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March 14, 2012 — 1,272 words

The Birthmark by Nathaniel Tower

By

 

            The first time they made love they were underneath the ladder leading to the hayloft in his grandfather’s barn. He had to make love to her there to prove he wasn’t superstitious. She needed a man who was grounded in reality. For her, he could be anything.

            “Jesse, I think there’s straw up my ass,” she whispered in his ear right before he was about to climax.

            “Jessie, don’t ruin the moment,” he responded.

            No one had called her Jessie until they had met. He chalked up their similar names as a sign. She thought it merely a coincidence. There were other coincidences as well, most notably the similar birthmarks on their left butt cheeks, although he couldn’t always tell for sure that his was a birthmark or that it was on his left cheek.

            She would have laughed at him if she knew that he thought they were making love.

            Making love to her in that barn was the highlight of his life.

            “I love you,” he told her.

            But before he could even utter the final syllable, she had buttoned her blouse and jeans and was off, her bare feet crackling the loose hay with every step.

            He was too stunned to chase her. “Wait,” he called, but there was no one nearby to hear.

            Jesse, a hard-headed man by nature, assumed that Jessie was playing hard to get, so he vowed with his grandfather’s tombstone as his witness that one day he would bring the woman back to the haystack and begin his family.

            Unfortunately, Jessie was quite a bit more elusive than Jesse had anticipated. She was the type of woman that swooped into a town, seduced a handful of man, and then disappeared. He found this out when he asked around and learned she had also slept with his best friend under the name of Florence, although he had called her Flo against her wishes. Jesse harbored no ill will towards his friend, but he was envious that someone else had seen his Jessie’s birthmark, which was what had caused Jesse to fall in love with her.

            With only a butt cheek birthmark to go on, Jesse knew the search would be difficult, but a vow was a vow. Jesse would bring that woman back to the haystack and make love to her again and again until they had a family. He imagined himself caressing that birthmark as she repented for her loose ways.

            The search lasted for days, weeks, months, and years, but he never relented. He had very nearly slept with dozens of women, all of whom seemed to be his Jessie, but he would always check for that birthmark right before the deed, and when their asses came up bare, he confessed to them through sobbing tears. The women undoubtedly would have been furious with him if he hadn’t seemed so pathetic. They each held his naked body in their naked arms, pressing his hair up against their breasts, collecting the tears on their delicate skin.

            This continued for nearly a decade until one comforting woman, a tattoo artist, said to him, “I know her.”

            Almost instantly, the tears dried up, like some clichéd sudden end of a storm giving way to an even more clichéd bright blue sky filled with sun and rainbow.

            “Where is she? Are you sure it’s her? How is she? Is she married?” the questions flowed from his tongue.

            The answers came: “I don’t know,” “pretty sure,” “she’s okay,” and “yes, at least she was.”

            He begged, “Will you help me find her?”

            “Yes,” she said, having already fallen in love with him, secretly hoping that helping him find the invisible woman would cause him to feel the same about her.

            After two years had passed and the money for food and lodging had run almost dry, the woman decided to make her move. “You know, you can call me Jessie if you would like.”

            “It wouldn’t be the same,” he responded.

            “I’ve always wanted to make love under a ladder in a hayloft.”

            “I’ll never make love with a woman other than her.”

            “I can have a birthmark on my ass, too.”

            “But it won’t be the same,” he said again.

            “Sure it will be. You don’t know squat about this girl. You love the idea of her. I can be that same idea.”

            “But it was destiny. And I made a vow.”

            “Vows can be broken. They’re broken every day. And destiny doesn’t know what’s best for the world. Sometimes, I like to think we can make our own destiny.”

            “But there was something in that mark that connected with my soul.”

            “I’ll make one just like it on my ass.”

            “You can’t make one just like it. It’s one of a kind.”

            “Sweetie, I think I can repeat my own work.”

            Speechless and confused, he stared at the tattoo artist, noticing for the first time the irony of her art-free skin.

            “You mean…”

            “That’s how I knew her, love.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “It’s the only thing I’m sure of.”

            Jesse stared at her for a long time, imagining this woman creating the most beautiful mark upon the most beautiful woman, a mark he thought only God could have made.

            And then he broke the silence.

            “Well, get drawing,” he said. “We’ve got a hayloft to visit.”

            He was finally bringing his Jessie home.

 


Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 100 online and print magazines and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His story "The Oaten Hands" was named one of 190 notable stories by story South's Million Writers Award in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, was released in July 2011 through MuseItUp Publishing. Visit him at www.bartlebysnopes.com/ntower.htm

 

March 14, 2012 — 539 words

The Death of God by Tim Reynolds

By

“You know you’re the last, don’t you, Neela?”

She does, of course, this beautiful, fragile Child of mine. She’s conserving air and energy but she nods to me from her cot, although with her eyes closed she can’t see me. Or maybe she does... what stands before her mind’s eye no one will ever know, even me. Omniscience isn’t quite what my Children have assumed down through the ages.

She stirs.

“I don’t know if this will come as any comfort to you, Child, but the last of your siblings down below on Terra Toxica went away thinking how blessed you and your fellow crew members were to not suffer the ravages of that plague they had created and released in my name while you were here in orbit. Every one of them would have traded places with you in a heartbeat, even if only for a heartbeat. Every one of them would have traded the pain, the blindness, the bleeding and the madness which came to each and every one of them, young and old, rich and poor alike. Came to them all before their last, strangled, choking breaths.

“With you alone remaining, my Child, I’m able to hold you closer than ever. No one else seeks my succor. No one else struggles or suffers. You truly have my undivided attention. But as a matter of respect I ask for your permission, your leave to share these last moments.

“I see you nod once more. Thank you. And so, here I... AM.

“Oh, my Child, I wasn’t aware of how cold you are. Here, let me warm you. Now that I’m right here, is there anything you wish to talk with me about. Anything at all? No? Ah, I see. You’re drifting away and it’s too late for discourse. At least you’re not alone here at the end, unlike your fellow space station crew members. Of course they weren’t really alone because I never left them, but they believed they were alone. In their silly despair they thought I had forsaken them.

“Two of them went out through the airlock unprotected, preferring to face the vast emptiness of space rather than the vast emptiness of their futures. Three of them shared a poisoned cup, hoping for a painless, peaceful end. Judging by their convulsions and consciousness-shredding fear, it was neither painless nor peaceful. I could have made it so, had they asked, but they didn’t.

“Is that a tear I feel slipping down our cheek? Silly Child of mine, there will be no pain for you, only peace. Ah, it’s a tear of love. Well, that’s all right then. Here, let me add a tear of my own, now that I can, thanks to your generosity.

“Oh, my Child, you’re done. Your oxygen is depleted and it’s finally time to sleep. Sleep well my—

 


Tim Reynolds is a Calgary writer with his most recent published stories in the genres of science fiction, horror, and steampunk. Other hats he occasionally dons include that of poet, stand-up comic and photographer, all detailed at www.tgmreynolds.com.

 

March 14, 2012 — 258 words

Introducing ULTRA: 1889 Labs’ Anthology Collection

By Terra Whiteman

Aside from serials and webfiction-to-print, we're about to take on an even bigger project; one that you can be a part of.

Today is the launch of ULTRA, 1889 Labs' official anthology collection, which will be coming out semi-annually from now on. So, tell your friends: submissions are OPEN.

How does it work?

You'll notice the ULTRA section on the top menubar of the site. Once you click, there is a section allowing you to submit your story to us. Anyone can submit their story, but the word limit should be between 500-2000 words. ULTRA is essentially a short story anthology, so we'll only be accepting short story submissions. There is no genre restriction, so go nuts.

However, we will not be accepting tie-ins to already established webserials. We want completely new, original and stand-alone work.

Once the submissions are given a look over and accepted, they'll go into the 'inbox', where readers can read and vote on which stories they like the most. Stories that receive more than ten facebook 'likes' become featured on the main page of the ULTRA section.

Then, a handful of the approved submissions are chosen to appear in the anthology. This anthology collection will be out in print and ebook, available through all channels that our other books (and ebooks) are. If you're a prospective author up for a bit of a challenge, this is a great opportunity!

So, what are you waiting for? 

 

 

 

 

March 14, 2012 — 279 words

Chapter 8p2 – Don’t Think

By Tim Sevenhuysen

An abrupt silence fell over the yeti hunters' mess hall. The detention block sirens clamoured faintly from below. Three dozen of Dunter's most rough-and-tumble, violent employees stopped chewing, dropped their utensils, and stared.

Tic's knees wobbled. There was nowhere to run, no point in trying to fight. Maybe if he gave up and begged for mercy? He opened his mouth to surrender...

"Help!" shouted Milly, suddenly.

"Huh?" said Tic.

A few of the yeti hunters got to their feet.

"Prison break!" Milly continued. "They're trying to free our captive!" She grabbed Dr. Fester by the arm and shook him. "They've already shot one of the Liberati, see?" She nodded to Haglyn, draped over Tic's shoulders. "They're right behind us. We've got to lock them down, quick!"

The yeti hunters looked at each other. Some of them drew blasters and scatterbeam guns.

Tic gulped. Out of the side of his mouth, he whispered to Milly, "I don't think it's working..."

Turning his face away from the room, Dr. Fester covered his mouth with one arm and let out a warbling, high-pitched, howling growl. Every yeti hunter was instantly on high alert.

"Er, and they've got a yeti with them!" said Milly.

A hunter with a beefy scatterbeam gun jumped forward. "Ah ha! Let's get it, boys!" A hearty cheer rose up and the hunters swarmed towards the doors, piling into the stairwell.

Milly elbowed Tic to get him moving. The bloodthirsty hunters, hackles raised at the thought of an intruding yeti, took no notice of them as they shoved their way towards the far end of the mess hall, slipped into an elevator, and jammed the UP button.

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March 13, 2012 — 287 words

Chapter 8p1 – Take the Stairs

By Tim Sevenhuysen

"We'd better take the stairs," said Tic. "We don't want to get trapped inside the elevator."

"Stairs it is." Milly led the way through the door. Tic followed with Haglyn draped over his shoulders and Dr. Fester ambled along in the rear.

"Is there any way to barricade this door to buy us some time?" said Tic.

"I have an idea," said Milly. "Stand back." She held up the Liberati blaster and fired it at the door lock, fusing the lock together.

Tic said, "That... shouldn't have worked."

Milly shrugged. "It was the only idea I had. Let's go!" She headed up the stairs.

The stairwell led upwards through a narrow space, climbing the walls like concrete vines. Every three or four flights was punctuated with a red door.

From down here at the bottom, Tic couldn't see the top. "I have to carry Haglyn up all that?"

"Don't worry, don't worry!" said Dr. Fester. "We won't make it to the top!"

"That's not as encouraging as you might think it is," said Tic, sighing. "Okay, here we go." He began to plod up the stairs.

Two flights up he was breathing hard. Three flights up he began to sweat. Four flights up he heard banging at the door below. Adrenaline took over, and he made it up a few more flights before a burst of laser fire tore the door clean off its hinges.

"No more time!" shouted Tic. "Pick a door and in we go!"

Milly yanked open the nearest door, hurrying Tic and Dr. Fester through. They found themselves in a wide open hall, filled with tables covered in food. At each table sat three or four angry-looking yeti hunters.

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March 12, 2012 — 595 words

Free book review: Come With Your Shades On by Joe Gotham

By Ellie Hall

With independent fiction, freedom from genre restrictions and editorial direction can produce either new forms of expression, or unfocussed ramblings, perhaps well-written, but going nowhere.

CWYSO is a delight for anyone looking for the former. This is not a light read; time and characters slide in and out of place, and there is at least one complex mystery to solve. I’d say it is perfect for Johnny Vegas fans who wish they could cut the soap opera out of Ideal and turn the drug lords up to eleven.

The plot cannot be better summed up than as it is by the author himself:

A black comedy following the adventures of a disparate group of people in the Netherlands in the days following 9/11. A faded rock star, Dr Kosmoss, his blind companion, Christian, and a Nigerian King called Lord Ahmed go to the Netherlands to rescue a girl kidnapped by a porn star. Since Dr Kosmoss lost his memory in the WTC attacks, all he has to go on is a note telling him to go to the Netherlands and find a man called Bran Van Haappen. Meanwhile, a drug dealer called GSUS and his three pals have to come up with ten thousand guilders in three days to pay back the local big cheese or they're all dead.”

How well comedy works is always down to the individual reader and I did not find the book laugh out loud funny. It walks a fine line between dark comedy and violent/bad taste humour and in my opinion the line is crossed more than once. It is the sort of gross/cum-splatter humour that might work best in the locker room or among shipyard welders. That said, there were times when I laughed unexpectedly, and overall I did find the story both engrossing and amusing, and not at all offensive.

There is one thing I can say for certain about CWYSO: you will not have put the pieces together and solved the puzzle before you reach the end. When you get to the final reveal, there are several, and if you have enjoyed the style of humour, the author’s cunning will amuse you all the more. If you have struggled, you will groan.

There are peculiarities; each character is introduced, described from head to toe including the inevitable t-shirt logo and shoes, and ascribed a likeness to a celebrity. Because it is done so often and by rote, I guess it is by design rather than accident, but it does stand out as unusual when reading. Puns are repeatedly explained, which might help readers who find the wording obscure; references to art and philosophy are also explained, almost as if the author would like the reader to note his academic range.

I enjoyed Come With Your Shades On and recommend it - if you like dark comedy, if you can follow UK accents, and if you don’t squick easily.

Joe Gotham says of his work, “I’ll let my writing speak for itself.” It’s good advice.

Four stars.

Come With Your Shades On is available for FREE download from Bibliotastic.

March 10, 2012 — 402 words

Help! I’m using an outline!

By Greg X. Graves

This is a message to my fans.

You have to help me.

No, I'm not going to roll out some plea for retweets or facebook likes. This is serious business.

I need help, because I've been ensnared in a conspiracy that could shake the very foundation of fiction writing. The impact reaches far beyond household names like Stephen King, JK Rowling or Greg X Graves and all the way down into the lives of regular work-a-day writers like Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin.

1889 Labs forced me to use an outline for Freedom Beer.

I was outraged but, you know, the miserly overlords at 1889 Labs are the ones who sign the checks for my six dozen yachts. Being over a barrel is nothing compared to being over a gem-encrusted carbon fiber ship's wheel.

At first it was a friendly suggestion.

"Oh, hey, Greg, it'll help you maintain consistency. Serials are hard. Lots of characters to keep track of."

I received that email while I was jumping a yacht over one of my other yachts, so they thought that I was blowing them off.

Then they started pleading.

"Please, Greg, use an outline. Here's an example. They're very simple. Think of your editor."

I couldn't think of my editor right then, however, because it's hard to think about much when you're involved in illicit night time boat races against pirates who have bet their buried treasure against your solid titanium Rolls Royce with diamond-lensed headlights.

Then all of those penny-pinching Scrooges hit me below the belt in my money purse (woven of cashmere and gold threads).

"Listen, Greg, we have soaked our checkbooks in gasoline and are holding lit matches. Use an outline. Now."

At that point I figured that those pirates were a bunch of filthy-bearded seadogs that had lied through their fake gold teeth about their treasure, so I set down my shovel. I took a look at the sample outline that 1889 Labs sent over.

And how I wished that I was back digging holes in scorpions' nests on that island.

The worst part is that 1889 Labs claims that lots of authors use outlines! What kind of sick mind clutches our puppet strings in its wizened claws? What sort of evil lurks in the gaps between numbered chapters?

The devil is in the details and outlines give it a cloak of invisibility.

Spread the word!

March 10, 2012 — 289 words

Chapter 7p5 – Hagga, Wait!

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Haglyn grabbed Tic's shoulder and herded him, Milly, and Dr. Fester back into the cell. "Take cover!" she screamed. She jumped in behind them just as the lasers started to fly, gouging chunks of rock out of the walls in puffs of dust.

Haglyn returned the goons' fire. Her Liberati blaster was much more sophisticated than their cheap weapons and they scattered, diving to their stomachs or hiding behind the curvature of the tunnel.

"I've got 'em now!" crowed Haglyn, leaping out of cover and spraying lasers indiscriminately down the tunnel. "Come on, let's blast our way out!" She charged as the goons fled.

Tic took a few steps after her. "Hagga, wait!"

There was a flash and a ZIPH!, and Haglyn was blown backwards. She flew into Tic, knocking him to the ground. A Liberati—a real one—had appeared at the end of the tunnel, wielding a scatterbeam gun with a smoking barrel.

"Predicted it!" giggled Dr. Fester.

The Liberati stalked towards them.

"Shut up!" screamed Tic. Haglyn wasn't moving. He tried to grab for her blaster, but Milly got it first. She smoothly dropped to one knee, took aim, and riddled the Liberati with a burst of lasers.

He jerked, spasmed, and stumbled backwards around the corner.

"Why didn't he die!?" said Tic.

"I don't know!" said Milly. "Haglyn's not dead, either, so grab her and follow me!"

Tic struggled to his feet, threw Haglyn over his shoulders—she was heavier than she looked—and ran after Milly towards the far end of the tunnel. They cut through the guards' room at the end and found two doors, one marked STAIRS and one marked ELEVATOR.

"Well?" said Milly. "Which way?"

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March 9, 2012 — 275 words

Chapter 7p4 – A Couple Marbles Short

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Haglyn cradled her Liberati blaster. "We've got to find a way out of here. It would help if all three of us were armed..."

"Three?" cackled Dr. Fester. "I count four!"

Milly looked at the bald man curiously. "Who's he?"

"This is Dr. Fester," said Tic. "He's, um, a couple marbles short, I think."

"You'll take me with you!" said Dr. Fester. "I'll be helpful. I predict it!"

"Aw, let him come," said Milly. "What'll it hurt?"

Haglyn just shrugged.

Tic sighed. "Okay, fine. Let's bring him."

"Predicted it! Predicted it!" cackled Dr. Fester. "Here we go!" He hobbled off down the tunnel in the direction of the main entrance.

Tic said, "Or maybe we're going to go with him. Unless anyone has a better idea."

"I don't know of any other ways out of here," said Haglyn. "You didn't see anything when they brought you down here, did you, Milly?"

Milly shook her head. "They had me blindfolded. But I did learn something very important before they got me! Dunter's been working on a secret project called the Norway—"

"—Corrosive Vapor Disseminator," said Tic. "Yes, we know. He was talking to Libden about it. No time for that right now. We have to find Pelly and get—" He was cut off by the sound of an alarm.

Dr. Fester came hobbling back towards them. "Wooga! Wooga! Knew this sound was coming!"

"What did you do!?" yelled Tic.

"No time! No time!" said Dr. Fester. "In a hurry, said Bic Tobler! Better hurry!"

Then half a dozen of Dunter's armed goons rounded the corner of the tunnel behind him.

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March 8, 2012 — 293 words

Read any good webserials lately?

By Letitia Coyne

I’ll bet that you have. There are so many to choose from.

Some are not connected in a linear form to create a story, they are episodic. Just as in some series we watch on television, the cast is the same, and we learn more about the characters as time goes on, but there is no narrative thread carrying us from one episode to the next.

If you like the idea of a series, you could go along to check out:

World: Common People.

100 Candles.

Or try The London Archaeologist. A photographic journey around the city.

On the other hand, if you love the anticipation of what will happen next, and you can’t wait to join fictitious friends each update, the ongoing journeys in these might be for you.

I enjoyed Railroad Train to Heaven, by Dan Leo. It’s one of those tongue-in-cheek stories I am always surprised and delighted to find, hidden away.

Or maybe With Earth In Mind by JE Turcotte, for sci fi.

There are, as I said, so many webserials to choose from. And yet our system has evolved, without malice, to support some and ignore others. While great stories get high ratings and multiple reviews in our well-known directories, there are many, many more that never get the attention they deserve.

Hunt around, you might surprise yourself.

Who do you recommend? Anyone, even your own site. Go on, spread the love.