JUST-A-FLASH - The Stories
Our 50th Anniversary Issue
October 2nd, 2016
We are climbing a tower today, entering that astounding other reality.
While we are tend to the garden, however, we notice that things are not what they seem.
That crazy sailor, who was he and why did he so suddenly disappear?
We have received many submissions and read through heaps of stories. It was a hard choice. Finally, though, we have chosen three winners of this contest and, I guarantee you, their stories will make you gasp ...
The envelope, please.
And the Golden Writer Award goes to
By Thaddeus Hutyra
Stunned by what I saw in the Tower of Babel, I directed myself to the elevator. Once in there, I gazed at thousands of buttons. One could see them through the labyrinthine pathways of the Universe, shining with a brilliance as if they were made of diamonds, the most precious stones. I pressed one of them, a staggering number 10024,
disbelieving there could be a floor so high.
It didn’t last long to get to the chosen floor, perhaps a split second. The door opened at the speed of light as I unnoticeably
stepped out of the elevator onto the highest floor, overlooking breathtaking NYC skies.
I suddenly found myself in a large gathering-hall decorated with plenty of the all-American banners, the stars and stripes. Was I dreaming or was this reality? I stood there for a moment, completely surprised, historical and present figures surrounding me, famous, infamos, legendary, ancient, historical.
Lady Luck wanted me to meet two great geniuses from the time of American struggle for independence. James Madison and Thomas Paine talked to each other, happily, quietly, holding their great historical works in their respective hands, works
that changed the entire course of the modern civilizations, beginning with the U.S.A.
James Madison had original manuscripts of the United States Bill of Rights, much of his own authorship.
Thomas Paine, his book “Rights of Man”, originally written in support of the French Revolution.
They looked over, stretching out welcoming hands toward me, asking me where I came from. After hearing my answer, “Poland!”, they were delighted to mention the Constitution of the 3rd of May, 1791, in Poland, the second modern-time-constitution, after the American one in 1789.
We had a short chat, friendly and brotherly, and they asked me
about visiting the United States, their beloved nation.
“It's a dream of mine,” I answered them, “sooner or later, I shall be in the land of my dreams. New York City, especially, but also Chicago, San Francisco, and the culmination of my joy: toasting to freedom at the Statue of Liberty.
We bade farewell. Me? I was happy to have met such larger-than-life personages.
It took a few minutes before I realised I had in my hand one of the Federalist Papers, obviously gifted to me by James Madison.
I then turned around, seeing Barack Obama stand up, going to the podium, beginning his presidential speech, one long in political phrases demanding concern with what was happening in the Middle East, as much in the eastern parts of Ukraine, with Putin tearing the country apart. In both cases, he felt there was a need for fast decisions,
A demand for Putin to stop ruining the international order in Europe.
- “We shall stand on the side of liberty, no matter what,”
the US president concluded. God bless America!”
Ovations resounded, people enthusiastically ejecting out of their chairs, shouting: “Long live America! Long live liberty!”
And they all sang the American anthem.
My grand path continued, visiting great places, eras, planets, alternate realities, people from all the corners of the world, all depending on which elevator button I pressed.
I finally decided to leave the Tower of Babel and the vehicle of time I had entered, with its diamond-like buttons.
The next morning, I was back in the real world, standing at my NYC house window seemingly forever, memories of my encounter in the Tower of Babel staying with me all my life.
by M.J. Weiss
Gareth knelt in the garden amidst an afternoon rainstorm. Though thunder crashed and lightning lit the sky, he kept focusing on his flowers. Rain trickled from his hair and dripped off his long beard, but he smiled nonetheless.
The garden was already there when they moved into their country home, and Kate quickly adopted it as her own. Gareth didn’t even think the flowers were pretty, and their sharp scent often gave him a headache. Long thorns spiraled down the stems. Their petals were mauve and wrinkled. He couldn’t identify them in any botany books and thought they might be weeds. Still, Kate loved each one and nurtured them like a mother.
At this point, Gareth stayed among the odd plants even longer than Kate used to. A thorn stabbed through the tight, pink gloves he wore. Its sting lingered, even jolted up his arm, but he shook it off and continued.
“Isn’t it a little wet out here for this?” a woman said.
He looked up, and Kate looked down, smiling. She wore her favorite salmon-shaded sweater. No rain dripped from her blonde curls.
“What can I say? You converted me. I’m officially a gardener now.”
His knees sank into the dark mud. The heavy rain chilled him to the core. Another thorn jabbed his hand.
“They’re doing well,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Not as well as they once did.”
Some flowers thrived and burst with life. Others failed, and their petals were translucent and corpse-like.
“They’re fine,” she said. “So, how’s work?”
“Terrible. I can’t get back into the groove of things. Nothing is the same.”
“You should quit. You could open up that shop you always wanted.”
He dug his hands into the swampy mess. His vision fogged and the flowers’ aroma made him sway. Every syllable Kate spoke made his heart writhe. Her voice was both of grace and destruction, of life and selfish lingering.
“I miss you so much,” he said.
For a moment, there was no response from the figure behind him. He saw Kate begin to dissolve into the rain and mist and cold. Then, he grabbed a flower by the stem, and three sharp thorns dug into his palm.
“I miss you too,” she said.
Her figure was solid once more, her voice clear as the thunder above. Yet the flower’s sting caused Gareth’s arm to lose feeling. He was overdoing it, but he didn’t care anymore.
“Gareth?” said another voice.
He looked up to the road, where a wrinkled woman held an open umbrella.
“Yes, Mrs. Reuben?”
“You need to get out of that garden and go inside, dear.”
“Thanks for your concern,” he said and looked down at the flowers.
“She should mind her own business,” Kate whispered.
“For God’s sake, Gareth, get inside,” the old woman said. “You’re killing yourself.”
He ripped off the gloves and jabbed his finger onto another thorn.
The woman shook her head and strolled down the road.
“Hey, rain never hurt anyone,” Gareth said.
“We met in the rain, remember?” Kate said.
“Yes, I remember.”
He looked up at Kate through the deluge. Her eyes were the same as before but somehow, hollow. He wasn’t exactly sure what this was. If she was a chemical reaction, fine. If this was an actual visit from the other side, even better. Regardless, as long as she continued to appear, he would continue to garden. As he went on working, crimson fell from his fingers, mixed with rain, and landed in the drowning garden.
by Cameron Macauley
The last time I saw Uncle Dale was on a frosty November night in 1984, a few months after we bought the house on Cape Cod. I was six; he was a fortyish red-faced sailor heading into a serious drunk, beer cans all over the back porch. Around us the wind hushed through the tall pines, an owl moaned, while Mom snored upstairs. Uncle Dale looked wild, his glasses askew, hair like leaping flames. I curled up on the couch while he slurred tales from the high seas, grinning and wobbling, a Budweiser can his only prop.
The next day he was gone, to the port we thought but we never had another letter, never another crackly phone call to wish me a belated happy birthday from Manila or Buenos Aires or Cairo. We didn’t know where to start looking; we just hoped he’d show up again someday, hung over but happy to accept a cold beer, spouting stories.
One morning twenty years later I wake up from a dream about Uncle Dale. He was balancing a beer can on his head and telling a dirty joke in Italian. Even after all these years I miss him. I go out for an early morning stroll by the salt marsh and spot a cluster of mushrooms beside the path. Mom used to hunt for edible ones and I stoop to take a closer look. Under the speckled caps I see an old shoe and a set of rusted keys and I realize that I’ve found Uncle Dale.
After the forensic team has gone I go out to the back porch where Mom is sitting in her rocker, watching the sunset. For two decades she has imagined her brother lost at sea or eaten by cannibals in some far off land, when he’s been sinking quietly into the earth only fifty yards from our door. I imagine my uncle stopping on the edge of the marsh on that subzero night to look up at the stars before passing out. We closed up the house for winter and drove off to Boston without thinking that he might still be there.
As soon as Mom hears my footsteps she rises and goes to the kitchen to peek into the oven. “Lactarius scrobiculatus,” she says. “Very tasty in quiche.” The smell of drying mushrooms fills the house.
was born in mountainous Rajcza, south Poland, where he studied and participated in the so called Solidarity movement against the communist regime. He emigrated out of Poland as it was still in the Soviet thaw and became a citizen of Wellington, New Zealand, called Windy Wellington because of its Pacific winds. After a time in China, he settled down in Antwerp, Belgium. The United States remains his dream destination, a place he longs to visit. Thaddeus is a prolific poet, enormously active as an author and feels at home in the European Union.
M.J. Weiss grew up in Pottsville, PA. He attended Penn State University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Integrative Arts, emphasizing Creative Writing and Media Studies. He then continued his education by earning his Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at The University of Tampa. Today, he lives in St. Petersburg, FL with his wife Jessica and works as a creative copywriter.
teaches at James Madison University. He is the co-author of Citadel of Ice, a novel of World War One in the Alps, and author of The Golden Child Trilogy, which deals with witchcraft in Cambodia, Brazil and Mozambique. He has published short fiction in The North American Review, The Sonora Review, Prism International, Quick Fiction, and The Literary Hatchet. In 2017 he anticipates the publication of his short story collection, Sightseeing in Hell, and another co-authored novel, The Escape of Alfred Dreyfus.