Adrift

Adrift

by James A. Miller

Ellis awoke to waves slapping the side of their tiny lifeboat. The sun, low in the horizon, marked the end of the fifth day since the Millie had capsized. Shaking off his sun-baked nap, he wrapped the bows of his spectacles around his ears and stared at his manservant Niles. The insolent bastard was chewing.

“What pray tell are you eating?”

“T’was left over from my lunch ration, milord”

What was left over?”

“Kippers, milord.”

“Herring or beef?”

“Beef, sir”

Of course the beef. There were only two beef rations left, but seven of the insufferable herring, so by all means one should naturally go on eating beef.

“Niles, perhaps we should focus on conserving what we have left of land animal meals, as we are surrounded by an ocean of sea creatures.”

“We’ve nothing to catch them with, milord.”

Indeed not. Attempts at makeshift netting had ended with both of them losing their underthings to a poorly constructed square knot. In retrospect, it may have been better for Ellis to listen to Niles on that account. The man did know his way around an ascot.

“Between the two of us we’ll come up with something I’m sure. If not, there’s bound to be land any day now. All boats end ashore eventually.”

“If you say so, sir.”

“Perhaps another round of rowing would put us closer to our goal.”

“Aren’t you afraid it’s futile, sir?”

There had been some difference of opinion as to the correct course, but Ellis was confident of his decision. Although, they should have hit land yesterday.

“Nonsense. Why I bet we even now we can see land in one form or another. Binoculars, please.”

“Do you mean these, milord?”

So yes, they were opera glasses, but in these circumstances changing nomenclature to be appropriate with one’s situation helped a great deal with one’s outlook. Ellis would have a chat with Niles about his poor attitude when this was over.

Ellis stood, peering through tiny lenses at an endless horizon of water in all directions.

“Hmmm. We may, as of yet, be a few days out.”

“Is that something, sir?”

Ellis scanned the horizon to where Niles was pointing.

“What do you see?”

“A schooner’s mast.”

“Where, man, where?”

“There.”

Ellis saw nothing. Niles had ended the last two discourses without the proper moniker. Once could be overlooked, but twice was just plain disrespectful.

Ellis turned, intent on chastising the man, but instead met with Niles swinging oar. It caught him squarely on the forehead, knocking him unconscious and into the water.

Niles picked up the spectacles that had fallen from Ellis’s face and dropped them over the side, then reached into the ration locker for a can of kippered beef.

◊ ◊ ◊

James A. Miller
During the day, James A. Miller works as an Electrical Engineer in Madison WI. At night, he spends time with his family and does his best to come up with fun and creative fiction. He is a first reader for Allegory e-zine and member of the Codex writer’s group. He also has two cats but will resist the urge to say anything cute or witty about them here. James blogs at https://breakingintothecraft..

Read More

The Insolence of Air

The Insolence of Air

by Embe Charpentier

I had been seventy-five years old for a week when Paul went into hospice.

Morphine drips. Memories drift. Moments slip away.

“I want to die in my own bed,” he said.

I’m selfish. I’d sleep in that bed after he was gone.  No furniture store would sell me a mattress that held fifty-two years of fucking and crying, occasionally at the same time. I needed that bed to be free of death.

When I visited at hospice, he slept so deeply I assumed he’d already gone. “I’m not ready for…,” I told the nurse.

“Nobody ever is.” She dragged his shoulders up onto the pillow.

My sister, Olivia Wright, R.N., remained at my house that night. I heard her pace down the hall. Hospital nurse steps. Officious and loud, the just-barge-in type, always has been. Without her cataract glasses, she squinted in the light of forty watts.

“Heard you talking in your sleep, just like old times.” She groaned as she slid onto his side of the creaking mattress. “Does Paul talk in his sleep? Snore?” she asked.

A smile almost stuck. “Bang, the snoring starts. If he’s deep-asleep, there’s no peace.”

She slid up against my back. Her arms encircled my fist-tight body.

That night, Olivia reminded me of how our dad slept in his recliner, snoring like a drunken Marine. Air pulled in, then thrust out.

I listened to my big sister’s snuffles. She still wore Ambush, the same perfume we stole from Mom when we were twelve.  She still tucked the blanket up under her chin as though her shoulders feared the light.

Someday soon, my eighty-three year-old sister will die, and I’ll still be here. Her heart will pump, and lungs will inflate, and then they’ll stop, and I’ll still be here. I‘m the youngest, no kids.

For now, she lays with me, sideways staring at the ceiling, breathing in time.

◊ ◊ ◊

Embe Charpentier
Embe Charpentier teaches by day and writes by night. Her novel “Beloved Dead” is published by Kellan Books. Her short stories have been published online in diverse literary magazines, including “Polychrome Ink”, “Indianola Review”, “Poydras Reivew”, and  “The Quotable”. Her work has also been included in two YA anthologies. She invites you to visit her website, www.embecharpentier.com, and to follow her on Twitter, @embecharpentier.

Read More

Elite Meet to Eat

Elite Meet to Eat

by Marc Shapiro

The guy stood outside the new Cuban place. It was still not open yet and was two months behind schedule. But that did not stop him from badmouthing the competition down the street, a hole in the wall, which always seemed to be open.

“Old people, druggies, and losers hang out there,” he said coping his own third world attitude. But I was hungry and his place was light years from opening. So I walked down the street and joined the old people, the druggies, and the losers for lunch.

It’s hard to screw up a burrito and they didn’t. All blackened chicken and oozing beans with everything hot, spicy, and hardening of the arteries inducing thrown in for good measure. Toss in a Sprite, no ice, and I was good to go.

Sat in the back…

Where a middle aged black dude was mumbling into something that resembled eggs and toast, while his squeeze de jour was on her cell, turning her mundane life into something she most certainly felt was ghetto fabulous as Bob Marley escaped from something audio in her purse and into the air.

An elderly white couple walked in. He was alternately attentive and verbally abusive. She sat oblivious at a table while he ordered up two number two’s with fries and milk, yelling some more at his woman as he slid their plates down. They had food in front of them that was a heart attack in the making. But they were hungry and they were old and they didn’t care.

The guys from the Metro yard hunched over everything on the menu with chili. No surprise here. Gas would kick in and heartburn would follow shortly. They were content, knowing that the lethal combination would keep the trains running ’til the end of their shift.

Mexicans smiled a lot and ate in silence. Everybody now seemed to be ordering what the Mexicans ordered. Because they knew the Mexicans knew the score.

The burrito hit a home run. I knew I would be sorry later but right now I was in heaven. Out the door and into the day. No one tried to sell me crack, bum some change, or bore me to death about the good old days. It was just about a bunch of human beings getting through lunch, getting through the day and getting through life.

And the Cuban place was still not open.

◊ ◊ ◊

Marc Shapiro
Marc Shapiro is the literary equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This story is more on the Mr. Hyde side. Who he is as Dr. Jekyll will keep you up nights.

Read More

Family Affair

Family Affair

by Virginia Repka-Franco

Jenna carefully put the self-service nozzle back in the metal holster—she was all decked out and didn’t want to drip gasoline on her black patent pumps.

She slid back in the car and checked her phone. Two more texts from her Mother asking where she was and how soon she would be there—We are starting to worry, she wrote. In her dysfunctional family that’s code speak for: “You’re cutting it rather fine,” or more like “Don’t be late and embarrass me and your father like you always are like the time yada yada yada!”

Gee, everyone must have their manners on, Mom only texts instead of calls when she’s holding back and doesn’t want to have a screaming match. She must already be there.

“I won’t be late,” she tells the screen. Getting back on the highway, she mentally scans her family tree.

Her relations are a bunch of nutters alright—Grandma Betty who is a kleptomaniac (watch your purse), her brother Jeffrey, the sometimes recovering addict (watch your prescriptions in your purse as well as the bag), and Uncle Billy the letch (he’s gonna get a kick in the nether region this time).  “Relax, breathe!” she said aloud to herself as she felt inside her purse for her trusty Xanax and steered with her knee for the seconds it took for her to pop the child safety lids. One quick gulp and she swishes them down with the dregs of cold take out coffee.

The thought of seeing him pushed her on to buying the dress, booking the rental car and driving up Route 84, a highway that allows semis to pass you in lanes hardly big enough for a Hyundai. She has several pictures of them from the old days to give to him.

Crossing the Putnam County Line, she knows she’s close. At the next rest stop she turns on the GPS, as she is directionally challenged—even in her former home town. Especially here, as Brewster, New York, has grown into a tiny metropolis and aside from the Metro North train station, she would be lost.

Jenna parks the car—lipstick check, run a brush through her hair, and she’s ready to go in. First one to greet her is good old Billy, who rubs her back while hugging her hello. She dodges his kiss and pulls out of that creeptastic encounter only to be met by her grandmother, who instead of embracing her shows her where to put her ‘things’—No thanks, light fingers, I’ll keep my coat, she wants to say, but just nods and breezes by her and the throng of familiar faces who are strangers to her.

She walks up to Bryan. To her surprise and pleasure, her cousin looks much the same. The wavy brown hair she used to pull during fights when they were little, frames his Greek god features. He’s looks great in a suit, he never liked dressing up but she guesses they made him this time—for this very special family occasion.

She carefully kisses his cheek and places the photos in his coffin. Everyone is staring. She is not going to fall apart—it’s not a ‘safe place’ as Bryan used to say. She pulls out her phone. I love you Bryan, Jenna types and hits ‘send’.

A text alert ping resounds from Grandma’s purple tote bag.

◊ ◊ ◊

Virginia Repka-Franco
Virginia’s fiction has appeared in Devolution Z Magazine, Aurora Wolf, Saturday Night Reader, and True Confessions Magazine. She lives in Florida with her husband, two dogs, and assorted cats.

Read More

Always Do the Right Thing?

Always Do the Right Thing?

by Marc Littman
1.
“You always do the right thing, Walt,” Liz clenched her teeth. “No one can challenge your integrity. But that’s as far as it goes.” My wife gave me a withering look that would turn the Medusa to stone then she spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.

It took me a few seconds to steady myself in Liz’ turbulent wake. At least I didn’t let her goad me into another fight over amending our tax returns to account for the stock dividends we didn’t declare. I knew Liz was trolling for any excuse to finally dump me for my lackluster performance as a provider matched only by my low testosterone. Were it not for our special needs teenage son Kevin, Liz would’ve bolted long ago.

So I walk on egg shells, my antenna attuned to my miserable bride’s whereabouts, trying to avoid the disdain in her green eyes, now reddened by frequent tears.

“Why can’t you be like my cousin, Cal?” Liz snared me the other day. “He’s virtuous, too, but he also takes risks and reaps the rewards, and he’s fun to be around, always smiling, unlike you. Your face would shatter if you ever cracked a smile.”

My Humpty-Dumpty body probably would crack, too, especially if the muscular Cal ever punched me, which I feared he would if only Liz asked. Should society ever relax its mores about cousins marrying, those two would bond like steel alloyed with chemical lust.

Cal barely masked his dislike for me, which hadn’t waned in 16 years. But he doted on my son and even volunteered to coach his Challenger softball team where kids with mental and physical disabilities simulated Little League play except everyone gets a hit and every game ends in a tie and high fives.

2.
Kudos to Cal for his time and kindness, I give him that. He’d lob baby pitches to the ballplayers and cheer them on when they nicked the ball, sometimes kicking it into fair bounds. Cal reveled in the adoration the players and parents bestowed upon him. And I think he genuinely liked the kids, one in particular.

Danny, a gangly 13-year-old, freckled with a shock of red hair, couldn’t speak having suffered a stroke as a baby. His harried single mom would leave her son in Cal’s trusted care at the ball field while she ran errands. Often she returned late but Cal waited patiently with Danny in the dugout, a sinewy arm wrapped around Danny’s slumped shoulders cooing in his ear.

I didn’t pay much attention at first. Cal and the other coaches often brushed the hair of our kids, patted their backs and even their butts. But Cal couldn’t keep his hands off Danny. Sometimes they lingered a tad long on his derrière, I noticed as the season progressed.

Then following one game, my son Kevin fled to the bathroom with stomach problems and didn’t emerge for a half hour, long enough to witness Cal fondling Danny in the dugout. At least from the bleachers it appeared that way. Cal’s hands flitted about Danny’s body like a magician engaged in a feverish shell game, and then Cal’s head dipped after Danny dropped his hat but Liz’ virtuous cousin didn’t bob to the surface for a few minutes. Danny’s normally placid face winced. A bee buzzed near home plate. I know Danny feared bees. But still….

3.
Should I slog over and confront Cal? Say something to Danny’s mother? Lord knows, I couldn’t confide in Liz. Just insinuating Cal committed a heinous act on a vulnerable minor without solid proof would be devastating to her dapper cousin’s reputation, and it could backfire on me in more ways than one. Cal might even chase me with a baseball bat. And for sure I’d see Liz in divorce court after she would accuse me publicly of being a jealous, conniving liar who masqueraded as a righteous man.

“You always do the right thing,” my wife’s snide words resonated in my mind.

“What are you waiting for?!” Kevin bounced on the bottom wood bleacher. “Move it, Dad!”

I shielded my eyes and peered again at the dugout. “Hold on, Kevin.”

“What for? I’m hungry. You promised McDonald’s.”

I gathered my backpack and stepped onto the field, torn whether to pursue Cal and risk defeat and injury or play it safe. Just then Danny’s mother bounded out of her car, late again. With Kevin in tow, I started to approach her cudgelling my conscience. But just before we made eye contact, I stuffed my conscience in my pack and skulked away in the opposite direction.

◊ ◊ ◊

Marc Littman
Marc Littman has penned many short stories and published two novels, Eddie and Me on the Scrap Heap about a heroic boy who is autistic, and The Spirit Sherpa, a mystery novel with a reincarnation twist.

Read More

The Pianist

The Pianist

by Hasen Hull

The paper around the filter had been flayed, a dirty orange strip hanging from soiled cotton. The tobacco itself, miraculously, had survived. He placed it with the others, a ragtag collection of cigarettes in an old and faded carton, some close to original length, others almost stumps, all of them giving off the same burnt odor. When he had enough money—it wouldn’t take long, even on a bad day—he’d buy papers and filters, and roll fresh cigarettes with the tobacco he’d obtained. He couldn’t smoke any other way.

It was a funny thing, walking through a capital city without a sense of time or space. He drifted through days, through alleyways, through memories of past convictions, and he knew that true freedom did not exist. A valued employee yearns for a simpler life. A rich man is horrified at the idea of his own death. There is always something to be escaped, he thought, and therein lies the futility of freedom.

Yesterday a girl—some sort of goth, he supposed—dropped a little change in his cup and told him with rehearsed compassion to get himself a coffee. He’d gotten a hamburger, against his old nutritional proclivities, but no matter; he needed the protein. The heads had turned when he joined the line to order, as they always did, as they always would, and as he ate on the floor outside the place, he reflected that life was not so bad. It had been a long time since he’d looked at anyone with envy.

The only real problem, beyond the obvious day-to-day trivialities not altogether removed from anyone else’s, was the inability to hold onto his sense of self—not on a mental level, not yet, but personal. Yet there was freedom, what existed of it, in this too. All around him were people doing their best to separate themselves from the crowd, but in the end, it was he who stood out. He did so unintentionally, and as a result, effortlessly. There was, he knew, no glory in what he stood for, but he saw no glory in the forceful characterizations of others.

He took a rest on a bench in a park. He would set up his pitch soon. There was one thing he didn’t want to lose. He could lose everything else—his childhood, his age, his name—but he could not lose what he used to do. The possibility was enough to cause him to hunch over himself, hands on his knees, containing his reminder to the world inside him, as there was no one else to hear it.

“Why do you look so sad?”

A girl, young enough to talk to him. She stood as children often do when faced with something curious and unfamiliar, a posture of blind confidence that threatened to collapse at any moment.

“Do I, my dear? I’m not sad. I was thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, about what I used to do.”

“What did you used to do?”

Her father was running up to them, taking the girl’s arm with delicate authority.

“Sorry. She ran off. I’m really sorry.”

Smiling, he offered a friendly dismissal with a nod of the head. Talking would be quite useless.

Led away, the girl looked back at the man on the bench, up at her father.

“Who was that man?” she asked.

The father held her arm a little tighter.

“Nobody,” he said.

◊ ◊ ◊

Hasen Hull
Hasen Hull is a young writer with a particularly keen interest in American literature, currently living in London. His work has appeared or is upcoming in Dirty Chai, Praxis, The Reject Pile, Defenestration, Microfiction Monday and 101 Words. He enjoys photography and long journeys.

Read More