by Tara Bradford

4 U Leonard Cohen

Ex-InTransit via Creative Commons

She bent over, examining herself in the mirror, splayed in folds. She pulled her legs apart and saw the pink recede into darkness, becoming indistinguishable. It disappeared into her, silent, and she thought, no, this will never do. So she rubbed her finger and thumb together until it held onto the leathery tip between her legs. When she pulled, she felt a falling, a lengthening of herself into another place. It rounded in her palm and she let it drop powerfully between her legs. Yes, she said, better.

She felt it swing between her thighs and her confidence expanded with its girth. There were comments on the sway of her hips or the taste of her lips or the fall of her hair long and low down the curve of her back. She could not tell if these voices were echoes in her head or said a moment ago, a week ago, now. The extra girth gave her confidence, though. It bulged in front of her like a light leading her to this instance—this time. She knew, with this thing between her legs, that she would finally be taken seriously.


Tara BradfordTara is an international teacher with itchy feet and busy fingers. Having found inspiration in Japan, England and Kuwait, she is now venturing to Ukraine to see what new stories the ‘Old Country’ will reveal to her. Find Tara on instagram @tarajeana or her website www.tarajeana.com.

Fireside

(OvO) via Creative Commons

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Fireside
Issue 16, October 2014
Edited by: Brian J. White
Cost: Free to read online

Because my traipsing through short fiction venues is designed to be one-stop, it’s necessary to note that I won’t be bothering with serialized content. I say necessary in the case of Fireside’s October 2014 issue, because the bulk of the issue seems to be devoted to Lilith Saintcrow’s serialized She Wolf And Cub, including a prologue, and then Chapter One. Which is fine because it makes this inaugural edition of The Short List a rather breezy one, consisting of just three stories to read and a short note from editor Brian J. White. That is absolutely not an indictment of She Wolf And Cub—but if I get hooked on every serialized piece I stumble across, I’ll end up doing nothing but catching up on those by the third or fourth Short List. I’m intentionally avoiding it. And that’s actually something worthwhile to note about reading short fiction publications: feel free to skip over anything that doesn’t grab you right away or that just doesn’t sound interesting. With so many other stories to choose from, there’s no sense getting stuck on one that you won’t finish or that isn’t working out for you.

Anyway. Fireside.

Continue reading

who are you?

Bianca de Blok via Creative Commons

…and Ellie groaned against the quickening contractions.

“It’s funny, right?” Barry said. “In labor on Labor Day.”

“Right,” Ellie said, “hilarious.” And it was funny, in its own predictable way.

But the hospital parking lot was full. The admissions desk drowned in scared and angry women, all suffering from violent wrenches of pain in their lower abdomens.

“It’s not possible,” Ellie heard the sweating receptionist say.

A doctor squeezed past and climbed on a table. “How many of you are actually pregnant?” His words quieted the crowd.

Only Ellie raised her hand.

“Okay, we’ll start with you.”

Evergreen more than eversun

Mashthetics via Creative Commons

“I guess that reputation you have of non-stop rain ain’t true, then?” Gary asked the gaunt-looking cab driver.

“We get our share, true enough.”

“Nice day today, though,” Gary remarked.

“Yep. Enjoy it while you can.”

“I will.” Gary was quiet for a few minutes. Then, “Any suggestions?”

“For what?”

“You know, stuff to do. I just got in.” It seemed a dumb thing to say, considering the cab had picked him up from the airport.

“Space Needle? Seen that?”

“Yeah,” Gary said, leaning back, “I seen that.”

“Lots of people go downtown. The very first Starbucks is there.”

“Nah, I don’t drink coffee.”

“Well, it’s a great day. You could hit the water. Or the mountains. Beautiful scenery up here. Lots of green.”

Gary was quiet.

“Not outdoorsy?”

“Not really,” Gary answered. “But I do like green.”

The cab driver fidgeted. Sweat beaded on his wrinkled forehead. “Green’s nice,” he said.

“You got anything green,” Gary paused, then added, “Frankie? Maybe some gemstones?”

“Ah, crap,” the cabbie said. “Come on, man, I was gonna give them back. I swear.”

“Sure you were. Tell me where the case is and then pull over here.”

“Here?”

“Right here.”

Wells Fargo Tower_lg

Dystopos via Creative Commons

Wells Fargo Tower is not the tallest building in Alabama. But is is the tallest in Birmingham. I don’t work on the top floor, but I work near it and I can look out from my thirtieth story window at the rolling hills of the South and I know there’s no other place I’d rather be.

The hardest part of my job is not letting it change me. I take home a comfortable paycheck, but I earn more than that. Here’s the thing about embezzlement: you don’t have to be smart to do it, you just need the stones to return to the scene of the crime five days a week and ask them to pay you for the privilege. Not that I’m some kind of hillbilly idjit. You don’t siphon three million dollars from phony expense reports in under five years without some kind of plan.

But there’s a part of me that wants more than the money. I want the life. Seersucker suits and adopted personality quirks. Charity lunches and political glad-handing. I want people to know I’m rich, to feel it when they walk into my office. I want people to grovel.

For now, I’ll wait.

Snow on the Gate

Paul Morgan via Creative Commons

Randy left cold Chicago with flashes of red and white pulsing in his aching mind. Sadie laughed at the trunk full of party favors, like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson tale. Six days into the stash and Randy stopped understanding the world as a place with rules and laws; not just the kind enforced by police but the kind enforced by cosmic forces or deities. He floated and spoke to creatures from other dimensions, he and Sadie made some kind of love in vats of marshmallow fluff and beds of shining light.

Something told him the red and white wasn’t Christmas. The half-memory, half-hallucination made him think of Santa Claus, but the shiver in his spine and the empty passenger seat where Sadie usually sat was less festive. He was coming up on Springfield and the snow was coming down. The snow was white, and fluffy, and it reminded him of something they might have fought about. The sky was gunmetal gray, and that reminded him of something, too.

The backfire from the truck brought back the sound of the gun in his hand, and the puzzle fit together. The cold, white snow. The red blood.

Miami Beach at night

Daniel Lombraña González via Creative Commons

This place is full of weirdoes, and I fit right in. Kendra Corinth thought this as she stepped out onto the Miami boulevard. Warm summer nights weren’t her favorite, but streetlamps were her sunshine. Her powder blue hair caught the flash of an LED billboard. For a moment her pale face looked pink, like a cooked shrimp. The elaborate makeup on her eyes went beyond the extravagance of the club-hoppers, swirled and looping in intricate artistry from lashes to temple and down onto the slope of her cheek. She wore her clothes like she was daring everyone to stare. There were six knives and two guns hidden in the elaborate crooks and folds of her overlapping layers.

She bummed a light off a gawking tourist and picked his pocket while he leaned in. Around the corner, she tossed the cigarette aside. She didn’t smoke.

Fresh with cash, she set about her plan. She needed an uncooked salmon, large enough to hold a bowie knife and a delivery van—preferably covered in graffiti. She also needed half a gallon of nail polish remover. As she broke the beauty supply window she thought, Yeah, my weird sunshine fits right in.

Welcome to Iowa

Jimmy Emerson via Creative Commons

Orchid made a call to a friend in Iowa, trying to keep the panic and unprofessional thoughts out of her voice. The friend hadn’t seen what she was looking for, but his casual reassurance that he would look into it settled Orchid’s nerves for a few hours. Usually she would be furious—murderous. But the phone call from her bagman had sent her into a quiet panic. Had the runner simply taken off with the money, she could kill her way out of the situation. Hunt him down. Get it back. She believed him when he said it was stolen. Vanished. No way to track it down in time.

She still had to try to get Bashar back. He was running, but she didn’t hold that against him. She thought about running, too. The Eastern Europeans would be by in less than 24 hours looking for the money. They wouldn’t entertain excuses. Orchid didn’t fear most men, but she feared these guys.

“Jesse,” she said into her Nextel.

Chirp. “Yeah, boss?”

“You’re in charge. I need to take off for a bit?”

Chirp. “Um. Okay. How long?”

“Not long. Just need to look for something.” She paused. “Up north. Iowa.”

Nothing's too hard for God

Marshall Astor via Creative Commons

Bashar made the drive once a week from Columbia to Kansas City. I-70 wasn’t much to look at, but he liked the alternating billboards that told the story of his life: religion and porn. A mega-church advertising Sunday services, then an adult bookstore trumpeting a sale. John 3:16 in tall letters. A quarter mile later, a gentlemen’s club reminding motorists that they had girls who were not just nude but all nude.

The job was boring, but it gave Bashar time to pray. When he arrived in KC, the men in sunglasses would inspect the guns in silence. They’d nod, and hand over a locked briefcase and a small stack of bills that Bashar knew was his cut. It was always tempting to pull into one of the clubs on the way back. Or even at one of the churches. His money would be welcome at either. But he knew better than to stop until the money was safe in Orchid’s hands.

It all went wrong with six words: what’s the worst that could happen? The passenger seat, where he left the briefcase, was empty when he got back.

Bashar turned the car north and drove.

Don't Mess with Texas

Nils Geylen via Creative Commons

Jennie Sherman believed that Texas was big for a reason. She wasn’t from the South, but she was so far removed from the North she didn’t remember it. The Lone Star State suited her because she was her own lone star, and she felt the land in her bones.

“Don’t mess with Texas, and don’t mess with me,” she’d say with a silly-serious laugh. Jennie knew people thought she was overdoing it, but Texas was big to accommodate people with big personalities. At least, that’s how she saw it. That’s why she fit in so well.

The job at the bank didn’t pay much. It seemed ironic. When the men in the ski masks and ten-gallon hats came in and asked her to fill the bag, she leaned over the counter.

“If you take me with you, I’ll show you where the gold is,” she whispered.

“Gold?” the man whispered back. She imagined he was handsome underneath the wool.

“Lot of it,” she said with a wink.

Everything in Texas was bigger. So if you were going to commit a robbery in Texas, Jennie thought, might as well make it a big one.