soon gave way to the pale belly feathers of the mallards swooping south over Venice. Oblivious to almost everything, Pullman slowly raised the barrel to the pale-silver, glinting feathers, inhaled and let out half a breath, and squeezed off a shot leading just enough to be certain not to ruin the meat. Nothing happened at first. The duck didn’t fall and the plane didn’t fall and even the sky didn’t fall.
Then Pullman began to be aware of the other hunters again. Faint shots echoed up to him on the rise, but still the vee continued unbroken towards the horizon.
When the second bullet slammed into Pressure Pullman, he swung to his left leaving ducks and Venice behind and further increasing the flow of blood from the first wound, the wound he had ignored at first. It had started as an almost orange trickle coursing down from his left shoulder and soaking across his chest to pool in the dirt by his right side. Now that he’d swung left, the trickle had reversed its course and changed to a deep scarlet. This scarlet flowed in a steady stream back across his chest, merging with a second big river pulsing a deep purple from a new spring near his heart where the second bullet had exited.
“I shouldn’t have turned my back on the bloody bastards, Grace. That’s my second mistake this year. I must be getting old. Besides, you can never trust another hunter in this damned country. It’s no good for hunting.”
Grace didn’t pay much attention. She’d heard this all before. Now, she knew, he’d say something about the other country where if you paid the hunters enough, they wouldn’t shoot you. Nobody would shoot you if you paid them enough. But in this country you couldn’t pay anyone not to shoot you. It didn’t matter that these weren’t hunters, not real hunters, and it didn’t matter that he hadn’t paid them and it didn’t matter that they didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
“Nothing. Nothing! Nothing matters!” Pullman finished.
Yes, she’d heard it all before he thought. Even before Venice. She didn’t understand it, of course. Not then and not now. She was female and couldn’t understand the joy of killing cleanly and being cleanly killed and of paying and being paid. Dumb broad, he thought.
He heard the hunters gathering for the final assault and he knew that this last defense was indefensible, but it was what he must do, had to do. He had no cover here, not even concealment, and he knew what he had to do about that too.
Pullman patted Grace affectionately on the rump and drew his Smith and Wesson .45 cleanly from the holster. He sighted at the intersection of an imaginary line drawn vertically from the part of her hair to the bridge of her nose, and one horizontally from one ear lobe to the other.
“You don’t really like women, do you Pressure?”
“That’s not true. It’s not pertinent either. This way we can finally be merged together and become one. You can become just as good as me, almost.”
He pulled the trigger smoothly and blew her brains out neatly, dropping her exactly where he had planned, forming a slight barricade against the approaching hunters.
He’d never had her. There hadn’t been enough time. But if he couldn’t have Grace under Pressure, he’d be damned if anyone else could. And besides, it had been a clean shot, bringing her down without bruising the meat. He pulled Grace closer, melting them together. He was remembering Venice and he could almost hear the call of the ducks.

Pullman didn’t notice the vee in the darkening sky overhead.
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school (remember the hormonally-challenged?) English teacher living in Moreno Valley, California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather be still tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Flash Fiction by Bob Brill

Silence in the Woods

Brother Joseph sat quietly on a fallen log listening to the sound of the brook. He raised his bamboo flute to his lips, took a breath and set himself to blow. Just then he heard a violent snapping of twigs, and a boy, perhaps ten years old, came crashing out of the brush. He spied Brother Joseph and, veering from his course, ran up to him crying, "Help. Help me." He collapsed at Brother Joseph's feet, gasping for breath, "Man broke into house. Got my folks at gunpoint. Says he's gonna kill 'em. I got away. Need help."

"Did you call 911?"

"Got a phone?"

"No. Up at the abbey. Come with me. I'll show you the way."  Brother Joseph set down his flute, picked up his crutches, climbed to his feet, hobbled slowly up the trail.

"Can't you go any faster?" cried the boy.

"You go on ahead. It's just a hundred yards up this trail. Take the right hand fork. Big wooden building."

The boy said nothing, just dashed away, quickly disappearing from sight. Brother Joseph took a few more steps, then stopped. He'll b
e in good hands now, he thought. Nothing more I can do. He returned to his log. Sat down. Picked up his flute. His heart was pounding hard. He listened to the song of the brook as it coursed over the stones. He brought the flute to his lips. Someone was coming up the path with slow measured steps. A bolt of fear shot through Brother Joseph when he thought it might be the gunman.  His friend, the postman, emerged into the clearing with a sack of mail.

"Hi ho, Brother Joseph," he called. "A beautiful fine day it is to be carrying a sack full of bills to the abbey. Here is your Smithsonian Magazine."

"Oh, look at this," said Brother Joseph, taking the magazine.  "What is this strange bird on the cover? It's a hoatzin, whatever that is." He opened the magazine, searching for the cover article. His eyes fell on a photograph of a gigantic robot arm, so delicate, said the caption, that it could juggle three eggs without breaking them. Quickly he closed the magazine. "Please, my friend, take this up to the abbey. I'll look at it later."

"Busy?"  asked the postman.

"Busy trying to quiet my busy mind. Why, just now ... never mind.  I'll tell you later."

"I see how it is with you, my friend. I'll be on my way."

After the postman left, Brother Joseph tried to settle down, but he kept thinking about the boy. What was happening up at the
abbey? What about the boy's parents? An armed psychopath less than a mile away. Why hadn't he gone to a neighbor for help?  Probably one of those lone houses at the edge of the woods. The woods would be safest. Good instinct to run for cover in the woods. A robot juggling eggs. What for? Who would want to?

He couldn't silence the voices in his head. Then he realized that by trying to calm himself enough to play his flute he was doing it backward. The trick, he knew from long experience, was just to play the flute until the babbling voices stopped. He raised the flute to his lips and blew a note. A long wavering note that came from his busy mind, then a quick string of notes, still connected to his thoughts. As he played he again became aware of the brook singing among the stones and he answered the watery song with his own song, the notes now coming from deep within him, flowing harmoniously with the stream. He was focused now. The world narrowed to the water music mingling with the fluty wind music, no room for thoughts, no other being but here now.

Once more silence in the woods, except for the song of a bamboo flute, a running brook, a distant gunshot.

Bob Brill is a retired computer programmer and digital artist. He is now devoting his energies to writing fiction and poetry. His novellas, short stories and more than 100 poems have appeared in more than two dozen online magazines, print journals, and anthologies.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Flash Fiction by Art Carey

A Wedding Gift to Remember

        Wind gusted off the ocean, sandpapering the weathered sides of the beach house and rattling the wood shutters.  Outside, a chair blew over with a bang.  November's storms had arrived.  Summer on the cape was delightful, but fall weather was iffy.

         Ellie took a sip of non-alcoholic wine, grimaced, and turned on a lamp by the couch.  Her parents had been wonderful about the pregnancy.  They were always just a telephone call and a hug away.

         The chick-lit novel she'd been reading didn't hold her attention.  Ellie shoved the book aside but not before removing the envelope serving as a bookmark.  She took out the embossed invitation inside and read it again:  Sen. and Mrs. John L. Fley and Mr. and Mrs. Mark F. Jones request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their children Shanon Ann Fley and Richard Malcolm Jones…
         She didn't bother to read about the wedding ceremony or the reception at the country club.  They were over and done, like her brief affair with the groom.
         Richard had breezed into his sales manager's job at the auto dealership with a smile, a ready
laugh, and the confidence that comes of graduating from Dartmouth and going to work at a business owned by his father.  He cast his eyes about the office and stopped with Ellie, slim and blonde.  Soon they were inseparable, attending summer stock productions, dining at seafood restaurants, and enjoying art house movies.
“This is wonderful,” he said one moonlit evening, “but I want more time with you alone.”  He gazed into her eyes as they walked barefoot on the beach, savoring the salty air. Waves lapped softly at the shoreline, and tendrils of foam collapsed and vanished into the sand.

“My parents have a beach house,” she said, mischievously. “We could be alone there.”

He paused. “Really?”

Ellie sighed and looked about the room, cluttered with seashells, polished glass and other treasures from beachcombing. It had been a weekend to remember.

And then Richard met Shannon. She was everything Ellie wasn’t: the graduate of a prestigious women’s college, a lawyer, and the daughter of a U.S. senator.

Richard dumped her. Ellie was shocked by his betrayal and his reaction to the news she was pregnant.

“Whose baby is it?” he demanded.

“Why yours of course,” she said, taken aback. “We can get a paternity test if…

“Forget it.” He licked his lips. “I can get some money if you…”

“No,” she said. “No!”

He turned away. “Then it would be better if we didn’t see each other any more.”

That got easier the next day when she was fired.

The wedding invitation came as a surprise. She hadn’t gone, of course. But she decided to send a wedding gift. What could she give Richard and his bride that would stand out among the other gifts? Ellie took another sip of tart wine, grimacing again. Boy, could she use a glass of real chardonnay. After thinking about an appropriate wedding present, she settled finally on glassware. But not just any glassware.

The newlyweds would be back from their honeymoon in the Bahamas now, ready to open presents. Hers would be a surprise. She could imagine Richard’s bride saying, “Well, here’s a weird gift from one of your old girlfriends. She sent an ordinary water glass. Why, there are even fingerprints on it.”

Ellie smiled. They’d have a laugh at her and then  notice the two pieces of paper under the glass. They’d read them. And then the laughing would stop.

The glass had come from a luncheon meeting at the auto agency on her last day of work. When everyone had left the room, Ellie had picked up a water glass where Richard had been sitting. The first piece of paper was a lab report detailing what the glass revealed — his DNA. The second was a note:

Hi, Dick. You can look forward to being a dad as soon as the baby is born and I find out its DNA and match it with yours. Better  get ready to break out your checkbook!

Love (not), Ellie.
Arthur Carey is a former newspaper reporter and journalism instructor who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He is a member of the California Writers Club. His fiction has appeared in print and Internet publications, including Pedestal, Funny Times, Eclectic Flash, Writers’ Journal, and Still Crazy. He is the author of “The Gender War,” a humor novel available on Amazon.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Flash Fiction by Jim Meirose


Candy is sweet.  Lovingly he stripped the wrapper from the candy and let it waft to the floor.  The candy lay lightly in his hand.  He let the sweet candy caress his tongue and closed his eyes until it was fully dissolved; it was at this point that the bullet entered his brain.

Jim Meirose's work has appeared in numerous journals, including the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards.  Two collections of his short work have been published and his novels, Claire and Monkey are available from Amazon.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Flash Fiction by Abigail Wyatt

The Beachhead
    'Look,' you say, 'the May is coming out. Soon it will be summer.'
    You are staring out the window, your hands immersed in a bowl of cooling soapy water.  Something about the sag of your shoulders gnaws at my peace.
    'Are you alright?'
    It's a coded question. Your heart has been troubling you lately. You already have four stents. They want to make it six.
    'I'm fine,' you say. Your tone is cheery but you don't turn to look at me. 'Why don't we get out for a bit? A walk will do us good.'
    Today's fine weather has arrived like an unexpected holiday. It has comes in the wake of a winter not cold but grey and interminably wet. For months on end, we were shrouded in mists and pressed upon by skies that sought to stifle us. No relief, no respite. No surprise when our spirits gave way.
     Now, though, all the trees are in leaf and the earth wears green and yellow. The beech trees, visible from our bedroom window, are a glory of tender new growth. There is a breeze, sure enough, but the sky is painted blue, as blue as it might be in a picture book. It is pleasant to watch the tree tops stir and feel the sun's rays through the glass.
Our chosen destination is Crenver Grove, an expanse of ancient woodland. I put on my winter hat and my pink wellington boots. With so much rain over so many weeks the ground is sure to be sodden. You wear your scarf as well as your hat which you pull down over your ears.
    It was in Crenver Grove, before we met, that you went walking alone one winter's morning, encountering there, or so you like to tell me, the ghost of a great white dog. Now the woodland is properly 'managed'. You remark on its greatly altered character. Then you take my hand and, shouldering your camera, set off down a winding path. Beneath the soles of my candy pink boots the woodland floor is cushioned by leaf mould. The breeze nips at our noses and ears but the new season stirs us just the same.
'Here it is.'
    You hurry ahead, calling over your shoulder.  Your cheeks are flushed and your hat is on crooked, your blue-grey eyes are full of light. 
    'This is the trench I wanted to show you. Can you see how the earth falls away?'
    You trace the outline of what is, indeed, a trench by pacing its length. Your boots stir up the mush of twigs and dead leaves. I follow behind.
    'On this side, see, there's a gentle curve. That's where they would have approached it. On the other side, though, is steeper bank. That’s where they would have thrown themselves down.'
       I stand on the brink where the earth tips away and try to catch the echo of their footfall. I listen for their laughter, their youthful voices, perhaps the fading notes of a song. At times, no doubt, they brooded and complained as they sat with their backs against these tree trunks, smoking, talking, making plans, remembering their girls back home.
     'It was a practice trench.' Your words break my thoughts. 'Of course, they would have needed to practise. To be able to make a beachhead you need to dig pretty fast. They must have been here, face down in the soil, right on this spot where we are standing. It was probably a beautiful day, a day much like today.'
   'And then what?'
    I know the answer but I can't keep from asking the question.
   'And then they would have been loaded in trucks and taken to Trevebah to embark.  They would have been marched down to the water’s edge and then onto the boat. They next thing they would have known they would have been halfway to Omaha. It all started right here, a whole long lifetime ago.'
      I think about this, a whole lifetime lost, a whole, long lifetime: chances not taken, leaden skies, a woodland on the brink turning green. For them, a few minutes of ear-splitting noise, blood and flailing bodies.  A forest of saplings, of tall young men who will stay forever green.
    We are silent for a long time before you raise your camera. Your photograph bears witness to the beauty they lost. You take my hand. We walk on in silence.  My heart is full of gratitude for the fact that yours beats on.
Abigail Wyatt was born an Essex girl but has lived most of her adult life in Cornwall. Since 2008, her poetry and short fiction, have been published in more than seventy outlets including a number of poetry and prose anthologies. She is a founding member of the Red River Poetry Collective and one of the editors of Poetry24.  Once a teacher of English, Abigail now works part-time in a cafĂ© and devotes as much time as possible to her writing. Her collection of short fiction, Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Stories, is available from here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Flash Fiction by David O'Neal

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

    Gone the bustling amusement park at Ocean Beach, gone Skateland and Playland, gone into burnt brick and ruined concrete walls are the once sprawling Sutro Baths, gone the Chateau-like Cliff House which exists only in old pictures and postcards.

    But the slow-sloping Beach at the edge of the infinite ocean is there in all its natural stolid solidity and aloneness: five miles of it from Lands End, where tourists gather for views of the Golden Gate and Marin Headlands, south to the Fort Funston cliffs where moth-like hang gliders soar 500 feet over the wind-swept land, riding the ridge-lift, held aloft by the up-drafts. Tiny Bank Swallows nest in the cliffs there – their only known coastal nesting site. Ocean Beach, paralleled by the Great Highway, is two hundred yards wide all the way, its flatness modulated by occasional low sand dunes. 

    It’s wind, wind, wind at Ocean Beach: strong wind, whooshing wind, whipping wind, forever wind, cold, steady, unrelenting wind. Wind carves waves, froths the breakers, and forms white-caps in the distance. Wind drives the sea into the shore, and the constant sounds of wind and waves together seemingly radiate from far beyond the horizon of incoming swells; the crash, roar, dip and hush; the pulse, shape and duration of multiple sea and wind sounds; the rush, constant pounding and plangent resonance of ocean and air; the weight and power of the ocean tamed only in small measure by the Beach. And shrill calls of snowy plovers, gulls, geese, ravens, pelicans, cormorants.
The slippery visual wash of waves; the sight of their rhythmic rise, thrust, collapse and retreat; their differing motions; their curves, filigrees and lacey shapes; the ever changing dots, specks and lines, jagged and smooth, on the moody ever-changing sea surface; inlay of scintillating light; tankers diminished by distance to toy boats; the grainy sand underfoot and in the hand; the briny taste and smell; salt on the lips. Do onlookers not see inward and stare into the sea-tides of their souls?

    All San Francisco comes here. Waders like the gentle slope of the Beach and children play in the foamy spoor and backflow of the water; flyers of kites unloose their birds and dragons to the wind; surf-casters cast out; sand sculptors compete in the annual contest. Surfers love the heavy swells and miles of beach break: they mount the liquid planes below and above the rising waves and read the changes and shapes of the swells, then glide down cutting back and forth along the long spiral roll of falling wave crests. Kite-surfers, lift-pulled by the wind, slide and glide colorfully through the glassy shallows. Warming bonfires and barbeques glow on the beach day and night while runners and bikers flow on the sidewalks of the Great Highway.

    Yet swimmers beware! Lives have been lost from the achingly cold water, strong rip tides, currents and undertows, and fierce waves. Wind driven waves have grounded many ships and pounded them to pieces on Seal Rocks and against the jagged cliffs at either end of the Beach.  Once in a while, at low tide, the ghostly hull of the King Phillip, an old clipper ship wrecked in 1878, surfaces eerily through the sand at windswept Ocean Beach.
David O’Neal is a retired rare book dealer now enjoying a second career as a writer, especially of poetry. His recent creative work has been published in The Eclectic Muse, Vision Magazine, Mississippi Crow, Two Hawks Quarterly, The New York Times, The Lyric, Open Minds Quarterly, Bird Keeper, The Magazine of the Parrot Society U.K., etc. and in anthologies such as The Marin Poets Anthology, Voices of Bi-Polar Disorder, Nurturing Paws, and Science Poetry. He has also written several books and compiled and edited Babbling Birds: An Anthology of Poems about Parrots from Antiquity to the Present.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Flash Fiction by David MacPherson

How to be Calm
If anyone asked, Ray would say, “The most important part of getaway driving is looking calm while waiting for them to come back. When they do return all crazed and hopped up, that’s when you are your most calm. That’s when you just go with it, whatever it is.”
He remembered this as he waited down from the jewelry store. It was a big store. one of the biggest he’d seen. In his head, Ray began to list all the songs by the Rolling Stones that he could think of, which was his trick for looking relaxed and in his place.
The back door opened up and three people jumped in. They peeled off their masks and stored their guns and one of them barked, “Hit it.”
Ray looked in the rear view window and then turned all the way around. “Wait a minute, who are you guys?”
There were three men, all who were strangers. The guy in the middle, with the long stringy hair, “Damn, we went into the wrong getaway car again.” The other guys groaned.
Ray shouted, “What do you mean wrong getaway car? How many getaway cars do you think there are?”
The round guy on the left shrugged. ‘I think there were three robberies going on when we came in. So maybe four getaway cars probably. It’s a big store. It does a lot of volume.”
The tall guy on the right looked behind him, “Can we get going already?”
“I’m not your getaway driver. Find yours, I’m waiting for my crew,” Ray said.
The middle guy said, with a little panic in his voice, “I’m sure they’ll be fine. There’s always cars ready to book out of anywhere. Look around you, there’s a ton of cars. So now you are in our crew. Let’s go, you’ll get your cut.”
“But they are my bros, I’ve been with them for ever.”
The tall guy said, ‘Really your bros? They didn’t look down on you? They didn’t make fun of the guy with the car? They wouldn’t leave you here?”
Ray turned back to the wheel and thought. His crew had three guys. Frank threw cigarettes in his direction. Jimmy called him an idiot grease monkey and Mike never even looked at him. His crew, looking for any convenient getaway car.
Ray popped the clutch and shot the car into traffic, going wherever you go when you need to flee.