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May 18, 2012 — 1,064 words

Azaleas by Keith Rebec

By

Sharon’s mother had seen Lee Harvey Oswald again. He floated in her garden tub, belly-up and naked, with only a white T-shirt on. At least that’s what she told Sharon, and Sharon decided to go and get her.

The scorching Alabama sun glowed in a fiery ringlet as Sharon eased the Pontiac onto I-85 out of Opelika. Her mother sat in the passenger seat, applying lipstick in the visor mirror.

“Where we going?” her mother asked.

“I’m taking you to Montgomery, Momma.”

“Why in the Lord God’s name are we going to Montgomery?” She turned in the direction of a Texaco fading at the end of an off ramp. “I thought we was going to Atlanta? It’s a perfect day for Atlanta, you know.”

“I know,” Sharon said. “It’s time for you to vacation at the Twelve Oaks instead.”

“Who and a Baptist’s right leg would want to go there? We have to go to Atlanta.”

“Momma, would you quit going on about Atlanta. That’s over with now.”

Her mother’s blue eyes mirrored a dull hue from the sun’s glow. A clump of green interstate signs flickered past as trucks and cars and 18-wheelers jockeyed for positions up ahead.

Sharon’s bloodless white fingers clamped the wheel. “Momma,” she said, “I can’t keep worrying about you alone no more. I can’t. You keep seeing Lee Harvey or Margaret Mitchell or Daddy. You have to stay some place safe. I’m doing this for you, Momma.”

“Doing this for you, Momma, I’m doing this for you,” her mother said before picking at a purple azalea on her dress.

An 18-wheeler rumbled past and pushed them closer to the orange construction barrels.

Her mother gave little notice to Sharon or her driving. Her own murky world seemed to focus around the flower designs on her dress. Sharon rolled through a rough stretch of tar and chip before coming onto a smooth patch of black. A silhouette of her mother’s reflection projected off the window glass.

“I remember when me and your daddy used to go up to Atlanta. We sure had some fun, me and your daddy.”

Sharon wiped perspiration from her forehead, thought about her mother’s thirst for men, both before and after her father’s death, all the coming and going that stopped the soil from settling. With each mile marker, she struggled to snap the plastic around the weak album called childhood. Now, her mind just skipped over the positive packed away somewhere, and she could only mine the bad.

“Oh no!” her mother said.

Sharon gripped the wheel and surveyed the roadway. Then her mother thrust both hands onto the dash.

“How am I supposed to stay at Margaret’s when I haven’t packed? Let’s go back. I need my things. I can’t arrive for a cocktail looking like this, now can I?”

“Montgomery, Momma, and there’s your suitcase,” she said, motioning with a free hand in the direction behind her.

Her mother peered into the back seat. The suitcase rested on its side. Scrapes and scars ran like a road map across its aging body. She didn’t say a word, only slumped a little further and faced the interstate again. “Margaret,” she said finally, “when we get to Atlanta, do you think we can find a place to eat? I would sure love some buttermilk fried chicken.”

“Jesus H. Christ, Momma, I’m not Margaret. Gosh…sit up, please.”

Her mother again went to poking at the faded azaleas on her dress. A group of cars and big trucks swerved hard and fast in front of them. Sharon straightened herself. More vehicles swerved. Boards and tools and McDonald’s bags covered the highway. She jerked the wheel left, then right, but still hit a crescent wrench and a ball-peen hammer, some chunks of pinewood that did a thump thump and shot out the back.

“It will be nice seeing your daddy,” her mother said.

Sharon kept her eyes on the rearview, gave out a long, deep sigh, as cars and trucks still swerved behind them. The front of the car hopped and pulled and hopped before she skidded to a halt along the shoulder. A red dust cloud engulfed the Pontiac and faded into the nearby field as the cars and trucks and semis continued to thunder past.

“So glad we finally made it, Margaret,” her mother said, and got out of the sagging car, slammed the door.

“Momma, wait!” Vehicles swung close to the driver’s side door, forcing her to crawl out the passenger side. Her mother had already meandered twenty yards down the highway.

Sharon tried getting her mother’s attention, shouting to no avail. A car laid on its horn, and a man with a ball cap turned backward threw up his hands. She reached her mother and turned her, her hand gripping her mother’s arm.

“Momma, what in the hell are you doing?”

Another parade of rattling engines clamored by in the burning heat, blanketing them with a burnt, carbonated breeze. Her mother plopped down on her knees a few feet from the white line. The hollow hums from passing tires made it difficult to hear. Sharon slipped her arms under her mother, tried to lift her, but her mother wouldn’t budge. The azaleas on her mother’s dress fluttered in the wind like a sheet clinging to a clothes line, one hard gust away from breaking free.

“I would like to go home now, Sharon.”

“We’ll get there eventually, Momma. You just need to hang on.”

Sharon tried to lift her again, and again she wouldn’t budge. Off on the horizon a police cruiser approached and seemed to be slowing. The officer leaned over for a better view of Sharon pulling her mother into the ditch grass, her mother’s pale legs dragging lines in the sand, but the officer only flicked a cigarette butt through a gap in the window and kept going.

* * *

Keith Rebec resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student, working on a M.A. in Writing, at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Molotov Cocktail and The Rusty Nail.

May 18, 2012 — 300 words

Chapter 16p4 – What’s the Worst They Could Do?

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Everyone gathered in the cockpit.

"So, yetis..." said Tic, nervously. "What's the worst they could do?"

"They'll tear the ramp down!" said Haglyn. "Why do you think Dunter Yeti Security exists? These are real monsters."

"Maybe we can tame them somehow," said Milly.

"What!?" said Haglyn.

"Maybe they're just hungry. At the very least, we can try to distract them until the ship finishes rebooting."

"Whatever," said Tic. "There are steaks in the kitchen. I'm going to stay here and work on a real plan."

"I'll help Milly," said Overard.

"Thanks," said Milly.

The two grabbed the steaks, slipped the side door open, and waggled the meat in the air.

"Yoohoo!" called Milly. "Hey, yetis!"

The yetis stuck their heads out to look.

"Quick, throw!" said Overard. He flung his steak. Milly tried to do the same, but her backswing connected with Overard's nose, knocking him down. They got tangled up and both fell out of the door into the snow.

When Milly raised her head, two yeti faces were leering over her. She screamed.

The yetis spun and stared up into the sky. "Dunter," said one, gruffly. The other grunted, reached into its fur, and pulled out a huge, high-tech slingshot.

"Huh?" said Milly.

One of the green jets zoomed overhead. The yetis armed their slingshots with stones and took potshots.

"Hey," said one. "Gortinawa!" It stooped and picked up a red Gortinawa seed which had fallen out of Milly's pocket. Placing it in the pouch of its slingshot, it took aim at the jet and loosed a shot. A few seconds later, the jet's cockpit disintegrated. It tumbled out of the sky.

"Nice shot," said the other yeti. It looked down at Milly and Overard. "Got any more of those?"

[poll id="83"]

May 17, 2012 — 565 words

10 Most Read Books In The World

By Letitia Coyne

I recently found this list of Top Ten Books, which is based on the number of books printed and sold in the last 50 yrs.

  1. Bible
  2. Quotations of Chairman Mao - Mao TseTung
  3. Harry Potter - JK Rowling
  4. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
  5. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
  6. DaVinci Code - Dan Brown
  7. Twilight Saga - Stephenie Meyer
  8. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  9. Think and grow rich - Napoleon Hill
  10. Diary of Anne Frank -  Anne Frank

These lists are always problematic – my first problem was having The DaVinci Code and Twilight even appearing on a list of the ten best anything. But these are the most bought books, assumed to be the most read, not the finest efforts of literary expression.

Others felt the same but had other books they would have liked to see there, or were amazed had not been better represented by sales.

Here are some of the points raised by readers of this list:

How many people started reading LOTR and never finished? Or any of the other titles, for that matter.

The Bible shouldn’t count. Churches bulk-buy for hotel rooms, pews, religious schools etc.

Why isn’t there a showing for other religious scriptures, the Quran or Bagavad Gita, for example?

Who reads books of quotes? Aren’t they available on Google?

Da Vinci Code before Anne Frank – Preposterous!

Just because it wasn’t multiple purchased, doesn’t mean it wasn’t widely read – Hello, libraries!

Was Mao’s wisdom ‘compulsory’ reading for the most populous nation on the earth? That should be a foul.

Anne Frank fouled out, too. Wasn’t she compulsory school reading for generations?

Harry Potter over Roald Dahl's works is just embarrassing! Oh well, that's life.

I'm pretty Sure Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss are more widely read  than Twilight or Harry Potter.  "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." -Dr. Seuss

A few surprises in this top-10 list, but I guess it's not surprising how many of them also have successful movies.

I think that last point is huge! It is part of our modern culture to mix the two, now, and I think books like Twilight are produced and marketed with the plan of multimedia coverage set before the ink is dry on the pages. But the people who bought these books are 'them', the same 'them' that buy all the books. They are us, the readers of the world.

What about you? What surprises you about the list? What titles should be there? What shouldn’t? What points do you think are raised by the list?

Are top ten lists pointless? If so, why are they so very popular? Is the answer the same for books?

Read more of the comments at the original posting of this list from James Chapman at 10 Most Read Books In The World. Also there, the actual sales figures.

May 17, 2012 — 307 words

Chapter 16p3 – Hey, We Voted

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Haddock swam lazily through space below the Galactic Pelican.

"Okay, here we go," said Tic. "Be ready with the cloaking device, Milly. Haglyn, target their ships, not the building itself. We need to get in there afterwards."

"This still seems reckless to me," said Overard.

"Hey, we voted," snapped Tic. "Gal, begin atmospheric entry."

"Yes, sir," said the AI.

Overard settled grumpily into the passenger cabin.

They broke through the clouds directly over the Dunter Yeti Security headquarters and shot past the blaring air traffic beacons.

"Here they come!" said Tic.

Ships began buzzing up out of the hangars. Within seconds, the sky was filled with a dozen Liberati ships and fifteen or twenty of Dunter's green jets.

Tic's courage melted away like snow under an afterburner. "What!? Where did they all come from? Abort!" Milly engaged the cloaking device as Tic pushed the sublight engines to full power. The Pelican screamed away from the city.

Three red diamonds blinked onto the viewscreen. "Cloakbusters!" shouted Tic. "Haglyn, shoot them down!"

Haglyn used the turrets to scatter lasers behind them, and was rewarded with two massive explosions, but one missile was still on their tail.

Tic hollered, "Gal, full power to the shields!"

"So much for the head-on approach," muttered Overard miserably.

The missile hit.

 

The Pelican tumbled end over end, sinking out of the sky, and hammered into the snowy ground, carving a long scar across the desolate mountainside.

 

"Urgh," said Tic. "Thank goodness for Entulovian military technology. Are we okay, Gal?"

"I am intact," the ship informed him, "but my flight and combat systems are rebooting. My sensors detect nearby movement." A view from a side camera showed four massive, shaggy beasts with bright eyes rapidly climbing the mountainside towards them.

Haglyn groaned. "Yetis!"

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May 16, 2012 — 296 words

National Flash Fiction Day!

By Merissa Tse

I have to admit something: I’m one of those poetry-writing folks.

I’ve never written a novel, and I’m certain it would kill me if I tried. Flash fiction, however, has a special place in my little writerly heart. It’s like walking into a bar and ordering a shot of fiction, straight up—or on the rocks, if you’re so inclined.

Luckily enough, it’s National Flash Fiction Day!

What’s considered flash fiction? A story under 1000 words? 500? Word count is a factor, but more importantly, flash fiction is the art of precision. Conciseness. My favourite flash fiction throws the reader into a world in which the story is over before they even know where they are, or who they’re reading about. Sometimes an entire history can be explained in a single detail. Remember Hemmingway’s six word prose?

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The shortest of stories with the contents of a novel tucked into the details.

To celebrate the day properly, check out some awesome flash fiction by Sarah Stanton! Sarah is an Australian writer, translator, and editor. living in China. She likes singing in public, the smell of woodsmoke on a cold winter's day, and ducks. Read her recently published flash fiction piece, “To Grind an Iron Rod into a Needle”.

Sarah’s blog, as well as her other work, can be found on her website, http://www.theduckopera.com.

If you’re in the UK, there are plenty of events to check out (better late than never...)! There are also a few international and online events.

May 16, 2012 — 300 words

Chapter 16p2 – It’s Not Pelly

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Tic sat on the edge of the Pelican's ramp, aimlessly kicking his feet.

"Wow!" said Milly, approaching. "Pelly looks really great, doesn't she?"

"It's not Pelly," grumbled Tic. "Pelly's gone. Computer got wiped. Doesn't even remember me. Talks like a man, now."

The speakers in the hold buzzed: "I am perfectly happy to adjust my vocal output to—"

"See?" said Tic. "Pelly was tough. She'd never be that accommodating..."

Milly sat beside Tic. "You miss her, don't you?"

Tic lifted his head and glared. Then he softened. "I guess so."

"And Libden was the one who took her from you."

"Yep."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

Tic fixed Milly with a stare. "I see what you're trying to do."

"What?"

"You want to go back to Haddock, and you're trying to manipulate me into taking you there."

"Hey, I just—" Milly protested. She lowered her head. "You're right. I'm sorry. I'll find another way."

Tic stood. "I didn't say 'No.' I'm just making a point... I'm in."

Haglyn rolled up, with Overard riding on the bumper of her GyroCart. "We're coming, too!"

Overard nodded. "Libden has taken something from all of us. My ship, Haglyn's legs, Milly's parents..."

Milly was beaming. "Thank you, everyone!"

"Where's the Doc?" asked Tic.

Overard shook his head. "The curator said they're keeping Dr. Fester here to make sure he heals completely."

"That's too bad," said Tic. "Well... Let's get moving! Libden has the Adam Astrobot and a big head start."

"Hey, what are we going to call the ship now?" asked Milly. "You know, since it's basically a whole new AI and everything."

The new AI chimed in: "Might I suggest—"

"Gal," said Tic. "Let's call him Gal."

[poll id="81"]

May 15, 2012 — 278 words

Chapter 16p1 – Best I’ve Felt In Years

By Tim Sevenhuysen

After half an hour in a Revita Tube, a solid dinner, and a good night's sleep, Tic Bolter felt ready to put this whole mess with Lady Libden, the Liberati, rare action figures, and secret doomsday devices behind him.

He woke up gradually and plodded into the museum's kitchen, where he ate a plate of bacon and a heaping bowl of sugary porridge. The curator came and joined him as he was finishing his meal. "Feeling okay, Mr. Bolter?"

"Best I've felt in years," confessed Tic.

"My men have been working on your ship all night. Come see." The curator led Tic to the loading bay, where the Galactic Pelican was hidden under a mountain of scaffolding.

Jenks saw them approaching and lifted his welding mask. "We've done our best," he said, "but it's hard to make something from nothing..."

Tic shrugged. "As long as she flies and holds cargo, I'll be happy."

"All right..." said Jenks. He called, "Roll her out!"

A massive wheeled cart carried the Pelican out from under the scaffolding. Every surface gleamed. The four booster turbines that had previously straddled the wings had been replaced with several smaller, fancier sublight engines.

"Wow," Tic breathed.

"Like I said," reiterated Jenks, "hard to make something from nothing. But not impossible. Those new jets should nearly double your cruising speed."

Tic lowered the ramp and walked up into the hold. "Pelly, you should see yourself! You're gorgeous!"

"Thank you kindly," echoed a smooth male voice out of Pelly's speakers. "Are you Mr. Tic Bolter? I'm told you're my captain."

Tic's jaw dropped, and his heart drooped.

[poll id="80"]

May 14, 2012 — 1,223 words

Review: The Aeon Calling by Garth Erickson

By Ellie Hall

 

The Aeon Calling
By Garth Erickson

 

"Alex Brown is hit with unbearable trauma; self-conscious and obsessive, at once the haunted and the haunter, he time-travels from personal tragedy through war in Africa, rain in Glasgow, and a shit-load of monkey business in-between to domestic psychosis. Armed with the Tarot (a guide for the misguided) and a ghostly pair of pistols, Alex sets about trying to reset his world. Sex, Death and Time - A dark, multi-layered journey through the obsessed and haunted mind of Alex Brown. Alex's mind is alive with the pre-apocalyptic world, but focussed only on Susan - the one woman he cannot have.

The Aeon Calling was my second attempt at writing a novel, the first being an odd little sci-fi thing called Transfer at Pandora Central. Which is not to say that The Aeon Calling is not odd - I did my best to ignore all perceived novel writing wisdom and portray what I saw in my head - supernatural, sexy, sometimes semi-autobiographical and, of course, with the usual helping of pseudo-philosophic-psycho-babble."

*****

Any episodic entertainment takes a risk. Every time an ad breaks the stream of my concentration on the telly I am likely to lose interest and wander off, or turn to another program. The same happens with series and serials. If one episode is bad, the incentive to tune in again next time is at risk. And so it is with serial fiction. But when you find good webfiction, like that found at WFG, fictionaut, Year Zero Writers, or flashing by, it’s addictive. That is how and where I found the author of this month’s review book.

I first read Garth Erickson’s serials from a link at flashing by. I was immediately struck by the beauty of his words and a sense that I was only just holding on to the pieces of each story as he brought them together. That sense of clinging to understanding by the tips of the fingers but learning to trust the author and enjoy the work came with familiarity, and reading his work in novel form is no disappointment.

I loved The Aeon Calling, as I thought I probably would. Erickson’s summary of this book calls it multi-layered. Multi-layered does not begin to describe it.

Alex Brown hears the voices of his ‘ghosts’ long before any trauma has entered his life. They are always there, even the ghosts of his toys broken in anger. As he spins through the chaos and pain of his life they are constant, as is the guilt for things over which he had no control, the Tarot cards he took from beside his dead mother, memories of the Angolan war, and the love of his wife, who is perfect in every way – except she is not the one woman he obsesses over.

Each subject creates a layer of meaning and confusion in Alex’ life, and as we slip into his madness, time itself has no relevance. Memories come and go; there is no firm NOW in this book until the very end. It is a journey through a man’s psychosis. There is no firm REAL for Alex; he recalls his life, and experiences his madness: at times omniscient, at times powerless in the face of consequences.

Don’t be alarmed at the thought of this lack of line. All the separate threads begin to tie together and an order emerges naturally as we follow Alex’ age in each memory. There are clear and clearer markers given at each point to give the reader a firm enough grasp on where they are in the narrative.

The Tarot itself, specifically the Aeon card referenced in the title, gives some insight into Alex’ view of reality:

The Aeon (or Judgement, Last Judgement, Atonement, Resurrection) is numbered twenty and often shows figures arising from graves in answer to the clarion call of an angel. The Aeon forces us to acknowledge that our actions set up a chain of cause-and-effect for which we are solely responsible. Here we pass through the fire of purification, shedding dead and dying wood as we go. We judge ourselves frankly, forgive, and leave the past behind. And then we are free to step into the light.

There will come a moment, if we are true to ourselves, when we know exactly what we need to do. And when that moment comes there will be no further prevarication, no doubt, no fear. This is because time itself has enormous power. To find the right time for anything is a really useful life skill. When a choice comes to its own moment, it becomes empowered by its own momentum, and at that moment we can move forward with confidence. Sometimes, then, just of itself, this card will bring about changes on the day that it rules.

Reading some of Garth’s bio will also shed light into the depths of feeling revealed by the author through his character. The Aeon Calling is not autobiographical, but it plainly draws on a number of experiences and beliefs held by the author [AKA Pisces Iscariot] himself.

I rate this an easy FIVE stars. That means I not only enjoyed it, I recommend it without any reservation, and no ifs or exceptions. Superb.

*****

About the author: Garth Erickson
Just for the record: the most I will try and sell you is one of my books; I have no other agenda; I’m not a teacher, a preacher or a double glazing salesman. Neither do I aspire to be any of those. Which is not to say that I have nothing to give; I believe that the events that shaped (and continue to shape) my life have resonance beyond the (meta)physical presence of Pisces Iscariot. We are all involved in history. With this in mind, anyone expecting guidance, enlightenment, epiphanies or healing might as well leave now.

Some basic facts: • I was born in Durban in 1962. According to the rules of the game this makes me a South African. • I am a pacifist; I don't want to get killed in anybody's territorial/resource war • I am an atheist; I owe my soul to no god. Other works

May 12, 2012 — 307 words

Chapter 15p5 – The Gyrians Do Good Work

By Tim Sevenhuysen

The world exploded, and Tic thought he felt his skull burst. Then he blinked, coughed, and saw the ground rushing towards him through the cockpit viewscreen.

He hauled back on the controls. For a horrifying half-second, the Pelican didn't respond. Then it whined feebly and levelled out.

"Atta girl, Pelly!" cheered Tic.

The AI didn't respond.

The curator sat up, rubbing his head. "Excellent work with the shields, Jenks."

"Credit Cogs, sir," replied Jenks from the hold. "He reacted faster than I did."

"We're in rough shape, sir," said Jeffries from the seat beside Tic. "I'm not sure how we held together, honestly."

"The Gyrians do good work," said Tic, patting the dashboard affectionately.

"Better land before we crash," said Jeffries.

"Belay that," ordered the curator. "Do a low pass over the enemy crash sites."

"Yes, sir," said Tic. He swooped the Pelican down over the smoking wreckage of the first Liberati ship. There was no movement. Near the second crater, however, two figures were crawling out from under white parachutes. Jeffries took them out with well-placed bursts from the vacuum generators.

The curator said, "Now we can head back."

Tic flew the Pelican up to the museum, past the charred remains of the hangars. Milly, Haglyn, and Overard were nervously waiting.

The moment Tic landed, every flickering screen and sparking circuit went dark. "Don't worry," the curator assured him. "Our techs will fix her better than ever in no time, maybe even do some upgrading. Parts and labour on the house; you've earned it!"

"Can you get the AI back?" asked Tic.

"No promises," said Jenks. "Looks like a pretty catastrophic system failure. We'll try."

Tic forced the hold door open manually and stepped into the loading bay, where Milly astonished him with a tearful hug.

[poll id="79"]

May 11, 2012 — 291 words

Chapter 15p4 – Extra Power

By Tim Sevenhuysen

"We've gotta restore power to our shields," said the curator, as Tic strapped back in.

"Wait," said Tic.

The curator glared. "Think you know better than I do, son?"

"Of course not, sir. But they tore through us like paper before, and we couldn't even scratch them."

"We weren't cloaked before," pointed out the curator.

"Exactly," said Tic. "So let's make that our defense. Forget the shielding: put the extra power into the blasters."

"You know, that's not bad," mused the curator. He grabbed his handset and relayed the plan.

Tic took the flight controls back. "Now," he said, grimly, "let's go hunting..." He pulled the Pelican up into a higher altitude. Searching visually, he spotted the Liberati ships doing confused circles below. "This one's for Pelly," he muttered, then swooped.

The vacuum generators churned out pockets of negative pressure and the curator bombarded the area with heavy laser fire. One of the Liberati ships lost a wing and went spiralling into the ground.

"Whoo!" shouted the curator gleefully.

The other enemy ship sent return fire ripping through the air where the Pelican had been, but Tic had already changed course. He brought the ship around in a tight arc, placing the second enemy directly in the crosshairs.

A blinking red alert popped up on the viewscreen. "Um," said Tic. "What's that?"

"Missile detection!" said Jeffries. "Cloak-breaker, headed our way!"

"Shoot it down!" roared the curator. He hammered the trigger control, and the air filled with lasers. The other enemy ship took several scattered hits and spun away, in flames.

The missile kept coming.

Tic slammed the control stick left to dodge.

"FULL POWER TO SHIELDS!" shouted the curator into his handset.

The missile hit.

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