Charles Benson leaned forward at his desk and ran both of his hands through his thinning hair. It was much more grey than black these days. His top two advisors sat in black leather chairs on the other side of the office.
All three of them stared at the flat screen TV that hung on the wall. The 10 o’clock morning news segment had just begun. A young woman with the back posture of a flagpole took her seat behind the news desk, arranged a stack of papers, and began in a somber tone:
“Investigators have yet to ascertain any serious leads in the collapse of a major intersection in downtown Singapore over the weekend. A subway tunnel collapsed, causing the streets aboveground to cave in. Whole sections of roads, sidewalks, and even buildings were pulled into the hole caused by the tunnel collapse. The death count is currently at 92 and still rising. The number of injured is over 300.”
A video in the top right corner showed a helicopter’s view of the disaster. The intersection was barricaded off on all sides by police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. It looked like a black hole had opened up beneath the city and swallowed everything in it’s reach. Whole sections of nearby buildings had been broken off and pulled into the gaping hole, like a flooding river pulling off chunks of the river bank.
(This story is 3,449 words long. Reading time is approx 18 minutes)
Quinn looked around the room, took a deep breath and tried to steady his shaking hands.
He was sitting in Baron Woodley’s parlor, in one of the many oversized, lavish armchairs that lined the back wall. He rubbed his sweaty palms across the soft leather armrests. The Baron would be home any minute now.
Outside the daylight faded. Inside, the parlor was cool and eerily quiet. All around the room were signs of wealth and privilege: the bowl of fresh fruit and the decanter of brandy on the table, the paintings on the walls, the ornate centerpiece rug, the books, ink pens and parchments that covered the desk, all of it spoke of a wealth that Quinn had never known.
The faintest sound came up from the bottom floor. Quinn cocked his head like a terrier and listened as the sound of footsteps entered the house.
(This story is 1,899 words long. Reading time is approximately 9 minutes.)
All spring long, rain had flooded the city streets. The Pacific winds had battered down the most ambitious of outdoor gatherings. The highly anticipated cherry blossoms had come and gone in less than a week, struck down nearly as quickly as they could bloom. Weathermen were calling it the “meanest” spring in Japan’s recent history.
The citizens of Tokyo, in particular, bore the weather with their usual grace and stoicism. But by late May, even the bubbliest of kids were finding it hard to laugh or play.
And that’s why on Sunday, June 7th, when the sun rose high in the sky, smiling like a long lost friend, and the temperature soared to 25 degrees, the busy people of the city were quick to drop their sundry obligations. They staggered outside, as if in a dream, to lift their eyes to the sky and admire their sudden change of fortune.
The families and the couples, the young men and the groups of chattering teens, the food stand vendors and the cab drivers and even the government officials poured out of the buildings and into the streets, the parks, the rooftops, the plazas and the wide open spaces. The few remaining cherry blossoms tried their hardest to shine as pink and as purple as possible. And old Mt. Fuji gazed out across the city, her white crown top looking as fluffy and friendly as a dollop of cream.
Down in Ueno Park, families came to spread their blankets and pitch their day tents. Kids ran wild on the play structures and parents lounged in the grass. The riverside vendors pulled their dusty canoes and picnic tables out of storage and into the sunlight. Young couples paid cash to rent colorful boats shaped like swans, which floated along the banks and left everyone feeling young in their wake.
But in the midst of all this unexpected joy, a young boy’s life was erupting into sudden turmoil.
(this story is 5,301 words long. reading time is approx. 19 minutes)
Two girls were walking through a grassy field. One of the girls stopped to pluck a dandelion from the ground. She held it up to the sunlight so as to better examine it’s beauty. The second girl joined her and they studied the flower together.
It was the first day of spring and there wasn’t a cloud to be found in the sea-blue sky.
“You have to blow on it and make a wish,” said the second girl.
“Well what should I wish for?” said the first.
“I dunno. Maybe a dog, or a new dress?”
“OK I’ll wish for a dog -“
“But you can’t tell me or it won’t come true! You have to wish for something else now.”
The first girl wrinkled her brow and racked her 9-year old brain for a wish to make.
As she did so, a football came whistling through air. It crashed into her forearm and sent her dandelion scattering to the wind.
(This story is 3,555 words long. Reading time is approx. 15 minutes.)
Jim’s Day Out
James Thurston stood in the closet, watching his rack of neck-ties spin around and around. White ones, purple ones, striped ones, spotted ones – over 50 of the things, spinning around and around in a circle. He kept his finger pressed firmly on the button. The electric tie-rack had been a gift from his kids years ago. How long ago? Ben and Emily had given it to him for Christmas. They had been young then; they were still young, but now they had families of their own.
“Jim?” came his wife’s voice from the bedroom.
“Huh, yes?” James snapped out of his daze and pulled his hand off the button. The electric buzzing of the tie rack came to a moaning stop.
“Here’s your mug,” she said, “I filled it for you. It’s nearly 7:30, you know that?Don’t you have to be at the interview by 8:00?”
“Um, yes,” he replied. “I’m about ready.” He turned and accepted the coffee mug from his wife and placed it on the shelf. Sarah was freshly dressed in a grey business suit, her long blonde hair neatly pressed and straightened. She smelled like a field of lavender.
“I’ve gotta run,” she said, “big client meeting this morning. Good luck today, honey. Let me know how it goes OK?”
“Yes, of course,” said James.
She left the room. A minute later he heard the front door open and close and she was gone.
(This story is 4,430 words long. Reading time is approximately 10 minutes)
Out to Sea
The Old Man came awake at first light. He groaned and dropped his legs over the side of his bed. His back and neck were still stiff, but he felt better than he had the day before. He tested his legs, they too felt a little lighter.
He was low on food, and today he would have to take the boat out to sea. The past two days he had allowed himself to slow down, to rest, and to recover. But now the sun was up, the world was awake, and it was time for the Old Man to get to work.