Bibi and the Moldunberries

Wrote another story in response to this Reedsy Prompt: Write a fairy tale about someone who can communicate with woodland creatures. My entry, Bibi and the Moldunberries, is now available. Writing a 2000-word story in a week is no easy task, but it’s the type of work that gives me the most satisfaction.

Day 380

My mother’s parents spend winters in Hawaii and usually return to the mainland in the spring. That wasn’t really an option for them in 2020, so they’ve been out there since the fall of 2019.

After getting their vaccinations with no side effects, they’ve decided it’s time to head back here. Their flight is in early May, by which time everyone in my family will also have been vaccinated, including my 24-year-old son, as vaccinations in our state are now available to anyone 16 and over.

The flight to Hawaii is long, but has the advantage of crossing timezones in reverse; it’s like gaining time. Coming back, however, and losing all that time is one giant bowl of suck with a side order of bleh. And being in a small enclosed environment with not-so-great circulation for over half a day is hardly a comforting proposition when there’s a deadly virus floating around.

My in-laws will continue to be cautious, and knowing how much family means to them I’m not going to argue with their decision. But I’m going to be anxious when their long journey back begins, and probably won’t fully relax for a couple weeks after they return.

***

Just when infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates had seemed to be consistently trending down, those numbers all picked up again this past week.

While broad dissemination of vaccines has undoubtedly been helpful, it also seems to have spurned another round of premature relaxation. People are gathering in large crowds again; the disciplines of social distancing and mask wearing have broken down. (I’m deliberately not writing about states that have lifted all restrictions, or the sizable percentage of the population that refuses to vaccinate, because writing on either subject will make me furious.)

To use a term from American football, many of us have spiked the ball before getting into the end zone, while others have decided to leave the field while there’s still time on the clock.

I really do wish I could end this ongoing journal, but COVID-19 remains too large to ignore, even for those who can’t be bothered to pay attention to science.

Charge Magazine

Another week, another review of a literary journal or genre magazine.

Charge Magazine has published four electronic issues since 2019. 

What They Say About Themselves:CHARGE is a big word. It’s a word we say every day when our phone battery is low. It is an injunction. It is something that has been entrusted to your care. It means to move swiftly and with purpose. It is a property of matter. It pervades something with a particular quality, feeling, or emotion. It is the sound that is yelled as an invading army takes the field. All of these have meaning for us in this space.

Charge Magazine is an independent publication that seeks to publish work that deals intimately, creatively, and rigorously with the ideas, questions and challenges that confront us as humans on this planet. Some of these questions are specific and new. Others are timeless, but all are part of a larger human conversation. Whatever deep-thinking people wrestle with in their most profound self, whatever of this they bring to their work, whatever the medium might be, Charge is the platform for these types of conversations.”

Issue Reviewed: Issue No. 4

Genre: Literary realism with some speculative elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Kepler’s Canopy,” by Dennis Schaefer. After an exuberant weekend fling with New York attorney Bertram Montgomery, young poet Robert Goronski moves in with Bertram. Robert starts working in Bertram’s office, Bertram helps Robert compose his poetry, and the synergy between the couple leads them to explore the relationship of sex and power. A very good use of an unreliable first-person narrator. 

Exploding Helicopters: Two Explosions. The stories are driven more by character than by plot.

Profanometer: Dammit. The profanity was so seldom that it was easy not to notice.

Bass Ackwards

bass ackwards \ ‘bas-ak-wərdz \ adjective, often vulgar

evidently disordered and illogical

\\ deploying a system before testing was complete was a bass ackwards strategy

Neighborhood Watch

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

The streetlight had been out since summer. The city’s service department said replacing the light was “on the list.” The alderman promised he’d “get something done.”

Holiday lights provided momentary relief, but darkness feasted the street at night with January’s arrival.

Coming home from a party one evening, a utility worker noted how the defective streetlight made his friend’s neighborhood seem overly fearful. At the end of his next shift, he drove to the streetlight with his service truck and replaced the bulb.

The street’s residents were relieved to have the light resume its nightly watch over the neighborhood. 

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Metaphorosis Magazine

Nearly every literary journal or genre magazine advises reading a sample issue before submitting. These reviews are my way of demonstrating I’ve done my homework.  Founded in 2015, Metaphorosis Magazine publishes monthly print issues and also posts new content online every week. What They Say About Themselves: “Metaphorosis is a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. We offer intelligent, beautifully written stories for adults… Metaphorosis is the title of our pre-launch introductory story, inspired by Kafka’s MetamorphosisIf you want a more intellectual-sounding answer, you could say it’s a method of understanding our surroundings through examination of allegory and parable.” Issue Reviewed: March 2021 Genre: Speculative fiction One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Going Home,” by Martin Westlake. Dimitriy Semenov, “a brilliant physicist with a top doctoral thesis in Biology and Materials Sciences from Moscow State University,” is teaching mathematics at a secondary school when he is approached with a mysterious job offer from a Russian military officer. The event which triggers Dimitriy’s journey has been the subject of many speculative stories, but Westlake presents a fresh take on the matter. Exploding HelicoptersThree Explosions. The stories are consistently imaginative and engaging. Profanometer: Gee Willikers. More proof that you don’t need colorful diction in a compelling narrative.

Day 372

At 10 AM last Tuesday, I received a call from my manager at the grocery store where I work. The store pharmacy had three openings for COVID vaccinations, and if I got there by 1 I’d receive one.

The store is two miles from my home. I was there at 10:15.

My appointment for tomorrow is no long necessary and has been cancelled. Second and final shot has been scheduled for April 13. Since it takes two weeks after the second shot to develop full immunity to COVID, I have 4/27 marked on my mental calendar as the day I can resume my communal physical activities — returning to the gym, the Pilates studio, and most important of all, the fencing club.

In May, my wife will receive her fourth shot in the vaccine lab study she’s enrolled in. It’s a double-blind study, where one group is given two shots of a placebo at the start and the other receives the vaccine; two more shots are administered a month later, with the group roles reversed. She’ll either be vaccinated by the end of May, or find out she’s been vaccinated since March.

She asked me the other day if I’d feel comfortable going to a restaurant once we’re both fully inoculated. I told her I could do it with outdoor seating, but being indoors with the pandemic still in effect, without knowing whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus, doesn’t sit well with me.

***

We also received our COVID stimulus checks from the federal government last week. Unlike the previous two payments, this time college-aged dependents were included.

My elder son is home after graduating in December, and is working as a delivery driver for a pizza chain. He took on extra shifts last week because order volume was higher than usual — a result, he was told, of the stimulus checks.

Americans get money from the government and splurge on fast food. Sometimes the jokes write themselves in this country.

Web Comics

I grew up on Charles Shulz’ Peanuts — when my parents’ daily newspaper arrived every morning, I’d beg to have the back section, which hosted the the comics section. As a teen my tastes in comics gravitated towards Doonesbury and Bloom County, and discovering Calvin and Hobbes, The Boondocks, and Dykes to Watch Out For as an adult was a treat. It’s been decades since I’ve subscribed to a daily paper, but my appreciation for the medium endures. Below are three web comics that I continue to enjoy. (Out of respect for the artists, I’m posting links to their web sites rather than copying their comics in this post.)

This Modern World

I discovered Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World as a graduate student in the late 1980s. The comic’s overt left-leaning politics appealed to the angry young man I was at the time, and while I don’t always agree with the comic’s politics today I still appreciate its wit. If you don’t like politics and social commentary, especially if you’re conservative, you probably won’t enjoy this one, but I believe Tom Tomorrow is who Gary Trudeau always wanted to be.

Depression Comix

It’s difficult to write about mental illness in a way that’s both authentic and entertaining, but Clay Jonathan’s Depression Comix pulls it off. The latest strip is a perfect commentary on life during the ongoing COVID pandemic; I especially like how the main character in that strip literally disappears at the end.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Enough already with the social relevance! Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is just a whole lot of fun. The strip makes plenty of references to contemporary issues and intellectual ideas, but a consistently self-deprecating tone makes the strip consistently entertaining.

What web comics do you enjoy? I’d love to read your suggestions in the comments!

Petrified

PHOTO PROMPT © Liz Young

“They’re like dinosaur bones,” Simon explained. “All the living matter in the tree dies, and minerals build up inside, turning the wood into a fossil.” 

“If you say so,” Lydia responded, taking a step back. “Still doesn’t seem natural to me.”

“You’re scared?” laughed Simon. “Of a dead tree?”

“Can we just go already?”

Simon shook his head as Lydia walked away. He was about to call to her when he heard a sound behind him. He turned… had that gray branch always been so close to him?

“Lydia!” She stopped and looked back. The screaming then began.

It may be called Friday Fictioneers, but the photo prompt for the weekly flash-fiction challenge is posted on Thursday. Decided to get a head start on this one!

Sweet Tree Review

Another in my ongoing reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. 

Staffed by faculty and students from Western Washington University, Sweet Tree Review is an online publication that has produced four new issues a year since 2015.

What They Say About Themselves: “A sweet tree does not have a single definition. A sweet tree is everything you need it to be and nothing you expect it to be.
 
A sweet tree is the inceptive – your earliest memory, the stain of blackberry juice, the cat you lost in fourth grade, your latest road trip postcard, the B minus on your thesis, the old lady that laughed at you kissing your boyfriend, the bus you waited for in the rain when you misread the schedule.
 
A sweet tree is the aftermath – the fireweed, the clink of soapy glasses after a funeral, the lights without the sirens, the 3:34 am phone call, the bustle of the hospital after the monitor stops, the thrum of helicopter blades over rubble, the exhale of a rescue dog.
 
Confront us. Endear us. Scare us. Sadden us. Show us things we don’t understand; things we didn’t know we wanted to understand.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 6, Issue 1 (Winter 2021)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “White Noise,” by Adam Gianforcaro. Gene and Mario buy their first home in a college town, but their quiet world is soon disrupted by a fateful phone call. The story of their three decades in the home is told with appreciation for the couple’s compassion and includes both small and large moments that were truly genuine. 

Exploding HelicoptersOne Explosion. Aside from some noisy neighbors, not much happens on Gene and Mario’s street.

Profanometer: Dammit. The two f-bombs came at an appropriate time of the story.