Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Late Date” – Brenda Layman

Little clumps of ice crystals stuck together and collected around the edges of the windshield. The temperature had dropped steadily all afternoon until grey drizzle became heavy snow, followed by more drizzle that froze into an icy glaze, coating bare branches, power lines and the road before them. Jen tried not to show worry. Robert’s hands gripped the wheel. They were old hands, gnarled and arthritic, tendons standing out beneath thin skin. His cheekbones and jawline were still strong, his nose beneath black-framed glasses prominent in his aging face.

“Don’t worry. I’ve driven through worse,” he said, and she knew her attempt to appear unconcerned had failed. “Just twenty miles or so and we’ll be over the hill and the worst will be behind us.”

The hill lay between them and their destination. Every mile took them higher and pushed the temperature lower. The dashboard thermometer reported the downward progression faithfully and without judgment. Thirty-three degrees. Thirty-two. The layer of ice grew steadily as the temperature dropped.

“So, you were saying…” Robert picked up the thread of dropped conversation. She knew he wanted to keep her mind off the treacherous drive, and she played along.

“Yeah, about the play,” she said. “I was saying that I guess I feel sorry for Rothko. I mean, he was so fierce and so vulnerable at the same time.”

“We all have our time, and then it’s somebody else’s time. His conflict is ours, isn’t it?”

“Well, I don’t think my time is over yet,” Jen replied. She was sixteen years Robert’s junior.

“Nor mine, but the day will come. I got used to that idea a long time ago.”

Robert was a poet, really a poet with published volumes of verse and a number of prestigious literary awards under his belt. He still wrote prolifically, pages and pages of lines each day, words like living things emerging from his fingertips and making their way toward the sunlight, seeking approval and thus survival. He smiled.

“Change,” he said. “Change is the future. It’s everything. Shit!” He swore as the car suddenly fishtailed. “Sorry.”

“It’s ok. Do you think we should stop somewhere?” she asked.

“Nowhere to stop until we make it to the other side.” He looked at her and grinned. “Are you saying you want to get a room? On our first date?”

Jen felt her cheeks burn and was amazed that she could still blush like a young girl. Robert was confusing, one moment a wise old man and the next a mischievous boy.

“No, I mean, it’s just the weather, and the ice, and visibility is decreasing.” She tried to recover some dignity with the formality of the phrase, but visibility was indeed decreasing, and steadily. Thick, white fog had dropped, or maybe they had simply plunged into it from beneath as they climbed. Taillights flickered in and out of view a few yards ahead of them.

After the play, they had walked across campus to the Faculty Club, holding on to one another to keep from falling on the slippery walkways as the snow flew. Once safe and dry inside, Robert introduced Jen to his colleagues as “my new friend and lovely date for the evening.”

Jen hadn’t been sure of the date, but going to see a student performance of John Logan’s play, Red, at the local university, accompanied by a professor who had enjoyed a stellar career there, was appealing. Robert had taken her by surprise when he asked her, at a party hosted by one of her clients. She had dismissed him as attractive, but too old. Apparently he had no such qualms, and he had brought her a drink, engaged her in conversation, and then sprung the invitation with practiced ease. She was surprised to hear herself assent.

Afterward, she went online and did some research. She found mentions of his work here and there, and read the poems they quoted. She read his early writings, the poems he wrote at what was considered the height of his career, and his last published effort, released five years earlier. It was unlike the stuff of contemporary poets, less raw and more cerebral. Even his early work, written when he was still in his twenties, had a reserve about it. The passion of his youth ran crimson and hot, but it ran beneath a decorous veneer of literary device.

After Burgundy wine, cheese and conversation at the Faculty Club, they returned to the parking garage and drove carefully to the freeway exit. Jen sat quietly. Structure mattered then, she thought as she watched the windshield wipers rhythmically swiping ice aside, more than it does now. Now it’s feeling creating form; then it was form supporting feeling.

As if he heard her inner voice, Robert said, “Now, take Rothko. He loved being an iconoclast—reveled in it. But the problem with being an iconoclast is, as soon as you start being anything, you set yourself up for the end.”

“I wonder how such a young actor felt about the part?” Jen mused. “He did a great job with it, but it’s hard to imagine he understood it.” The tall, thin young man with his hair streaked silver and lines drawn onto his forehead and the corners of his eyes and mouth had given a masterful effort.

“Yeah.” Robert tapped the brakes and the car slid, then they felt the tires grip. “When I was an undergrad, W.H. Auden came to our school. We all turned out to hear him read. We had to wear jackets and ties then. None of this shorts and t-shirts business. I was thrilled to be there, but I thought him terribly old. The next day our professor asked us what we thought of the lines: ‘There is no such thing as The State/And no one exists alone.’”

“What did you say?”

“I hemmed and hawed and came up with some nonsense about existentialism. Dear God, I had no idea. The only thing I was thinking about was whether or not the girls found me handsome in my new sweater. By the way, do you like this one? I confess I bought it to impress you.”

“It’s very nice. You look good in russet.”

He smiled. “I know, and at my age I try to make good use of every flattering thing I can find.”

“Me too.” Jen laughed.

“Ah, but you are so much less in need of flattery.”

“What a line.”

“But true.”

Before Jen could reply, red taillights glowed through the darkness and white mist. Robert hit the brakes and the car skidded to a stop. “Looks like we’re stopping,” he observed.

“What—”

Jen felt rather than saw Robert’s body tense as his gaze locked on the rearview mirror.

“Jesus, Jen, hold on.”

She heard the collisions, metal screaming and objects colliding, sounds being hurled toward them through the dense, cold air. Impact threw them against their restraints as the airbags burst, filling the car with fine powder that seemed as if the fog from outside was pumping into the car, into Jen’s face, filling her lungs even as the force of the exploding bag struck her in the chest with a blow that left her gasping for air.

Then there was stillness, and silence. She turned to Robert. He was leaning forward, hands still gripping the wheel. His glasses were gone. She slid her hand down the shoulder strap, unlatched her seatbelt, and reached for him.

“Robert!”

He lifted his head. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“I think so.”

Robert unbuckled his seat belt and tried to open his door. It resisted, but he threw his weight against it and it gave. Jen’s wouldn’t open, so she crawled across and Robert helped her climb out the driver’s side.

Icy wind whipped their hair and stole their breath as they stood there steadying each other. Robert pulled his phone out of his coat pocket and called 911.

“This could be bad,” he told Jen. They ventured down the line of smashed cars behind them. Some people had already left their vehicles and were wandering in the snowy road. One teenage girl was shoeless, standing with a small group of friends who huddled together behind a crumpled Honda.

“Where are your shoes?” Jen asked her. “Let’s get them.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I was asleep in the back seat,” the girl told her. “I don’t know what to do.”

The rear door was open. Jen leaned inside, groping around in the dark until she located the shoes. She knelt in the snow, knees crackling in protest, and brushed each of the girl’s feet off before sliding them into the shoes.

Satisfied that the teens were all right, Jen moved on to the next car, and then the next, helping people with coats and boots. The fourth car had rolled onto its side. She heard crying, heard the harsh ragged sobs of the young man before she saw him. She stood on tiptoe and looked inside. She could see two figures, one rocking back and forth, the other motionless. She pulled on the door and it moved, but she didn’t have the strength to pull it upward and open.

Robert’s arms reached past her. He pulled the door open a bit and said to the distraught man inside, “Push it open if you can. Help us get you out.”

“Oh, God, he’s dead. Evan is dead,” came the reply.

“Maybe not. Let’s get you out of there and see what we can do. Help is coming.” Robert’s voice was calm. “Come on now, push. That’s it.”

The young man pushed from inside and the door opened. He climbed out, tears streaming down his face. Jen thought he looked about twenty years old, and the tears made him seem even younger and more vulnerable.

“He can’t be alive. There’s no way. Look at him.” Free of the car, the young man was shaking from cold and shock.

Robert put both hands on the car and hoisted himself up.

“Give me a push, Jen.”

She grabbed his legs and shoved upward. He wriggled into the car. Jen couldn’t follow him. She put one foot on a tire, clutched the edge of the window, and dragged herself up. Pebble-shaped glass bits were scattered across the fender. She lay full-length over them and looked into the wrecked car through a jagged hole in the shattered windshield. The freed young man wiped away his tears, then climbed up and lay beside her, still choking back sobs as he looked inside at his friend.

Headlights tilted at weird angles and illuminated the scene in streaks and patches. Inside the car, Robert curled at an angle behind the body of a young man of perhaps nineteen. There was grey paint in the boy, Evan’s, hair. The actor was little more than a child, yet he had just played the part of an aging artist. Debris and junk of the sort college kids collect in back seats had been thrown throughout the car and then come to rest in the downhill side of the passenger compartment. A strip of light lay across Robert and the face he cradled in his hands, a face with blood trickling from the nose and mouth, with one eye dangling sightless from its socket. Robert pressed what looked like a wadded T shirt against the side of the boy’s head.

“He’s breathing, Jen.”

The words left Robert’s lips in little puffs of vapor. He bent close to the bloodied face.

“Say your lines,” he commanded.

An eyelid fluttered.

“Do you hear me? We’ve got a show to do. Say your lines,” Robert insisted.

The boy began to mutter.

“I can’t hear you. Speak up. Enunciate.”

The good eye opened. The young actor looked at Robert and began to speak. Jen could hardly believe what was happening. The lines came forth, mumbled in places, but coherent.

“So, now, what do you see?—Be specific. No, be exact. Be exact—but sensitive. You understand? Be kind. Be a human being, that’s all I can say. Be a human being for once in your life!”

He stopped, and Robert urged him on. “Go on, go on. Keep going. What’s next?” Evan mumbled something unintelligible, then he spoke clearly again.

“There is only one thing I fear in life, my friend…one day the black will swallow the red.”

Line after line the actor spoke, blood bubbling between his lips. It seemed to Jen they had been there for hours when she heard sirens. Seconds later they were surrounded by state patrol officers and paramedics.

“Help us. There’s somebody badly hurt here,” she told them. The young man beside Jen slid himself to the ground. An officer helped Jen climb down, and minutes later men lifted the student from the wreckage and placed him on a gurney. Robert crawled out behind him. Both his hands were covered in blood; blood was smeared down the front of his coat.

“Are you alright, sir?” A paramedic supported Robert until he was steady on his feet.

“Yes, thank you. It’s not my blood.”

“Come on, let’s go back to the car and get out of this wind,” Jen told Robert. She put her arm around him and felt him shivering. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wet it in the snow, and wiped off his bloody hands, which were already blue from the cold. They walked together, their breath visible before them. Jen’s knees had begun to ache. They climbed back into the car and Robert pulled her onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her. They snuggled together for warmth, Robert’s head on Jen’s shoulder. For a long time neither spoke. They simply sat there, holding one another in the car that, although damaged, still provided shelter from the freezing darkness.

“I was so afraid he would die,” Robert said at last. “His blood, you know? It was so warm and red. His blood convinced me that I could keep him alive. No one with blood like that could stop living.”

“None of us is ready to stop living,” she told him, and she stroked his steel-grey hair.

Thank you to Brenda Layman for sharing the complete text of her story “Late Date” for free on the web.  The complete book book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1, features seventeen additional stories.  Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers, click here for links.

Brenda Layman was born in Ashland, Kentucky, but she has lived for most of her life in Ohio. She is a member of Columbus Creative Cooperative, The Outdoor Writers of Ohio, Writers Satellite and Ohio Writers Guild and she has published many articles in Pickerington Community Magazine, Ohio Valley Outdoors, and other print and online magazines. She lives in Pickerington, Ohio with her husband, Mark. Brenda loves fishing, kayaking and traveling, and at the time this anthology was released she had recently rediscovered the joy of watercolor painting.

“A Day in the Sun” – Joseph Downing – An Excerpt

The Pacific stretched wide, vast and dark, the blue-green waves rolling softly and teasingly until, seemingly from nowhere, a breaker would slam into the beach, driving the tourists floating and bobbing in the shallows violently to the sandy floor. Still, they rose up coughing and snorting and, somehow, laughing. My father and I sat in the hotel’s plastic beach chairs, watching all this. I sprawled in the late afternoon sun, feeding on the warmth like a last meal before our return to winter, but my father stayed in the shade of the umbrella. The bucket of beers sat in the sand between us, linking our private worlds together. It was our third day in Puerto Vallarta, and it was already starting to feel like a mistake to have come.

“This was your mom’s favorite spot, right here,” my father said. “We would push her all the way out to the sand, and she would sit with a beach towel wrapped around her knees, still cold even in this heat. But she loved every minute of it.”

I felt him looking at me, waiting. I scooped a chunk of ice from the bucket and pressed it to the back of my neck. The ice melted in seconds.
“You remember that, right?”

He wouldn’t let it go. “Yeah. I remember.” I also remembered the extra doses of pain medication. The calls to the front desk at 3:00 a.m. for clean sheets.

“Sometimes I even forgot she was sick, at least until—”

“Do you want another beer?” I handed him one without waiting for an answer and then pulled a lime slice from the bucket and tossed it to him. It landed in his lap and the task of stuffing it into the bottle momentarily occupied him. I took the opportunity to slip on the earphones of my iPod, leaving the power off.

All around us seagulls squawked as they dove for stray bits of food tourists had dropped in the sand. A mixture of mariachi and dated American pop music poured from the cantina behind us, only to be drowned out by the crashing waves. These sounds compensated for our silence…

This is an excerpt from Joseph Downing’s short story “A Day in the Sun.”  The remainder of this story can be read in the complete book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1.  The complete book book features seventeen additional stories.  Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers, click here for links.

Joseph Downing was born in 1969 in Dayton, Ohio. After receiving a B.A. in English from the University of Dayton, Joseph obtained a law degree from Ohio Northern University and is currently a practicing lawyer, writer and artist. He has twice published in Flights Literary Magazine, is an Impact Weekly Fiction Contest Winner, and he writes The Abundant Bohemian blog. His nonfiction book, The Abundant Bohemian: How to Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process, will be published in 2014. Joe lives in Dayton, Ohio.

“Cinderbox Road” – Scott Geisel – An Excerpt

We’re driving down Cinderbox Road, bright afternoon sun bouncing off the corn that’s starting to turn brown in the late summer heat, when a buck jumps in front of the pickup. It’s the last curve before home, a zag to the right so sharp it’s almost a turn. This one always gets you, makes you dig your nails just a little into the palms of your hands.

The road drops here, and we can see the house below, peeking through the cornstalks where they melt into the edge of town. The buck stands rigid in the center of the lane, staring straight at us, eyes locked on ours. He’s a big one.

You scream, and I hit the brakes. There’s no place to go; the road is a high berm between two steep ditches. The truck goes into a deep slide on the loose gravel scattered across the two-lane. The buck doesn’t move, watches as the bumper tags him high on the haunches.

It’s a glancing blow, but a solid one. He staggers, confused, eyes big and wet.

“No. Oh, no!” you shout.

The buck takes a step, stumbles, rights himself and steps again. He tries to run, crashes awkwardly off the road and limps to a drainage run-off where the stalks are thin, and disappears inside.

He doesn’t look good.

“Shit,” I say, gripping the wheel. “Shit.”

We’ve been here before. Not here, exactly, but we’ve had this conversation. One of your greatest fears since we moved to the farmhouse is that you’ll hit something. But we both knew that when it happened it would be me behind the wheel.

“He’s hurt,” you say. Your hands are still clenched. I can see where your fingernails will leave imprints.

“We didn’t kill him,” I try. We’re still in the middle of the road, mostly sideways. The engine purrs from the tune-up I gave it yesterday, out in the shade behind the barn.

“He didn’t even try to move. He just stood there, like he wanted to get hit.”
Your elbow twitches, and you turn away to the window. I want to touch you, break the spell, but I know it would be too much. You’re breathing shallow, at the top of your lungs, keeping most of the air in and letting only the smallest amount escape. Like when you’re having a bad dream and I lay beside you. I know that the air in your lungs must be getting stale, turning to carbon dioxide, blue, purple. I reach over—

“He’s too hurt. He won’t be able to survive.”

“You don’t know that.”

“You don’t either! You killed him.”

Your hands fall into the seat now, and I know it’s time to go. But Roy comes out of the field behind us on his tractor, closing at a good clip. I can see that he’s shouting, but I can’t hear what he’s saying.

“Go,” you whisper, too late. Roy is edging up beside us.

“Everything all right?” he shouts, and it comes out much too loud now.

I give him a salute, our usual greeting when he’s out in the fields, but he’s probably too high on the tractor seat to see it. “Fine,” I say, twisting my head out the window. “Buck in the road.”

Roy has lived on Cinderbox Road his whole life. Got the farm from his daddy and raised his kids here. He knows every inch of every acre for miles.

He scans the crop line, looks at the skid marks behind us. “Where?”

“Run off,” I say, pointing.

Roy nods. “You missed him, then?”

I shake my head. He bends to try to see you, can’t, and inches the tractor forward until he’s in front of the windshield. “You all right, ’Lizbeth?” he asks, looking in through the glass.
You lean forward to let him see you better, give him a piece of a smile, and he seems satisfied.

“All right then,” Roy says. He turns and looks down the line of corn, takes off his hat and holds it against the sun.

“I better get her out of the road,” I say through the window.

Roy looks at me, then gives the salute and rumbles off in a hurry.

I ease the truck into gear and back it up to straighten out in the lane, hoping you won’t see Roy when he bumps off the road and disappears into the wash where the deer ran.

We drive the half mile home at about five miles an hour.

You jump out as soon as the truck stops, and I call after you, “What do you think I could have done?”

You spin, mid-step. “You know I hate that road.”

“That’s the way home,” I say, more harsh than I know I should. “You can’t keep trying to avoid it.” It’s a mistake. This was going to be a good night. Our anniversary. Six years. Three months to the day since the miscarriage. We were just starting to move forward again.

This is an excerpt from Scott Geisel’s short story “Cinderbox Road.”  The remainder of this story can be read in the complete book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1.  The complete book book features seventeen additional stories.  Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers, click here for links.

Scott Geisel’s stories have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Best New Writing 2008 (Hopewell Publications) and Christmas Stories from Ohio (Kent State University Press), from which his story was aired on WYSO. He was a finalist for the 2008 Eric Hoffer Award for fiction. Scott is the founder and editor of Gravity Fiction and was a founding co-editor of MudRock: Stories & Tales (Honorable Mention, Best American Mystery Stories 2004). He was Assisting Editor for Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction (Norton 2006, 2007). Scott has been a presenter at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and Sinclair Writers’ Workshop, has taught workshops at the Dayton Art Institute, and founded a series of teen writing workshops and a publication for the Dayton Metro Library.

“Open House” – Maria Hummer

Before we view the house we get new clothes, new haircuts and new names. We decide we are Amy and Todd. We know we can’t live here, not in this house, not the people we are now. The people we are now live in a tiny shared apartment with friends who don’t do dishes and smoke too much pot and eat our cereal when they get hungry. The people we are now bathe in showers black with mold, shoo mice from the crumb-floored kitchen, and pinch our noses when we open the fridge to keep out the smell of rotting oranges. The people we are now stopped kissing each other goodnight, we just climb into bed and sigh.

We don’t want to be these tired and going-nowhere people. We want to be Amy and Todd.

Amy and Todd have clean fingernails and dressers full of fresh paired socks. Amy and Todd get up early on Sundays, and wear slippers, and vacuum floors, and organize spice racks by color. Amy and Todd bake pies.

They do not scrape cigarette butts out of crusty coffee mugs, or pick the bodies of ants from their cereal like unwanted raisins. Amy and Todd go for walks in the neighborhood, down streets lined with matching houses like a litter of new puppies sitting in a row. The cars are unscratched, the children riding past on bikes say “excuse me,” and the evening air is filled with real birdsong, not the throaty complaints of crows.

We could be these people. We could be Amy and Todd and drink fruit tea and read books about European history and get excited about light fixtures, which is the first thing we comment on—the front hallway light fixture—when Joe shows us his house, his life, the life that could be ours.

“Lovely,” I say. Amy and Todd say words like lovely.

There is a side table in the hallway with nothing on it. Its only purpose is to be a table and

I, Amy, am charmed by this.

The house smells of clean rugs and lentil soup. Joe’s wife Melanie is cooking in the kitchen.

It smells beautiful, and she stirs the soup and she is beautiful. I could be her.

“Are you vegetarians?” I ask, and Melanie says no, they just like to eat healthy. I approve.

Joe shows us everything in the kitchen that could belong to Amy and Todd: clean white fridge with ice dispenser, new dishwasher, expensive coffee grinder, a set of hand-painted plates, white with blue fish. Even the half-used boxes of rice and pasta. “Everything you see,” says Melanie.

Joe squeezes her shoulders. “Except for my Melanie,” he says. Melanie gives Joe an adoring look. We beam.

Joe takes us to a room he calls the sitting room. In the shared apartment we call it the living room, but I like the word Joe uses and I think Amy would use it too. I’m glad there’s not one designated room for living. The kitchen, the bathroom, the room where you sleep, they are all for living, for laughing and drinking wine and spilling spaghetti sauce and trying tai chi one cold winter morning in socks. Every room is a room for such living and Joe takes us through them all.

Todd—it’s his name now—asks Joe the practical questions. How old is that, when should this be replaced, is it possible to move this to here. I peer out the windows of every room like it’s the most important thing. It’s vital to Amy that each window look out on a vision of what her life could be—something green and flowering, or maybe soft and fluttering like laundry on a line. I check every window and I don’t see broken things or loose garbage. I see patience, and healthy grass, and hope. Amy would delight in these windows.

Todd and I follow Joe and we look at the things he points at and go: Mm. Right. Nice. When Joe looks away we widen our eyes at each other and make big gasping shapes with our mouths, like we’re at the Grand Canyon, like we’re seeing the best sunset of our lives. We touch the clean white walls and we wonder if we deserve this, this cleanliness, but then we stop caring if we deserve it, we just want it so bad.

Joe shows us his study. The chestnut desk is covered in piles of books and papers.

“I’m a creative man at heart,” he says. “Been writing a novel in my spare time. It’s unfinished, but you might have fun fixing it up.”

Todd and I look at each other. We didn’t count on this, but we suppose it makes sense, some things left unfinished, and it’s fair for us to inherit that. We’re young, we’re fresh, we like a challenge.

“What about jobs?” asks Todd. A good question.

Joe tells us he works in a bank and Melanie stays at home. “Obviously,” he says, “either of you could fill either role. We’re not sexist here. But someone would have to stay home.”

“Can the one who stays at home also work?” I ask. “Like freelance or something.”

“I don’t see why not,” says Joe, “but you might find it difficult.”

Todd and I look at each other. Difficult because of another unfinished project? Another novel?

“The girls want lots of attention,” says Joe. “They’re very sweet, but don’t expect them to leave you alone for very long.”

Todd and I avoid each other’s eyes, trying not to panic. The ad said nothing about girls. Seeking young, energetic couple for quiet family life in the suburbs. Newly-renovated house. Amazing space. Lots of potential. Call Joe to arrange a viewing.

My stomach churns as I remember the ad. Family. Potential. We hadn’t interpreted it this way.

We follow Joe. Down the hall trickles the sound of young voices and toys being dropped. Joe opens the door to something he says is the play room. We step inside.

The girls.

“This one’s Tilly,” says Joe, touching the soft ponytail of a girl, about five years old, eating a cereal bar. She grins at us, oats and chocolate in her teeth. Joe picks up the other girl, smaller than Tilly and playing with a plastic penguin. He gives her a loud kiss on the cheek and she giggles, dark eyebrows twitching. “And this is Nona,” he says.

“Hi,” we say to the girls. They ignore us and go back to playing.

“All the toys are included,” he says. “All the clothes. If you decide to take it we’ll go over the details, like their likes and dislikes and fears and things that make them feel better. Nona, for example, always stops crying if you give her a little peanut butter. Always. We don’t know why.”

We ask Joe if we can talk it over a moment. We go into the bathroom. We close the door.

The bathroom is huge. It has a tub and separate shower and a vanity table. Todd and I blink in its whiteness like two people woken suddenly from a nap. We’d forgotten the world could be this bright. We’d been asleep.

“I think I love it,” says Todd.

I twist the sink handles. Hot on, cold on, hot off, cold off. The water comes out smooth as an icicle.

“But the girls,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says.

“I didn’t think we were looking for that sort of life.”

“Yeah. But I think we could make it work.”

I look out the window. It always helps, when making a decision, to just look out the window.

“I do like the big backyard,” I say.

“And that extra freezer,” says Todd.

We go back into the room with Tilly and Nona. Joe is gone and Todd leaves to find him and talk about rent and other particulars. I stay with the girls. They ask me if I want to play penguins and I say that I do. I hear Todd’s voice coming from somewhere in the house. His voice is deep and filling. Good enough for a meal, I always say. I can feel it filling the house, slipping between kitchen plates and table legs and under couches and into this room, like rising bread. I’m in this room playing penguins with Tilly and Nona and Todd’s voice fills me like risen bread, and I know we can do this, we can host game nights and wax floors and tie little girls’ shoes in this house as Amy and Todd.

Thank you to Maria Hummer for sharing the complete text of her story “Open House” for free on the web.  The complete book book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1, features seventeen additional stories.  Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers, click here for links.

Maria Hummer is from Toledo and lives in London, England. She has a B.F.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Screenwriting. Her short film Dinner and a Movie was officially selected for the 2013 Edinburgh Film Festival, Palm Springs Festival, London Short Film Festival and others. Currently she is in post-production of the film adaptation of her short story “He Took off his Skin for Me,” published in Devil’s Lake and finalist for the Driftless Prize in Fiction. Maria is writing her first novel.

“Besancon” – Mark D. Baumgartner – An Excerpt

Chad’s father is long dead by this point. Mugged and shot twice, arm and chest, in a far suburb of Cleveland. We have no way of knowing this yet; the murder occurred late at night Eastern Standard Time, early morning in France, and we wouldn’t hear anything for some time. It’s the heart of winter, and around the university all anyone can talk about is politics and American foreign policy. The French are obsessed by a war gathering in someone else’s desert. The wind is unseasonably cold, ice everywhere. Chad thinks we brought it with us from the Midwest, the war, the foul weather, but I’m certain I know better—these are not things that can be carried by men.

At seven on this particular morning Chad and I stand in the foyer of our host family’s house, up in the hills surrounding Besançon. We’ve been in France for two weeks now, out of contact with friends and family save for the odd postcard now and again. We look and smell awful, hung-over to the point of imminent disintegration. Chad has on this ridiculous t-shirt, red with black lettering, which depicts Victor Hugo in the style of a porn star from the late seventies. It was a gift from his homely, bookish girlfriend and he wears it everywhere—to class, to the pub, to bed. I keep pleading with him to take off the shirt, but he is unrelenting. Chad is studying to be an EMT, he is a distinctly American blend of confidence and blithe indifference. He fancies himself an emissary of sorts; he loves to talk politics and has a few carefully prepared phrases he likes to try out on the locals. His French is mangled and incomprehensible, as is mine, but this doesn’t keep him from trying. We care nothing for war, Chad insists to all who’ll listen, we are Americans trying to escape the wayward drift of our own history. There are many ways to call someone an idiot in French, and with the aid of my journal and a pocket dictionary I have deciphered at least six. Even Chad seems to have picked up on the sense that we are not wanted here.

Our hostess is firing off a series of complex, interrelated questions at Chad and I. I’m not certain, but I believe she’s asking where her husband has gone. She’s worried because she hasn’t seen him since he went out for his morning walk. Chad does not catch this, thinks he hears something about breakfast.

Dos huevos, si vous plait,” answers Chad.

Our hostess looks at him, then at me.

I don’t know enough French to field the question about her husband, so instead I correct Chad. “It’s an oeuf,” I say. A fucking oeuf. I am tired of being asked questions for which I have no answer; I am tired of Chad. I am a little bit in love with the wife, and France as a whole, and Chad has become a stone around my neck.

She looks at me for a long moment, then walks into the kitchen to start the stove. I apologize and move to intercept her—I can make the eggs myself. There’s a note in French tacked to the icebox which reads, essentially: CHAD CALL HOME. He doesn’t…

This is an excerpt from Mark D. Baumgartner’s short story “Besancon.”  The remainder of this story can be read in the complete book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers.

Mark D. Baumgartner lives in Johnson City with his wife and son, where he is an assistant professor at East Tennessee State University. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in magazines such as Yemassee, Bellingham Review, The Southern Review, Phoebe, Tampa Review and Wisconsin Review, and he has worked as a fiction editor at Mid-American Review, River Styx and Witness. He earned an M.F.A. degree from Bowling Green State University in 2005, and a Ph.D from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2010, where he was a Schaeffer/Black Mountain Fellow in creative writing. Excerpts of his first novel, Mariah Black, are currently forthcoming in Confrontation and Silk Road.