Friday 17 April 2015

'On the Top Deck of the 36' by Megan Taylor

You swing up the final step as the bus lurches a corner, sprinkling rain from your coat and from your sorry excuse of an umbrella. Faces turn, taking in your broken spokes, your breathlessness. The faces are mostly clustered in pairs. Gazes grab at you, dismiss you.
Sitting at the very front, there’s an elderly couple on the left, while on the right, a young mum and her son, dipping and swaying with the pattering night. 
Hastily, the toddler returns to his earnest driving, invisible wheel clenched between woollen paws, his gone-bedtime eyes intense. It’s a good job he knows where you’re going since no one else can see a thing. Every single window is cottoned with condensation. You smell wet wool and cigarette ends, the secret leaves and mud gridded to damp boots.
The middle seats are occupied by Girls Going Out. Spidery eyelashes and straightened hair: brittle blond, brunette and a combination of the two: carefully arranged stripes of oak and gold. Frosted lips all round. But these girls aren’t raucous or giggling as you might have expected. They’re not even whispering or texting...
At the back, one man, alone.
You take the vacant seat just behind the girls, but more because you’re afraid of skidding or stumbling than anything else. You haven’t realised, yet.
It doesn’t take long though, before you hear him. 
He’s knocking his heels against the floor, the thud an irregular heartbeat, almost exquisitely out of time with the engine’s wheezing, with the rain’s hiss and spatter. And when he speaks you realise that he has probably been talking for some time. You’ve interrupted.
“I’m telling myself I’m a fucking idiot,” he says.
And you turn, of course you do, along with everyone else. And yes, he’s definitely on his own. And no, he isn’t on a mobile. 
He isn’t even old, or grubby-looking. But there’s the hollow volume of his voice. And that shuffle-stamping.  Thud ... Thud-thud, thud –
The girls’ eyes flash back at you. The old woman shakes her head. 
But he continues: “I’m telling myself not to think these things.”
And his words seem so deliberate, it’s almost funny; they’re so painstakingly enunciated.
“Just because these people,” he says.  “These people –”
You realise that the folds of your umbrella are soaking a dark patch into the empty space at your side. And you know you ought to place it on the grey, glistening floor, but you don’t. Not yet. Because for the moment, you’re not moving. You’re listening.
“They don’t want to know,” the man says, “about the knife.”
And now no one’s looking back there anymore. Everyone’s attention is focused solely on those wide front windows, on the nothingness out there and a child humming – driving with blind confidence into an expanse of clouded white.

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  1. Wonderful! This really appeals to the senses. My favourite kind of writing. I love 'his gone-bedtime eyes intense'. Superb writing. The last line is perfect. Very well done, Megan.


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