By Quenby Eisenacher
The Narrow Road
The road doesn’t run in a straight line, splitting the vast plain in half. It curves back and forth, winding around nothing, a ribbon of hard-packed dirt and stones that meanders toward the silvery haze of the horizon. There’s a cloud of dust thrown up behind the bus, the rear windows already coated with a layer of grime that even the daylight can’t penetrate. Every few minutes, one of the larger stones gets chucked up into the undercarriage, striking hard and fast, the sound too much like a gunshot. A few of the children wince at the noise, their eyes squeezing shut, scuffed skin pulled taut over their white knuckles. Karin glances at the boy beside her, the one with the mud caked into the ends of his straw-colored hair. She could speak to him, she thinks, just a few words to show that she doesn’t want to be a stranger. But the words fail to come, her tongue clinging to the roof of her mouth, swollen and thick, as if she’s forgotten how to make it work.
Over another bump and she closes her eyes, her toes curling inside the stiff brown shoes on her feet. Swinging her right leg, she taps the seat in front of her with the tip of her cracked toe, the edge of her blue sock just visible where the upper pulls away from the sole. The head in front of her doesn’t turn, black braids neatly parted and tied up at the bottom with little bits of red ribbon. Karin looks at the ribbon for a moment, at the dull film of dust hiding the shine of satin from view. Her eyes are still fixed on the vivid strips of cloth as her fingers find her own hair, loose and scraggly around her shoulders. She wishes she had ribbon like that, and swings her foot into the back of the seat one more time.
The window is on the other side of her, close enough that she can press her left shoulder against the glass and silence the rattle inside the frame. There’s not as much dust either, being only a few seats back from the driver. For a moment, she feels bad for the children in the rear, the ones next to the filthy windows, cut off from the light and the scenery trundling past them on all sides. Not that there’s much to see, but it’s better than staring at the floor. Crossing her arms until her hands are hidden inside her sleeves, she leans back, her chin tucking into her shoulder, one dirty lock of hair sliding out from behind her ear as she fixes her gaze on some imaginary spot far off in the distance.
By Ingela Richardson
The author lives with her daughter at the seaside in a rambling, crumbling house full of dogs, cats, an ancient grandmother and an equally ancient retainer who all speak foreign languages.
The young girl was sleeping, her face and hair so pale under the luminous lights that the teacher held her own hand against the girl’s mouth to feel if she was still breathing.
The hospital was deathly silent with pools of light at other beds and the nurse’s station, but there were no other occupants and the nurse was fetching coffee.
“She’s okay,” a voice said and the teacher actually jumped backward in surprise, so deep had been her concentration on the girl’s face.
“Sorry,” the man apologized and extended a hand, “I’m Doctor Smith.”
“Smith?” she said, for want of anything better to say and shook his hand. He shrugged and lifted the girl’s heavily bandaged arms.
“You see?” he said, “If she were dead, the pathologists would be saying she had raised her arms against the knife in self-defense”.
“Against whom?” the teacher asked.
By Steven G. Farrell
An homage to the Bowery Boys movies of the 1930s! This is a wild, humorous and slightly chilling yarn that takes us through the alleys of New York’s Bowery as a group of young hooligans known as the Bowery Irish Clowns tries to stop a killer who seems a lot like a certain Jack the Ripper.
The Ripper on the Bowery
“I got to get on safe ground before the Ripper hits the streets,” Shem fretted out loud as he made a dash for it as soon as the doors of the elevated train opened.
Clarence Darrow Shaw, aka ‘Shem,’ member of the Bowery’s Irish Clown social club and an infamous loafer of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, disembarked the 3rd Avenue Elevated Train at Canal Street. He had spent another fruitless day seeking an executive position on Wall Street; now it was time to get back to his real occupation: goofing off with the other Bowery’s Irish Clowns. The job-hunting façade was just a scam to keep his old man at bay in the Shaw family’s tenement apartment. He would do anything to keep his parents from yelling at him. It usually worked. After coughing-up the fare to and from the city Shem had just enough of the money he had bummed off his Ma for a coffee and piece of pie at “Hughie’s Bohemian Café,” the official hang-out for Bugs and the other Clowns. Hughie Kressin the ancient Yiddish-spewing innkeeper of the Bohemian Café, was an easy touch in spite of all of his ranting at the Irish corner boys who cluttered his place. Shem knew he wouldn’t feel secure until he was with the gang. The Ripper wouldn’t dare step into the holy grounds of the café. Hughie was particular about the quality of the people who stepped into his establishment.
“Gee, Bugs will understand why I can’t get my career off of the ground,” Shem said out loud as he descended the stairways of the station. His moronically bug-eyed looks and mumblings always drew stares. He just knew his folks would start harping on him about going back to his old gig at the Fulton Fish Market. “They’re both nothing but Irish harpies.”
Shem drew a bead on Hughie’s just down the block but his vision was blocked when his Dodgers baseball cap fell over his eyes upon his collision with Squirt Sheridan, the tough newsboy who worked the corner and who was a sworn enemy of the Bowery Irish Clowns. Squirt was known for carrying a switchblade knife.
By Pam Farley
Pamela Farley is an Australian author of dark fiction. She is a member of the Australian Horror Writer’s Association and has had more than a dozen of her short stories published in magazines in Australia and the UK. Pam lives in rural South Australia with family and assorted animals. She works in a country veterinary practice.
Today’s weird tale takes us to a remote farmhouse… at night. The power goes out… Where are the matches? Where’s the cat? What’s that glow through the trees?
Samantha had been away for the weekend with her girlfriends. The break had been fun and all the girls were still laughing raucously when they dropped her at the gate. Her small farm house was ten kilometers from town, and in the still rural-twilight the din the girls made seemed to linger in the air.
As she got out of the car Samantha could hear the telltale clinking of empty Cruiser bottles rolling around on the car’s floor. The girls were singing, loud and off key while she got her bag from the boot. When the tooting vehicle departed there were limbs flailing from all four windows. The car turned at the end of the road and disappeared. Darkness came on suddenly, accompanied by a cool wind. Samantha swayed and clutched the gate post. The three drinks she had gulped down in the last hour had gone to her head. She gave a giggle.
The sensor light failed to come on when Samantha walked to the porch. The area was in shadow and she couldn’t see a thing. She tripped on the metal boot scraper by the door and swore. It was sheer luck when the key in her hand found its way into the lock, and the back door sprung open.
It was darker in the house than it had been outside and Samantha’s hands fumbled along the walls from memory, but there was no response from any of the light switches. More obscenities sprang from her mouth as she realized that the problem was within the fuse box outside. By bumping and feeling her way to the laundry she located the torch on a shelf next to the clothes dryer.
‘At least this still works,’ she muttered to the night.
But the globe glowed dim and she knew it would not last for long. She rushed outside to check the fuses. Panic had rendered her sober and dexterous. A systematic check of the old porcelain plugs soon helped her to identify the blown one. She re-threaded it with the fine steel wire kept inside the power box. But when she replaced the plug and threw the switch there was a loud bang as it blew again.
By Mike Sauve
In the Shade of the Allan Gardens Greenhouse
In the late 19th century George Street “caught the refined tone”* of Toronto’s noblest family mansions on neighboring Jarvis Street. Today it rots and rages with the bitter pulse of strong beer and crack cocaine. Inside Seton House, called Satan House by those in the know, live 600 homeless men. It’s an alternate universe created by the synthetic horror of cheap crack and all the foul additives irresponsibly mixed in. It’s the most dangerous street in Toronto according to police.
So many are high the air is charged with bizarre energy, almost always negative, excluding those heart-wrenching seconds after a crack-blast when euphoric peace blooms for a few seconds before vanishing like it was never there.
Write a short story inspired by this photograph.
National Public Radio’s web site is hosting a three-minute fiction contest. NPR book critic Alan Cheuse will choose a winning story to be read on-air and the best entries get posted on the site. The rules are simple. You just write something that can be read in under three minutes.
My camera is a digital one. Not the old kind with rolls of film in it. I took this photo to show you something about the street where I work. Lots of people there do things the old way. They read newspapers and get on buses to go across town. Things like that. I always think of lists and smeared fingers when I see a newspaper. And I think about people looking for jobs or fast horses. They’re always folding the pages and scanning them while they wait for something else, like a sandwich or a cup of coffee. So that’s why I took the photo of the paper as I passed. No one was using it. They’d left. The place was empty. Not even a person behind the counter, though the door was open. People sometimes leave papers for the next person. Happens all the time on the subway or a plane. ‘Well I’ll just leave it right here in the seat so the next person can have something nice to read.’ Really they’re just littering like a Christian.
I went home and bought a Kindle. Now I can read my news each morning in electronic ink without any smears. It’s under my control and I can have it all delivered before I wake up. When I canceled my paper delivery the representative of the Times spent forty-five minutes on the phone with me trying to find an argument that would keep my driveway on their delivery route. I asked why I should pay for something I can get for free online. He told me that all the people who work at a newspaper need my money so they can keep gathering important news. I told him if someone’s willing to do it for free then it’s free. He said he certainly hoped I would return soon and have a nice day.
I felt like I had started a war.