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Best Stories on the Web

Bootleggers

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Cain's got a rumrunner - Editor

Bootleggers

by Dale Phillips

The line of bums looked like scarecrows in the rain, and I had to laugh. Here I was, smoking a cigarette, warm and dry in my car, while they waited for a handout bowl of soup. Since the stock market crash, a lot of guys couldn't find work or enough to eat. But not me, I was smart and doing better than ever. Because I was a bootlegger, running illegal hooch to anybody who could pay. And the tougher the times, the more people drank to forget their troubles.

Business was so good, in fact, that I needed some extra help with a new job. I'd picked Davy Donaldson to be my new sucker. He had a good strong back and he could run a boat. He'd been fishing these coastal Maine waters for over ten years, before the bank foreclosed on him. That was why he was out here with the other bums.

The First National Bank in Rockport had sent Sheriff Powell and his deputy to throw Donaldson off his own boat, but Donaldson had thrown them off instead, right into the harbor. Then he went down to Rockport and slugged that banker, so they gave him six months in jail, and took everything he had. I'd have been smarter, and sapped the guy in an alley, with no witnesses.
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Funeral Flowers

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The smell was even stronger - Editor

Funeral Flowers

by Edoardo Albert

The taxi driver knew where to go.

The man paid him and then watched as the cab drove away. The driver had not spoken during the journey. The man had sat in the back, looking out but not seeing.

He was going to bury his father.

The building he stood in front of did not look like an undertaker’s office. Plate glass windows held him in reflection but he did not look as he remembered.

He couldn’t see a door. He looked around, but there did not seem to be any other way in so he stepped closer to the building and stopped. A section of the glass slid open. The reception was glass and marble and steel and the receptionist was their human equivalent: clear, calm and cool. And, of course, beautiful.

He went in, and the glass slid closed behind him. He could not see out through it. Instead he saw himself, repeated again and again, disappearing into infinity.

He sniffed. The air was perfumed, a distant hint of summer meadows sleeping in the sun. Not what he had expected of an undertaker. But even death was corporate now.

“How can I help you?” the receptionist asked. Her tongue flicked, dampening her lips. Saliva glittered like diamonds on the lip gloss.

“I have an appointment,” he said. “About my... my father.”

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When Life Hands You Lemons

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Supposed intelligence - Editor

When Life Hands You Lemons

by Cheryl Gilbert

The President thought about Athens. He thought about a walk he took as a student through a district with red roofs—what was it called? Placard? Packing? Plaka.

There had been an old man playing guitar. Balding, age spots on the top of his head.

The President had been what? Depressed? Just lonely. On the road. Solitary warrior. It had been very warm. With cicadas. That’s what he remembered about Athens: Acropolis, heat, old man, cicadas. Nothing more.

Athens was mostly gone now — first victim of the Good Neighbors and their currency wars. The Italians still occupied its ruins. Occupied in the name of World Heritage Site preservation, naturally. No more old men playing guitar in front of tourist traps. No more students listening to cicadas.

He straightened his tie and checked his cufflinks. Still gleaming. Still designer. Still President. Still alive.

Which was more than he could say for Junior. But never mind.

He pushed the button. “Send him in.”

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Dismal 'n' Distress

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Warning: Adult - Editor

Dismal 'n' Distress

by Adam Armstrong

Liz paced around her living room; a portrait of a patient waiting to find out if it is terminal. The slightest twist of her hips threatened to rip the fabric of her skirt and allow full movement again. Her rose blouse was about to lose the battle with her D cups. Liz stopped to adjust the blouse down to allow a canyon of cleavage. After a moment of consideration, she settled for a small hollow of cleavage instead.

French manicured nails begged to be bitten so she placed words in her mouth instead: “Could he have met someone else? Maybe he already has someone else. Was he just trying to pick up a hot piece on the side?” Her cheeks flushed a bright pink before the blush ran down either side of her face and formed a smile. The thick carpet was given a reprise as she slowed to ponder. The phone definitely would have rung by now if they both had the same line of thought.

A tiny tremor ran through her and ticked her eyes toward the clock. The second hand slowed down and thought about going backward. “I’ll give you a buzz about six.” It was five fifty-eight, Bastard! About six, it had been about six for centuries.

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My Wife Glows in the Dark

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Shines like a beacon - Editor

My Wife Glows in the Dark

by Brian Ross

My wife is following me.

Again.

Lately, I have been distant: hands-off when she wants me to be hands-on, too busy or too tired when she wants to talk. She has suspicious blood, my wife, but she trips over her reckless curiosity. She does the math, comes up with five, and paints herself a pretty picture. Next thing I know, I’m watching my back because she’s on it.

She never stops to ask why.

So we play the game.

She asks me how my racquet-ball practice was and I say, great thanks. I rub my shoulder convincingly as she tells me about her evening of dishes and dirty nappies. Her story is as transparent as mine, but I’m working a lie so I don’t question hers.

She is a poor detective - more Clouseau than Poirot. She thinks I don’t see her - behind cars, in doorways, around corners - but I do. I see everything. She doesn’t move when my eyes try to find her, but she is there just the same, not realising that I have her chasing her own tail.

I’m happy to indulge her, to pretend I don’t notice my new shadow, because she will only ever see what I want her to. And besides, after tonight, she won’t do it again.

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What Philip Did in Tulsa

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Short, but searing - Editor

What Philip Did in Tulsa

By Steve Lowe

The blindfold bit into Philip’s face, cinched tight enough behind his head to pull hair out by the root.

“What is this?” He slurred his words, still groggy from whatever had been slipped into his drink.

The voice said nothing. Philip heard only grunts. The person attached to the voice was straining against something. Then the straining stopped and Philip heard exhalation. “There,” the voice said. It was a man. “Ready. But you shouldn’t be awake yet.”

Something bit into Philip’s bare shoulder and an electric jolt once again removed him from the world.

#

A little candle set inside a bottle glowed from a table in front of him. The flame waved inside the glass, pulling and stretching at the edges where the bottle curved. The way everything grows at the edges, larger than reality allows.

Philip smelled pizza and his stomach grumbled and kicked. His ass throbbed and he felt an intense urge from deep down in his guts to move his bowels. He realized he was bent over and strapped down to some kind of low bench, his numb arms pinned behind his back.

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Twilight Warrior

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A gift - Editor

Twilight Warrior

by Lance Young

A curse punctured the air, followed by the dull thud of a body hitting the ground. Erik Redstorm needed to rest and this spot was as good as any. Despite running all day, he slept poorly on the cold dirt ground. Hazy nightmares stalked him in his sleep. Visions of all the men he’d killed haunted his dreams. They were waiting for him in the afterlife.

In some, they greeted him as befitted a warrior, with glass of mead and a slap on the back. But most of the time they were far less welcoming. They would claw and tear at him, till he woke with sweat running down his face. Redstorm had never given much thought to the afterlife, he believed it the refuge of fools and weaklings but now he couldn’t help wonder what awaited him.

#

He woke with a grimace; the raising sun allowed him his first good look at where he had slumbered so fitfully. The valley he had passed through was rugged; mostly grass with the odd cluster of trees or jagged boulders.

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Taken Back Home

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Family is sooo special - Editor

Taken Back Home

by Philip Roberts

Cliff Crichlow had spent his youth being told to stay away from Raul Skenandore’s farm. At first he’d been afraid of the man, peeking through windows each time the backfire of Raul’s aged, rusted truck sounded. He always came at least once a week for food and other supplies, speaking only to Kirk Thompson who ran the general store. Most avoided the man with his leathery skin, browning teeth, and perpetual scowl, head topped with a cowboy hat, though occasionally topped with nothing but thin, wiry gray hair.

Wasn’t until Cliff turned seventeen and Raul was going on sixty that the flyer got put up in the general store. Most in town scoffed at the idea of working for Raul. Even if they hadn’t already disliked the man personally, talk got around of the odd colors one could occasionally see off in the distance towards Raul’s farm, or the sounds that carried in the still, summer air now and then.

Cliff had grown out of his superstitions. He left his house with his mother’s cries following him, telling him “That man will be the death of you.”  He walked down the dirt road through the twilight until he came upon Raul’s modest home for the first time. The old structure with its squeaky screen door, faded brown paint job, and dry, cracked front lawn showed nothing of the wealth Raul had to have stuffed somewhere.

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The Taller and Tumult

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I'll take taller - Editor

The Taller and Tumult

by Augustus Peake

We were there in your Garden of Eden. I believe it is documented; though I have never read the book. Documented, but misattributed. You called us, and continue to call us, ‘the snake’. Understandable, I suppose - we do look rather similar - but somehow faintly disappointing. Don’t get me wrong – all that ignominy and hatred wasn’t something we craved. On the contrary, we were amused by your taxonomic incompetence. Still, some of us were and are a little peeved. I mean, to be over-looked for millennia can’t be good for one’s self-confidence, can it?

And just for the record, it was a pear.

You are shocked, I can tell. Which part shocks you? That the garden really existed? That it was a Taller?

That there were many beginnings?

In our family, there were some greats. Giants, really. That tree in Eden was not a highpoint, literally I mean. After all, pear trees tend not to be greater than 10 meters. But I had a grandfather, you know, who made it to Giza. Now, for you moderns, a trip from The Garden to Giza would be a short plane trip away. Not for us. For generations, we had talked of it and made it the object of our collective ambitions. And although it was Khafre’s and not Khufu’s, he was the first to get there, the first to tall one, the first to reach Tumult on one of your constructions. In our stories of him, he moves from stone and stone-cutter, to mule and mule driver, to slave to slave to slave up the face of the great stone edifice to its final stone. And when that final stone is laid, he is there for his Tumult. Blue with a hint of pineapple.

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My War Against the Invisibles

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It was wretched goop - Editor

My War Against the Invisibles

by Jeffery Scott Sims

The invaders came like thieves in the night. No one ever saw them, no one ever knew of them apart from their effects. They showed up the morning following the night of the meteorites, which can’t be a coincidence. They came in something. Things fell to earth around there in the wee hours, and from those something alien hatched. I didn’t actually know it at the time-- I learned most of the sparse details later-- for I was up in the hills on holiday from the big city, enjoying two weeks of fishing and other lazy recreation. I sojourned in the little cabin deep in the woods by the stream up from the mouth of Munds Canyon, I and a couple of friends, Mark and Buddy. A good time was had by all, and then that morning they went into Page Springs for supplies. That was the wrong thing to do, because I never saw them again.

By that evening I was really worried about them, but there wasn’t anything I could do then since they took the jeep. The next morning I fried myself some fish, ate a big biscuit, and set off on foot down the rocky four wheel drive road to town. All that day I saw no one, which wasn’t totally strange, but I’d expected to run across other outdoorsmen, if not my friends. By following Oak Creek I reached the edge of the forest, where it gave over to farmland, before I sacked out again, very tired, confused, and remarkably low in spirits (I say that because I didn’t know anything yet of what was coming). So it was one more morning before I hit the winding paved road of the lowlands and made it to Page Springs.

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