Featured

Beyond the Trees

by Benjamin Locke

‘Come on Alex, Final Departure!’ Seth’s voice came jumbled through the thicket.

‘Be right there Seth,’ returned Alex, pulling down the visor of his helmet and slamming it shut, taking a last long look at the planet he called home. The moment he and Seth had trained years for was finally upon them. The first men to step on to another planet, the new frontier of human exploration, XR019. They would be heroes here and they would be aliens there. He took a long deep breath through the assisted airway of the helmet and stepped off the platform, the adrenaline of reality finally beginning to course his veins.

‘All systems checked, ready for departure captain.’ Seth relayed followed by the scheerk of the intercom.

Captain Alex Montgomery took his seat at the head of the cockpit and fastened himself in, ‘Ready for liftoff Lieutenant.’

The men paused a moment and looked at each other, raising a fist before their faces. A symbol of solidarity, something only they understood between them. It said this is it friend. We’re in this together, let’s bring it home!

A sound like the earth itself was imploded roared through them as the rocket engines burst in to life and everything around them shook like a chandelier riding the waves of the San Andreas fault. The men finally retracted their hands and clung on for their lives as their ship propelled them toward the unknown.

The journey took only a few hours but when finally the ship hit XR019’s atmosphere, it lit up the turquoise sky in a shower of brilliant yellow. Creatures never seen before far below, looked on in awe and fear as their sky seemed to be ripped apart.

The landing was rough and when the craft eventually ground to a halt, they looked at each other with a shared expression of concern but also joy. They had made it yes but would the ship be able to carry them home or would they be trapped here until rescue could finally arrive?

The captain clawed at his harness and ripped himself free. ‘Lieutenant, see if you can get that door open, I want a full eval and status report as quick as you can.’

Seth, already free of his seat nodded to his captain and headed for the cabin door. Alex tried to contact mission control but was met only by static and clicking. No use. He tried throwing switches here and there. Lights lit up and went out, the console danced a brilliant dance but gave him nothing more.

‘Sir,’ Seth called from behind, ‘We’ve taken some damage to the rear of the ship. The hull has not been breached but comms are down.’ He took a breath and continued, ‘engines seem stable as far as I can tell but I’ll know more when we get outside.’

Alex nodded, ‘Thank you Lieutenant, let’s see if we can’t get out there then shall we?’ The men smiled slowly at each other. The joy of discovery seeming to bubble up over the fear of being stranded millions of miles from home.

They raised their fists once more in silent communication and Alex added, ‘Let’s get this mission done old friend.’ The mission being a recon. Life on earth had turned sour and the human race was looking for its new home. Their job on XR019 was basically to be Guinea Pigs. Test the atmosphere, look for signs of intelligent life however small and report home.

The airlock door between them hissed and a cloud of vapour shot around the edges. The door lifted free and the first light of XR019 hit them. Alex took a breath making sure his helmet was sealed and lead a first nervous step through the opening, his heavy boot crunching underfoot on the dense forest floor.

Outside their suits the air was close and full of moisture. The sounds of giant crickets and other alien insects rang through their helmets and for a moment it seemed like any other country walk back on Earth. Except it wasn’t. The chirping was so loud and fierce, like nothing you could hear back home and the trees, the trees where a sight to behold. Each of them taller and wider than General Sherman, the largest tree on earth. The men simply stood a while, mouths agape with awe.

‘Lieutenant, what do we know about the atmosphere?’

Seth was tapping away at small keyboard mounted to his left wrist. ‘Air seems stable, Oxygen levels high. Simulation reports a 99.19% chance of human survival.’
No sooner had he finished, Alex reached under his helmet and pulled at the release mechanism.

‘Sir, what if…’ Seth began but Alex cut him off with a raised palm.
The face of his helmet lifted free and he breathed the rich air for the first time. It was satisfying and somehow sweet. The air in the suit was good but had a tendency to dry out the throat like an over air-conditioned gift store on international drive.

Adrenaline overcame him again as his rationale realised there was a 0.81% chance he had just breathed poison but as the air rushed in and out, the pounding in his temples gave way to euphoria.

‘Come Seth, shall we embark on the greatest adventure in human history?’ Alex said, holding his hand out toward the great unknown, leading the way beyond the trees.
Then, the chirping stopped and gave way to a voice, a voice so very…Human.

‘Boys! Dinner’s ready!’

The men, no longer men but boys looked at each other frowning. Alex took off his tinfoil and cola bottle helmet and discarded it inside their scrap-wood and cardboard space craft.

’Scheerk…Lieutenant come in. Adventure awaits…after Cheeseburgers!

The boys laughed and smiled and ran through the scrub land until they found the back gate of the Captain’s house. The greatest discoveries of human history would have to wait until after dinner.


Benjamin is a fiction writer living in Yorkshire, England. He writes anything from High Fantasy to Supernatural Thrillers and is a big fan of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Find free stories and more on his website, benjaminlockewriter.com

I Was Something Then

by Helen Chambers

The face of tomorrow slides away from my grasp, like catching a glass rainbow on a tablecloth. Tuesday? Wednesday? I expect you told me, but the cobwebs in my brain tangle the connections. In bright shafts of sunlight, I recall the hiss and flick of grasses scratching on my boots. We walk and willow trees dip their fingers into the river where the blue sky and our reflections are trapped gazing back at us. I am warm, too warm and I try to take off my shawl, but the others push it back on my shoulders.

I’m singing, with the others, crowded together, too hot. That song – you’ll know its name. You watch us. They say I mustn’t wave. I must pretend I don’t know you. So silly. Just sing. I know all the words. I was something then. I sang solos, proud and alone, with a strong voice. I have to stand behind the others now and I can’t see.

No more singing, that’s sad. I’m too hot. You take off my shawl, tuck my hand under your arm. Perhaps this is where the man’s daughter leaves. He looks old and sad. My daughter went. Lying in her pram watching the sun fluttering through the leaves. Tiny fingers, big round eyes.

You look old and sad. Did your daughter leave too?


Helen Chambers is a short story and flash fiction writer from North East Essex, UK, who dreams up ideas whilst out walking by the river. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Essex and she won the Fish Short Story prize in 2018. Helen has several publications, many of which you can read on her blog: https://helenchamberswriter.wordpress.com

Moving Day

by Dawn DeBraal

Billy Bergen was picked on by the neighborhood bullies. Lunch money, his new baseball, all his marbles. Billy was tired of the whole thing. Those Delaney brothers, all seven of them, were mean and lived a few blocks from him. The brother always seemed to know when Billy was on an errand or needed to be away from his yard. Billy was so relieved when his mother and father told him they were moving. No more Delaney brothers!

“Where are we moving to?” Billy asked.
“It’s a surprise!” his mother and father told him. Billy didn’t care as long as it wasn’t where he was living now.

It was moving day! A big truck pulled up at his doorstep. Box after box went into the back, along with their furniture. The moving men latched the truck door. Billy and his little sister squeezed into the back seat of their car to follow behind the moving truck. As they were leaving, there stood the Delaney brothers all seven of them, looking sad. They were losing their fall guy.

Billy rolled down the window sticking half of his body out of the car.
“So long, suckers!” he shouted out to the Delaney boys. He even flipped them off as they turned the corner making sure his mom and dad didn’t see that part. The Delany brothers chased after their car but couldn’t keep up.

Sitting with his sister in the back seat of the car piled high with boxes Billy rolled up the window. He sighed with relief. A new place, a new start, a new life. Things were going to be great! The moving truck went about six blocks from his old house turning into the driveway of their new house.


Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rat terriers and a cat. Recently retired, she has discovered the love of telling a good story can be written.

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.

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.