Nell nuzzled her head against me. I rubbed her nose. Her eyes fixed on me and I swear she knew.
It was barely dawn. Everyone but Jim was asleep. He insisted the night watch suited him but I think he likes to watch out for us. He says us young ones are the hope for the future but I don’t know. We’ve lost too many.
He came to meet me at the gates. ‘You taking her out?’ He nodded his approval and patted her neck. He turned the winch and the metal barricades opened. Nell stamped her feet, anxious to get going. It hadn’t affected the horses or the dogs. For some reason our natural companions had been spared, and we were grateful for this small mercy.
I rode without a mask. I breathed in a sharp lungful of sweet air, aware of the risk as I did so. In the freedom of the morning with a horse beneath me and an open field ahead of me, it was one I was content to take.
Jim nodded at me to go on. I felt fear run through me. No-one ventured out unless they had to. Not after Simon had returned, barely alive. It had taken a month for him to die.
I kicked at Nell’s flank and felt the sudden jerk of movement. We were away, kicking up clumps of damp earth, a faint mist cooling my face as she galloped on. I saw a pack of dogs in the distance. They looked well nourished. There were clearly pickings to be had. Pickings I didn’t want to dwell on. One of them approached me, its tail up, expectant. We needed dogs, good ones. He trotted along beside me, looking up at me every now again, panting a smile. Today was not the day though. When I paid him no attention, he gave up on me and ran back into the wastes.
I pulled on the reins, turning Nell onto the road south. It was the road Eve and I had ridden in on all those months ago. When we’d found the settlement, they’d welcomed us. We both knew it was because of Nell. What use was there for a half-ruined man and his pregnant wife? But one horse had carried the vote for both of us.
The metal groaned as Jim opened the gates. ‘It’s alright lad, I’ll take her now.’ I dismounted. I didn’t look at Nell again.
Eve was in the communal room, nursing our son. He pulled at her nipple, his fist slapping at her breast in frustration. I sat down next to her, putting my arm around her fragile shoulders.
‘Is it done?’ she asked. I nodded. We would eat well tonight. Her eyes filled with tears. Then she looked down at our son. ‘Good,’ she said.
Yes, it's that time again. We're back and we're getting ready to flood the internet with flash-fictions to celebrate National Flash-Fiction Day on Saturday 16th June 2018.
The rules are the same as ever, we are open for submissions for just one week. Stories should be no more than 500 words (not including the title) and should be on whatever theme you fancy. You can submit up to three entries, and there is no cost.
7 editors (one each day) will read your work, and make their decisions, and then the deluge begins at midnight on the 16th.
I’m going to ask her tonight, definitely. Dad said, you’re not even twelve son, what’s next – extra pocket money for johnnies? Mum told him not to be vulgar, then smiled at me; that smile that makes me want to yank her to the knees by the hair: shout, I’m not a baby, Mum.
It’s in the sports hall like always, but this year they’ve got a proper DJ, not just one of the dads. There she is, all curled hair and sprayed-on glitter. I go to tap her shoulder, but James and Jeremy, in the opposite corner, look at me all, why are you going up to a girl? So, before she turns around, I jump on her back: mime a lasso at them one-handed. Dig my knees into her skinny hips and breathe in marshmallows. Then I’m falling forwards. I put out my hands but my landing is broken. I roll off. And her blood’s on my knees. More of it trapped in the grooves of my trainers.
What happened? says Mr Miller, with a face like a father’s instead of a Head’s.
And she looks at me through the bloodied fingers at her nose. …
Something in the way Mavis Mahoney says her name, Sylvia, could send her to join her Mama, above the clouds she loved staring at for hours on a bed her feet dangled over, without looking back. She keeps the echoes of her name playing in her mind while she takes her place center stage, sees the crowd for the first time, eyes hoping to hold her again.
She finds Mavis among the men too tired to fight for a place in a world that never wanted them. Among women worn down from mending or carrying their wounds. Even in all that misery, Mavis smiles, raises her hands and starts clapping until everyone pulls themselves away from drowning in reflections staring back at them through half empty glasses.
She raises the mouthpiece of her clarinet to spit shined lips, lets her breath flow through the barrel and slide down the upper and lower joints while her fingers stroke and press cold, silver keys. Surrendering the vibrations of her breath into woodwind instruments to pocke…