Forty-Five by Ulee Edwards

Thwump, thwump, thwump, thwump

The record player’s arm jumps at the end of the spiraled midnight groove. Bass thumps flicker from the needle, reverberating through the studio apartment. The repetitious beat sets a monotonous soundtrack to the lethargic morning. An occupied mattress sits on a hardwood floor. A light breeze and warm eastern sunlight radiate from the single-paned window. Contrasting warm and cool sensations cause Aaron’s naked body to burst into goosebumps. Aside from the sheet strung across Aaron’s midsection, a sleeping lover in a cocoon of hoarded blankets is the only source of warmth. The bombardment of senses causes eyelids to flutter as ears catch up to a groggy brain.

THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP

The six feet to the record player seem impossible from deep within the silken-sheeted comfort of the bed. The automatic arm, still refusing to budge, taunts Aaron. Persistent low-pitched heartbeats eventually stir enough motivation. Aaron’s knees creak as they swing to the side of the mattress. Insecurity strikes as the realization of nakedness sinks in. What the candlelit room hid last night is maximized by the white light of day. Carelessness has worn away over the years, replaced with an old-aged reason. Nonetheless, a shrug and discarded caution set a course for the turntable.

THWUMP, THWUMP…

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Sharing by John Kulm

She said, “You never wash the dishes.”
He said, “That’s not true at all. I’m sure I have.”
She said, “I have to take care of you like I’m your mother.”
She said, “I am not your mother.”
He took that as a personal attack.
He took it as an attack on his manhood
and a little disparaging about his mother.
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Corsairs by Justin Ballard

This is what happens,
when “something”
is better
than nothing
at all.
The quiet desperation
of memories of things
that never happened,
cities never built,
worlds never explored,
watching the sands from the hourglass fall.
Weaving through time,
extrapolated metaphysical context.
To secede from the constraints
of the constant, of physics.
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Black and Beige by Edward Stiffler

The earth was dead. The air was still. Tiny snowflakes floated down like ash from the fallout of some great disaster far away. My sister was driving an old, rusted-out Dodge van with no heat and no door handles; hell, the entire inside of the door was missing. Just a bunch of rods and plastics to get stuck on, or grease to rub off on your pants. I paid it no mind, though; I wore all black back then, black so dark grease stains wouldn’t show. My sister, on the other hand, she’s the hippie who missed the bus, born two decades too late for peace and love and San Francisco.

The asphalt was frozen so hard you’d think it had gone brittle, like it would crack under your weight. The whole thing resembled an immense, dark pond of unfathomable depth. Salt stains etched the surface like cracks in the black ice. We pulled up to the thrift store in this squeaking, squealing ruckus machine and parked on the far end where it was easier to maneuver the behemoth. Elissa and I hopped down from the contraption, slamming the doors to make sure they’d stick.

“Well, we’re here.”

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Collected Poems of the South Sound by Burl Battersby

On the Way to Tacoma

 

 
People run to get on the bus
like rain will burn their skin and they will be saved
if they sit down beside us.

 

The driver enables this, though,
by opening the door to let them in and their wet things drip
as they pass down the row.

 

Instead of picking up speed
the bus stops and starts again and this makes the driver
a happy man indeed.



Now that we are finally moving along the driver seems as unhappy as we were when the journey was young.Continue reading →

An Independent Professional by John Carlson

Sheila did not look like a hired killer. Not that Paul really knew what a hired killer looked like. His old hired killer, “Mr. Smith,” had been totally anonymous, so Paul had never even met Mr. Smith.

Sheila looks more like a suburban mother than anything, Paul thought. She was short. She was a bit pudgy, as if she’d eaten too many cookies she’d baked for the family cookie jar. She wore a faded sweatshirt and jeans. Outside, he could see her SUV, which would look at home in the school parking lot on open house night.

Looks aside, she was worth a try. Particularly since Mr. Smith had rather inconveniently decided now was the time to retire. Roger, Paul’s cousin, used Sheila and thought highly of her. “She delivers excellent value for my assassination dollar,” he’d said.

Paul said, “I have a…situation that has come up. Someone is causing one of my business dealings to go bad.”

 

“And I assume by ‘bad’ you mean ‘really bad.’”

 

Paul nodded. It was so bad, in fact, that if things went much worse, Washington State Penitentiary might become his home for the rest of his life. “I need this man out of my way. Which is why I need your services. I had a hit man, but he retired.” Paul thought: I called him a hit man. But what do I call Sheila? Hit woman? Or is hit man now unisex?

 

“You mean Mr. Smith?”

 

“Yes. You know him?”

 

“We’ve never met. But we know of each other.” She sighed. “I really envy him—retiring to Hawaii, or so I heard. I like Tacoma, but I do get a little tired of the winters sometimes. Even though I suppose the rain does help wash the blood off sidewalks after some jobs. But enough of this. I’d be happy to do this job for you. One point: like Mr. Smith, you aren’t hiring me as a permanent employee. I’m an independent professional.”

 

“I know. And I don’t have the money to hire someone like you full-time.” Although it would be handy—it seemed he’d been contracting a lot of killings the last year.

“Very good. We understand each other. Now, can you give me the information about the person who is causing problems?”

 

“Yes.” Paul got up and walked over to his safe. “As you requested, I have prepared a box that contains full instructions and payment.”

Paul opened the safe and pulled out a box. He placed it on a nearby table and shut the safe door. Suddenly, something caught the corner of his eye. He turned to face Sheila. She was now standing and holding a gun pointed at him.

“Ah…what are you doing with that gun?”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“But…but…but you’re my employee!”

 

“I already told you: I’m an independent professional. You hired me to do a job. I’ll do it. But first, I’m doing another job I was hired for.”

She pulled the trigger.

 

 

“You understand I usually don’t do jobs on credit,” Sheila said, as she sat down in Roger’s living room a week later. “I only took this one on because you are a good client.”

 

“Yes. I know. If I hadn’t been out of town…” Roger sighed. “I should probably have done this a long time ago. He was becoming more erratic with his business. He’s hired more hits in the last year than the last five years, combined. And it was starting to cause my business problems. Anyway, here is your payment. Plus a bonus.” He handed her a box.

 

“Thank you. Well, if you will excuse me, I’ve got another job to do. It’s a busy week.”

They got up and headed to the door.

A thought hit Roger: Paul was thinking of hiring Sheila a few days ago. From what he said, he had a huge problem. Whoever was causing him that problem might cause me problems now.

“Oh, one small thing,” Roger said, trying to sound casual. “I believe Paul hired you—or planned to.”

 

“Yes. He contracted with me the day I completed your job.”

 

“Will you do it?”

 

She paused, staring at him a moment. As if studying him. “That’s the job I’m about to do,” she said. “He paid me. I always do my job. I am a professional.”

 

John Carlson lives near Gig Harbor.

Christmas Reflection by Nick Stokes

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*Nick Stokes has worked as a high school physics teacher, a wilderness ranger, an apple picker, a trail crew leader, a stable hand, a corn detassler, a tribology researcher and is still a mule packer. For more information on his fictions, plays and prose visit nickstokes.net. His novel, Affair, first serialized by The Seattle Star, is available at Amazon, The Nearsighted Narwhal and King’s Books in Tacoma and elsewhere.

The Wishing Tree by Melissa Thayer

It wasn’t like the soft snow Jasper’s dad would take him to in the mountains. Within five minutes of making slush balls, his gloves—meant for cold, not snow—were soaked through and the ninety-six percent humidity combined with the thirty-six degree ambient temperature proved a frigid mixture. Jasper didn’t let on to the others of his shivering and how he would rather be at home in front of the heater reading a book, but he did remove his wet gloves and thrust his hands into his pockets.

They sloshed along the pavement as the rain fell. A newspaper, still dry in its pink plastic bag, nested in a clump of grass with a headline that read Hostage Journalist Killed in Syria Three Months Ago. Jasper kicked it.

The three turned a corner onto a short street with a few houses to one side decorated for Christmas in gaudy fashion; one with what appeared to be a deflated Mickey in a Santa hat lying prostrate on the lawn, another with lights not reaching across the entire roofline, and the last one featured a gyrating animatronic Frosty the Snowman that had seen better days. Jasper wished for his old house, done in old-fashioned big bulbs—his father wrapped each window, doorframe, and the pitch of the roof with precision until it looked like something out of a gingerbread fairytale.

On the opposite side of the street stood a single house—set on a hill and surrounded by ancient firs on both sides. Most houses in the city didn’t have so much yard, or forest in this case. The house itself, what Jasper could see from the street, seemed as old as any of the other houses around there—mid-century and white. The firs were much older, swaying high above, thick with old branches that threatened to crack and crash under the slightest breeze. “Who lives there?” Jasper asked.

“Weirdos.” Alan scooped more slush into a ball.

Jasper laughed. “Would have to be. Like who?”

Cassie laughed, “You never heard of the town witch before?”

“He just moved here, remember?” Alan threw the slush ball at Cassie and it exploded against the back of her head.

“I just wanna look.” Jasper climbed the hill. A peek over the fence might collect him some respect points. From the looks of the unkempt state of the shrubs and trees and ivy-smothered hill, he figured the person who lived there must be old and unable to do much. At the top of the driveway he found a stone stairway covered in overgrown ivy. He picked his way up the hill toward the fence perched at the top. The ivy that covered the fence was thick, but he pulled it aside and found a tiny knot where a hole worn through and kneeled, wet hands in wet ground to see beyond.Continue reading →

The Evidence for Coal by Jonny Eberle

This year, Santa’s operation entered the 21st century. Shortly after Thanksgiving, a server room went online at the North Pole to analyze data that used to take an army of elves a year to complete. Sophisticated algorithms crawled the web, taking into account thousands of behavioral factors. Code scoured social media for keywords, while software did the dirty work of sorting naughty from nice. A team of hackers worked to piggyback signals on telecommunications satellites to intercept texts and tweets as they flew around the world. Millions of emails were obtained through a Russian intermediary. Security camera footage was spliced together with GPS locators and all of it was neatly compiled to build a comprehensive file on every last human being on Earth. Finally, the computer assigned a final judgment to each one and spat out a color-coded, three-page report on crisp, white cardstock.

The elves passed the pages around, then checked them twice, and they smiled to each other. A few exchanged high fives. Everything they had been saying for years was confirmed. Even better — it was scientifically proven with evidence. In neat letters on the final line of the final page, the computer issued its recommendation: 10% Nice/90% Naughty.

There was some disagreement over who would present the findings to Santa. A few got into a shouting match. They all wanted to be there to see the look on his face when he finally saw what they had always seen. Still others were frantically emailing the mines to ramp up production. They were going to need record amounts of coal.Continue reading →