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Master of Time

by J. Lee Strickland

Steven mastered time travel. He mastered the brutal simplicity of it. There is only one reason to travel into the past, and that is to change it. There is only one reason to travel into the future, and that is to determine it. He started with the past, with his first wife.
He eliminated her.

He didn’t kill her. He simply erased their marriage. To be certain of the effect, he went so far as to remove certain preconditions to that matrimony, like their attendance at the same high school, the senior prom and those embarrassing photos. Sure, there might still be some someone in the world with a past like hers, even a name like hers, but the tangle of their lives together was gone as surely as if it never occurred. It was a much more satisfying separation than divorce had ever been. The residue that had infected his relationships, his life after that divorce, the recursive torment of what might have been, all that was gone.

His second wife was a more delicate operation. He found that there are limits to what one can change when one travels into the past. One cannot recover what fate has erased. Fate had erased his second wife.

He cured her of the horrible blood disease that had debilitated her, that had robbed her of her beautiful smile, that had wasted her voluptuous body, that had finally killed her. He arranged instead for her to die in a shocking, freak accident at the exact day and hour that fate had ordained. At least she didn’t suffer. He could remember her healthy, robust and happy, loving and being loved, until the last instant.

He was tempted to branch out, to correct the difficulties of a few others, but the past is a delicate fabric, and he had already changed much.

He moved his focus to the future, at first a much more simplistic, almost cartoonish landscape populated with vague stick figures who only gained flesh once one gave them close attention. He found a small cottage in a country setting where he would spend his advanced old age. He contrived that he would be fit and engaged. His mind would be sharp and his fingers still nimble. He lined up some neighbors, not too close, who would be helpful, but respectful. He negotiated with Fate to be kind.

He surveyed his work from the wooden chair in the kitchen of his third-floor apartment and felt pleased.

The phone rang.

“Steven, it’s Betty.”
“Betty who?”
“Don’t be an asshole, Steven. Why do you always have to be an asshole? We’re not married anymore, so just cut the shit.”
“You must have the wrong number,” he said.

He replaced the phone in its cradle. As an afterthought, he pulled the wire from the back of the phone. He gazed out the kitchen window, past the rusted fire escape, across the brick-strewn, vacant lot, at a line of stunted vegetation on the far edge. He thought about his cottage, his diffident neighbors.


J. Lee Strickland is a freelance writer living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction, he has written on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading and voluntary simplicity. He is a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and served as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 storySouth Million Writers Awards. He recently learned that he is short-listed for the Anne LaBastille Memorial Writers Residency, and now spends his time waiting for the other shoe to drop. His sorely neglected website, including a blog and links to some online works, can be found at: https://jleestrickland.wordpress.com/

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Wanted

by Don Noel

Jill hadn’t imagined so many choices. In the chalky light, the buses kept coming and going: to Waterbury, New Britain, Boston, New York, Providence, Philadelphia. She wished she had a map.

The backless metal benches were uncomfortable. Probably to discourage homeless people from sleeping here. Never mind; she kept getting up to watch buses load or unload, wondering if someone like her would be noticeable. Not stand out by age: She was fifteen, but was sure she looked eighteen. No, scared: She didn’t want to look scared.

Most arrivals had someone waiting: Stepping down to the pavement, hugging awkwardly, they hurried to waiting cars. Others moved confidently toward the taxi stand or the local bus stop at the end of the platform. No one seemed uncertain. Except her.

Departing buses gave her time to study the passengers. Most, traveling with friends, chatted as they waited in line, shuffling up to where the driver took their tickets. Some had suitcases to be stowed in the holds, which made them seem purposeful. Those alone stared into smartphones, or smiled, rocking to rhythms in their earbuds. None looked indecisive.

It was chilly. It had been warm at the cemetery, an autumn afternoon whose beauty mocked their purpose, but the day’s heat was long gone. Taking off her backpack, she took out her hoodie and pulled it on, trying to avoid mussing her hair. It warmed her, but made her more conspicuous, she thought: People resolutely going somewhere wore real coats. Without the hoodie her bag was almost empty; she should have packed more. She set it at her feet.

Remembering the cemetery brought tears; she dabbed with an already-damp handkerchief. She had not known until this day that Dad was not her real father.

The scene at graveside replayed in her head. “Jill, I don’t know why you’re crying,” Carol whispered acidly. “You’re adopted. I’m his real daughter.”

Eight years older, her sister had always seemed distant; suddenly she had turned cruel. And apparently wasn’t a sister anyway. Good riddance.

On the other hand, Carol would go back to college soon, halfway across the country to get a degree in cybernetics, whatever that was. At that point, if she changed her mind, Jill would be an only child again — adopted or not. It had been special this year, with Carol away: Mom taught her to sew, and helped her make a Father’s Day shirt for Dad.

She made herself concentrate. A girl got off a bus from Albany, looking lost. In the ghostly fluorescence her blonde hair looked frosted. She stood with her little roll-on, people eddying around her. The Travelers Aid booth seemed to catch her eye. It was dark, though, closed at this hour.

Were there Travelers Aid booths in other cities? And what would she ask? “Excuse me, I’m running away. Where can I safely get some sleep?” Not likely.

The blonde girl was being met after all: A couple came up, quick hugs. Parents? No, maybe uncle-aunt hugs. Whatever; she was wanted. The man took her roll-on, leading away.

Maybe she should ask people about the cities they’d left. “Excuse me, how big is Philadelphia?” Or “Excuse me, is Providence a friendly city?” No, that was absurd.

She’d been wrong not to say goodbye. But Mom was already grieving, and unlikely to have time for a spare-wheel daughter. Was Jill her real name, or one given at adoption? And how old had she been? Would Mom know who her real mother was? Or tell her? Must phone or write when she got settled in wherever she was going.

She’d taken a city bus downtown. Local buses must stop running soon. She wandered a half-block to the bus stop, peering at the sign with the schedule for her route. The last bus for the night had already gone.

That settled it: Time to get serious about deciding, buying a ticket. She went inside the terminal to the huge electronic timetable of arrivals and departures. Within the hour buses would leave for New York, Pittsburgh, Albany, Boston, Toronto. Did one need a passport for Toronto? Irresolute, she walked back to where buses came and went.

A man in a uniform cap, with a taxi-driver’s badge on his tunic, startled her. Thick grey hair, bushy moustache. Nice-looking, old enough to be a grandfather. “Excuse me. Aren’t you Jillian Bassett?”

He didn’t seem the kind of predator you read about, but she was wary. “Why does that matter to you?”

“Your mother thought you might be here.”
“Oh, sure.”
“Your sister told her you’d had a fight.”
“That’s not what I’d call it.”
“Your mother wants me to take you home.”
“How do I know you’re for real?”
“I understand. But I’m a licensed taxi man.” He pointed to his badge. “And I saw you at the service.”
“You were there?”
“Couldn’t have kept me away. We went through high school together.”
“You really knew him?”
“We got together over a beer now and then. He was so proud of you!”
“He was?”
“Loved you. And you must have loved him.”
It was more than she could absorb. “Yes, but I’m not his real daughter.”
The taxi man’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”
“I’m adopted.”
“Why do you say that? He never mentioned it. Your mother didn’t, either.”
“That’s what Carol said today.”
“Oh, that’s what’s going on. Listen, your mother is going crazy worrying.” He stooped to pick up her knapsack.
She snatched it, cradled it in her arms, a defensive barrier. “I don’t know.”
“Running away won’t solve any problems.”

The headlights of an incoming bus raked across them, then blinked off. She turned. It was bound for New York.

“Your mother has enough grief tonight. You shouldn’t add to it.”
People were beginning to board the New York bus.
“Your mother needs you,” the taxi man insisted. “Wants you.”
“What?”
The magic words again. “She wants you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Let’s go.”


Retired after four decades’ prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT, Don received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013. Don has published more than four dozen short stories and non-fiction pieces, but has two novellas and a novel still looking for publishers.

Friday’s Coffee

by C. Joy

It was FREE Friday, and Guido was late, again.

Fresh donuts were spilling out of the oven faster than Marra’s reddened fingers could place them on the cooling rack.

Doughy sweetness filled the bakery while hundreds of cooled donuts waited for Guido’s signature icing. And the bakery was to open within the hour.

“Today is so NOT the day to be late!” Marra muttered, placing another greased, dough filled pan onto the conveyer. She quickly washed her hands. In exactly five minutes the donuts would start spilling out again, giving her just enough time to start the coffee pots.

She loved the bakery, the early mornings and the aroma of sweetness. She had grown up watching Gramps and Guido create and bake their way into the neighborhood’s heart, and making it her home. Marra sighed as she sniffed deep rich coffee beans, and poured water into the pots. Her best memories were in this bakery. Gramps had taught her the business, so it had been an honor to carry it on.

“Marra, I’m here!” A feisty Sicilian, always late, but his reputation for to –die -for buttercream icing earned him continual forgiveness. Plus, Marra had inherited Guido with the business.

“You have forty minutes and three hundred donuts!” Marra shouted from the front, a smile tugging her face.

Pans and spoons clanged, the mixer fired up and the kitchen filled with a cloud of powdered sugar and Guido’s singing.

Thirty minutes later, there was steaming coffee, and a display case full of iced donuts. Free Friday was ready to start. As a way to generate business and show gratitude, Gramps started Free Friday in which any cop, fireman or EMT still in uniform was offered free coffee and donuts. It started slow, but like a downhill snow ball, it grew quickly. It wasn’t about a profit, and Marra loved giving back to the community.

“He’ll be here.” Guido grinned and winked.

“Who?’ Marra asked innocently, trying to hide the blush that crept up her face.

“Your cop!” Guido exclaimed.

“He’s not my cop.” But, she had taken extra care with her hair just in case.

“See, you do know who!” Guido teased, and flipped the on OPEN sign.

Within minutes, the first of many began to trickle into the bakery. Jacob hadn’t missed in the last seven weeks. Not that she was counting. The first time, all she noticed was his broad shoulders and those deep green eyes. The second time, his lazy smile and the lack of a wedding ring. Eventually, his name. And that he was a detective. Lately though, the conversations were tantalizing and Jacob would stay until late morning. The attraction was definitely there, but she was starting to wonder if he felt the same. Would he ever ask her out? If he only knew some of the fantasies he had been in, Marra blushed in memory. He might be a detective, but he was missing some obvious clues.

Three hours later, all the donuts and copious amounts of coffee mingled with the laughter and banter of grateful servicemen, including the entire 34th precinct, celebrating their captain’s birthday, were gone. Lacking the arrival of Jacob.

Guido shut off the Free Friday sign and waved as he left. Embarrassed with herself over an imagined romance, Marra marched into the kitchen to start the weekend orders.

Her shoulders were sore, and her forearms burned, as she pounded out dough fueled by frustration, when the front door chimed. She wiped her floured hands on her apron, pushed through the double doors and stopped. The object of her frustration was standing in the center of her bakery. Be still, my heart, she thought.

“Hello! Sorry, but you missed it.” She didn’t mean to sound so aloof. Kripes, don’t blow it!

“Today, I didn’t come for donuts,” Jacob said as he walked towards her, never taking his eyes off her.

“OK, well, is there something I can get you?” Her heart was in her throat, she swore.

“Yes”, he said with a slow smile, and stopped in front of her. His hand cupped her cheek and then his lips found hers. The kiss was sweetness and strength, and pulled her under.

“Gracious woman. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that,” he sighed. “Fridays aren’t enough. I want more than once a week. Tonight, dinner?” He whispered against her mouth.

She couldn’t breathe or talk so she nodded, and pulled him in for another kiss. She hadn’t misread a thing. As happiness flooded her, she grinned and said “Yes, Detective. Dinner sounds great.”


Nestled in the Midwest, C. Joy writes for fun, reads with a passion and lives to experience as much life as possible.

Someone to Watch Over

by Brian Weston

From my vantage point I have a view into your world.
Your life history. Page by page. Every morning you are the first one awake. At 6:30 you open the back door and let the dog out.
You don’t like the dog. The dog doesn’t like you. You are not its master.
When the morning sun is out you raise your head up into the rays. You immerse yourself in its warmth. For a second you look. Happy.

Then chaos ensues as the rest of the house awake.
In the madness you blend into the background. Invisible in your own house. But I see you. You go to say goodbye to her. She recoils as you move closer. Eventually letting you kiss her on her cheek. She swats your arm away like a fly as you try to caress her. You wander out of the house, looking as if you were the one who had a tail to put between your legs.
The house breathes a silent sigh of relief.

She potters about the everyday mundane that nobody likes to do. At 1pm, Tuesday and Thursday her lover slithers into your house. They could not be closer. Passion and lust in equal measure. They make love on the kitchen diner floor. The new flooring that you laid last Bank Holiday weekend. By yourself. On your own. Alone.

I feel sick for you. I feel hurt for you. I want to tell you. I know if I told you it would not hurt as much. But I am not allowed. Those are the rules. My stupid rules.

Thirteen hours later you return. You move around the room like a considerate intruder. You even pierce the film on the microwave meal as quietly as possible, just to ensure you don’t wake anybody from their slumber. Always kind, always thinking of others.
You start to eat. After a few mouthfuls you raise your head. Chewing, you survey your domain. When you finish chewing you still keep looking around the empty space in the room. You look lost.

Alone. I feel a tear roll down my cheek.

Every morning you are the first one awake. At 6:30 you open the back door and let the dog out. Today you stand in the morning sun. With your arms outstretched it looks like you are trying to hug the sun. I share a smile with you.


Brian Weston is a nervous newbie writer. Loving writing and hope to find people that love what he writes. Alan Bennett is his hero. With Brian Bilston a close second.

A Beautiful Flower

by Lionel Ray Green

Lily grabs Dexter’s groping right hand and twists it back until his wrist snaps like a dry twig.

“I am a lady, and I will be treated as one,” Lily says over Dexter’s stunned scream.
With tears streaming down his face, Dexter drops to his knees, gingerly holding the broken wrist to his chest.

“Lily … fl-fl-flower,” Dexter stutters through sobbing lips.

Lily wraps her hand around Dexter’s neck, picks him up under the chin, and tosses him over the couch where he smashes into a wall and drops facedown to the floor.

A framed black and white photograph of a naked woman in chains falls off an end table and lands on top of him.

Dexter tries to shake the cobwebs from his brain as the pain of his wrist sears through his cortex.

Lily stands over him.

“I am a lady, and I will be treated as one,” Lily repeats.

“Lily …beautiful … fl-flower,” Dexter mumbles again as he awkwardly pushes himself to his knees.

Lily punches Dexter square in the face, shattering the bridge of his nose and upper lip in an explosion of blood and mucus. He swallows at least one tooth.

Dexter crawls like a turtle with three legs toward the jacket hanging on the chair at his computer desk. He likes to play rough, but this is insane.

“Please,” Dexter begs.

Lily calmly steps toward Dexter.

“Lily is a beautiful flower,” Dexter blurts the barely comprehensible words through swollen and bloody lips.

Lily pauses and tilts her head to the right as if processing Dexter’s words. A wisp of smoke escapes from her left ear and dissipates in the air above her head.

“Thank you for your business,” Lily says.

Lily then walks to the front door, opens it, and exits without another word.

Dexter rolls on his back and thanks his god that the safe phrase worked.

Dexter reaches for the smartphone in his jacket pocket and slowly taps numbers after the vocal recognition application fails to discern his blubbering like Lily did.

The phone on the other end rings once before a friendly female voice answers.

“Robomance Escorts. How may I help you?”

Dexter spits out a tooth and says, “I want a refund.”


Lionel Ray Green is a horror and fantasy writer, an award-winning newspaper journalist, and a U.S. Army gulf war veteran living in Alabama. His work has appeared in eleven anthologies and two magazines, including Alabama’s Emerging Writers; The Heart of a Devil; and In Creeps the Night. His short story “Scarecrow Road” won the WriterWriter 2018 International Halloween Themed Writing Competition All Hallows’ Prose. Visit lionelraygreen.com to check out his blog.