F.F.F. Stories – Tuesday 5/10/22

My apologies for the (long … ) delay between posts here. Life and my job have kept me busy. However, the blog is still alive and kickin’, and I hope to post (and write) F.F.F. stories more frequently in the days to come. Thanks, and we always welcome your feedback.

Russell

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5. The Lonesome Death of American Justice, by Gordon Lawrie

(Published, with picture, to a PAGE on the F.F.F. website.)

4. Woman in the Vehicle, by Rachel Branstrom

Her eyes fluttered open. Sleepily, she stretched, and briefly rubbed the shoulder of the driver.

He shot her a sideways glance and a smile.

“Albert Einstein once said,” he began, his hands at ten and two, “that any man who can drive safely with a beautiful woman in the vehicle isn’t paying her nearly enough attention.” He paused. “So I apologize.”

Facing forward, hands in her lap, she said, “Smart man.” She peeked over at him. “Einstein, too.”

He chuckled, and, with a grin, rolled his eyes upward, then fastened them back upon the highway.

3. Cherry Blossoms, by Mark Tulin

“I’m impressed,” said Damien’s friend. “You can talk to me while giving that guy the evil eye.”

“No big deal,” said Damien. “I do it all the time. My Grandpa taught me that trick when I was kid.”

Damien’s friend admired the bloom of the cherry blossoms as Damien’s head turned slightly with his treacherous eye. Soon the target of his gaze fell backward into a heap of trash, unconscious and lost to the world.

Damien smiled slyly. “That guy reminded me of someone I didn’t like,” and then agreed with his friend that the cherry blossoms were indeed beautiful.

2. In a World, by David Croll

“In a world where pharmaceuticals numb us from anxiety and the need for art,” bellowed the familiar baritone narrator, “this lone stranger vows to bring back the pain of a broken heart.”

“How can we grow without pain?” lamented the stranger. “How can we have music and literature without suffering the agony of unrequited love?”

And so the lone stranger set out to rid the world of the greedy grip of the pharmaceutical companies on our broken hearts to rid the world of songs like Uptown Girl and bring back the sad ballads on loneliness.

The liquor industry was delighted.

1. The Dragon Routine, by Russell Conover

Dan the Dragon was sick of his usual routine. Breathe some fire, terrify some innocent passersby, repeat ad naseum. Every day was like any other. But what to do?

He thought about his skills. He flew frequently, so a pilot was possible. But, too much responsibility. His spells for victims required mixing potions, so maybe a chef? Nah. He’d be too tempted to eat his customers.

Then it hit him. Dan went to a burger place, and was accepted as the flame griller. His mouth served as the grill, and Dan got all the free burgers he wanted. A win-win!

F.F.F. Stories – Tuesday 3/22/22

5. Glass Eyes, by Lucy Brighton

Out of the candy floss quiet, a voice: “Can you move?”

Bile tingles my taste buds, the fruity flavours of last night’s wine.

“We to need to try and move you,” she says. “Can you hear me?”

I blink to focus … close one eye. Things steady and still: a tableau of horror.

Thrown safely from the corpse of the bike is a small teddy lion, its fur matted with dirt from the road, one of its glass eyes protruding grotesquely from its face.

The memories come all at once–a crescendo: a mangled pink frame, sirens, delicate blonde curls.

4. The Diagnosis, by Fliss Zakaszewska

“What’s the matter with her?” asked her husband, as she walked slowly in front of the glass viewing panel. “She’s been like that for two days.”

Hilary’s vacant facial expression hardly changed as she slowly paced, back and forth, back and forth, occasionally turning to face the watchers and say, “Miaow.” Every so often, she’d turn and hiss, then stop to lick her hand. Back and forth, back and forth, lick, lick. She hissed one more time, then curled up on the bed, asleep.

“I thought you had a diagnosis?”

“Sadly, yes.”

“What is it?”

“In a word, she’s catatonic.”

3. A Soldier’s Return, by John Cooper

He took his gun down from the wall and checked it over carefully for signs of rust and wear. So it would begin again, this war that had no end. Tomorrow he would find the ammunition left from the last time and practice shooting – see if he could still hit anything.

Setting the gun aside, he looked into the fire and mused about the curious ways his life had changed in these last peaceful years – never had he thought he would be so pleased to be going back, but there was truly now nothing left to keep him here.

2. The Final, by Bex Gooding

He stared across the net at his opponent. They’d been in this position many times before. Would it be different this day?

He wiped the sweat from his forehead, racket in his right hand he bounced the ball on the ground … then shifted the ball to his left hand, leaned forward and continued the routine. He bounced the ball 8, 9, 10 times more.

He couldn’t delay any longer.

The crowd seemed to hold their breath. This was the moment.

He tossed the ball into the air, arched his back and slammed the serve across the court.

The crowd roared.

1. Enough With The Excuses, by Marjan Sierhuis

She comes home after being away on business. She finds dirty dishes piled in the sink. There must be a week’s worth waiting to be washed.

“You should have cleaned up after yourself,” she says.

“You are a nag,” he replies with a hurt look on his face. “Besides looking after the children, mopping the floors, vacuuming the carpet, washing and ironing the laundry, mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges, taking the dog for his walk, I worked a twelve hour shift in the Emergency Department.”

“Enough with the excuses. That still doesn’t explain the dirty dishes,” she says.

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 2/20/22

5. All Things Imagined, by Lisa Miller

“Why did you leave the restaurant, John?”

“Why? You were talking to another guy, for God’s sake!”

Rolling her eyes, she nearly drops her phone from shaking so bad. John never let her explain, not wanting her to talk to anyone. She can picture him now: his frown deepening, sitting on the couch they once shared, aggravated, getting more agitated by the minute when his texts go unanswered. But the lamp was the last straw, cutting them both when the light bulb shattered to pieces. Big mistake thinking they could just chill and be friends. His mind, always imagining the worst.

4. The Oxford Tutor, by Ian Fletcher

“Good effort,” he’d say on hearing us read our essays, before urbanely demolishing them point by point, somehow leaving us feeling it was we who had formulated his illuminations.

How we would laugh in the quad on exiting his 18th century rooms, imitating his patrician voice and manner, instantly forgetting timeless topics he’d spent his lifetime contemplating.

Forty years on, he has long passed and we, too, are old, reaping what we have sown in life.

We mock him no more, for he has grown in stature over the years, looming over us like Shakespeare’s colossus, bestriding our narrow world.

3. The Interview, by Jim Bartlett

Henry nervously stares across the desk at Ms. Willington as she slowly thumbs through the pages of his resume. She finally smiles, then looks up and catches his gaze.

“This is very impressive. Looks like you’ve had a ton of experience in database management.”

“Yes. Just shy of 12 years.”

She smiles again and leans forward. “So here’s the old cliché question: What do you want to be doing in 5 years?”

Henry’s eyes fall to the medical report poking up from his inside jacket pocket, the words “Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer” spilling off the top.

“Living,” he replies.

2. Yoga Enters Modernity, by Sankar Chatterjee

Visiting motherland, Mr. Subrata Sen of Indian Diaspora in U.S. was catching his connecting flight in Heathrow. Buying a copy of The Guardian, he noticed the blaring headline: “Goat Yoga: All The Rage Now”. A photo of a group of bent-over practitioners with individual baby goats standing on everyone’s back accompanied the article.

Soon he realized how the millennial entrepreneurs had modified the ancient Hindu techniques of breathing, exercise and meditation to improve health and happiness. Trailblazers, cat- and dog-yoga, paved the path for goat.

Later, Google search revealed a “Black Sheep Yoga Studio” near his U.S. neighborhood. Landing, he signed up for next day’s session.

1. The Lesson, by Helina Ambachew

At the end of the lesson, he asked; “What is the purpose of life, Sir?” After some thinking and rolling eyes, the old man answered, “The purpose of life is to live … what else?” “All right, then. How should I live?“ His question changed. The query piqued the old man’s curiosity and he asked, “Don’t you know how to live?” “That’s why I am asking,” said the man, feeling confused “OK, son. If u want to live life, go and help others,” the old man whispered.

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 2/13/22

5. The Abyss, by Julie Achilles

I watched motionless as she walked closer towards the cliff edge, knowing her mental state, and was afraid.

I couldn’t see her face, yet, knew I would see only distress and pain at a world who did not understand her.

The wind and rain came in from the sea, so forcefully as if God Himself was pushing her backwards, but, her determination was too strong.

As she reached the edge, I called out her name, but, it was lost in the wind.

With arms outstretched and no hesitation she walked off into the abyss.

4. Spin Cycle, by Mark Tulin

I carefully turned the knob to the right spin cycle and temperature, separating the whites from the darks, and paying particular attention to the delicates. Most importantly, I didn’t overstuff the washer or dryer.

I believed that if I took care of her heavy-duty Whirlpools, she might see me as the kind of person who would do the same in a relationship, treating a woman with respect and not taking her for granted.

As I walked past the laundry lady and out the door, I kept hoping that she had noticed that I cleaned the lint from her dryer.

3. Canes, by Gordon Lawrie

Clearing out her father’s things, she came across two school canes.

She recalled how he hated being expected to inflict pain on errant pupils, but back then ‘you were simply expected to do it’. Proud of his own minor part in banning corporal punishment from schools, his concern for children had inspired her to follow him into teaching.

So what to do with the canes? Astonishingly, people would pay good money for these things. What would her father have wanted?

The answer was easy. There was a bonfire in the garden: with any luck they’d be ashes by the morning.

2. Checkin’ Out, by Doug Bartlett

The rays of sunlight streamed gently into the room, waking him up. He realized he was staying in a hotel, and after looking at the clock on the wall, thought he better call the front desk to find out when check-out time was. “Hello. This is Jimmy in room 1975. I was just calling to find out when I need to check out of my room.” “Mr. Hoffa,” the desk clerk responded, “We’ve had this conversation before and the policy hasn’t changed. You can check out any time you like … but you can never leave.”

1. The Other Half, by Nicky Johnson

Officer Willows’ arms violently shook as he raised the gun. Finally, again he found the man that had terrorized the town for the last two years. The main subject of the small town’s jokes, only hired because of his great granddaddy, the once heralded sheriff, knew this meeting was inevitable. The monster proved to be too strong during their last encounter. The recount was mocked as a fairy tale.

The resisting trigger submitted, and an explosion of glass jumped from the mirror. He scrambled for a shard to finish the job. Officer Willows lay in jest no more.

F.F.F. Stories – Monday 1/31/22

5. A Sad State, by Amy Malski

Julie … was she lazy? She was wondering what would be faster than making ramen noodles. She considered eating the ice cream but that’s all she had clean was a fork. That could do. Grabbing the pint, she shuffled back to her bedroom where she crawled into bed and ate till she fell asleep.

Waking up twelve hours later in a mess of sticky chocolate soup, she remembered she was going to do something but couldn’t remember what that was. Later she remembered what it was and that she already did it.

It doesn’t matter what it was. Nothing matters. Ever.

4. Bug Bite, by Dawn DeBraal

She rubbed her hand briskly, feeling the sting … soon after realizing a raised welt was taking on a life of its own as her skin danced below the surface. Histamines … she was having an allergic reaction and needed to take some Benadryl. The distance from the deck to the bathroom wasn’t great; her hand had swollen twice the size. How could this be happening so fast? She rummaged through the medicine cabinet. A worsening pain made her look. She gasped as she watched an opening being torn through the bloated skin, allowing the new hatchlings to exit from the “incubator” hand.

3. To Never Know, by Julie Achilles

I was just sixteen … too young, they said.

My Life had always been in turmoil, or was that just an excuse?

I looked for love, security and happiness, I found none, instead …

I found fear, sadness and self-destruction.

They took her as she was born; by accident, I heard a girl.

In my head I named her Rose.

Now I am sixty-one and I never knew what happened to Rose; did she have a better life than me? I hope so, but, I resign myself that I will never know.

2. Otto and Mandy, by Fliss Zakaszewska

Otto was blotto but Mandy was randy. “I feel shick,” he slurred, vision blurred. With that, he rolled over and snored like a dog.

Mandy pushed him away and folded her arms. “Frustrated,” she muttered as she cocked her head and listened. “Is that someone in the flat below? Thought it was empty.” She grabbed her phone and sent a text.

‘Yes, and yes. Just got home from sea,’ came the reply.

Smiling, Mandy crept downstairs. “Thank goodness for Handy-Andy.”

1. Judy, by Bex Gooding

‘Hello? Why can’t I move? Is it locked in syndrome? Please don’t take my organs! I’m still alive! Stay calm, Judy. Focus.’

Images of her children came to mind, running in the sunshine, through the bluebells, their laughter filling the air.

‘Roboton167, run self diagnostic.’ The scientist looked into the organic, human eyes of the automaton.

‘Problem?’ The Director asked.

‘I think she’s aware.’

‘Impossible! It’s a machine with a human brain interface. The eyes are purely aesthetic.’

As the lines of digital command code overrode the images of Judy’s children, a single tear fell onto Roboton167’s synthetic face.

F.F.F. Stories – Tuesday 1/18/22

Again, my apologies for the delay in updating. Life has been busy. For fresh content, and to contribute, be sure to visit the official Friday Flash Fiction website. Thanks for your interest and support.

5. The Tomb Looter, by Guy Fletcher

The looter peered down from the pyramid-shaped hill of El Qum thousands of years ago, licking his lips in anticipation. He would be rich; the dead didn’t need such expensive items buried with them. He thought it was all superstitious nonsense.

After 3 days he found his way into a tomb and discovered treasure. He was ecstatic. There remained one tremendous problem, though. He was trapped.

It was totally dark; his torch had long since been extinguished. Now he put his faith in the gods but they did not listen. They found his skeleton centuries later.

4. She’s Leaving, by Julie Achilles

I see her standing in the hallway. “Please, don’t,” I say.

She turns and looks directly at me.

“Mum, please,” she pleads.

Her hand moves towards the door, her suitcase in hand, then hesitation.

“I have to do this. Please don’t cry.”

I know I am making this harder for her. I really don’t want to; I just cannot help myself.

The door opens and she leaves.

I can only stand and stare after her as the door closes and I stand alone in the hallway and let the tears fall.

3. Deterministic Chaos, Idibus Martiis, by Gordon Lawrie

You might need a quick visit to Wikipedia to get your head round this one.

“Cheat – you’re wearing a stab vest!” Cassius complained as his knife bounced off the leader’s bulked-out torso. “They’ve not been invented yet.”

Caesar grinned. “Cleo and I brought it back from our 21st century holiday. You should go there sometime.” He nodded at Brutus. “You, too, Brutus. Look–I’ve brought you souvenirs.” Caesar handed over two crushed butterflies.

“Did you buy any souvenirs?” Brutus asked Cleopatra.

“I brought back this asp,” she said.

Caesar reached to stroke it. “Lovely chap. We call him Mark.” Just then, the snake stretched out and bit him.

“Careful, Jules!” said Cleopatra, “You were warned … “

2. I Hate the Ides of March, by Henry Bladon

I remember the 15th March because it was our anniversary. It was also the day you betrayed me. Yes, I can use a classic, because ‘you stabbed me in the back’ when you chose to cheat on me with her.

It was, if you’ll pardon another, ‘the day our love died’. I could go on. ‘If you love something, let it go,’ they say. They also say: ‘Things happen when you least expect it’, ‘it’s not life and death’, and ‘nothing lasts forever’.

​They may all be true, but I hate clichés. And now I hate the Ides of March.

1. The Thingamabob, by, Marjan Sierhuis

Cliff looks out his kitchen window. An enormous saucer-shaped object sits on his plowed field.

“Millie, anything on the news about unusual sightings in this area?”

“Why, Cliff?” asks his wife as she joins him at the window.

“Well, there is a strange looking thingamabob perched on our property.”

“Oh, that,” replies Millie. “I have invited the occupants to join us for breakfast.”

Cliff looks at Millie, his expression wary. “Who are they, and what do they want?”

Cliff suddenly feels something poke him in the ribs.

“You can ask them yourself. They are right behind you,” she whispers.

F.F.F. Stories – Monday 12/6/21

My apologies for the lack of posts here. I have a new job that’s kept me busy. However, I hope to update more frequently in the future. Thanks, as always, for your support of F.F.F.

5. Aidan’s Way, by Don Tassone

“Come with us this morning,” Emily said.

“No–you guys go ahead,” Kaitlyn said.

“You never walk with us anymore,” said Emma.

“See you at school,” Kaitlyn said.

Kaitlyn veered off as her friends took a more direct route.

Soon Kaitlyn came to some shallow woods. She followed a path through the trees, crossing a wooden bridge over a creek. This way is much more interesting, she thought. No wonder Aidan loved it.

Just beyond the woods was a four-lane highway. Kaitlyn stopped at the intersection and waited for the walk sign. If only Aidan had paid closer attention.

4. The Mating Rituals of the Modern Man, by David Croll

He grooms himself, removing any unwanted hair. He masks his scent by applying cologne. He wears his finest attire, adding jewelry to draw attention to his finest features.

She grooms herself, removing any unwanted hair. She masks her scent by applying perfume. And she too wears her finest attire, adding jewelry to draw attention to her finest features.

Separately they arrive at a location where potential mates gather. When they spot each other, they smile shyly and quickly look away. This step repeats itself many times until he approaches her with what he hopes will intrigue her.

“Hi,” he says.

3. The Intruder, by Mark Tulin

My father’s piercing scream invaded my dream.

“Hey!” I heard him shout. “Get the hell outta here!”

Dad yelled at the top of his lungs from the living room where I found him pushing against the door. “Help me!” he cried. “Someone’s trying to break in!”

Soon we heard footsteps running down into the basement.

Mom called 911.

The burglar escaped through the back door.

The intruder invaded my dream that day, but years later he still lives in my head. Each night before retiring, I check the deadbolt locks twice on the front door, fearing that he might return.

2. The Rock, by Doug Bartlett

He came home and was surprised to see a gigantic rock in his yard. He asked God, “Why?” God told him for now, his purpose in life was to push against the rock daily with all his strength. He did. A year later, he cried out in frustration, “I’m a failure! After all this time, and the rock hasn’t budged an inch!” “My child,” the Lord responded, “Look at you. Your shoulders are broader. Your arms and legs are stronger. Your stature is more muscular. The purpose was never to move the rock; the purpose was to make you stronger.”

1. The Curtain Call, by Sankar Chatterjee

[Posted, with image, to a PAGE on the F.F.F. website.]

F.F.F. Stories – Monday 11/15/21

5. Guilt, by Julie Achilles

I often walked the footpath along the canal. One day I had an uneasy feeling: someone was close behind me.

Suddenly a pain. I awoke days later in a hospital bed. Beside me, the man who had found me whilst jogging, and had phoned the emergency services … saved my life. He had visited me every day since.

I looked forward to his visits and we grew close.

A year later we walked hand in hand along the canal path. I bent down to redo my laces and shuddered. Turning, I asked, ‘It was you, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

4. A Mound of Stones, by R.S. Pyne

Each one represented the pain she caused him while they were man and wife – twelve years of put-downs, violence and emotional blackmail hidden from the outside world because he couldn’t bring himself to admit it to anyone. Martin put up with the black eyes and the bruises … suffered her vicious temper in silence.

Now, he didn’t have to pretend anymore. He finished arranging the last stone on the cairn and walked away, smiling for the first time in a decade. A small mound of stones marked the start of a new life without her – the chance to begin again.

3. Too Soon, by Jack Wolfe Frost

Sixty today. I forced a smile, fighting off the feelings of being old. It didn’t work. Part of me had looked forward to this day, but now that it was here… I think the fear was more dominant. I’d always known that one day I’d reach sixty; now it seemed too soon.

Work had just been a routine day. Perhaps this is what I need–a complete change. No one at work had even said goodbye. A lone tear rolled down my cheek.

I reached the complex, handed over my card. The perfunctory official simply said, “Re-cycling booth 27.” Too soon.

2. International Women’s Day 7019, by Gordon Lawrie

(Published, with image, to a PAGE on the F.F.F. website.)

1. Deployment, by Bex Gooding

He looked at the others, exactly like him, all waiting for the order to deploy. Identical in their uniformity, it was impossible to tell one from the other. Their mission was simple: attack and kill. Families, individuals, it didn’t matter; everyone was a target. The old and the young were the weakest; most of them would fall easily, even the strong could be brought to their knees. There would be resistance, and a few would escape, but the overall success of the mission was guaranteed.

The order was about to be given. Anticipation gave way to excitement.

‘Influenza! Roll out!’

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 10/24/21

My apologies for the lack of recent updates here. I’ve been busy after starting a new job. However, I hope to post more frequently in the days to come. Thank you for your continued support of Friday Flash Fiction. — Russell

5. The Warmongers, by Sankar Chatterjee

(Published, with image, to a PAGE on the F.F.F. website.)

4. Condolence Duty, by Nicky Johnson

After lightly knocking, Officer Clemens was greeted by puffy eyes, which was regretfully his accustomed salutation. “Oh, hello, Officer. Is there something else about the accident?” she almost whispered.

He looked down at the round tummy. “Um, yes. I just wanted to let you know that I found out your husband was having lunch with a client at the hotel before the accident.” He watched some comfort seep into her being.

Driving away, he felt pleased knowing she would pass on fond memories. Handling the mistress staying at the hotel wasn’t so easy.

3. Perfect Storm, by Julie Achilles

That night a storm raged, tearing wildly at everything in its path, showing no mercy. An anger had been dispatched from the heavens, the wind and rain its chosen weapons.

Dark grey skies were streaked with illumination – white and blue – lightning bolts were accompanied by a symphony of thunder. The sea – defenceless – submits, waves grow higher and crash angrily to the shore, stirring rocks and battering fragile cliffs.

All was thrown about. Hours passed filled with noise, relentless power sent destruction – a perfect storm.

Then, suddenly, all was silent, all was still.

God’s anger spent, and He was pleased with His punishment.

2. Puddle Jumping, by Zane Castillo

We watch our daughter jump from puddle to puddle on the sidewalk. Her umbrella is completely forgotten in her excitement of making the water “go splash”. Raindrops race down her poncho as she dashes to each small and big pool that has formed on the ground.

Every so often, her head would whip around to see if we are paying attention to the splashes she is making from each leap. We smile and nod in approval.

We see her eyes widen in excitement as she sees a large puddle before her. We rush forward to join her in this spectacle.

1. Words Left Unsaid, by Marjan Sierhuis

Cody sits by his father’s bedside and clutches his frail hand. The nurse tells him to go home.

“You need to eat and get some rest,” says Courtney.

“I want to stay with father,” says Cody. “If he dies and I am not with him, I will never forgive myself.”

The bedside monitor suddenly alarms. Courtney notices that the E.K.G. rhythm has become irregular. She knows death is now imminent.

Cody takes a few deep breaths. He is afraid to move.

He suddenly closes his eyes, and he starts to pray.

There is so much he still needs to say.

F.F.F. Stories – Wednesday 9/29/21

5. My Robot Husband, by Henry Bladon

It could be called restoration, I suppose. Or reclamation, perhaps. I’m not really sure of the correct terminology. He’s the same but different. I know I called him a robot when we used to argue, but I did love him. I really did. When he died I had him converted into a real robot and now we don’t argue any more. And he finally does whatever I ask. The result of all of this is that I still love him, but not for the same reasons. It may sound funny, but life is so much easier with a robot husband.

4. Classic, by Fliss Zakaszewska

Dear Ms. Austen

An intriguing project, and with amendments, has possibilities. However, there are a few points to which you must attend as outlined in my full report, but in brief: P.O.V. wanders uncertainly and, until the third chapter, seems to be the P.O.V. of the father. Your grasp of the English language is masterful, but you are using far too much exposition and there is an urgent need to align far more with the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle. The title is weak; ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – really … ?

And that is why Jane Austen’s masterpiece would not be published today.

3. Right-Swiped on Tinder, by Gordon Lawrie

“I’m so glad I right-swiped you, Linda,” Mark said.

She clinked glasses. “Likewise.”

“Would you meet me again?”

She looked away. “Perhaps.”

“Only perhaps?”

“Look, Mark … there’s a problem.”

“Tell me. I won’t be shocked.”

She turned back towards him. “You won’t understand,” smiling to reveal blood-covered fangs in her mouth.

“Goodness!”

“Did I shock you?”

“Not shocked … surprised.” Mark grinned, revealing his own razor-sharp fangs. “Dating apps are fantastic at finding matches.”

“Perfect! I’d love to date you again.”

“Can I see you home?”

“Yes, but no sex on our first night.”

“No sex. Perhaps a little necking?”

“Naturally.”

2. The Warlock’s Curse, Shawn M. Klimek

When a witch he recognized was buzzed into the building, Horace lunged to keep the door from closing, and then slipped in behind her. Racing the elevator upstairs, he reached the third-floor hallway in time to observe into which apartment she had entered. Approaching that door, he blocked the peephole with a bag of Chinese take-out and then knocked. It opened just enough for an elderly woman to peek over the chain.

“Oh, it’s you, Horace,” said Griselda, the Coven High Priestess. “No warlocks allowed.”

“But Griselda,” Horace pleaded, “I self-identify as a witch.”

“Ain’t curses a bitch?” said Griselda.

1. A Pound, by Fabio Crispim

The cold had forced its way inside his bones. His breath danced as it escaped his lips in the dim yellow streetlights. There was no shelter here.

He shook his empty paper cup as the faces passed, footsteps clopping. He heard her then, her clops louder than the others. A pair of black shoes paused and a coin dropped into his cup, a pound? He glanced up and she smiled before disappearing.

Shaking, he pulled the cup and peered inside. A pound. He thanked them in his mind, shook his cup and was ignored for the rest of the day.