Showing posts from June, 2017

Time to Dry Out...

The waters are receding, and the sun will soon dry the land. All that is left is silt and devastation.

Thus ends the Flood.

So, what did you think? Cracking, wasn't it?

As always a big thank you to all the writers who submitted, and to all those who were published an extra congratulations.

Thanks also to the editors:

Shirley Golden
Susan Howe
Ingrid Jendrzejewski
Caroline Kelly
Cassandra Parkin
Nettie Thomson

And thank you to you, dear reader, for your constant support for FlashFlood and National Flash-Fiction Day.

And... that's it.

So, until next year, be excellent to each other, and thank you again.

Calum Kerr
co-Director of National Flash-Fiction Day

'Daylight' by Tim Stevenson

In the quiet hour before dawn there was a ‘plink’ and then darkness.
Mary swore.
Across her desk taxidermy leapt, bright-eyed in the second life she’d given them. These early mornings were stolen time, when she could work in peace without the squeamish complaints of her family.
She opened a drawer and found the box for the replacement bulb. She pulled it out and shook it.
She tilted her lamp, angling it so she could grip the cooling glass and twist.
Inside the delicate balloon of blue, the filament hung limp, molten ends quivering at the slightest touch.
“Make do and mend,” Mary thought.
She cracked the glass, swept the pieces into a bag, and examined the bare wires
“So, all I need is something between them and…”
She looked up lightbulbs and, reading very carefully, tied a single grey hair into place and watched it melt, filling the room with stink.
Upstairs she heard soft footsteps. She closed the drawers, and covered her desk with a sheet.
After breakfast and slamming…

'Traces' by Anniken Blomberg

Gelis Ker speaks to the elements.

There’s fire, burning her temples. There’s water; the base element of the substance trickling out her mouth—entwined with beautiful scarlet thread. There’s air, hovering outside her mouth. She needs to draw in more of it to push her words out. They’ll help her. They’ll unwind the bloodied yarn of her words to the end. When the last bit of thread falls from her lips, she’s spent. She’ll tell them everything. She’ll soar in the telling—high above her broken body.

Gelis Ker talks while their shadows loom and oscillate above her.

They burned Gelis Ker on Castle Hill, but first they strangled her. Locked her breath inside with the last of her words. Out of mercy, they said, to spare her the skin-nip of fire. On the day of the burning they stood with other onlookers and watched her body’s disintegration, its silent subjugation to flame.

But the ash of Gelis Ker was not the light, grey dust off a cold bonfire. More like fatty soot of the kind that sticks t…

The Sourness of Kisses Past by Michelle Matheson

Sometimes a gift is just a gift; sometimes it is a cry for forgiveness.
I hold the amber in my hand, the insect frozen in its centre.  I turn it over searching for the answer to an unspoken question.   It is a beautiful thing, a love token I suppose.  The rounded shape fits my palm perfectly and it’s the exact temperature of my blood.  If I close my eyes I hardly know it is there at all.
Once upon a time, limbs were flung wide, bodies strained and breath was rapid, almost rabid with desire.  But they were not my limbs; it was not my breath. I was side lined.   Since then I have subsisted in an alternate universe where neither heat nor cold exist. This world is grey.
And now this gift, this peace offering.  But where is the pleasure?  Instead the air is suctioned from the room and my lungs will not expand to fill my diaphragm.   I search for the green scent of resin but there is no longer any hint.  Helplessness hangs limp upon me.  The sourness of kisses past lingers on my tongue.  A…

'Study of a Boy with an Aeroplane' by Susmita Bhattacharya

I’m not lover of art. I don’t know how to react to a splurge of colours on canvas. Or appreciate fine brush strokes on paper. And yet, this evening, I chance upon your painting. It has started to rain, and I don’t have an umbrella. So I step inside the nearest door. As I brush off the raindrops from my coat, I look around. I’ve walked into an art gallery, and you are there, beaming at me. Urging me to come and look at your art. I hesitate. I don’t want to move around and make appropriate noises. Nor make eye contact with you. I have things to do. But you seem so alone in this space. So needy of appreciation that I walk around the room. You paint local scenes. The farmers’ market. The Dover crossing. The white cliffs seem to be your favourite subject.  I cannot believe what I see. This painting: The study of a boy with an aeroplane. I look closer and my breath stops. I turn to look at you. Are you some kind of sorcerer who has drawn me in here? Where did you do this painting? I ask. By the…

'Memento' by Karen Jones

She confuses Jacques Cousteau with Marcel Marceau. She drinks Midori, but has no idea how to pronounce it. She wears shoes that defy gravity and will, in time, change the shape of her calves and the grace of her gait: she knows she looks damn good in them now, and now is all that matters to a girl like Suzi.

I’ve watched her for months, studied her appearance, her mannerisms, her act. Know when her mood changes, when her breasts swell for a few days each cycle. I see her – completely.

But Suzi has a disability; she’s blind when it comes to men like me. We have no place in her world, no value, no purpose, so why should she waste one of those wide-blue-eyed gazes on us? We’re not quite tall enough or handsome enough, not rich enough for Suzi to grace with her sham-shy smiles.

It’s such a shame, because I know we’d be good together. I could teach her so many things – not just laugh at her mistakes, however cute they may be – but all she ever asks of me is one more drink. I pour, she tott…

'Heat/Wave/Length' by Christina Dalcher

H is for hole in the sky Heading into the third day, she wakens to the sun's colours dancing dervish-like on the backs of her eyelids. She is hungry, thirsty, still cold from the desert night. In another hour, her skin will sting and burn, blistered by a red hole in a cloudless morning sky. E is for echo Ears singed the shade of her hair—brilliant, flaming orange—sense familiar sounds. A howl travels over the dunes, floods her with memories of comfort and companionship. It is only the wind, echoing the Sahara's silent song. A is for aeroplane A clockwork bird carried her here. She gazed over its wide wing, down to silica waves three miles below. As she wanders the graveyard of aeroplane bits, her hands touch random steles of metal, jutting like silver sculptures in a sea of monotonous yellow. T is for tree Teatime back home--cakes and Earl Grey and clotted cream. She is hungry and hot. In the afternoon, she peels off another layer, revealing the tan lines that criss-cro…

'+++ Memo: Advice for aspiring Miss Universe contestant +++' by Dave Hubble

Well done. You’ve won Miss World.

You’ve swimworn, evening-dressed and world-peaced your way up the beauty ladder and managed to avoid any slippery scandals on the way. You’re officially the best the Earth has to offer.

However, be aware it’s a big universe out there but a handful of carefully placed sequins will be a lot more use to you than a couple of men in black suits. If you work hard and follow the advice in this guide, who knows? You might even become the first Terran to wear the Quantum Crown.

First, the Aesthetics Committee. Chief Judge Kirk always picks the green girls, so there’s not much you can do to get his vote if an Orion gets to the final stages. If not, at least he’ll probably choose an endoskeletal biped.

Xenomorphs aren’t much of a problem even if one of the Committee is insectoid – they always wish for interstellar war during the interview section, and as the saying goes, “spraying acid by self-harming never comes across as charming”. Judge Giger was the only one…

'A Throne of Bayonets' by Joy Myerscough

So Skirts and Chintz and me come out the pub and find ourselves dead opposite the haunted house. I say it’s a tourist trap, but Chintz says out for a lark. So in we go. And yes, it’s hokey. Tarot cards, a plastic skeleton done up with fairy lights, crystal balls and I don’t know what the hell else.

We pay our fivers and go into a room like my great-aunt Vera’s, inherited from her grandma Slurry and never changed a thing. And just as gloomy. Then we go on up a staircase to the attic, one of those half-timbered jobs. A loudspeaker starts up about a girl dying in childbirth, and she’s carrying on with screams and moans, which I could have well done without.

On the floor down there’s a room with a round table for the séances. Once the door closes it’s hard to make anything out, it’s about pitch black. Chintz grabs my arm and says orright? and I say orright, and Skirts says he’s orright, if anyone wants to know. But now I spot an old woman in a raincoat with one of them plastic hoods that…

Tinder by Angelita Bradney

It happens three days into my solo holiday. A touch deep inside my abdomen, both of me and not of me. I sit up and place a hand on my warm belly. Above, the papery fronds of palm trees shift reluctantly in the breeze. The sand glows white-hot. There – I feel it again.
It’s a moment made for sharing. I could post an update, even send him a message, but I know he wouldn’t appreciate it. Adding insult to injury; a reminder of my callous duplicity, he would say. I’m tempted nonetheless, but I leave my phone in my bag, him in peace. People have settled at the beach in single-sex groups: girls in scraps of bikinis with beads around their wrists, stringy boys with muscles and tattoos. They stretch out like predators at rest; later, in the bar, they will make their move. Further along there’s a family I recognise from the hotel. The father eyes me while the mother fusses with towels and the kids run for the sea. I lie back, move my hips almost imperceptibly. Not showing yet; I could be the sam…

'Ms Anderson' by Sonia Hope

Mr Breheny was dying for a cigarette. His restless, nicotine-stained fingers matched the pale ginger of his hair.     Ms Anderson hadn’t phoned him.     As Boogie Nights blared from the assembly hall speakers at last week’s School Staff Social, Mr Breheny had shuffled in the direction of Ms Anderson until they were dancing together. He was awed by the elegance of her cheesecloth dress and perfectly sculpted Afro. Afterwards, they drank warm beer out of plastic cups, chit-chatting, laughing, and Mr Breheny scribbled his phone number on a scrap of paper and pressed it into her hand. Eyebrows raised quizzically, she had thanked him and slipped it into her handbag.     Since then, whenever Mr Breheny walked into the staff room his colleagues greeted him with silence.     He didn’t care.     He decided to postpone his cigarette break.     Mr Breheny strode down the corridor to Ms Anderson’s classroom. Knocking softly, he opened the door.

'Nelson' by Amanda Huggins

The summer we met, I sat on the porch and watched the tarmac shimmer with mirages, conjuring Ged’s shape out of the arid haze as I waited for him.

Mama stayed inside, out of the sun, standing at the window in her stained satin slip. Sometimes she walked from room to room, opening drawers and cupboards as though searching for something to help her make sense of the world. She was waiting for my father to come back even though she knew he never would.

Ged was like him. He didn’t say much, and I never minded. He talked with his eyes and his hands, and I knew he loved me. When we moved in together, we left town and rented a house by the lake. We were happy, or so I thought.

But I’d never seen the mask of silent anger and self-loathing that darkened his face for weeks at a time. When he came home from the garage he would take a cold beer and sit at the kitchen table staring at the wall. We no longer went down to the shore or hung out with our friends along the boardwalk.

Then Nelson arrive…

'This Fractured Night' by Debbi Voisey

This is not a dream. You are awake. The noises are still in your head and you have the blood on your shirt from when you helped the young girl. Some of this might even be your own. You go to the hospital where people are milling in their hundreds. Everything inside is in slow motion. You watch people make calls, some sitting on floors, some shirtless. Some swiping tears with grubby hands and saying "I don't know, I don't know" into their phones. Outside, this fractured night is limping towards morning. Everyone wants to give; to have their blood taken to try to put some of this back the right way up. You see people of all ages and you don't notice their race. Their blood is the same colour. You hand your form in as two more ashen faced parents are led behind a screen.

'Wrong Entrance' by Bren Gosling

Sister’s text pleads, hurry! The cab driver’s words, Hackney to Norwich- we’ll do it in under two, repeat inside my head. No-one has spoken since. Countryside whizzes by; other cars, and we’re rumbled in the slip stream of juggernauts. My husband’s hand tries to maintain a moistened grip, I pull away. I attempt to conjure Mum’s smell in the wind billowing through half opened windows, but fail. I shut my eyes: see her combing out knots from my long hair at thirteen, wrapping school books in brown paper, the magnificent cake she made for our wedding. My hair’s a mess. Did we set the alarm?

The taxi pulls up at the hospital, but, wrong entrance. We go around again. Finally, in the right place. Press the lift button; up three floors, can’t find my breath, our footfall echoes along the disinfected corridor, never ending. Nods as we float past the nurse’s station, and are told In the side room. Relatives I haven’t seen in years are congregated in a semicircle, bed- centred like an altar, …

'Evil Doings' by Lynn Latham

Pansy loved a raffle.

As a child growing up in a strict religious family she was told repeatedly that raffles were sinful. At socials when the raffle was announced, her father, a lay preacher at the local church, would purse his lips tightly and mutter 'not for us, thank you'. Then he would watch as prizes were drawn, tutting under his breath and making a sign of the cross under the table.

'You mark my words girl,' he would snarl, 'if you start on that, it will lead you down a long slippery trail to gambling and alcoholism' (sherry was often offered as a prize), 'always remember your Christian upbringing!'

Reaching her teens, her father allowed her, somewhat reluctantly, to go out with friends to socials. There were beetle drives, whist drives, bingo (not approved by father) and of course, a raffle. She would buy just one ticket and oh, the excitement as the numbers were drawn, would hers come out? It wasn't the prizes she coveted, no, rather the th…

Sleepover by Janelle Hardacre

Everyone had boobs except me. I looked at my two friends when they wouldn’t see. We all had our nice PJs on. Mine were silky, from New Look. Navy polka dot short shorts and a blush pink strappy vest. There was a supportive crop top inside which I had to keep pulling down. Bryony wore a bra even when she slept. She had actual cleavage and proper brown nipples. She wasn’t shy about getting changed. Pippa’s were smaller but her nipples poked through her Jack Wills vest. Mine never poked. “Oh em gee! Shall we play Dreamphone?” Pippa said, distracting me from her B-cups. I joined in with the squeals and claps of agreement. It would be “hilare” according to Bryony. Pippa slithered under her bed, pushing dusty boxes until she found the old childhood game. “I’ve just heard. It’s not Tony,” came a tinny voice from the pink plastic phone, followed by a chorus of oohs and cackles. A fifth of a bottle of vodka from the parents’ cupboard was circulating now. We all took tiny sips. I felt it burn dow…

'Dinnertime in Delhi' by Louise Mangos

There are dozens of them along the walls of the Red Fort outside Chandni Chowk. He picks the pretty girl wearing the buttercup satin dress, with thin legs, and feet dwarfed in a pair of scuffed Birkenstocks. He stoops to place a coin in her dusty palm, and is instantly drawn through the dark vortices of her eyes.
Inside he spirals, through mosaicked arches, across emerald grassy turrets, along darkened alleys smelling of cumin and cinnamon, past bright swathes of whispering saris, kaleidoscopes of jewels set in yellow gold, voices cackling in a hundred dialects, to a slum hut suffocating under a corrugated iron roof in the urban evening sun, with a beaten earth floor and thick air pungent with the fumes from a charcoal burner, where a baby lies waiting for his child mother to return to ease the stone of hunger in his belly.

'Complicit' by Gay Degani

The front door slams. Walls shake. A vase of tasselled wheat slides through my hands onto the kitchen floor. Glass shards lie among stalks as late afternoon sun spills gold onto gold, and I hear his boots in the hall.

A shock of hot wind rattles the screen of the open back door. I glance out. The barn isn’t far, a haven if I would only move. But I don’t. I wait.

He bursts in, shirt flaked with grime, jeans mud-glazed. He stops when he sees me. Between us, a curl of pleasure, eyes locked, breath vanished.

I step toward him in bare feet, feel the bite of glass, reach up to place a hand on his cheek.

“You’re still here,” he says.

“Where would I go?”

“I didn’t want you here. Not for this.” He loops me with thick arms, pulls me close, my ear pressed hard against his farmer’s sweat. We stand like vine and tree till he leans down and puts his lips to mine.

When the world comes back, he says, “Where is he?”

If I’d gone to the barn to hide or if I’d left in the wagon as we’d planned, I would n…

'The Rota' by Jo Derrick

Salome is looking shabby. Time to give her a bit of a hand-wash. I don’t know why I called her Salome. It suited her, I suppose. My Arthur thought I was mad naming a knitted toilet roll cover, but I have names for all my bits-and-bobs. Last Wednesday in the month today and so ‘cleaning out the china cabinet day’. As I swirl the Fairy Liquid in warm water, I think how Mother told me to always keep to my list of chores, no matter what. Arthur died on the third Thursday in February. It was ‘clean the horse-brasses’ day. Once the Powers That Be had dealt with him, I set to. Now, whenever I do the brasses, I think of Arthur, his chin on his chest and his arms folded neatly. The nurses thought I was bonkers when I told them what I was rushing home for. There was no point hanging around, though, was there? I’m just drying off The Royal Albert when I hear the back gate click. Bloody Susan again. Wonder what she wants to borrow this time? “Lena? Just coming to see you’re al…

'A Rank Outsider' by Jennifer Hall

A high-jumping old boy was back on familiar turf to present the junior medals. Like a giraffe at the watering hole, he stooped in the afternoon haze with congratulatory words for each budding athlete. Above this gentle creature, a bumper crop of prickly parents competed for the best views from the packed stands.

Pete's absence went unnoticed. He lay alone in the feathergrass behind the hammer cage, far from the madness and condensed testosterone. He rotated an idle foot to stretch his calf, and pondered the lack of drama in sport these days.

It was mind-numbingly predictable; the same names were applauded religiously at each weekly assembly. Silverware outranked analytical ability. Rugby team members were kings. Pete cringed as he recalled the exclusive maroon neckties and sudden feigned South African accents that had followed the recent ‘first fifteen’ tour of Johannesburg. In the summer, the bulk of them morphed into the athletics team; speed and self-importance, transferable …

'In Other People’s Shoes ' by Emily Devane

That evening, the house fizzed and bubbled with guests. Matilda crept upstairs. She sniffed the ghosts of Fathers’ cigars and buried her head among the coats – stroking the mink and ocelot with her fingers, exploring pockets for lipsticks and loose change.

Then, with Mother’s gold sling-backs sliding beneath her feet, she tottered in front of the standing mirror, tried adulthood on for size. Her painted lips, made crooked by a hairline crack, smiled back.

Lately, Mother had taken to staring at her own bare reflection before announcing: ‘And now for my armour!’ with a reckless tilt of her martini glass.

Earlier, Matilda had sat cross-legged to watch the pencilling of lips and eyebrows, the dabbing of cheeks, the endless blotting – then skipped beneath Mother’s perfume spray, waiting for a cascade of scent to fall upon her own upturned cheeks and cast its spell. How she longed for the same fine hands (so practised at wielding a cocktail), the same full-throated laugh (low, from too m…

Ablution By Rob Martin

The car is clicking as it cools and I drop to a crouch and place my fingertips on the bodywork. The bumper is dented and the wing is scuffed. I trace the gouges in the paintwork; each jagged burr catching my fingers like Braille. The headlight lens has a web of fractures and I reach across and pull a clump of hair from the glass; long blonde strands ping from the cracks and curl around my fingers. Something wet hangs from the end of them. My stomach suddenly lurches and I rush to the sink and throw-up. Bile stings my throat and I gulp from the tap and watch the water chase away the poisonous slick. I fill a bucket with warm soapy water and sponge the bodywork; the soapsuds turn pink as I squeeze the sponge. I tip them away and flood the plughole with bleach. I open the door from the garage into the hallway. The door grazes the carpet with a gentle shush. I shorten my breaths and form an O with my mouth but I stumble against the bannister halfway up the stairs and I curse. I pause, gr…

Visa Temple by Sudha Balagopal

I lose Mother in the throng outside Visa Temple. A river of humanity walks around the shrine, singing, chanting. “Come, son,” Mother said a moment ago. Before I can protest, she's gone, borne on the tide of temple-goers.
Mother believes circumambulating the temple eleven times will make my brother's US visa come through. My engineer's mind protests, but I indulge my widowed mother's request and drive her here.
“Move,” a young woman orders. She stands so close, I smell the jasmine flowers in her hair.
“I'm not participating,” I tell Jasmine girl.
“Then, you shouldn't have come. You're in the way. Walk!”
Jasmine gives me a gentle shove. In moments, I'm swallowed by the crowd and walking alongside her.
As for Mother, only the residing deity holds the secret to her whereabouts.
My bare feet encounter warm stones worn smooth by thousands of devotees. The air heavy with incense and flowers, I hear coconuts thrown, cracked and offered in front of the s…

'Bond Girl' by Jan Stinchcomb

She gets things because she looks right. The peppermint ice cream is pale pink in the candlelight and the waiter brings her extra cherries, but Georgia wants a halter top and black cat-eyes like the girls at the bar have. Wet, red lipstick. A French cut bikini. Sandals with straps that snake all the way up to the knee. Her dad is sitting with her, listening to her stories, but his eyes dart over to the bar from time to time. He always comes back, though, and calls Georgia his little swinger. His baby. His Bond girl.

It’s nice that her mother decided to stay behind with her migraine so that Georgia could be her dad’s date.

Bond girl. Georgia wants a big machine gun for spraying the bad guys and saving the day. She won’t ever let go of it. She’ll keep it in her perfect closet next to all the handbags and jewelry. Right up against the diamonds. And when her mom can’t get dressed because nothing makes her happy anymore, can’t even get out of bed, Georgia will hand her the gun and let her…

'When the Bough Breaks' by Jayne Martin

If they don’t get here soon, he is sure he will bust wide open. The bright yellow lily he’d picked for her this morning was already starting to wilt in the muggy heat of the Iowa noon. Seems like it was just spring when his father had carried him up the ladder to a thicket of Juniper branches where four tiny spotted eggs rested among the carefully-arranged twigs of a sparrow’s nest. “It’s no bigger than that right now,” his father explained. He’d seen babies before, watched as his Aunt Ellen grew large and round as a pumpkin with his cousin Ray. He knew they took a lot longer to hatch than sparrows. His mother, too, had grown large and round as a pumpkin. Some days she could barely get off the sofa. Her ankles had become thick purple rivers emptying into swollen ponds of flesh that he would rub as she stroked his head and called him her good boy. “She’s going to depend on you to protect her, you know,” his mother had said. He could do that. He was good at protecting things.…

'Pity' by VRL Thonger

Among the crowd of staring women, one slender girl, a crate of cucumbers on her head, gestures at me and laughs. A naked baby, held by a toddler, tugs her sari.

My reluctant host translates. She can't believe you're 18 too, he says. You're so big. And where are your husband, your children, your mother?

'Halloween Sucks' by Christopher Stanley

Halloween sucks for grown-ups. Faceless streets in the crepuscular gloom. Supermarket-dressed monsters chasing treats from one jack o’lanterned porch to the next. I remember when zombies were scary, when witches were creatures of possibility, when the smile of the stranger hid the fangs of a vampire. But then I grew up.

Nothing frightens me anymore.

The creature is oblivious to the cold. Icy fingers tug at my ears, snot dribbles from my nose, and my breath blooms like bubbles of ectoplasm. The creature refused to wear a coat because it would spoil his glow-in-the-dark skeleton onesie. I told him he would freeze to death but he wears the weather with youthful indifference.

Halloween sucks because this is supposed to be my wife’s job. She’s abandoned us for an emergency stocktake, whatever that is. Up ahead, the creature’s counting his booty again. No prizes for guessing who he takes after.

My trousers vibrate. My wife wants a picture of the creature in his costume. I slip the phone bac…

The Stairwell by Fiona Morgan

That crazy old hag is sitting in the stairwell in her fucking nightie again. She stinks of piss.  A tell-tale trickle winds its way across the grimy, crumbling concrete and drips onto the step below, glimmering in the feeble fluorescent light. She’s blocking our way up, so Jay stands in front of her, chest out, legs apart, a jerk of his chin saying “fuck the fuck off”. Usually that’s enough to make people scarper, but the old bint is no part of his pecking order.  I stand mutely behind him, waiting for things to play out, part of it yet not, the way I always am.  The way I’ve always been, since forever. Jay sucks the air through his teeth.  "You're disgusting," he says to her, like he's starting a conversation. “You know that, don’t you? You’re disgusting.”  Like the old bint is in any position to answer back.  She just stares blindly ahead, wringing her hands, muttering who knows what crazy shit under her breath.  Jay can’t handle being ignored.  Not by anyone. …

On Every Street by Kim Martins

She stands at the kitchen sink, washing crusty dishes and gazing out the window. There isn’t much left of the bottle of wine she drank last night.

Their bed is unmade and his pillow, with its smell of tobacco and sweat, has not felt his smooth weight in days. Through endless nights, she tosses in shivering sheets. Perfectly good meals lay untouched on the kitchen table and she wishes love could be sifted from fish bones.

She imagines him leaning across the table, cupping her face in his hands and telling her yes, the salmon was good, the Pinot smooth, and she would see desire mirrored in his eyes.

It ended. She doesn’t know why.

Down the street, clothes hanging on lines are slapping in a stinging wind. The purr of lawnmowers and keys turning in locks are soothing suburban sounds to her. On every street there’s a woman like Ruth, who lives at number 8, and bakes the best buttery scones.

She watches Ruth now, carrying her basket, and hears the ghost of polite conversation between them. …

'Acetone Smells Like Death' by April Bradley

I’ve worn the same fingernail polish since my grandmother’s funeral in June, and I can’t tell the difference between the sheen of pink from the layers of my nails. It’s possible that instead of paring off bits of polish, I’m peeling away bits of myself. I’d go to the women at the salon who speak Korean when I tell them I need another manicure for another funeral, but acetone now smells like death and my nails are the kind of wreck that reveals oblivion, sometimes dirty, bitten and uneven, patchy and peeling. A salon is the last thing before I finish packing for Nashville, before the funerals, before the wakes, before I drink too much and smoke more than I should with my sister, but goddamn our nails look great. For my mother I chose Scarlett and let it chip because she was a defiant woman; French tips for my grandfather because I’ve never, and he appreciated a well-dressed woman; a classic nude for Kathleen, my former Mother-in-law, a woman so gracious she never let my divorce from he…

'About Me Being a Big Brother' by Audra Kerr Brown

Uncle Rufus from 5b spends the night and makes bratwurst for breakfast. We stand at the kitchen window eating the bratwurst out of rolled cones of newspaper and watching the snow pile up on the fire escapes and power lines below. Uncle Rufus is not our uncle; he’s just some old man who smells like dirty shorts and comes over for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and when Mom needs a favor—like last night after she got the birthing pains and had to go to the hospital. “Congratulations,” he says. He clinks his mug against mine, and Hawaiian Punch splatters on the floor like the blood when Mom’s water broke. He says he got a phone call from her in the middle of the night, and then he tells me your name, your weight, and the time you were born. I sop up the spilled punch with the toe of my sock and try to picture you like the babies on television, but all I can see is the frightened face of the bird Mom pulled out of the kitchen vent last spring. Uncle Rufus hands me a sack lunch of cash…

'At The Yacht Club' by Tom O'Brien

'Sir you simply can not do that in here.’

‘Not only can I. I already have. If you my good man, can look me in the eye and tell me that this, and more, has never been done in this place, with its illustrious history of Lords, Ladies and Americans then not only will I eat my own hat but eat yours. And his. And her knickers'.

He looked closer at the maid. ‘Those I may eat later in any case.'

Taking his cane and the leash of his Irish wolfhound, he stepped from the bathroom stall.

‘Good day to you all.'

'The Interview' by Jane Ayres

The room seems dark despite the bright beams scything through mullioned glass, to fall upon an inky desk, piled with papers threatening to topple. Here dust motes dance to the sounds of muffled footsteps and young voices calling.

Panelled walls and heavy furniture…a sagging sofa before a high fireplace. Books line the walls, from oak floor to stuccoed ceiling.

I lean back in my chair and breath in a deep draught of good St Gregory’s air. The smell is a dear friend…always the same, in term time or holiday…of beeswax polish and chalk dust and boiled brassicas.

I’ve always been lethargic at this time of day. A good helping of steak and kidney in suet finished off with a sago pudding would cause a man of any age to close his eyes for a few moments, but lately, I ignore the bell that summons all to playing field or classroom, and find myself nodding well into the afternoon.

But not on Tuesdays.

Today I see the miscreants, the malefactors, the offenders. What heinous crimes must I punish t…

Cannon Fodder by Alyson Faye

The gnawing started as soon as night fell; incisors clicking, toes scurrying over both the dead and live bodies. The rats feasted. There wasn’t much you could do about it. The living had nowhere to escape to anyway. Their living quarters were awash with mud, corpses and spent bullet cases. There was no colour anywhere. The landscape was brown mud, punctuated by wire fences. At night the blackness was broken by the sound of men moaning.

Private Bill Mason sucked heavily on his cigarette. Huddled down, soaked through, the lice itched his scalp. It had been a day to end all days. A living hell. The enemy’s Howitzers had hammered away for hours. Mason’s ears rang, constantly. He didn’t know what to write home. There were no words to describe what his life had become. Writing had never been his strength, he’d been good at making things. Bloody useless in this war though, he thought, when all he’d done was watch everything and everyone be pulverised.

My dearest Lily
It is night now. I can see …

Reboot by Munira Sayyid

These things, they just happen. You can’t control them.
It happened to me one morning while I was drinking coffee. I remember it was a Wednesday because I wanted to wear my Wednesday panties but couldn’t find them and had to settle for my Sunday panties. I was staring at the basket of potatoes that would be empty by the next day when he crashed through the window. The dramatic entry was immensely appreciated by the neighbor’s dog.
I knew by the way he made a quick study of my apartment and me, that he wasn’t a man. He was a manthing.
I informed him that I don’t do anything before my morning coffee. Ever the gentlemanthing, he took a seat beside me, refreshed my cup and helped himself. We drank coffee, talking about nothing while the neighbor managed to subdue her dog without abusing his lineage.  
He then proceeded to deal with the remains of the window, disposed of the pieces of glass and mopped the floor for good measure. I did not have to double check his work. Manthing and I watched a…

'Summer Baby' by A.E. Weisgerber

The seventeen-year cicadas punched out in May and throttled through June. On porch evenings, sitting with my Apollos, we discerned three calls. One with four distinct parts, one with two crescendos, and a third went skeedle-dee-boppity-doobop-deedleeeeee. I couldn’t decode cricket, noise looping excitedly all around in the night, in the trees: labor pains. What are they saying, Apollos?

He said, it is like Dr. Seuss Go Dog Go, where you think it’s about hats, but it’s one big huge dog party up in the trees.

I said, Mother Nature has been dogging me all day, while I was thinking about what shirt to wear, she was keeping up pressure on the gas pedal and messing with the governor. Driving me to that big dog party.

He said, I don’t know how to say their sound. I hear, yet see the circus acrobat, pretty lady, who can hula-hoop fifty silver rings at a time. Sometimes they are all rotating excitedly out of rhythm, and then, in a moment of fluid clarity, all the hoops shimmer as one serpentin…

'Rockpooling' by Sharon Telfer

“Look, Daddy, look!” She strains upwards, on tiptoes, arm, fingers, whole body outstretched, willing him to see. The black pebble gleams in her starfish hand. “I found some jet.” She plants it in his palm. “That’s not jet!” Her brother pulls at his sleeve, trying to get a better look. “It’s not, is it, Dad?” “Well, it does look like jet.” Unlikely, he thinks, and too heavy. “Let’s see what else we can find.” They lean their long shadows over the pool. He takes his daughter’s hand. Her sea-wrinkled fingers curl round his like suckers. Last summer, he had held onto her brother as tightly. Now the boy crouches at the edge, old enough to balance on his own. The green weed sways softly. A crab scuttles under the overhang. He names mussels for them. Barnacles. Sea squirts. They giggle at the words. Twice a day, he says, the waves come in and wash the pool clean. No one but them will ever see it just like this again. He glances up. The tide has turned, sooner than he’d expect…

'Hell No It Was Fun' by Kath Kerr

Even though I had to share my table with a couple of guys who had a row about a girl and they almost started fighting and the beer was five pounds a bottle and someone spilled red wine on my silk jacket and I lost an earring and the ladies’ had flooded so my boots got wet and I found out right then that they leak and a girl kept staring at me and it was a bit scary and the music was loud and I don’t like rap or bluegrass much and the final episode of that series was on TV and the taxi home was twenty pounds and I only had fifteen so we had to go to a cashpoint and I couldn’t find my key and had to wake up my sister to let me in, at least my battery lasted long enough for me to receive your text saying you had been to football with your cousin and couldn’t make our date so not to wait around for you.

'Marks on a Page' by James Burr

The Writer-Who-Had-Never-Written-A-Word had read countless books on writing and on the walls of his bedsit were several large posters, structured outlines of novels he hadn’t written, stories he had not started, each scene linked to others with biro arrows, intricate manipulations of the most ingenious narrative structure of any work ever unwritten.

So he would read and research and plot and outline until one day, writing from life, he came up with the idea of a story about a writer who never gets round to writing anything.  He scribbled down character notes of the main protagonist, someone whose life and mannerisms were much like his own.  He pored through creative writing textbooks and outlined a potential narrative structure; it would be a tale of a writer who never got round to writing anything who has an idea that would be groundbreaking in its literary brilliance, yet the writer is tortured as he knows that he will never write it.

Excited, the Writer-Who-Had-Never-Written-A-Word…

Adventure at the hairdressers by Chris Willis

' Be with you in a tick, Mrs Evans' said Alice, pulling her trolley across the room. ' Full works today then? I've got some new eye shadow in, it will bring out the colour of your eyes perfectly. I saw it in Boots yesterday, automatically thought of you. Mind, the cost of make-up is going up. I bought myself some new mascara, three and six it was. I couldn't believe it! We'll get your hair done first, oh, and I also got some new nail varnish, goes nicely with your outfit.'   Alice had not been the best pupil at school, leaving at sixteen with no qualifications at all. This aside, she knew what she wanted to do, although her parents took some convincing, particularly her father. You would have been forgiven for thinking that she'd asked to fly to the moon, totally impossible!
  'Why can't you be like your cousin Edith?' he'd said, ' She could put a word in for you at Woolworths, I'm sure.' The thought of standing behind a co…

Catechism by Emma Dykes

Father? I says, d’yer know my friend, Lou? He doesn’t know her. No, she don’t go to church. She’s protestant. Will she go ta Hell? Hunky priest he is but mustn’t think that. It’s a sin. He says Yes. She don’t worship in the proper way but she’s my best mate and she’s comin to my Holy Communion. I got a white dress with a ribbon and an Aunty-knitted cardi. She should sit at the back in case she’s struck by lightning while I am received. She’s nice. She should stop saying Oh My Christ though because he’s not hers. I say Praise Peter God, cos that’s his name and I know him, cuz he’s in me somewhere. Sometimes her mum says Christonabike and I don’t know why and I feel funny when I laugh about it. We hang upside down on the metal bars and breathe creosote right up into our soft little brains. God can see our knickers. I won’t go to Heaven without Lou I don’t think.

'When Susan Died the First Time' by Christopher Allen

When Susan died the first time, the guys at the office filled a black leather book with 50 pages of heartfelt condolences. Back and front. That’s what they said: ‘heartfelt, back and front.’ I couldn’t open the book. It’s in the bedroom closet behind a big green box of yellowed tax receipts. Who has the steel for heartfelt, back-and-front condolences? From guys who never gave me anything but email porn jokes and MILF videos. Who wants to be reminded that she couldn’t keep Susan alive?

When Susan died the second time, I’d quit the office with the guys but I was a guy myself. This time, mourning Susan as a man, I was ready to seek the familiar, warm hands of guys—of buddies. I would unzip my grief to their affection, however they wanted it, but no one came. In the break room, averted eyes scoured the light green cement walls as I sat there, open; their silence left me wasting and wondering why Susan had lived at all.

The seventh time Susan died, I was so small that no one noticed. Horde…

'Castle of Sand' by Chris Drew

My mum and dad take me to the beach every year for my birthday. When I get home I write everything down like a story and even draw pictures. Next year I’m going to ask for a camera so I can take photographs and start a scrapbook. This is what happened today: 1. Ice Cream I licked the dribbles of ice cream from my fingers and watched the seagulls soar in spirals overhead. My favourite is a vanilla cone with chocolate sauce and a chocolate flake and two wafers. My mum and dad sat on the wall either side of me until I’d finished every mouthful. 2. Shell I hung from their hands and rocked back and forth. The tide toppled over our feet and pulled the sand between our toes. I felt a sting under my heel but it wasn’t a jellyfish, it was just a broken shell that sliced the bottom of my foot. Did you know that shells are the protective skin of dead sea creatures? Like armour. When the animal dies, the shells wash up on the shore and sink into the sand. My dad lifted me onto his shoulders whi…