Saturday, July 14, 2018

in the gathering dusk

by nick nelson




mister brown had just purchased the town but seemed to be having second thoughts.

he had hired phil wilson, who had lived in the town all his life and knew everybody, as a guide and consultant.

as mister brown and phil wilson walked around the streets in the gathering dusk, they saw a lot of people just hanging out in the streets, standing on corners, or sitting on boxes in front of stores.

“who are all these bums?” mister brown asked. “don’t they have homes to go to?”

“some of them do,” phil wilson told him. “but they just like to hang out.”

“why?”

“it’s just what they do. it’s what they’ve always done.”

“why don’t they go home and watch tv like decent hardworking people?”

“maybe there is nothing good on.”

“i don’t like it. look at that guy over there - the one in the orange shirt. he looks like a serial killer being brought into a courtroom. and he is just staring into space like a monkey. who’s he?”

“oh, that’s maurice - he’s the mayor’s brother. he’s quite harmless, i assure you.”

“the mayor’s brother! maybe i need a new mayor.”

“you bought the town, sir. you can do as you like. but if you want my advice, which is what you are paying me for, you might be wise to tread carefully.”

mister brown grunted. he took a cigar out of his pocket and lit it.

it started to get darker. but as they walked around, cutting down side streets and then back up to the man thoroughfares, they continued to see people on the streets.

“look at them!” mister brown repeated. “all of them, just hanging out!”

most of the people were silent, although occasionally they heard a voice. but nothing that sounded like a fight or a serious argument.

“this is terrible,” mister brown picked up the thread of his discourse. “i did not know anything about this. i didn’t see anything in the papers, or online.”

“there has been some notice,” phil wilson said. “ authorities worldwide are starting to notice a pattern. at this point they don’t think it is anything serious, just a blip in the irresistible march to a symmetrical, balanced and manageable human population.”

“that’s great, just great. but does anybody have a cure?” mister brown persisted.

“some think better television and video programming might be the answer.”

“better tv programming! i thought they had that down to a science.”

phil wilson shrugged. “maybe. but i, myself, if anybody were interested, take a more long term view.”.

“oh?”

“yes, these people are, as you point out, just hanging out. but , really, what does any living creature, or any entity in the universe, do but just hang out - hang suspended for its brief existence between an unknown origin and an incomprehensible future?”

mister brown took his cigar out of his mouth and looked at it. “you know,” he said, “you might have a point there.”



Thursday, July 12, 2018

out


by emily de villaincourt




"the world”.

what was this “world” that adriana had heard mother and her aunts and uncles and sometimes even the servants talk about all her life, but which they had never really described to her?

and what did it mean to go “out” unto this “world” ?

today was adriana’s birthday, and tonight there would be a party for her. tomorrow, if everything went as planned, she would go “out” into the world.

whatever that meant.


the party was a pleasant enough one, even though there was chocolate cake, and not the strawberry cake that adriana would have preferred, although of course she did not complain..

there were presents, too, and they were nice enough, although many of them seemed very familiar , as if she had received them before, but again she did not say so.

later that evening, mother took adriana aside.

“tomorrow, as you know,” mother began, “you are going to go out into the world.”

“yes, i know,” adriana replied.


“do you know what to expect?” mother asked.

“no, i have absolutely no idea.”

“well, you are going to encounter people.”

“but i have been encountering people all my life, have i not?”

“yes, but these people will be different. they will be neither relations, nor servants.”

“what!” adriana exclaimed. “what are they, then?”

“you will find out,” mother replied with a slight grimace. “i hope you will find them pleasant enough. the important thing to remember, though, is that if you do not like the world, we can find another one for you. i would hope, though, that you will find the one you encounter tomorrow satisfactory.”


“i hope so, too,” adriana replied, as that seemed to be the answer mother wanted.

in the morning redfield, the chauffeur, drove adriana down the hill further than she had ever gone before. they continued driving for several miles, but adriana had never been one for talking to the servants, so they rode in silence.

finally they reached the streets of a little town that looked somewhat familiar to adriana from videos and picture books she had seen.

“here you are, miss,” redfield informed her. “i will be back to pick you up this evening. but if you decide for any reason you want to return sooner, just call.”

“thank you , redfield.”


“you have the sandwiches mrs white made for you?”

“yes, i do.”

“and there are other places you can get food,” redgield continued, “such as that one.” he pointed to a little diner. “and of course you have plenty of money.”

“i understand, thank you.”

with a tip of his cap, redfield drove off.

adriana looked around. she did not see any people. she saw a green bench, such as she had seen in videos, and went and sat down on it.

finally a person appeared, a clean cut young man carrying a briefcase.


“hello,” adriana said to him as he approached. as she had a vague idea as this was the proper thing to do.

“hello yourself,” the young man replied. with a slightly surprised air, and walked on.

about a half hour later, another young man, not so clean cut and not carrying a briefcase, walked by.

adriana did not speak to him but he spoke to her as he walked by.

“nice legs,” he said.

adriana looked down at her legs. she supposed they were nice enough. what would have been wrong with them?


a few other people walked by without speaking to her, or arians speaking to them, and one woman walked by and did not even seem to notice that adriana was there! which amazed and confused her.

when she got hungry, she decided not to eat the sandwiches made by mrs white and went over to the little diner redfield had pointed out, and ordered two hot dogs and cole slaw and a glass of milk.

in the diner she got into a conversation with an elderly gentleman about football. adriana knew a little bit about football but could not follow the old man’s intricate and lengthy disquisition on it.


that evening, when mother asked her how her trip had gone, adriana tried without success to express a little enthusiasm.

“it was all right, i guess,” she said.

“maybe you can try again tomorrow, “ mother told her hesitantly. “maybe you will find it a little more to your taste.”

uncle giles, sitting in his great red leather chair, overheard their conversation. “nonsense!” he exclaimed, snapping the pages of his copy of the times, “if the child doesn’t like the world, we will just get her a new one. no call not to. it’s as simple as that.”


“i suppose you are right, giles,” mother agreed.

adriana did not argue. the rest of the evening passed smoothly enough. adriana played some of the phonograph records that aunt eunice had given her as a birthday present the day before , and perused the pages of chatsworth’s collection of the folk tales of finland, a book she did not recall opening before.

she wondered what tomorrow would bring.



Saturday, July 7, 2018

disappearing act


by horace p sternwall




“did you find the guy?”

“yeah, i found him.” maury plopped himself down in his favorite chair as the big guy glared at him.

“then were is he?” the big guy asked.

“he didn’t want to come. he wants you to come to him. he says he’ll talk to you, though.”

“well, isn’t that nice of him. you didn’t try to persuade him to come see me?”

maury shrugged. “i could have. i made a command decision, in the field. it just did not seem worth it. i think you should go see this guy. it won’t kill you. you should get out more, anyway.”


“you think?” the big guy glared at maury, then laughed. “all right, see him where? some bar? where did you find him?”

in a dunkin donuts. on third avenue. that’s where he hangs out.”

“this guy hangs out in a dunkin donuts? i would have expected someplace a little more … mysterious, you know? or out of the way.”

“it’s where a lot of people hang out these days. america runs on dunkin. by the way, there was one thing he wanted me to tell you.”


“and what was that?”

“he said there were plenty of guys who could do what you wanted. “

“yes, well he was the guy i was told about.”

“so, do you want to go see him?’

the big guy sighed. “sure, why not?” he got up and grabbed his hat and put it on. “let’s go see this magic man.”

*

the magician was still sitting where maury had left him, in a corner of the dunkin donuts, beside a window where he could watch the world go by. an ordinary looking little guy, not getting any younger. he wasn’t wearing a cape or a top hat or anything to show he was a magician. a small empty styrofoam cup sat on the table in front of him.

the big guy sat across from the magician at the little square table, and maury grabbed a chair and sat down between them, facing the window and the street.

“this is the gentleman i was telling you about, “ maury said. “the one interested in your services.”


the magician just nodded.

“you understand what i want?,” the big guy tried to look the magician in the eye.

“i think so. you want to make somebody disappear. “

“exactly. totally disappear. i don’t want any body, i don’t want any blood or guts or evidence, or screaming or shouting, i just want this guy to disappear into thin air. can you do that?”

“easily. and you could go over to joe’s joke shop on thirty-seventh street and find a dozen guys who could do it, too.”


“you don’t say so.”

“i do say so.” the magician looked down into his empty styrofoam cup.

“then if it is so easy why don’t you ever hear about it being done?” the big guy asked.

“because there is a problem - a possible complication.”

“ah. a possible complication. and what might that be?”

“there is no guarantee you won’t make the whole universe disappear. you might not, but you might - the whole universe and everything and everybody in it. me, you, the pope, the king of spain, everybody.”

the big guy nodded. “i can see where some people might not want to take that chance.”

“but what about you? “ the magician asked. “are you willing take the chance?’


“listen,” the big guy answered, “i have been wanting to get this guy for forty years. he did me dirty, like no man was ever done dirty before. thinking about him has been eating away at me every day for forty years, like a cosmic green cancer, like a mountain of red ants whose ravenous hunger can never be appeased. yes, i’m willing to take the chance.”

the magician nodded. “does this person have a name, you got a picture or something…?”

“i got this.” the big guy handed the magician a small photo, a black and white polaroid at least thirty years old.


the picture had been taken at a beach, and showed an ordinary looking man in a bathing suit with a little smile, an ordinary looking woman in a bathing suit with a big smile, an ordinary looking little boy in a bathing suit with no smile, and a dog.

“you need anything more?” the big guy asked.

“no, this is all i need.” the magician put the photo down on the table.

“so, you’ll do it.”


“yeah, i’ll do it. i just want one thing.”

“and what is that?”

“a frozen strawberry banana smoothie.”

“coming right up!” the big guy nodded to maury. “get the man what he wanted.”

“which was?”

a frozen strawberry banana smoothie, ” the magician repeated.

maury got up and headed for the counter.

“so how soon can you do this?” the big guy asked the magician.

“as soon as i finish my smoothie. but i want to make sure i get every last drop.”



Thursday, July 5, 2018

the strongest man in the world


by emily de villaincourt





it was the vicar who innocently started the unfortunate chain of events.

the afternoon gathering was a small one, consisting only of the vicar, lady agnes, lady agnes’s two children - chester, who was then nine years old, margaret, who was eight, the children’s aunt, lady alice, and the governess, miss green.

“and what do you wish to be when you grow up?” the vicar asked chester.

“an admiral,” chester responded without hesitation. adults had asked him the same question before and always received the same prompt answer.

“why, that is admir- able,” the vicar replied, with a slight chuckle at his own little joke, which he had had occasion to use before on other small boys who had expressed the wish to become admirals.

“why do you not ask me what i wish to be when i grow up?” margaret asked the vicar.

“i should hope you would like to make a good match,” lady agnes interposed quickly, “with an honorable gentleman.”

“no, that is not at all what i would like to do when i grow up,” margaret insisted.

“then, what would you like to do, or be?” the vicar gently asked the scowling child.

“i want to be the strongest man in the world,” margaret replied.

“ha, ha, ha!” cried chester, “that is the silliest thing i ever heard!”

“yes, margaret, you are getting to be rather a big girl to be saying such silly things,” lady agnes said, with a hint of steel in her voice.

margaret made a face, and the vicar smiled politely and sipped his tea.

“but do you know,” lady alice interposed, “the child’s assertion may not be as ridiculous as first appears. science is making astonishing strides these days, with ocean crossings in as little as a week, and the promise of flights to the moon. i have been told by some of my friends knowledgeable in such matters, that the day when men can be turned into women, and women into men, may not be so distant as we might think.”

lady agnes was accustomed to such comments from her sister, though she continued to be annoyed by them. “i should think the day might be quite far off,” she replied as evenly as she could.

“i think no such thing has been prophesied in scripture,” the vicar added mildly, “not even in the book of revelation.”

“the scriptures do not prophesy ocean crossings in a week, or the telegraph,” lady alice countered.

the vicar merely smiled, margaret directed a victorious scowl at chester, and there the matter might have ended.

but stone, the butler, had overheard the conversation and reported it that evening to lord charles, when he returned home from the ministry.

outraged that such a subject should be broached in his home, especially in front of his children, lord charles confronted lady agnes in their bedroom later that evening, upbraided her mercilessly, and administered her a sound thrashing.

mortified, lady agnes waited her chance.

it came three weeks later, when the circus came to town. she ran away and joined it, taking up with samsono, the strong man.

mortified in his turn by his wife’s desertion, lord charles took to the bottle, and then began a liaison with the barmaid of a low tavern beside the docks who stabbed him to death a week after he lost his post at the ministry.

the two children, margaret and chester, took divergent paths.

margaret followed her mother into the circus, finding employment successively as the tattooed girl, the strong woman, and the fat lady, finally becoming the tattooed strong fat lady - a singular attraction.

chester persevered in the face of his family’s multiple shames, and enjoyed an honorable career in the navy, attaining the rank of captain, but not of admiral.

years later, lady alice and the aged vicar took tea together again and reflected on the sad events.

“such tragedies might be avoided,” lady alice opined, “in a future society in which the roles of men and women are not so rigidly delineated.”

“perhaps, “ the vicar agreed, “but who knows what new, different ones, might unfold?”

“i do not suppose.” lady alice rejoindeed good naturally, “that such things are prophesied in scripture?”

“not so far as i know,” the vicar replied, “not even in the book of revelations.”




Sunday, July 1, 2018

the dead man


by fred flynn




jonathon had just gotten out the door on his way to the school bus when he saw the dead man lying on the sidewalk.

he went back inside and told mom.

did you look in his pockets?, was the first thing mom said.

no, jonathon said, i didn’t think -

well, go back out there and look in his pockets before anyone else does. there might be a lottery ticket in there. i will get derek and grandpa out there to help you bring him in.

all right, jonathion said. he went back outside and the dead man was still lying there. it did not look like anyone had come along and disturbed him.


jonathon looked in the dead man’s pockets, and sure enough, along with a comb and a subway pass and a few coins there was indeed a lottery ticket, for the big drawing that would be held in three days.

the prize for the big drawing promised to be a good one - all the money in the world.

the number on the dead man’s ticket was 92 - 78 - 56 - 876 - 320- 442 - 096.

jonathon was trying to memorize it and find some cosmic significance in it, when derek and grandpa came out and the three of them dragged the dead man inside.

mom took charge of the lottery ticket. the name on it was harold stevenson - a common enough name - and the dead man had no other i d on his person.


derek and grandpa and sissy took the dead man’s body down to the basement, where grandpa had his grinding machine.

they got the dead man's clothes off. sissy didn’t think they could get much for them, but they were better than nothing.

derek and grandpa began chopping the dead man up and feeding him into the grinder.

jonathon went back outside but he had missed the school bus and had to walk to school and was late.

he reported to ms walters, in the disciplinarian’s office.


what will be, jonathon? , ms walters asked, ten lashes, or two hours hanging in chains on the wall?

you know me, jonathon told her, i will take the lashes every time.

i know, but i have to ask.

when jonathon got home he found that derek and grandpa had got enough meat out of harold stevenson, who had weighed about 160 pounds, for three weeks worth of burgers.

but as it turned out the three weeks of burgers would not be needed.


92 - 78 - 56 - 876 - 320- 442 - 096 was the winning number. no other ticket with the number had been sold.

jonathon, mom, grandpa, derek, and sissy divided all the money in the world between them. jonathon made a feeble effort to argue that he should get half because he found harold stevenson in the street, but mom quickly countered that she had had to tell him to look for the ticket before anyone else came along. and grandpa and derek pointed out that they had done all the work grinding him up.

in the end they divided the money five ways equally. they each bought a castle on an island in the middle of an ocean and never saw each other again

*


one evening jonathon was sitting in the library of his castle, when soames, his butler, appeared.

a gentleman to see you, sir, soames announced.

to see me? how did he get on to the island?

i don’t know, sir, bit he seems very insistent. of course, if you don’t want to see him -

oh, show him in, show him in.

yes, sir.

jonathon put the book he had been reading aside, and looked around the library as he waited for his unexpected guest. the library was a large one, and the real estate agent had assured jonathon that it contained every book that had ever been written.


he had just finished the memoirs of cardinal mazarin, and was working his way through grote’s history of grrece, and was halfway through volume three.

soames returned with the guest, whom jonathon immediately recognized as harold stevenson.

jonathon dismissed soames, and harold stevenson took a seat and made himself comfortable.

well, sir, what can i do for you? jonathon asked harold stevenson.

i would think you could do quite a lot for me, considering that all this was almost mine - entirely mine, in fact. i just missed out.


but you did miss out, didn’t you? jonathon retorted. hard cheese, my brother, but the chips fell where they may, as they always do. by the way, how did you get here, and in one piece? the last i heard, you were all ground up into hamburger.

harold stevenson shrugged. what do you know about the space-time continuum?

not a whole lot, jonathon admitted. i might get around to reading about it someday.

there you have it, said harold stevenson. he looked around the library, at the blazing fire and the tall bookshelves. you don’t look like you are having much fun. do you ever bring any hot babes up here, with all your money?

that is no concern of yours, jonathon told him.

hey, i was just asking a question, you don’t have to get all snippy. say, do you think you could treat a guy to a square meal?


of course, so long as you don’t start feeling entitled. soames will bring you anything you like.

i would like a roast beef sandwich, some extra salty fries, and a fifth of good bourbon.

not a problem. tell me, do you play pinochle? i was reading something about it the other day, and thought it sounded a rather interesting game.

harold stevenson shrugged. i’ll play pinochle with you.

good, jonathon replied. he rang for soames and ordered a roast beef sandwich , extra salty fries, a fifth of “the best bourbon we have” and a pinochle deck. harold stevenson asked soames to also bring a bottle of worcestershire sauce.

they passed a pleasant evening.



Saturday, June 30, 2018

dawn


by emily de villaincourt




a group of seven prisoners was scheduled to be shot at dawn.

lieutenant g———————, the commander of the firing squad , decided to have a little fun with them.

he visited each of the seven prisoners the night before the execution and gave them each a pencil and some paper and told them to write a poem.

in the morning, he told them, he would read the poems, and decide which was the worst poem and which was the best. he would then free the author of the best poem and the author of the worst poem.

the remaining five would then be shot on schedule.

five of the prisoners, faced with this prospect, arrived at the same happy thought.


the lieutenant had not specifically stated that the poem had to be original - therefore they could write some famous and well-regarded poem from memory, such as one they had learned in school. even if they could not remember it exactly, how bad could it be?

one prisoner transcribed a poem from li po, another from sappho, another a few verses from the rubaiyat of omar khayyam. a fourth wrote down a psalm, and the fifth put down shelley’s ozymandias as best he could.

the remaining two prisoners penned original verses.


count d———— had been convicted of sedition and treason against the empire.

his poem read as follows:

the world spins around
like a kitten chasing a ball
snow falls in the winter
leaves fall in the fall

the sun shines in summer
flowers bloom in spring
i wish i could live forever
but you can’t have everything


madame b———— had incurred the displeasure of the lord chamberlain. she wrote:

a single rose
bloomed in an endless desert

the rose asked the desert
why do you allow me to bloom?

the desert answered
because i once was a poet

a poor, starving poet
in love with a beautiful maiden

who sang and danced
with every man in the capital

except myself
or so it seemed to me

i grew sad
and found a magic lamp

in a heap of trash
outside a low tavern

being conversant with the classics
and the lore of all nations

i had the sense to make one wish only
and forego the other two

and i wished to become this desert
and i did

and how you came along
and what i might do for you

having surrendered my last two wishes
i will never know

this ended madame b——’s poem.


in the morning lieutenant g————— arrived, but before he had a chance to read the seven poems, his orderly brought him a neatly folded note.

it was from the empress. it read:

lieutenant g————, my pretty fellow. i am lonely this morning. please visit me.

the lieutenant hastened to the empress’s side, leaving the firing squad in the charge of sergeant e————.

the seven prisoners attempted to give their poems to sergeant e————, but the worthy sergeant had no patience for the lieutenant’s nonsense, and had all seven taken outside and shot.