His Chances | Pete

“Check out these two.”

Sarah looked up from her salad. “Who?”

“Over there,” Mike said, motioning with his eyes. “Blind date.”

Pretending to stretch, she turned and followed Mike’s gaze toward the entrance. There stood a pale lanky man, slowly scanning the dining room. He was dressed elegantly in a slim grey suit.

“Little overdressed.” Sarah said, though she wouldn’t have minded if Mike had worn more than just a blazer and jeans.

“Dressed to impress.” Mike concluded. A woman sitting two tables over raised her hand and fluttered her fingers. Unnoticed, she waved more aggressively to the man, who responded by raising his own hand and approaching her table. Over the din of silverware and evening palaver, Mike heard “Wonderful to meet you!” He looked back at Sarah, who had returned to her salad.  “Told you.”

“He’s late.”

“He was creating suspense.”

“Is that what you call it?” Sarah countered. Mike smiled.

“So?”

“So what?”

“What’s their story?” Mike asked. They played this game often. They made a good team: Mike was imaginative, and she was critical. She liked that about them.

“Hm…” Sarah watched the other couple carefully for a few moments. She could see the woman smiling and nodding at something the man was saying. “She’s very agreeable.”

“She’s his analyst, and they’ve just terminated therapy, so now they’re seeing each other socially. She does it with all her male clients; she gets off on the power imbalance, where she knows everything about them and they know nothing about her.”

“Don’t you think she’s too pretty to be an analyst?”

“No way. Analysts can be pretty. Besides, she’s not that pretty.”

“She’s beautiful, Mike.” Sarah went back to her salad. “I could never work with an analyst who’s better looking than me. I need to feel superior to them in some way in order to open up. And how much can a good-looking person know about suffering, anyway?”

“They read about it, in books. And when did you see an analyst?”

“In college, after my father died.”

“What did they look like?”

“It was a woman, 50s. Kind of matronly. Anyway, you said it was a blind date; she couldn’t be his analyst.”

Mike looked back at the couple. “You’re right. Ok: she’s the daughter of a woman in his mother’s book club, and their mothers conspired to set them up.”

“A woman like that getting set up by her mom?”

“She’s doing it as a favor to her mother. She’s generous that way.”

“Does she like the guy though, or is she just being generous?”

“She likes that he dressed up for her, but he’s not her type. She’s basically a heliophile, and he’s got as much color as an uncooked shrimp.”

“How do you like his chances?”

“Ça depends. What’s his story?”

“He’s… in medicine. Good salary, vacations, but not much spare time week-to-week.”

“Surgeon?”

“Not with arms like that. Radiologist, pathologist—one of those science-y ones.”

“She’s disappointed. If she’s dating a doctor, she wants it to be one of the life-saving variety.”

“Radiologists save lives.”

“Yeah, but she wants somebody on the front lines. She likes the idea of being felt up by the same hands that excised a tumor or transplanted a kidney.”

Sarah chewed arugula and watched the woman laugh at something the man had said, reaching her hand across the small table to touch his arm. “He’s doing something right.”

“He’s got a sense of humour. I like his chances.”

“You do?”

Mike nodded. “She likes that he’s got a serious job but doesn’t take himself too seriously. She’s tired of venture capitalists who treat every conversation like a pitch.”

Sarah wondered if his remark was a veiled criticism of her own personality. “You think she’s been on the market long enough to be tired?”

“Not everyone can be as lucky as us.”

October | Strange Folk

I used to be a poet. I used to smoke and laugh and converse in the crowded cafes. We used to dream of revolution. We used to sigh wistfully at the thought of Bolshevik power. A world of equals. At peace with a full belly and a plot of land. But when the war does not end, when the stomach growls, when there is no soil to till and no hearth to drink by; these things can remain ideals no longer. Students, factory workers, soldiers – even the poets – must take action if there is to be any future for the people.

The only sounds that night were of the current jostling against the boat as I guided it through the canals of Petrograd. The skiff drifted low, dark water lapping at its overburdened sides, weighed down by my cargo. Weapons. Four dozen rifles and a half dozen machine guns, gifts from comrades in the military. The contraband was hidden from the moonlight beneath a taut piece of canvas and on either side of me walls of colored brick rose several stories high. Rows of dark windows, punctuated by the occasional glow of candle light, lined the waterway. I fought with my imagination as it conjured a set of prying eyes in each dark frame. I nervously ran my thumb across the handle of my boat knife as I made my way through the city and towards a factory controlled by the Petrograd Soviet. My breathing became a little steadier as I tilted back my flask, the liquor flooding warmth into my chest.

As I neared the city center I could make out a bridge in the moonlight, a solitary figure leaned against its railing, a rifle on his back. Even from this distance I saw his face as he lit his cigarette. A splash of orange in the deep blue of the night. The flame cast gaunt shadows across his angular features. He looked young. No older than twenty five. I could feel my grip on the rutter slipping as my hands began to sweat. There was no avoiding his notice, I could only hope to avoid his suspicion. I kept my gaze low as I approached the crossing.

“Stop, boatman. Pull over.” He called down into the canal.

I felt the blood rush to my toes, needles pricked against my skin as I resisted the urge to flee. With a deep breath I guided the skiff to the canal’s edge where a small stairway met the bridge. His badge glinted in the moonlight, affixed to the lapel of his coat.

“What’s your cargo?”

“Timber. For the war effort. Headed to the docks.” My voice sounded foreign to my own ears. I could taste my fear.

“Step from the boat.” he could smell it.

I clambered out of the skiff as my racing heart threatened to take my legs out from beneath me. He leaned forward and pulled back the canvas. I heard his exhale. I stepped towards him. My hand mechanically covered his mouth as I jammed my boat knife deep into his kidney. I stabbed again. A third time to be sure. I held him there for a time with my knife buried deep in his back. I could feel his rattling breaths subsiding. His pulse slowed against my clenched blade as tears escaped my tightly shut eyes. He slumped down onto the stones and the knife fell from my trembling hands, covered in his warm blood. I dropped to me knees as I vomited into the river. My hands kept shaking as I dipped them into the frigid water, washing away the slick crimson. I dried the tears from my face as the night closed in around me and a numbness took hold of my heart. I still had work to do.

My tired hands rummaged his pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and tossed his rifle into the boat. I lowered him into the black water and he slipped from my grip without a sound. I stepped back into the skiff and shoved off. I used to be a poet.

The Last Laugh of the Tuscarora | Linfin

Before Old Stormalong’s ship passed under the moon, he climbed the tallest mast and brushed his fingers against the stars. Stormy smirked as stars shot out, turning an emerald Elmo’s Fire green, leaving bright streaks across the sky before dying on the far horizon. The ripples his hand caused spread along the night sky, and a few constellations rearranged themselves. One of the Pleiades tossed her hair, giving Stormy a flirty wink.

He landed on the deck, swinging down on a line thicker than a man’s torso, his footsteps shaking the timbers of the boat as he went to the fo’c’sle. As he walked, he heaved on the line that controlled the hinged masts. Counterweights slowly rose, and white canvas sails billowed as the masts drifted down like fog, allowing the Tuscarora to pass under the moon by inches.

Stormy looked towards the stern, watched his ship create a wake that would swamp Boston, and clearly heard the steamboat not ten knots behind him. Wasn’t that the thing? The age of sail had passed, and old Stormalong’s time was passing with it. Already his crew had gone, turning into fleet-winged sparrows, souls intact, flitting home to loved ones. The team of Arabian horses he kept to travel from the Tuscarora’s bow to stern had jumped overboard nigh on ten years ago, golden manes turning to foam, legs becoming waves, their last whinnies a sharp breeze that launched the bark thirty feet into the air, keeping her skipping above the waves for three hours.

The moon behind him, he let the counterweights go with a flick of his wrist. The masts shot up with a streak of lighting, catching onto clouds. Stormalong took a deep breath, salt air filling his lungs, the currents of the ocean pulsing through his veins. He could feel the waves against the shoreline of the Cliffs of Dover, the Mississippi rushing down, her silt building up New Orleans. In the patterns the salt left on his arms he could read the winds that raged along the Tierra del Fuego, the monsoons that were building in the Indian Ocean. He knew it, as he knew his hands, as he knew his ship.

He felt them too, the engine-boats, the steamers, the New Age. Sailing was just a sport. A pastime. Sailing had fallen with grace in a more brutal era. It fell under wartime and gunpowder, fell under the spades of coal-shovelers and the watchful eyes of admirals.

On the Tuscarora, sailing from Charleston to Lisbon, the era of sail was passing under the old hands of Stormalong, the last of the sea-giants. But wasn’t he the man who had thrown the Kraken into the whirlpool the Tuscarora had made after she turned ‘round the Cape of Good Hope? Wasn’t he the captain who had needed to soap his scuppers to pass through the English Channel? Didn’t the Tuscarora, after the borealis was spotted high on the horizon, lift herself out of the ocean on her own will to sail on the rivers of light and stardust?  Hadn’t Stormalong teased Triton himself and won the god’s own crown for the Tuscarora’s figurehead in a pearl-diving competition?

He was all that, and still he passed. The noise of the steamboat that was chasing him to Portugal assaulted his ears. Stormalong’s bones ached like dead coral snapping in a strong current. His tanned skin was cracking, drops of sea-salt blood leaking out. If the steamer could make it across the ocean with one man, so could the Tuscarora.

Stormy faced east again. The breeze favored him, coming fast over his beam. He tightened his hands on the spokes of the greatwheel, watching the spray come up over his bow and turn to diamonds in mid-air, landing with a chime on the deck.

He would go the way of John Henry, he knew (he felt it all leaving him). If he turned his head to the left and squinted through his blue-eye he could see the coast. He was tired. He was old. His hair had long ago turned white. But damn his eyes if he wouldn’t beat some uppity steamer across the Atlantic. This would be the last voyage of the Tuscarora and her captain, A. B. Stormalong. He faced the bow and laughed, and laughed, and laughed. His boat creaked and shuddered. Sharks danced like dolphins by the bow. Albatross dipped through the rigging. The Tuscarora sailed on.

Downhill | Strange Folk

Life is full of curves and turns and forks in the road. So many choices and never any good ones. Not Sixth Avenue. Sixth Ave is a straight line. From the top of the city down to the coast with a singular momentum, a transparent purpose; you just push off and let gravity do the rest. She looked out across the city in the predawn light, the dark purples and blacks of the night shying away from the budding ember on the horizon. She inhaled deep, past her septum piercing, filling her lungs with the salty air as her jet black hair tossed in the sea breeze. The city wasn’t quite sleeping and it wasn’t quite awake, it mumbled like a dozing lover left behind.

She looked down the length of Sixth Ave and a smile broke across her lips as she set her skateboard to the asphalt. Primed and ready, she could feel the excitement in the wheels as she placed one foot on the griptape. A gentle push was all it took. There were many ways to reach the bottom, but they all lead to the same place. Everything else was just style. As she picked up speed she could feel the wind wrap around her waist, her unzipped varsity jacket catching it like wings. Past parking structures and winking office buildings, the air ran its fingers through her hair, it’ll all be okay, it said.

The wheels roared against the asphalt, rattling up through her legs. The numbness of the vibration was kinder than any drug as she ollied up the curb. Every break in the sidewalk jolted through her like a pulse as her reflection blurred alongside her in dark storefront windows. Up ahead she could see where the sidewalk turned to steps to keep up with the street’s decline. She lowered herself on the board as she hurtled towards the stairs, potential energy filling her legs. With a fluid pop, the wheels came off the ground. The roar of the skateboard went silent as she took flight. The bottoms of her shoes flirted with the griptape in midair and her stomach jumped to try to catch her soaring heart. Just as it seemed that each piece would separate, gravity imposed order.

The wheels slammed back to the pavement with renewed vigor. With a grace and steadiness that belied its speed, the board weaved left and right beneath her center of gravity. There was rapture in the velocity. She was inertia, no other labels applied. There were no thoughts of tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Momentum made sense to her. It knew exactly what it wanted to be.

She dipped low again. Streamlined. She relished the recklessness of it as she rocketed down Sixth. The wheels on the board rebelled beneath her, straining to keep up with the asphalt. She had only a moment to process the pale outline of headlights cast on the street as she approached the intersection of Sixth and Wren. The moment was enough for her to lose balance. The world spun as she hit the ground, sending her rolling against the rough pavement. Her skateboard careened into the intersection, snapping beneath the heavy wheels of a city bus. A mess of black hair and quiet cursing. Friction burns seared through her knees and forearms. The momentum had stopped. She curled up on the street as she fought back the pain. She could still feel the movement, but she knew it had left her.

Her palms burned as she gingerly picked herself up off the asphalt. She limped past the splintered skateboard and made her way towards the beach. With each pained step, she could feel things catching up with her. Her thoughts forked in every direction as choices once again filled her mind. She sat down to watch the sunrise, warm tears burning her cheeks. As she pulled a crumpled cigarette free from her jacket pocket, she thought of tomorrow, and next week, and next year. At least one thing was clear – she’d need to get a new skateboard.

Emotional Support Animal | sternjosh

Dr. Emerick wiped a streak of grease from his brow, sighed, and reclined into his desk chair. His had been a busy morning: two fuel system tune-ups, three routine mechanical recalibrations, and a thorough vocalization systems inspection — not to mention the other obligations he had taken on — and he still had two more appointments before lunch.

Tabbing through the calendar on his computer and doggedly ignoring the faint sounds emanating from his desk drawer, he brought up his next appointment.

“Hmm,” he said, leaning back. “Late model… luxury pedigree… signs of wear in the rear carriage… and Nancy notes that the owner seems… morose?”

A smile cracked through the grime on his face and his eyes wandered to the desk drawer.

“I may have just the thing.”

He slid the drawer open, plucked out a small object, and shut the drawer, then set the object down on the workshop floor, gave it a pat, and picked up his desk phone.

“Nancy, please send in Mr. Darden.”

A few moments later the door opened and a wispy middle-aged man led a large german shepherd inside. The dog was plainly getting on in age — his actuators could be heard whirring with each step and no amount of polish would ever bring the shine back into his chrome coat — but his LED eyes were still bright and at a glance Dr. Emerick saw no reason the animal couldn’t keep running for years to come. The owner, however, was a different story.

“Mr. Darden, good to see you again! How’s Rover been? Hopefully no major malfunctions?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” said Mr. Darden, slouching into the chair opposite Dr. Emerick. There were bags under his eyes and his movement was sluggish. “Just routine maintenance.”

“Anything in particular I should know about?”

“Well… he’s been moving a bit gingerly. He doesn’t have the energy that he used to.”
Dr. Emerick arched an eyebrow. In contrast to his owner, Rover sat with keen attention, his metal tail a blur of motion, his eyes scanning the disarray of the workshop with interest. The only thing keeping him still was the famous discipline of his breed.

“I see,” said Dr. Emerick. “Well, a shepherd his age and pedigree is bound to have bearing issues. You find that in working-pedigrees the issue is not so—”

“What was that?”

“The working-pedigree versus the show-pedigree. I could go on—”

“No, that.” No sooner had Darden pointed then Rover bounded across the shop, stuck his nose under a tool cabinet, and pulled out a fluffy golden ball. He then trotted back to his owner, deposited the fluffball at his feet, and gave a very cheerful ruff.

“Is that some kind of… flesh-animal?”

Dr. Emerick affected his most exasperated sigh.

“You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Darden. It seems we have an infestation in our office. Puppies, I believe they’re called. Like proper dogs, but with fur instead of metal plating. Disgusting, I know.”

Darden scooted his chair away as if the puppy were diseased, but the tiny thing scampered after him, its little puppy claws clicking and clacking on the workshop floor. Darden was soon on the floor as well, laughing and smiling.

“She’s actually kind of cute,” he said. The pup nibbled on his finger for a moment before getting distracted by the wagging of Rover’s tail. She mustered every ounce of her puppy ferocity and pounced, much to the amusement of Rover, who hopped away and arfed.

“So sorry Mr. Darden, let me just shoo the thing away and I’ll have a look at Rover.”

But Darden scooped the puppy up and cradled it protectively against his chest.

“Can’t I keep her?”

“Keep her? The flesh-animal? Why, I couldn’t possibly… I’d lose my license, I’d be a laughing stock, I…”

The combined begging of Rover, Darden, and the pup were too much.

“Oh, if you insist.”

Darden’s grin spread from ear to ear and without a single thought for their appointment, he and Rover bounded through the door and were gone. Wearing a smile of his own, Dr. Emerick sighed and slid into his cozy chair once again. When he opened the drawer, four fluffy pups yipped in unison and stumbled over one another to be first in line for scratches.

“You rascals are real labor savers. Although…” His nose wrinkled at the deposits they had made inside his desk. “I never knew a mechanical dog to make such a mess.”

Sabbath of the River | Strange Folk

“She wears her garb at immodest length!” The judge bellowed, spit catching in his beard.

Perhaps if I could have afforded more fabric.

“She tempts the men like Satan’s harlot!”

Perhaps if they could control their own leers.

“She partakes in liquor and temptations!”

Perhaps only to ease the pain after a day’s labor, like so many others.

“Her brother was surely a sacrifice in her pact!”

My poor sweet Ethan, how the fever burned through you.

I felt the flaxen cord pull snug around my ankle, on its other end sat a heavy stone, bound like me. I looked down from the wooden platform that sat above the river’s edge. The abusive current lashed the bank as dreary clouds sat in silence above the village. My eyes stung and my cheeks burned, chapped from fear and sorrow. I scanned that seething mass of hate filled stares.

I caught a glimpse of Isaac’s face in the crowd. Like a flood, my mind was filled with the bitter-sweet memories of last harvest festival. He asked me to dance. How we twirled in that swell of music, all eyes locked to our orbiting bodies as he smiled at me. Now just another grimace in the mob. The recollection clung like ash in my mouth. A tightness gripped my chest and my jaw clenched as I fought back tears. These friends and neighbors. Twisted up with suspicion. Eager for my death. They thought it would relieve them; they thought I was the weight that crushed them so. It began to rain.

“She seeks to spoil our harvest!”

Do I not eat from the same fields?

“She congregates with beasts!”

Do not the slightest of God’s creatures deserve compassion?

“She taints our hallowed church!”

Did I not pray with fervor? Did I not pay my tithes?

“If this girl is a witch, then by ordeal we shall know it. If she is innocent, then may God have mercy on her soul.”

The assemblage roared and spit and jeered, vitriol seeped from them and the air teemed with it. The judge had said all he needed to. My tears came freely as he placed his boot on the heavy stone, pushing it into the river. I felt my ankle tug out from beneath me. Everything went white as my head hit against the deck. Splash. The ringing in my ears was swiftly replaced by the muted gurgle of submersion. The murky current wrapped around my body, pulling against the rope as I sank to its depths. My lungs ached as their reserves dwindled. Oh that panic. That deep, primal, alarm when the air does not come. Every muscle in my body screamed as I thrashed against my anchor. Blackness seeped into my blurry vision, but I felt no quiet acceptance. I felt something else. A defiance so cold it could make a god shiver. The sadness in me lit like oil as anger sparked through my soul. I was grief. I was rage. I would be the famine and I would be the weight. The rope went taught and the heavy stone dislodged from the murky sediment.

I began to rise, and as I rose, the river rose with me, and as I bellowed, the lightning joined my chorus. Let the fields flood. Let the farmers starve and the charlatans burn. No innocents would be lost this day, for innocence had left this place.

Eighth Street Forever | Strange_Folk

I was conceived when a pretty waitress named Darla fell for the lies of a traveling shoe salesman on a warm July night at a watering hole called Hannigan’s. Oddly specific, right? Truth be told, most of us here could tell you the spot that our road to hardship began. We’re all fresh off the assembly line of Latchkey Inc. Premium products of one night stands. Dumpster dodgers with home lives that never quite let us forget this unfortunate fact.

See Lils over there? Her real name is Lilly. The girl’s got a heart of gold. Literally. Not sure who she swiped it from but she wears it on a knock-off chain around her neck. Then we got Skids. Cute name, I know. His mom ran out on him when he was six; left for greener pastures. Ironically, ‘Greener Pastures’ was the name of the trailer park where she left him and his Pops. Next up at bat, we got Donny. He doesn’t play much baseball anymore. Not after he got kicked off the team for what he did to that preened up pitcher from Uptown. Still dresses the part though, and never shy about swingin’ the bat. Topping off the roster we got Sammy. She’s a goddamn artist with a can of paint. The Da Vinci of the Eighth Street, with a cigarette hanging from her bruised lip. She’s got a gift for providing would-be interlopers with an eloquent warning to stay the fuck off our turf.

Eighth Street is for workers, scrappers, and grifters. People don’t call the police here. Everyone’s got something they’d rather not have looked at too closely. When push comes to shove, we shove hard, and when Jimmy ‘Blue Jay’ Stanton and his private school pretties from Uptown came to our neighborhood for a tutoring session, we were itching to give’em one.

Jimmy had a bone to pick with our Sammy after she turned him down for prom. Kids like Jimmy aren’t used to hearing the word, ‘No.’ He decided he’d ask a second time. He came down to Eighth Street with a handful of his boys. They were hoopin’ and hollerin’ as they went, passing a stolen bottle of his dad’s whiskey between themselves. They came down our alley. Our fuckin’ alley. With whiskey on his breath, that slimeball reached out to grab Sammy by the arm. Shouldn’ta done that. Sammy flicked her cigarette right in his face, and before the sparks even hit the ground, Donny was at the diamond. With a crack of the bat he clipped Blue Jay’s wing. The scene turned into a melee as Stanton rolled on the ground, bawlin’ like a newborn and clutching his pitching arm. I don’t need to tell you who won, but I will tell you that Jimmy’s Old Man has great taste in whiskey.

They never did prove that it was us that put Jimmy Stanton in the hospital, but everyone who matters knows. Papa Stanton pulled some strings to get us kicked outta school, but none of the gang seems to mind. Just more time for extracurriculars.