Sunday 28 June 2015

It Looks Like It's Letting Up.

Time to remove the galoshes and shake your literary umbrellas: the flood is over for another issue. 

While the summer may have been a little disappointing so far, we have been nothing short of impressed by the variety and quality of flash fiction sent to us over the past week or so. We’ve had comedy, tragedy and horror - and that’s just from the editors who had their work cut out for them, whittling down the hundreds of submissions to just 144.

Our thanks go to everyone who took the time to submit to us. We do read each and every one and if you weren’t successful this time, please don’t let that put you off submitting to the next edition. A rejection doesn’t mean your story was bad. In many cases we just had too many vampire/ghost/FSOG stories and didn’t have a fit for yours this time. 

We’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all who have helped promote the Flash Flood Journal and National Flash Fiction day. Without all the Facebook shares and Tweets we’d not have had the ‘problem’ of a huge number of great stories to choose from. We’ve also enjoyed seeing how pleased contributors are to be included - it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Thanks should also go to our editorial group - Susan, Susi, Cassandra, Shirley, Annette and Caroline - who, as usual, gave their time for naught but the joy of flash fiction.

If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please share the stories with your friends and if you haven’t submitted before, we’d love to hear from you next time.

Thank you again - and keep flashing!

Calum Kerr

FlashFlood Editor and Director of National Flash-Fiction Day

Saturday 27 June 2015

"Giraffe" by Jo Derrick

He was tall enough to reach the juiciest, lush leaves at the top of the tree. His camouflage protecting him from predators. His long legs were perfect for dancing. His hooves delicate enough to point and flick. 
As a child he’d been raised on bread and dripping. There was never any money and he’d been teased for being as thin as a lathe. He’d been called Twiggy, Beanpole and Sticks, amongst other things. He was a gangly, clumsy teenager and had lost count of the clips round the ear from his gran for breaking various pieces of her best china.
But it was different now. People paid to watch him dance with beautiful women, who whispered in his ear about running their fingers across his smooth, hard chest. The fact that his skin was the colour of treacle toffee only made them want him more.
Terry never knew his mother, but she’d been as pale as a snowdrop, his gran told him. He had never known his father, and Gran never mentioned the colour of his skin. She didn’t have to. His dad was a sailor and his mother had met him in a dockside pub after her shift at the biscuit factory.
The day he decided he was a giraffe was when the heat shimmered across the landscape, waiting to pounce like a hungry beast. The sun ate up the lush green grass and replaced it with yellow stalks. No water came out of the taps and there was a standpipe on The Green. Oh, the irony in the name given to the one patch of grass in the middle of the village. Even his gran wore a sleeveless dress, which she ran up on her old black and gold treadle machine. Terry wore shorts and the other kids had pointed and laughed at his impossibly long legs decorated with bizarre pigmented patches that no one could ever explain.
Laura wasn’t the first woman to comment on his unique markings.
“Ee, ya look like a bleedin’ khaki patchwork quilt!”
He should have joined the army. Ideally suited for duty in Iraq, blending in superbly with the terrain. But Terry was too clever for the army - and too delicate and by then probably too old. They didn’t recruit dancers. Terry was too graceful. If someone had given him a tenner for the amount of times he’d been called gay. But the women knew better. They continued to flock around him like dancing flies on the desert sand. Yes, giraffes could take their pick from the tastiest vegetation.
As he’d placed the gold ring on Laura’s finger, Terry had the urge to stick out his long tongue, swish his tassled tail and bat his impossibly long lashes. If only those kids in the playground could see him now. He’d give them a run for their money. Lolloping over African plains with a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like on his back.

'The Dancing Girl' by Paul Heatley

I stand in shadows at my bedroom window, and I watch. There is a girl in the building opposite. She leaves her curtains open and she dances in the middle of her front room, her bare feet apart, her eyes closed, her arms wrapped around herself as she sways slowly from side to side as if embraced by an invisible lover. I don’t know what music she listens to though I often wonder. Her hair is brown and cut below her ears, and she wears a cream jumper and a black skirt that ends at her knees. Always she wears these clothes, a uniform, as if she cannot dance in anything else. Her walls are bare and the room is minimally furnished, the sofa and chairs arranged around the space in the centre where she dances, like she’s expecting an audience. 

Sometimes we pass each other on the street. These moments are not manufactured. Sometimes we will be in the same café or the same coffee shop, and she will order drinks with soy instead of milk. Sometimes I will try to catch her eye, to smile at her, but she never looks my way. 

But I watch her dancing, night after night, and when she’s not there I wonder where she is, and in these lonely moments I understand that I know nothing about her, not even her name. 

Tonight, she is there. She dances. I turn on the light, clear a space in my room, and take my place in the middle of the floor. I don’t put on any music. Just silence. I close my eyes and I begin to sway, and I imagine I am the one holding her, dancing with her. When I open my eyes, her curtains are closed. 

First published by Spelk Fiction

'Poking the Beast with a Stick' by Emmaleene Leahy

Where time was measured by season and crop rotation, the turning of months in a year, the meaning of hands revolving around numbers is replaced by a serrated metal blade to tear open cans. Now, time is measured out in tins of soup and beans and pineapple slices.
The sun glints from his corrugated roof.  Alone in our galvanised existence, I haven’t seen movement for a while now.
The shimmering air vibrates with forgotten ghosts, apple trees, acorns, bluebell, buttercup, cowslip, dandelion, heather and ivy. Rich fertile land now a barren desert.
Whole village wiped out, only us two left. All my fault; my blunder in the nuclear waste plant. He was my boss; a bit grumpy now irreversibly venomous. I know not to knock on his door. He’d shoot me with his old blunderbuss, leave me walking around with guts in my hands like dirty washing.
Need to check if he’s alive. After relentless unrest, nail-biting, pacing, I risk it.
Sand swirls on the wind, howling gusts whirl, whip, trudging crunch of sand beneath feet. I throw a rock at his window. A web of cracks emanate from the point of impact.
A sudden burst erupts, zing of metal severs the sky. Danger in the present tense.

I run.

'Liquid Nights' by Chris Milam

The bartender with the plastic smile asked what I wanted. A glass of Her. Can you pour me a second chance? Told him I wanted something dangerous, a drink that would singe.
The India Pale Ale with its ABV of 7.5% arrived and I drank. Hard. Dylan was crooning about a rolling stone from the jukebox. Guys in white tank tops and loose jeans tried to impress their girls with a trick shot on the beat-up felt. I suppressed a primal scream.
The bartender wiped off the polished wood with a practiced swipe. Could he pull that maneuver within my mind? A lazy stroke and all those memories of Her are cleansed. Can I borrow your rag, man?
Emptied the glass. Didn’t find any solutions at the bottom, just backwash and a thirst unquenched. Rapped my knuckles on the bar: Bring me another round of bitterness. He obliged.
The lady with a tattoo of a fractured, black heart on her neck drank shots and blew smoke rings.
“What’s your name?”
“Andrew. You?”
“Rita. You married?”
“The documents tell me I’m divorced. You?”
“Available but scarred. You live close by?”
“You know why. Two lost souls with festering wounds drowning in alcohol. Do the math.”
“I’ll pass.”
Rita chuckled and turned to her left and asked the guy in flannel what his name was. Frank, he said.
The bartender was telling a sad story to the young bohemians in matching turtlenecks. Part of his job. Be a good listener for tips. Repeat their tale of woe to others. For a tip. An auteur in a Led Zeppelin shirt and jean shorts.
Bruised another drink with rage-filled swallows. Glanced at the mirror behind the bar. A reflection of Her running her delicate hand thru my hair. A flash of white. Burgundy lips. Emerald smoke in her eyes. I slammed my lids shut. Peeked and blinked again. Go away. Or come back.
A man in a red hoodie with eyes of a similar hue asked me about the game last night. Asked if I was a Red Sox fan. Only if She played second base, maybe. Or if the stadium was filled with melancholic bags of popcorn. No, I didn’t watch the game.
I jostled Rita on her inked shoulder.
“I did the math, let’s go.”
“Sure, baby. Can Frank join us?”
I’m game for anything that distracts the razor for another night.
The bartender eyes me like I’m a schoolgirl in a plaid skirt with knee-high nylon stockings. “You mind if I come too?”
Only if you bring your tip jar. And a rag.

"Astronomical Odds" by Vesna McMaster

There was something really wrong with my father. Apart from his absence. He didn’t just leave an emptiness. It was more like the pulsing radio waves of a neutron star or the gravity of a Black Hole, sucking in peripheral unwary strands of information and conversation. No-one would talk about him. At all. Aunt Jenny simply shook her head and made her jowls wobble, sometimes lifting her finger in silence if I asked. I knew better than to ask my mother. Most of the others pretended not to hear and changed the subject. I’d never seen him, of course.

Just once, when Aunt Jenny’s nose was tinged pink with a glass of New Year’s champagne and her eyes had that crinkly blue-mist haze, she forgot herself for a second. “He had ideas, my love.” Then the haze lifted all of a sudden and she extricated her hips from the armchair with a violent pull of suction. She ran to the kitchen and turned the tap on, even though all the dishes were done.

I was studying for my Uni entrance exams, window wide to let in the cut-grass-and-lilac from the garden and the radio on easy jazz. The midday newscast came on and an earnest voice relayed the latest from some war-bogged Eastern European country. I focused on the page on the death of Socrates. The floral print of the curtains bloomed suddenly into the room and my mother’s torso burst in through the window in a whorl of flying black hair and gardening gloves. She slammed her hand down on the radio button, engendering silence.

We stared at each other. She panted. My mouth was open but I might have forgotten to breathe.  She drew herself up, tucking hair behind ear.

“Extraneous auditory input decreases the efficacy of study,” she said.

I blinked into the sunlight as she turned and left.

Socrates was dead. I abandoned the revision. I couldn’t remember which country it was the newscaster was talking about, but I made a guess. Google worked overtime for twenty minutes.

The rebel leader in a blurry photo in some pastoral setting. Something in his posture made me look twice. More photos, not so blurry. A chiseled, delicate jaw and peculiar set of the eyes. Blue. A certain stoop. Dates, about sixteen years ago. And a tiny mention of our hometown in a bottom left margin of Wikipedia.

My gaze lifted to meet the one in the mirror. The heart of the neutron star.

"Preppers" by Sonya Oldwin

When we prepared for the apocalypse, up in the mountains, people laughed.

Tonight, from the comfort of our cabins, we’re watching civilisation burn.

You could say we’ve earned the last laugh. But we are not that cruel.

'The Hitman' by Allan McDonough

The world rotates at 1037 miles per hour, and as I come to, my head spins with it. Oh shit where am I? The unmistakeable scent of chloroform burns my nostrils. I've used it a thousand times, no more, but I never cared much about its effects, until now. My brain is crushed against the top of my skull. Oh fuck, I'm upside down. With each heartbeat more blood gushes in. It might burst if I don't get down.

My eyes won't fucking open. Corse thread scratches my eyeballs as they roll about in the sockets. That sick bastard actually did it. He's fucking sewn them shut. Tears trickle up my forehead. I'm not sure if it's blood. What's in my mouth? What ever it is, I can't spit it out. My mouth won't open. Something scuttles past my head. Tiny claws on wood. Then another set, and another. A squeak here, a scratch there. The pestilent stench of flee-ridden, sewer rats. I fucking hate rats.

What the fuck happened? It was supposed to be a routine hit. Fifty grand for ten minutes work, and one less drug pushing fuck-wit to poison our streets. But that cockney cunt must have been tipped off.

The gag reflex kicks in and bile falls into my mouth, I can't swallow it down, or up, because there's something blocking the way. My lips sting as the hot liquid seeps through and dribbles up my face. The searing pain dial turned up to eleven as the chloroform wears off.

My naked flesh burns as the icy air claws at my body. The deep throbbing pain between my legs is getting worse and a warm trickle rises up my stomach and across my chest. The rusty tang of blood hangs in the air. I can't believe this is how I'm going out. Hung upside down like a prize cow. It's no more than I deserve.

Far away a dog barks, a fucking big one. Not a friendly pass my ball bark, more an if you don't feed me i'm going to eat you bark.

The memory floods into my brain. Him in my sights. One quick depress and his brain would spread across the wall. I waited for him to turn, to see the whites of his eyes, but it wasn't him. Then a hand gripped nose and mouth. Vapours filled my head, and my eyes burned as I drifted away...'Never fuck with family. I want 'im to feel pain. Make 'im swallow his cock, an' then fuckin' feed 'im to fuckin fluffy.'

The door rattles against the wall. A rumbling growl rises to crescendo. Hot breath brushes my face. Fluffy.

The original story is posted on the wordcloud

'Psychology' by Rupert Blunkett

In between fragments of twisted metal, amongst the shards of broken glass, embedded in man-made materials, is your husband.

In between the crumpled mess of wires, amongst the wreckage of the car, entombed in synthetic fabrics, is the man you cherished.

That is, what’s left of him; a spaghetti of bones and blood, ligaments and limbs.
You’re grief-stricken. Desolate. Anguished. Heartbroken.

Everyone knew how much you adored him; you spoke of little else.

Although he really died four years, two months, eighteen days and five hours ago when your relentless and merciless psychological bullying broke his spirit.

Finally he’s happy.

"Qualification" by O. Westin

Once upon a time, when Odin was away travelling in Midgard, the other gods had a
feast. Late in the evening, when countless barrels of mead had been drunk, and
the gods still were, they came to talk about what ifs.
"What if Thor could be quiet," Frigg asked, and then continued with a seer's
certainty: "No, I can not see that happening."
"What if Loki could be trusted," Sigyn sighed, and all the gods laughed, for
they could not imagine such a thing either.
"What if Odin did not return," Loki said, firelight reflecting in his eyes. "Who
would be fit to rule?"
This made all the gods pause and ponder.
"I would not want to," Njord said. "I would have to leave the sea."
"I am the strongest," Thor said.
"I rule the war host," said Tyr.
One by one the gods declined, or gave a reason they would be the most fit to
rule, and there was much debate about the merits of each claim, but no agreement
could be found.
Finally, Frigg spoke up. "One of us has stayed quiet. Say, Freya, would you be
fit to rule?"
Freya smiled. "My chariot is pulled by cats."
At this, all the gods fell silent, for none could trump that.

'Hunted' by Penelope Jones

I can hear him getting closer, his heavy footsteps echoing on the wooden floorboards as he ransacks the house. I am the last, I heard the screams of my friends and family as he found them, I hoped I had been overlooked but he is still out there searching for me.

It’s dusty where I have hidden in the cupboard, the space small and tight, I can feel my legs cramping beneath me, I consider running, shifting my position to a more comfortable one I lean forward slightly, the boards beneath my weight creaking ominously. Did he hear it? His footsteps so far away move closer, I hold my breath, praying he can’t hear the thumping of my heart in my chest. The light that seeps beneath the cupboard doorway is broken by his shadow, the line of light at the side of the door growing wider as he reaches in towards me. I close my eyes, hoping that if I can’t see him he won’t be able to see me.

“Got you!” he screams in triumph, reaching out to grab me “You’re it”

I cover my eyes “One, Two, Three, Four….”

'Flash' by Ben Tideway

Call me Slim, call me Sly, it is I who flickers in the snake smoke and you ask why. Call me Shimmer if you like for I’m what glitters in your night.  I’m the serpent of awesome thoughts. I’m slicker than mercury on a black plate.  I’m the butterfly you can’t pin down in your beastly box of butterflies. I’m the glimmer you pursue. You are the shadow I elude.  Shadow I fear, of darkness I despair for I’m the lightest thing you’ve ever seen. You saw me once but stayed in the shade, your place of shelter in the sudden squall of seeing it all. I am the whisp of enlightenment hiding in your head. You seek me there but I’m everywhere. I’m an echo in the mind you left behind so long ago. Let me slip slyly. I’m the illumination that turns to doubt when the light’s snuffed out. I dance in the moonshine of your sleep and through your dreams I step in silver slippers. I hold the lantern of light.  There is no darkness until there’s something bright.

"Tank" by Tara White

To do:
Buy avocadoes
Eat them
Drink water. Dehydration causes 99% of lunacy. Maybe your kidneys can talk sense into your adrenals them if you ask them nicely
Remember – more –

Remember wanting more?
You are in a tank, your friends are talking but not to you, towards you. It is normal. You live here.
There is always more. It’s just further away than ever, and you can’t prove it’s not one of those desert things you used to know the word for.

What not to do –
  Ask why 
  How is even worse
  Be yourself
  Talk to people
  Consume ANY psychoactive substance
  Read philosophy of ANY DENOMINATION*
  Expect to be understood. Tank admits one.
*This is a survival game. Do not fuck with this. High thought could kill you right now. This is evolution at work. You owe it to the gene pool. You are floating in it. One false move and you’re a dodo. Kierkegaard don’t care.

Things you can do:
  Small things
  Drink some water in the shower

Remember –
  Things that stop you from shaking

      You are in Tank because you have starved. Go. Float, and be with your bones. Go deep enough, find parts of yourself. Pick them up and look at them. Do everything in your power to remember. Be gentle. Number them. Set them down on a shelf.

Things to forget -
  The complete absurdity of your role in your own life
  Yesterday, but only if it was better than this

Instead –
   - Teach yourself small things. You can remember small things. How to hold a pen. How to knit. Songs are good, too.
   - Go to where fascination lives. Summon every scrap of strength. Make a fist. Knock on the door. Knock harder.

Move away from –
  Bad habits unless they won’t let you, in which case be glad
  Anyone who wouldn’t die for you

  Eat mushy foods, sleep a lot. Be exactly the blinking newborn thing you are.
  Burn your old skin, when you are strong*
*Careful, or you’ll fill up with pus and get all gross and weepy. Avoid dessicants and easterly breezes
  Know that you are good, that the world is as it was but changed utterly
  Know that every woman is your sister, your lover, your mother, your second cousin
  Every man is also that, too
  Know that you are air but heavier and more together
  Know that the world will one day electrify you again - more
  Remember, want. Tank is a place you go to heal, set the broken parts. Tank is friend.
 Things will be too bright for a couple of days.

                                                   That's ok
       Whole secret rooms fill, with the quiet song of your breath

Little victories
                     Take them all
                                          Put them on a shelf

Be gentle

"Needed Encounters" by Stephen J Regan

Office life in South Yorkshire, dull as it sounds, relentlessly so today. He toils though his lunch hour, stops at 3pm. Needs wine.
Jamie’s brought to work a microwaveable lunch, risotto with chorizo. Must be taken with red wine. Fuck tea. Fuck the office staffroom.
No wine at work, but a crap hotel bar nearby. So he nukes the risotto, hides the steaming pot in a big brown envelope, then walks to the hotel with it. There’s no point eating any of the food served in this hotel restaurant. It’s over-priced and shouldn’t, in any case, be taken internally.
He enters the bar area – there’s no barkeep. He yells ‘medical emergency in the bar!’ through to the back via a staff doorway. No response. Louder – ‘medical emergency in bar!’ – a scowling barmaid appears. He recognises her. Debs. Bless.
He loves her face. It betrays a life of sorrow, reminding him of a framed picture of Our Lady which hung in his grandma’s parlour in Sheffield in the ‘seventies.
Debs is annoyed – but only momentarily. She recognises him. He’s done this before. Come in here, shouting the odds, just because the bar staff are too busy helping in the restaurant to serve him straight away. She thinks he has nice eyes – even as she eyes up with suspicion the large brown, steaming, stinky envelope under his arm. 
Jamie explains to Debs, gently and reverently (because he’s still thinking of Our Lady, in all her grief at losing her son on the cross), that each time he’s entered this
bar there’s been no-one serving. Annoying.
Debs starts making excuses but stops, her scowl quick-slips to a smile for this man in clear need of a drink. They laugh at how awful employers are. She over-pours his measure, deliberately – super-large glass! He over-tips her. Then outside to a bench overlooking the car park, for lunch and a smoke.
Food from a brown paper envelope, by a crap hotel near Doncaster. Has his life really come down to this? After the London years and all? But the grub’s good – and the wine.
He burps, fumbles in pockets for a fag. Shit! He’s left them on his desk. Now a man has joined him on the bench – a slinger from the building trade who’s just been sacked. The slinger gives Jamie a cigarette, then another. They laugh at how awful employers are.
Jamie goes back to bar. Yells ‘medical  emergency!’. Debs’ face appears. He orders more wine – and a beer for the slinger.
He needed these encounters.

'Womannequin' by Jane Roberts

False eyelashes, then hair extensions. A caking of teak varnish all over her body, like a park bench. Tattooed eyebrows – lop-sided, too dark. Incongruous porcelain dish teeth waiting – in vain – to be dirtied by traces of food. Fillers for sagging cheeks and silicon in Everest tits, peaks always pointing North West. She talks out of her arse-implanted, suckerfish mouth. She dresses in combinations from catalogue advertisements. She’s forgotten who she is. You’ve never seen her.

'Wifely Wisdom' by Catherine Connolly

All Hallows Eve was the night Will lost his head.  Literally.  Fortunately, his wife had some insight, being versed in witchcraft, as she was.

“Not to worry, darling,” she said, as the body crawled over the threshold, “though you might want to wait there for a minute whilst we work something out – the blood’s staining the floors and I don’t want to have to worry about castings on top of this one.  We need the energies.”  The stump assented, as far as Cara could tell.  At least, it was dipping and swaying the right way.

“D’we know where and when you lost it?” she asked.  “A point in the general direction would save time in the searching, that’s all.”  Will’s finger hit the air aimlessly.  “I’ll take that as no,” Cara surmised.  “Guess that’s not so surprising, considering.”

Cara sighed.  “You know we’ll have to work quickly, given we don’t know where to look yet?”  Her husband’s neck waggled at her.  “No need to get tetchy!” Cara exclaimed.  “I’m not the one who got careless with my bodily bits on my travels.  Plus, I’m doing my best here, under pressure I might add!”  The stump subsided in its movements.

“Better.  Now, we need a substitute ‘til we find the real one.  I know just the thing.  Have it here.  Lucky it’s still intact.  Hadn’t gotten around to carving it.”  Cara moved towards the stove, placing both hands on the rounded orange object on the work surface.  “Might be a bit heavy,” she said, doubtfully.  “We’ll have to see.  Bend down, there’s a dear.”  Will’s body obliged, stumbling to kneeling.  “There we go!”

Cara thought for a moment, whilst the newly assembled body remained motionless.  “Nose and eyes,” she said, decisively.  “This might sting,” she warned, as she inserted the knife’s point into the pumpkin’s surface.  “Stay still.”  Will did, as she carved.  “Mouth will have to wait,” she said, after.  “I can only do so much magic at once and shedloads went into animating the head.  You can wait ‘til tomorrow, sweetheart, can’t you?” 

There was a pause before Will's body moved violently.  “That’s a yes, then,” Cara responded, placid.

'Yarn' by Michelle Bromley

I snip the cords as soon as I see them. They grow back, stubble poking out of my skin, ends sliced across. The skin around each strand is red and sore. Split.

“Why don’t you want this?” My mother asks. “It’s an honour. A real honour.”

“You do it, then.” I look away, look down at my shin. My fingertips catch on raised welts as I run them along my flesh. I can never cut them close enough.

“It doesn’t work like that,” my mother says. “You know that.”

Yes. I know that. I know cutting the cords is useless, that they will only grow back and tangle me up. Still, I cut them.

“You’re going to have to accept it,” she says.

I don’t believe she means to be cruel.

“Not today.”

She leaves me, leaves me to curl up and stroke my hand across my legs, my stomach, my throat. Braille bumps lie under my skin, pushing up in pebbles: fresh cords ready to break through. So far, they’ve only grown in on my legs, and I keep them short. Just about. I’ll lose this fight once they break out all over my body.

It was a Saturday job to earn some cash. That’s all. Well, cash and a chance to spend time with our Yarn Woman. All people my age want to be near the Yarn Woman, to see if she finds them a link.

I took Old Evelyn groceries from the corner shop, and every week she sighed a little more, sagged a little further under her red yarn. Not a strand of it ever attached to me. Not a strand latched on so I could trail it after me and link to another.

Already, people call by our house, asking to see me. I turn them away. I sit in the window-seat and practice being alone.

When Old Evelyn died, I wondered, vaguely, who’d tie me to my loves now. Every community needs a Yarn Woman. When I found a single strand of crimson cord, thicker by far than any human hair, standing an inch from the skin of my calf, I knew my community had one.

Everyone noticed when Old Evelyn went, but nobody truly mourns for her. All they’ll say is how pleased I must be to have been granted her gift.

There’s something they don’t know, though. I wasn’t granted anything. I took it. I just didn’t know I was taking it.

She begged, you see.

It was months before she asked me, and I said no. Of course I did. The first eight times, I said no. On the ninth, she had tears in her eyes, and I took the length of cord she gave me, snarling out from her ribs, looped it round her throat, and gave her what she wanted.

There’s a ring of bumps above my collar-bone.

I wonder who will pull the cord for me, and when I will break and ask them. 

'The Space Between' by Dr Lorraine Wilson

There was a regal, awful magnificence to the old paper; faded from years of sunlight and duty, and still ugly. It had to go. So they scattered around themselves the paraphernalia of intent, and scraped and steamed through the long, bright morning.

By lunchtime the floor was a sea of curlicues, and their arms ached contentedly. There was only one patch left to strip, around the doorway through to the empty hall. She made sandwiches, and he made tea, and they sat with books of colours. There was nothing there, in that metamorphosing room, nothing but their drifting words and their future.

He left her, when her mug was refilled. A purely male mission for some engineered thing, something that would serve them better than a simple brush and pot. She smiled and pushed hair from her face with the backs of her hands, lifting the steamer with the resolution of the near-finished. It came away cleanly, satisfyingly, that last long strip down the left side of the door. As if, she thought with her eyes on the bared wall, it had been poised to show her this. To proffer it in one last reveal. She knelt down in the forgotten debris and reached out, cold-fingered.

They started perhaps two feet from the floor. A line, a name, and a date. Michael, August 1962. A little higher, David, August 1962. And tucked beside this, and differently coloured, Evangeline, May 1965. The names tracked on upwards. She smiled, touching the lifelines of those distant childhoods; hearing her own mother’s voice. ‘Come on girls, let’s measure you up!’ They would stretch their spines against the wood, her and her sister, toes flexing with the need to have grown. She remembered the day she was the taller. The incandescent joy, and her sister’s grudging grace.

She rose up now, onto her knees, tracking the story of these children. Who had ended up taller, of the boys? How tall the girl?

She frowned, fingers and eyes scanning again, and then again. Sinking down onto her heels as if she were backing away, as if she needed that small distance so that she could breath. The skin of her throat tightened to the point of pain, and her ribs ached.

Evangeline, February 1969. It was the last time that she was there, on the wall, and the ink of her name was smudged and softened. Then there was a gap, before the boys returned, alone, tracking their accelerating path upwards, their two names enclosing an emptiness, an absence marked out in a sparsity of lines.

Oysters by Joy Manné

I thought the oysters would do it. Widow’s Holes, no less, from the Peconic River. Osinski delivers them every Thursday during the season.
I’d been sixteen, he was fifty. I was a cliché, poor, pretty and with potential. He pygmalioned me. I was willing. He had success and money.
No children together. He’d had a pair he didn’t like. I was the child, taken on grown up, sex included. My first sex, he thought. I’d bluffed others.
The beginning was fun. Hollywood. Parties. Celebrities who fucked me ‘cos I was his. He never found out. Too vain. Too self-centred. Too satisfied. I was the good child at his beck and call and invisible when ordered practising yoga and mastering the latest culinary fashion.
Children should be seen and not heard. All he cared about was his films and novels and none were about us. Lolita without a Nabokov. And before you could fart twice – I’ll be as vulgar as I like – he was sixty and stented. Bad heart. Weak dick. Fucking me sore with Viagra. And then colon cancer with infections.
I hated Thursdays most. Oysters taste of snot. I won’t eat them. He had me serve them like they do in Paris over crushed ice in his best crystal dish on his solid silver serving platform with Sancerre at nine degrees in a matching crystal glass. Twelve bloody oysters. I listen to him slurp them, one by one.
Just this once, a shell was loose. I hid it in a dishcloth on top of the fridge where it’s cosy.

It was supposed to kill him. I forgot he was on antibiotics. All that happened was he got the shits. And tell me who had to clean up.

"Playing Nurses" by Amanda Saint

We wanted to be nurses. What a wonderful past-time it seemed to be; not like a job at all. When mum was in her uniform, ready to go to work, we coveted her upside down watch. We wanted one too, so that we could count heartbeats. Our visions were of hospital wards that were more like boudoirs: soft feather pillows, gossamer curtains and muted lights. Beds filled with glamorous, lounging patients lifting subtly scented wrists to learn the patterns of their pulses.

We made our own upside down watches with cardboard and pens, fastened them to our t-shirts with sticky tape. We pressed our fingers into each other’s wrists, sometimes so hard that it left red marks. Counting heartbeats endlessly. There were no doctors – it wasn’t that sort of game.

Occasionally our teddies and dolls joined in but it wasn’t the same. We liked the feeling that human wrists gave – that faint rhythmic pulsing pushing gently against our fingertips. We saw a TV programme once where a man was checking for heartbeats on someone’s neck, so we did it like that for a while too. The beat was harder to find but much stronger.

One day, the beat in the neck was proving elusive but we kept searching, pressing and squeezing. Searching, pressing and squeezing. It started to hurt. We wanted to stop but we couldn’t. The search for the beat drove us on and on. Searching and pressing and squeezing. Until, in the end, there was no beat to be found. No more beats. No more little pulses pushing against our fingertips. No more we. Just an I.
originally published Number Eleven magazine, June 2013

'The Note' by John Holland

Harlan T. Spank III, aged 10, round, red-haired, putty-faced looked like a difficult child. Was a difficult child.  He was cruel, selfish and argumentative, traits he inherited from his parents. His mother Marcie and his father Harlan T. Spank II had not wanted a child and tended to gratify young Harlan’s wants rather than satisfy his needs. His father was a multi-millionaire property developer, although some said he had links with the underworld that went back at least one generation, and that he made his money in less than legitimate ways.

The note from the kidnappers read-
For the kid, leave $1 million in used notes in the big burnt out oak tree by the crossroads at 2 am on Tuesday.

At 2 am on Tuesday, the kidnappers went to the tree and found only a note from his parents.  It read-
Did you mean this tree?  There’s another burnt out tree just across the meadow.  Which tree is it?  We will pay no more than $500,000.

The next note from the kidnappers read-
Of course that tree.  It’s an oak.  The other tree is a lime.  And it’s nowhere near the crossroads.  $800,000 then.  Put it in the burnt-out oak tree in used notes at midnight on Monday.

At midnight on Monday the kidnappers went to the tree and found only a note from his parents.  It read-
Midnight is like zero hours, so did you mean midnight from Sunday going on to Monday, or Monday going on to Tuesday?  Jees, can’t you be more exact? Also can we change to the other tree?  It’s really muddy by this one.  $500,000 is all we got.

The next note from the kidnappers read-
For Christ’s sake, forget the other tree, $500,000 it is then.  Leave it in the burnt out oak tree by the crossroads at fifteen minutes past midnight on Wednesday morning 27 March 2013 DST (Daylight Saving Time). This is your last chance.

His parents paid up, and, much to their relief, within days the kidnappers had taken young Harlan.

The Note was first published in 'Ell Oh Ell' by Earlyworks Press in 2014

'Send Help' by Danielle Matthews

Although not to be found in modern history books, there has been a civil war raging for decades up north. North beyond the official border of the Chin (the Neck having separated seven years into the conflict). There may be continuing conflict in the long reaches of the South, but communication is minimal and news arrives already out of date.

Lazy Eye recalled the years of relative peace the Whole had enjoyed, but he was frequently ignored, having long been shunned as defective. And defective he was, but he still had a voice, and he was determined to be heard.

To that effect, Lazy Eye finally connected through to the current leader of Rebel Brain after four days of urgent signals.

“What have you seen, Lazy Eye?” the words were spat out like bullets, jittering through the signal network in a flood.

“I'm not calling to report, boss,” he replied with some trepidation. “I'd like to petition on behalf of the Whole for a cessation in -”

“The Whole!” Rebel Brain burst indignantly. “All we do, we do for the Whole. More security protocols, faster production lines, overall increased activity – all these things and more, we have brought the Whole already. All through the Brain's good works, Lazy Eye.”

“But boss, I must insist.” Lazy Eye gripped tighter to the signal relay point and lent against it wearily. “The extra security brings a heightened fear, and the production workers are exhausted and malnourished. The Whole suffers.”

“A rough transitional period,” Rebel Brain dismissed curtly. “All suffered before our glorious return to power! Before, we languished in a stupor, our potential wasted and diminishing each day. This is the modern age, we must be fast – faster! - and treat each interaction as a possible guerilla ambush, as a proactive measure.”

There was a pause with seemed to pulse down the relay.

“We can't go on like this much longer.” Lazy Eye's signal was heavy and sincere. “Please, just talk things through with Brain, you can compromise at least.”

Raspy flickers of indecision down the lines was a much more common occurrence during Rebel times. Production might be up, but quality was down.

“Because of your deficiencies I will forgive this un-patriotic talk today,” Rebel Brain enunciated clearly, a vague threat inherent in the bitten off syllables. “But we will receive no more unsolicited calls from you, Lazy Eye, except in the case of an urgent report.”

The signal was dropped abruptly, and he was once again filled with his own thoughts and presence. If he tried again he would be bypassed even more than he already was, but Lazy Eye knew he was right.

In the dim light of the conspirator, he began the laborious task of constructing a message. If he could just get through to Mouth, then outside help could be drafted in.

Lazy Eye had seen it work before.

2024 Wigleaf Longlisting

Huge congratulations to Lisa Alletson whose 2024 FlashFlood piece, ' Translucent ' made the Wigleaf Top 50 longlist! You can read th...