It is Monday, and as usual we have another batch (the third one) of short stories up for voting. There are some really interesting stories on this one. Make sure to read them all before casting your vote!
1. A Young Boy’s Journey by Pip Leake
In the Wheatbelt of Western Australia, towards the end of the 19th century, a ten year old boy undertook an epic journey. He had to travel alone 112Km on a bush track to collect provisions for his family. He had to do it because everyone else was engaged in the important task of harvesting the wheat and oats as quickly as possible before the weather changed.
The route was no problem. He would be travelling in the opposite direction to those who were hurrying to the goldfields before the gold ran out. They travelled on foot, in carts and with wheelbarrows determined to make their fortune.
This boy, Hubert, would travel in a spring cart with a very reliable horse, but the journey would take three days each way. He had hay for the horse, hobbles to restrain her overnight, food for himself, a hat and clean clothes for the return journey. As a ten-year old, he really felt the clean clothes were unnecessary, but his mother insisted. His hat was the most important item of clothing, in the hot wheatbelt sun. Water would be available at farms on the way.
He was happy to be on his own and proud to be trusted with such an important task. He loved the bush with it’s many animals and birds. He passed other travellers on their way to the gold fields. Sometimes he walked beside the horse and told her of his ambitions for the future.
Each night he fed the horse and himself and gazed at the stars before he went to sleep. Each morning after catching and harnessing the horse he hoped he would see many birds – perhaps a mallee fowl, the most elusive of birds. To his delight on the evening of the third day, he saw one in the bush off the track. The male bird covering up the eggs for the night to retain the warmth gained during the day and so aid their hatching. To see better, Hubert stood up in the cart – the horse plodded on.
After they passed the nest, he turned around to keep the bird in his sight a little longer. The cart and the horse passed under a low branch without difficulty – but Hubert was hit on the head and tossed out of the cart. He fell awkwardly, hurting his ankle. The horse continued on, she knew he’d follow. Hubert knew that she probably wouldn’t stop until she reached the town, still a short way on, so with great difficulty and in some pain, he staggered to his feet and limped after her. Luckily she spotted a rare patch of green feed and stopped to have a nibble. He clambered back into the cart and arrived at his aunt’s house in the town, sore, tired and dirty.
Several days later much recovered and wearing his clean clothes he began his homeward journey, but he was a wiser young fellow than when he had left home.
2. The Boss Strikes Again by Ishtiyaq Maniyar
I stood there in the corner of my boss’s office. I was trying to hold my laughter from about 15 minutes. It is not so often that your boss messes up a deal which would cost the company a hundred thousand dollars and you are the only one to witness it. It was one of the most pleasurable moments of my career.
Our team had been working on this deal from past 3 months. It was up to my boss and me to wrap it up. And my boss was unable to convince the client. I was happy. He could loose his job over this deal. And I would be happy to become the General Sales Manager. I was waiting for this opportunity from a very long time.
He stood there staring hard out of the large bay window and muttering something to himself. I could clearly see the sweat beads running down his forehead. It looked as if he wanted to jump out of the window of the 7th floor of the building and finish his troubles. The C.E.O. knew that the deal was supposed to conclude today. It was clear that he had to think of something very quickly, which would save his job.
My mind was racing fast on all the options he could be thinking right now. He could bribe me to keep my mouth shut and give a false explanation of the failed deal. It could be hike in the salary or extra perks. Maybe, it will be a promotion. I was the Assistant Sales Manager for 4 years now and always dreamt of becoming a General Sales Manager, but never thought, it would so easy. I could have my own office, have vacations in Europe on company’s expense and I would also get a secretary.
I was enjoying my reverie when suddenly; he broke his silence,
“Jim, you are fired.”
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe my ears. Did he actually say it or was I hearing things? He couldn’t have said that to me. Or he was just trying to rehearse what his boss would say.
“Are you talking to me boss?” I said.
He didn’t even look at me.
“Yes. I am talking to you. You are fired”
“Boss, what did I do wrong? It wasn’t my fault that the deal fell apart”
He took a deep breath and turned around,
“I never said it’s your fault, I just said I am going to blame it on you!”
3. Shadow by Calvin Chang
His sore, quivering body lay prostrated against the cold, metallic ground. He had been unconscious for hours, his muscles atrophying. Two warm liquid sparks dripped off of his cheek and splashed against the sea of metal, hunger made his stomach feel like it would imminently implode. The man’s face tensed as he flopped onto his back with all of his strength. A pan of water sat next to his right pinky finger. He reached for it and drank carefully, it rejuvenated him significantly, and he spread his fingers and clenched his fists to survey his condition. His legs, torso and arms were still heavily fatigued but now his mind regained rational thought. He remembered only three things, not whole events or even his location nor his place in the flow of time. Like a magnifying glass too close to its target blurring out all but what lays beneath the focal point. He recalled the face of an unknown, ravishing woman. A memory of his left hand clutching a knife. One name pressed against his skull. He did not know if it was his name or not, George.
An hour later, his muscles were able to move. Sitting up with his legs against his chest and his back to the wall, he peered around his cell. The cell door was cracked open, the guard lay face down motionless in a pool of dark crimson blood. Suddenly a succession of sharp clangs caused his right leg to kick out violently, he used his hands to balance himself. Jolted by fear the adrenalin shot branching throughout his veins, he stood up and hid against the side wall. The sound drew nearer and nearer until the silhouette of a figure appeared against the wall. It had stopped to catch her breath and was bent over with her hands on her knees breathing deeply. A slow moving shadow appeared against the ominous shadowy wall. Sounds of agony and pain erupted as the two shadows fought. In the chaos of the fight, the shadows became strangely beautiful, making a miraculous myriad of shapes with blue light casting on the grim shadows. Merging and detaching, descending and ascending, fading and embellishing until finally the play’s finale. A clang, a woman’s scream and running footsteps.
The murderer’s shadow dashed away and he decided to see if the girl was dead or alive. He slid through the opening in the cell and his boot made a cascade of ripples in the guard’s pool of blood. In three steps from the woman’s body he noticed it was the same girl he remembered. She was stupefyingly beautiful and the little trail of blood dribbling out of her lush mouth caused a chill to drum up his spine. The woman was his wife, in her hand was the knife in his memory, bloodstained. The murderer had not left and was gazing at him murderously.
Eight steps and another shadow tumbled down the wall.
4. The Pit by Cassia
The emerald and sapphire encrusted sword was tipping precariously on the edge of the bottomless pit, ready to fall into nowhere.
“No,” gasped Emma, who was still in the strong hands of Zeno (Who was waiting for his partner to come back with an unpleasant surprise). “No. Let go of me, I need that. It was my fathers.”
Zeno only laughed maliciously. With his toe, he stretched out to push it in. He paused tauntingly. Emma leaned back to push him away from the sword. “Sorry.” Zeno said, obviously not sorry. He toed the sword into the emptiness of the bottomless pit.
“NOOOOOO!!” screamed Emma. She began kicking and punching the air, struggling to be loosened from Zeno’s arms. “LET ME GO!” Emma screeched again, with as much contempt she could muster into the three words. She gave a good hard kick in the shins.
Emma was getting dizzy. She was having trouble breathing. The world was getting blurry around the edges. She heard herself gasping for breath, pulling Zeno’s enclosing hand around her neck away from her body.
There were suddenly light footsteps behind her in the misty forest, which Zeno must not have heard, because suddenly he yelped back in pain and released Emma’s neck.
Emma turned around to look around at her savior. He was still punching and kicking Zeno (whom was on the ground, whimpering in pain), so Emma couldn’t see his face clearly.
Finally, the face of Liam looked up at her and smiled. Liam was the nicest and best-looking boy in school, who all the girls goggled and slobbered over. Liam had never shown little interest whatsoever in Emma.
Emma gaped in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Saving you.” Liam said simply. “Let’s get that sword, shall we?”
“Yes. Yeah, sure!” She grabbed Liam’s hand breathlessly.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Liam asked, standing on the edge of the pit.
“I have to.” Emma said, and then she jumped in the pit, pulling Liam in with her.
Emma closed her eyes for the jump, but when she opened her eyes, she was falling through the beauty of darkness. Liam’s face stood out in the darkness. Emma smiled, and he smiled back, both of them enjoying the falling sensation together, knowing they’d never hit the ground.
5. Sunset by Ginger Edwards
The chemotherapy left Dorothy minus her eyebrows and eyelashes, and with fuzz in place of her once long, brown hair. Some days she felt too sick to get out of bed, but did because her son, Jimmy, needed her. He was her strength and her joy.
In spite of the surgery and treatments, the last tests showed new cancer. Her close relatives were gone and her friends were unable to assume the responsibility of raising a child. Who would take care of her seven-year-old son?
Dorothy approached two adoption agencies, but they denied her plea to choose Jimmy’s new parents. In desperation, she sought the help of an attorney. With his assistance, they devised a plan for legal adoption where she could make the decision of who would raise her son. After interviewing several prospects, she chose a loving couple who dearly wanted her boy.
Unsure how to tell her precious son that after losing his father, he was going to lose her as well, Dorothy searched deep within for the strength to do what must be done. Later that afternoon she took Jimmy to the beach. Most of the day visitors were packing up their towels, hats, umbrellas, coolers and suntan lotion to go home with sun-reddened skin and sand chaffing inside their bathing suits.
Barefooted, Dorothy and Jimmy wore jeans with the pant legs rolled up and matching sweat jackets with the hoods pulled down. Jimmy ran ahead, picked up a seashell and held it high as he raced back for Dorothy to admire it. Together they strolled along the water’s edge, digging their toes into the wet sand. They sat on a flat rock watching the waves’ lacy edges embrace the beach.
Dorothy took a deep breath. “Honey, sometimes people go to heaven when they don’t want to leave the people they love.”
The boy nodded. “You mean like Daddy.”
“Yes, like Daddy.” She watched Jimmy play with his seashell as the sun slid lower in the sky, coloring the dancing waves a golden hue.
“I’m going to visit Daddy soon. While I’m away, I found a nice couple who will care for you.”
Jimmy looked out over the ocean and smiled.
Dorothy followed his gaze to see a lone seagull silhouetted against the horizon. A second gull appeared and together they flew toward the glowing sunset. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
Jimmy took her hand. “Don’t cry Mommy. You can hug Daddy for me.”
6. Music by Kathryn Carnahan
The music started from within her, nothing more than a dream of colors and sounds. It swam inside, drifting into consciousness randomly, making her lost to the world around her. Then, when it was ready, it allowed her to form the sounds, to see and study the dizzying colors.
Everything was always off the first time, never quite right. The colors faded, but never dissolved. Soon after she would always try again, and it would consume her. Dulling what was around her, but amplifying everything inside. The colors shifting and changing, growing brighter, the sounds rising and falling, taking not only shape, but structure.
She was completely gone to the outside world, hearing only sounds originated within, not fully believing they came from her. She became giddy with it, and soon her fingers were itching. They moved slightly at first, just a touch here a few there.
The piano always seemed to materialize before her, but her fingers never hesitated. They instinctively knew how to match the fluttering shapes and colors dancing inside. Even then her body felt constrained, and it was not long before her entire body flowed, following the fingers up and down the keys.
Hours could pass and she would know nothing other than the subtle changes in the sounds, the small additions to color. Elation was not what she felt, but became who she was. The rhythms and the lights could not become the soul; the soul was where it all began. Yet that was where it bonded, always building, constantly expressing.
There was never an end, never a finish, but there was completion of sorts. The colors flowed and molded with each other, pulsating against the sounds that formed their existence. It was then she could rest, and it was always like waking from a dream. There was always surprise at dried sweat and hours long past. Even then she was drunk on it. Energy coursed through her, a dance in her step.
Sharing this part of her world never crossed her mind. It was simply something she did, nothing more. That was almost how it had remained, but fate had thrown him stumbling into her path.
Now she was hearing her fingers pounding away, the sound growing as she pressed the headphones tighter against her ears, as if the sound began there now. Her throat was not fooled, but it did not care. The colors and sounds still swayed inside, and her voice still found the right place. Her body still moved with the shapes, and she was still lost to the outside world.
A single difference stood out. When she paused, when she could take a rest, when her step danced a little, she looked up. Looked up and always found him staring back at her. Even when walls and glass stood between them, nothing was left unsaid.
7. Blue Water Fishing by Dave Rissik
I look at the photographs now and there is Noel and Alan, Alan and I, 16 miles south of the point before the storm came up. We are bleary-eyed and soaked to the skin. There is Noel grinning that grin, me brittle and a weak after retching my way out there from Hout Bay on the morning’s coffee and last night’s meal. And later, Alan, cigarette pinched between brawny fisherman’s fingers, saying it was the worst storm he ever experienced.
The light breeze that blows in from the south east is cold at 6 o’clock in the morning. There is a hint of cloud on the horizon as the sun rises over the landmass disappearing behind us. The sea shows only a gentle swell and we could be on a lake somewhere, not heading out into some of the roughest seas in the
Suddenly four big rods are out, and then a fifth. The engines are idled and Alan is all over the ski boat. We stay out of his way, swaying like side-car riders as the boat dips and rises. Alan trolls true and steady. Five green arches of nylon dip through our wake. I remembered my biggest fish to date was long ago, a guppy in some rock pool on a warm morning with my father looking on over my shoulder.
I am momentarily distracted by Noel’s clowning when the rod comes to life in my hands, the line screaming out from the reel. The fish stops running and I bring in whatever from the murky blue-green depths. Tiring now, the rod harness bores into my groin so I take most of the load on my arms. Alan is at my side, quick as ever, grabbing the line, charming the fish as he brings it overboard. The tunny does its last staccato dance on the plywood flooring.
We try one more spot and Alan does not like the sea at all. We bring the lines in. Alan is screaming at me, then at Noel, to keep the boat balanced. I reflect on us capsizing and somehow it seems so trivial to topple a boat in all this angry water. We ride an endless rollercoaster landscape in a car with no suspension. I don’t know which is rain and which is sea spray or which way is home. All I can do is brace against the seat and floorboards as we plough down and up through the white waves.
It took us one hour to get out and five hours back. The photographs show this too. I look washed out but proud. Noel is bent over and kissing the landing jetty as if in prayer, the girls laughing in the background, Alan relieved. The last image as we turn away from the jetty is the fish drying in the sharp, cool wind as the clubhouse beckons and the scary hard time out there starts receding.
We succumb to the alcoholic warmth of the club habitués.
8. The Artist, Cora by K Johnston
I’d cut my fingernails too short. My mom used to do that when I was a kid. They would hurt. Cora doesn’t understand when I tell her short fingernails hurt. She needs re-assurance. “Do they really hurt? Cora doesn’t want her baby-love to have sore fingernails, no she doesn’t”. I don’t like it when Cora talks in the third person.
At the start my eyes would follow her everywhere. If we went to a party, I would only talk to people from an angle where I could watch Cora. I wasn’t jealous, I just liked watching her. I would stand talking, imagining Cora in different ways. I would imagine her naked with just a drink in her hand and the big plastic flower in her hair. I would imagine her half-undressed; no blouse, her breasts swaying just a little, her nipples delicious. I would imagine Cora in a t-shirt with no jeans. Her Brazilian wax would make her look child-like.
She was charming. That’s what I first liked. An artist friend introduced us; Cora was an artist. She said she was a trope artist. I was sure she’d said trapeze artist. I wanted her to be a trapeze artist. I imagined her flying through the air, everyone looking at her smilingly. With red, red lips and bold black smudged-in eyes. She would see me and wave. Afterwards we’d go to a cafe and people would whisper behind their hands “There’s that trapeze artist girl!” or “She must be good in bed with her trapeze artist moves”. Some would come and beg for an autograph, which she would give. It would be swirled across the page, trapeze artist style.
I asked if I could kiss her, at the party. “No, you can’t kiss me . . . but you can put your arms around me.” I did put my arms around her and I kissed her too. I wanted it to last forever.
Trope artists are not what they seem. Cora had made up the term. She said she wanted her life to be figurative and her art too. She basked in change. She would gradually lighten her hair to blonde and then back to dark over the course of four seasons. There were the quick changes too.
“Chicken? I’m vegetarian!”
” Didn’t I tell you? I became vegetarian two days ago!”
Life was interesting with Cora, but sometimes I just wanted to eat pizza and sit still and not have Cora the trope artist flinging herself about the house; flinging herself around parties.
As I packed, my fingernails reminded me, throbbing. There was a tiny bit of blood coming out of one. I don’t know what I was thinking when I cut them. Tomorrow I am leaving to go to Pasto with two friends. I have never been to the Andes before. I’ll miss Cora.
9. Heart by Patrick Ireland
The boy and his father moved silently through the forest, midmorning sunlight dappling their buckskin clothes. The man slowed, then stopped.
Ahead of them yawned a steep ravine. A stream sixty feet below chuckled softly in late-summer laziness. The man pointed across the ravine to a tall ponderosa pine. At its peak, an eagle’s nest commanded a panoramic view for miles around.
The boy held his breath and squinted, struggling to discern movement in the nest. The head of a fledgling appeared above the rim of woven branches. Cocking its head to one side, the eaglet looked over the edge of the nest at the ground, then shifted its gaze to the sky. It searched the horizon, then peered downward again in growing agitation.
The boy followed the eaglet’s gaze down the ponderosa’s trunk, knowing there was something the bird could see but he could not. Seeking a clue he stole a glance at this father. His father’s eyes appraised him. The boy knew he must keep looking.
He returned his gaze to the nest, resisting the urge to shade his eyes. There was a stirring at the tree’s base. From the undergrowth something brown scuttled upward. The bird hopped onto the rim of the nest and the boy was surprised to see that it seemed nearly as big as a full-grown eagle. The brown thing resolved into a wolverine, moving with dreadful purpose.
The eaglet again scanned the horizon in panic, then its raucous scream pierced the air. This only hastened the wolverine’s upward progress. The bird spread its wings, flapping them tentatively as it peered at the rocks below. Clearly, it had not yet taken its first flight.
Stealthily, the boy moved to draw an arrow from his quiver but his father’s hand stilled him. A glance at his father’s face showed him that they must not interfere. Relief and frustration washed through the boy, his pulse slowing now that his marksmanship would not be tested. Yet he felt agony for the eagle, unable to make that first great leap into emptiness.
The bird hopped from one leg to the other, attempting to lift itself with wing beats but its only salvation was to plunge headfirst into the terrifying safety of the air. Before it could do so, the wolverine swarmed over the edge of the nest, fangs gleaming as it lashed at the bird with gaping jaws. There was a furious thrashing in the nest. The screaming stopped with appalling suddenness. Clouds of feathers danced about the treetop.
The boy felt an icy sinking sensation in his stomach as his eyes followed the flirting descent of one golden feather. The wolverine had won. The boy looked again at his father.
“Why did the Great Spirit let the wolverine take the eagle, father?”
His father said nothing for a time. A blood-stained feather fluttered to the ground near his feet. At last, he replied.
“That was no eagle, my son.”
10. Not So Boring by Jean Bailey
0ne might wonder what it was that brought Fern and Jack together they were so different. Jack was a couch potato and Fern bubbly and friendly,very outgoing. Fern loved her white toy poodles more than anything else and showed them at as many shows as she could , infact jack was the one to drive her there.
Jack was not too interested in the shows as soon as he arrived he parked himself near the ring with a huge bacon sandwich he bought from the counter near by. As soon as fern arrived at the show she made for her friends to talk and then began brushing and preparing her dogs for the ring.
The show started and Fern had flitted of to talk to some one else while jack still sat with a large mug of tea alone by the ring. A large lady came into the ring she bent over to pick up her dog and jack noticed how her chest nearly fell out of her dress. Jack was in a world of his own when Fern nudged him, “hey! Jack keep my seat for me”,said Fern clearing of again to greet another friend.
Jack was getting more interested in the shows and got up and moved round to the side of the ring, “Jack”,said fern what are you doing we will lose our places. 0h just thought that dog was a good one wanted to take a better look,said Jack. Fern looked,how long have you cared about dogs?,asked fern. Jack shrugged, jack had found a new found interest in dog shows,ladies with short skirts and low cut dresses, he was now enjoying dog shows to the full.
The judge sent a woman round the ring twice and jack watched her boobs go up and down,bet he only sent her round there twice so he could watch her jugs go up and down he said to Fern who was standing near by, “you will end up a dirty old man”, said Fern, “you are disgusting”. But when they got home Fern found a not so boring Jack so who cares if he is at the dog shows for the wrong reasons thought Fern he is not hurting anybody and he as brought new life to there marriage.