Mar 232014
 

By Mark Juric

Mickey brushed away the lock of hair that clumped, sweat-soaked against Darla’s temple. He traced it back in place — once, twice — and still wet on his hand, smelled the richness of her each time. Dark and musky, her scent was earthy — like soil — and fertile, an ancient fragrance, older than either of them. Her breath had slowed and he placed his head to her chest where the balance of her blouse was unbuttoned, still coy, still clinging to her shoulders.

“Where did you. . .” She hesitated, afraid of accusing, afraid of a lie, afraid of the truth. “I thought you said you’d never done this before.”

“I haven’t.” He pretended some irritation just below his nose, and raised his hand to scratch it. This ruse to breathe her in once more hid the hitch in his chest, and capped the waves of shock on which unforgettable memories rode to the forge.

“But, how did you know?”

“Know what?” he asked.

“The way you. . . touched me. There. Like. . .” she paused, and Mickey felt a rush of heat where his skin touched hers and a skip where her heart had been. “You touch me like I touch myself.”

He smiled with the pride of an artist, at a composition executed with expertise and grace. But there was confession here too, and when the full import of her words had settled, he felt himself humbled and flushed with admiration, filled with the rawness of her revelation. He had fumbled in darkness with no guide but her tiny gasps and his own imagination, yet somehow he had proven himself worthy – and emboldened – she had found courage to share a secret light.

“I want to feel what it’s like inside you,” he said.

She pushed him back and his face was suddenly cold in the absence of her. Darkness, distorted by orange light filtering through steamed windows painted her face in shadow. “Mickey, we agreed.”

“No, not like that.” He smiled and rested his head back against her chest. “I mean, I want to see things through your eyes. I want to be a part of you.”

Under his cheek she relaxed, and Mickey felt his heart decode the layers of her scent as she stroked his hair. There was soap and a sweet perfume — young, inexpensive, girlish, yet reaching for adulthood. There was deodorant too, and underneath it, undisguisable yet unnamable, the sharp tang of sweat, and the bite of its rope that bound him to her.

“I think about you,” he said. “I think about what it’s like to move through the world as you. How does it feel when you sit? When you sweat, or sneeze, or laugh? I wonder what your skin feels like from the inside. When I touch you.” Mickey turned and kissed her chest. “When I touch you there.”

She stroked his hair a little longer, then stopped. “Do you love me, Mickey?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I hope so.”

Mar 172014
 

by Eric Walter

The taxi came to a stop on the busy Rio de Janeiro street where we’d been walking among the revelers at Carnaval.

The driver, whose bald head was all we could see, paid no attention to us as we got into the back seat; he simply pulled away from the curb and inserted the vehicle into the heavy traffic that filled the street.

Sandy gave me a worried look. “He didn’t ask us our destination,” she whispered into my ear.

I could only nod in agreement. It wasn’t that there was bulletproof glass between the driver and where we sat; he’d simply gone about his business without acknowledging us.

“Senhor?” I called for his attention, my voice a little tight with concern.

The man’s dark, hooded eyes appeared in the rear-view mirror. “Sim?” came a rough growl.

“O Hotel Copacabana,” I said to the eyes in the mirror.

“Hã,” he grunted noncommittally.

The cab kept heading south with the traffic; the driver made no move to change lanes or turn.

“I thought the hotel was east of here,” my wife said quietly.

“It is,” I whispered back.

Feb 152014
 

by Cory Wilson

It was the best train. His sixth birthday was announced with the sound of “choo choo” as he moved the sleek toy across the synthetic carpet. It was the perfect blend of tactile stimulation and intellectual involvement. All of the 6 year old children of his class had them, and his parents had known he would enjoy it.

Mark smiled at his son’s joy. As his son’s initial enthusiasm ran out and he began to tire of running around the room yelling “ZOOM!” while sliding his train across different surfaces, Mark picked up his son and placed him on his knee.

“Do you like the train?” Mark asked, as if he needed to inquire about a toy which had been so scientifically proven to be perfect for his son. His son lacked the precise vocabulary to articulate his pleasure.

“It wasn’t always like this,” Mark reminded him. “We had toys, but it was different, they weren’t always the right toys.”

“We had so many toys, hundreds of them! So many that we had no idea what toys were the right toy for us. Oh! It was terrible! Shelves upon shelves of them and picking just one that we wanted to play with was nightmare!”

His son laughed in disbelief at the absurdity of his father’s statements.

“No it’s true!” Mark insisted. “We had to pick, and almost always picked wrong; it was some sick joke of the adults. You’re lucky these days; you always get the right toy. They know what toy is right. “

He hopped off his father’s knee and ran upstairs.

Mark checked on his son to make sure he was comfortably asleep in his bed, and then he went downstairs and laid back on the couch, turning on the television with a one word command. The blue light of the screen bombarded his eyes, the news filled with images of protestors insisting upon one issue or another. “We want to make our own mistakes!” a furious protestor yelled at a camera crew with the intensity of a rabid dog.

Mark laughed at the people screaming about wanting to be unhappy. Humans had always been striving for one goal: happiness. They had it now. These fools felt the need to throw bottles and smash things to prove how much they disliked happiness.

This was their happiness, the confetti of broken glass and the  howling of their cries.

Mark turned off the tube and enjoyed the regulation beer, which provided a faultless blend of sweet, bitter, and carbonation. Perfect.

Feb 152014
 

by Fran Free

Disturbing thoughts crept into my distraught consciousness–up to nine more inches of snow tomorrow. My left hand slowly reached for the telephone receiver as my right hand dialed . . . the cheerful answer at the other end of the line: “Good morning. You have reached the Florida Tourist Bureau. If you’re tired of snow and ice, press 1 . . .

“Tired of snow and ice? How could I possibly be tired of snow and ice?” I yelled into the receiver, “We’ve only had, what, 72 straight hours of blizzard-like conditions with a total now including the current week of more than 16 inches of snow, subzero temperatures, including a day where it got down to 17-below (with a 40-below wind-chill factor)–two polar vortices! How could I possibly be tired of snow and ice?”

My immediate thought was to throw the phone out the window. “Is this one of Al Gore’s climate changes or something? I bet Sarah Palin doesn’t even have to put up with this,” I mutter under my breath as I press “1.”

Poof! It feels like I’m being jerked sideways and then spun around several times. I hear tropical birds singing, waves crashing on a beach; calypso music fills the air.

The nice woman with the colorful bird on her shoulder is saying, “Welcome to the Sarasota Springs Warming Center in beautiful Sarasota Springs, Florida. You’ve been teleported here, dear. We could tell you’d had enough. You can sign up for shuffleboard over there,” she pointed.

Jan 302014
 

As you can see, FewerThan500 has been on a hiatus. The publisher got a great new gig editing and had to stop working on the site. But now we have a team of people on it and we want to rejuvenate the site. So, we invite you to submit your stories and creative non-fiction, less than 500 words of course. We look forward to hearing from you!

Oct 012012
 

By Edward Lynd Kendall

Leonard Small, a newly minted young attorney, struggled up the long stairway to their modest walk up in Queens. He looked a fright, his face was bruised and there was an ugly red scrape across his cheek. He was a tall and good looking man with a full head of brown hair. Ordinarily, he was well turned out in a conservative blue suit, but presently his clothes were rumpled and dirty. His pretty young wife, Mary Jo, met him at the front door. She was appalled. This was unbelievable.

“For God’s sake, what happened? Wait a minute, I’ll get a Band Aid.” She rushed to the bathroom. When she returned with a large adhesive bandage and antiseptic he was slumped in his easy chair. He slowly sat up and looked her in the eye. This would be hard to explain.

“You won’t believe this. Well, I stopped for a short one on my way home from the office. The ugliest bastard I ever saw came staggering into Arney’s. Looked like he was drunk. Started cursing, the dirtiest talk you ever heard. Walked right up and got in my face. I was just standing there at the bar minding my own business. I gathered it was all about politics. He was right of right, didn’t know what he was talking about. I tried to ignore him. Arney told him to cool down.”

“He obviously hated the president cause he was black. One thing led to another. Lost my cool. Let him have it–right in the chops. Knocked him out cold. Went down like a sack of potatoes. It’s the honest-to-God truth. You can see I had to do it. Somebody called the cops. When this big Irish cop came in, it was all my fault. There he was on the floor and I was standing. I was the provocateur. Legally, presumptive evidence of guilt. You know I don’t get into fights. He took me down to the station and booked me.”

Mary Jo looked at her husband somewhat puzzled. “To tell the truth, I am shaking my head here. You never get into fights.”

“Got a rotten headache,” Leonard grasped his brow.

“Poor dear, I’ll get you an ice pack. That might help.”

“I could use a drink. How about a scotch on the rocks?”

She hurried to the kitchen to fix the drink.

He marveled at his wonderful wife’s caring attention, while thinking she sometimes didn’t understand a man’s point of view.

Massaging his temples, feeling the pulsing pain in his cheek, it suddenly occurred to him. If he were convicted of assault and battery in the state of New York his career at the bar would be over.

He yelled, “Honey, make that a double.”

Sep 012012
 

By Christopher Battle

I have old man’s hands.

At forty-one, I have my grandfather’s hands. Hands I remember during those last years before he died. More than anything I remember those hands needling fishing wire through the end of a pole on the Savannah marshes, the invigorating stench of salt and mud in the air. Or spiking still-fresh shrimp to the end of an old hook. I remember the time the small barb caught his thumb and how he cursed. He cursed with relish but always in a toned down language. Dabnamit, he’d say. Maybe hells bells when he was really mad. I remember crabbing at the end of a long wooden deck, holding twine between my finger and thumb, slowing pulling it up, watching these brainless creatures slicing and shredding uncooked chicken meat hooked on the string, slowly rolling it up until the outline of the crab, maybe two or three, cutting, slicing, eating, emerged in the translucent top of the water, and then netting them. How they must have been surprised despite the obvious. Dumping the crab onto the splintered deck, shaking them reluctantly from the net. How one scrambled sideways and he reached down carelessly and grabbed it near its legs, but too much forward, and that same weathered thumb getting crushed in the pincer of that small creature, the water evaporating from its shell in the heat of the sun. He brushed away the crab, careless in the way of someone who has been stuck, pinched, nicked and scraped hundreds of times over the years.

When I say I have my grandfather’s hands I do not mean the hands of his youth. Even in old age, his hands were vice-like. Your bones felt it when you shook hands with him. If he wanted to hold on to you, whether by the scruff of your neck or the cuff of your wrist, he could do so for as along as he wanted. They were hands shaped by years of sports – baseball, basketball, boxing – all through high school and college and then thirty-odd years as an electrical engineer at a paper plant.

My hands are not vice-like. They are thin. The veins throb on the back of them. They are ill. They are my grandfather’s hands. They are wizened and lined. Chaulky in color, as if I had rolled my hands in flower. The redness of my palms show through, but these shrunken tributaries and recessed lines cross my palms and the backs of my hands mercilessly, aging me on the spot. Grayed flakes of skin drop floorward. The metacarpals rise blustery, as if they want to break free of this sagging skin, but they are secured, tied down, by blue veins rising across them. You look closer, under the bones and the veins and there they, these lines crisscrossing my skin with the parched ferocity of a desert.

I have old man’s hands.